Czechs to announce defence spending increase at NATO summit

Photo: Olga Haladová

President Miloš Zeman is set to announce an increase in the Czech Republic’s defence budget at the NATO summit in Wales on Thursday. Czech leaders also support plans to create a rapid-response military force that should be approved by NATO leaders at the meeting.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
President Miloš Zeman is heading the Czech delegation at a NATO summit that kicked off in the Welsh city of Newport on Thursday. NATO leaders are set to discuss the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as the situation in Afghanistan, but the meeting’s agenda is dominated by the crisis in Ukraine.

The president is set to announce an increase in the country’s military spending to NATO partners at the summit. Though the move was previously discussed, the Czech government only formally reached agreement on it on Wednesday evening. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka:

“Christian Democrat leader Pavel Bělobrádek, ANO leader Andrej Babiš and I have definitively confirmed our coalition’s commitment to gradually increase our defence spending budget in the coming years so that by the year 2020 it reaches 1.4 percent of our country’s GDP.”

This however still falls short of the country’s commitment to annually spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence. But after years of neglecting the military, the Czech government has moved in the right direction, says Jakub Kufčák, associate fellow of the Prague-based think tank Association for International Affairs.

“The prime issue that should be tackled at the summit is the plummeting defence spending of NATO’s eastern member states. NATO forces should not act as substitute for local forces, and there should be pledge from the Czech and other governments to do something about their defence spending, and this time for real.”

Martin Stropnický,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech delegation will also support plans to create a “spearhead” rapid-reaction force that should allow NATO to quickly respond to a crisis within a few days, according to Defence Minister Martin Stropnický who said the government was well aware of the changed security environment resulting from the Ukrainian crisis.

“We cannot naturally perceive this in any other way than as a threat. It is a threat regardless of a whether a compromise solution is found sooner or later. I think that Europe’s security balance has been changed for a long time to come.”

The Czech government has however taken a more reserved stance on a planned new wave of EU sanctions against Russia. Prime Minister Sobotka said he would object to some of them in order to protect Czech machinery producers. This position has been criticized by two Christian Democrat ministers who instead proposed the cabinet should officially denounce Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine.

Petr Kratochvíl is the head of the Institute of International Affairs, a think tank affiliated with the Czech Foreign Ministry.

He says the government’s approach to military spending differs from its stance on the planned new sanctions largely because the prime minister has less say on security issues than the president or the ministers of defence and foreign affairs.

Photo: Olga Haladová
“The prime minister is side-lined in a sense while these three policy makers are much closer I think in terms of their views on what the future functioning of the NATO should be including the need to increase the military spending.

So I think there is much more agreement – which I find quite surprising – in security issues than in those issues related to the economic sanction and to the functioning of the EU.”