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Hungarys Ten Years In Nato


Hungary - Secretary of State Jòzsef Bali


(Speech by the State Secretary of Defence, József Bali)



Excellency, Generals, Officers, Ladies and Gentlemen!


It is a great privilege for me to address such a distinguished audience. The Ministry of Defence of the  Republic  of  Hungary  is very grateful for His Excellency, Ambassador Dr. Horváth to organize this event providing the possibility to talk about  Hungary ’s 10 years in NATO.


I am going to speak shortly about the road to invitation to join NATO, then, since I represent the Ministry of Defence, I am going to walk you through the ten years as I see them. At the end of my presentation I would like to read you the Political Declaration agreed to by the full House, Hungarian Parliament on  9  March, 2009.


To begin with the road to invitation I want to mention three main events which as it turned out proved to be crucial. The Helsinki Final Act’s Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States enumerated ten points, and I would like to mention only a few of them, like:


-         Refraining from the threat or the use of force

-         Peaceful settlement of disputes

-         Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and

-         Co-operation among States.


The Helsinki Act represented a significant step toward reducing Cold War tension, at the same time the so called third basket has had a great effect. According to the Cold War scholar John Lewis Gaddis in his book “The Cold War: A new History” he has said: “…(The Helsinki Accords) gradually became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement”…What this meant was that people who lived under these systems – at least the more courageous – could claim official permission to say what they thought”. Obviously, it has eventually led to the changes of political systems in Central and  Eastern Europe. And see a wonder, the Berlin Wall came down.


Just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Bush and Secretary General Gorbachev met in  Malta  and since that time this meeting is associated with the end of Jalta.


Soon the meeting was followed by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, then another few month later the Soviet Union, and with this the Cold War came to an end, and as a matter of fact the last obstacle in front of NATO enlargement has gone.


The new democracies were offered help in many fields, among others by NATO through the launching of Partnership for Peace program. From the very first moment of this initiative we were very active, though I have to admit that we have had no basic strategic documents, like National Security or National Military Strategy to build on. Still, through intense political and military cooperation the chance to join NATO grew gradually.


The pace of change was remarkable. And here, I would like to make some personal remarks. Can you imagine that barely the last Soviet soldier left  Hungary , three weeks later the first Hungarian officer started his study at the US Army War College in Carlisle Barracks,  Pennsylvania. By chance, that officer, today a retired General, and the State Secretary for Defence Policy of the Ministry of Defence of the  Republic  of  Hungary stands in front of you.


After graduation in 1992 I was appointed to the Chief of the Hungarian Air Defence Forces, and then I served in different high ranking positions, among others for a while I was the military adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I had the privilege to be Co-exercise Director of the two largest NATO/PfP exercises in Hungary, an air exercise in 1966 and a land exercise in 1998.


On 1 March 1999 I was appointed by the UN Secretary General to the Chief Military Observer of the UN mission in India and Pakistan, and the day Hungary joined NATO I celebrated my 50th birthday. By the way, after South-Vietnam in 1974-75 and Iraq in 1990-91 it was my third mission abroad. In March 2000 I was called back by the Government and was offered the position of the Head of Military Intelligence, however, the then Deputy State Secretary for Defence Policy was fired; and I was proposed to take over that position.


So, I have been in my present position since 1 March, 2001</st1:date>. I guess, I am the only person in Hungary attended all NATO Summits and Defence Ministerial since that time, and quite some Foreign ministerial, Defence Policy Directors Meetings, and so on. With this I would like to suggest that what I am going to tell you about our ten year in NATO is very much connected to my activity in the Ministry of Defence. I was not only a spectator or a participant of these ten years but I initiated actions and made decisions. That’s why I did not need a speech writer to address you today.


If your today’s speaker would be somebody from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he or she would focus probably more on foreign and security aspects of our membership in NATO, but I would like to stay within the defence sphere.


