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Army reform to slash numbers by 2010

The Slovak Army's ranks will be halved by 2010 under a new defence concept approved by the State Defence Council.
The Council, which is a senior government body including representatives of the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister, approved the concept, called Model 2010, on October 15. Model 2010 expects that the number of army personnel will be cut from 42,608 to 24,500 within nine years.
The country's Defence Minister, Jozef Stank, said Model 2010 was prepared in line with Nato recommendations to reform the Slovak army. Slovakia is hoping to receive an invitation to join Nato next year. The cuts would see its armed forces move towards a smaller, more mobile military force, as advised by Nato.

The Slovak Army's ranks will be halved by 2010 under a new defence concept approved by the State Defence Council.

The Council, which is a senior government body including representatives of the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister, approved the concept, called Model 2010, on October 15. Model 2010 expects that the number of army personnel will be cut from 42,608 to 24,500 within nine years.

The country's Defence Minister, Jozef Stank, said Model 2010 was prepared in line with Nato recommendations to reform the Slovak army. Slovakia is hoping to receive an invitation to join Nato next year. The cuts would see its armed forces move towards a smaller, more mobile military force, as advised by Nato.

The concept states that the number of military planes should decrease from the current 60 to 28, of which 10 planes would be used only for training purposes. The number of tanks will decrease from 270 to 52 in 2010. In 2006 the Slovak Army should also stop recruiting conscripts and become a fully professional defence body, increasing its proportion of female professionals from the current 4 to 10%.

The Council-approved decision will be discussed in cabinet October 24, and later in parliament. Rastislav Káčer, the Deputy Defence Minister, said that the reform was "first of all necessary for ourselves. The defence system of this country rests on the military logic of the Cold War period, and such an approach is outdated."

He added that the "the current state of the Slovak Army is not in line with our Nato integration ambitions.

"We have outdated equipment and little flexibility. We need the reform whether we become members of Nato or not," he said.

Although some of the first reactions shortly after the concept was presented praised the concept, others were sceptical.

Ivo Samson, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA) think tank, said that the proposed reform was in line with the "necessity of having a fully professional army, and was indirectly recommended in the 2000 [Nato] Garrett Report, which required that our armed forces become more effective."

Critics, on the other hand, noted that such an army model could only be achieved provided that Slovakia became a member of Nato.

"If we don't become a member of Nato, we fear that such small numbers of staff and equipment would not be able to defend the country's integrity," said Gustáv Krajči, a member of the parliamentary defence and security committee and an opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Member of Parliament.

He added, however, that the concept was "a good starting point for further discussion".

Káčer said such arguments were out of place because "whether Slovakia becomes member of Nato or not, if we maintain our current foreign policy stance, we will be seen as a de facto Nato ally, and in case of conflict we could count on outside help."

Defence Minister Stank said that the army was "not designed for a major global conflict".

"Our opponents, and others as well, are telling me that the army as designed is small if not tiny. I tell them that the army is designed to be capable of being used as part of a collective defence body.

"But I agree that there is a question as to what happens if we don't become members of the Nato alliance, or what happens until we're accepted," Stank said October 16.

"There's only one reply. We won't destroy our 270 tanks, but we'll keep them in reserve until we're accepted to Nato so that in case of a major conflict we'll have the equipment for a large mobilisation."

The proposed concept, which also envisages the modernisation of Slovak military equipment and aeroplanes, would cost about Sk80 billion ($1.7 billion), said Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda October 15. He added that it would be financed from the Defence Ministry's budget, which is currently 1.89% of the country's GDP. From 2006 the defence sector should be given 2%. Dzurinda said this figure was "a Nato standard".

But HZDS MP and former Defence Minister Imrich Andrejčák noted that in the absence of conscripts it could prove difficult to attract enough professional soldiers to the Slovak army, a body which he said "today is not seen as an attractive and motivational environment to work in".

Káčer, as well as Stank, admitted that the ministry had "problems recruiting professional staff". Káčer said that the Slovak army employed about 42% professional soldiers. These men and women officers, Káčer said, were paid about Sk10,000 to 12,000 ($210 to $253) a month, roughly the Slovak average wage, while Samson of the SFPA added that high ranking officers were paid about Sk25,000 ($526).

"We'll definitely have to think about increasing wages in the coming years," Káčer said.

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