In recent weeks, we have heard it suggested that the Central and Eastern Europeans are once again behaving like servants and lackeys. As soon as we were liberated from the Soviet yoke, it is said, we immediately subjugated ourselves to the will of the United States.

In fact, the reason for our approach is not a need to serve anyone but rather our experience from the recent past. We know how dangerous and devastating totalitarian rule is -- not only for those who are enslaved by it but also for its neighbors and all of humanity. We would almost be inclined to say that such a system itself is its own worst weapon of mass destruction, not only lacking any restraints on the things it will do to subdue the people within its borders but also emanating its own deadly sort of radiation on the world scene.

In Iraq we face a dictator whose weapons of mass destruction threaten international peace and security and whose rule has plunged his country into the sort of misery hardly imaginable to anyone who has not been exposed to the barbarous, dehumanizing power of a totalitarian regime.

What is at stake now is the authority of the United Nations. We are convinced that the international community should not only "contain" in this case but also act resolutely and in a timely manner. It needs to be said here: We are convinced multilateralists. We strongly believe that the United Nations is the right place to deal with this issue, and we hope that it will not be necessary to use force. But if it is necessary, the next step of disarming Iraq should be conducted in the context of a new Security Council resolution.

Czech soldiers, members of an anti-chemical unit, are already in the Persian Gulf, ready to participate in an international operation backed by a new action of the Security Council, and ready to do their job under any circumstances should Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction be used.

We follow with great concern the European debate on Iraq, and we welcome the common position adopted by the European Union's members in the past week. But although we have been advised by French President Jacques Chirac to be silent, we are convinced that we must speak up. We ardently support the process of European integration. We strongly believe that, together with the other countries of our region, we will enrich the EU with our skills, our culture and our traditions, and our political experience. The money that will have to be invested in the current enlargement process will definitely be well spent.

But we are also devoted Atlanticists. We believe that what was only a dream for us in the decades after World War II is now becoming a reality: a Europe whole and free. And this dream can be realized only through close cooperation and open dialogue with the United States.

We are very much aware of our status as newcomers. We are glad that so many older Europeans share our vision. Now, in our view, is no time for diplomatic games. What should prevail -- and we are confident that it will -- is solidarity among all freedom-loving nations. Only then will Europe, a place that we have belonged to from the very moment our nations came into existence many centuries ago, meet the responsibility that we all bear in our common new world.

The writer is the Czech ambassador to the United States.