The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were invited to join the Alliance at the 1997 Lisbon Summit. All three countries became members in less than two years that is on 12 March, 1999. An occasion to celebrate, this Anniversary is also an opportunity to analyze, evaluate, learn from our miscalculations and build on our achievements.


Commemorating these events I do not want to dwell on the values and interests guiding us and our present Allies in the early ‘90s leading, for the first time in NATO history, to an invitation of former Warsaw Pact members.


Here and now, I’d rather aim to describe to what extent our expectations have come to be realized and how we plan to chart our course after a ten year experience. This is especially timely, since the heads of state and government of NATO nations are expected to make important decisions at the upcoming Anniversary Summit that, by their very nature, will have decisive effects on the security and defence policies of the Alliance and individual member states.


If you allow me, I would like to say a few words about the road to invitation and how the state of affairs looked like with the Defence Forces. Two decades ago, the democratic transition shed a new light to Hungarian social, economic and security related views and practices. Our objectives were evident: Hungary wanted to live in peace and security and provide improving living standards to her citizens through economic development.


The needed means yet unavailable, however. It was obvious that the best way to guarantee security and economic transformation lead through NATO and EU accessions. I want to stress though, that these memberships were considered the means, rather than the ultimate goals, since most of the real work related to security and economic development was to continue with further impetus after accession.


When evaluating events from the Ministry of Defence’s point of view, we need to check for the record the status of our Defence Forces at the time of Hungary’s NATO accession.


Democratic transition, then social and economic transformation had exerted significant effects on our armed forces. HDF was depoliticised, then democratic civil control was introduced; force reductions that started at the late ‘80s continued; defence expenditures were drastically cut, and in the absence of national security and defence strategies force transformation forged ahead without a long-term vision.


Survival became the real mission, and with priority given to drawdown related tasks, training was forced on the backburner; as a result moral suffered. In order to survive, the HDF used up strategic reserves, its depots emptied; and the mission readiness of its mostly obsolescent major weapons systems dived. NATO invitation came as a major boost, but within the short time before accession no significant progress was achievable.


The positive side of the situation was that a new military leadership emerged; they were educated in western institutions and when their numbers reached a critical mass, substantial changes were initiated. Parallel to this NATO/PfP program helped a lot, courses, trainings, exercises were instrumental.


This was the situation our MOD had to face ten years ago today, and I believe we need to measure against this background what the Hungarian Army has accomplished since.


The cornerstone document for our assessment was the Parliamentary Resolution (94/1998) on the basic principles of Hungary’s security and defence policy. In the course of - by then NATO - defence planning, and in the absence of other national policy documents, this Resolution was our only guidance at the time.


It is worthwhile to quote Para 15: „ The Republic of Hungary will decide about the size, order of battle, peace establishment, force structure, major weapons systems and equipment of its armed forces based on credible potential threats, the country’s defence needs and our Allied commitments, in accordance with available material and financial resources and in concert with the Alliance. Though the global security environment has gone through significant changes during these ten years, the quoted Resolution is still valid in spirit and letter.


Adaptation to continuously changing requirements has been indispensable ever since our accession. Experience gained during „Operation Allied Force”, you know, this was the Kosovo Campaign, led to a strategic review for instance. The implementation of the follow-up plans was then interrupted by 9/11.


After substantial debate and deliberation, agreement to „go out of area” was achieved at the NATO Foreign Ministerial in May 2002. I attended that meeting. Later that year, decisions on the enlargement process, defence against terrorism, partnership and cooperation were made at the Prague Summit, where an initiative for specific capability improvements needed for the Alliance to carry out its missions and meet asymmetric threats was also accepted.


In Hungary, with the correct conclusion that we faced a completely new type of threat, the tragic events of 9/11 induced a revision of implementation. In the spring of 2002 the government approved the very first National Security Strategy after the democratic transition, and then the new administration taking over launched a new strategic review early summer. This made it easier to introduce relevant elements of the „Prague Capability Commitment” package right from the beginning.


