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Mike Pompeo must strengthen diplomacy with Central Europe

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Normally, a visit by the United States Secretary of State to capitals of America’s Central European allies would be mostly a sequence of courtesy calls. But these are not normal times. What is at stake during the visit of Mike Pompeo to Budapest, Bratislava, and Warsaw this week is the place of the region in the Western alliance.

The first stop on his trip, Hungary, is largely a lost cause. Although Viktor Orbán is attuned to Donald Trump’s brand of politics, his government has also been an extremely unreliable ally. In recent months alone, Hungary has acted against US interests at a variety of junctures. It has expelled the New York-incorporated Central European University from Budapest in spite of US protests, sent the Lyubishins, Russian arms dealers, back to Russia instead of extraditing them to the United States, sabotaged Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU, and openly flirted with the idea of “neutrality,” presumably as an alternative to Hungary membership in NATO and the EU.

Across Central Europe, the seemingly Trumpist currents of local politics go hand in hand with a distrust of America and an embrace of authoritarianism and Russia. Poland, a staunch US ally, may seem like an exception but even there, the US Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, a Trump’s appointee, has been visibly exasperated by the government’s attacks on independent media. Moreover, Poland’s nationalist, Trump-friendly government may not survive the parliamentary elections this fall. The US administration thus faces the urgent task of finding a way of engaging with Visegrad countries in a way that goes beyond the superficial affinities over immigration and national sovereignty.

Most importantly, the United States has to respect the region’s commitment to the European project, instead of encouraging its fringe euroskeptic voices. Slovakia, which Pompeo is visiting on Tuesday, is a Eurozone member and has largely bucked the region’s slide into nationalist politics, but only narrowly so. Its electorate and the governing coalition are divided between those who see both the EU and NATO as fundamental to Slovakia’s security and prosperity, and those who instead look up to Russia and China as viable civilizational alternatives.

Read the full piece here.

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