In deliberative democracy, the rationale for debate is premised on the possibility of change. So it is with great enthusiasm that we read the response to our initial Long Post. The exchange of this kind means that defence cooperation in Central Europe has become a subject worthy of substantive debate; beyond occasional avowals, political or academic, by actors desperate for scarce attention and thus resorting to overblown assertions. Clearly, the stakes on the Central European Playground are no longer negligible. And although the game retains a regional focus, it has nonetheless become substantially larger.
Our previous post introduced a typology of regional actors that demonstrates the scope of regional defence dynamics and the character of emerging patterns of defence cooperation which go beyond the historical importance of the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) as a condition and an exclusive platform for what is still to be accomplished regionally. Two factors are crucial. Firstly, such Central European dynamics are geographically broader and operationally more specific than what we are used to hearing on the ‘regional reflex’. Secondly, the preference is to focus on concrete defence related activities with prospects of tangible results rather than elusive calls for collaboration concerning general foreign policy goals of the Visegrad Four. Ultimately, what matters are defence capabilities. As resources are scarce, to create synergies regional pragmatics seek smarter investments in projects, which are already advanced in design or implementation. The results of the recent defence ministerial meeting of Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC) in Mali Losinj, Croatia between 31st May-1st June and the range of actors involved illustrate the tendencies we discuss.
Croatia and Slovenia have now become active contributors to regional defence cooperative efforts. Croatia has been active fostering collaboration among the participating nations of CEDC (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia) before and during the current defence ministerial meeting which they organised. Together with Austria, it made progress in the development of the bilateral Special Operation Forces training under the umbrella of CEDC as part of a military exercise held in Mali Losinj. Regional air policy, one of the long standing initiatives within CEDC, was high on the agenda as well. In this area, some progress has been made bilaterally between Hungary and Slovenia. As announced by the Hungarian Minister of Defence last November, Hungarian aircraft will likely ‘guard Slovenia’s airspace soon’.
These examples – and the initiatives we introduced in our Long Post – challenge the statement that in Central European defence collaborations ‘there are no “frontrunners” but rather the whole cooperation depends on agreement of all parties’. Beyond doubt, there is a need for some common understanding and formal agreements to move forward, but the modus operandi is a variable geometry of cooperative projects with differentiated contributions from the participants. They differ in what they want to invest in and in what areas they have the interest and expertise to lead.