[I]t is important that NATO members see the alliance’s security guarantees as a two-way street, not only in bringing benefits in the form of extra security, but also responsibilities. This applies to each and every member state.
This fact has never been more in our minds than it is now, following the loss of five Czech soldiers in Afghanistan last month. Our troops are risking their lives every day on NATO missions around the world. They have earned the respect of their NATO peers and have established an impressive track record. Since the Czech Republic’s entry into NATO, we have been faced with a number of crisis response-type operations outside NATO’s territory. These operations — from the Balkans to Afghanistan — have seen Czech troops take on a range of tasks, including post-conflict reconstruction, training local forces, and providing humanitarian relief.
The Czech Republic’s constructive role in world affairs and security challenges around the globe has come despite a military budget has been creeping downwards for years. Until last year, it was only slightly over 1 percent of GDP. In the recent past, the defense budget has not been a priority for many European countries. The protracted economic crisis has perhaps done the worst damage as it forced governments to channel scarce funds to other areas. This applies not only the Czech Republic but to most NATO members who have slashed defense spending and seen the public’s interest in defense issues all but disappear.
The new Czech government is ready to start increasing defense spending beginning next year, even in this difficult economic climate. In order to build a modern armed forces and reverse previous defense cuts, the Czech military budget should gradually climb to 1.4 percent of GDP by 2020. . . .
Our commitment cannot be measured only by the size of defense budgets, but by what real allies sacrifice for the common cause, the utmost price — human lives.
With regard to worrying developments closer to home, it is obvious that a more serious and long-term approach to security is needed. When it comes to NATO — and this is especially the case with its European members — we are reminded of the old adage that security comes with a price. And we all need to be ready to shoulder our share of responsibility.
Bohuslav Sobotka is Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.