Czech-French relations in the field of defense are more and more intensive

 22. 07. 2021      category: Army of the Czech Republic
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In recent years, we have seen an increasing intensity of relations between the Czech Republic and France in the field of defense, the armed forces and the defense industry. In addition to the alliance within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU and joint participation in foreign operations, both in the recently completed mission in Afghanistan and especially in Mali, West Africa, there are a number of military modernization projects involving French companies and vice versa. The tradition of mutual relations dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The recent Day of the Armed Forces refers to the recognition of the right of Czechoslovaks to an independent state by the French Government on June 30, 1918 - before of lined up Czechoslovak legionaries in French uniforms. The first chiefs of staff of the Czechoslovak army were French generals. Today's France has the strongest army on the continent and is one of the countries that does not underestimate the development of the armed forces in the long run.

czmali_02Picture: Cooperation in Mali and in the Sahel in general is very important for France and the Czech Republic | Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic

In the introduction, I would like to deal with the expected reactions from the commentators more or less gifted with humor. For reasons that cannot be understood very well with a consistent insight into French military history, does not only a Czech folklore in relation to the French Army include "jokes" about white flags, tanks that have one gear forward and five backwards, or an advertisement for selling a rifle which was never shot. The roots of this go back to June 1940, and it is a fashion that probably came to us from the United States. Especially in the Czech and Czechoslovak environment, the ridicule of the French Army is out of place, given the historical circumstances. Both our and the French military payed for the bad political decisions that preceded the crisis. In a broader perspective, France is one of the most militarily successful countries in the world. To make things clear.

The historical military success of France, its military traditions, the resulting prestigious position of the army in society and its primary position on the continent have long been reflected in the financing of the armed forces. And in this respect, any bitterness from the Czech side would be downright pathetic. Despite some slight decline in virtually all NATO nations as a result of the economic crisis at the end of the first decade, France spends around 2% of GDP steadily on defense, in sharp contrast to rich Germany (2.1% in 2009, followed by fall to 1.85%, and in 2020 it was again 2.07%). And this is, of course, evident in the equipment and deployability of its armed forces. If we look for an example and an illustrative argument, which not only the Chief of General Staff, General Opata, talks about when he talks about the need for stability and predictability of funding, we can easily find it in France.

Relations between the two armies are taking place in a number of areas. We can mention the regular training of our helicopter crews in France as part of the Mountain Flight exercise at the Sainte Léocadie training center in the Pyrenees. In France, soldiers also trained, who subsequently participated in the mission in Mali, respectively in the operation Barkhane, which, in the wider context of the Sahel in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, involves, in addition to France and the Czech Republic, the armed forces of Estonia, Britain, Denmark, Spain and other countries. At the same time, after the end of the mission in Afghanistan, this French-led operation becomes the Czech Army’s most important deployment outside NATO territory, and as such, in addition to its primary purpose, which ultimately is to combat Islamist groups in the region, is developing cooperation capabilities in international operations. In this respect, the Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar identified the Sahel as a key area for the Czech Republic in March this year.

One of the elite French military schools, the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (in Coetquidan in Brittany), from which officers join the land forces of the army, has a relationship ingrained in its genes with today's Czech Republic. The first graduates of this Napoleon-based institution joined the army just in time to take part in the Austerlitz campaign and the Battle of Austerlitz. To this day, the months of the school year are indicated by the letters of the word AUSTERLITZ, where S is December and the term 2S means December 2, the anniversary of the battle and the school holiday. Among the graduates we would find many great names of French military history and the present, but not only French. For example, the later Czechoslovak general Heliodor Pika, assassinated by the Communists in 1949, also studied at the school, or Colonel Otto Wagner, who fought in the ranks of the Foreign Legion during World War II. Attendees of the school taking courses at the Military Academy in Vyškov also commemorate the battle of Austerlitz every year on the Austerlitz battlefield.

Relations between the two armies are taking place in a number of areas. We can mention the regular training of our helicopter crews in France as part of the Mountain Flight exercise at the Sainte Léocadie training center in the Pyrenees. In France, soldiers also trained, who subsequently participated in the mission in Mali, respectively in the operation Barkhane, which, in the wider context of the Sahel in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, involves, in addition to France and the Czech Republic, the armed forces of Estonia, Britain, Denmark, Spain and other countries. At the same time, after the end of the mission in Afghanistan, this French-led operation becomes the Czech Army’s most important deployment outside NATO territory, and as such, in addition to its primary purpose, which ultimately is to combat Islamist groups in the region, is developing cooperation capabilities in international operations. In this respect, the Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar identified the Sahel as a key area for the Czech Republic in March this year.

