Czechia may need to bring back military service, says army chief

Jana Černochová and Karel Řehka

Czechia ended compulsory military service two decades ago. Now, however, the head of the country’s army, Karel Řehka, says it may be necessary to bring it back – otherwise the state could have insufficient military reserves in future.

Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Military service was part of life in this part of the world from the Austro-Hungarian Empire on. Under communism it was typically for two years, and young soldiers were often sent to the opposite ends of Czechoslovakia from their homes.

In 1993 national service was cut to one year, before being abolished completely 11 years later. The Czech Army has been fully professional since 2005.

But could that change in future? The chief of the Czech General Staff, Karel Řehka, said last year that Ukraine demonstrated that the army alone was not enough to defend a country – the whole of society had to play a role.

And in an interview with Czech Radio on Tuesday, Lieutenant General Řehka went further, saying that military service may need to be reintroduced in this country at some point.

Karel Řehka | Photo: René Volfík,

“I personally think that in the future the Czech Republic will have to consider some form or military service, whether compulsory of voluntary. But it will simply have to find some mechanism to generate reserves.”

One knock-on effect of ending compulsory military service in 2004 is that Czechia is losing 40,000 reserves a year, says Řehka, though he concedes their readiness for deployment would be far from certain.

For many in Czechia the very words compulsory military service may bring to mind the “vojna” they remember from the 1990s and earlier.

But the head of the Czech Army says any future version would look somewhat different.

Photo: Post Bellum

“We don’t have in mind the communist-style national service that was here in the past. There are various different models today. Some states do it the other way around: they basically select the elite from society – and that military service acquires a certain prestige. Other states have selection procedures using a lottery system, for instance, based on how many people they need to fill specific positions. Other states have voluntary service.”

Karel Řehka recognises the magnitude of what he is proposing, saying that it would be a political decision that would require social consensus. But he is convinced that change is necessary.

“Come what may, we have to figure out a way to generate sufficient reserves that we are able to deploy relatively quickly. We don’t have them now, and that’s a problem. Because if we are to also prepare for a potential major conflict, we simply cannot do that without sufficient reserves. That is a truth borne out by history.”

Authors: Ian Willoughby , Kateřina Gruntová
run audio