NATO in the 21st Century and the Czech Armed Forces: A Way Forward

Date of event: 8.11.2018

On Thursday, November 8th, The Prague Centre for Transatlantic Relations of the CEVRO Institute (PCTR) and the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) co-hosted one of the most exciting debates of this year so far. The venue took place at the usual location at the parent organization CEVRO Institute (Jungmannova 17, Praha 1) yet at an unusual time as the event started an hour earlier at 4 pm. The distinguished guests who accepted our invitation, were Lt. Gen. Frederick Benjamin “Ben” Hodges (ret.), who served as the Commander of United States Army in Europe and now holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies (CEPA); Peter B. Doran, the CEO of CEPA; Daniel Koštoval First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic; and last but not least Gen. Petr Pavel former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. The event was moderated as usual by the director of PCTR Alexandr Vondra.

This event could not be timelier as existential debates over Czech engagement in Afghanistan are constantly in the news and sceptics criticize the notion that Czech soldiers are dying in wars that are on the other side of the world. The title NATO in the 21st century and the Czech Army: What’s Next? should resonate with every follower of global politics and should engage our citizens in a very serious discussion about the safety of our country and the safety of Western values all around the world. The quest lineup underscores the importance of this topic.

In their opening remarks, both representatives from CEPA, a think tank from Washington D.C. focusing exclusively on Europe, namely Lt. Gen. Frederick Benjamin Hodges (ret.) and Peter B. Doran, stressed how important it is for the Czech Republic and NATO to modernize its armed forces and also work on bettering the infrastructure in order to improve the mobility of armed forces across the European continent. These two recommendations could not be more felicitous to an audience in the Czech Republic as our military expenditures do not meet the 2% threshold, agreed-upon our joining of NATO, and our highway system is not even being repaired on time let alone being modernized and expanded.

Gen. Peter Pavel opened his remarks by agreeing with the points made by the CEPA representatives, yet he also reminded the audience that future warfare is not going to be only fought conventionally and that readiness in other departments is also important. He focused most of his speech on the disinformation threat that is ever more apparent in the Czech Republic and in the world overall. Gen. Pavel, the highest serving military commander from the Czech Republic in NATO, also stated that when it comes to security we cannot be afraid to make decisions because there is usually very little time to act and it is imperative that people in the position to make decisions must make them at all costs rather than wait. Last to enter the debate was Daniel Koštoval, the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic, who mentioned that the Czech Republic is not a country that has an operational place at the end of its borders but that that is where the operational space stars and the area is constantly changing. Although he was rather positive when talking about the improvements doings by the Ministry of Defense, he still mentioned that the Czech Republic cannot spend half of what it should on defence. Lastly, he also mentioned that although Czech Army is never going to be as large as the army of for example the USA, Turkey or Poland, it can still be indispensable for NATO operations as it can be focusing on operational engagement or specialized operations.

The second part of the event was moderated by Alexandr Vondra, who engaged some people from the audience and had himself questions for our guests as well. He wanted the guests to comment on the phenomenon of Atlanticism and the future of this phenomenon in the 21st century. All the guests responded with the unanimous support of Atlanticism and the benefit it gives to countries participating in organizations like NATO. One of the last topics that the guests discussed was the adversaries of NATO and the EU. The debate mostly revolved around Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China as both of these countries are at odds in some crucial regions in the world.

This event was definitely one of the most important ones when it comes to the Czech Republic and the importance it has on the international field. Nowhere else is our engagement so important and our own safety depends on it.

On behalf of PCTR, we would like to thank all the distinguished guests for their participation and we would also like to thank the audience for being very kind and for showing up in such large numbers. The atrium of CEVRO Institute was packed per usual and there were even people on the balconies making the event truly magnificent.