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Czech Republic - Security Policy

In 1989, Czechoslovakia not only passed through fundamental political transformations, but it also lost its foe. For this reason, the attitude toward building and utilising armed forces changed simultaneously. Massive armed forces were deemed unnecessary, subsequent downsizing and eventual professionalization were seen as the most logical next step.

The main mission of the armed forces lies in their preparation for defending the Czech sovereignty and territorial integrity and protecting it from an external attack. They can also be deployed to carry out rescue activities; clear aftermath of natural disasters; take part in international peace-building, peace support and peacekeeping operations; and support rescue and humanitarian missions.

The Czech Republic made a significant contribution to the War on Terrorism relative to its size. It deployed a nuclear/ biological/ chemical defense unit in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and a field hospital in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The Czech Republic became a member of NATO on March 12, 1999. A major overhaul of the Czechoslovak defense forces began in 1990 and continued in the Czech Republic. Czech forces were being downsized from 200,000 to approximately 50,000, and at the same time reoriented toward a more a more mobile, deployable force structure. The Czechs made good progress in reforming the military personnel structure, and a strong commitment to English language training is paying off. Public support for NATO membership remains around 50%-60%.

Since 1999, the Czech Republic has been an integral part of the North Atlantic Alliance. As a medium sized country, the Czech Republic cannot be a mere consumer of security; on the contrary, it is obligated to contribute to its sustainment. In 2002, the government reformed the armed forces with the intent of preventing the Czech Republic from being the metaphorical weakest link in NATO. Thanks to its NATO membership, the Czech Republic has now achieved the most reliable security guarantees in its history.

Complete and comprehensive defence of the Czech Republic can be attained only in the framework of shared responsibilities and mutual assistance within the system of NATO collective defence. As a member of this system, the Czech Republic has accepted an appropriate portion of responsibility for security and defence of its allies, in the same way as the allies accept part of responsibility for defence of the Czech Republic. However, membership in international organisations does not exempt the Czech Republic from its primary national defence responsibility.

The Czech Republic shares its security and defence interests with other NATO member states. The Ministry of Defence is responsible for national defence and coordination of its preparation. The Czech Armed Forces plan, prepare and implement defence of their territory within the framework of NATO collective defence and in accordance with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Defence operations can be either of a high or low intensity, and may be conducted inside or outside the Czech territory at various distances from its border. High intensity operations are conducted with use of maximum military forces and equipment deployed by NATO allies, whereas low intensity operations can be carried out with a smaller amount of NATO capacities. Decisions on the character and intensity of retaliation against an armed attack on one or more allies are made by NATO member states in compliance with the Alliances principles and procedures.

Membership in the European Union is also important for the Czech Republics national defence and security. The Czech Republic supports the development of the EU military capabilities, in accordance with the process of building NATO capabilities.

On 21 December 2007, the Czech Republic joined the Schengen area. Border checks at the land borders were abolished at midnight from 20 to 21 December 2007. At the international airports, border checks on intra-Schengen flights came to an end on 30 March 2008. Since 21 December 2007, the Czech Republic has been fully participating in the Schengen cooperation, thus being a member of a group of countries which carry out no border checks at their common borders and which have brought their efforts to fulfill the right of free movement of persons to a successful end. The 2007 Schengen enlargement can be seen as a symbolic end to the imaginary division of Europe into the "West" and the "East" and it means that people are allowed to cross land borders without the obligation to present an identity document at former border-crossing points.

The abolition of border checks at land borders and the possibility to cross the former border crossing points without a stop was the most visible, yet not the only change arising from the integration of the Czech Republic in the Schengen area. The abolition of border checks at internal borders was accompanied by various compensatory measures involving extensive cooperation of all Member States applying provisions of the Schengen acquis (Schengen states/countries) in many aspects, such as setting a common visa regime, improving coordination between the police, customs and the judiciary and taking additional steps to combat problems such as terrorism and organized crime.

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