We have asked about regional defence identity, economy of defence cooperation, and what directions to look at in the future.
In the context of this year but not only: What should NATO do?
In response to the Russian aggressive actions against the Ukraine, NATO leaders at their Wales summit meeting approved the Readiness Action Plan which embodies the unity and solidarity of the Alliance, strengthens its collective defence as well as crisis-response capabilities, and ensures that NATO remains capable of meeting every challenge that may arise.
With the Warsaw summit approaching, we are in a good position to take stock of our efforts since Wales and to decide on our way forward. From our perspective there should be four main themes guiding our further military, political, and institutional adaptation beyond Warsaw: (1) the continued enhancement of our Article 5 collective defence capabilities; (2) the further strengthening of our cooperation with non-NATO partners in order to project security and stability beyond NATO borders utilizing, among other means, the Defence Capability Building initiative and the open-door policy; (3) the flexible adjustment of NATO-Russia relations to discourage further Russian transgressions and induce more pragmatic if not cooperative stances; (4) and last but not least, to be way ahead on Afghanistan.
What decisions will best serve peace?
Through its robust collective defence system, NATO itself, which is based on a strong transatlantic link and its expanding web of international partnerships, of which close NATO-EU cooperation is the most natural and the most important one, is per se a very potent factor in preserving peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. An alliance uniting 28 states comprising three nuclear powers and more than 900 million people can overcome any conceivable adversary. therefore, we put a great emphasis on demonstration and preservation of Allied solidarity and unity as the main source of our strength and guarantor of our collective security.
How is it possible to reinforce public opinion support for the Alliance?
We need to continually make sure that we are effective in what we are doing, and that what we do is integral to our core values and serves to preserve and promote those values through unity, solidarity, strength, and resolve.
What do you think is possible in the cooperation of V4 countries in the common procurement and integration of modern systems like radar or antimissile defence?
Procurement is the very last phase of the acquisition process, which starts much earlier by defining operational requirements. It is the very essential phase that in uences every possible procurement strategy. This is the moment when other countries must share their needs. The second thing is, of course, finding the consensus, which is harder than it may appear. The military requirements of the countries could be different. There are other relevant aspects that must be taken into account. One of them is the budget readiness of the participating countries at the same time. The legal environment is another important aspect, because it is different in each country. Although EU Directives allow EU countries to cooperate in terms of armaments projects, the national (V4) legal systems are not very supportive in this matter. Despite some failures and problems we faced in the past, the Czech Republic continues to seek cooperative relationships with our neighbours, and in the V4 especially. To enhance cooperation within the V4, we have invited the EDA to help us overcome some of the obstacles and, hopefully, there will soon be some common results.
There is an ever strengthening Visegrad defence coop-eration; naturally not as a separate identity but inside NATO and inside the EU. Nevertheless, the cooperation is visibly strengthening all the time, and, in the future, we would like to see these ties solidify on a more practical level. The theoretical level has already been accomplished; there is an open discussion between our countries, but we are trying to find ways to make that verbal cooperation into a more physical reality.
BUILDING ON THE EXPERIENCE OF THE V4”BATTLEGROUP
Let’s start with the Visegrad Battlegroup first. Yes, it’s on stand-by right now. It is a very unique battlegroup because of its size compared to most other battlegroups. It has been a good first attempt as we’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge from it. However, we already know that the next V4-EU battlegroup will be formed in 2019. We will transfer the lessons we’ve learned from this battlegroup into that one.
Another area where we can use this experience is the creation of standing V4 formation, though this decision has yet to be made. Still, the possibility alone shows how important this battlegroup has been. But this is only one idea for collaboration. Another area of possible practical cooperation is the rotational unit in the field that will be soon be deployed to the Baltics, what we now call reassurance. Essentially, it would be a military unit where one nation would send the company for a designated time period.
COOPERATION IN THE FIELD OF DEFENCE ECONOMY
In the future a very important objective would be to have common capability development projects or, in other words, common procurements of military hardware by the Visegrad Four. There have been numerous attempts to accomplish this over the past twenty-five years. None of these were successful, but we haven’t given up, and we are actively searching for areas where we could cooperate. An interesting area for development could be in the armoured infantry vehicles as well as the air and missile defence systems.
All of our nations have to change our old — basically Soviet-Russian — technology to the new Western technology, and this needs to be accomplished roughly at the same time. The Poles are a little bit ahead because they are spending more, and they are feeling the heat of the threats much more than we are. But there would be room for cooperation on this issue if we can agree. This is not as easy as it sounds because there are military requirements which have to be agreed upon, money that needs to be allocated, defence industrial issues that should be tackled, with, and the political will is also necessary. The easiest part is the political will because in all four Visegrad nations the top political will is there.
In each country the industry is in a different situation, so it is not an easy thing to harmonise, and naturally all defence industrial companies are looking out for their own interests. When it comes to cooperation, something we commonly say is that we need to create a win-win scenario. All of our national defence industries have to have benefits from this cooperation.
