Washington, 6 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Czech President Vaclav Havel made an eloquent case Friday for NATO expansion and America's continued involvement in global affairs at an award ceremony in Washington honoring him for his contribution to international understanding.
The award was presented by Czech-born U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Friday on behalf of the Fulbright Association in a ceremony held at the State Department.
Hundreds of diplomats, academics and politicians gave Havel several standing ovations and listened intently as he reflected philosophically and practically on America's role in the world and the consequences of a diverse and decentralized world, following the end of the Cold War.
Three days before hearings on NATO enlargement are due to start in the U.S. Senate, Havel warned that the danger of war still exists in Europe and expanding NATO is a way to prevent it and worth whatever it will cost.
Several U.S. senators have raised questions about the costs of bringing Central Europeans into the alliance, and the wisdom of expansion at a time when there is no clear-cut threat to the United States, as well as the possibility of antagonizing Russia and drawing new divisions across Europe.
Havel dismissed this kind of thinking as "naive, shortsighted and even dangerous."
He said it does not take a lot of imagination to see what could happen if "the ongoing process of European integration were unable to enhance its security dimension, if it were to stop at the gates of NATO, the only functional defense alliance in Europe."
He warned that if Europeans were to miss the chance of establishing a new order on the principle of cooperation and equality, they "might be headed for a new global catastrophe much graver than the previous ones."
Havel said "the forces of freedom would not be facing one totalitarian enemy, " and that "this could be a strange war of 'all against all' -- a war with no clear-cut fronts, a war that would be difficult to distinguish from terrorism and organized crime." He said "it would be a war in which the whole world would be engaged...by a number of indirect and hidden means."
Havel said that expanding NATO will be an investment in "preventive security," adding that "even the most costly preventive security is cheaper than the cheapest war."
Havel said that eight years after the collapse of communism, he feels that keeping the peace will be a much more difficult task than he had originally envisaged because the dangers have multiplied and the enemy is no longer predictable or even easily identified.
He said that now "the world is covered with innumerable dangers that are extremely diverse, decentralized and yet entertwined and hard to predict."
Havel urged Americans not to succumb to isolationist temptation, recalling that "never in modern times has isolationism protected America from whatever the danger may have been." On the contrary he said "it has always been responsible for belated engagement at a time when conflagration was ... beginning to pose a vital threat."
Living up to his reputation for moral leadership, Havel said the U.S. should not be afraid to use force in extreme cases. He said "the United States must have the strength to intervene with force...against apparent evil," and that "America cannot and must not give up this obligation" which is a specific part of its responsibility to the world.
Albright said she feels a special kinship with Havel, born in the same land with the same hopes.
"The mysterious currents of fate have brought us together as friends and our countries together as partners in a way that neither of us could ever have imagined," she said.
She paid tribute to Havel for his role in the collapse of communism and "even more for what he has helped to build in its place," replacing the Berlin wall with the bricks and mortar of democratic institutions.
Albright said that under Havel's leadership, the Czech Republic has restored its democratic tradition and market economy.
"Soon it will be a member of NATO and the European Union," Albright said.
Havel received the 1997 J. William Fulbright award, named after the late Senator from Arkansas who sponsored study programs to improve knowledge and understanding among peoples of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
The Fulbright Prize for International Understanding was created five years ago, and carries a monetary gift of $50,000. Previous recipients include President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and former federal chancellor of Austria Franz Vranitzky.
The Czech embassy said Havel, accompanied by his wife Dagmar, planned to leave Washington for New York late Friday and return to Prague after the weekend.
His visit is being described as private but he had talks with Albright about the Czech Republic's preparations to join NATO.