Capability based force planning, a further important new objective of the review, then helped avoiding the development of separate capabilities for Hungary, the Alliance and the EU. As force requirements, including operational ones, closely corresponded, capability based planning became our starting point.


The strategic review employed new, as of yet unused, methods worthwhile to mention. At that time we did have distinctive markers (NSS, May 2002 NAC decision, a government decree on the gradual increase of defence expenditure, etc.). Other ministries, national security services, also NATO officials, American and British experts and others were consulted, as appropriate. Based on the NSS, our work also produced a National Military Strategy, but then there was not enough time for proper documentation and submission to legal procedure. The thorough and time-consuming review resulted in a ten-year action plan that also gave budgeting support to resource requirements. It was a very well balanced and achievable plan.


We looked to the future with optimism when the plan was finally approved. No one at the time could take into consideration the requirements stemming from EU membership, and other factors. Government expenditures were curbed to meet specific qualification requirements, and a major consumer, we did feel the effects indeed. It was a huge cut, we were cut back from about 1,5 to 1,1 % of the GDP. Feasibility needed a new reality check and, as our level of ambition remained unchanged, execution phases of the ten-year plan had to be extended. Still, deliberate capability improvement started and, slower than ideal, it has marched on ever since.


As time passed by, we have learned to readjust our „dreams” to reality, and understood this to be equally true at home and in the Alliance. Accelerated - sometimes probably too speedy - Allied decision making; the divisive consequences of „Operation Iraqi Freedom”; the increased need for participation in operations of different strain; high value capability development programs and stagnating, or diminished defence expenditures are but some of the aspects that member nations and the Alliance have to equally face, when they decide on priorities.


The exigency of gradually expanding participation in operations that resulted from Hungary’s national interests and proportionate Allied burden sharing did have major impact on HDF in two instances. Firstly, and most importantly, soldiers who volunteered to serve for shorter or longer terms could only accomplish new missions and tasks. You know, the compulsory service time for conscripts was only six months; the call up system was unjust since we could call up only about 1/3 of those of eligible for military service and conscripts, by law, were not available for foreign missions. This recognition led to a Parliamentary resolution in 2004 terminating conscription in peacetime.


A second result was the acceptance of the political reality that, in the lack of a deliberate increase in defence expenditures, we needed to give serious thought to see if and how long term capability development, and short term operational requirements can be brought into balance.


The decision of how force development goals and operations requirements were to be balanced, especially with our resource limitations, could only be made at the political level. And the verdict is out. In view of gradually increasing needs for force contributions – also within ongoing efforts like ISAF – operations enjoy priority. As a result, force developments receive less. Still, force development and operations needs must not and could not be separated. Capabilities should improve in a deliberate way; otherwise they will start hampering operational potentials within years. Through utilization of the MOD force planning system we meticulously appraise how this prerequisite can be attained.


Despite all difficulties, the last decade has brought about major changes in the life of HDF. Protracted structural changes have finally come to en end. A new up-to-date command and control architecture was created to ensure top-down efficiency and effectiveness.


Just as an example I would like to mention that: now we have a streamlined MOD, the Defence Staff is integrated to it and the total strength is 500; instead of numerous so called background organizations we have only three agencies having less than 50 % of the previous manpower; on the basis of six former commands a Joint Force Command was established using less then 50% of the manpower, and such a cut was also valid for the number of generals and high ranking officers.


The ratio of components in MOD budget structure, that is salaries and associated costs 40 %, operation and maintenance 30 %, and investment is 30 %, so they are  close to ideal and acquisition funding has reached the NATO desired 20%.


The Hungarian Air Force has been rejuvenated, fourth generation combat aircraft entered into service, fighter pilots are trained at NATO Flight Training School in Canada, our Air operation Centre and its connected subsystems are among the most advanced in the Alliance and rotary wing fleet modernization, though the pace is slow, is ongoing.