One of the elite French military schools, the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (in Coetquidan in Brittany), from which officers join the land forces of the army, has a relationship ingrained in its genes with today's Czech Republic. The first graduates of this Napoleon-based institution joined the army just in time to take part in the Austerlitz campaign and the Battle of Austerlitz. To this day, the months of the school year are indicated by the letters of the word AUSTERLITZ, where S is December and the term 2S means December 2, the anniversary of the battle and the school holiday. Among the graduates we would find many great names of French military history and the present, but not only French. For example, the later Czechoslovak general Heliodor Pika, assassinated by the Communists in 1949, also studied at the school, or Colonel Otto Wagner, who fought in the ranks of the Foreign Legion during World War II. Attendees of the school taking courses at the Military Academy in Vyškov also commemorate the battle of Austerlitz every year on the Austerlitz battlefield.

When naming the contact points in the field of defense between France and the Czech Republic, one cannot ignore the personality of the current attaché of the defense of the French Embassy in Prague, who is Lt. Col. Daniel Kopecky, an infantry officer with 39 years of service. His Czech-sounding name is not accidental, as is the fact that he speaks fluent Czech. His mandate ends after five years on July 22 this year, and we take the opportunity to ask him a few questions:

kopecky
Picture: Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Kopecky, Defense Attaché of the French Embassy in Prague | Daniel Kopecky / CC BY-NC-ND

Mon colonel, could you describe to our readers your journey into the ranks of the French Army?

I was born in Prague. Both parents were Czechs. In 1968, my mother, along with my brother and me, emigrated to France. And there I had a military career that I always wanted. And I didn't go through the Foreign Legion, as one might easily believe. As emigrants from Czechoslovakia, we received French citizenship and I joined the French Army as a French citizen. I graduated from the military academy and have been serving since 1982, so for 39 years.

What were the main tasks with which you came to Warsaw in 2016, from where you were also responsible for relations with the Czech Republic, and then to Prague?

I did not come to Warsaw with any specific task. A new post of Deputy Defense Attaché was established. From Warsaw we co-operated with all V4 countries, we were three officers - one acting as the main attaché for defense, one as the representative for Hungary and Poland and one as the representative for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and that became my task. In general, it was and is a matter of supporting French-Czech or French-Slovak military cooperation.

What do you consider to be the greatest success of your work in Prague?

This is a difficult question because there have been several successes. I must definitely mention the events connected with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic. The celebration was attended by, among others, the French Chief of General Staff, we also had the Foreign Legion with its banner and music. It was an intense experience. A year later, there was a similar program in Slovakia, where they commemorated the Year of Štefánik. Of course, it is also necessary to mention the visit of the French Minister of Defense, the visit of the President of the Republic, or the visit of the French National Aviation Group (Patrouille de France) to Ostrava. Several times a significant delegation came to Austerlitz, the anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz. And the success of concluding a contract for the supply of the TITUS armored vehicles in 2019 cannot be missed. Unfortunately, the years 2020 and 2021 were influenced by covid. I hope that this year we will successfully obtain the signing of the contract for the supply of the CAESAR guns. I think a lot has happened in the last four years.

In which areas do you see the greatest opportunities for cooperation between the Czech and French armies, and between the Czech and French defense industries?

There are several areas, I see three main ones when I think about your question. The most important area is the operational area. As already mentioned in the article, cooperation in Mali and in the Sahel in general is very important for France, and I think for the Czech Republic as well. Especially now when coalition troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. At, say, the politico-military level, the excellent relations that now exist must be continued. The French Presidency of the European Union awaits us, and the Czech Republic will hold the EU presidency next six months. In this regard, I would like to appreciate the Czech Republic's support for virtually all French initiatives in the field of European defense. In the field of defense industry, cooperation is obvious and intensive, there are the TITUS, CAESAR and other projects. Cooperation in the defense industry between France and the Czech Republic definitely has a future.

You return to France, or you continue the "tradition", which was founded by your predecessor, Colonel Bucherie, and in fact the first chief of staff of the Czechoslovak. Army General Pellé, and will you settle in the Czech Republic?

Yes, I continue this tradition and stay in the Czech Republic. I don't know yet for how long, but it's planned. I would very much like to continue to focus on French-Czech cooperation in any field, but primarily, of course, in the field of defense and the defense industry, where I have extensive experience.

Source: Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic