Hungarian Conservative

Why Slovakia’s Defence Agreement with the United States has Generated Controversy

Képernyőfotó 2022-01-28 - 21.35.57
As the debate unfolds, the divides between the followers of pro-Eastern Pan-Slavism and the supporters of Western orientation are becoming deeper and deeper.

For weeks now, the Slovak public has been preoccupied with the topic of a bilateral defence treaty that would allow the US Armed Forces to operate military bases on their own authority on the territory of the Slovak Republic. While the Slovak government supports the idea, the opposition fears for the loss of the country’s sovereignty. As the debate unfolds, the divides between the followers of pro-Eastern Pan-Slavism and the supporters of Western orientation are becoming deeper and deeper. In addition, a Hungarian thread has also been introduced into the public discussion, with the liberal Slovak government arguing that if Viktor Orbán, the region’s strongest pro-sovereignty actor, had also managed to reach a similar agreement with the United States without the loss of Hungary’s sovereignty, then the same should apply to Slovakia. 

The accession of Slovakia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was not a smooth and even ride. When the country gained her independence from Czechia in 1993, she turned immediately towards the East. Slovakia’s leader at the time, Vladimir Mečiar, was convinced that NATO would turn a blind eye on his anti-democratic moves for geopolitical reasons, as without Slovakia, Hungary could only have joined the organization as an “island”, unable to get mainland military support. This posed a significant risk to the security of Hungary during the War on Yugoslavia. Mečiar’s calculation, however, did not work out. During the 1999 NATO enlargement, only Poland, Czechia and Hungary were invited to join. Slovakia became a member of the alliance only five years later, under the leadership of a completely different government.

The Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between the Government of the Slovak Republic and the United States of America would allow the US Armed Forces to use the military airports of Malacky-Kuchyna and Sliač, or other agreed premises. According to the treaty, Slovakia is to provide these facilities without rent, for free. The contract should be valid for ten years; however, it can then be terminated with a one year’s notice.

The Slovak Republic is the last of all countries in NATO’s so-called Eastern Wing which does not have such an agreement with the United States

At a press conference held in December 2021, Minister of Defence Jaroslav Naď emphasized that the DCA is a standard international treaty. According to the minister, the document fully respects the sovereignty of the Slovak Republic. In the first wave, the agreement is expected to allow about $100m to be used to upgrade Slovakia’s defence framework. Any newly built infrastructure will become the property of the Slovak Republic. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivan Korčok added that the Slovak Republic is the last of all countries in NATO’s so-called Eastern Wing which does not have such an agreement with the United States. He said he considered it a logical step in view of the intensive cooperation with the United States so far.[1] Korčok also underlined that the US Armed Forces will do nothing in the territory of the Slovak Republic without the consent and knowledge of the Slovak authorities. According to him, the agreement does not even mean creating a presumption of a permanent US presence in Slovakia.

The agreement does not come out of nowhere. Military cooperation between the Slovak Republic and the United States intensified in 2018. The government led by Peter Pellegrini (whose party is now in opposition) approved a historic purchase of the most advanced version of F-16 fighter jets to replace the obsolete MiG-29 Fulcrums made in the Soviet Union. The total value of the procurement was around 1,58 billion euros. This amount included the purchase of fourteen aircraft, staff training, ammunition, and maintenance for a period of two years. At that time, during the decision-making process, many expected that Slovakia, following the example of Czechia and Hungary, would vote in favour of the Swedish Gripen JAS 39 fighters. In fact, according to former prime minister Pellegrini, the offers of the two interested parties (Lockheed Martin and Saab) were extremely close. [2]  

As far as the present defence contract is concerned, many of its points are still obscure. The Attorney General (AG) of the Slovak Republic informed the public a few days ago that he had made 35 fundamental comments on the draft.[3]According to the AG, the proposed agreement is not in line with the Constitution of the Slovak Republic since the submitted wording of the draft does not respect the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the second chapter of the country’s fundamental law. ‘The Constitution of the Slovak Republic guarantees these rights to everyone who is staying in the territory of the Slovak Republic. If an international agreement is concluded with the USA as submitted, the Slovak Republic will resign from the guarantee of these constitutional rights’ – the prosecutor’s office said in a comment.[4]

