Beyond Ukraine: NATO Solidarity in a Time of Crisis

It’s time for the Czech Republic and European allies to stand up.

When the late Czech President Vaclav Havel received an invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1997, he noted that the treaty did more than guarantee security. First and foremost, Havel said, NATO membership was an opportunity to assume our share of responsibility for peace on the European continent and to contribute to the defense of the values cherished by the alliance.

The crisis in Ukraine has been a true game changer for Europe. Russia's annexation of Crimea earlier this year, followed by the outbreak of fighting in what had been deemed a stable European country, has shaken the foundations of the continent. In a matter of days, the basic tenets of  Europe's security were dealt a serious blow. The inviolability of borders established with the Helsinki Final Act -- the 1975 agreement between Europe's countries, the United States, and Canada to respect sovereignty and refrain from use of force-- was breached. So was the Budapest Agreement, the 1994 treaty that guarantees Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July sent further shock waves through European capitals. Armed conflict erupting on our doorstep has been a powerful reminder of our shared responsibility. We have learned that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted.

More than ever, Havel's words on NATO ring true. The events in Ukraine have underscored the irreplaceable role of the transatlantic partnership in ensuring Europe's peace and stability. Russia's annexation of Crimea and the armed clashes that ensued have ignited a vigorous public debate in Europe on defense issues, which normally enjoy only marginal attention among the wider public.

The Czech Republic has been and always will be an active and integral member of NATO. The alliance has always symbolized both "the return to Europe" and the transatlantic bond which we see as the foundation of our security policy. When the Czech Republic joined the alliance, we saw NATO as being primarily a military defensive organization that would help us ensure stability and territorial integrity. NATO membership has had a huge impact on the transformation of our armed forces. The aim was to develop a modern, mobile, and small-sized force, and to achieve an adequate level of interoperability with new allies and partners. It was also important to the Czech Republic that our neighbors, too, were striving for membership. That coordination and shared efforts have provided an incentive for regional stability and cooperation. Today, Central Europe is well anchored in the European and Euro-Atlantic security and defense architecture.

But 15 years since the Czech Republic joined NATO, the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine poses a serious test for the alliance as a collective defense organization. A creeping sense of insecurity hardly bodes well for a Europe, whole, free and at peace.

NATO's immediate response to the current crisis was adequate. Allies have demonstrated a high level of unity and cohesion and the alliance has managed to adopt some countermeasures, such as deploying fighter jets to the Baltics, dispatching AWACS reconnaissance planes to fly along Ukraine's borders, and has held regular talks to better coordinate diplomatic efforts.

NATO as a collective defense organization offers an ideal vehicle to assuage legitimate worries of countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The premium the alliance places on solidarity, an essential aspect of NATO's credibility, proves as important as ever. Without escalating the situation, it is paramount that the alliance takes the necessary steps to reassure those NATO member states who feel their security might be at risk. In the long run, we should intensify joint exercises, contingency planning, and sea and air patrolling, to name but a few measures. A visible demonstration of NATO's solidarity is important to reassure allies.

But it is important that NATO members see the alliance's security guarantees as a two-way street, not only in bringing benefits in the form of extra security, but also responsibilities. This applies to each and every member state. 

This fact has never been more in our minds than it is now, following the loss of five Czech soldiers in Afghanistan last month. Our troops are risking their lives every day on NATO missions around the world. They have earned the respect of their NATO peers and have established an impressive track record. Since the Czech Republic's entry into NATO, we have been faced with a number of crisis response-type operations outside NATO's territory. These operations -- from the Balkans to Afghanistan -- have seen Czech troops take on a range of tasks, including post-conflict reconstruction, training local forces, and providing humanitarian relief.

The Czech Republic's constructive role in world affairs and security challenges around the globe has come despite a military budget has been creeping downwards for years. Until last year, it was only slightly over 1 percent of GDP. In the recent past, the defense budget has not been a priority for many European countries. The protracted economic crisis has perhaps done the worst damage as it forced governments to channel scarce funds to other areas. This applies not only the Czech Republic but to most NATO members who have slashed defense spending and seen the public's interest in defense issues all but disappear.

The new Czech government is ready to start increasing defense spending beginning next year, even in this difficult economic climate. In order to build a modern armed forces and reverse previous defense cuts, the Czech military budget should gradually climb to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2020.

On March 12, 2014, the 15th anniversary of the Czech Republic's NATO membership, the leaders of both government and opposition parties signed a joint declaration on defense. The document calls for prioritizing defense as well as securing funding for the defense budget.

But discussions of joint declarations and allocations for defense are inconsequential in the face of the recent death of five Czech soldiers. Our commitment cannot be measured only by the size of defense budgets, but by what real allies sacrifice for the common cause, the utmost price -- human lives.

With regard to worrying developments closer to home, it is obvious that a more serious and long-term approach to security is needed. When it comes to NATO -- and this is especially the case with its European members -- we are reminded of the old adage that security comes with a price. And we all need to be ready to shoulder our share of responsibility. 



