The tanks are coming, the tanks are coming: not Russian but Hungarian

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.

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GDF
Guest

These 6,000 soldiers, defenders of the crown, what are they going to do all day? Dig trenches around the parliament and watch for crown-thieves?
Last night I watched on PBS the movie Topkapi, I think most of those actors are retired or dead, so who is going to try to steal the crown?

GW
Guest

“A real waste of money that in no way helps stimulate economic growth.”
This is a prime example of how Fidesz has long abandoned any pretense of administrating prudent, fiscally conservative policies.

Joe Simon
Guest

Well now the Slovaks always threatened to drive Hungarians into the Danube. The tanks would certainly be a deterrent. At any rate the Slovak deputy Prime Minister for human rights and ethnic minorities decided finally to apologise to Hedvig Melina for the way Slovak autorities handled her assault claim in 2OO6. You may recall that in August of that year she was beaten by two men for speaking Hungarian in Nyitra. Police didnot make any arrests, instead an investigation was launched against her for false testimony. A great deal of abuse followed but she stood her ground. The whole affair was treated by Göncz Kinga MSZP foreign minister in a lukewarm fashion although even the Canadian Maclean’s magazine had taken up Melina’a cause. So maybe those old tanks could have their uses after all.

kormos
Guest

“Kötcse, a picturesque village near Lake Balaton where Fidesz yearly holds a “civic picnic,” must have it’s magic, even the Gyurcsany Family moved heaven and earth to purchase a property there.
Paul: I am shocked, shocked I tell you, about your discovery of “loony right” in Canada.
Horse-feathers!

T. Sanyi
Guest

What a fascinating idea by Joe. Maybe you alobarate a little more on this? I try to imagine Mr. Martonyi using the tanks as an argument to influence the wokrings of the law enforcement agency of a neighbouring EU country. Would be great comedy in my eyes.

Member

I disagree entirely on the tank purchase issue.
The current policy of most former eastern bloc countries has been to join NATO and then slash military spending to nearly nothing in the hope that the threat of US aid in defence will prevent any conflict in future.
This strategy is nearing the end of its term. With Obama in the White House the US basically have no geo-political objectives other than to manage its own decline. Russia on the other hand wishes to regain a sphere of influence in Europe and has adopted a multi-layered approach to gaining this goal. Layers of this approach include bribery, blackmail and trying to ensure that Europe is Russia dependent for its energy.
If Russia escalates its strategy, will anyone in the US go to war to defend Eastern Europe, a far away land of which they know nothing?
It would be naive to underestimate Russia the way you do or to assume that the future is easily predictable. Look at recent history and think how many people saw September 11 coming or the consequences.
The idea of Central and Eastern Europe doing more to defend itself seems entirely reasonable in the circumstances.

T. Sanyi
Guest

David, I see your point that there may be security threats for CEE countries. But how on earth might some old tanks help in adressing the issues you mentioned? Regarding energy security, terrorism, industrial espionage, cyber-security it really might be senseful to have a coherent security strategy. But I don’t see this an especially not the connection to these tanks.
off topic: I just read that a) an Hungarian was killed in Vienna and b) Austria also thinks about selling some caserns. Maybe Hungary should also buy these caserns so that they have a place to put the new tanks and to increase the pressure upon Austria to handle the investigation in this murder case properly.

kormos
Guest

I am not trying to defend the purchase of military tanks, but (thinking outside the box) military hardware in general could be used for many different purposes..depending on the price.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

T. Sanyi: “But how on earth might some old tanks help in adressing the issues you mentioned? Regarding energy security, terrorism, industrial espionage, cyber-security it really might be senseful to have a coherent security strategy.”
That’s exactly what I had in mind while writing the piece. Tanks? Where do these people live? Way back in the past, I’m afraid.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kormos: “military hardware in general could be used for many different purposes.”
What do you have in mind?

Julie
Guest

When I was a tyke, my local playground included a decommissioned tank. The hatch was welded shut but otherwise we kids could clamber all over it and pretend to bombard the local neighborhood. Looking back, I can’t believe my parents let me play on it, but what fun! Maybe that’s what the new tanks will be for: enriching the playtime of small-town kids.

kormos
Guest

Well.. as an example; the engine could be utilized for back-up power generation for a housing complex. There are lots of usable sensors, automation, robotics etc. They all could serve research or education.
The internet itself was an ARPA/DARPA project, GPS was not a peaceful product at start and so on. Not to mention the use of spare parts for existing military hardware repair.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Who will get a commission for the purchase of those tanks?

T. Sanyi
Guest

I’m surprised how much fun a discussion about tanks can be…
Of course, with outside-the-box-thinking I could make up some things that could be done with a tank (recycle the metal into soup cans, use it as armored car to transport money from shops to banks, …). Question is, whether it makes sense. Im not expert in this, but I could imagine that it is more efficient to buy a new engine designed for back-up power generation for housing than to buy a tank for this.
Investment into NEW technology like the internet or GPS is something different.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

In buying new (second hand, clapped out and obsolete gear) the ‘Mighty One’ (O.V.) is trying to show that he is indeed a mighty one (of them).
There is an English saying “The thing which separates the ‘Men’ from the ‘Boys’ is the size, the number and the price of their toys!
I would not be surprised if the entire Slovak nation trembles at the thought of Hungary acquiring such a load of scrap iron.

