April 9, 2015 / 11:31 AM / 2 years ago

Czech government plans to register citizens for military service

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (C) visits Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government plans to create a register of citizens who could be called up for military service, in response to growing concerns over threats from Islamic State and insecurity in Ukraine, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Thursday.

Sobotka said the move would not amount to the reintroduction of compulsory military service, but would be a precaution.

“Should the country be in danger in the future, it would be too late for this step,” he said after a late night cabinet meeting that agreed the plan.

Other NATO members and countries across central and eastern Europe, worried about the military and political crisis in Ukraine, have made moves to bolster defenses in recent months after years of massive military spending cuts.

Sobotka said the cabinet had approved a bill to draw up the register. The legislation still needs to be approved by both chambers of the parliament, where the ruling coalition has a majority, and signed by the president.

The bill, planned to take effect in 2017, would oblige men and women to take a medical test when they turn 18 to let the army know who is ready to serve. About 100,000 people would be examined each year.

“This is a reaction to the worsening of the overall security situation in the past year ... not only in Ukraine, but also in the Middle East in connection with Islamic State,” the prime minister said.

Poland, the Baltic states and other countries are particularly concerned that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in east Ukraine may be a foretaste of it reasserting itself in former Soviet territories.

Countries across Europe are also concerned about young Muslim citizens traveling to join Islamic State and other militant groups in Iraq and Syria, and then returning to mount attacks at home.

Lithuania said in February it was planning to restart military conscription, which it had ended in 2008, to address growing concerns about Russian assertiveness in the Baltic region. It is also considering raising military spending.

In a gesture of solidarity with allies, a U.S. army convoy passed through the Czech Republic last week on its way from an exercise in Estonia back to its base in Germany, welcomed by thousands of Czechs.

The Czechs have a 21,000-strong professional army, smaller than the government’s target of 26,000. Defense spending currently represents just over 1 percent of GDP -- around half the amount it is committed to spend as a member of NATO. Prague has promised to raise that proportion to 1.4 percent by 2020.

Compulsory military service was abolished in 2005.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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