President Pavel Signs Czech-US Defence Agreement Into Law, Completing Ratification
The Czech Republic completed the ratification of the defence cooperation agreement with the United States yesterday, with the signature of President Petr Pavel, the Presidential Office said in a press release.
The Presidential Office said the document still required the co-signature of Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS). Fiala will sign the agreement on the first day after his return from vacation in Croatia, Jakub Tomek of the government’s communication department told CTK.
The parliamentary approval of the agreement was met with protests by opponents of the presence of US troops on the Czech territory. However, both houses of the Czech parliament endorsed the document by a large majority. In the Senate, 66 out of 72 legislators voted in favour, while in the Chamber of Deputies, 115 out of 144 legislators present voted in favour.
According to Defence Minister Jana Cernochova (ODS), the defence agreement with the United States gives the Czech Republic an additional security guarantee and is also valuable in the context of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
Both government officials and representatives of the opposition ANO movement stressed that the agreement is not about the stay of US troops or the construction of US military bases in the Czech Republic. A longer-term presence of the US military in the country would always have to be approved by parliament, they said, with the legal status of US troops then governed by the defence agreement.
Coalition officials also rejected comparisons of the agreement to the “temporary” stay of Soviet troops in Communist Czechoslovakia after 1968.
Criticism during the parliamentary discussion of the agreement came mainly from the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), which claimed the document was an agreement on future US military presence in the Czech Republic.
SPD representatives said the agreement was only beneficial for the United States, and that the Czech Republic was a subordinate party. Representatives of Tomio Okamura’s movement unsuccessfully called for a national referendum on the agreement, and for an additional protocol that there would be no US bases in the Czech Republic.
Most NATO countries have a defence agreement or equivalent document with the US. Of the eastern members of the alliance, the Czech Republic was the last to reach such an agreement.
The roughly 40-page document covers many areas related to the possible presence of US troops in the Czech Republic or cooperation between US and Czech armed forces on the Czech territory.
It deals with the legal status of US soldiers, environmental protection, the operation of motor vehicles by US soldiers and their families, and the status of US armed forces contractors. The agreement also provides for the exemption of US soldiers from taxes and customs duties in the Czech Republic, and includes a list of military installations and premises of the Czech army that the US armed forces will be able to use under pre-agreed conditions.
The Chamber of Deputies adopted an accompanying resolution to its approval of the ratification, proposed by ANO, stating that the conclusion of the agreement represents a deepening of practical defence cooperation with the United States and contributes to greater security for the Czech Republic. It also stressed that the agreement does not give the US armed forces the right to build permanent military bases in the Czech Republic or to reside permanently in the country without prior Czech consent, nor does it confer the right to deploy nuclear weapons.