The Czech Republic's commitments to NATO have pushed its defence budget beyond previous government estimates.

Finance minister Jiri Rusnok released his draft 2002 budget in Prague last week and gave an commitment to keep defence spending at 2.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), despite earlier plans to reduce it to 1.86%.

Rusnok told local press that the defence budget "is one of the priorities", adding that a figure lower than 2% is no longer feasible due to the Czech Republic's NATO commitments.

The 2001 Czech defence budget of CKr45.1 billion ($1.13 billion) has been stretched by paying for the 72 Aero Vodochody L-159 subsonic fighters on order. At the same time, the Czech defence ministry is facing sustained pressure from NATO to ensure that the army can be used on alliance operations.

The 2.2% of GDP ceiling could have been breached by additional spending on the 2002 NATO summit, due to take place in Prague in November 2002. However, the Czech Government approved a separate CKr802.5 million to fund the meeting.

Source: Flight International