The chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces Petr Pavel is to be the new head of NATO’s Military Committee. His election to the post at a committee meeting in Vilnius over the weekend has been hailed as a "major diplomatic success" for the Czech Republic and an expression of trust by fellow NATO members.
The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee is NATO´s highest military authority and chief adviser to NATO's secretary general. General Petr Pavel, who was chosen over nominees from Italy and Greece, is the first representative from the former East European block to hold the senior post. Speaking shortly after the vote was announced the general stressed that the credit was not his alone.
“Of course, I am immensely gratified. It is a great honour for me, for the Czech Armed Forces and for the whole country. I just want to say that the credit is not mine alone. It reflects the work of many people who contributed to the gradual professionalization and the growing prestige of the Czech Army since our accession to the Partnership for Peace Program in 1994. This is the outcome of that effort and although –like at the Oscars - one person accepts the prize there are thousands of people behind the success.”
General Pavel is to assume the post in June of 2015, replacing the present chief of NATO’s military committee Danish General Knud Bartels with whom he is now closely cooperating. In the course of the coming months he will be putting together his work team, the size of which is always up to the respective chairman. General Bartels’ Italian predecessor in the post (Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola) worked with a team of 50 people, while he himself scaled it down to 14. General Petr Pavel said he would try to stay at the lower end of the scale, but could not imagine reducing the team any further, not least because of the challenges facing the alliance in the present day.
“There are many priorities facing NATO today. The picture is much more complicated than it was in the days of a bi-polar world. The crisis in Ukraine is one of the hot beds of tension that naturally come to mind, but it is not our biggest priority. Today NATO faces a far bigger threat from Islamic State terrorists –that threat is potentially very dangerous.”
In the process of decision making General Petr Pavel will be cooperating closely with Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg who will take up the post of NATO Secretary General next month. It is not yet clear who will replace him as Czech army chief of staff.
While the election of a Czech military representative to a key post in NATO is seen as a sign of the country’s prestige and recognition of the Czech Army’s role in NATO over the past 15 years, commentators are pointing out that there is room for improvement –such as increasing the country’s defense spending in the years to come. Prague is still falling short of its commitment to spend 2 percent of the country’s GDP on defense. Defense spending is presently at around 1 percent of the GDP and Prime Minister Sobotka’s cabinet has pledged to bring it up to 1.4 percent of the GDP in five to six years.
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