March-April 2023 Articles

Building a Nation, Securing a State, Shaping Europe's Institutions

Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the United States of America

Ambassador Radovan Javorčik was destined by educational lineage, his father was an engineer, and Slovak Communist Party bureaucratic fiat to become an engineer. And, after a fashion, he did exactly that – just not in the manner that was anticipated. Instead of pursuing a career in engineering, he helped to nurture the birth of a new state and became one of the architects of its nascent diplomacy with a focus on national security policy.

As history evolved, meaning the collapse of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" (1989) followed by the "Velvet Divorce" (1992) that created two states – the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic – Radovan Javorčik's educational path took a new direction. He added to his engineering degree a second degree in international relations, graduating from both the Slovak Technical University in mechanical engineering and the Institute of International Relations at the Comenius University in Bratislava.

Three factors played a role in this transformation. Javorčik counts his family as critical to his diplomatic track. "I was lucky enough to live in a rather cosmopolitan family that was open-minded to everything. We could, half-legally, watch and listen to Austrian television and radio. We knew the Communist regime was a fake. We understood that our future rested not within the Soviet bloc but with the West."

He remembers that, when the Berlin Wall fell, the floodgates of cooperation in Europe and especially with Germany opened. His role as a liaison officer at university provided him deep contact with other students from Europe. "Those relationships were my stepping stones. As soon as Slovakia became an independent state, there was a need for people who had some initial experience with international relations and building bridges."

Diplomacy, Ambassador Javorčik jokingly notes, has become a family business. His brother, Peter Javorčik, also joined the Slovak Foreign Service. "From the beginning," he explains, "we had a mental division of labor between us. My brother was dedicated to the European Project, the European Union, and making Slovakia part of that. My interests ran to security policy and the technical side. I wanted to dedicate my life to making Slovakia part of NATO and building transatlantic relations. I am the NATO guy, and my brother is the EU guy. In fact," he points out, "I was Ambassador to NATO while my brother was Ambassador to the EU."

[NOTE: Today Peter Javorčik is a high-ranking official in the European Union serving as Director General for Transport, Energy, Environment and Education (TREE) in the General Secretariat of the European Council. The Directors General serve as the Secretary General's primary advisers on policy and guide the performance of their divisions in support of the overall work of the European Union.]

Ambassador Radovan Javorčik began his diplomatic career in the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic with staff positions in the Press Office and later in the Foreign Policy Department. In 1995 he moved and formally joined the Slovak Foreign Service serving later as Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Department. He was posted to the Slovak Permanent Mission to NATO in Belgium (1998-2002) where he was part of the team preparing Slovak membership in NATO. Returning to the Foreign Ministry in Bratislava, he continued working on NATO issues and subsequently became Deputy Director for Security Policy as well as Head of PRENAME (Preparation for NATO Membership Program). That mission was successfully completed in March 2004 when Slovakia gained full NATO membership. Just one month later Slovakia joined the European Union.

Javorčik was next posted to the Slovak Embassy in London (2005-2009), arriving there just in time to witness the attacks on the London Transit System by multiple Islamic terrorists. Slovakia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom had just left his post, meaning that Javorčik immediately began serving as Chargé d'Affaires (ad interim), a responsibility he had for his first two years at the London Embassy. Returning to the home office of the Foreign Ministry in 2009, Javorčik served as Director of the Department for North America and the Middle East and a second stint as Director for Security Policy. Subsequently, he was named Slovakia's Ambassador to Israel (2011-2015). After serving as Head of the Cabinet for two Deputy Foreign Ministers, he returned to Brussels in 2017 as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic on the North Atlantic Council (NATO). Thence to his current post in Washington, DC.

Ambassador Javorčik and his wife, Michelle Joanne Javorčiková, have two sons. She is also a Slovak diplomat specializing in public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for granting Diplomatic Connections this interview.

Diplomatic Connections: January 1, 2023, marked the 30th anniversary of the so-called "velvet divorce" that divided Czechoslovakia into two separate republics – the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Looking back on three decades of separation, how do you evaluate the pros and cons of that effort? What was gained and what, if anything, was lost?

Ambassador Javorcik: Independent Slovakia gained more than we lost. Psychologically after centuries Slovaks and Czechs could finally say that whatever were our successes or losses they were of our own making. None of the empires around us, none of the superpowers around us could be blamed. It was we, the Slovaks, who freely made the decisions and stood by them for bad or good.

That was a huge gain for both nations and the people living in both countries. Nevertheless, the "divorce" was painful because many families had connections on both sides of the borders. The Slovak economy was especially hard struck. Thanks to Czechoslovakia a good deal of industry had been built on the Slovak side, in part with the intent of providing employment for Slovaks. The low-end energy consuming factories were on the Slovak side; end products were made in the Czech Republic.

