Czech defense minister in first meeting with US counterpart

James Mattis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, photo: U.S. Department of Defense,, CC BY 2.0

The Czech Minister of Defense is starting a working visit to the United States with the highlight a meeting with his American counterpart, James Mattis. While there are other issues on the agenda, Martin Stropnický might also have some explaining to do over levels of Czech defense spending.

James Mattis,  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg,  photo: U.S. Department of Defense,,  CC BY 2.0
The US stand on NATO and its alliance allies has calmed down a bit since Donald Trump’s famous comments that NATO was obsolete. Some reverse gears have been found with Secretary of State for Defense, James Mattis, leading the way. This is what he said in February at his first NATO meeting in Brussels.

"The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the trans-Atlantic community, bonded as we are together. As President Trump has stated, he has strong support for NATO. And NATO is in the midst of transformation. It has always been adapting to the security challenges, this is nothing new. Perhaps the pace of change has certainly picked up a bit, but this is something we can deal with. And it absolute appropriate as a European minister of defense said last week, it’s a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary costs to defend freedom.ʺ

While the anti-NATO rhetoric has been toned down, it’s clear that the push to get some defense spending backsliders to pull their weight has not gone away. And while it not officially on the agenda for the bilateral talks, Stropnický might still have some explaining to do.

Ministry spokesman Vladimír Lukovský outlined the official agenda for the meeting.

ʺThey will be talking about the security situation in the world, especially in the Middle East, about cooperation between Czech and American troops in coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and they will be talking about cooperation in the NATO framework."

Martin Stropnický,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Earlier this year a row about Czech defense spending blew up between the government coalition partners with the Social Democrat leader of the lower house, Jan Hamáček, highlighting the fact that the ministry failed to spend 4 billion crowns of its almost 47.8 billion crown budget for 2016. That would have taken Czech defense spending down to 0.97 percent of Gross Domestic Product, lower than the 2015 budget and well short of the target 2.0 of GDP which NATO allies are supposed to earmark for their military. Hamáček claimed there were systemic problems and the ministry was shying away from spending to avoid the repetition of past procurement scandals.

The ministry explained that contracts covering much of the spending shortfall had already been signed and the cash should be spent in 2017. This year Czech defense spending is supposed to creep slightly higher to 1.08 percent of GDP. And the coalition government promises that overall defense spending should climb to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2020. Minister Stropnický might also broach the question of a massive Czech helicopter contract which could be won by US bidders.