Defence Committee discusses forthcoming strategic documents on defence
The Committee on Defence of the Parliament of the Czech Republic has returned to its work after the holiday break. In the presence of Defence Minister Jana Černochová and Major General Miloslav Lafek, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, the Committee discussed the deployment of the Ministry of Defence's forces and assets in foreign operations, the stay of foreign armed forces on the territory of the Czech Republic in 2022, the second supplement to the participation of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic in military exercises outside the Czech Republic and the participation of the armed forces of other states in military exercises on the territory of the Czech Republic in 2023. The most interesting part of the Committee's deliberations was the information provided by the Ministry's representatives on the forthcoming Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic, Conception of Build-up of the Army of the Czech Republic and strategic plans.
The introductory information on the deployment of our forces abroad and the stay of foreign troops on our territory in 2022, as part of the standard regular discussion, included facts about the political, military and financial aspects of the Czech troops and soldiers in foreign operations and the stay of the armed forces of other states on the territory of the Czech Republic in the given period. The activities of our soldiers in foreign operations and their preparation were influenced by two major events. "Of course, the war in Ukraine and the related measures to strengthen NATO's eastern border. And also the end of the Czech military engagement in Mali. The Russian aggression triggered the necessary steps by the North Atlantic Alliance to strengthen its own defence, which led, among other things, to the creation of multinational battle groups in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria," said Defence Minister Jana Černochová. These groups now cover NATO's eastern flank from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. In February 2022, the Alliance put the Rapid Reaction Force on standby, for which the Czech Republic had 580 troops ready for immediate tasking. However, their deployment outside the Czech Republic did not take place. The minister also said that the European Union had launched an assistance mission for Ukraine in November last year, which was dedicated to training Ukrainian soldiers on the territory of EU member states. The Czech Republic had been involved from the very beginning. "Back in November and December 2022, we organised the training of the Ukrainian mechanised battalion and specialists. It was within the CBRN force and it was engineers and medics on Libava. In total, we trained 609 people," said Jana Černochová. The second significant event in foreign operations with our participation was the end of the nine-year Czech military presence in the European Union training mission in Mali and the one-year involvement in the French anti-terrorist operation within the TAKUBA task force. "Unfortunately, the negative attitude of the Malian transitional government towards the military presence of Western countries in Mali and its growing military cooperation with Russia through the Wagner Group led us to the decision to end this military engagement and, of course, to complete all the tasks we had there," said the Minister, who said that her participation in this mission had brought a number of valuable experiences. "Among other things, we have confirmed that our soldiers are capable of successfully managing an international mission, even in very difficult conditions marked by the period of the covid pandemic, the military coup in the country or the growing influence of Russia on the Malian junta," Černochová highlighted the positives of the mission.
The stay of foreign troops on the territory of the Czech Republic was conducted in such a way that the mandate for the stay of up to 200 NATO armed forces troops in accordance with the activated NATO Preliminary Defence Plans was not used. The stay of a Slovak military team to assist in the liquidation of large fires in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park was carried out by a team of up to 30 people with a helicopter and operated as part of the Integrated Rescue System from 29 July to 8 August. In 2022, a total of 2,121 members of the Ministry of Defence were deployed in foreign operations and all returned home safely. "More than CZK 1 billion has been allocated from the ministry's budget for serving in foreign operations. The expenses and costs related to the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the territory of the Czech Republic reached CZK 32.5 million last year," the Defence Minister added. Jan Jireš, Senior Director of the Defence Policy and Strategy Section of the Ministry of Defence, added that in the case of the current events in Niger, there is no evidence that the coup was planned and carried out in cooperation with the Russians and the Wagner Group. "It points to the fact that as soon as there is any opportunity and any vacuum in that region, the Russians try to fill it," Jireš added.
The content of the 2nd supplement, which concerns international exercises outside and on the territory of the Czech Republic, includes information on the AIR DEFENDER 2023 exercise. Here, the date, number of days, personnel and equipment were specified. The exercise, through its content and training objectives, focused on the preparation of forces and assets for deployment in real combat operations. The objective of the exercise was to reinforce and test the emerging capability of the Joint Force Air Component (JFAC) in the context of alliance interoperability. The exercise involved NATO and Swedish forces of up to 80 personnel and was conducted without the requirement for an additional increase in the defence budget.
The Defence Committee also heard information on the forthcoming Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic, the follow-on conception and strategic plans. The revision of the key documents is mandated by the Government's Programme Declaration by the end of 2023. In the autumn of 2022, the preparation of the new Security Strategy of the Czech Republic and the new Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic was launched. The process was conducted more or less in parallel and emphasised the active involvement of all relevant public administration bodies. This June, the new Security Strategy was adopted by the Government. The new Defence Strategy will be discussed as scheduled on 6 September at the Defence Planning Committee of the Ministry of Defence, followed by the State Security Council on 21 September and at the end of September by the Government.