Obviously, in Slovakia we had no central bank; we had no foreign service; we had no ministry of finance; no armed forces. We had a legacy of volunteer armed forces dating to the 19th century, but it was not the same as a regular army that was embedded in the minds of the Slovak people. We started behind in many ways, meaning that we had to develop the institutions and much of the infrastructure of an independent state and an independent economy. That was a hard start for the Slovaks. Slovakia's first decade was a bumpy road. But, we have caught up with the Czechs.

In general, we have a really good relationship with each other. You could see that after the Czech presidential elections (January 2023) when my President (Zuzana Čaputová) went to Prague to congratulate the President-elect (Petr Pavel) on the day of his election. That was a remarkable show of togetherness and like-mindedness between the Czechs and the Slovaks.

Diplomatic Connections: You assumed your duties as the Slovak Republic's Ambassador to the United States in January 2021. As you came to Washington, DC that year, how did you define the most critical issues between Slovakia and the United States? What were your initial priorities?

Ambassador Javorcik: My priority was to ensure that the United States is visible, seen and felt in Central Europe and in Slovakia. From Slovakia's point of view the goal was to make Slovakia visible in the US in those specific parts of the agenda where Slovakia can make change. Obviously, during the time of Covid and before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, those priorities were somewhat different and the impact of decisions by my government has now assumed even greater importance.

Diplomatic Connections: As your first year ended, Russian President Putin launched his attacks on Ukraine (February 24, 2022). How did these attacks and the prolonged war that has developed in defense of Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity impact Slovakia and its relationship with the United States? How did your priorities change?

Ambassador Javorcik: The original agenda was absolutely in-sync with any United States administration – investing in new technologies, greening the economy, digitalization and education. Though these priorities for Slovakia's long-term progress remain in place, the Russian war against Ukraine has reset our priorities. We cannot take for granted certain things that were helping us to achieve our initially stated goals. Digitalization, for example, requires access to computer chips; Slovakia needs global access to critical staples such as oil and gas.

Russia's war in Ukraine has shown that war is waged not only with weapons, but war aims can also be pursued by controlling, disrupting supply lines for food, oil and gas, and other critical raw materials. This represented a sea-change in our views as to how to change and shape bilateral relations. We understand now that nothing can be taken for granted, least of all our supply chains.

We must build our national security in such a way that we are resilient and able to build flexible, essentially redundant, supply chains that will assure that our people and our economy can never be held hostage.

Diplomatic Connections: How has the war in Ukraine changed Slovakia's approach to foreign policy and diplomacy?

Ambassador Javorcik: This war has shown that for several decades, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were resting on our laurels. We thought we would do more trade with some countries and in the process there would be a "peace dividend" in the form of closer relations and shared ideas. We invested in the idea that trade would not only assure peace but that it would bring with it governments built on democratic institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. We took too much for granted and did not really recognize how fragile were the regimes that emerged from the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. We failed to understand that the possibilities brought by trade were also potential liabilities. The war in Ukraine shows that these hopes for change didn't happen, at least not as we initially expected.

Diplomatic Connections: How have the Russian attacks on Ukraine impacted daily life in Slovakia – the economy, supply chains, energy supplies and prices, inflation, refugee flows?

Ambassador Javorcik: The impact of the war was profound: large inflows of refugees coming to Slovakia, the prices of gas and oil went up – mostly because of the Russian invasion. Critics may say this was because of the sanctions imposed against Russia, but it was a Russian decision to make things much harder for Europe. When we realized that Russia was weaponizing energy, we totally understood that we had to diversify the sources of our energy. We also need supplies of iron ore and coal for a U.S. steel plant in Slovakia.

Shifting from total dependency on Russian supplies meant that we had to depend on European and global markets. Covid, the global economic downturn, and the war in Ukraine created a perfect storm of economic crisis. Last year was a very difficult year for Slovakia: a 15% inflation rate was unseen for many years. We are slowly recovering. And, the reason why we are recovering is that we are an open economy that is within the European Union.

Diplomatic Connections: What about the question of refugee flows? Slovakia has received significant numbers of refugees not only from Ukraine but also from Syria and the larger Middle East. These are people fleeing their homes because of political violence and hoping to make their way deeper into the economies and job opportunities of the European Union. Many of them have become "caught" in Slovakia, trapped between the promised mobility of the Schengen Agreements, and their undefined emigration status.

