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The Gripen contract: tactical surprise or political cowardice?

Published : 28 February 2013
834 words in that article

Czechs are always lavish with surprises and that’s one of the interesting aspects of the local political scene.

Thus the Czech government, who was supposed to examine yesterday the Swedish proposal for the prolongation of the leasing of the 14 aircraft JAS-39 Gripen in service in the Czech Armed Forces, decided to postpone the examination till 20th March.

Effectively the Prime Minister said that he was unsatisfied with the proposal from Stockholm and wanted to negotiate directly with Fredrik Reinfeldt, his Swedish counterpart, before submitting once again the dossier to the government approval.

This decision of Mr. Nečas is quite surprising because it comes late after the last round of negotiations conducted in November 2012 by Vlastimil Picek, the 1st Deputy Defense Minister. Alexandr Vondra, the former Defense minister, briefed the government on that topic at the very beginning of December 2012, just before leaving his charge. And it looked like everybody was happy with the 10% discount obtained by the Czech negotiators (see article Opinicus) and with the three proposals according to the duration of the envisaged leasing period (3-5 and 10 years).

So what happened that drove the Prime Minister – who is managing also the Defense Ministry in absence of a sitting Defense minister – to postpone unilaterally the approval of a leasing option?

A negotiation trick: surprise the other party who though he won the game

The first reason that comes immediately to mind is an old trick known by every diplomat: in order to destabilize the opposing party who is thinking that he won the game after the last round of negotiations and some new concessions, the keen negotiator declares his dissatisfaction and asks to open new talks at higher level.

That is exactly the same situation with Mr. Nečas: he is not satisfied with the results obtained at Defense Minister Level and he asks for a meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister to try to get more advantages.

Such tactics could be profitable if the Swedes were not convinced that their jet is the best alternative to fulfill the Czech Air Defense needs. And unfortunately the Czechs send signals that strengthen them in that opinion: the Czech Air Defense concept is tailored for the Gripen, the Czech pilots and mechanics are trained and happy with that aircraft, no other credible Western offer can compete with the Swedish prices … and even the political social-democrat opposition declared its satisfaction with this proposal.

So why is there such a turnaround?

Definition of the political cowardice: leave a difficult decision to successors hoping that you will get an immediate profit

The next parliamentary elections will take place in spring 2014, so there is little time before the end of the government of Mr. Nečas. It is always difficult to give a credible political prognosis but given the current unpopularity of the current government, it is likely that ODS will soon become a party of the political opposition.

Consequently, a collapsing political party could find quite tempting not to take decisions which have a heavy impact on the State budget – particularly when an economic crisis is heavily and durably striking. Letting the entire problem to successors is a recipe well-known by any politician.

This new request for negotiations with the Swedish Premier in a very short term – less than three weeks since the government will examine the Swedish proposal on 20th March – is quite offhand and does not leave much space for flexibility (usually Prime Ministers have an overbooked agenda).
Any Swedish refusal would thus give Mr. Nečas a reason to declare that he is unsatisfied and to promote a very short term solution which would leave pending the future of the Czech supersonic capability until a further decision by successors.

It is effectively quite surprising to perform a U-turn in a situation where partners of the governmental coalition as well as the political opposition agree on a consensual choice: Mr. Schwarzenberg from TOP09 declared that he was in favor of a ten-year leasing and Mr. Hamáček from CSSD said in last November that he was ready to negotiate on the given basis.

We don’t dare to think about a third reason that could explain such a turnaround; unfortunately the recent Czech history is rich enough in corruption scandals not to name this modern plague: corruption!!! U-turns in armament contracts are very often a signal that the money from the secret commissions did not reach the proper pockets.

We hoped that the Czech Republic was struggling to get rid of that inglorious behavior; the future will tell if it played some role in this particular contract.

Let’s be optimistic and leave the talks to negotiators: the current Swedish offer – 5 billion CZK for a 3-year leasing, 8 billion for 5 years and 14 billion for 10 years (the newspaper E-15 even mentioned a 12-year leasing with a 40% discount, that is to say 12 billion CZK) – is valid until the end of March 2013.

To be followed…