Over the course of nearly a quarter century following the fall of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, relations between the United States and the Czech Republic have been excellent, reflecting a common approach to so many regional and global challenges. The two countries have developed an important and reliable alliance, experiencing an intense and intimate partnership, particularly in the areas of defense and diplomacy, as well as in the field of energy security.
The closeness and depth of the partnership is shown in many ways: shared democratic and spiritual values, diplomatic cooperation, military cooperation, human rights initiatives, political exchanges, direct investments, social interactions, educational exchanges, professional and artistic exchanges and cooperation, energy cooperation, and the constant two-way movement of individuals as tourists.
Czechs and Americans share a common admiration for political leaders such as Tomáš G. Masaryk, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Václav Havel. At the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012 the Czech Republic voted along with the U.S. and Israel against the resolution to admit Palestine as a non-member participant. In Syria the Czech Republic has represented the U.S. since the closure of the American Embassy. The two countries are NATO allies and jointly pursue counter-terrorism activities. Economic activities include a bilateral investment treaty and the forthcoming Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the United States and the European Union. Educational exchanges include both high school students and Ph.D. candidates at research universities. The steady flow of artists and professionals includes the fields of music, literature, art, interior and fashion design, and drama.
To facilitate the free flow of people, the Czech Republic participates in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program that allows nationals of partnership countries to travel to the United States for certain business or tourism purposes for stays of 90-days or less without obtaining a visa.
The special nature of the bilateral relationship evolved from a one-sided dependency in the first decade of the post-communist period to a mature commonality between Washington and Prague, the same as between Washington and the other capitals of Central Europe. These nation-states want equality and partnership, not miracles from America, not overarching vision and generosity. The democratic United States is the strongest single country in the world, and the Czechs want the American shield, particularly against the increasingly nasty Russia of Vladimir Putin. Today's Kremlin is regularly asserting anti-western themes; it pursues aggressive energy and financial actions in each of the Central European countries to the point that its policy looks like a return to the post-World War II, but this time not militarily but economically led by huge companies such as Gasprom and other energy companies. Good, solid relations with the U.S. are critically important to the Czech Republic.
In 2013, energy security has emerged as the primary issue facing Prague's political leadership and in the bilateral relationship. It is critical that the Czech Republic diversify its sources of energy power as at present 80 percent of Czech natural gas and crude oil demand is covered by Russia.
This dependence leaves the Czechs highly vulnerable. During Europe's crippling cold spell last year, Russia demonstrated to its Central and Eastern European neighbors that it will use energy and its related supplies as a sharp geo-political weapon, having cut off oil and gas over the course of several freezing weeks due to a dispute between Moscow and Kiev over unpaid transit fees. Thereafter the Czech state-owned energy firm CEZ began in earnest instituting a policy of diversification, moving away from dependence on Russian energy and toward Western partners. In this regard, Mero CR, the Czech-owned pipeline operator, purchased a 5 percent stake in Transalpine Pipeline (TAL) in mid-November 2012 as part of a new acquisition drive. TAL links the Italian Adriatic coast with southern Germany. This transaction took place after an October supply shutdown when Russia said bottlenecks had forced it to divert shipments from the Druzhba pipeline that links Siberia with Europe. As a TAL shareholder, Mero CR can now fully utilize the pipeline and more easily make up any shortfall in Russian supplies.
Greatly improving and expanding Czech nuclear power is also part of diversification -- and potentially improving and expanding the bilateral American-Czech connection. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the Czech Republic in early December 2012, her primary purpose was to lobby the Czech government to approve in 2013 a bid by Westinghouse Electric Company of Pittsburgh for a $10 billion expansion to 4,000 megawatts of the Temelin nuclear power plant in Southern Bohemia. A rival tender has also been offered by Russia's state-owned Rosatom. In her Prague mission, the Secretary promised financial assistance from the U.S. Export-Import Bank; Westinghouse's top executives have said that if CEZ chooses them to build two new reactors, Japan's Toshiba Corporation and Westinghouse together will help secure a range of financing options. The stakes are high.
Principal government officials in the United States and the Czech Republic are:
President Miloš Zeman
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobatka
Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek
Defence Minister Martin Stropnický
Czech Ambassador to Washington Petr Gandalovič
President Barack Obama
Vice President Joseph Biden
Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
U.S. Ambassador to Prague Andrew H. Schapiro