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The Czech Republic: one of the major contributors to EUTM Mali

Published : 14 March 2013
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On 13th March 2013, the Czech Senate massively voted in favor of the deployment of 50 soldiers for 15 months amongst the European training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali). After the national Assembly who voted on last 19 February (130 in favor out of 179 present – total strength 200 representatives) 61 senators out of 69 present (with a total of 81) approved this mandate.

So nothing is now preventing the departure to Bamako of the Czech paratroopers from 43rd Airborne Mechanized Infantry Battalion of Chrudim (Central Bohemia). The initial detachment of first contingent should leave on Thursday 14th March and the main bulk of the 34-strong Czech platoon could land on the African continent by Saturday. The official beginning of the Czech operational mandate has been set on 1st April 2013.

In Bamako the Czech soldiers will protect the headquarters of General Lecointre, the EUTM commander, together with French and Malian troops. In order to perform the various protection and escort missions, the Czechs will be equipped with three Land Rover Caiman and three light armored vehicles IVECO which will be transported to Mali thanks to heavy transport planes from SALIS program.

In autumn, the second Czech contingent should consist of a Force protection detachment reinforced with 16 instructors to reach the strength of 50 people foreseen in the mandate.

A major evolution of the Czech policy in terms of participation to overseas operations

This massive Czech participation to a European operation is the good news of this beginning 2013. Effectively, the Czech contingent will be one of the major ones in EUTM (50 people), overstepped only by France (207 persons), Germany (71 persons) and Spain (54 persons) out of 24 participating countries. Thus doing, the Czech Republic establishes itself as a major partner within this training mission of the Malian Armed Forces.

This reorientation of the Czech policy in terms of participation to overseas missions, which was previously almost exclusively focused on NATO missions, could be the consequence of several convergent factors:

  • The recent election of Miloš Zeman as President of the Republic: he is a strong supporter of European federalism and would even be in favor of European Armed Forces. The end of mandate of the Europhobic Vaclav Klaus could have lifted the taboo of strong participation to European missions. Effectively, since 2003, Czechs only lightly participated to the European operations. The biggest Czech participation was for operation ALTHEA in Bosnia-Herzegovina where a total of 400 soldiers rotated from December 2004 to June 2008. But this European mission was on the European continent and was immediately following NATO operations (IFOR and SFOR).
  • The nomination of General Pavel as Chief of Defense Staff: General Pavel was Czech representative to the European Military Committee and knows perfectly well the European Defense and Security domain. He is convinced that the Czech participation to European operations would strengthen the position of his country within the Brussels institutions and could bring additional advantages in other fields.
  • The progressive withdrawal from Afghanistan: as it is the case for other nations, the Czech Republic is currently progressively withdrawing its soldiers from Afghanistan. For example the last Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar was repatriated at the end of February 2013. This NATO operation in Afghanistan was tapping for years the Czech deployment capabilities. Its progressive transformation into a training mission, less demanding in terms of strength, will give more flexibility to participate to other operations.
  • The necessity to maintain the Czech deployment capabilities: overseas operations are a unique opportunity to get operational experience and improve the Armed Forces capabilities. Considering the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Czechs have to find another operation to maintain their skills. Even the Prime Minister Nečas highlighted this argument in his 19-February speech in the National Assembly: “in other words, the capability to deploy and maintain our Armed Forces in operations far from our soil is a logical prerequisite to the defense of the Czech territory because it is most probable –almost a certitude – that in case of threat on our country, the defense of our land will be ensured paradoxically outside of the Czech territory”.
  • The necessity to preserve the Defense budget: when an economic crisis is striking, it is always useful for Defense Ministries to have soldiers engaged in overseas operations in order to avoid the most severe budget reductions. Effectively, politicians are usually more cautious in their cutting decisions when these can provoke human casualties because of faulty equipment for example.
  • The fight against Islamic terrorism: this kind of fight is quite consensual within the Czech political world. The new Czech president Zeman is considering terrorism, “which is killing innocent civilians” as the major threat against civilization. He addressed recently in that way the ambassadors in Czech Republic and his aversion of Islamic extremism is well-known (see article Opinicus). Karel Schwarzenberg, the Foreign Minister and president of TOP09 party, said after the vote in Senate: “the radicalization of terrorist organizations and their increasing influence in Mali combined with their effort to dominate the territory of this State represent a direct threat of the Czech Republic security interests”.
  • An increasing Czech commercial interest for Africa: according to a recent article of magazine “Ekonom”, the Czech foreign exchange and trade business with Africa was multiplied by 5 during the last 10 years almost reaching 2.5 billion USD in 2012 (almost 1.5 billion USD for Czech exports to Africa and around 800 million USD for imports). So stability in Africa is becoming a major interest of Czech economy and another reason to contribute to European operations.

Let’s hope that this recent Czech interest in European missions in African won’t be only a flash in the pan and will last long. Both partners have interest in a reinforced mutual cooperation.