Ambassador Javorcik: Slovakia is one of the countries saying that the current regulation of immigration and refugee policy by the EU needs to be modified. We have to be sure that those who qualify for asylum or refugee status get it. Second, Slovakia was and still is a "transit" country to other places in Europe. We are trying to regulate and limit these transit routes because they are controlled by criminals who are making money on the unfortunate plight of people who want to flee their homelands in search of a better future.

Diplomatic Connections: From the Slovak Republic's point of view, what has been the impact of the Russian war against Ukraine on European institutions – notably the EU, NATO and OSCE? How have the focus and the unity of these institutions changed? What has been the institutional impact as opposed to the impact on Slovakia itself?

Ambassador Javorcik: These institutions always suffer or flourish according to the weakest link. In OSCE, the weakest link is obviously Russia. As a member of OSCE, Russia can deny the normal working of the organization. NATO and the EU on the other hand, paradoxically, have gotten stronger because of the internal power of unity.

What Vladimir Putin totally miscalculated was the reaction of NATO and the EU as groupings. The NATO alliance became stronger and our defense plans got real capabilities, real parameters. Sweden and Finland are joining NATO. Switzerland is rethinking its 100 years of neutrality and reshaping the rules of neutrality. Austria has neutrality in its constitution as a result of the aftermath of World War II, but it is moving away from aspects of its neutralism.

The same goes for the European Union. It is getting stronger and stronger in helping Ukraine to cope with its extreme economic problems stemming from the war by offering major assistance. But, also the EU is getting stronger internally by reforming the institution and its procedures and by becoming less dependent on deliveries of Russian raw materials.

Diplomatic Connections: Given the immense amount of damage to Ukraine's infrastructure and the amount of human suffering and deaths inflicted by Russia on Ukraine, should a War Crimes Tribunal be established to record all the war damages and to try President Putin and his military and civilian supporters for war crimes and crimes against humanity? Could this be done under the auspices of the International Criminal Court? Or, might such a commitment to establishing a war crimes tribunal present a roadblock to ending the war in Ukraine and reestablishing peace?

Ambassador Javorcik: There will not be a true peace for Ukraine without investigating the war crimes in Ukraine. Without investigation and without trying those who are identified as responsible in an open tribunal there will be no accountability for their actions. That is unthinkable. We have to do it.

Ukrainian courts have already tried a handful of Russian "war criminals," but such war time courts under the auspices of the apparent victim of war crimes run the risk of crossing the line between justice and retribution or revenge. An international tribunal, difficult as it might be to establish, would create stronger precedents against future conflicts and help deter acts of aggression which lead to the commission of war crimes.

How should this be done? Slovakia is a part of the community in Europe and North America saying that we must figure out the mandate and the procedures to hold specific persons responsible for the war crimes that have been committed. There are many models to consider, going back to the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials following World War II. The trial of the Lockerbie bombers of Pan Am flight 103 was handled by a panel of Scottish judges trying the perpetrators under Scots law while based on Dutch territory. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993) and its counterpart the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994) were ad hoc tribunals created under the authorization of the United Nations Security Council "to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes, and other atrocities and humanitarian violations in these particular conflicts." Out of these grew the impetus for the creation of the International Criminal Court. There is also a very different model offered by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1995) that has been imitated elsewhere to varying degrees of success. That model seeks restorative justice rather than retribution.

At this point in the war the critical factor is to document events, gather evidence, and analyze it as close to real time as possible in preparation for any legal processes that might follow. We can lose evidence very, very quickly in war time circumstances. And, there will always be efforts to cover-up or falsify evidence amid the battlefields. There are talks going on right now among the "Friends of Ukraine" about establishing procedures for trying such war crimes. Without meaningful and just trials, without personal accountability, there will not be any long-lasting peace in Ukraine.

Diplomatic Connections: From Slovakia's point of view what would a peace process for Ukraine look like?

Ambassador Javorcik: Our position is that the peace process has to have parameters that are acceptable to the Ukrainians. Really, the specifics of any peace process must come from the Ukrainians because they are the victims of aggression. It was interesting to see the initiative of President Zelensky floating a ten point agenda for a peace settlement. All of his ten points are reasonable. They are talking about energy security, nuclear waste, war crimes and many other things. These are the agenda points we have to address to establish parameters for peace negotiations. One of those terms, definitely, is the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Diplomatic Connections: Including Crimea?

Ambassador Javorcik: It is for the Ukrainians to say once the Ukrainians and the Russians, as well, are ready to sit down around a negotiating table and both parties agree on those ten points of Zelensky's agenda. Then, "let's have a talk." According to the Ukraine Constitution, Crimea was an "autonomous, integral part" of Ukraine. I don't think there is reluctance on the side of Ukraine to talk about the future of Crimea, but within the Constitution of Ukraine.

