Banking on military assistance : Czechoslovakia's struggle for influence and profit in the third world 1955–1968

Richterova, Daniela and Pešta, Mikuláš and Telepneva, Natalia (2020) Banking on military assistance : Czechoslovakia's struggle for influence and profit in the third world 1955–1968. The International History Review, 43 (1). pp. 90-108. ISSN 0707-5332 (

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In the 1950s, Czechoslovakia launched an ambitious program of military assistance to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Driven by the desire to obtain political influence and hard currency, the program involved the delivery of arms, military technology, and training to select clients. However, Czechoslovakia faced many challenges, as the country struggled to offer quality training to Third World partners and to control foreign soldiers who often challenged military discipline and social order. Moreover, Prague also struggled to make the program commercially viable, as arms sales and student numbers dropped in the early 1960s. This paper reconstructs the inception, structure, operational challenges, and debates surrounding the key objectives of the Czechoslovak military training program for the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, it focuses on the ‘tug of war’ waged by key stakeholders running the assistance program, which set political and geopolitical interests against commercial gain. By interrogating the challenges of Czechoslovakia’s military assistance programs to the Third World, this paper provides a rare insight into Prague’s foreign policy at a crucial juncture, when it fashioned a new, activist role in the Third World. It challenges the assumption that this highly sensitive area of Czechoslovak foreign policy was defined either by politics or by commercial interests, rather arguing that it was shaped by a constant struggle between these two often competing priorities.