“Realistic consideration of common national interest”Szöveg: Ádám Draveczki & Renáta Révész | 2008. április 21. 11:13
Completed defence reform, capability developments, missions abroad, NATO ministerial meeting in Budapest – honvedelem.hu interviewed Defence Minister Dr. Imre Szekeres about these current topics.
Last year the transformation of the armed forces was finished. How can you explain the consensus among Hungarian political parties about supporting this reform and the important military issues in general?
The success of the defence reform is due to the society in the first place, at the same time, it is the result of our concerted efforts. The defence of our homeland is in the interest of the nation, and the parliamentary parties show a willingness to collaborate on it. The national consensus on the fundamental issues in national defence is a joint achievement of the government and the opposition. The defence portfolio played the role of a catalyst by hosting the five-party coordinating talks, where we weighed the common national interest, instead of having heated political debates. All things considered, the defence reform realized the original idea of making a conscript army with an outdated structure into a modern and effective, all-volunteer professional one.
Which are the most successful areas?
We have achieved all the goals we set in the summer of 2006. We have transformed the chain of command, and established the HDF Joint Force Command in six months, which is a relatively short time. I consider the establishment of this command a very significant improvement in terms of effectiveness. In my opinion, the steps we have taken were logical and reasonable. Moreover, these changes were carried out with a view to enhance effectiveness and develop the HDF capabilities. The parliamentary parties and the society have honored our efforts.
The Hungarian Defence Forces currently possess and are developing some important capabilities. These are so-called niche capabilities, intended to make up for several general partial gaps in NATO. Among these, we have the special operations force, a biological laboratory and the water purification capability. Having completed the defence reform successfully, we intend to step up capability development in the Hungarian Defence Forces. The fact that the proportion of developments in military technology will rise from 15 to 20 per cent in next year’s defence budget is a case in point. We intend to improve on combat effectiveness, and expand the mobility and deployability of our forces over the next period. We are going to reshape the chain of command by introducing up-to-date signals and IT equipment. In addition to ensuring the availability of the forces, we will pay special attention to upgrade the soldiers’ individual equipment. Besides the light infantry, we are going to introduce a new system of forces based on combat vehicles that represent a medium-sized combat power. We are going to develop signals and telecommunication, helicopter transport and the recce capabilities in the area of operations. We intend to upgrade the aerial support for ground forces and the special operations capabilities. We will consider the battle management and the related signals and IT support as high priorities. The HDF wants to take part in the related R&D projects.
The defence budget figures for 2008 have been made public. What is this money sufficient for?
Hungary has provided and continues to provide the financial resources for meeting our allied commitments. We will have around HUF 319.7 billion available in 2008, and this amount covers both the HDF operational costs and our allied commitments.
One of the defence issues drawing wide public attention is the site of the Mecsek radar. This year will most probably bring a decision in this case.
Hungary is in need of the third 3-dimensional radar station, since these three devices constitute a complete network and their sites have been chosen in a way that enables us to cover the entire airspace over Hungary. Safeguarding the security of the airspace is our national duty and these three state-of-the-art radar stations are essential to that. Upon Hungary’s accession to the NATO, our country has undertaken to develop a radar network consisting of three units, in order to protect national and allied airspace and maintain the safety of aviation. Two of these units have already been erected — in Bánkút and Békéscsaba –, the network, however, needs to be completed with the third facility, to be able to perform in line with the requirements. The Bánkút and Békéscsaba radars are practically set up, the testing of the devices is underway. As regards the third radar station planned for the Tubes Hill, the Ministry is in possession of a valid construction permit, the execution of which has been appealed against in court by civilian organisations. Currently we are waiting for the ruling of the second appeal court to arrive. The first appeal court has rejected the petition of civil organisations, thus we may have a reason to hope for a similar — this time, a non-appealable — judgement, which enables us to effectively commence the construction works.
The HDF missions abroad draw special public attention. We are going to send a unit to fight in Southern Afghanistan as of 2008. What are the main conclusions of your tour to Afghanistan?
The year 2007 was especially successful in terms of the HDF missions. The Hungarian Defence Forces contribute around 1000 persons to international operations. We are present on three continents, at 17 garrisons in 13 countries around the globe. Our engagement in Afghanistan has been the most complex and significant mission of the HFD, one which poses the greatest challenge. The numbers reflect the international importance of this mission: 26 NATO member states and 11 partner nations, a total of 37 countries are involved. We took over the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Northern Afghanistan in October 2006. The 200-strong HDF PRT is stationed in Pol-e-Khomri in Baghlan province. Our PRT performs military (peacekeeping, patrolling, guard and security duties, convoy escort) and civil tasks (infrastructural development, including schools, hospitals and bridges). The military means in themselves are not sufficient to deal with the situation in Afghanistan, which needs the joint efforts of the international community, and assistance for the development on a greater scale. The running of the PRT is the first international operation led by Hungary, since earlier we had always carried out our duties under the command of another nation. The Hungarian government extended the PRT’s mandate until 2009, which means that we can certainly complete the ongoing civil projects. Hungarian soldiers will be assigned three other tasks besides running the PRT. We are going to take control over the Kabul international airport, which is to be manned by around 40 Hungarian troops as of October this year. Starting from this autumn, our soldiers are going to serve with the Dutch-led Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) stationed in Uruzghan province. In addition, the HDF Special Operations Team, a 20-man detachment will engage in different operations under US command.
