Bold plans of the new Government for the Army: 2 percent for defence, Euro-Atlantic link and support for domestic industry

Bold plans of the new Government for the Army: 2 percent for defence, Euro-Atlantic link and support for domestic industry
10 / 11 / 2021, 10:00

The relevant annex to the published coalition agreement signed by representatives of the SPOLU (ODS, KDU-ČSL and TOP09), Pirates and STAN coalitions shows a certain continuity in the basic features of the state's defence policy. Looking at the general theses, we would not be exaggerating if we estimated that even the current Minister of Defence could sign up to them with a clear conscience. Importantly, there is an explicit commitment to achieve defence spending of 2% of GDP in 2025. The new coalition also espouses the objectives of the Conception of Build-up of the Czech Army 2030, talks about supporting the domestic defence industry, which it also wants to use more effectively in responding to crises, strengthening NATO's eastern wing and transatlantic ties with the US, and the need to maintain the political cohesion of the Alliance.

According to the signed coalition agreement, active membership of the North Atlantic Alliance is the starting point for defining the new government's defence programme statement. The coalition is committed to fulfilling the commitments made to allies and names as a top priority the achievement of defence spending of 2% of GDP in 2025. Despite the current certain slowdown, which falls far short of the assumptions of the Concept 2030 in particular, to which the new coalition also subscribes, this postpones the achievement of the desired goal by only one year compared to the previous government's plan. It also exceeds the term of office of the incoming government, but it will be judged by the trend of the defence budget and the ability of the next government to achieve this target.

The coalition promises to introduce a multiannual budgetary framework that will stabilise and streamline the defence budget. This is in line with the regularly communicated demand of the Army. The big question will be the level of GDP. In 2019, the Concept 2030 calculates an absolute amount of CZK 135.45 billion for 2025 and 2% of GDP. Fluctuations in GDP in the context of measures against the coronavirus pandemic, and due to other influences such as the ongoing energy crisis, will affect this figure. In any case, this will be a significant increase on the current figure, and it will be difficult to enforce, maintain and, last but not least, to spend effectively. Not because the Army does not need to renew, modernise and maintain equipment, invest in soldiers and real estate and reduce its internal debt, but because the acquisition processes as we have been observing them for a long time are far from efficient. The most obvious example is the tender for tracked IFVs, which was due to end in 2019, and will not be before 2022.

Among the points where there is virtually no contradiction between the current and incoming defence minister, besides the pro-Western orientation, there is also support for domestic production capacities and the demand for active involvement of Czech industry in acquisitions from abroad. In this respect, there is much to build on, and the level of involvement of Czech industry in the large contracts currently under way meets or exceeds the terms of reference. The coalition also promises to increase support for the export of products and services from the Czech security and defence industry, including assistance with guarantees, financing and government-to-government sales. To this end, the Agency for Intergovernmental Defence Cooperation was established in February this year, and thus the future policies can be built on it and developed in this respect. The programme also mentions the strengthening of funding for science and research projects in the field of defence and security, which was one of the main programme points of the Pirates and STAN coalition.

Before the implementation of the Czech Army’s Concept 2030 and the implementation of key armaments and modernisation projects, a rather thorough update of this strategic document will most likely have to take place. In fact, it is already underway, as, for example, this summer the Army's newly identified priority was the acquisition of light assault vehicles for the Airborne Regiment at the expense of self-propelled mortars. Updating and confirming or changing priorities will need to be approached comprehensively, not only in light of developments in the economy and state budget revenues, but also, for example, changes in the nature of foreign missions following the end of operations in Afghanistan.

The general theses in the annex to the Coalition Agreement are virtually unquestionable. Explicit mention is made of the threat from Russia and its solution in the form of political cohesion and the military capacity of the West and the strengthening of NATO's eastern wing, including greater involvement of the Czech Armed Forces. Perhaps there is no mention of the threats coming from the south or south-east, as the mission in Mali is now the most important foreign mission of the SAF, and the problems associated with Islamism or poverty in African countries, where Chinese presence and influence are growing, and in the countries of the Middle East have not disappeared, just as the problems in Afghanistan and the associated risks of illegal migration to Europe have not disappeared either.

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