Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) got a shout out in former US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s new book. But it wasn’t praise. Bolton criticized Babiš for backpedaling on commitments at a 2018 NATO summit. Babiš, though, claims his comments were quite simple to understand and have been taken out of context.
Bolton in an almost unprecedented move published his book called The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir while President Donald Trump is still in office and seeking re-election. The book is highly critical of the president, but also points the finger at many other domestic and international politicians.
Babiš in 2018 said it was difficult for the Czech Republic to meet its defense commitments since the country’s GDP was growing rapidly.
Defense spending was the summit’s main topic, following President Donald Trump’s criticism that most member countries spend less than 2% of their GDP on defense, a goal set for 2024.
At the beginning of the second day of the summit’s debates, Bolton said member countries should increase their defense budgets to the agreed level already at the start of 2019. That statement spurred a special meeting of European leadership, focused solely on this one requirement.
Bolton said the most clumsy comments came from Babiš, who said the Czech Republic is doing its best to reach the agreed 2% of GDP for the defense budget, but that the country’s GDP is growing so fast that he was not sure that defense spending could keep up.
Bolton claims that Babiš tried to explain that the Czech Republic is growing rich too fast to be able to defend itself adequately.
Babiš claims that Bolton has taken the comments about Czech NATO spending out of context.
“All one had to do was a bit of thinking. The equation is quite simple. Along with Trump, other European leaders understood it at the NATO summit. I argued logically that basically the GDP percentage spent on armament does not much matter because the absolute sum of defense spending is more important,” Babiš said in response to the book.
“If the GDP rises, the absolute sum to be spent on defense rises, too. However, if the GDP falls in a year and our defense spending is preserved, the percentage of defense spending logically rises,” Babiš said.
“The words in the book are taken out of context. Now I understand quite well why Trump has sacked Bolton from the team of his aides as he was unable to understand such a simple thing,” Babiš said.
Babiš also took to social media to criticize the book. He said it was full of nonsense, and that other European leaders understood his point.
Takových knih plných nesmyslných prohlášení už bylo. Přesto té úvaze pana Boltona nerozumím. Stačilo by se zamyslet, je to jenom jednoduchá trojčlenka. A na jednání summitu @NATO ji kromě prezidenta @realDonaldTrump pochopili i ostatní evropští lídři. https://t.co/OLo2T3hRJw
— Andrej Babiš (@AndrejBabis) June 23, 2020
Ahead of the summit, the Czech government announced that it counts on increasing its GDP percentage invested into defense before 2024. Babiš repeated that commitment after meeting NATO leaders. Babiš also emphasized the growth of defense spending given the financial developments between 2013 to 2019.
The defense budget was only 1.2% of the Czech GDP in 2019. Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (ČSSD) says he does not see enough political will for the Czech Republic to reach the 2% threshold in the next four years.
Bolton said that ahead of the 2018 summit, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both proposed continued pressure on other NATO members to increase their defense spending and Trump agreed, although he then asked Bolton why the United States cannot just leave NATO.
Bolton claims Trump wanted to threaten that the United States would not defend the countries that do not commit to the 2% defense spending limit. In the end, Trump instead spoke about taking a “unilateral approach” against the countries that don’t reach the spending goal.
According to NATO estimates, only nine out of the 29 member countries invested at least 2% of their GDP into defense. These are the United States, Poland, the UK, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and the three Baltic states.
The Czech Republic joined NATO on March 12, 1999, along with Poland and Hungary as the first former Eastern bloc countries. Czech soldiers, for example, have been deployed in Afghanistan and Kosovo.