The Land Forces have also started to implement large scale projects, like the complete renewal of communications and information systems, major upgrade of ground based air defence, replacement of the vehicle pool, modernization of the armoured combat vehicles, individual weapons and equipment, etc.


Considering the low level of defence spending, it is necessary to be more cost efficient, that’s why we attach great importance to multilateral initiatives aimed at developing capabilities not feasible or irrational to develop at national level. The best example I can mention in this connection is the Strategic Air Lift. Though today we have such a capacity available on the commercial market, such as Strategic Airlift Interim Solution, it is, the name says, interim solution only and would not be available during real crises situation or at war.


Hungary, and other smaller or even mid size countries can not afford to by a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, or it would be an insufficiently used asset. Twelve countries have made the decision to by 3 such aircraft for joint use. Against flight hours we share the ownership of this asset. Or I could mention transport helicopter initiative, and I can even imagine air-policing in the form of regional cooperation. The limits are in our mindset only.


Capability development is complexity embodied. The general technical level of our Land Forces is lagging significantly behind less recent NATO members. Practically all of our major land weapons systems need to be replaced, but on the short term that has proved to be an insurmountable task, even for much wealthier countries. Priorities need to be established.


Also, I believe that - based on our theoretical knowledge and experience – we need to continue our quest to be the best, or up with them, in a given area of expertise. There should be something where WE, Hungarians are the best, the reference. For example, we have developed a Biological Laboratory which is the best among those of Allies, and the use of this lab during the Olympic Games in Athens or NATO Riga Summit is a clear proof of that. Another endeavour will be justified when the first Hungarian Centre of Excellence is accredited by NATO later this year, while we have been working on an additional one.


A XXI. Century force, in addition to up-to-date weapon systems and equipment, also needs modern education and training systems that can adapt to, and comply with, present and future operational requirements. Force preparation for traditional operations kept in mind, we need to design military education and training in a way that our men and women are enabled to accomplish their mission in the spirit of „comprehensive approach”; working with international and non-governmental organizations, in alien cultural, religious, or climatic environments and in close cooperation with local communities and their leaders, and beyond all that they have to endure the psychological effect of using lethal force when necessary. Later one is absolutely new to our soldiers. Until recently they did not have to fire even a warning shot towards a human being.


With HDF forces participating in operations of expeditionary nature, adapting and adjusting bi- and multilateral relations, military diplomacy, logistics support, and of course national decision-making, have been inevitable. Correct decisions can only be made based on proper information, and rapid reaction force readiness will only make sense coupled with timely and speedy decision-making; then participation when committed needs to be maintained even thousands of kilometres away from our border and for a longer term. Challenges like that are of much different nature than once-a-week transport convoys to the Balkans - the explanation only serves to illuminate that current missions come with multiplied extent and expenditure.


Social prestige of HDF has significantly improved during the last couple of years and trends show stabilization at high. Our men and women are well trained and prepared, Hungarian participation in operations has been considered conspicuous for the force to mission ratio, but also for quality of service.


Capability development made it possible to take on new and more demanding missions. I would like to mention a few: lead nation role of a Battalion Task Force, to operate a full Provincial Reconstruction Team with other nations’ soldiers, civilians and local Afghanis involved; we attached an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team to an Afghan Kandak and when the training is over, they follow the Afghanis to combat, the lead nation role of the Kabul International Airport, an Airport where commercial and combat aircraft traffic is much bigger than at Ferihegy Airport, Budapest; or an absolutely new capability, the Special Operations Force, and others. It speaks volumes that even American troops serve jointly wit us in Afghanistan, under Hungarian command.


We have some nice stories at the level of individual soldiers and let me mention just one. We used to have a military medical team in Afghanistan, and one from this team provided medical service to the Afghan King and his family. When this medical doctor, at the end of his tour of duty, returned to Hungary, he was, by word, demanded back by the king himself. So we sent him there again.


