The days of compulsory military service in the Czech Republic are numbered. The Czech Defence Ministry announced on Wednesday that by the end of 2004 the country would have a fully professional army. The news evoked huge relief among 18 year olds who will now be free to pursue a career of their choice.
The phase-out to a fully professional army has been underway for some time now and initially it seemed that it would continue up until the end of 2006. Then, under pressure to reduce the length of compulsory military service, the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces announced that the army would shorten the transition period still further and focus on training professional soldiers instead. Oldrich Holecek is the army's press officer:
"It was really a historic announcement by the Minister of Defence that compulsory military service will end by the end of next year."
Is this plan sustainable in terms of the country's defence?
"It will be fully sustainable and less financially demanding than to cut the military service in steps - from twelve to nine to six to three. The opinion prevails that the conscripts cannon be well trained in up to date equipment within 6 or three months. The nature of today's military needs well trained motivated specialists, specialists who are professionals and will serve the country as their employer."
The Prime Minister has bowed to the logic of this argument. And the Army claims that it has enough candidates interested in an army career to fulfil its obligations. However the Army Chief of Staff has warned that there are strings attached to this decision. Primarily that the Armed Forces will receive the finances they need over the next three years, secondly that Parliament will not try to further reduce the length of compulsory army service in the remaining period and, thirdly, that Parliament will approve the respective changes in legislation in time to make all this possible.