Fifteen years ago on March 12, the Czech Republic joined NATO, a moment which remains a milestone in the country’s history. Czechs had spent some 40 years under Moscow domination and it was the scrapping of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 – and the joining of NATO in 1999 – that cemented the country’s place in the West.
The Czech Republic on Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of its membership of NATO. Addressing a conference at Prague Castle, President Miloš Zeman criticized the country's low defence spending, and said the ongoing crisis in Ukraine should speed up the establishment of a joint EU defence force. A special guest at the Prague conference is former NATO Secretary General George Robertson, who led the security alliance during the Czech Republic’s first years as a member. Czech Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický wrote on Wednesday that NATO membership was the main Czech goal after the collapse of communism and was a significant and symbolic sign that the country had been accepted as part of the West. The Czech Republic joined alongside Poland and Hungary at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri.
Czech president Miloš Zeman has dismissed any resurrection of US plans to construct an anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland by saying it would be ineffective. Zeman’s spokesman said that the head of state was standing by his long held views on Czech participation in a US anti-missile defence system. Republican Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain suggested the US revive its plans for a radar station in the Czech Republic and anti-missile base in Poland as reaction to Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine crisis. The plans developed under former president George W Bush were quickly dropped by successor Barack Obama soon after he became president. Moscow frequently protested the proposed siting of the missile defence system in Central Europe saying that it was aimed at undermining its defences and not a move to counter so-called ‘rogue states’.
Republican senator and former US presidential candidate John McCain told Fox News on Monday that a missile defense system scrapped by the Obama administration should be brought back in response to Russia's invasion of Crimea. The senator joined other Republicans, including former vice president Dick Cheney, in criticising the American president, saying for example that Mr Obama had completely "misread" Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Missile defense was a project strongly pursued by the administration of George W. Bush. Originally, a rocket system was planned in Poland and an early warning radar in the Czech Republic. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek responded to the comments by saying such a system would not have changed anything in the current crisis.
The chief of the general staff of the Czech Army, General Petr Pavel, was at an airport base in Kabul on Wednesday when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of international troops leaving the base. No casualties were reported among the soldiers in the convey, who belong to NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). No Czech soldiers were injured. General Pavel continued with his visit once the alert at the NATO base was lifted.
A two-day showcase of military planes began on Saturday at the Mošnov airport near the north Moravian city of Ostrava. The joint celebration of Days of NATO and Days of the Czech Air Force features presentations of various aircrafts and presentations by the military, police and rescue units from 16 countries. The Czech and Slovak air force will also commemorate 20 years since the separation of Czechoslovakia and the founding of the two independent nation armies. Last year around 208,000 people visited the Days of NATO celebration, according to the organizers.
Czech President Milos Zeman also met for talks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The debate covered among others the situation in Syria, Czech participation in military missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and the Czech defence budget. Mr. Rasmussen praised the Czech Republic’s role in foreign missions and expressed the hope that the Czech government would not lower defence spending.
The air forces of 19 NATO members are set to take part in the annual Ramstein Rover exercise held in the Czech Republic in September, the Czech Army said. This year, the exercise will focus on practising cooperation of tactical aircraft and helicopters with forward air controllers, with a view to fulfilling their tasks in NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan, the army said.
Representatives of the Czech, US, Croatian and Slovak defence ministries signed on Friday a letter of intent on the establishment of an international military aviation training centre, known as MATC. The document was adopted on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels. The centre will provide training to helicopter pilots from air forces of NATO countries; it is expected that it will operate at several Czech air force bases as well as at those in other NATO member states.
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