It would be remiss not to mention that the HDF fully discharges its territorial duties as prescribed by Constitution and the Home Defence Act. It is prepared and ready to protect Hungarian sovereignty, territorial integrity and airspace and contribute to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The organized and relentless professionalism and endurance of thousands of HDF servicemen during the floods of 2006 convinced the population yet again that the soldiers are there when needed.


When wanting to draw a short conclusion about the last decade, I refute those who disagree and stress this: considering the performance of the Army and our service members at home and abroad, the HDF is more valuable and mission capable than ever during the previous 20-25 years.


In his recent letter attached to the publication on the National Military Strategy, Minister Dr. Szekeres has said “….All missions that the HDF carries out at home, and in peacemaking, peacekeeping and humanitarian capacity abroad, serve the security of Hungary. As minister of defence I deem it also important, that the NMS puts servicemen in the focus… those who serve their country with honour.”


These thoughts are worthy to note. The real strength of the HDF is the multitude of well-trained, well prepared and motivated soldiers. There exists no real army without such men and women, there has never been and there never will be.


Concluding my presentation it is worth reading to you the text of the:



On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Republic of Hungary’s NATO Accession

Agreed to by the full House, Hungarian Parliament

9 March, 2009


The Republic of Hungary became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 12, 1999. This milestone in the process of Hungary’s Euro-Atlantic integration meant the recognition of the efforts and reforms implemented by the Republic of Hungary to attain the universal values shared by free and democratic nations, strengthen international security and fulfil its democratic transformation.


Hungary's NATO accession would have been unthinkable without the undivided pro-NATO stance of the Hungarian body political and the overwhelming support of a population committed to democracy and the Euro-Atlantic values.


NATO membership of the Republic of Hungary made it possible for us to effectively support efforts aimed at strengthening international peace and security. The Alliance - as the situation required - proved ready and prepared to face challenges threatening global stability. The first ten years have unambiguously proved that NATO membership significantly contributed to strengthening our country’s security.


As a member of NATO, the Republic of Hungary - while effectively realizing its national interests - have played an active role in making and implementing decisions related to international and especially Euro-Atlantic security.


The tenth anniversary of our NATO accession provides the Hungarian parliamentary parties with an opportunity to issue a declaration underscoring their joint commitment for active and constructive burden sharing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and their unequivocal support to protect values the Alliance stands for.”


This Declaration was unanimously agreed by all parliamentarians, indicating, that even during the time of sharp political disputes among parties, NATO and membership in NATO enjoy full support.


What the coming years will bring for the Hungarian Defence Forces? Well, most likely new challenges that we can only meet with goal oriented, systematic and disciplined work, while concentrating on our priorities. Consequently, quality of leadership will be the decisive factor.


Preparing for the anniversary summit, the 60th birthday of the foundation of the North-Atlantic Alliance, one may rightly ask the question: what next? Well, first the invigoration of fundamental common values and commitment to collective defence and consensual decision making; further impetus for the Alliance to face major challenges through clear political guidance; and demonstration of the pledge indispensable to mission accomplishment must be demonstrated.


Our chances are good. Firm plans of the new American administration, France’s return to NATO’s military structure, and the next round of enlargement may provide the necessary momentum to solve issues where we have been unable to move forward for quite a while.


These all together may establish the right atmosphere to agree to the new strategic concept as well. At home and abroad the representatives of Hungary have cooperated with our Allies to make ready and hold a successful summit. Its results will be our collective achievement, just as the realization of its objectives will be our joint responsibility. 


As a conclusion, I firmly believe that our ten year in NATO is a successful period in the life of our Defence Forces. We have achieved a lot, but we have room for improvement. We have to continue to be reliable Allie, and credible in delivering on our words. It will be quite a challenge taking into account the consequences of the global financial and economic crises we are living in nowadays.


Ladies and Gentlemen!


Thank you for your kind attention. And I am ready to answer questions you may have.



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