Central Europe's Emerging Security Environment:

A Hungarian View

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. László Kovács

Hungary has long been seeking ways to broaden its economic capabilities and its foreign relationships, in particular to establish more contacts and to improve cooperation with the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community. As early as 1981, we joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In 1982, we started talks with the European Economic Communities which, six years later, resulted in full-scale diplomatic relations. Hungary was the very first country in the Central European region to establish diplomatic relations with the European Communities.

Nineteen eighty-four was a crucial year in East-West relations. Although talks on strategic and medium-range nuclear missiles had been broken off by the Soviets in Geneva the year before, in 1984 Hungary, a Warsaw Pact country, was visited by the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. With these visits, Hungary contributed toward maintaining the dialogue between East and West during a critical time.

In 1986, we made the first contact with the Council of Europe, where we were given Special Guest status in 1989. In 1988, Hungary established contacts with the North Atlantic Assembly and, in 1989, we opened the border for the refugees coming from the German Democratic Republic.


What are the characteristics of the world order today? They are very different from those of six years ago. The Soviet Union has disintegrated and the Warsaw Pact and Comecon have ceased to exist. Bipolarity has come to an end, and the possibility of an all-out East-West confrontation has faded away. The new international environment has certainly fostered democratic opposition to the communist system and has helped the reform forces inside the former Central and Eastern European communist parties to initiate and carry out an ongoing process of political and economic transformation.

Thanks to this transition from a one-party system to a multi-party parliamentary democracy, and from a command economy to market economy, Central and Eastern European countries have become compatible with the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community. This process has brought bipolarity to an end and made conditions available for a new democratic international order. This order is no longer based on deterrence or military balance but on cooperation and partnership.

Economic and Social Problems

During the bipolar era, high risk and high stability prevailed in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, however, the area is characterized by low risk and low stability. This situation has come about as an unavoidable side effect of the political and economic transition. The resulting economic problems, such as internal and international debts, budget deficits, foreign trade deficits, the high rate of inflation, growing unemployment, insufficient welfare systems, and a growing frustration because of the widening gap between the rich and the poor have brought with them social tension. Due to the lack of experience with democratic traditions and multi-party parliamentary processes, this social tension may now become a breeding ground for extremist tendencies.

The Danger of Nationalism

Social problems may also fuel nationalism in the region; nationalism has deep roots in the area and has surfaced again, sometimes in radical or aggressive forms. This nationalism can be seen in border-challenging territorial claims; in ambitions to create ethnically homogeneous nation-states, which is nonsense in a region that is traditionally multi-ethnic; in the violation of human and minority rights and in ethnic cleansing. Radical and aggressive nationalism can lead to ethnic conflicts and to mass migration, such as we have witnessed in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere in less dramatic forms. It can also produce tension in inter-state relations and foment security problems such as organized crime, international terrorism, and pollution.


All of these problems pose the danger of a new division--one between a secure, stable, prosperous Western Europe and an unpredictable Central and Eastern Europe lacking security, lacking stability, and facing economic and social problems. An unstable Eastern Europe will certainly have negative implications on the stability and security of the western part of the continent.

To avoid this we need a united Europe based on common history, common cultural heritage, common democratic values, and common interests--in security, stability, and prosperity.

The security risks I have outlined are closely interrelated and of great complexity. They require a complex response. This response must provide security and stability on a Europe-wide scale and serve as the security model for the 21st century. The first element of this new architecture is indivisibility of security and stability. Such indivisibility means that the security measures in the various parts of the continent must be closely interrelated, and that security in Western Europe cannot be guaranteed without security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe.

The second important element is the nature of security. In recent years the significance of military components has been decreasing while that of non-military factors, such as economic, social, human and minority rights and ecological elements, has gained ground. This element emphasizes the importance of every country's internal stability because instability in any country in Europe can destabilize not only its own environment but also the region and Europe as a whole.

The third important element is security cooperation, not only in mutual reinforcement and interlocking security structures but also in active involvement and contributions by each country to the common security. Until any single country feels isolated, Europe-wide security will not be achieved.

