Milan Šuplata, Head of the Security and Defence Policy Programme, Central European Policy Institute
The Visegrad Four prime ministers aspire to create a joint battle unit, adopt a common defence strategy, coordinate their countries‘procurement efforts and organise joint military exercises. As the recent V4 summit in Budapest showed, the region’s ambitions in the area of defence co-operation have not only a strong raison d’être but also the strongest political support.
Defence co-operation is politically important. Central European nations realise that if they talk in unison in Brussels, if they coordinate their policies and work together, their diplomatic weight increases. Poland aspires to act as one of the most important players in Europe. If Warsaw is perceived as the leader of the region, both Poland the region will benefit.
For Slovakia, the main issue is financial austerity which is forcing us to find new ways to minimise destructive consequences of defence cuts. Without the regional cooperation, we will not be able to purchase modern but expensive military equipment. As a result, armed forces in the region will continue to deteriorate with a possible exception of the Polish military. Joint projects will help us use whatever is left in the military budgets more effectively.
The ultimate objective should be a joint military equipment procurement project. This could lower the unit prices and, through equipment unification, also maintenance and training expenses. System compatibility would also increase our joint capabilities to act in a multinational environment, a necessity for a proper collective defence scheme.
The road to a joint procurement is not easy and is preconditioned by alignment of procurement plans in individual countries which differ in terms of priorities, technical specifications and time frameworks. The differences stem from previous purchases and modernisation efforts, longevity of the original equipment and geographical specifics.
The 2012 DAV4 report, co-authored by twelve Visegrad security and defence experts, suggests that as a precursor towards a joint procurement effort, the V4 countries should share their defence planners. The practice has been successfully deployed in the Nordic countries; Britain and France have similar cooperation arrangements. This enables the partners to learn about each other’s plans and planning processes, improve data sharing and harmonise individual national plans on the regional basis.
Another important step to deepen the V4 cooperation was the decision to form the Visegrad battlegroup. The V4 countries committed themselves to have the unit ready for the EU’s disposal in the first half of 2016. The battle groups are essentially rapid reaction units comprising 1,500 to 3,000 troops ready to be deployed by the EU should it need to deal with a crisis in its neighbourhood. This requires long-term planning as individual member states use a kind of roster to indicate who and when can contribute with their unit so that the EU always has at least two units at its disposal.
Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk went even further when he said that the V4 unit should be the basis of a long-lasting effort, not a single-use project. This would motivate the V4 countries to work even more towards joint military exercises, common standards and compatible equipment. The upcoming DAV4 report by the Visegrad expert group proposes that the unit be offered to both the EU’s Battle Groups and the NATO’s Rapid Reaction Forces on a regular basis.
Defence cooperation remains, despite its undisputed benefits, a sensitive issue and political support is necessary for its success. Inclusion of this topic into the agenda of the Visegrad Four prime ministers means that the V4 defence ministers have a clear mandate to act, and that results of their work will be thoroughly scrutinised.
Their task will extend beyond completing the joint battle group project to devising plans on how to benefit from the group in the long run, and identifying new cooperation projects, including joint procurement.