At the beginning of 2022, as Russia continued its massive troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders, the Czech government was thinking ahead. Even though Russia denied it was planning an invasion of its neighbour, the Czech cabinet immediately reacted to Kyiv’s request for support and approved a shipment of calibre 152 mm ammunition to Ukraine. It was the first of many donations made by Prague.

“Helping the invaded country is a strategic priority for the Czech Republic, as we understand that by supporting Ukraine, we protect the whole of Europe,” says Deputy Minister Jireš. It was also one of the main priorities of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, which the Czech Republic ran in the second half of 2022. Thanks in part to this, support to Ukraine remains the main focus of the EU as a whole.

The fact that Prague was one of the first Western capitals to provide a continued military support to Ukraine did not go unnoticed. It was recognised by the United States, as Washington announced in August that it would provide the Czech Republic with eight AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters for free, except for transfer and upgrades. “We have to get rid of the legacy Soviet-made military equipment,” says Jireš. “To a large extent, this has already been achieved, but not entirely. Our support to Ukraine has accelerated this process. Of course, our primary motivation in helping Ukraine is to provide it with the means needed for defence against Russia’s brutal aggression. But the fact is that, as a by-product, it will lead to an increased interoperability of NATO allies and EU members in the end.”

Now, as the impetus grows to replenish European military stocks exhausted by supplying materiel to Ukraine, the Czech EU presidency has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for a new tool known as the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA). Already well-versed in joint procurement, the Czech Republic bought ammunition under an arrangement between the European Defence Agency (EDA) and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Poland in April 2013 for the ‘Carl-Gustaf’ recoilless anti-tank weapon.

“Joint procurement can be a useful approach in specific cases. It may bring economies of scale, boost the leverage of smaller customers vis-à-vis large producers, and help increase interoperability. After all, we have experience with joint procurement in NATO through its procurement agency NSPA, which means we are well aware of both pros and cons,” he says. “EDIRPA is a promising instrument. But it will only have a limited impact on Europe’s military capabilities,” the Deputy Minister cautions. He adds that “there are a number of obstacles at the national level – political, technical, legislative, procedural, even mental – that we may never be able or willing to remove.”

EU and NATO countries need to work on addressing key capability gaps required, in the first place, for collective defence, with the NATO Defence Planning Process being vital for the defence of Europe. In his opinion, filling capability gaps “is certainly realistic, but it won’t be achieved right away, and it won’t happen across the whole capabilities spectrum.” He points to examples where collaboration is working, notably in strategic airlift. The Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) project, which brings a European aircraft capable of aerial refuelling, is “a good example of cross-organisational and cross-agency cooperation.”


As EU presidency chair, the Czech Republic has been clear that all these goals must be in tandem with the United States and NATO. “We have to realise that we are not building a ‘fortress Europe’. We have to be stronger to be able to bear a larger share of the burden in transatlantic security and defence. Europeans must assume greater responsibility. The war in Ukraine again demonstrated that NATO is absolutely indispensable and that the EU’s main role in defence and security should be facilitating and enabling NATO’s collective defence, be it through contributing to military mobility or by supporting resilience of European nations,” Deputy Minister Jireš says.

Assuming greater responsibility in security and defence also means that Europeans may one day soon need to intervene militarily in their neighbourhood in a crisis without being able to rely on U.S. troops. “In this sense, Europeans should focus on specific priority areas where Europe needs to be able to act on its own without unnecessarily burdening the United States,” Jireš says. However, he warns that these efforts must not be motivated by an attempt at building a "European army".

In that vein, the Czechs’ EU presidency sees the onus being on quick and practical wins. The European Commission and EDA’s work on EU defence investment gaps analysis and the work in Brussels on the EDIRPA regulation, creating a short-term instrument for joint procurement of defence material with the support of EU funding, top the list. The EU focuses on different aspects of capability development compared to the NATO Defence Planning Process, where less emphasis is given to the way that individual allies develop the required capabilities. “For NATO, the biggest concern is to create a meaningful overall force package,” says the Deputy Minister. “Here I also see the opportunity to strengthen the capacity of European defence industry and thus the security of supply.”


Ultimately, discussions about favouring NATO or EU processes are beside the point, many EU officials argue. Now that defence spending in Europe is rising fast, taxpayer money must not be wasted. Deputy Minister Jireš’ view is no different, saying the EU defence review process (CARD) must be used in an efficient way to avoid unnecessary duplications. “In this sense, there is plenty to do regarding our national processes,” he says. “We need to accelerate the transition from capability planning to capability acquisition.”

For now, though, buying off-the-shelf from countries outside the EU is inevitable, given the limited capacities of Europe’s defence industry and the need to replenish stocks emptied due to massive weapons deliveries to Ukraine. Off-the-shelf procurement has a number of advantages and it is not limited to the United States. “The Czech Republic as well as other European states need to buy equipment rapidly and on a large scale,” adds Jireš. “Europe does not currently have sufficient production capacities, so it is advisable to look also for other solutions from our allies and partners, including, of course, the United States,” he says. That approach would seem fitting for a country that highly values Europe’s alliance with North America and believes Europeans must be strong and reliable allies.

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