Nothing that comes out of the Ministry of Defense surprises me anymore. Earlier we heard about the establishment of an entirely new reserve army of 6,000, soldiers defending the crown in the parliamentary building, the creation of a large civilian force that would be mobilized in case of emergency, and a great deal more money for defense, which is primarily for defending Hungary's borders.
But this tops it all. Last night an Austrian tabloid (Kronen Zeitung) with a very large circulation reported that the Austrian government wants to get rid of half of the 1,000 armored tanks it currently has and that Hungary is showing an interest in the used tanks and other weapons offered for sale. The reason for the sale is fairly obvious. The country owns far too many tanks, especially since it is "unlikely that foreign troops would penetrate the territory of Austria necessitating the employment of tanks." Moreover, said the Austrian minister of defense, Norbert Darabos, twenty years have gone by since the end of the cold war and the European Union offers a great deal of security. Keep in mind that Austria is not even a member of NATO.
A few minutes after this news broke the diligent reporters at MTI got in touch with the Hungarian Ministry of Defense where the answer was "no comment." We know what that means: "Yes, the news is true." But why on earth does Hungary need armored tanks if her western neighbor thinks that they are pretty useless military instruments in the modern world? And Hungary, unlike Austria, is a member of NATO and therefore her security is on a sound foundation. If Austria doesn't need them, why does Hungary want to buy them?
One has to assume that Viktor Orbán's new minister of defense, Csaba Hende, is not a madman who merely likes to see tanks rolling by during military parades. Surely, he has some concepts. Moreover, one must assume that Hende is not acting on his own but that he has Viktor Orbán's blessing. I would venture to say that in fact he has instructions from above. Surely, the larger budget the ministry will receive, the enlargement of the military force, the introduction of a reserve army, and now the buying of armored tanks must have some purpose, at least in the minds of Viktor Orbán and Csaba Hende. They feel threatened. Or at least they think that in the future Hungary's security might be at risk.
Which country do they have in mind? It is highly unlikely that they can seriously think that one of the neighbors will attack Hungary. Surely they cannot think that Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, or Austria–all members of the European Union–will send invading armies to Hungary one day. Croatia will soon be a member of the Union. Moreover, Croatian-Hungarian relations have been most friendly. Can you imagine what would happen if any of these countries got it into their heads to attack one of their neighbors? There is Serbia that is not an EU member yet, but Hungary is working very hard to assist her in that quest. Ukraine is also hoping to join and Hungary's relations with Ukraine are quite good. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Viktor Orbán paid a visit to Kiev.
My hunch is that it is Russia they worry about. It was on September 7, 2008, in Kötcse, a picturesque village near Lake Balaton where Fidesz yearly holds a "civic picnic," that Orbán explained his views on Russia. These gatherings provide a platform for Orbán to make often startling political announcements. Last year he expounded on his theory of one central power, naturally Fidesz, that would exclude any strong and meaningful opposition for a long time to come. Right now he is working assiduously to make that a reality. Two years ago the picnic was devoted to the importance of national interest and national security. Here he expressed his strong opposition to a sphere of interest or a security zone mentioned by Vladimir Putin in connection with the Russian-Georgian conflict. Orbán found any reference to a sphere of influence or security zone unacceptable. After all, Hungarians remember what it meant to belong to a Soviet security zone for over forty years.
It was about this time that Orbán with the help of Zsolt Németh, today undersecretary of foreign affairs, and János Martonyi, today foreign minister, worked out a scheme by which Hungary would build a cordon sanitaire against Russian expansion. He certainly didn't hide his apprehension over Russia's intentions. In early 2009 Orbán gave a lecture about European security matters in Erfurt where he talked about this East European cooperation. "Our instincts dictate cooperation [among East European countries] because a strong Russia always affected us differently" from others farther away from Russia's borders. "If these states don't cooperate, they will not be able to defend themselves." Well, that is pretty clear. These countries must unite against a potential enemy, Russia.
A few days after his speech in Erfurt he delivered another speech in Vienna at a conference organized by Euromoney, an investment and business magazine. He was even more explicit here: "The East will not hesitate to turn its economic might into military power." At the same time he expressed his concern at West European attempts to develop a strategic partnership with Russia.
This strategic partnership will soon be a reality, helped along by the U.S. policy shift regarding Russia after the presidential election. Orbán talked about all this quite openly on February 9, 2010, on "Ma Reggel," a political early morning show of MTV. "The world has gone through such changes in the last year–the increase of Russian power and the change in American foreign policy–which made us think of working together with the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Croats, and perhaps even the Romanians to develop a strong Central European cooperation that is more than exchanging mutual political gestures but has real content: economic questions, transportation, infrastructure, etc. In my mind this is the starting point of our foreign policy."
If I'm right and Hungary is buying tanks because the government is afraid of Russia, I think they are wasting their money. If war breaks out, it will not be fought with tanks. Moreover, it doesn't matter how many tanks Hungary has, it will never be enough to stop the Russian army if it decided to march into Eastern Europe. Which is unlikely.
It is really a shame that these schemes are eating up the money taken from private pension accounts and the tax levies on banks and foreign companies. A real waste of money that in no way helps stimulate economic growth.