Tuesday, November 18, 2014

URSP Student Matthew Robinson Explores Reform of the Post-Communist Czech Military and NATO Expansion

My interest in this project grew out of a presentation I made 6 years ago. In a summer class on democratic transitions, I explored the Czech case. That research examined the development of civilian control of the armed forces through the 1990s, the reforms that led up to NATO accession in 1999, and the establishment of an entirely volunteer force in 2004. My interest in this subject matter rose again during a seminar about collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. For my term paper, I sought to examine continuities in post-communist governance, and outlined an expansive project involving a comparative study of changes to public institutions like those responsible for education and national security. I wanted to use Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia as examples for tracking changes to communist institutions in dissolving states, and East Germany as a contrasting example of integration into pre-existing structures in a democratic state. My instructor rightly counseled me to select a topic smaller in scale. He indicated that the project I envisioned would be more appropriate for more involved study, and might require thirty, forty, or hundreds pages to allow for a thorough analysis. Soon after selecting the presidency of Václav Havel as a new topic, I attended an information session for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The big picture was still too big to tackle, but returning to the military piece began to look like a realistic prospect.
This project relates to my professional goals of analyzing and teaching teaching history. In my experience, nearly nothing aids in comprehension current events than familiarity with the historical context of interacting nations, and the dynamics that shape them. Of my passions, global history is the only one that I can envision as the foundation of a career, and teaching presents the best opportunity to put that passion to use in public service.
On a weekly basis, I move closer to my goals by reading, building an outline with notes, and writing annotations for sources as I go along. I also call and email institutions to secure access to archival sources. Ideally, those sources will provide the basis for an original argument about the effectiveness of steering the post-communist military away from its design as a piece of the Warsaw Pact structure. Since 1993, the Czech Republic has had no less than 16 Defense Ministers, compared to 8 in Germany and 7 in the United States. Most have been politicians with little military expertise, and scrapped successive reform programs, hindering meaningful progress. I am sifting through the evidence that convinced NATO of the readiness of the Czech Republic to join the alliance.
This week I reached a staff member in the Office of the Historian at the State Department after we had traded voicemail messages last week. She clarified the scope of material that was unlikely to be available for me, but also sent me several links to identify documents that have already been released under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and limited archival material available through an electronic collection from the Federal Depository Library at the Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).