Czech Republic Set to Sign $395 Million Defense Contract

The government of the Czech Republic is set to sign a $395.6 million contract with the French defense group known as Nexter Systems. According to Reuters, the contract includes the purchase of 52 new CAESAR (8 x 8 155 mm) artillery pieces that will replace Soviet-era howitzers. Reuters also reports that the first 4 of the howitzers will be constructed in France, while the remaining vehicles will be made in the Czech Republic. This deal would not be the first instance of cooperation between Nexter and the Czech Army. In 2017, the Army finished plans to purchase 62 TITUS armored vehicles, which were created by Nexter in association with the Czechoslovak Group’s (CSG) company Tatra Trucks, according to Defense News. Moreover, both the TITUS and CAESAR vehicles are mounted on chassis developed by Tatra Trucks.

The Czech Minister of Defense recently said on Twitter that a contract would be signed by the end of September. However, the Ministry also insists that the deal is highly contingent upon at least a 40% involvement by Czech industry. According to Reuters, the Minister also claimed that the Czechs’ offer exceeded the fair market price of the vehicles, but Nexter also included additional parts for the howitzers that the Czech Army did not request.

As a NATO member, the Czech Republic is obligated to a recommended defense expenditure of at least 2% of its annual GDP. This was agreed upon by NATO defense ministers in 2006. Such a goal for the Alliance’s defense spending was established for the purpose of bolstering collective defense capabilities in the event of an international security crisis. As established in the North Atlantic Treaty (also known as the Washington Treaty), NATO members are obligated to share the responsibilities of collective and mutual defense. The Czechs have yet to meet the defense spending goal. However, according to an empirical analysis published by MDPI, there has been a statistically significant increase in defense spending by many of the NATO allies that are geographically closest to Russia. This is supported by a Defense News report that CSG has also recently begun pursuing the sale of 72 armored vehicles to Slovakia, another NATO member. The same MDPI analysis cites the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea as the primary event that inspired such increases in defense spending among many European NATO members.

In line with the MDPI analysis, some view the weapons deal as a reaction to increased Russian aggression in Europe. However, Czech President Miloš Zeman, a known friend of Moscow, insists that there is more need to critique the recent actions of NATO than any other actor, according to the Balkan Insight. He, of course, is referring to the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan that has been criticized internationally as a logistical failure by NATO. This failure, in Zeman’s opinion, has further rationalized increased national defense spending for the sake of national security rather than for collective defense aimed at combatting terrorism.

The Czechs’ emphasis on the mandatory involvement of Czech industry in the weapons deal with Nexter hints at a larger move towards domestically produced defense systems that prioritize national defense over collective regional security. This timely shift comes as the Afghanistan withdrawal last month raised further questions about the effectiveness of NATO as an agent of regional security. However, the sympathy that Zeman holds for the Kremlin, despite Czech citizens’ discontent towards these policies, indicates a larger and more dangerous issue of increased European distrust for liberal institutions like the Alliance. A report by the Center for American Progress also mentions the unique, distinct nature of these individual EU militaries as another hurdle for further collective security issues for the Alliance. In order to maximize the effectiveness of collective security among NATO members, there needs to be a concerted effort to identify clear purposes behind future security strategies. Additionally, the 2% goal has provided an overemphasis on weapons investment that prioritizes preventative national security strategies rather than prioritizing the use of liberal institutions such as the UN, which utilize diplomatic routes to resolve matters of international security crises.