“Every change of scene requires new expositions, descriptions, explanations,” Milan Kundera once observed.1 With long-dominant structures in flux, European states – and perhaps smaller ones in particular –are now forced to rethink their foreign policy approaches and practices. While the changing international context has generally created anxiety and uncertainty, fear can also have productive effects. It can create opportunities – and incentives – for re-assessing as well as for diversifying and intensifying support networks and reaching out to new partners.

In this policy brief, we outline how one small Northern European state, Norway, and one Central European state, Czechia, have assessed and responded to the changing international political context so far.2 While located in different geopolitical settings, and with different histories, political systems and resources at their disposal, Norway and Czechia operate under many of the same international framework conditions. Both states are committed members of institutional frameworks and cooperation agreements such as the UN, NATO, the OSCE, the European Economic Area and Schengen, although neither state could be said to have been at the heart of decision-making in these fora. Both are ostensibly well-embedded in regional groupings: the Visegrad Four (V4) and the Nordic Cooperation (N5 or ‘the Nordics’) respectively. At the same time, neither state’s best interests are best served by being overly associated, or defined, by their membership of these groups. These similarities make them well-suited and interesting cases for comparative analysis and for consideration of the new possibilities created by global change. How are Norwegian and Czech officials and policy makers evaluating contemporary developments? What do they identify as the key fears to which they must respond? Which partners and institutional structures have they traditionally relied on – and what indications of change (if any) can we now observe?

As our discussion shows, Norway and Czechia also face many common fears – from concerns about the international order and their global sense of place, to challenges to key institutions such as NATO and the EU, and concerning specific issues such as climate change, energy security, territorial security, and how to best respond to migration. We argue that these common fears could provide a springboard to greater cooperation that can diversify Czechia and Norway’s support networks and entrench a greater sense of international belonging for both countries. As smaller states, Czechia and Norway have greater latitude to conduct such explorations than would larger powers or more central members of institutions and alliances. We conclude by identifying some common opportunities for a more structured Czech-Norwegian bilateral cooperation; ways to develop their declared but largely latent friendship.

FEAR OF DISORDER