Slovakia’s parliament held a heated debate on military modernization during a special session on February 9. This is a sign of dissatisfaction with delayed modernization efforts, which have drawn criticism from lawmakers of both the opposition and ruling coalitions.
Slovak Minister of Defense Peter Gajdoš postponed a planned Swedish fighter jet purchase in September 2017. The delay could prolong Slovakia’s dependence on Russia, as the country may have to extend its fighter jet maintenance contract with Russia, which is set to expire in fall 2019. Slovak President Andrej Kiska warned Gajdoš about the loss of confidence due to the lack of transparency when he cancelled a radar purchase earlier this month.
Former-Defense Minister L’ubomír Galko of the opposition Freedom and Solidarity party accused the Ministry of Defense of a lack of transparency regarding purchases of military technology. He suspects that the ministry delayed the replacement in order to use Russian machines for as long as possible.
Gajdoš rejected the accusation, acknowledging that the sanctions imposed on Russia complicate the trade but reassuring that the ministry works to benefit Slovaks.
Slovak soldiers participate actively in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in NATO’s Visegrad Group Defense Cooperation. Yet many of Slovakia’s planned purchases are already outdated, even as many of the army’s weapons systems reach the end of their designated lifespans. “The army is in a bad state. It does not attract new blood, and the elites of the Slovak Armed Forces are leaving, and this affects the basic security of our country,” said political commentator Martin Dubéci.
Gajdoš signed a memorandum of intent for Slovakia to join the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) agreement in November 2017 and said then that the Slovak Armed Forces would undergo numerous modernization projects. “PESCO creates leeway for using these forces in a more streamlined manner, such as in research and development and the joint procurement of military equipment,” he said. He also believes that PESCO provides opportunities for more involvement in international projects.
During a meeting on February 5, Gajdoš also assured U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Adam Sterling that the army will adopt a pro-Atlantic and pro-European modernization plan. A week later on February 14, after meeting other NATO defense ministers in Brussels, he announced an increase in military expenditure to reach 1.6 percent of GDP in 2020 and the NATO target of two percent in 2024.