Clearly COVID-19 is currently the most prominent fear amount public and government in Norway and Czechia. However, both countries also have longer standing fears in common. Their respective foreign ministers have recently expressed apprehension that the rules-based international order is falling apart, not least because of increased great power rivalry and changes in US policy and posture. Ine Eriksen Søreide observed that the liberal world order is under pressure not only because of great power rivalry, but also because states with different value systems are becoming more influential. Tomáš Petříček noted, with urgency, that respect for our rules-based order principles must be restored.” As smaller states, both Norway and Czechia have a lot to lose from declining respect for rules and the resurgence of machtpolitik.
Both states fear losing the United States as their key security guarantor, within but also beyond NATO. Ongoing uncertainty over the Trump Administration’s intentions and strategic commitment to Europe as well and unrest within the alliance, exemplified by Emmanuel Macron’s now infamous ‘brain-dead’ remark, have stoked these fears in the two countries (Macron’s remark was quickly rejected by both Czechia and Norway). So too have concerns over Vladimir Putin’s penchant for revanchism and hybrid destabilisation, but which in both states are balanced by a keen appreciation of the need for constructive engagement with Russia. The two states also share ambiguous approaches to China, balancing business interests and potential strategic cooperation with concerns for human rights and wariness over growing Chinese influence abroad.
Despite their concerns, both Norway and Czechia remain committed to NATO – and aspire to meeting the 2% target by 2024. At the same time, both have also welcomed recent initiatives to deepen EU security and defence cooperation. As a non-member Norway can only participate in EU initiatives by invitation, which creates a certain fear of ‘missing out’. By contrast, as in other areas of European integration (notably the Eurozone) Czechs fears are of ‘missing in’ – being dragged further and faster into integrative processes than is comfortable for both the foreign policy establishment and large parts of the population. Brexit also continues to create considerable concerns for both countries, which have traditionally shared institutional outlooks with the UK.
In particular policy areas too, the two states fear in common. Despite the stereotypes noted above, and considerable differences in demographics between the more ethnically homogenous Czechia and more diverse Norway, considerable common fears are also expressed over migration. In both cases these fears are linked (however questionably) to fears of terrorism and organised crime, and are connected to wider (shared) societal divisions over liberalism and openness to the world, which in turn bring competing fears over missing out and missing in on globalising processes.
US President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous remark that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is not entirely on the mark for smaller states. They undeniably do have much to fear as uncertainty rises in the current international climate. The spread of COVID-19 has seen the suspension of international rules, multilateral frameworks, the return of heavily statist command and control mechanisms and the reimposition of state border controls in the Schengen zone. Problems like the novel Corona virus that hit to the heart of national senses of insecurity – yet which are manifestly transnational in nature and require multilateral responses show that smaller states need not only fear the virus but, potentially, the responses to it as well.
However, this does not mean that their options are restricted – they need not simply throw up their hands and abandon themselves to fate or the not-so-tender mercies of great powers and a new international system of their design. Rather than focusing on their fears themselves, smaller states should look at what they can make of them.
Fears need not be paralysing; they can also be productive. Fear creates incentives to seek new options and to explore previously untapped sources of cooperation and security. For Norway and Czechia, the fears they have in common actually create common incentives for such exploration and cooperation. Not only in mini- and multilateral formats and contexts, but also with each other.
Being smaller states is in this sense at least, actually a comparative advantage, since it allows greater latitude for such exploration and experimentation than would be possible for larger powers. Where Czechia and Norway are key players – such as in their respective regional groupings, the N5 and V4 – they should maintain their positions. Crucially, however, they are now faced with a rare opportunity to diversify their support networks and relationships, escaping typecasting and hence becoming more able to take advantage of the opportunities created by global flux.Print