Opposition parties firmly reject the treaty, and are initiating a referendum on the issue, claiming that because of the agreement, even nuclear weapons could be deployed in the country without the permission or even the knowledge of the local authorities. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority of the Slovak Republic pointed out that the agreement does not explicitly mention nuclear or other radioactive materials. However, not mentioning something does not mean excluding it. In view of the international agreements in force regulating the import and use of such materials, it is recommended to consider these facts in the draft agreement as well, the authority opined. According to the AG’s office, the Government or the President should, after the end of the interdepartmental comment procedure, use their constitutional rights and subject the draft of the bilateral agreement to a constitutional review. The office also objects to the fact that it would not be possible to terminate the agreement during the first ten years.

Many are waiting for the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová to conclude the debate. In the last days she seems to have done so. After careful consideration, she decided to support the conclusion of the DCA with the USA. However, her power of attorney will include an interpretative statement on how the Slovak Republic interprets the document. This clause states that the agreement must be implemented in such a way that the sovereignty of the Slovak Republic is not compromised in any way and that the security of the country is not jeopardized. It also declares that the agreement does not provide for the establishment of military bases and the presence of the US armed forces in Slovakia, nor does it allow nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons to be brought into Slovakia. The agreement will only be ratified with this clause. However, the President has decided not to submit the agreement to the Constitutional Court for review since her legal team did not find anything in it that was in conflict with the Constitution of the Slovak Republic.[5]

So it looks like the agreement will be signed, but the exact impact of it for Slovakia and the region remains a question.


[1] TASR, ‘Slovensko by malo uzavrieť s USA dohodu o obrannej spolupráci’, Teraz.sk, 2022,  https://www.teraz.sk/slovensko/slovensko-by-malo-uzavriet-s-usa-dohodu/597682-clanok.html, accessed 22 Jan. 2022.

[2] Vladimír Šnídl, ‘Vláda rozhodla o nákupe za 1,6 miliardy. Armáde kúpi americké stíhačky F-16, ktoré presadila SNS’, E.Dennikn.sk, 2018,  https://e.dennikn.sk/1176979/vlada-rozhodla-o-historickom-nakupe-armade-kupi-americke-stihacky-f-16-ktore-presadila-sns/, accessed 23 Jan. 2022.

[3] RTVS, ‘Generálna prokuratúra odmieta návrh obrannej dohody s USA’, Spravy.rtv.sk, 2022, https://spravy.rtvs.sk/2022/01/generalna-prokuratura-odmieta-navrh-obrannej-dohody-s-usa/, accessed 24 Jan. 2022.  

[4] WEBNOVINY, ‘Žilinkove výhrady k spolupráci s USA vníma ministerstvo ako jeho politický názor. Generálny prokurátor sa domnieva, že porušuje Ústavu SR’, Webnoviny.sk, 2022, https://www.webnoviny.sk/zilinkove-vyhrady-k-spolupraci-s-usa-su-podla-ministerstva-obrany-len-jeho-politicky-nazor-dohoda-nerespektuje-ustavu-sr/, accessed 24 Jan. 2022.  

[5] PLUS7DNI, ‘Prezidentka sa vyjadrila k obrannej dohode s USA: Iba ak s touto doložkou, inak nemáme záujem’, Plus7dni.pluska.sk, 2022, https://plus7dni.pluska.sk/domov/prezidentka-vyjadrila-obrannej-dohode-usa-iba-ak-touto-dolozkou-inak-nemame-zaujem, accessed 25 Jan. 2022.

As the debate unfolds, the divides between the followers of pro-Eastern Pan-Slavism and the supporters of Western orientation are becoming deeper and deeper.

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