Hungary: NATO’s Weakest Link?

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Hungary: NATO’s Weakest Link?

If NATO were able to expel members, Hungary
would be a top candidate for expulsion, U.S. journal cites NATO
official as saying.

Just ahead of the Prague NATO summit, Hungarian
media and political circles were buzzing over recent articles in
two influential American publications suggesting that the country
was not fulfilling its obligations to its alliance partners.

In a commentary in the November/December 2002
issue of Foreign Affairs, Celeste A. Wallander of the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think
tank, argued that NATO needs a mechanism to censure or expel member
states. Corruption and undemocratic policies in some new and
incoming member countries–including Hungary and the Czech
Republic–could threaten the alliance’s legitimacy, she claimed.
Wallander said an unnamed “senior figure in European security”
recently assailed Hungary’s 1998-2002 Viktor Orban-led government
for its anti-Semitism, its claim to represent ethnic Hungarians in
neighboring countries, and its failure to contribute to Balkan
security. “Hungary has won the prize for most disappointing new
member,” the expert said.

Wallander cited Hungarian radio as the source
for admissions by current and former defense ministers that the
country has a dodgy reputation at NATO headquarters. Gyorgy Kelety,
defense minister from 1994 to 1998, remarked that Hungary had made
promises in the run-up to full membership in 1999 that it was not
prepared to keep, she wrote. And the new defense minister, Ferenc
Juhasz, said on the airwaves that he had been unofficially told
that Hungary would already have been expelled from the alliance if
such a step were allowed.

Gabor Miklos of the left-leaning daily
Nepszabadsag wrote that it was “high time” Foreign Affairs
reflected on Hungary’s defense capabilities and performance in
NATO, while a columnist on the other end of the spectrum, weekly
Heti Valasz’s Ferenc Horkay Horcher, said Wallander’s piece
reflected only her own views.

Writing in the Washington Post on 3 November,
Keith B. Richburg quoted Juhasz’s description of a meeting with
George Robertson just two days after becoming Hungary’s defense
chief. NATO’s secretary-general demanded Hungary meet its pledges
to modernize and better equip its military.

“You do not have any time,” Robertson told
Juhasz. “If you don’t do this, you are in trouble.”

The article quotes a Western diplomat who doubts
Hungary’s ability to pay for the expensive military upgrades the
new government promised to make.

Juhasz also told the Post that the alliance had
been pleased with Hungary’s performance after it was admitted as a
full partner in 1999. During the air war against Yugoslavia, the
country opened its airspace to NATO planes. But ever since, he
said, the alliance has treated his country “like an unreliable
partner.” The minister blamed the previous government for not
undertaking significant military purchases.

On 31 October, Juhasz reacted to the Foreign
Affairs piece on two television programs, accusing the Orban
government of falling far short of its promises to invest more in
defense. “Hungary lacks fundamental military capabilities–to the
extent that even NATO members would hardly be able to protect the
country,” he said.

Although the previous government directed a
respectable 1.75 percent of GDP to defense, much of the money was
misspent, Juhasz alleged. Defense Ministry spokesperson Peter
Matyuc told TOL that the military’s problems included staff
reductions, inadequate defenses against biological and chemical
attack, and Hungarian soldiers’ poor language skills.

Former State Secretary for National Security
Istvan Simicsko countered that the Orban government was committed
to Euro-Atlantic integration and dismissed allegations that the
government had expressed anti-Semitic views. Although there was a
time lag in meeting NATO standards, the country has had only had
three years since becoming a full member to catch up after decades
as a member of the opposing Warsaw Pact.

“We have taken significant steps in the past
four years to modernize the military,” he said during a televised
debate with Juhasz, citing technical improvements, an aircraft
development program, and a tender for telecommunications equipment.
Many gaps must still be filled, he said.

The new Defense Ministry has embarked on a broad
review of defense needs, which is not expected to be completed
until next spring. The Prague NATO summit begins on 21

To read more about the candidate countries,
please visit

Transitions Online.


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