The Balkans is a crisis area in our proximity, where some changes are expected in the Hungarian presence too.
The stability of the Balkan region lies in Hungary’s fundamental national interest, which is reflected in the fact that two-third of the Hungarian peacekeeping forces serve in the Western Balkans. Currently there are around 16 000 peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo, where the presence of KFOR is vital to sustaining stability and security. The peacekeeping forces will carry on their mission, no matter how Kosovo’s status changes in the future. According to this priority, the Hungarian Defence Forces contribute an around 600-strong considerable force to the ongoing operations in the region. The year 2008 will see a watershed in the Hungarian engagement, because we want to play a much more complex and responsible part in KFOR than we currently do. This will be the first time for the HDF to take command over a multinational unit in an international operation. We intend to take over a battalion from Italy in mid-2008, which is responsible for creating a safe and secure environment over a given area in Kosovo. Concurrent with that, we are planning to withdraw the HDF Guard and Security Battalion and our medical lab that are presently stationed there. The total number of HDF troops serving in the region will remain unaltered, but the new task presents a far greater challenge to the HDF, at the same time it earns us recognition too.
What is the 2008 schedule for the other missions?
Here we must mention the Hungarian participation in the EU mission to Bosnia, which contributes to the stability of the Balkans to a great extent. As of 2007, only Polish, Spanish, Turkish, and Hungarian peacekeepers serve with this EU mission. The Hungarian engagement is similarly decisive within the multinational MFO mission stationing on the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), and in the UN mission to Cyprus, as well. Beyond the aforementioned, we have less than 10 troops serving in various UN and OSCE missions, but these engagements have a more modest press coverage, unfortunately. At this point I have to add our participation in the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, in the framework of which 20 excellent and experienced Hungarian officers do their best to contribute to the capacity development of the Iraqi armed forces. In fact it happened today, that on behalf of the Army of the United States of America Major-General Raymond T. Odinero awarded Colonel (Ret.) Antal Bakó and Major András László, who had served in the mission for 6 months in 2007, the Army Commendation Medal in honour of their outstanding services. This is the first award of such nature and prestige ever received by Hungarian troops, and at the same time it is exemplary as regards the Iraqi undertakings of the HDF, since it is an outstanding recognition of the Hungarian troops’ service in abroad missions.
How do you think Hungary can assist with the integration of the countries wanting to join NATO?
At present there are three Balkan states that we may consider official candidates to begin accession talks with NATO, as they have taken part in the Membership Action Plan for years. These candidates are Croatia, Albania and Macedonia. We expect all three countries to win an invitation to join NATO at the Bucharest NATO summit to be held this spring, which would mean they may become fully-fledged NATO member states until 2010 at the latest. We can assist our Croatian, Albanian and Macedonian partners mostly by sharing with them the experience of our accession to NATO. We have already had talks regularly on the most important things to be done in preparing for membership, and we intend to cooperate more closely in the coming period. The posting of a Hungarian military attaché to Albania is a case in point.
The NATO defence ministers will meet in Budapest this autumn. Though it is a further date, surely you can already tell us some concrete ideas concerning the program schedule.
Similarly to last year’s defence ministerial meeting, in addition to the member states we are to invite the ISAF participating states and the representatives of Afghanistan to the Budapest meeting. The two-day meeting is scheduled to include a session of the NATO-Russia committee as well. The topics will range from the current issues of Kosovo and Afghanistan to the transformation of NATO. We expect several thousand politicians, diplomats and military leaders to visit Budapest. The Budapest meeting may offer an opportunity to decide on the issue of involving private companies in the operations in Afghanistan. Hungary will not support this case because outsourcing our means to such an extent may pose a risk to our security. Instead, we propose that NATO should overhaul some Soviet-made helicopters to alleviate the shortage of equipment, which would be excellent for purposes of combat deployment under the circumstances in Afghanistan.
What effect – if any – do you think the US and Russian presidential elections will have on the engagements of Hungary and on the NATO?
Following the elections, continuity is expected both in American and Russian foreign affairs, therefore NATO will proceed with the transformation already underway, the aim of which is to be able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The priorities of NATO are the same in 2008: the Afghanistan and Kosovo missions, the issue of enlargement, furthermore energy security and the protection of computer networks. In my opinion the undertakings of the HDF will not be influenced in any way by the next Russian and US presidents.
It was in the news last week that Brigadier-General László Makk was named as NATO’s new liaison officer to Moscow. What does this appointment mean for Hungary?
There is an agreement between the NATO and Russia on military cooperation, covering peacekeeping operations and mutual information provision on armaments alike. In a certain regard a two-star general serving in this position is considered an ambassador of NATO, acting as a bridge in Moscow. The work of this general provides a basis for the cooperation of the NATO and Russia in the commission; the Hungarian general liaises with the Russian Ministry of Defence and the general staff. The fact that the position has been awarded to a Hungarian general officer is an enormous recognition for Hungary: while the Pápa Air Base is an innovative physical and economic success, the appointment of Brigadier-General Makk is the appreciation of the work of Hungarian company and field officers, and general officers.
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