The new all-European security architecture must also be integrated into worldwide security. For example, close relationships should be established between the different European security architectures and their Asian counterparts, as well as the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). An all-European security architecture should be based on a network of mutually reinforcing and interlocking international, regional, or bilateral security institutions, structures, and arrangements.

First, it must be based on an enlarged NATO, the European Union, the Western European Union, and the Council of Europe. Second, it must be based on special arrangements between the Euro-Atlantic institutions and countries such as Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus that are not expected to join. Third, it must be based on regional structures of cooperation, such as the Central European Initiative, the Visegrad Group or CEFTA countries, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, and the Baltic Sea or the Barents Sea Cooperation. Fourth, it must be based on bilateral treaties between neighboring countries, providing a framework for increasing cooperation and for finding solutions to controversial issues. A specific all-European dimension has been given to these bilateral treaties by the European stability pact, which has incorporated these bilateral treaties. And an all-European security architecture must be based on the OSCE, which is the only present pan-European, all-European security structure with crisis prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation capabilities.


The enlargement of NATO is certainly the key to the entire idea. I fully agree with President Kwasniewski that there is no credible security architecture in Europe without NATO and without an enlarging NATO. This is because enlargement is no more and no less than an adaptation to the new security environment, no more and no less than an adaptation to the new security environment, no more and no less than the expansion of the zone of security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe, which is home to countries that share the same values and want to benefit from, and contribute to, security.

There are two crucial issues involved in enlargement: first, the preparation the applicant states must undertake to reach the levels of conformity, interoperability, and compatibility that are necessary to be eligible for accession; and second, the way the Alliance will deal with countries such as the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus that do not wish to join and how it will deal with countries that are eager to join but might not be admitted with the first group.

In this respect, I want to emphasize the important role of Partnership for Peace (PFP). PFP and the Individual Partnership programs have enormously contributed to the preparation of the applicant countries. In addition, the IFOR operation would not be so effective and successful without PFP. IFOR has provided extremely important experiences that, once evaluated and considered, will further improve and upgrade PFP. PFP and operations such as IFOR have also provided opportunities for countries that will not join NATO, or at least not in the first wave, to cooperate with NATO members and non-NATO members and to participate in joint actions.


We in Hungary wish to fully and organically integrate with the Euro-Atlantic community, a step that would guarantee security, stability, economic and social development, and economic and social modernization for our country. For Hungary, the enlargement of NATO and the European Union is a window of opportunity. We want our full-scale integration to cover political, economic, security, security policy dimensions as well as common defense. We want to join NATO and we want to join the European Union. We want to achieve full-fledged membership with all rights and commitments, and to share benefits as well as burdens. We want to become a member as soon as possible, as soon as we are able to meet the criteria. We are also interested in having as many countries in our region as possible, particularly our immediate neighbors, become members-all those that meet the conditions and qualify for membership.

Hungarian Preparation for Membership

Our preparation for accession includes several points: the reform of the Hungarian armed forces, improving civilian control, and improving defense planning and training to conform to NATO requirements. It also includes increasing the level of interoperability and active participation in PFP and IFOR, such as providing a battalion of engineers as well as support and logistics bases on Hungarian soil. We are also working to increase domestic stability in Hungary, including economic and financial stability. And last but not least, we are contributing to regional stability. We have signed basic treaties with Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia, and have been working on a similar treaty with Romania. We also hope to have a similar bilateral treaty with Yugoslavia one day. We have extremely good relations with Austria although we do not have a basic bilateral treaty.

In addition to signing basic treaties with Romania and Slovakia, we have been doing a great deal to improve cooperation. While relations between Hungary and Slovakia are sometimes falsely considered a potential threat to the stability of the region, trade increased by 50% between Hungary and Slovakia, and by 80% between Hungary and Romania in one year. We have established thousands of joint ventures. A number of new checkpoints on the Hungarian-Slovak and Hungarian-Romanian borders have been opened. We have considerably improved cooperation among the militaries of all three countries. That is why we hope that the regular, high-level political contacts, the ongoing dialogue, and the wide-ranging cooperation now in effect will increase the potential for solving the problems we still have.

Go to top of page
Return to Warsaw '96
Return to Home Page