The King of the Northeast Is Dead

Eduardo Campos's death has left Brazil's presidential election up for grabs and the country's poorest region without a clear champion. 

When Eduardo Campos died in the fiery wreck of a tiny airplane on Aug. 13, Brazil lost a rising young political star and one of three candidates in a tightly contested Oct. 5 presidential election. A wife lost a husband and five children lost a father. Many people lost a colleague, mentor, and friend. And the people of Brazil's northeast lost one of their most promising political voices in a decade.

Campos, 49, led the PSB, Brazil's Socialist Party. In recent polls, he trailed in third place in the presidential election, behind the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and her more conservative challenger, Aécio Neves. He died, along with six others, including photographers and press managers, when their small campaign plane crashed in the drizzle of the São Paulo winter. After the plane smashed into the orange, clay-tiled roofs of the port city of Santos, it left behind plumes of smoke and burning questions about Brazil's political future.

No one wants to think of next steps in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy; the other presidential candidates suspended their campaigns for several days in mourning for Campos. But with the Oct. 5 ballot looming, electioneering will soon begin again.

In the northeast, where Brazil was founded and where the country's 17th-century sugar industry boomed, many are mourning a promising young leader. The region, particularly the state of Bahia, has strong African roots and is famous for its distinct culture. It is also unmistakably poor. While the northeast represents 28 percent of the country's population, it only accounts for 14 percent of GDP. The region also features staggering illiteracy rates: One in five adults are illiterate, double the national rate.

Voting is mandatory in Brazil, giving power to the poor and socially marginalized; these disadvantaged voters may determine the future in what is now a tightening race.

For many people in the northeast, Campos represented the best option for the future: one in which social welfare policies were balanced with business development. Campos was a native son from an old northeastern political family and had promised to prioritize the region's development if elected. He had publicly criticized Rousseff's government, saying in May, "The current government was elected mainly with northeastern votes and it doesn't even look at us."

Some believe that in the vacuum left by Campos, his supporters will throw their votes behind the current president, Rousseff, whose party the northeast has supported since 2002. In polling earlier this month, the party received 51 percent of support in the region. Others believe his absence will leave more business-minded votes to Neves, Rousseff's main rival.

Those calculations may all change, though, now that the PSB, Campos's party, has agreed to allow his vice-presidential candidate, Marina Silva, to run in his place. Silva's entry could divide the vote, drawing away support from Rousseff and forcing the election to a runoff between the two leading candidates.

Polls released since Silva took the PSB's nomination show an even more intriguing result: Silva winning it all. Datafolha published results of a survey of nearly 3,000 Brazilians in the immediate aftermath of Campos's death -- even before Silva was selected to carry forward the PSB ticket. The news is rocking Brazil: According to Datafolha's survey, Rousseff would take 36 percent of the Oct. 5 vote, while Silva would win 21 percent, and Neves 20 percent.

The poll found that in the case of a second-round runoff between Silva and Rousseff, Silva would win with 47 percent of the vote to Rousseff's 43 percent. Prior to Campos's death, the PSB was a third-party ticket, winning just 9 percent of the vote in most polls. Silva's own base of support, combined with the PSB's base, could combine to make her a leading candidate.

Of course, this is only one poll -- and one conducted in the wake of tragic events -- but it makes clear the extent to which Campos's death has shaken the electoral landscape.

Silva is the daughter of a rubber-tapper in the Amazon and is of Afro-Brazilian and Portuguese descent. She paid her way through school by working as a maid. A longtime environmentalist, she ran as the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2010 and garnered an impressive 19 percent of the vote. She is also a member of the evangelical church, as are almost a quarter of Brazilians and she could potentially grab chunks of that important bloc.

The latest polls indicate that she may have picked up votes from dissatisfied or undecided voters. The number of voters who had previously indicated they would cast a "null" vote -- actively choosing none of the candidates -- or a "white" vote, a vote of no preference, dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent. The number of undecided voters fell from 14 percent to 9 percent.

Like many young people, Eudes Raony, a professor at the Federal Institute of Paraíba, had planned to vote for Campos simply due to his alliance with Silva. "I liked Silva for her life history, for her non-negotiable standards, and principally in regard to environmental and urban issues," Raony says. "Her thinking is the most contemporary and progressive of all the candidates. She is the only one that I trust could do real reform in our political system."

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The northeastern region spans the gap between the Amazon and the south of the country, where most Brazilians live. The northeast's major cities include Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador, but on the whole, the region is more sparsely populated than the southeast, which is anchored by the sprawl of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And yet more than 54 million people make their home in the nine states of the northeast region.

The northeast is perhaps best known for its climate, where a merciless heat bakes the region during the summer months, making its turquoise waters all the more appealing, but also exacerbating a century-long drought in the interior, where 22 million live, and where farmers and ranchers have suffered dramatically.

Since the founding of the country in 1822, the northeast has held many of the cards of Brazil's future up its sleeves.

Campos hailed from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, where his grandfather was once governor. Trained as an economist, Campos also became governor of the state in 2006. According to Adriano Oliveira, a professor of politics at the Federal University of Pernambuco, "Campos's government had three characteristics: the use of modern tools of development, work ethic, and thirdly, Eduardismo, that is, the charisma with which he was capable -- is capable -- of influencing the voters."

