15th anniversary of the Czech Republic's accession to NATO

Autor: Nuala Casey, Oldrich Holecek

"Defence matters" said the Minister of Defence, Martin Stropnicky, speaking at the 15th anniversary conference of the Czech Republic‘s accession to NATO, which was held at Prague Castle on 12th March. He went on to say, "After 15 years of the Czech Republic’s membership in NATO, our security is still not commonplace".

The President of the Czech Republic and Supreme Commader of the Armed Forces, Milos Zeman, opened the conference, which was also attended by the former NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, and the Chief of General Staff of the Czech Military, Lieutenant General Petr Pavel.

President Zeman who also spoke at the conference added, "A mutually guaranteed security means that the defence umbrella is being clasped by all members of the Alliance," This is because, endangering the security of any country is a potential threat to each and every one of us, and, therefore, our membership within the NATO structure is important, not only for the security of our country, but also for every citizen in our country."

The Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Petr Pavel, also spoke very candidly about the present situtation within the armed forces. "Taking full responsibility, I must say that our military is now operating under the limit of sustainability. If we do not take action very soon, some of our capabilities will weaken to the extent that they will just cease to exist."

The Czech Republic only once during the last 10 years earmarked 2 % of our GDP for defence but, for the other years, the amount has been continuously declining to the present 1.08 %.

"We are not meeting a majority of the commitments we had agreed to at the NATO Summit in Prague in 2002. We will soon have to inform our allies that the steady curbing of defence expenditure will result in the slowing down of our flagged projects, for example, our passive surveillance systems," said General Jiri Sedivy, who was the former Chief of General Staff during the time of the accession to NATO.

At the beginning of his address, Minister Stropnicky informed the audience that on the very day that they celebrate the 15th anniversary, the Czech government had unanimously passed a supplement to an agreement which would prolong the lease of the Swedish supersonic fighters, the JAS-39 Gripen, until the year 2027.

The main topic at the conference was, again, the underfinancing of the Czech military. "Only stopping the slide will not be the solution. It is necessary to continuously increase the defence budget to at least 1.5 % from now onwards. It also requires making the defence planning and aquisition system more effective, which will then achieve in-house savings, and will also maximise international cooperation within NATO, the EU, the regional groups, and bilateral relations," added the minister.

"We need the North Atlantic Alliance more than ever before, because the security situation is unpredictable and unstable," said the former NATO Secretary General, George Robertson: "I have already alerted you about the reduction in expenditure for the common defence, and that it will not pay off in the future. Media and TV reports are proving that security is seen as generally unstable worldwide," added Robertson.

Included in the following photo gallery, are unique pictures from the accession ceremony held on 12 March, 1999, as the Czech Republic joined NATO together with Hungary and Poland. The pictures show the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Jan Kavan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, János Martonyi, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Bronisław Geremek. The accession documents were also signed by the U.S. Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright.

March 19, 2014