Czechoslovakia Table of Contents
After the 1946 election, the communists began to lose some of their popularity, and, as the 1948 election approached, their public support began to decline. Not leaving anything to chance, the communists staged a coup d'etat in February 1948 rather than wait for the scheduled May election. To ensure passivity among military units that might object to such unconstitutional methods, Svoboda confined all noncommunist commanders to quarters. Various units under communist command were placed on alert during the coup, but they were not needed and were not used as the legitimate government was ousted and a Moscow-oriented, communist regime was installed.
Early in the new era, the ranks of officers and NCOs were thinned as the military forces, along with all other institutions, were purged to ensure political reliability. The armed forces--now called the Czechoslovak People's Army (Ceskoslovenska Lidova Armada--CSLA)-- suffered initially from the loss of competent personnel, but as Soviet advisers reorganized units to fit the Soviet pattern and trained the Czechoslovaks to use the Soviet equipment that was arriving in quantity, the forces gradually developed a credible combat capability.
Having cleaned the governmental institutions of opposition elements, the communist rulers conducted another purge in the early 1950s, this time seeking purity within the party. Svoboda, who had joined the KSC in 1948, was among those who fell into disfavor. Charged with treason, he was removed from his post as defense minister and sent to work on a collective farm. Others, however, fared worse. Rudolf Slansky, for example, who was first secretary of the party, was executed. Slansky and Svoboda were both rehabilitated--posthumously in the case of Slansky, but Svoboda regained his army rank in 1955 and became commandant of the Klement Gottwald Military Political Academy, a post he held until his retirement from military service in 1959. Although the morale of the troops suffered from the purges, the size of the military establishment grew rapidly, increasing from 140,000 in 1950 to over 250,000 in 1951. These well-trained and highly disciplined forces were considered to be capable and competent in 1955 when Czechoslovakia committed its forces to the alliance formed under the terms of the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance--the Warsaw Pact.
The CSLA's prestige continued to grow during the next decade as it increasingly became a "junior partner" in Soviet military strategy in both Eastern Europe and the Third World. Unlike Hungary and Poland, Czechoslovakia experienced no upheavals in 1956 and was therefore considered to be, from the Soviet point of view, the most reliable of the front-line Warsaw Pact states. The CSLA gave support to the increased Soviet military presence in the Third World. As the Soviet Union became a supplier of arms, Czechoslovakia supplied training expertise to Third World military officers. The CSLA also underwent considerable modernization in the early 1960s as the Soviet Union redefined the role of the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact members in Warsaw Pact military strategy. As Warsaw Pact strategy shifted from one of massive retaliation to one of limited nuclear warfare, the Czechoslovak military was assigned a specific role to play in the event of war with the West--to tie down North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in the southern part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).
Yet it was precisely this enhanced prestige and concomitant duties that gave rise to increasing discontent in what had been considered up to that time a solidly pro-Soviet military establishment. The modernization of the CSLA required and spawned an officer corps whose level of education was much higher than that of its predecessor. This educated officer corps, however, increasingly resented the amount of time it was required to devote to its own political education. Some officers also believed that the country's new Warsaw Pact role unjustly favored Warsaw Pact and Soviet defense interests at the expense of Czechoslovakia's. Romania had previously raised this question regarding its own role in the Warsaw Pact. According to the Warsaw Pact's own estimates, the CSLA would take casualties of 60 to 70 percent in a war against NATO, and Czechoslovakia itself would be turned into a nuclear battlefield. That the Soviet Union made repeated attempts to station troops and nuclear warheads within Czechoslovakia during this time must have exacerbated the situation. Soviet requests were repeatedly turned down, but tensions arose during the process.
The general dissatisfaction within the Czechoslovak military became increasingly evident. In 1966 Czechoslovakia, following the lead of Romania, rejected the Soviet Union's call for more military integration within the Warsaw Pact and sought greater input in planning and strategy for the Warsaw Pact's non-Soviet members. At the same time, plans to effect great structural changes in Czechoslovak military organizations were under discussion. All these debates heated up in 1968 during the period of political liberalization known as the Prague Spring, when CSLA commanders put forward plans to democratize the armed forces, plans that included limiting the role of the party (see The Prague Spring , ch. 1). National military doctrine became an even greater issue when two important documents were released: the Action Program of the Ministry of Defense and the Memorandum of the Klement Gottwald Military Political Academy. These documents stated that Czechoslovakia should base its defense strategy on its own geopolitical interests and that the threat from the West had been overstated. Although the regime of Alexander Dubcek, the party first secretary (title changed to general secretary in 1971), was careful to reassure the Soviet Union that Czechoslovakia would remain committed to the Warsaw Pact, Moscow felt challenged by these developments, which undoubtedly played a major role in the decision to invade in August 1968.
Data as of August 1987
Czechoslovakia Table of Contents