Expert: PM’s goal of 2 percent defence spending by 2024 “not realistic”

Leopard 2A4

Prime Minister Petr Fiala says that the Czech Republic now aims to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence by 2024, one year earlier than pledged in the government’s manifesto. The statement was made ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid in June. I asked defence analyst Matúš Halás from the Institute of International Relations in Prague what he makes of this new target.

“I don’t think it’s realistic. I didn’t even think that the original target of 2025 was realistic, to be honest.

“There is an ongoing increase in defence expenditure in the Czech Republic, but I think that this increase is not sufficient enough to reach 2 percent in two years.”

And why is it so hard for countries to increase their defence spending budget fast?

“The simplest reason is that procurement processes, or public tenders take years to materialise. In other words, to be concluded.

“That means, for example, that if you make the decision now to procure new fighter jets, tanks, or tracked armoured vehicles, you will probably be able to reach the result of the public tender process in two years, if you are lucky. Then the delivery itself takes years as well.

“I didn’t even think that the original target of 2025 was realistic, to be honest.”

“And this matters in terms of spending, because you do not pay the whole price in total. You split the payment into parts, paying for example one third in the first year, one third in the second year, etc.

“Therefore, it is quite unrealistic to expect that in two years the Czech defence budget will increase by, let’s say, CZK 50 billion if the current budget is around CZK 90 billion. It’s a huge increase and it’s not very realistic.”

The war in Ukraine has had the result of a lot of arms being gifted and moved within the alliance by NATO members. A lot of Soviet era equipment is being sent to Ukraine, while many states are offering more modern, western equipment as replacements. You don’t think that this has sped up the whole situation?

“Oh, yes. It is, indeed. It is like that.

“The Czech Republic will receive the older version of the German Leopard 2 tank and it will most probably also procure the most modern version of it. It will also most probably procure a lease on a new fighter jet.

“The simplest reason is that procurement processes take years to materialise.”

“All of the procurement processes across Europe will be sped up. That’s a given fact. This is happening thanks to Ukraine and it happened also after Crimea a few years ago.

“But the thing is that it is not really possible to speed up the processes so much, that you will increase your annual budget by nearly a half in a space of two years, to move from 1.4 percent of GDP to 2 percent.

“Yes, you can speed them up and it will be faster because of what is happening in Ukraine, but you can only make so many shortcuts.

“Another factor is that the deliveries themselves take time.”

Since we mentioned that upcoming NATO summit that is set to take place in Madrid from June 29 to June 30, what do you expect to happen there? Are there any key topics that you expect will be discussed, any important conclusions that may be reached and is there anything of particular relevance to the Czech Republic that will likely happen at this NATO summit?

Matúš Halás | Photo: Institute for International Relations

“The original plan was that a new strategic concept would be approved at the Madrid summit. That was also the reason why the summit was scheduled and it was the major topic that was expected.

“Another major thing that is expected is the approval of the application process of Finland and Sweden to enter NATO.

“Then of course Ukraine, rising defence expenditures and all of these topics will be discussed.

“When it comes to the Czech Republic, most likely the big thing will be that new strategic concept and how it will reshape, or remodel the whole NATO strategy.”

Could you tell us a bit about this strategic concept and what it is expected to look like?

“It was expected already before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The new strategic concept will shift the emphasis back towards territorial defence, or collective defence. The old school Cold War mode of thinking in NATO.

“The new strategic concept will shift the emphasis back towards collective defence. The old school Cold War mode of thinking in NATO.”

“Up until now there were three main tasks that NATO focused on and collective/territorial defence was just one of them.

“The expectation, even before February, was that this would swing back towards territorial defence.

“How exactly NATO thinking is developing after Russia’s invasion took place is not fully in the public’s knowledge. However, I expect that its emphasis on territorial defence will now be even stronger than was planned previously.”