Josef Becvar: Defence Minister Slechtova Leading Military to Dead End

Prague, Feb 19 (CTK) – New Czech Defence Minister Karla Slechtova (for ANO) has recently proposed a lot of changes in the military, but her plans raise concerns that she might weaken the defence capabilities of the country, Jaroslav Spurny writes in weekly Respekt out today.


Lay uninformed statements may make attractive news headlines but they may get the military into a dead end, Spurny quotes Chief-of-Staff Josef Becvar as openly saying last week in reaction to Slechtova’s plans.


He says Becvar violated the unspoken rule that politicians are in charge of the country’s defence and soldiers only fulfill the assignments they get from them, which means that a general is not allowed to criticise a political decision of his superior.


Becvar does not seem to consider Slechtova’s plans for a radical restructuring of the ministry and the military and for considerable changes in military purchases beneficial for the defence of the country and the operation of the military, Spurny writes.


“Karla Slechtova tries to be very active, but she apparently lacks basic knowledge of the sphere of the military, strategy and international relations,” Spurny quotes General Jiri Sedivy, former chief-of-staff, as saying.


He writes that the statements Slechtova made in the past two weeks outraged the Czech General Staff, NATO and the organisers of EU common defence.


Czech generals have been closely cooperating with the NATO command on the reform and rearmament of the Czech military so that some Czech units may become part of European or allied forces, Spurny writes.


This cooperation has been lasting for five years and both NATO and the EU have rather praised the Czech Republic for improvements since 2015, he adds.


After Slechtova, known for her admiration for pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, was appointed defence minister last December, the Czech military, diplomats and allies showed concern about the direction in which she would like to move the military. They were alarmed that Slechtova halted the purchases of modern arms that should replace old Russian equipment, Spurny writes.


Slechtova cancelled the ongoing negotiations on the purchase of U.S. helicopters worth 12 billion crowns, which should replace 40-years old Russian-made helicopters. Czech generals, diplomats and politicians were discussing the qualities and price of the helicopters for two years and they have chosen the U.S. firm Bell. The plan has been approved by the Czech government and the U.S. Congress. The last thing to do was to sign the contract. Outgoing Czech defence minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO), Slechtova’s predecessor who negotiated the whole thing, did not want to sign the contract shortly before the expiration of his term, but his successor Slechtova has a different view of the purchase, Spurny writes.


Slechtova told the generals that the selected helicopters had too many military functions and that simpler helicopters, used by some other EU militaries, would suffice, Spurny writes.


Slechtova tells the Czech media she knows what she is doing as she has been thoroughly studying Defence Ministry documents since her appointment. She wants the medium-term strategy of the military to be revised.


The present military outlook until 2022 was approved in 2012, it was updated after the Russian annexation of Crimea and again last year, in connection with the refugee crisis and the plans for the development of a European army.


Slechtova did not say what she would like to change in the medium-term strategy, however, she pointed to alleged discrepancies between the finances the military is to get and the planned arms purchases.


Sedivy and Becvar point out that a dozen of military strategies, concepts and outlooks were worked out in the past 25 years. “Every new outlook disintegrated the previous one, plans disappeared, the strategy kept changing and this slowed down the military,” Becvar said last week at an official meeting of the Czech military commanders and Slechtova.


The commanders fear that Slechtova’s changes may break up the functioning strategical plans harmonised with NATO, Spurny writes.


When asked where the Czech military is heading under Slechtova, Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) only said he believes Slechtova will be able to efficiently use the money she has in the defence budget, Spurny writes.


The cabinet has not yet dealt with Slechtova’s ideas, he writes.