Normative aspect: D
Final mark: C
The Czech Republic was not involved in NATO battalions in either the Baltic States or Poland, indicating a reticence towards strengthening the Alliance’s eastern flank. First and foremost, the army cannot keep pace with the increasing demands the Alliance places on operational units. Nevertheless, an appropriate political response in the form of a significant increase in defence spending has not materialised. The current state of the Czech army not only prevents it from playing a fully-fledged role on a par with its allies, but also limits the development of Visegrad cooperation. The Czech Republic’s involvement in the Visegrad Group’s Baltic exercises is commendable but, taken overall, is merely a symbolic step. Not even the otherwise positive espousal of European strategic military independence stemmed from a well-developed position supported by consensus within the ruling coalition, which consequently robbed this potential volte-face in defence policy of credibility.
Honouring the commitments made at the NATO summits in Wales and Warsaw was the main topic of Czech NATO policy. Participation in the Alliance’s defence policy and Visegrad activities was hindered by the limited capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. Despite this state of affairs, the security situation in the European neighbourhood, and the escalating debate on balancing the transatlantic costs of defending Europe, there was no significant increase in Czech spending on defence. Czech backing for a proposal to establish a common European army also raised a host of questions.
The Czech presidency of the Visegrad Group failed in its attempt to push for the creation of a permanent modular unit that would preserve the capabilities of the EU Visegrad Battlegroup, which was on standby in the first half of the year. This setback can be partly blamed on the Czech approach, in that NATO’s increased demands on Czech engagement, for example, in its Rapid Response Force made the Czech Republic less willing to also make its military capabilities available to the Visegrad Group. On the other hand, the Czech Republic did contribute to the agreement on the deployment of soldiers from V4 countries to the Baltic States for exercises as part of NATO’s “continuous” presence, endorsed at the Wales Summit.
However, even as this agreement was being announced, the initiative was essentially eclipsed by the new Alliance plan to set up four multinational NATO battalions in the Baltic States and Poland. Although this was one of the main conclusions of NATO’s Warsaw Summit, and despite the fact the Czech Republic declared – ahead of the summit – that it would be contributing to the Alliance’s presence in the Baltic States, it was not involved in any of these battalions in 2016. The Czech Republic’s contributions to the reinforcement of the Alliance’s eastern flank have long been squeezed to the minimum necessary to keep up the image of a dependable ally, rather than the maximum possible capability demanded by the security situation in the Baltics.
Spiralling security demands have yet to be matched by the rate of increases in domestic spending on defence. There was no change in the Czech approach even after the US presidential election, even though Donald Trump stressed that he was expecting European allies to share the responsibility for European security more equally.
A key factor for the future of Czech defence policy was last year’s statement by the Prime Minister that the Czech Republic would support the creation of a common European army in the long term. His words were subsequently altered by the Defence Minister, revealing the lack of coordination within the coalition. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s declaration was not accompanied by any specific proposal in the context of preparations for the December European Council, which was scheduled to address security and defence policy. While, generally speaking, this is a positive shift in defence strategy, in practice, the proposal appears to be more an exercise in improving the Czech Republic’s reputation following the spat surrounding the migration crisis, as well as an effort to be part of the European integration core in the wake of Brexit.