Although popular among Pernambucanos -- he was reelected in 2010 with nearly 83 percent of the vote ­-- his term as governor was not without controversy. An ongoing project to develop twelve 40-floor skyscrapers along a stretch of coastal public space near the center of Recife, for example, has drawn criticism from locals who feel the plan is heavy-handed and would only benefit the rich.

But criticism softened when, ahead of the campaign season, Campos aligned himself with Silva, the country's premier environmentalist. The two offered a mixed ticket of unlikely allies, and in this way presented perhaps the most moderate option to Brazilian voters, by blending federal social assistance programs with pro-business policies.

Silva was originally scheduled to take the same flight as Campos, but at the last minute changed her plans.

Tens of thousands of Brazilians attended Campos's funeral in Recife on Sunday, Aug. 17. Silva was among them. She stood beside his family at his casket, paying her respects to the fallen leader. The day before, news broke that the PSB had signed an agreement with Silva to run in Campos's place, but out of respect for Campos, the party will only make the official announcement on Aug. 20.

The PSB now will choose the vice-presidential candidate. Beto Albuquerque, a PSB Senate candidate from the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is deemed the most probable choice. That decision is also expected to be announced Aug. 20. The decision to let Silva run was not necessarily obvious, as the PSB could have preferred a party faithful, though Silva appeared to offer the most natural path forward.

Neves, the former governor of Minas Gerais state and the candidate of the Social Democrat Party (PSDB), has focused his campaign on "small government," pro-business policies. Rousseff and her Workers' Party (PT), on the other hand, promise to continue the path of her leftist predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, pushing forward social welfare programs. Campos was originally a PT member before splitting to lead the PSB. Reports out on Friday show that the PT is now scrambling to firm up alliances with friendly PSB leaders.

* * *

If Campos's death determines the outcome of the race, it will not be the first time a politician from the northeast has shaken Brazilian politics. In 1930, João Pessoa, then governor of the northeastern state of Paraíba, was assassinated shortly after he refused to support his party's national candidate, Júlio Prestes, in the presidential election. Prestes won the election, but was never able to take office. The assassination turned Pessoa into a martyr, and helped spark the Revolution of 1930, a clash that ruptured the long-standing political alliance system in Brazil. In the wake of the uprising, Getúlio Vargas became president -- and the country's first dictator. He ruled for 15 uninterrupted years.

More recently, the region played a crucial role in electing Lula, the most influential president Brazil has had in half a century. A native of the northeast, he won the presidency in 2002 with ease, his Workers' Party sweeping the country on a platform of poverty-reduction policies. In 2006, facing stiffer competition from the governor of São Paulo state, Lula won reelection only thanks to the northeastern region, where anti-poverty policies proved wildly popular. Many in the south, however, resented the Lula's government's wealth transfer policies. The divide between the PT and PSDB grew.

Prior to the 2006 election, the cover of the right-leaning news magazine Veja showed a young woman with a caption describing her as "northeastern, 27 years old, high school education, 450 reais per month." The headline read: "She Could Decide the Election." The magazine was criticized for its perceived prejudice and condescension toward northeasterners, but it was also right: The northeast proved critical in winning Lula re-election.

"It was really amazing when Lula won his second term," said Raissa Monteiro, a resident of João Pessoa, a coastal city in the northeastern state of Paraíba. "You could see exactly how divided the country was. The top half, the north and northeast, voted Lula. The rest was blue."

That map, red on top, blue on bottom, has not changed much over the last 10 years.

It was the northeast that likewise swept Rousseff into office in 2010. The map following that election showed the same diagonal line dividing the country. A clear rift was visible between the north and the south -- as stark as the red-blue electoral map of present-day United States.

Campos presented an opportunity to break that polarization, to change that map, for some red states to turn a new color, releasing the pressure in the stalemate between the PT and PSDB parties.

Days before Campos's death, polls showed that 12 percent of northeastern voters favored Campos, higher than his 9 percent support nationally. Now voters will reassess. Silva is viewed as the champion of the country's discontent, as manifested in protests last summer. Those protests were just as widespread in the northeast as in the rest of the country. Her religious background may bolster her support, as well. In 2010, many perceived Silva as the "candidate of God." The evangelical church is rapidly growing in Pernambuco.

Most of Campos's support came from Pernambuco and he presented himself as the modern nordestino, the man to get the northeast up to speed, not only with the continuation of PT federal assistance programs, such as the popular financial aid package known as Bolsa Familia -- or family allowance, which benefits 36 million Brazilians -- but also with a greater focus on business development. He seems to have succeeded in that mission: Pernambuco's GDP growth rate is now among the fastest in Brazil.

"He represented a young energy not just for Pernambuco but for all of Brazil," said Oliveira. "Now, he will become a myth, a legend, as one of the greatest politicians in the history of Pernambuco and Brazil."

With Silva now carrying his torch, the power of the northeast may yet again determine it all.