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Defending Czechia: The State and its Burgeoning Defence Apparatus

The  2020 Global Peace Index has ranked the Czech Republic as one of the safest countries in the world (Global Peace Index, 2020). Safety and security are the twin responsibility of the state and within the Czech Republic, the responsibly is shouldered by the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic and the armed forces of the forces. 

The Czech Republic is one of the advanced nations in the world. It is a member of several supranational organisations like the European Union (EU) the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the  Council of Europe as well as the Organisation of American States (OAS). The defence forces (the army, the air force, and other specialised units) of the Czech Republic are geared towards protecting the Czech people and their homeland and its membership of international organisations are in sync with its security objectives. The Czech state has its security policy well laid out with the survival of the Czech state being a primary objective. Territorial integrity, political stability, and economic prosperity are the primary factors that drive the Czech Security Policy in Europe. The chequered history of the Czech Republic has further necessitated the establishment of the armed forces within the country. 

The Czech Republic and its army for the majority of its history were a part of the Warsaw Alliance Pact since the Eastern bloc fell within the Soviet sphere of influence during the ideological cold war between the United States and the Soviets (USSR). The creation of the modern-day Czech Republic was precipitated by the Velvet Revolution, a peaceful revolution that led to the division of the erstwhile Czecho-Slovakia into two independent countries; the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993. The modern state of the Czech Republic came into existence on this day. 

The Czech Army 

The armed forces since then have played a crucial and enviable role in managing the state of affairs within the country under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence. As a member of NATO, as pointed out before, the Czech forces have the dual role of preserving the legal sanctity of the Czech state while fulfilling its commitments to NATO. In place of this fact, the Czech army is a part of several NATO operations be it Resolute Support or the Kosovo Pact. At the same time, Czech soldiers are part of operations in diverse regions like Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Israel, and Somalia under the aegis of NATO. Interestingly, the RAND notes that Czech support for NATO “is linked to an awareness of shared responsibility and a commitment to assist allies in time of need” (RAND, 2020). The Czech citizens have recently committed CZK 43.9 million (€1.63 million) more to the NATO budget from 2021, reinforcing its commitment to NATO (Remix, 2020).

Until 1990, the Czech army was known as the Czechoslovak People’s Army (CSLA) and it was primarily equipped with Soviet weaponry but arms diversification has taken place ever since. The Czech arms industry has transformed since the fall of the communist bloc. The army has reduced in size but not to a significance. From being a world leader in arms production and export of having armaments, the Czech defence industry played a pivotal role during the Second World War. Through the infamous 1938 agreement the Czech Republic fell into the hands of the Germans and so did its defence industry with the town of Plzen being heavily bombarded during the war. The situation changed drastically in the post cold war era with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR). Recently the arms industry has changed under Vaclav Havel, the as Czech President and the introduction of democracy and the free market (Radio Prague International, 2002).

It is estimated that the Czech forces today comprise 25,899 soldiers and 8,059 within the armed forces. There are 3,236 reserved personnel as well within the Czech army. The armed forces have a clear structure with the General Staff of Czech Armed forces and the Czech Air Force forming the pivots of the force. At the beginning of 2020, it was announced that the Czech army would modernise and acquire new weapon systems and has approached the BAE Systems (CV90) GDELS (ASCOD) and PSM (Puma) in this regard.  The soldiers in the Czech forces have access to CZ-805 BREN assault rifles and the Czech Pandur II 8X8 wheeled IFV and the Tatra 810 medium truck among others. The current Chief of the General Staff is Aleš Opata. The army has taken a lead during the coronavirus pandemic and is busy assisting the government in managing the pandemic. Amidst a sharp surge in cases during the second wave in Europe, the Czech army is expected to erect a hospital in Prague’s Letňany district with a capacity of 500 beds (Kenety, 2020).

The Czech Air Force

Like any smart defence force, the Czech Air Force is another crucial pillar of the Czech defence system that works in co-ordination with the Czech Air Force. With traditions of military aviation going back to 1918, the Czech Air Force had its origins in the united Czechoslovak Airport. It is a national asset that secures the Czech airspace against pre-eminent attacks and is at the frontline of Czech defence at all times. However, like the army, the Air Force has reduced in size after the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia as independent states. The new era Czech Air Force was created on 1 July 1997 when the 3rd  Corps of Tactical Aviation and the 4th  Air Defence Corps were united.

