Defense Integration: A Hungarian View
Hungarian Minister of Defense György Keleti

Hungary, like the other Central and East European countries, is facing a number of complicated transitional issues. One of these is the reform of the armed forces, which must be handled in such a way that it remains in harmony with the transition of the political and economic systems. Our West European friends can easily understand our situation since they faced a similar transition after the Second World War, when the needs for economic growth, political stability, and security all appeared at the same time. But Hungary does not have the Marshall Plan at its disposal. Our task is very difficult because we not only have to repair the devastation of war but we have to take our society and economy off a basically bad course and set them on the path to organic development.

Hungary and most other states in the region know that their own internal resources are not sufficient to solve the problems that are emerging during this difficult transitional period. Recognizing this fact, we have made numerous efforts to actively participate in international political, economic, security, and defense cooperative endeavors and plan to continue this participation in the future.


Even before the change in regime, the political forces in Hungary saw the possibilities of a future political transition, and in a short time established a stable parliamentary system. Reform of Hungary's centrally controlled economy into a market economy also was conceptualized early on. But the development of new economic processes has been slower and more complicated. So, too, has been the reform of the armed forces, mainly because of the different views on the task and because of how the armed forces were organized. And while dialogue between East and West has taken place in the areas of politics and the economy for some time, mistrust regarding the military world made dialogue concerning that area impossible until after the change in regime.

However, the reform of the armed forces is now under way. One of the major motivating forces of this reform has been the shortage of economic resources, which made it necessary to significantly reduce the effective force. But, despite this beginning, Hungary still does not have a clear long term plan for the structural reformation and reorganization of our defense organization.

In the former socialist countries, democratic civilian control of the armed forces was not part of the Cold War political agenda; democratic principles do not have strong roots in our region. Instead, the armed forces were often directly subordinated to dictators or to the aggressive political forces that maintained a dictatorial system. This is why trying to establish and enforce democratic civilian control as part of the reform of our military force has proved to be more complicated than we expected.

But NATO and the Partnership for Peace (PFP) are lending their help and support to accomplish this task. PFP in particular is paying great attention to our reform questions and is providing useful advice to us as well as to other countries that are coping with this difficult issue.

Currently, the Hungarian Constitution and relevant laws guarantee that the Hungarian armed forces can be employed only by the decision of the relevant political bodies that are responsible to the people. Parliament must approve costs of defense, as well as the ability of the country to bear the economic burden. The issue of defense is now more in the public eye in Hungary than it ever was during the Cold War.


Despite the positive changes, many steps must still be taken in order to further develop democratic civilian military relations. One of our most urgent tasks is to train and employ civilian defense experts of which we currently have very few who will be able to assist the work of the Parliamentary Defense Committee as well as take on positions at the Ministry of Defense and in the Hungarian defense forces where they will be able to enforce a wider political view. We recognize that in the past military aspects have played an overly strong role in our ideas relating to security. We must have a better understanding of the complex nature of security in the future, and deduce from that understanding a long term plan for the kind of tasks we want to give to the armed forces and in what order we want those tasks to be executed.

To educate and train civilian defense experts, the Defense University will shortly begin accepting students. The Manfred Wörner Foundation, which was recently opened, also pays special attention to the education of civilian experts. The foundation's first program, in which 25 students received training in the areas of military force tasks in accordance with civilian control, just ended successfully.


In Hungary we believe it is important to keep the public informed regarding civilian military relations. But providing this information through the media is only one way to communicate. We also need to maintain continuous dialogue between the staff and the command of the armed forces and between the armed forces and the population. We must put an end to soldiers being closed into ghettos, something that evolved because of the mistrust and secretiveness of the former system. The army must once again become an organic part of society and must make society understand that the army is an important guarantee of its security.


I believe that the effort Hungary is making to reform its defense organization is in harmony with the values of the Euro Atlantic defense cooperative we wish to join in the near future. But it is not our intention to join NATO as a source of defense against a direct military threat to our country. Rather, we wish to join because of our general philosophy of integration, which considers the enlarging of NATO and the European Union as inseparable elements of the same process. We believe that enlarging NATO will promote enlarging the European Union, which will bring considerable security to our country before its complete integration. However, Hungary is ready and able now to take on its share of new tasks in addition to the necessary defense functions of the Alliance, to which we believe we can offer a great deal. Therefore we welcome with great enthusiasm the decisions made in Berlin and Brussels on the practical development of the Combined Joint Task Force concept because it will help to integrate new members into the political and military structures of the Alliance.

Hungary will not only be a consumer of security efforts when it becomes a member of NATO but it will also contribute to making the Alliance stronger. As a member of NATO, Hungary will push to admit other countries that did not gain membership in the first wave but do meet the requirements. These additions to NATO will further strengthen the Alliance's contributions to security and stability throughout the continent, including that of Russia and other countries that temporarily or permanently do not join.

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