Military Involvement of Visegrad Four in Foreign Missions

  • Dominika Jandová
  • 13.7.2016 14:15

By entering the UN, NATO and later the European Union, the V4 countries pledged that their armies will participate in foreign missions to enhance Euro-Atlantic security. What are the main missions and where do the countries send their armed forces?

The Czech Republic

The Army of the Czech Republic participated in more than 30 military and peacekeeping missions within the framework of international commitments. In Mali, Czech soldiers are under auspices of both the EU and the UN. This is a training (non-combat) mission, EUTM Mali, to which the Czech Republic contributes about 40 soldiers. In connection with MINUSMA operation, 25 members of the 601st Special Forces Group were sent to Mali, who will operate according to the mandate mostly in the northeastern part of the country until the end of this year. However, the Czech Ministry of Defense plans to increase the number of soldiers in the UN mission and also intends to buy small reconnaissance drones to improve the fighting efficiency. Both operations support the efforts to keep the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to reduce attacks of Islamic radicals, particularly a terrorist group Ansar Dine.

In March 2016, Czech soldiers in cooperation with Malians fought off an attack aimed at the EU mission headquarters. In a context of the EU's involvement in Africa, the Czech Minister of Defense considers to take part in the EU mission in the Central African Republic. Since 2010, the Czech Republic also operates in Somalia under auspices of the EU as part of the NAVFOR Atalanta mission. This mission has a mandate to protect vessels, that are part of the World Food Programme (WFP), and to eliminate piracy and armed assaults along the Somali coastline.

Czech troops traditionally serve in the Balkans. Currently they still operate in Kosovo where they have been since July 1999. In the framework of the EU Althea, Czech soldiers also operate in Bosnia and Herzegovina where they contribute to progress of the country on the path to European integration and to elimination of corruption and organized crime. To a lesser extent, the Czech Republic engages in operations in northern Sinai and oversees the safety conditions of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel since 2009.

But the highest number of Czech troops operates in Afghanistan. The Czech Republic has the eight largest military contingent in this NATO mission. The number of soldiers (258) will gradually decrease depending on the ability of the Afghan government to provide its own security. However, the Taliban is definitely still strong. Approximately 167 soldiers carry out security measures in the northern part of the Bagram security zone in joint operations with the US partners. In 2014, five Czech soldiers died in the Afghan province of Parvan. According to the Czech Minister of Defense Martin Stropnický, the priorities of the Czech army abroad in the next two years will be collective defense of NATO, operations in Afghanistan and Mali and fight against Daesh (the Islamic State).

The Slovak Republic

At the beginning of its development, the Slovak Republic (SR) mostly focused on UN missions. Later Slovakia expanded its participation to NATO and EU missions and acted, for example, as a lead nation of the Regional Coordination Centre "South" in the Althea operation. Currently, members of armed forces of the Slovakian Republic take part in two NATO-led operations (Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan and, in the framework of NATO, in Bosnia and Herzegovina), two operations and missions led by the EU (the operation EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EUMM mission in Georgia) as well as two UN missions (the UNFICYP in Cyprus and the UNTSO's monitoring missions in Israel and Syria).

Currently, Slovakia operates on the African continent only as part of the EU training mission in Mali and its work there should be completed in August 2016. At the NATO summit in Warsaw Slovak Minister of Defense Peter Gajdoš confirmed that Slovak soldiers will serve in Afghanistan also after 2016. For this operation, Slovakia has an approved mandate for 66 soldiers, compared to current 40. According to the latest information from the Ministry of Defense of the Slovak Republic, most of the soldiers of the Armed forces of the Slovak Republic (OS SR) serve in Cyprus (159) where they are tasked with preventing a recurrence of fighting between Greek Cypriots and Turks and with securing peace, as well as in Afghanistan and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the framework of the Althea mission (38). They serve in other missions in much smaller numbers - from 1 to max 5 members of the armed forces.

Hungary

Like Slovakia, Hungary has also in the past sent its troops abroad mostly in the framework of UN peacekeeping missions. Their first engagement was in 1988. Currently around 70% of soldiers serve in NATO operations, 20% in EU operations and remaining 10% contribute their presence to UN operations. Especially in the recent years Hungary contributed to the presence of NATO in Afghanistan to a great extent, considering the country's size and economy. Their participation in this region has started as early as in 2002. West Balkan countries are also Hungary's traditional region due to close borders. Therefore, Hungarian soldiers remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina (49), as well as under NATO command in Kosovo where 350 members of armed forces are still present. Since 1995 Hungary also operates in Cyprus where it has around 70-80 Hungarian soldiers or observers. After the end of operation EUFOR RCA, Hungary joined the mission MINUSCA in Central African Republic and a mission in Mali under EU.

Poland

Poland has always been significantly involved in missions in Afghanistan. This year Poland has up to 199 soldiers serving there as a part of Resolute Support mission (which continues ISAF mission since 2015, in which Poland had 2,600 soldiers in recent years). Like the other V4 countries (except Slovakia), Poland is still engaged in the NATO mission KFOR, in which it still has more than 240 soldiers and dozens remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina in operation Althea. In Africa, Poland has now deployed military experts in mission MINUSCA in Central African Republic that responds to violence between Christian and Muslim militias. Moreover, like the Czech Republic or Hungary, Poland contributes, to a lesser extent (21 soldiers), to the EU training mission in Mali. Poland also reinforces its military presence in Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, e.g. in the framework of NATO's operation Baltic Air Policing. Its goal is to protect the airspace of the aforementioned countries. The number of soldiers might yet be increased if there is no change in Russia's attitude. Poland and Baltic states have also started closer cooperation on development of more effective regional air defense. At the summit in Warsaw in July 2016 Poland agreed that its forces will remain in Afghanistan. In June, the Polish government decided to send four fighter F-16 aircrafts and 200 soldiers to Kuwait and Iraq in support of the fight against the Islamic state. The first F-16 landed in Kuwait on 5th July and they will remain to monitor airspace.

All V4 countries are actively involved in major missions of the UN, EU and NATO and they try to modernize their armed forces to fulfill their obligations of membership in these organizations. However, the countries have only slightly different regional focus. Their traditional region is the Balkans (Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and especially Afghanistan. All these countries followed a similar trend in the 90s when they were engaged mostly in UN missions and with their accession to NATO and the EU their interest shifted to these organizations in order to provide security of the Euro-Atlantic region. The countries also have slightly different attitudes towards various security issues, which is logical given their geographic locations and historical experience of these four post-communist states. Particularly, we could mention Hungary's interest in Ukraine, which is, among other reasons, given by a sizable Hungarian minority living in the Zakarpattya region near the Hungarian borders, or countries' different approach to the Kosovo issue. Not only Poland but also the other V4 countries monitored the airspace of the Baltic countries as a part of the operation Baltic Air Policing.

In 2009, the Czech Republic sent its tactical aircrafts outside its own territory for the first time since the Second World War. Hungary joined this operation as well, in 2015. However, there are differences among the countries regarding their military capabilities and subsequently in their ability to deploy troops abroad. With regard to the defense budget, Poland has it the best - its budget is set to 2% GDP, in the other countries it is around 1%. Poland is planning to increase its defense budget up to 3%. After Poland (that sends up to 3,500 soldiers and military personnel), the Czech Republic sends most soldiers to foreign missions; Slovakia sends the least. In Africa, the V4 armies operate mostly in the Central African Republic or Mali. Nevertheless, all the V4 countries, participate according to their capabilities in military missions of the EU and especially NATO, while Poland has a leading role.

About author: Dominika Jandová

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