Home > Strategic Analysis > Good Luck General!!

Good Luck General!!

Published : 19 March 2013
1 265 words in that article

Finally!!! Mr. Godot has arrived in Czech Republic (see article on our website). President Zeman officially appointed today a new Defense minister. It is General (retired) Vlastimil Picek, the current First Deputy Defense Minister and former CHoDS between 2007 and June 2012, whose name has been proposed on 18th March by the Prime Minister Petr Nečas. Three months after Karolina Peake’s radical dismissal on 20th December 2012, the Czech Defense has once again a Minister.

State of mind of the parties involved

The selection process has been unexpectedly long. Effectively, it was not only necessary to convince the various partners of the governmental coalition but also to motivate candidates who were not very keen to integrate an unpopular government fifteen months before parliamentary elections.

With the nomination, as it was anticipated, of a Minister not linked with any of the political parties, it can be interesting to examine the probable state of mind of the different actors who have a direct – or indirect – influence on the Czech Defense.

Let’s pay honor to whom the honor is due, we’ll start with President Zeman. Without being a specialist in the Defense field, Mr. Zeman has a true interest for this domain. Unlike former President Klaus who heavily criticized the overseas operations, he thinks that these are one of the two basic missions of the Armed Forces together with the participation to the Integrated Rescue System. Ten days after his oath, he declared his satisfaction to fill a position the vacancy of which he recently deplored. Moreover, since he wishes to pay a visit in a very near future to the Czech troops in Afghanistan, the presence of General Picek as Defense Minister will be definitively an advantage. It’s another big difference with Mr. Klaus: before Mr. Zeman only Vaclav Havel went to visit the Czech soldiers in operation – at that time in Kosovo.

The Prime Minister Petr Nečas might be pleased to have a new Defense Minister who owes him this sudden promotion, so who should be faithful and respect all his orientations. And the icing of the cake is that this important ministry won’t be occupied by one of his political rivals inside ODS or by a young up-and-comer who could have overshadowed him.

Mr. Schwarzenberg, Foreign Minister and president of the party TOP09, has been finally convinced to overcome his reluctance about having a former general as Defense Minister. Did he let it go because of certain weariness – Mr. Schwarzenberg urged Mr. Necas to negotiate on this topic at the beginning of the week – or did he get something in exchange? It is not known yet.

Mr. Kalousek, the Minister of finance and vice-president of TOP09, might appreciate a lot this nomination of a non-party Minister, who can’t set up his governmental authority thanks to a legitimacy won through elections. One can bet that he already gave orders to his services to cut heavily the defense chapter of the 2014 State budget in order to satisfy his own plans of reduction of the deficit. Next year will be parliamentary elections and, as it is the case for all the politicians, Mr. Kalousek will try to get the best possible result…for the Ministry of Finance of which he is directly responsible!

Ms. Peake, the president of the last small party of the governmental coalition, did not avoid the affront to see General Picek as her successor at the Defense Ministry, which is another evidence of her political insignificance. She declared that she is “bothered” by this nomination and admitted that she was never consulted on that topic. As a reward for her “flexibility”, it is not excluded that she could be allowed to create a political club for her party within the National Assembly, favor which was always denied in the past.

Since the main social-democrat opposition party (ČSSD) did not criticize the name of the new Minister, it should be understood as consent. Effectively, Jan Hamáček, the Defense shadow Minister, only declared recently to the press that his party was mainly happy with the fact that the Prime Minister finally found after three months a suitable candidate.

For the people in uniform, the satisfaction might be maximal. On the one hand, they have again a ruling Minister, and he is one of them! Moreover, since they know General Picek, they don’t fear any strategic surprise as it was the case with the unpredictable Ms. Peake. On the other hand, there is a downside: without a strong Defense Minister, there is a high probability that the situation described the paragraph dedicated to Mr. Kalousek will come true… which is far from pleasing the military.

Last but not least, General Picek might be very happy with this unexpected promotion. Even if it is only for one year till the elections of 2014, this nomination greatly improves Vlastimil Picek’s business experience. And it is most probable that, according to a Czech tradition, he could get at the end of his mandate what Czechs name prettily “Trafika” (tobacco shop), recalling the tobacco shops the invalid veterans from First World War got as reward for their mutilation on behalf of Motherland. In short it is a well-paid sinecure, often at the supervisory board of a state company.

Challenges of the year 2013 within the Defense Ministry

Since he worked closely with Mr. Vondra, General Picek knows well the various challenges that are expecting the Defense Ministry in 2013.
Effectively, after the preparatory works that took place in 2012 and derived from the conclusions and orientations of the 2011 White Paper on Defense, the main bulk of the reorganizations in the civilian and the military parts of the Ministry will happen in 2013.

Considering the civilian sector, the main changes will occur with the creation of several Agencies which will support in a coordinated way the various activities of the Ministry: human resources, finances, information security, information and communication systems, logistics, acquisitions… Deputy Ministers will supervise the Agencies in their field of competence. After the reorganization should remain 1720 people in those Agencies, that is to say 462 persons less than the current figures.

For the military sector the changes will also be important: dissolution of the two joint headquarters of Olomouc and Stará Boleslav, reorganization of the General Staff and of the Air Force and Army headquarters, transfer off the transport helicopter unit from Přerov to Náměsť nad Oslavou, introduction of new career paths which will enter into force on 1st January 2014, management of the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, future of the hospital of Těchonin, decision about the persistance of the Gripen in the Czech Armed Forces…

The new Minister will probably have to behave wisely and diplomatically in order to overcome the resistances triggered by those changes within the Ministry.

But will Vlastimil Picek have the desire and necessary weight to impose his views? Will he get the political support he is entitled to receive from the governmental coalition one year before the parliamentary elections?
Those are the questions that are legitimate at the beginning of General Picek’s mandate. People often reproached him for being too cautious – even fainthearted – with the politicians, for example in the CASA case where, despite his initial reluctance, he complied very quickly with the politicians’ choice. Having reached the paramount of his career, he has nothing to be afraid of and it will be up to him to act as a Minister or to remain an obedient puppet in the capable hands of the politicians who will surely try to use him.

Good Luck General!!!