Builders and balancers: The Czechoslovak decision to join NATO

Date of Completion

January 2006


Political Science, International Law and Relations




The Czechoslovak decision to join NATO is not well captured in any of the current models of alliances. In this analysis I argue that to understand Czechoslovakia's otherwise anomalous behavior we need to appreciate the unique post-Soviet legacy. New leaders, initially optimistic that democratization would commence quickly and produce a powerful nation-state, capable of managing its new sovereignty, found that domestic conditions did not auger well for such an outcome. The totalitarian experience left in its wake a unique form of weakness: A bloated and suspect state sector and a population deprogrammed to formulate and act on public interests. This internal weakness had two major consequences for explaining Czechoslovakia's urge to join the Western Alliance: First, these conditions gave rise to a host of uncertainties (as opposed to traditional threats). The leading fear was state failure and the rise of ethno-nationalism. They discarded Wilsonian style security for a realist one when they decided to meet these uncertainties with the traditional military power of NATO. In this respect, as the realist tradition predicts, the new leaders proved to be intuitive balancers. But for the same reasons they also proved to be intuitive nation-builders: The behemoth, totalitarian state was suspect; the population had been forced by the very same state into the catacombs of their private lives. How were they to come together in an act of democracy? New leaders felt they had few choices but to become activist in democracy's promotion, but they lacked the typical instruments for such a course since they were reluctant to turn to the inherited soviet-style state. Here we find the other major reason for NATO membership: socialization. The new leaders sought in NATO membership an environment in which appropriate strengths could be acquired by educating publicly spirited citizens and public servants. I argue here that this latter role of the new leaders is captured well in the work of Antonio Gramsci. Building and balancing capture the dominant motives for seeking membership and it can be explained best in a model I call Gramscian Realism. ^