Europe Must Shed Military-Spending `Sclerosis,' NATO Member Says

  • Region can't hesitate to boost spending, Czech Minister Says
  • NATO Likely to Put More Troops in East Europe, Stropnicky Says

European NATO members deserve U.S. criticism for not spending enough on defense and can’t hesitate to boost their armies, according to the top Czech defense official. 

Europe “is showing signs of sclerosis” with an inability to effectively combat some of the region’s top security threats, Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said in an interview in Prague last week. Risks including a “newly aggressive” Russia, the conflict in Syria and Islamic State-fueled terrorism have fully exposed the continent’s weakness and are finally forcing it to confront those shortcomings, he said.

“Increased military spending is an alpha and omega of all U.S.-Europe talks today,” Stropnicky said. “Europe has grown a bit sclerotic. It needs the directness and decisiveness of the U.S.”

Russia’s increasingly forceful stance on the world stage has prompted some of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern members to call for more troops in the region to discourage President Vladimir Putin from entertaining designs of dominion there once again. While the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are boosting their militaries, the Czechs and other countries in the region have consistently lagged behind defense-spending targets.

More Troops

“One of the themes of the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw is boosting troops and equipment capacity on the northeastern flank,” Stropnicky said. “The Poles and Baltic states are asking for more troops on the ground and I expect that to happen.”

The former Communist nation, which joined NATO in 1999, is currently earmarking 1.1 percent of gross domestic product on defense. That compares with the 2 percent target the U.S. is urging members of the alliance to invest.

That’s slowly changing. The country plans to increase military expenditures by 10 percent a year until at least 2018 under the current government’s mandate, Stropnicky said. He estimated that the Czechs could reach the 2 percent threshold by 2030.

The central European nation of 10.5 million people will spend as much as 30 billion koruna ($1.28 billion) on defense by 2020, he said. It plans to acquire combat helicopters, mobile air-defense radars, as many as 30 Pandur armed transport vehicles and Tatra army trucks.

At the Warsaw summit, “there will be big pressure to increase military spending,” Stropnicky said. “And why not. Why should the U.S. spend 4 percent of GDP on defense while most European countries are spending 1 percent or even 0.5 percent?”

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