Like the army, the airforce has played a key role in NATO operations. It is a member of the NATO Tiger Association and has access to the substantial technology in the form of JAS-39 Gripen fighters in 2005 and the Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) Antonov An=124 Russian Transport Aircraft among others. The Czech Air Force has assisted the Afghan Air Force in its modernisation programme and has donated three Mi-17 transport helicopters to the Afghan air force in 2008. The United States and the Czech forces have worked shoulder-to-shoulder on multiple projects in Afghanistan together since the inception of the crisis of Afghanistan in 2003 (Johnston, 2008).

Czech Republic-India Defence Partnership

The Czech Republic and India have a similar take on a majority of issues including reforms within the United Nations (UN) structure, bilateral trade, defence ties, and tourism. The relationship shared between the two states is progressive and diverse. The Czech envoy to India, Mr. Milan Hovorka has consistently spoken in favour of India’s burgeoning contact with the Czechs and has even supported India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The Czech Republic has also backed India’s candidature to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a full member. As far as the defence ties are concerned, the ties are on the upsurge with Tatra trucks being used by the Czechs for several decades. PBS, a Czech company has recently signed a contract and opened an India office, intending to produce engines in India, giving a fillip to the Make in India movement (Johny, 2019). It must be recalled at this juncture that the relationship between the Czech Republic and India has been warm and friendly since the inception of ties with frequent high-level visits being exchanged by both countries, thus, providing a further boost to the ties. Moreover, the Czechs and the Indians signed the all-important defence co-operation agreement in 2003 and since the signing of this agreement, the relationship has seen significant growth.

In the sphere of defence, the two states are developing their ties at a rapid rate. For instance, the two states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between BEML and the Tatra trucks on strategic co-operation. Both the states have reaffirmed their commitment to fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and expressed their willingness to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the UN. President Ram Nath Kovind has also invited Czech defence enterprises to take advantage of the opening of the defence sector in India and participate in joint ventures during his visit to the European state in 2018 (The Economic Times. 2018). Taking this momentum forward, Deputy Minister of Defence for Industrial Cooperation Mr. Tomáš Kopečný co-chaired the sixth meeting of the Czech-Indian Joint Defence Committee on 3 February in New Delhi. Czech defence companies like Tatra Trucks, AERO Vodochody, Aerospace, Eldis, Omnipol, and the PBS Group made their presence felt at the meeting. It is not surprising to therefore note that Tatra Trucks is preferred by the Indian army and Tatra Trucks have collaborated with Bharat Earth Movers Limited and delivered 100 all-wheel-drive vehicles. At the same time, Omnipol has partnered with OFB Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi, and the Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi, and played a role in strengthening existing defence ties between the Czech Republic and India (Gateway House, 2016). A center for radars made by ELDIS Pardubice was opened in presence of Chairman of AAI (Airport Authority of India) Mr. Guruprasad Mohapatra, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to India H. E. Mr. Milan Hovorka and Commercial Director of ELDIS Pardubice Petr Krejcar. This event closed one chapter of history of successful operations conducted by ELDIS Pardubice in India. Almost 70% of Indian territories are currently covered by radars made in the Czech Republic. Such initiatives enable us to understand the level of progress both countries are making in their defence ties. It also helps us to envisage the role the Czechs can play in ensuring the creation of a safe military apparatus within not just India but South Asia.

Conclusion 

The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) delegation visited the Czech Republic in September 2013 for finalizing and signing of an agreement on Cryptography course at Masaryk University. 13 officers from DRDO, including one officer from Indian Navy, attended the course on ‘Short Term Intensive Course in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)’ from 22 September to 20 December 2013 at Masaryk University. The course was conducted based on the cooperation agreement between DRDO and Masaryk University. This university teaches and trains Indian students on cyber security. 

Thus, one can conclude by saying that the Czech defence forces are playing an important strategic role in various capacities within the Czech Republic as well as in overseas territories with the able support of the defence industry. The Czech defence forces despite the downsizing that took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 have continued to be a tour de force in their respective roles. The Czechs have led from the front and participated in NATO activities in Europe and Asia and have carved a niche for themselves in the international order. The Czech forces have thus enabled us to understand that they are a force to reckon with as they continue to fulfill their commitments to the various defence initiatives they are a part of. 

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