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New Czech President: what kind of changes in the Defense domain?

Published : 28 January 2013
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On 26th January 2013, Mr. Miloš Zeman has been elected President of the Czech Republic with 54.8% of the votes expressed during this first direct voting. He will officially take over his new position on next 8th March for five years.

But will this election of a new Commander in chief, according to the Czech Constitution, have an impact on the local defense orientations?

It could be useful to recall that the Czech Republic is ruled by a parliamentary system with two Chambers (Chamber of Representatives and Senate) where the executive power is held by government. Even though Head of State, the President of the Republic has only little personal power. A reader of the Czech Constitution has to wait until article 54 of the Constitution to get a description of the presidential function and until articles 62/63 to obtain the list of his attributions.

In the defense sector, the fundamental Law gives the President the (honorific) position of Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and the right to promote generals. It also grants the President the opportunity to attend the State Security Council.

The Constitutional Law n°219/1999 Coll. on Armed Forces also mentions other attributions:

  • Approval of military main regulations,
  • Nomination and dismissal of chief of Military cabinet of the President, of rectors and teachers of the Military schools,
  • Bestowal of standards, historic or honor titles to Czech units,
  • Bestowal of State decorations.

That kind of attributions are far from those granted to the President of the United States or even the President of the French Republic, two countries where assuming a presidential role gives also decisional powers, in particular in the defense domain.

However, even if the constitutional powers of the Czech president are quite weak, his room for maneuver resides in his personality and capacity to put forward publicly personal opinions. The new President, as it is the case for the current one, has a very strong personality.

But Mr. Zeman will have another advantage compared with Vaclav Klaus’s situation: he has been elected thanks to a direct voting of the Czech population that gives him an improved legitimacy. Will the new President, thus elected, be happy with his current constitutional role? Or will he try to modify the Constitution in order to go towards a presidential or semi-presidential system? It is too early to say it but the temptation will be quite high even if the Czech tradition is closer to a parliamentary system.

Thanks to a debate on defense topics, organized on 5th December by Miloš Balabán and his Center for Security Policy [2] between four of the main candidates of the presidential election, including Miloš Zeman, it is possible to identify some orientations of the new President in this very particular field of competence.

Supporter of a European Army

The main evolution compared with the opinions of Vaclav Klaus deals with the position regarding the European Union. Mr. Klaus was well-known for his allergy towards everything which was linked with the EU. Mr. Zeman is a convinced federalist who is firmly supporting the idea of European Armed Forces. According to him, a better integration the European countries’ Armed forces would allow some substantial savings in the various Defense budgets which are regressing permanently. He is a supporter of the specialization of the countries in several domains of competence according to their capability – for the Czech Republic: NBC, Special Forces, field hospitals – and thus considers that the 32 tanks in current use in the Czech Armed forces would not allow a credible defense of the national territory.

Solidarity with government sending Czech soldiers abroad

M. Zeman is aware of the various threats outside of the national borders and is not opposed to the deployment of Czech soldiers in operations. This is another difference with his predecessor who always had harsh words for the “Expeditionary force” which was the consequence of the transformation of the Czech Armed Forces. To those who asked why Czech soldiers should die for foreign countries, Mr. Zeman answered back quoting the rude lessons from the past that the Czech populations had to learn during the Second World War and comparing the situation with the commitment of Allied soldiers who freed Europe – and the Czech Republic.

A main threat: the Islamic terrorism

Mr. Zeman was already known for his declarations during the presidential campaign about his potential support to preemptive strikes on Iran. He is considering that the Islamic terrorism, coming from a radical Islam funded and organized by countries such Iran or Saudi Arabia, is the main threat which the Western worldi is coping with.

And what about Gripens?

Supporter of the creation of a European supersonic fighter capability, Mr. Zeman is however realistic enough to hail the last Swedish discount in the offer for renewal of the 14 JAS-39 Gripen lease contract. He should not oppose the decision of the government who should be taken in next March: the Gripens appear to have many other glorious days in the Czech skies.

Footnotes

[1This center belongs to the faculty of social sciences of the Prague Charles University

[2This center belongs to the faculty of social sciences of the Prague Charles University