Picture: The Defence Committee also heard information about the upcoming Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic, the follow-up to the CDA and also about strategic plans (illustrative photo) | mjr. Ladislav Kabát
According to Defence Minister Jana Černochová, the most important topics of the Czech Republic's defence policy include "In particular, the fundamental deterioration of the security environment and its implications for the defence of the Czech Republic and collective defence in NATO. Another topic is the government-wide and society-wide approach to defence, including the involvement of citizens in defence preparations. These are the military prerequisites for defence capability. It is, in fact, what we call state and societal resilience, the effectiveness of decision-making processes, crisis management, technology and innovation. It is also the ability to develop the armed forces in war and to mobilise the resources and tools needed to do so. Next, it is the role of the defence and security industry, including ensuring security of supply and the involvement of industry in the system of economic mobilisation," the minister said, adding that an important parameter of the document is also "the resourcing and staffing of defence. According to the Minister, the individual elements of the strategy are elaborated in the follow-up strategic, conceptual and implementation documents of the Ministry of Defence and other public administration bodies. "The strategy, like the previous one, will be regularly evaluated, especially through the annual report on the state of defence provision," the minister added.
Another fundamental document for the development of the army's capabilities is the upcoming Concept of the Construction of the Army of the Czech Republic 2035. "This concept will build on the security and defence strategy. The ambition of the Ministry of Defence is to build a modern, capable and comprehensively prepared all-military army. We want an army that is a solid pillar of the Czech Republic's defence system and that provides an adequate contribution to the collective defence of the North Atlantic Alliance. In its concept, the Army takes into account, in particular, the significant change in the security environment and the related need to prepare for a high-intensity conflict. Adaptation to the changing nature of war is another important theme of the Army's concept. In this context, I would underline in particular the concept of multi-domain warfare," said Minister Černochová. Chief Director Jan Jireš then added that during the preparation of this document, the CMX 2023 exercise took place in March, in which all high-level ministries participated for the first time in history. "This means at the level of deputy ministers who would actually participate in the meetings of the central crisis staff. The exercise was crucial in that we were able to identify many gaps that we have in coordination between ministries and in the involvement of other ministries in the preparation for defence and in the execution of defence," Jireš said. These facts were then reflected in the new defence strategy and other documents. "It will definitely be a source of lessons and challenges for all ministries and for the government as a whole for many years to come," Jireš added.
During the meeting, the MPs of the defence committee pointed to the importance of educating society so that the Czech Republic has a high social resilience. The provision of civil protection is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, and the relevant infrastructure falls under the responsibility of individual regional authorities. The current defence strategy is based on the current legislation, however, it is necessary to take into account possible changes in competences and possibly also laws. Lubomír Metnar, the chairman of the committee, told CZ DEFENCE that this is the first strategic document since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine that the defence committee has dealt with. "Of course, I assess this as a good job that the defence ministry has done in this document. It will have continuity with other documents. In this context, a working group has been set up within the Ministry of Defence under the Defence Planning Group, with the understanding that they are looking at and will look at any legislative gaps that might be in our current legal system in relation to the implementation of the defence strategy. There are no specific legislative proposals as yet. We will see what conclusions the working group comes to, whether it is necessary to amend some legal norms within the Czech legal system so that the defence strategy is effectively implemented," Metnar said. An important part of the strategy is its communication with the public and the evaluation of competences in the field of civil protection. "These are very crucial issues. At the moment, I am not in favour of rapid changes. Around the year 2000, civil protection of the population came under the Ministry of the Interior, one of the main roles is played by the Fire and Rescue Service, which has done a great job. Changing the whole system at the present time would bring, shall we say, more problems than benefits, but that does not mean that there is nothing to improve. On communication - you know that I am one of the critics of the current Government. Strategic communication is not going very well for this government. Even in this particular case of the strategy document, it has been said that the ministry is aware of this, because it is looking for ways to communicate appropriately. I think there is a lot of room for improvement here and we will be interested to see what form it chooses," Lubomír Metnar, chairman of the Committee on Defence, told CZ DEFENCE.
We asked the members of the Defence Committee the following question: To what extent do you think that the citizens of the Czech Republic should be familiar with the current Czech Defence Strategy, the Conception of Build-up of the Army of the Czech Republic and strategic plans?
Lubomír Metnar (ANO), Chairman of the Committee
These strategic documents are already publicly available, at least on the relevant websites of the Ministry of Defence in the documents and legislation section. However, I have long been critical of the communication not only of the Ministry of Defence, but also of the Government as a whole towards the citizens. In this case, too, given the current security situation, these strategic documents should be better communicated and explained to the general public.