A DIVERSITY OF DIRECTIONS
Now, looking into the future and answering what threats to expect, we should be vigilant in every direction. The biggest threat is that all these threats are attacking at the same time, and they are overloading us. This is the biggest threat: that everything is happening at the same time.
While we could cope with (some of ) them separately, we don’t have this luxury, so we have to do everything at the same time. However, there are huge differences between the threats. The Eastern challenge is quite different from the Southern, and they both require completely differing solutions, which means that we will have to have all kinds of capabilities from our limited resources.
It is pretty clear that we will have to live with the Southern challenge for a very long time because of the demographics; it is quite plausible that even our grandchildren will have to deal with this problem.
What do you think is working in the defence cooperation in Visegrad?
I would say that, based on the margin of 2010–2011, I had a lot of expectations, having started many good projects. I would say that the atmosphere and the whole political pressure is nowadays lower than it used to be ve years ago. Even expectations are lower than back then. We have developed some projects, including the Visegrad Battlegroup, which is now on stand-by, and which we know and “hope” is not going to be deployed. Still, we need to work together on this project to keep it running and relevant. Another project, which is running far better than five years ago, is Joint Training and Exercises. We did a lot of training together, many exercises together, with at least two countries out of the V4, in different countries. This went very well, and in this very turbulent situation on the eastern flank of NATO, it is very good that the V4 is training and exercising together. That’s another success story.
Where I am much more critical is of course concerning Joint Acquisitions. No success story at all. We used to say a few years ago that we should start at least from the low-hanging fruit, but honestly, we didn’t find any, which is a very negative example of the result of intense dialogue among the V4 countries. I don’t know what the purpose is, but I can try to guess and say that the difference is not in different planning, not in different needs, since we have at least several situations when all V4 countries, or at least two or three of them, have similar needs. Probably, the system is different in terms of the interest of its stakeholders. Most probably either government was pushing hard for its own interests, or people behind each government were pushing hard for their own interests. Eventually, we were not able to reach at least one joint procurement project, which is, really, a shame. Not even radars or ammunition. That should be something where we were supposed to find a conjunction of interests. But we did not succeed, and I don’t see any hope here in the years to come.
Perhaps Visegrad could cooperate in procuring integrated defence systems?
There are different examples, including the one that you mentioned. The cooperation of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia in supersonics — the Czechs and Hungarians have already signed, Slovakia is in the last stage of negotiations — is another example. This creates some kind of joint area, where we can have joint training and shared logistics.
Concerning the WISŁA program that Poland is working on right now, it is so sophisticated and expensive that I honestly don’t see Slovakia participating, neither on a permanent basis, nor as a full-edged partner. However, the current system that operates in Slovakia has not been sustainable for a long period of time, and I know that Slovakia will be looking for another system and a more regional approach. The Czech Republic is in a very similar situation. They are running on the old system and they are looking for something new. In Visegrad, we are aware these projects are something we should work on, but they are much more complicated than the Joint Acquisition of ammunition that we did not even succeed in. Therefore, I would not be that optimistic in this regard.
What can we expect from Slovakia in terms of the army modernisation and defence spending?
During the NATO summit in Wales, Slovakia increased its defence budgets, but not dramatically. During the summit in 2014, defence spending was at the level of 1% of the GDP whereas currently it is a little bit more than 1.1%, let’s say 1.14%. Both governments, the previous and the current one, repeated their pledges to increase the number to 1.6% by 2020, which is a very optimistic goal, and I am not sure that the new government will actually deliver this amount by 2020. I think 1.4% is more realistic, and still would be an interesting step. What happened was that Slovakia actually signed a contract on nine Black Hawk helicopters, and also signed a contract on two transport airplanes, and we expect throughout this year the first aircrafts to come, both in terms of transport airplanes and the first Black Hawk.
The previous government started with the acquisition of radars, and I expect to see some results by the end of this year. So this project should be finished rather soon. Then, technically, the previous government agreed 100% with Saab on supersonic jets and “Gripen” leasing. But they let the new government finalise the project and sign the contract, because they didn’t want to sign such a big project before the elections.
The new government will now decide whether to sign the contract or not. I think it should be signed, because it’s actually the only option for Slovakia — we do not have money for the acquisition of new sophisticated supersonic jets, and we shouldn’t stay with MiG-29, which is what we have now. Few of them, and only a few of them are flying and are capable of flying. There should be a decision from the new government rather soon. And then it is of course time for the modernisation of the land force. For sure, we are talking about the modernisation of BMPs (ed. infantry fighting vehicles, Russian: Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty): BMP1 and BMP2 and also acquisition of new 8×8 and 4×4 capability. There we have a running discussion, also with Poland on the acquisition of Rosomaks (ed. another infantry fighting vehicle). But I know there are also discussions with other options as well and the decision will probably come rather soon, because this modernization is very much needed for the Slovak Land Force. These projects are now the top priority, and even for this we do not have, as of today, financial plans, so we need to wait and see how the new government will adopt to this new situation.
Is it realistic or wishful thinking to imagine that the Visegrad States will one day together share a single armament policy?