The territorial integrity of Ukraine is something that is sacrosanct for us. We cannot expect Ukraine to cede twenty, or fifteen, or five percent of their territory as a prize for starting the peace talks.

The outcome of this war must be the strategic defeat of Russia. What I mean is, if the Russians thought that Ukraine would fall back into the zone of influence of Moscow: that will not happen. If the Russians thought that Ukraine would be pummeled into little more than wreckage that is an ungovernable piece of land: they have failed miserably. And, the third option is that Ukraine will become part of the European Union market. And by that I mean the European Union political market and military market as well as the economic market.

Putin did everything possible to create a strong Ukrainian nation and a strong Ukrainian nation within European markets. That is his biggest failure.

Diplomatic Connections: Slovakia's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Rastislav Kacer met last year (2022) with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the sidelines of a NATO Foreign Minister's meeting held in Bucharest. He expressed the opinion that, "Ukraine should one day have the same security guarantees that we [Slovakia] have today. From a moral point of view, Ukraine clearly deserves it." What would such security guarantees look like? From whom should such security guarantees come?

Ambassador Javorcik: It is tempting to say that those security guarantees should look like Article 5 in the NATO Treaty, which provides for collective defense, meaning that an attack against one NATO member is treated as an attack upon all.

That is the easy answer. But, the more long term answer is getting Ukraine the same sort of security and economic guarantees of their future free development and pursuit of happiness, which is one of the building blocks of the U.S. Constitution, that are to be enjoyed under the umbrellas of NATO and the EU. That is security.

How to do it? My thought is that Ukraine has to become part of the European Union community of nations. Recall that the trigger for the Russian aggression in 2014 was not NATO membership. Nobody was talking about NATO membership in 2014. It was Ukraine signing a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. Putin, however, refused to accept Ukraine's actions and proceeded to seize Ukraine territory.

Once Ukraine becomes part of the European Union community, then you have at least two articles, legal texts, that guarantee solidarity and joint defense against aggression. Article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), is actually more legally binding than Article 5 of the NATO Charter. [Article 42.7 text: "If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter"]

Diplomatic Connections: Can states, especially states under attack by an aggressor, entrust their physical security to the formal language of international law? Do such legally-based security guarantees have teeth? Can they deter or, if necessary, defeat a determined aggressor?

Ambassador Javorcik: Russia is indicating that they are happy to have Ukraine join the European Union, though not NATO. But, they forget that there is not only Article 42.7 but also another strong article that relates to acts of terrorism. And, we may say that the actions by the Russians are acts of terrorism. Article 222 (TEU), known as the "solidarity clause," says that in the event of a terrorist attack all countries will help the country that is under attack.

For me, and for Europe's security, these provisions provide a compendium of legal texts, not merely political declarations, to assure Ukrainians that their boundaries will be secure and that their pursuit of happiness will not be marred by foreign countries. Moreover, these provisions are substantially different from the Budapest Protocols (1994) under which Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine gave up their Soviet-era nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees protecting the independence and sovereignty of the signers within the existing borders. These guarantees were violated by Russia in 2014 and again in 2022.

Diplomatic Connections: You have been part of your country's diplomatic and national security life for nearly 30 years. And, you have served in a wide variety of different positions ranging from the Office of Slovakia's President, to the Slovak Permanent Mission to NATO, the Slovak Embassy in London, Ambassador to Israel, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (NATO) and now Ambassador to the United States.
Given that remarkable range of experience, what are the most important lessons you have learned in that time? How have you changed as a diplomat, both because of circumstances and because of personal and professional growth?

Ambassador Javorcik: There are two quotes that have formed my life and my practice of diplomacy.

The first comes from my time in Israel as well as from my experiences in Slovakia: "You can forgive but never forget."

The second comes from Ronald Reagan: "Trust but verify." Even in the best functioning family, among the best friends, there are situations where it is necessary to say, "Hang on. Check it out. Be sure that whatever you do is compatible and coherent with your convictions." And, in the diplomatic case, be sure that your words and actions are compatible with your country's stated interests.

In my life and the life of diplomats representing a small country like Slovakia the key things I have learned are – never give up; never forget; be compassionate; verify; and be a good partner. That is what Slovakia is doing. I am trying to share these ideas with my colleagues.

The worst thing for a diplomat is to just give up. Sometimes you have to give up; you have to admit that you failed. But, you can never give up your dream of handing over the world to the next generation in better shape than you found it. That is the role of diplomacy as well.

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