NATO chief slams Czechs over reduced military spending

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, photo: CTK

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has criticized the Czech government for reduced military spending. According to media reports, the NATO chief sent Prime Minister Petr Nečas a letter warning that his government might not be able to fulfil its commitments to the alliance should these cuts continue in the coming years.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen,  photo: CTK
The Czech government’s spending cuts might heal the country’s public finances but, as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned, they could also jeopardize the Czech Republic’s commitments to the alliance.

This year, the government introduced a series of austerity measures that should reduce the state budget deficit by around 60 billion crowns to 135 billion, or 4.6 percent of the Czech GDP. And the finance minister would like to effect more cuts next year to see the deficit drop to 3.5 percent of GDP.

The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Friday that in a personal letter, Mr Rasmussen asked the Czech prime minister to reconsider these cuts. Czech officials have not confirmed the existence of the letter, but the Defence Ministry admits the situation is critical, and further cuts could mean some of the Czech army’s operations would have to be reduced or scrapped. Jan Pejšek is a spokesman for the ministry.

Jan Pejšek
“We have said time and again this is a borderline situation, and any further cuts would jeopardize out commitments towards NATO. In other words, we would have to re-evaluate some of our activities and it’s quite possible this would affect the number of Czech troops in our foreign missions.”

Like all other NATO member states, the Czech Republic should annually spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence. But the country has never met that goal. The Defence Ministry alone saw its budget slashed by 20 percent over the past two years, and this year will spend just over 1.1 percent on the military. In his letter to Prime Minister Nečas, Mr Rasmussen said this merited serious consideration. But according to the draft budget for 2012, the situation could further deteriorate. Jan Pejšek again.

“The Defence Ministry has lost 20 percent of its budget over the past two years, and the cuts should continue according to next year’s budget draft, as proposed by the Finance Ministry. This year, the budget is 43.8 billion crowns while the proposed budget for next year is 41.5 billion.”

The finance minister’s planned spending cuts for next year have met with opposition from several members of the cabinet, and the final 2012 state budget might undergo minor modifications, although it’s unlikely the defence budget will see any significant increase.

Photo: Czech Army
However, the Defence Ministry in recent years spent billions on several arms deals that have been criticized as non-transparent and, in effect, useless. Military analyst Lukáš Visinger says if procurement is fixed, the ministry could make ends meet after all.

“It’s not really about the percentage; it’s about effectiveness. There are countries that spend less than we do but their budgets are rational and systematic, without scandals and overpriced acquisitions.”

The Czech government is to debate the controversial draft of next year’s budget on July 30.