Country Listing

Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security

Manpower, barbed wire, and electronics--important elements of national security in Czechoslovakia

THE CZECHOSLOVAK PEOPLE'S ARMY of the late 1980s comprised ground and air forces under the supervision of the Ministry of National Defense. The ground forces accounted for about 70 percent of the total strength of the forces, which in early 1986 was slightly more than 200,000. The armed forces that constitute the people's army have been committed by treaty to the Eastern Europe-Soviet alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. Another military force, the Border Guard, which patrols the country's frontiers, was supervised by the Ministry of Interior, as were two paramilitary police forces--Public Security and State Security--and a part-time, national guard force known as the People's Militia. Manpower for the armed forces and the Border Guard was obtained through a system of universal male conscription; service in the other organizations was voluntary. Women also served in the armed forces and the police forces in small numbers but were not subject to conscription.

All the forces underwent a political purge after the short period of reform in the late 1960s that culminated in an invasion by the armies of five other Warsaw Pact members. The greatest personnel loss at that time occurred in the army, where large numbers of officers who had supported the reform movement either voluntarily resigned or were forced out; the other services were similarly affected, but to a lesser degree. Western analysts disagreed about whether the armed forces had recovered their preinvasion size, quality, or morale by the late 1980s. Some Western analysts also questioned the reliability of the Czechoslovak forces, but others were convinced that the forces would honor their commitment to the Warsaw Pact if called upon.

Five Soviet ground divisions remained in Czechoslovakia after the departure of the other Warsaw Pact invasion forces in 1968. After nearly two decades, these Soviet forces had become an integral part of the Warsaw Pact defenses in the area, but for many Czechoslovaks their presence was still a cause of resentment. In guarded moments, some citizens have referred to the Soviet forces as an army of occupation. The leaders of the government and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, however, have been obsequious in their contacts with Soviet officials and periodically have even thanked the invaders for having shown Czechoslovakia the error of its ways. Marked public unease was also evident in 1983 when the Soviet Union began deploying operational-tactical missiles in Czechoslovakia.

The Czechoslovak munitions industry, which was already well developed when the country was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, continued to produce arms and military equipment in the 1980s. The Skoda armament works of Plzen was famous long before World War I, and the British Bren gun of World War II fame was originally developed in Brno, from which its name was derived. Skoda and other manufacturers of munitions have maintained a reputation for quality during the communist era, and Czechoslovakia has become a major supplier of arms to Third World countries. The industry also has supplied weapons and equipment for the country's own forces and for other Warsaw Pact forces. Production has included small arms, machine guns, antitank weapons, armored vehicles, tanks (of Soviet design), and jet aircraft.

Data as of August 1987