The Buzz

Goodbye Munich 1938: German and Czech Troops Are Fighting as Allies (And Russia Doesn't Like It)

The British prime minister, reviled by history for selling out Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich in 1938, would be pleased to know that today’s Czech troops are serving under German command.

It is Putin’s Russia that is less than thrilled at the news.

In February, NATO announced that the Czech Republic’s Fourth Rapid Deployment Brigade and Romania’s Eighty-First Mechanized Brigade will be attached to Germany’s Tenth Armored Division and Rapid Response Forces Division. “The Czech Republic and Romania each agree to contribute a brigade to a German-led multinational division,” said a NATO official. The multinational forces will conduct joint training and exercises this year under NATO’s Framework Nation Concept, in which smaller armies can team up with the forces of a larger nation.

Nonetheless, the fact that the NATO communiqué referred to Germany and the Czech Republic as “allies” must have sent Hitler spinning in his infernal grave. Not to mention poor Edvard Benes, the hapless president of Czechoslovakia in 1938, who would have been flabbergasted at the thought that someday his nation would have to rely upon German protection.

With a nod to Chamberlain’s famous words, this is indeed “peace in our time,” or at least a time when Germany isn’t invading its neighbors. Following the NATO announcement, Russia’s Sputnik News immediately ran an interview with the head of the “Czech Peace Forum.”

Vladimira Vitova, head of the forum, said the Czech defense minister, Martin Stropnicky, had signed his country’s sovereignty without authorization from the government or parliament.

“Why has there been no discussion about this issue?” Vitova complained. “This is the first time since 1918 that part of our army, and even more so voluntarily, has been subordinated to Germany. We have never fought for Germany in the entire history of our country.”

Czech defense officials responded to the criticism by claiming that Czech troops would only be training with German troops, rather than falling under their command. Yet if they are part of a German-led division, it is likely that Czech troops will be obeying German orders, at least during peacetime maneuvers.

The reason for Russia’s displeasure is obvious. If Czech troops are willing to serve under German command, then this means that Europeans are willing to put aside their bloody past, and unite to confront a current threat called Russia.

But the the greatest irony of all? In 1938, it was Russia that almost saved Czechoslovakia from Germany. The Soviet Union had actually signed an alliance with Czechoslovakia in 1935. When Hitler demanded the Sudetenland in September 1938, the Soviets were willing to send troops to support Czechoslovakia, if Britain and France would also agree to support the Czechs. But the Western powers pressured Czechoslovakia to give in to Hitler, while Poland refused to let the Red Army cross its territory, fearing—with justification—that Soviet troops would enter Poland but never leave.

Six months later, Hitler gobbled up the remainder of Czechoslovakia, while Polish troops snatched Czech territory that the Poles claimed as theirs. In August 1968, Soviet troops did enter Czechoslovakia—to crush a Czech government deemed too democratic by Moscow.

How times have changed.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Image: German Leopard 2 tanks. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Detmar Modes/Bundeswehr