Czechia signing defense agreement with United States
Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová will meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Washington on Tuesday to sign a Czech-US Defense Cooperation Agreement. The treaty sets a framework for closer cooperation between the countries’ armed forces at a time of growing instability.
The Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was several months in the making and has around 40 pages, sets a legal framework for possible deployment of U.S. troops on Czech territory and their cooperation with the Czech armed forces. Arriving in Washington to sign the document, Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová said that in these troubled times boosting trans-Atlantic ties is in the country’s vital interest. She dismissed any concerns regarding the possible presence of foreign troops in Czechia.
“I am convinced that we negotiated the best possible agreement with the United States and we are the 24th country to sign such a treaty.”
The Czech defense minister emphasized that the agreement does not condition the establishment of a US military base in Czechia or the presence of US troops in the country. But if at any time in the future the two sides agree on the presence of US troops on the territory of the Czech Republic, then this agreement sets the legal framework for their presence, and specifies their legal status, the minister said.
The U.S. has such agreements with over 20 other NATO members, including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Baltics, Romania and Bulgaria that form the eastern flank of the alliance. And, with Russia’s war against Ukraine, others are likely to follow.
The agreement covers issues such as the jurisdiction over foreign troops, environmental regulations, rules for operating vehicles by US soldiers and their families or the status of US armed forces contractors. The head of the Strategy and Defense Planning Division at the Czech Ministry of Defense, Jan Jireš says it will be useful in many ways.
“If, for instance we need American soldiers to provide training at a Czech military base in how to operate weapons systems that we acquire from the US then this agreement will make it easy for them to do so. We will not waste several months by setting down the legal framework for their presence in Czechia.”
Jireš pointed out that as regards jurisdiction issues the basic framework is already set by the multinational NATO treaty SOFA, to which Czechia acceded at the time of its admission to the North Atlantic Alliance.
It stipulates that if these soldiers commit a crime in the host country in connection with their service, the sending country retains jurisdiction over them. The bilateral agreement goes beyond that. If a U.S. soldier in Czechia commits a crime off duty, the Czech authorities can ask the United States to bring the soldier before a Czech court. Under the terms of the agreement, the U.S. would have to comply with such a request.
The treaty also deals with the exemption of US soldiers from taxes and duties in Czechia. According to Jireš, this is a standard term that the US has concluded with all allies.
After it is signed the agreement will still need to be approved by both houses of the Czech Parliament. The only party that is vehemently opposed to it is the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party which is also against the country’s membership in the EU and NATO.