A year after his last visit to Prague, the Czech capital has once again welcomed American President Barack Obama. In April 2009, he came to participate in a European Union summit organized by the Czech Republic, which at the time held the rotating presidency of the EU. However, in hindsight, this visit will mainly be remembered — not for the relatively unembarrassing summit with European leaders — but for Obama's keynote speech on nuclear proliferation. Now the American President has come back to sign an agreement to reduce nuclear stockpiles with Russia's Dimitri Medvedev. The decision to ratify this latest accord in Prague is clearly symbolic: it was here that Obama chose to announce the most ambitious programme of an otherwise ambitious presidency. Now he has returned to mark the first milestone in the realisation of that programme.

Last year, there were a wide variety of hopes and expectations focused on the post-modern version of the American dream inspired by the election of a new US president. This year's event will be characterized by more hard nosed politics, and real decisions with very definite consequences. The Americans are concentrating on the implementation of universal health care in the United States, while the rest of the world is more interested in the new US strategy in Afghanistan, the review of the proposed missile defence shield, attempts to establish a more balanced policy on the Middle East, and efforts to improve relations with Russia.

The Central European complex

Many people feel they have been short-changed by the transition from dream to reality that has occurred since April 2009 both in the United States and the Czech Republic, as well as in other countries around the globe. In particular, many Czech Atlanticists have trouble accepting the fact that no US radar installations will be established on Czech territory. In their view, the abandoning of this component of the missile defence shield project amounts to a dilution of American commitment to Central Europe, and the waiving of a guarantee against Russian expansion, which was to ensure that the Czech Republic would remain part of the West. They are unhappy that Obama appears to doubt the relevance of this opinion, which is largely based on a Central European complex that is not easily understood by outsiders. Atlanticists worry that a European political system and institutions and membership of the EU do not provide sufficient protection from the influence of Moscow, and this fear is shared by a significant proportion of the Czech population.

It is also clear that Obama's current visit will do little to allay this fear. On the contrary, our Atlanticists have always been concerned about fraternization with Russia, and today they are eager to find new evidence to justify their wariness. Whose idea was it to organize a conference in Prague? Was it not a Russian initiative? Aren't they simply trying to show that the Czech Republic is not part of the West, but that it is part of a zone located between the West and Russia? Is Obama stringing them along?

The main problem is Iran

It is best to acknowledge that the dream of a special relationship between Prague and Washington is an illusion, which fails to recognize the imbalance of powers between our two nations. A balanced transatlantic relationship can only be established between the European Union, considered as a single entity, and the United States. But even then, it will not be enough to ensure monitoring of the reduction of nuclear arms, nor will it be sufficient to meet a host of global challenges, which will necessarily require cooperation with Russia, China, India, Brazil and other major international players. At the same time, the bid to establish multilateral cooperation has to be founded on the furthering of Western interests and the hope that these will be adopted by other parties. In short, it must be based on universally accepted standards.

In this regard, much needs to be done to improve the current system for the monitoring and reduction of nuclear arms. From the point of view of the West, the main problem today is the Iranian nuclear programme, but this opinion is not universally accepted by other players who are quick to point out that the Russian and American nuclear arsenals are much more extensive than their equivalents in other countries. And although they are currently engaged in a reduction process, neither Russia nor the United States appears overly eager to reduce the amount of arms in their possession. Without a clear commitment to disarmament on the part of these two former superpowers, pressure exerted by the West on Iran will always be lacking in legitimacy — a fact well understood by Obama who is aware that he will have to start work at home if he is to succeed in imposing his vision of a nuclear-free future. The need to rid the world of nuclear weapons will have to be accepted both by Moscow and by the American Senate. It is difficult to say which of these two parties will be more difficult to convince.