A conference was held in the Hungarian Parliament on Wednesday marking the 20th anniversary of the country’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Opening the event, House Speaker László Kövér said that NATO was indispensable in preserving the balance in the international arena and should be preserved as a dynamic alliance to successfully face challenges ahead.
Minister of Defence Tibor Benkő highlighted that Europe is surrounded by unstable regions from the east and south. In the immediate vicinity of Hungary, the security situation in the Western Balkans remains fragile and in our unstable world, the likelihood of conflict has increased. Thus, the role of military force has also increased, he said. Hungary will continue to take a proportionate share of NATO’s activities in the future as the country is a reliable ally. Hungary currently spends 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense and expects to reach the two percent goal set by NATO by 2024, he said. Modernization centers on the air force, army, special operations, logistics and cybersecurity, he said.
Levente Magyar, Foreign Ministry State Secretary, believes NATO was and is among the most successful alliances in world history, “an achievement to be preserved.” He promised that Hungary aims to exceed NATO’s expectations of it. Becoming a member was the first time Hungary was able to “take its fate into its own hands” after a long history of having to fend for itself or participate in alliances it had been forced into, Magyar said.
David B. Cornstein, the US Ambassador to Hungary, stated that Hungary has been a reliable ally for 20 years: “The US is committed to making this partnership even stronger, and I am confident that it will grow as we move forward together.” The ambassador noted that close to 1,000 Hungarian soldiers are serving side by side with allied troops on NATO, EU, and multilateral peacekeeping missions. He pointed out that Hungary is actively modernizing its military, purchasing NATO-compatible equipment and is on track to meet its NATO commitment to spend two percent of its GDP on defense.
However, the US ambassador also expressed that NATO and the world are “full of new and complex challenges,” which threaten the values, liberty and sovereignty of the members of the alliance. He drew particular attention to Russia’s “threats and aggression.” He warned that Hungary will soon have to make “more choices” similar to those which led to its NATO membership twenty years ago.
I’ve heard some remarks that Russia is not a military threat to Hungary because the two countries don’t share a border. However, in today’s world, it’s a mistake to think only in terms of tanks crossing a border. All NATO members face aggressive cybersecurity threats and misinformation campaigns from Russia designed to destabilize us, weaken our unity, and disrupt our democratic processes.”
Cornstein emphasized that Hungary does share borders with Ukraine, a country under constant attack from everything from “cyber-attacks and rampant misinformation campaigns to violent provocations and outright conventional warfare.” He added that “a close and high-level NATO relationship with Kyiv” is in every ally’s interest. Quoting Secretary of State Pompeo from his last Budapest visit a few weeks ago, Cornstein emphasized that
Central Europeans should be under no illusions about Putin’s intentions. An authoritarian Russia is not interested in the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations.”
Patrick Turner, Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Policy and Planning, also emphasized the “threat from Russia,” saying it is one of the greatest challenges NATO faces aside from the Islamic State terrorist organization. He praised Hungary’s contribution to the alliance’s missions in Iraq and Kosovo.
Former Ministers of Foreign Affairs László Kovács and János Martonyi both emphasized that NATO is the most successful military alliance in the world. Martonyi, a member of the board of trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, publisher of Hungary Today, also emphasized the new challenges the members are facing, including the grey zone. Previously, we knew the difference between war and peace, but now the borders are blurred.
E. Sylvester Vizi, President of the Hungarian Atlantic Council and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, not only talked about what Hungary gained with its NATO membership but also discussed its effect on Hungarian citizens. He said it had been the first time Hungarian citizens were given the option to vote on whether or not they wanted to join a military alliance. He added that NATO is for citizens, the people, peace and security. Emphasizing the message of the speakers before him, he declared that NATO is “speaking one voice, the voice of the public.”
Zsolt Németh, Fidesz chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament, and Attila Mesterházy, Vice-chairman of the MSZP committee and member of the delegation of the Hungarian NATO Parliamentary Assembly, also spoke at the event. In response to Cornstein and Turner’s speeches, Németh stated that Hungary condemns brutal Russian aggression, even “against countries Hungary has a debate with.”
A photo exhibition depicting the main milestones of Hungary’s NATO accession and membership opened at the event’s end.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of 29 North American and European countries founded in 1949 after the Second World War. The objectives of the organization are enshrined in the North Atlantic Treaty, under which Member States use all political and military means to preserve the freedom and security of the Member States. Hungary became a full member of NATO twenty years ago along with the Czech Republic and Poland on March 12, 1999. As today’s speakers at the conference noted, NATO remains open and committed to expanding and accepting new members (such as Montenegro and North Macedonia).
On the featured photo illustration: NATO exercise. Photo by honvedelem.hu