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Mr. Stropnický’s first steps: Economy first, international affairs out

Published : 5 February 2014
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On 3rd February 2014, Martin Stropnický, the new Czech Defense Minister, introduced his team – although incomplete - of vice-ministers and advisers. He also mentioned his first priorities. What strikes immediately is the predominance given to the “economic” aspects and the disappearance of the International Affairs within the top management.

The team: still incomplete but definitively oriented towards economy

Although Martin Stropnický is coming from the show business, it is immediately obvious that his party boss, entrepreneur Babiš, has had a tremendous influence on the building process of the Defense Ministry top management. Effectively, the reorganization of the various positions of vice-ministers has definitely a strong “economic” taste. Just judge for yourself:

  • Mr. Jiří Borovec, ex-director of State-owned Company ČEPRO, former director of production of Czech national electric provider ČEZ, has been appointed as first Vice-minister of Defense. He will be in charge of economy and no longer of foreign affairs as it was the case in the past years. He will have to build the Defense budget and to get rid of some properties owned by the Ministry.
  • Mr. Tomáš Kuchta, currently in charge of the “economic attachés” within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will assume a position of Vice-Minister newly created in order to improve the relationship with the Czech Defense industry. He will also take care of the companies owned by the Defense Ministry such as Military woods and farms or LOM Praha, specialized in maintenance of air assets.
  • General Bohuslav Dvořák, currently deputy chief of staff of Czech Armed Forces, will take off the uniform and become the new Vice-Minister in charge of the military acquisitions. He will have to continue to improve transparency in military purchases.
  • Mr. Josef Zrzavecký, former officer, now deputy Head of Mission in the Czech Embassy in Zagreb will become in next March Vice-minister in charge of Strategy and Planning.
  • Mr. Daniel Koštoval, current first Vice-minister in charge of International relations, will become Secretary of State and should be responsible, among others, of the Personnel.

Still missing is the Vice-minister who should come from social-democrat party ČSSD. Apparently Premier Sobotka finally got on 4th February formal approval of Mr. Babiš about having social-democrat representatives in all ministries dominated by ANO, including the Defense Ministry. The name of the happy one, who should deal with legislative work within the Ministry, should be known in a few days.

However, by introducing his team even before knowing the name of the Vice-minister coming from ČSSD, Mr. Stropnicky might thus indicate that the latter will never belong to the first circle of collaborators.

Besides the Vice-ministers, Mr. Stropnicky also appointed several advisers, whose list is not complete as well:

  • Jiří Šedivý, former Chief of Defense Staff, now security consultant and professor in the CEVRO political studies institute close to the liberal party ODS;
  • David Ondračka, director of organization Transparency International, who should help General Dvorak in improving the acquisition processes within the Ministry;
  • Jan Beroun, former intelligence officer and current chief of local branch of Pinkerton detectives, should supervise the military intelligence in order to avoid recurrence of recent problems of illegal surveillance (former Premier’s chief of cabinet - and incidently lover - ordered the Military intelligence to follow former Premier’s wife);
  • Václav Láska, who owns a lawyers’ office.

Looking at this team, it is striking that in a ministry usually heavily interested by international cooperation – either within NATO, EU or even regional – no Vice-minister will be in charge of foreign affairs.

It could mean that Mr. Stropnický – who was before twice ambassador – will take care himself of that domain. But knowing the very busy agenda of a Defense Minister, I can hardly believe that he will be able to monitor alone the international questions. That means that either director of Defense policy directorate – who follows this domain within the Ministry – or some adviser (General Šedivý for example) might get higher –almost political – responsibilities. It is a very unusual step in a Ministry where those international affairs were always given precedence.

From a Defense Ministry to a Ministry of Military Economy?

During the press conference, Mr. Stropnický also presented his first priorities and they look similarly pretty much “economic” and not very “military”. The Defense Minister is well aware of that but stressed that it is precisely what needs his department:

  • First, to better use the State finances allocated to the Ministry,
  • Second, to continue to improve the transparency of the military acquisitions,
  • Third, to improve the communication of the Ministry with the Czech Defense Industry and promote the local armament export;
  • Fourth, to stabilize the Defense budget on a longer term than one year in order to permit some coherent planning process.

Even if Mr. Stropnicky said that every effort of his team will be aimed at improving the Czech Armed Forces, obviously the ruling political majority – or at least Movement ANO – has one main goal: proving that State can do better with current finances. Considering the past years, it’s undeniable that the Czech Republic needs a great deal of improvement in that domain. However, I do believe that the Defense Ministry deserves clearer orientations about what is the heart of its mission. Quoting the political agreement between the three coalition parties’ would have given some more hints:

  • “The Czech republic will continue to build defense capabilities that will be able to be used for EU, NATO or UN military or civilian missions having the proper mandate…”
  • “…We are aware that our commitments towards NATO collective defense and guaranty of stability and security in close EU neighborhood, considering the decreasing US participation, will demand strengthening of our defense capabilities…”
  • “…We undertake to guaranty the protection and defense of the airspace of Czech Republic by our own forces…”
  • “…We will aim at creating shared capabilities, forces and means amongst main security forces (Armed Forces, police and firemen) in order to get best efficiency to prevent and clear consequences of natural catastrophes…”

By presenting primarily “economic” priorities after introducing a team having also a strong “economic” orientation, Mr. Stropnický is in danger of giving a wrong image of his goals. People could think that his political mandate is not to improve the main tool –i.e. the Armed Forces – but to find additional finance resources that could be thereafter “hijacked” for more urgent government purposes. That kind of behavior is very common, mainly in times of economic crisis.