Posted inCentral Europe & Baltics, Eastern Europe & Russia, Regions, Southeastern Europe

Security Notes: Military and Security Issues Around the Region

Czech Republic Defense Restructuring Delayed Again After a Czech cabinet committee on 2 January rejected Defense Minister Vilem Holan’s defense concept for the second time, the minister came under attack from media, the government, and even his own ministry. The policy is supposed to outline national defense for the Czech Republic over the next 10 years, including defining security threats and goals, stipulating the size and capabilities of the armed forces, and setting timetables for upgrading equipment and training. Holan’s first plan was rejected last fall because the government, led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS), said it was too expensive. Now, the second plan has been scorned as too general. The Czech media cited party politics as the reason for the rejections. The beleaguered Holan is a member of the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-CSL), which is a member of the governing coalition. Libor Novak, executive deputy chairman of the ODS, said the KDU-CSL has failed to control the defense minister and should give up that portfolio after the next elections, scheduled for late May and early June. And amid the sniping from coalition allies, Deputy Defense Minister Petr Necas, an ODS member, complained that the minister, his nominal superior, had not consulted with his staff before submitting the concept to the government. The lack of a defense-policy document has not prevented Czech soldiers from joining the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia, although only a small percentage of the planned 850-man contingent has so far taken up position. Russia Cold and Hungry Recruits called to serve in the Pacific Fleet are being sent to the hospital rather than shipped out. A record 10 percent of new draftees to the fleet have been placed under special medical observation for the next three months, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. Still more new sailors have been diagnosed as malnourished and are being given a special fortified diet. A spokesman for the fleet said that the local draft boards have been struggling to meet quotas of healthy draftees. Normally, young men with medical problems would be rejected for service. But Russia has a high rate of draft evasion, and the fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok, is undermanned. Becoming a soldier is not necessarily a guarantee of getting three square meals a day. The Russian army, which struggled with funding problems throughout 1995, often did not have enough money to pay soldiers or even supply the mess hall, Russian agencies reported. Last August, the food crisis was so severe that several units were reduced to eating emergency stores of dry bread and canned goods. Even officers were not well fed. The military lagged behind in paying salaries, and many officers and NCOs resorted to moonlighting at other jobs in order to put food on the table. Top officials blamed the lack of food on an unrealistically small budget. In September, President Boris Yeltsin had to sign a decree to ensure enough food supplies for members of the armed forces. But the president stipulated that extra money for food should come out of other parts of the overstressed military budget. Food is not the only basic need the army is having trouble filling. Last October, the Defense Ministry’s top financial officer, Vasilii Vorobev, complained that over two-thirds of soldiers lacked boots for the winter because the government had not allocated enough money to buy proper clothing. Yeltsin fired Vorobev at the end of November for failing to ensure that troops were paid on time. Vorobev and others in the ministry claimed the government did not give them enough money to pay for salaries, equipment, utilities, and food. Poland Staying the Course Poland’s new defense minister has announced that joining NATO is his main goal. On that point, he resembles his predecessor, and the West can breathe easy. What is new is Stanislaw Dobrzanski’s commitment to parliamentary, rather than presidential, control over the Defense Ministry. Former President Lech Walesa made it a priority to exert as much control as possible over the ministries of defense, foreign affairs, and interior. Much wrangling during his term centered around what was termed presidential prerogatives. Walesa wanted the power to appoint and control the defense minister, but the constitution – or rather the body of constitutional laws that govern Poland in lieu of a constitution – does not clearly state whether executive or legislative authority over the ministry is paramount. Walesa provoked a political crisis in fall 1994 when he demanded that then-Defense Minister Piotr Kolodziejczyk be fired and that he, the president, appoint a replacement. Dobrzanski was one of then-Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak’s nominees for the position. But eventually Walesa succeeded in placing his own man, Zbigniew Okonski, in the Defense Ministry. Walesa favored presidential control of certain ministries because he, as the Solidarity president, had little party backing in the Sejm, which has been controlled by former communists since 1993. Aleksander Kwasniewski, who defeated and succeeded Walesa, was, on the other hand, a member of the current ruling party – the Democratic Left Alliance-until he assumed office and resigned from the party to avoid the appearance of entangling political loyalties. Practically, he can afford to cede presidential power to the parliament, since he and the legislative majority are close on most issues. A lieutenant in the reserves, Dobrzanski has had a mostly civilian career, including two years of service as the secretary of the parliamentary Committee for Defense Affairs. He is expected to follow his predecessor’s lead in pressing for Poland’s admission to NATO; almost the entire political spectrum in Poland agrees that NATO membership is the country’s primary security goal. Material contributed by Jakub Karpinsk, Steve Kettle, and Scott Parrish