29/03/2021

Geopolitics

The Military Cooperation of the V4

Péter Szitás
Visegrad is a symbolic place in Central Europe. The citadel of the picturesque settlement hosted a summit in 1335 where Casimir the Great of Poland, King John of Luxembourg of the Kingdom of Bohemia and King Charles Robert of Hungary pledged allegiance and struck an agreement on trade cooperation. This royal meeting not only settled relations between the parties concerned in a mature way but negotiated resolutions that belied the age, promising a prosperous common future.

The intention to bring this great historical event to life and pursue it in principle inspired the successors of the kingdoms – former Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary –, having just stripped themselves of Soviet occupation, to sit down again in 1991, choosing Visegrad as the place of their negotiations. Thirty years later this cooperation is still flourishing with a unique form of advocacy within the framework of the European Union. This present study aims to show what the Visegrad Group has managed to achieve in the field of military cooperation since 1991.

The Roots of the Cooperation

The countries of the V4 – Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia – have been military allies for several decades. Between 1955 and 1991, as members of the former Eastern Bloc, their alliance was within the framework of the Warsaw Pact Organization (WPO). Today these nations are all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Although the bilateral political relations between the former V3 and, after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia the V4, have not always been cloudless, from a military point of view their symbiosis has been professional. The practical reason for this is clearly to be found in the old, socialist covenant. The WPO required a high level of interoperability, which in practice meant the unconditional adoption and application of the Soviet military norms. This was true of military procedures, protocols, training, advancement systems, equipment, armaments, communication, and ultimately the way of thinking. Building on these common features the possibility of implementing a V4 military cooperation has been on the agenda since the signature of the Visegrad Treaty. However, this idea was not put into motion for a long time for several reasons.

Political Transformations in CE

Between the dissolution of the WPO in 1991 and the enlargement of the NATO, the region fell into a security vacuum. This is the classical IR textbook situation when countries can only count on self-help to guarantee their own peace and security. The Czech and Slovak Federal Republic ceased to exist on 31 December 1992, and the successor states turned inward, aiming to settle their own lines. Czechia’s attitude to the issue of military cooperation was truly reflected in the fact that from 1995 she even suspended her participation in the meetings of the defence ministers of the Visegrad Group. The change was brought about by the invitation of Czechia, Hungary and Poland into NATO and their subsequent accession in 1999. After 2004, when Slovakia also managed to join, the Visegrad cooperation became one of the main forums for exchanging experiences. By the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the cooperation took a more practical form than before. The idea of joint modernization of the obsolete, but technically similar Soviet military weaponry was mainly supported by Poland, however, the realization of the project was made impossible by the decision of the Russian Federation disallowing the upgrade of the Soviet-made assets. Overall, from a military point of view, the Visegrad cooperation remained a forum for consultation for many years.  The war on Yugoslavia affected only Hungary directly. The newly acceded NATO state did everything in her power to avoid getting into this conflict, however, she fulfilled her obligations by making her airspace and bases available to international forces.

The Evolution of the V4

Looking back at the time that has elapsed since the beginning of the Visegrad Cooperation, three stages can be distinguished. The first cycle was marked by problems, rivalries and competition among the Central European states that had just won their freedom back. This period ended around 2004, when every V4 country became both a member of the EU and of NATO. The second stage, which lasted approximately for a decade, was characterized by the integration into these communities and the implementation of structural reforms, finally, finding one’s own place in the Transatlantic Community. The tasks undertaken by the V4 countries at this time were primarily related to the support of the CFSP and NATO's transformation and operations. The document, which signalled the beginning of a new era is the "Responsibility for a strong NATO" declaration signed at the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago. Present, currently running period, however, embodies a higher level of partnership: the countries are cooperating and pursuing an active interest in policy making. The essential part of this partnership concerns national defence.

The European Security Structures

A glaring moment of the European Union's self-determination was the declaration of the intention to appear and act in the field of international security and defence policy. In the three-pillar structure of the Maastricht Treaty, which legally established the European Union, the common foreign and security policy appeared as one of the main pillars. A milestone in the further completion of the process was the adoption of the European Security Strategy in 2003, which also set out the goal of obtaining a global role for the EU in this field. The former European Foreign and Security Policy (EFSP) has now been transformed into the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

(...)

Download the full analysis in PDF

Download
Share this with others: