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A Win-Win Historical Event: How NATO’s First Post-Cold War Enlargement Benefits Hungary and the Alliance

Remarks by Ambassador Dr. Gabor Horvath

Deputy Director General, Security Policy and Nonproliferation,

Hungarian Foreign Ministry

at the

Sixty Years of NATO and the States from the first wave of Enlargement, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland conference organized by the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria

Sofia, March 12, 2009

Professor Ivanov, Excellencies, Distinguished Fellow Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to be on this distinguished panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of the historic first enlargement of NATO with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. I feel like the famous actress who after her seventh divorce and just before her eight marriage sits in front of her mirror, looks at it and says: ‘ I roughly know what to do, I just don’t know how to make it more interesting”. I promise you I will try.

It was exactly ten years ago today the US administration informed the governments of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland that the accession protocols of joining NATO entered into force, and the foreign ministers of the three countries signed the accession document in Independence, Missouri, where I had the honor to be present. I legal terms, it definitely opened up a new era for Hungary as a full-fledged member of NATO. But in most other terms it was the continuation of the gradual integration into the everyday life of the Alliance that has already started a few years ago in the middle of the 1990s.

This was an enlargement that was thought impossible by many at the time, but as we look back at it now in retrospect and evaluate the developments over the past decade we will conclude that it was inevitable, both for the new members then, and then again in 2004, and for the Alliance. Because the enlargement, on the one hand, and our accession, on the other, was, and has been, firmly based on mutual benefits for both sides.

Allow me first to make some remarks about the benefit our accession meant for Hungary.

In historic terms, Hungary’s accession marked our return to the main stream of European modernism in terms of political and economic development where we have always belonged to on the basis of our aspirations, traditions and mentality, and from where only the external pressure in the post-World War Two history forced us temporarily away.

In political terms, our entering NATO also constituted a clear recognition by our Allies, and actually by the Western world, that the democratic and market economy reforms Hungary pursued had since the change of the system in 1989 and 1990 were successful. This was the first time after the Second World War when Hungary could join an alliance from her free will and could adhere to the shared and common values of that alliance.

In economic terms, Accession also meant an approval and acceptance of stability in the field of economy and business. Over the first three years after our invitation at the 1997 Madrid Summit to join NATO, the amount of foreign direct investment almost tripled.

In military and defense terms, membership in NATO expedited the long awaited military reforms. Accession was the most cost-effective way to modernize the Hungarian army and the defense forces as we became part of an integrated defense infrastructure, unlike, for example, Switzerland, where because of its neutrality it had to finance and maintain a full army for defense. The conscript army was replaced by a professional army, new and modern equipments were deployed, and the Hungarian defense forces became flexible and deployable in various situations for NATO purposes. Hungary’s robust participation in KFOR in the Western Balkans with some 485 soldiers, in Afghanistan with about 375 soldiers in the Provincial Reconstruction Team and in ISAF, as well as our role in the Iraq Training Mission where we used to be the second largest contributing NATO nation, offer unique experiences for us as well.

In security terms, joining NATO meant that the scope of “one for all, all for one” collective defense clause of the Washington Treaty, its Article 5., was extended to cover Hungary. This was crucially needed as a the beginning of the 1990s Hungary’s sovereignty was repeatedly violated by our southern neighbor, and by the time of our accession Milosevic’s third war and fourth genocide had already been raging over the Balkans, and we were on the verge of the outbreak of the Kosovo conflict by the time of our entering into NATO in 1999.

In strategic terms, as a result of our membership in NATO, Hungary has become and equal partner in preparing and making decisions on major global security issues that also concerned our region. Consequently, Hungary became capable to reinforce her national interest when important issues were discussed by the Alliance; therefore we ceased to be merely passive receivers of such strategic decisions, but instead became active participants in adopting them.

And, last but not least, in social terms, the political parties represented in the Hungarian Parliament has consistently and firmly expressed their unshaken and unequivocal support for Hungary’s membership in NATO ever since our accession, and even well before, actually since he democratic change in Hungary almost 20 years ago. The most recent expression of this unity of was demonstrated by the adoption of a five-party declaration by all members of the Hungarian Parliament on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of our accession to NATO.

Let me now turn towards NATO in order to enlist the benefits that I believe the Alliance has enjoyed as a result of Hungary’s accession. Ten years in a man’s life is long, in terms of history is too short, but in the life of an alliance it is just about the span of time that can already be substantively evaluated.

Even before becoming a full-fledge member of NATO, Hungary eloquently demonstrated that she is willing, ready and capable to contribute to Alliance security. As early as in 1995 and 1996, Hungary has been an active participant, as aspirant country, in the IFOR, then SFOR operation, NATO’s first out-of-area mission in the Balkans, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Then in 1999, Hungary found herself as a frontline country in the just commenced air campaign in Kosovo, and later we became part of KFOR and the NATO operation in Macedonia as well. Most recently, Hungary is just about to conclude her more than 4-year task as NATO contact embassy in Zagreb, and will take over the same NATO role in Montenegro for two years to help their membership preparation, just as we successfully did in Croatia before.

As a matter of fact, Hungary became direct participant in the Kosovo war just after 12 days of joining NATO as the US planes took off from Southern Hungary to bomb various targets in Yugoslavia during the air campaign. This was the purest demonstration in practice of the fact that Hungary’s membership in NATO was not a free ride, and we were not only consumers, but active providers of common security.

From the moment of the beginning of our substantive dialogue with NATO well before invitation or membership, Hungary declared that because of our unique historic role and many experiences in the Central and Eastern European region and particularly in the Balkans, the Alliance can surely rely on Hungary’s expertise and evaluation concerning new developments, and so we delivered and live up to our pledge even today.

As a consequence of our becoming a NATO member without a common border with any other NATO member state, and also as  logical result of NATO’s  engagement in out-of-area operations, the membership of Hungary, together with the other two countries of the Czech Republic and Poland, surely helped NATO to change from a regional alliance based on territorial defense into an alliance with global responsibilities and capable to implement out-of area peace operations in non-North Atlantic areas like the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The continuous rounds of enlargement, in 1999, then in 2004 and then now in 2009 as well, helped NATO to turn into a renewing alliance that is open for reforms, maintains its transformation and pursues constant modernization. NATO has been consistent over its 60 years of existence in transformation, and in adaptation to new realities and new challenges emerging in the international arena. New members, like Hungary, has been capable to assume key roles in establishing new capabilities that NATO lacked before, like the strategic air transportation capability the hub of which will be a permanent NATO footprint in Hungary, and which is determining to perform large out-of-area operations.

Also, new members like Hungary contributed massively to maintaining NATO’s current relevance and its reason d’étre for the future. This should be based on the equilibrium and unity among the retained core function of the Article 5 collective defense function, the expanding membership and growing partnerships, and the capability of conducting out-of-area operations well beyond the classical territorial confines of the Alliance.

The performance of the very first new members of NATO since 1999, including Hungary, has very much contributed to maintaining the open–door policy of enlargement for others who expressed their willingness, proved their commitment and met the accession criteria to become part of the Alliance. It is not too much to state that Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland had an important role in the process leading up to the 2004 enlargement when, among other countries, Bulgarian was admitted as well. This year, much as a result of our NATO contact embassy role in Zagreb, Croatia will also join the Alliance. We managed to provide positive experiences and example for NATO not to turn away from further enlarging its membership.

Last, but not least, this year’s NATO Summit at Strasbourg/Kiel will be the start of reviewing the Strategic Concept of 1999 and its somewhat updated version in view of ongoing international security developments, the Comprehensive Political Guidance, in which new members with already serious experience in being a member and in the daily operation of the Alliance will definitely has a determining role to assume. The Alliance will be able to profit from our contributions as much as we profited from the Alliance over the decade of our membership.

Now as I attempted to brush through the various elements of mutual benefits of our ten-year membership, maybe I will endeavor to close my remarks by a short inventory of mutual interests for Hungary and for the Alliance regarding the future.

First, the relevance of the Article 5 collective defense clause must be preserved unchanged, and as membership and partnerships will continue to increase, an appropriate balance with the non-Article 5 out-of-area peace operations must be maintained.

Second, NATO should be a political consultative forum and it must remain a defense and military security organization embodying the key elements of the Transatlantic relationship.

Third, solidarity among the member states must be maintained. After 9/11, solidarity was eloquently and clearly stated and demonstrated, but by 2003, it was obviously shaken and fragmented, now it is restored again, but in the face of new external efforts to drive wedges into this solidarity it is quintessential to demonstrate its unshaken validity for the long run. This will have to be underlined by proportional burden-sharing and the expansion of common financing wherever appropriate.

Fourth, transformation and reforms must be continued in order to equip NATO with all institutional and politico-military assets that will enable the Alliance to face new challenges and respond to new contingencies wherever it is in NATO’s interest to respond.

By maintaining the positive example and contribution by our countries to NATO as we have done so far, and by NATO successfully meeting the important challenges it had to face in preparation for its 60th birthday at the Summit, this will guarantee many happy return of the days for our membership as well as for the Alliance in the decades to come.

Thank you very much for your honoring attention.





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