Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The End of a "Beautiful Friendship?" U.S. Relations with the Visegrad Countries under Barack Obama (2009-2013)

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The End of a "Beautiful Friendship?" U.S. Relations with the Visegrad Countries under Barack Obama (2009-2013)

Article excerpt


"Central Europe suffered when the United States succumbed to 'realism' at the Yalta Conference."1 This statement was made in 2009, in an open letter to President Barack Obama, whose neo-realistic foreign policy was very often perceived as wiping the region from the U.S. agenda. For many distinguished Central European intellectuals and politicians, including Václav Havel, Michal Kováè, János Martonyi and Lech Wa3êsa, who signed up the letter, Obama's moderate interest in developments in the region, coupled with the United States' "reset" with Russia, raised the ghosts of the 1945 Yalta Conference. There, another Democrat president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, attempted to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability, and in doing so he allowed smaller countries such as Poland to come under the control of the Communist U.S.S.R. Of course, things have changed, and neither Obama nor Central Europe face the dilemmas that followed the Second World War. But the disappointment of the Central European signatories to the letter may be somehow understandable due to the fact that countries from the region have lost their place "at the heart of American foreign policy,"2 where they seemed to be for more than 20 years.

In fact, many feel that relations between the U.S. and Central Europe during the past two decades were a "beautiful friendship." The phrase, uttered by Rick Blaine in the iconic movie Casablanca,3 seems to summarise the long-lasting era, which began with the strong leadership of Ronald Reagan; indeed, it is no coincidence that the 100th anniversary of the former president's birth in 2011 was celebrated enthusiastically in many Central European countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.4 True, Reagan was in office during the dark last years of the Cold War-an extraordinary and unprecedented period-but his successors from the post-1989 period, when democracy and the free market reached Central and Eastern Europe, enjoy a good reputation in these countries too. President Bill Clinton supported NATO expansion in the region in the 1990s, marking its complete separation from the so-called Eastern Bloc. George W. Bush in turn-confronted with 9/1-viewed Central Europe as a new and reliable ally in the struggle against global terrorism and antidemocratic changes in many post-Soviet states. Consequently, many regional commentators perceived Central Europe to have an important role in the U.S. agenda. Those same commentators-as the 2009 letter shows-found it shocking that Obama had discovered "the heart of American foreign policy" somewhere else.

It seems, though, that the view of an enduring, "beautiful friendship" between the U.S. and Central Europe is bit idealistic. There are other perspectives too, all the more so because this relationship cannot be described as anything other than asymmetric. Reagan drew a lot of attention to the region not because of its unique political features, but because the U.S. treated it as another stage on which to play out its struggle with the U.S.S.R. Although Clinton and Bush continued to praise the region, its position has never been as strong as it was during the Reagan years, slowly giving way to the Middle East or China. And the allegedly pro-Russian Obama would never repeat Bush's words about "getting a sense of Putin's soul."5

In fact, the last two decades do not illustrate a gradual strengthening of the "beautiful friendship," but its declining importance in U.S. foreign policy. It would, therefore, be an exaggeration to say that Obama abandoned Central Europe. Indeed, Obama's first tenure did not mean an unexpected break with Central Europe, but it was rather a logical consequence of 20 years of changes in U.S. foreign policy, as well as other global developments.

This paper aims to analyse U.S. policy towards Central Europe, particularly the Visegrad Group (V4), during the first Obama tenure (2009-2013). It focuses on the V4 since-as will be seen in the conclusion-the regional format may become an effective tool for rebuilding U. …

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