The Czech Republic’s minister of defence wants to see an increase in the country’s military spending, reversing a trend of recent years. Justifying this call, Martin Stropnický said on Thursday that the crisis in Ukraine was a warning that a military conflict in Europe was not out of the question.
The Czech Republic has cut its military outlay in recent years and at present spends just over 1 percent of the equivalent of its GDP on defence.
This is a long way short of the 2 percent target set by NATO. On a visit to Prague last month, the alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called on the Czech government to pull its weight more.
“I have expressed my concerns about the low level of defence spending and I’m pleased that the prime minister assured me that the current government will stop cuts. And then I added, I hope that you can find political support for also gradually increasing defence investments. Because we need that… Looking to the future it is a problem that the Czech Republic spends too little on future-oriented modern military capabilities.”
In a speech on Thursday, the Czech minister of defence, Martin Stropnický, said the country’s military budget should increase by 0.1 percent of GDP annually in the coming years, starting in 2015. It was necessary to rethink priorities because of the Ukraine crisis, he said.
“Firstly, an extensive conventional military conflict in Europe is – in the light of this development – possible. Secondly, the warning period that we have to prepare for such a conflict has become markedly shorter – it is now mere weeks or months. Thirdly, we can no longer rule out the possibility of an internal military threat against a NATO member. Rather, we have to prepare for it collectively as if for a real possibility.”
In order to prepare for these new threats, Mr. Stropnický proposes spending an extra CZK 4 billion a year or so on defence.
However, next year’s budget has not been agreed and as yet the minister does not have backing for his plan from the government. He may find support hard to come by, says Daniel Koštoval, state secretary at the Ministry of Defence.
“If a debate is taking place at the government today on a debt limit, which the minister of finance put forward a couple of days ago, we must be aware that could mean – if it is approved – that from 2016 the state budget deficit may not be 100 billion crowns, but rather 60 billion. Then 40 billion will need to be found somewhere in the state budget. That will be huge pressure on the budgets of all ministries.”
In reaction to Mr. Stropnický’s proposal, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš said raising military outlay would only be worth discussing once the army began to use its budget effectively in general. Perhaps NATO chiefs shouldn’t hold their breaths over Prague falling in line with their spending wishes.