The history of the Visegrad States cooperating in the field of armament has not seen much success in the last 25 years. I have had the chance to observe this cooperation myself ever since the group was formed in 1991. At that time it seemed that, until 1989, the existing Soviet system of locating assembly plants of separate elements of armament in different states of the Warsaw Treaty was to ensure that none of the states would be able to produce complete sets of armament on their own, except Russia of course. The lesson to learn was to understand that together we stand united. Unfortunately, the lesson was never learnt. Firstly, the fashion for western armament arrived.
Secondly, I think the standardization of NATO was far too exposed; it actually became the universal key used by western producers soliciting every opportunity to situate their products in our region. And thirdly, there was too little political will, and too incoherent strategies presented by our states. Once we compare the defence budgets and the size of the armies, i.e., the size of the needs and potential orders, we can clearly see that Poland had the chance to become a natural leader initiating the cooperation in the field of the group’s armament.
On many occasions we have been told about the initiatives of the Polish authorities to start the process of cooperation, yet most of them had failed. There are no shared significant programmes today. We have recently heard about a planned joint production of an infantry- fighting vehicle. It has not been very successful so far. There were also talks on a joint production of radars. The Czechs decided on the Israeli proposal. I could enumerate more of such cases.
We should interpret the words of the Czech vice-minister of defence Daniel Kostoval, spoken during the Warsaw Security Forum, which was organised by the Pulawski Foundation last year, as symptomatic. On the one hand, he made a positive assessment of the potential areas of cooperation, but on the other hand, he deemed that Poland had been trying to propose new and high-volume initiatives, but only on its own, without reaching agreements, or even searching for partners. The effects haven’t been overly enthusiastic. One of the reasons is the lack of stable and binding decisions concerning modernisation programmes in Poland. One can observe that each next government, no matter what political vision they follow, tends to oversee and consequently verify the existing settlements and push for new ones. It does not support the enterprises that often require years to complete.
However, the tightening military cooperation, which manifests itself, e.g. in establishing the Visegrad Battle Group, is an excellent prerequisite for generating common needs in the field of armament and military equipment. When subunits practice together, absolute cooperation is key and the need for common equipment — obvious.
Is it true that the future purchase, even of different devices or components, will be integrated within one system, e.g. anti-aircraft defence?
Firstly, the V4 States have very obsolete anti-aircraft defence systems, which need quick modernisation, yet only Poland seems to prioritise this task. The programme of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems is one of the leading projects in the process of modernising our army. Secondly, so far, we have been offered obsolete Patriot mid-range systems that do not meet the requirements of the network-centric warfare and would not be able to combat the modern methods of air aggression, especially in Polish conditions. The newly developed and far more advanced MEADS systems are based on open architecture, which allows net-centric work. They also include radars and missiles in the set, which could ensure successful resistance towards a potential enemy, using for example Iskanders. Network-centric warfare has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it allows creating and conguring complex equipment sets combining their best features and acting together within one system, but on the other, it brings the risk of eliminating whole vital fragments of the system by a successfully performed cyber-attack, e.g. on the headquarters.
NATO settlements concerning anti-aircraft defence systems of member states, and consequently the same within the Visegrad Group, are based on individual national systems. NATO does not unify this type of armament, although it is crucial for the national systems to be capable of defending their territories. Hence, each country is searching for ways to tackle the issue on their own. We must remember that the formation of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems consumes a lot of resources. To tell the truth, there have been declarations of joint cooperation of the Visegrad States, but eventually the Czechs are to run a further 2-year analysis of the solutions available in this area. They have only decided to purchase some radar.
If the radars will cooperate within the NATO system will they also be part of the Czech national system?
They will be part of the national system, which is part of the NATO system, precisely. I am talking about 3D radars meant to scan areas in the air.
What would help us use all of the advantages of regional cooperation?
Cooperation in the area of defence is always a natural derivative of political cooperation. When observing the V4 states acting individually, especially before and after the Newport summit, one could notice a positive change, which proves that we can discuss some matters together. However, if we take a closer look, we will see that each country runs its own policy concerning army equipment. What strongly affects this is only a different perception of the dangers, mainly the potential dangers that Russia causes. Poland sees them differently, as do Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary. This is the reason why we have other priorities in the field of defence systems. We do not even share the same judgement on the sanctions imposed on Russia, or on the location of NATO troops, if they are ever to be based in the eastern flank. We cannot forget the importance of the size of defence budgets and other factors resulting simply from the size of countries and their GDPs. Poland has decided to allocate 2% GDP to our defence budget, whereas the other states have remained at just 1%. Naturally, these amounts are considerably incomparable.
The needs of our countries within the armament area are similar in many respects, not in terms of quantity perhaps, but in assortment for sure. We still use items and weapons that recall the former Warsaw Treaty. And again, it means that there is still a wide range of goods to be produced with joint benefits for all. The scale of production always positively affects economic investments, in the defence area too. Despite all the differences, the tightening cooperation in our region is likely to bring us profits; however, some proper governmental support and clear engagement of the leaders of the defence industries of our countries must finally meet.