Josef Flek (STAN), Vice-Chairman of the Committee
A lot of information is already traceable on the Internet. I support informing citizens. Politics should be primarily about communication - this is mainly a task for us MPs, senators and ministers. On the other hand, much of the information relating to national security and defence is so sensitive that not everyone can see it. The state cannot shoot itself in the foot by transparently releasing all the information on a silver platter to its enemies. There must be a balance between openness and security. It is clear to me that we are at a time when citizens are asking themselves whether we are capable of defending ourselves against any threat. I often hear that 'those few soldiers and equipment would last three days'. Our soldiers have one of the best reputations in the world. We are modernising our equipment by increasing defence spending to the mandatory minimum of 2% of GDP. We are part of the largest military alliance in the world. Both the defence strategy and the CSDP are now moving to a completely different level: they take into account the new threats that the 21st century brings us. I am not afraid to say that by 2030 we will be among the leaders in defence.
Jan Hofmann (ODS), Vice-Chairman of the Committee
The defence strategy is one of the main MoD documents. It does not only deal with items that are subject to the MoD, but also, for example, to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Transport. It therefore covers many areas of people's everyday lives. The defence strategy provides for the replenishment of the army, if necessary, not only with experienced reservists but also with volunteers from the population. Familiarity with the strategy should be in everyone's interest. Of course, it depends on which documents and materials are made public.
Pavel Růžička (ANO), Vice-Chairman of the Committee
I am glad that finally, in November, the Government will approve the Conception of Build-up of the Army of the Czech Republic 2035 and then the Minister will inform the Defence Committee. As far as the publication of information is concerned, the elected representatives of the people, which are the MPs and senators, must of course be informed about it, and the part that may be classified in some way is not to be made public. And the same applies to the security strategy. If the security strategy is presented to Members, it should be presented in full, including the classified matters. As far as the public is concerned, of course, only the unclassified should go there. As with all documents.
Stanislav Blaha (ODS), Member of the Committee
The citizens of the Czech Republic have the right to know the quality and manner in which the defence of our country is ensured. Therefore, all strategic documents should be as comprehensible and accessible to the public as possible. For many decades, we have believed that the security environment around us is calm and that there is no danger of war in Europe. Unfortunately, for over a year and a half now, we have witnessed the opposite, which is why it is important to emphasise that the defence of the country is of paramount importance. I believe that, also in view of the war in Ukraine, this is the right time to explain carefully to the citizens of the country why there is a large-scale modernisation of the Armed Forces, why it is necessary to spend these funds on defence, and why it is necessary to continuously review and supplement all strategic documents. As far as the Conception of Build-up of the Army of the Czech Republic and other strategic documents are concerned, it is understandable that the public does not need to know the details of the defence strategy in everyday life. At the same time, it is important for citizens to know how the Czech Republic invests in its defence. In the context of the war in Ukraine, it is crucial for the public to know that a thorough analysis of the development of the conflict is being carried out and that, on the basis of this, strategic documents are being revised so that we remain prepared for all current and future security threats. The task of politicians is to explain the content of the Czech Defence Strategy to the public and to assure them that our country has the human, material and financial resources to implement it.
Jiří Horák (KDU-ČSL), Member of the Committee
The current material of the Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic, as presented at the Defence Committee, is well prepared and appreciated not only by the representatives of the coalition but also by the opposition, which I consider positive. The current defence strategy contains several key points, and I would particularly emphasise the need for major investment in infrastructure, such as roads, railways, transhipment points, etc. These are points that are extremely important not only from the point of view of the defence strategy, but also from the point of view of the development of the Czech Republic as a whole. And the level of infrastructure is an area where our country has huge reserves, and the defence efforts to move investments in this direction could have a synergistic effect. Given that the Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic is an important document that will be of strategic importance for the Czech Republic, not only from the point of view of defence, the Czech public should be informed about it in a detailed and comprehensible manner. This is also because investment in the infrastructure and modernisation of the Czech army will require considerable investment of public money. Citizens must have an overview of where their money is going.
Karel Krejza (ODS), Member of the Committee
A compromise must be found between letting the citizens know that we have a strategy and that we can defend ourselves in the event of an attack and by what means. And between 'need to know' and not revealing more than is necessary.
Radovan Vích (SPD), Member of the Committee
In my opinion, the citizens of the Czech Republic should be familiar with the current Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic, the Conception of Build-up of the Army of the Czech Republic and the strategic plans to a certain extent. It is important for the public to be aware of the basic principles and directions that the Czech Republic's defence policy is taking. This allows citizens to better understand the decisions and measures taken in this area and to have the opportunity to express their views and concerns on this matter.