Hearing the voice of former Chiefs of Staff is useful
On 30 October, retired Army General Jiří Šedivý gave an interview to CZ DEFENCE under the title "We must finally start buying entire weapon systems, not just aircraft or tanks alone". It can be noticed that not only in this interview, General Šedivý offers a much more sober, factual, restrained view compared to various security analysts and "Twitter warriors".
It even seems that this ability is available to former Chiefs of the General Staff in a structural way, as the reaction of another one of them, Peter Pavel, to the news of a missile impact on Polish territory was similarly restrained and sober – as opposed to a whirlwind of unsubstantiated judgments and far-reaching reflections on the escalation of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. In the interview itself, however, quite fundamental and sometimes controversial opinions were expressed by Jiří Šedivý. It is worth recalling some of them.
In fact, Šedivý's positive assessment of the F-35 is not controversial, because he has spoken out in favour of American solutions for arming the Czech Army in the past. One can have doubts about the generational obsolescence of the Gripen aircraft, both in the C/D version operated by us and especially in the new E version. The potential for expanding their capabilities into a true "multi-role fighter" has been only partially exploited by the Czech side. And even when looking at the use of supersonic fighter aircraft primarily in the alliance framework, one cannot overlook at least partial advantages of increased "biodiversity" - i.e. that all allies do not deploy only one dominant type. However, the main thing to take seriously is the warning that the acquisition of the F-35 does not make sense in a reduced format where, due to financial pressures, a government or ministry may want to cut corners on everything possible. Then the merits of the F-35 as a complete system can easily disappear, leaving the logistical and planning nightmare of an expensive but difficult to operate and even harder to deploy torso of an otherwise superior system.
Another comment was directed to an issue that is discussed in the Czech public debate only in a very general way and has not been very lively in recent years: should the Czech Republic have an all-military army? General Šedivý, however, was very critical of a historic decision that came twenty years ago from General Škopek's Centre for the Development of the Armed Forces and sometimes called Tvrdík's reform, which transformed the structure of the armed forces in a fundamental way – the reduction of ground brigades to mere nuclei, and the separation of combat support and security forces into "branch" independent units. Artillerymen are concentrated in an artillery regiment, engineers in an engineer regiment, and so on. This model is largely not seen today as a retreat from an all-army army, because in principle it preserved these types of troops. However, Šedivý's argument is crucial in that instead of full-fledged and "full-blooded" brigades that would have the above and other components (e.g. logistics, electronic warfare) organically and permanently in their bundle, we really only have sort of half-built, pre-prepared task groups.
Memorists will confirm that this model of brigade task groups, where the brigade itself is only a very incomplete (in Šedivý's words, "chopped") condensation core, and all other components are given only for a specific task as part of the puzzle from the outside, raised doubts and uncertainty about how it would work. One can also recall how the arguments for it sounded – they were buzzwords like modularity and flexibility, and of course economy, concentration of expertise and specialization, all of course in the face of drastically reduced numbers.
It is a question of what we actually gained. Are artillerymen, chemists and anti-aircraft troops in better shape today than if they were permanently attached to their brigade in smaller units? General Šedivý does not say so in the interview, but he certainly says it has hurt the brigades. That is, the units that remained the highest level for independent tactical activity in the Czech Army. This should be taken seriously, especially since the current Chief of the General Staff Karel Řehka has set real combat capability as his top priority.
Immediately afterwards comes another logical, but certainly not naturally accepted position, namely that the security of the state is not only a question of the Army. And even national defence (as a subset of security) is not only the task of the Army. Anyone who has a modicum of imagination and can conceive of even the most basic needs of a defending state immediately senses that the ability to mobilize human and material resources, to reinforce the performance of defense industry enterprises, to reinforce and keep in operation the infrastructure destroyed by the adversary, to keep the population alive and the state power running – is a task that astronomically exceeds the capabilities and competencies of any Army and, of course, of a relatively small agency such as the Ministry of Defense. General Šedivý is not saying this in any harsh or stern way, he is just making a friendly point – but the reality is that we have completely lost the ability to think in this dimension of defence and crisis management over the last thirty years as a political community. It is a big question whether the state and public authorities, despite a seemingly sophisticated system of crisis, emergency and defence planning, could stand up under such a burden. In fact, binders with sophisticatedly structured documentation do not guarantee the ability to cope with extreme crisis situations. The same scepticism should be applied to a population that has never been prepared for anything like this. The only marginal exception is school pupils and students, who may (or may not) have been exposed to some topics of human protection in emergencies in the classroom, and then may have undergone some "demonstration" within the POKOS programme. It is possible that the Czech defence industry would have been pleasantly surprised, not least by the penetration of ex-servicemen, which has often been criticised in the past, for example in the case of the Czechoslovak Group, which engaged many capable retired officers. However, even the performance of the arms industry would be dependent on sufficient material and energy inputs.
The conversation could not avoid the current developments in the war between Russia and Ukraine. It should be repeated here that Jiří Šedivý is one of the most restrained and sober commentators, and for that reason alone it is good to use his analysis to counterbalance the propagandists solidly represented in the Czech media, who already see the Ukrainian army marching victoriously through Red Square. And he is not afraid of fundamental doubts when he literally describes the ambitions of the Ukrainian leadership as unrealistic and the ability to replenish troops as one of the reasons for the high human and material losses on the part of the Ukrainian army. In the Czech opinion mainstream, General Šedivý is one of the rare voices that remind us that it is perfectly legitimate to calculate whether it makes sense to continue the war and that the question is whether the chance to end the war in time and prevent such widespread devastation of Ukraine and its economic potential has been missed. In this he cleverly refers to American and British analysts – but even so, in the Czech context, it is a bold statement.
Nor is there any excessive optimism about how the war might actually end. Šedivý speaks realistically about the need to stop the Russians, emphasises how much they have lost some of the Ukrainian territory they have gained, and in particular has avoided making light of their capabilities in his comments many times.
This, then, is what a meaningful contribution to public debate from the former chief of staff of our army might look like. It is possible to make a compelling case for continued support for a struggling Ukraine, while at the same time not lending itself to preaching false optimism and dehumanising the adversary – and to conclude with a serious warning that Russia's capabilities and ingenuity are far from exhausted and that we will face further subtle attempts to undermine the unity of NATO and the European Union.
PhDr. Libor Stejskal, Ph.D.
Security Analyst, Prague Security Conference, z.s. He has long been working on security policy, its social, economic and environmental aspects, population protection and issues of vulnerability and resilience. He has been working on trends in the modernisation and use of armed forces and the security implications of climate change, and in 2011 he contributed to the White Paper on the Defence of the Czech Republic. In 2008-2009 he worked in the civilian part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar Province, Afghanistan. He has worked on the history of the Czechoslovak army in the 1930s and is co-author of a book on 1938 in northern Bohemia. He prepares training courses in crisis management.