Paul
Guest

Second-hand tanks to hold off the Russians?
They should come to us instead, and get some decent up-to-the-minute, high tech tanks.
We didn’t get where we are today by not selling expensive and entirely unecessary arms to every tin-pot dictator.
And if the Russians don’t invade, OV can always use them to keep the commies at home under control.

Öcsi
Guest

I think the right wing in Hungary is nostalgic for the role the tank played in the glorious Hungarian Revolution on 2006!

Mutt Damon
Guest

Well, great news! Those weapons should stay in the Monarchy :-)!! Right, Kev?
Eva, I think you jumped the gun on this one. It’s a bit like the Yerevan Radio News. Let’s wait a bit for the details. It maybe just the usual modernization. Let’s hope we don’t by the Leopards (real tanks) because those run for a few million bucks each … even used.
BTW armored vehicles are not necessary tanks (like the glorious T-34 in 2006) they could be simply armored carriers.

Member

Time Magazine 1942, Hungary: How War Came
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,886018,00.html
One year ago Hungary, Slovakia and Rumania declared war on the U.S. In Budapest last week the war-weary Hungarians told an apocryphal story of how their declaration of war had been relayed to President Roosevelt by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
Hull: “Mr. President, Hungary has just declared war on us.”
Roosevelt: “You don’t say? What is Hungary?”
Hull: “Hungary is a small Balkan kingdom on the Danube.”
Roosevelt: “A kingdom? Who’s the king?”
Hull: “Hungary has no king. It is run by an Admiral.”
Roosevelt: “An Admiral? Where’s his navy?”
Hull: “He has no navy, only an army.”
Roosevelt: “An army? Where is it fighting?”
Hull: “It is fighting against Russia.”
Roosevelt: “Russia? What is it fighting Russia for?”
Hull: “To gain more territory.”
Roosevelt: “From Russia?”
Hull: “No, from Slovakia and Rumania.”
Roosevelt: “Then why don’t the Hungarians fight Slovakia and Rumania?”
Hull: “They can’t. Slovakia and Rumania are their allies.”

Member

If Wikipaedia is to be believed, Austria only has a few hundred tanks, so this story may be empty speculation (unfortunately).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

David: “If Wikipaedia is to be believed, Austria only has a few hundred tanks, so this story may be empty speculation (unfortunately).”
MTI reported it straight out of Kronen Zeitung quoting the minister of defense. So, I don’t think that it is just a story. It is perhaps possible that MTI or Kronen Zeitung were not precise and perhaps altogether there were 500 items for sale and there were some tanks among them. That is possible but the story is for real, I think.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

David and Eva, the story is real. Austrian media has published about it.

Alexander Peterson
Guest

Decommissioning a tank is expensive, so it makes sense for the Austrians to pass these old tanks along to the Hungarians, who can use them for training purposes for a few years more. The cost of the tanks to the Hungarians is likely to be very low – in fact, the Austrians may pay the them to take them away.
Incidentally, today Kronenzeitung is reporting that Putin is going to pump 481 billion euros into the Russian army:
http://www.krone.at/Welt/Putin_pumpt_481_Mrd._Euro_in_marode_Russen-Armee-Zehn-Jahres-Plan-Story-235432

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

I have looked at the Austrian armies’ inventory which you can easily find on the internet. Most of the things they will be selling will be worn out. Does the Hungarian Army have the knowledge, skills and the personnel to rebuild this junk? Buying tanks and other AFVs in general is one thing. You also need to get the ammunition and that they will have to buy new. Ammunition has a ‘shelf life’ after that it becomes very doggy stuff to handle. Really old stuff will go ‘Poof’ if you look at cross-eyed! How do you handle stuff like that? An example is the wreck of the S.S. Montgomery in the Thames Estuary which is now considered too dangerous to be inspected anymore!

A. Horvath
Guest

The Hungarian military has other serious problems: 1. It is too small (29,000 or half the size of NYC police department) to defend the Country. 2. Most of its equipment and weapons are Russian made, out of date and not compatible with NATO. 3. Most of the senior leadership was trained in the USSR when Hungary was under communist rule and may not be loyal. 4. Hungarian military does not have the trust of the people because in previous conflicts (1956, WWII, Cold War. etc) it supported foreign powers. The current military would not be able to stand up against any attack from the East/South (Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia) for more than 3-7 days. To be effective as a fighting force and be able to defend the country, Hungary needs a minimum armed force of 90,000-105,000 men with modern weapons (800 Leaopard 2 tanks, 800 Ulan armored fighting vehicles, several hundred artilery pieces, 160 modern combat aircraft, modern anti arcraft defenses, etc, however,it simply cannot afford it. Consequently it will be a liability to NATO in any coming conflict.

Member

800 Leopards? Germany has the most in Europe: 400 or so. Austria has 100. You probably try to counter the Romanian numbers. To Russia or Ukraine I wouldn’t even compare.
You don’t have to have a standing army by the way to be the member of the NATO (Iceland doesn’t). We just need to realize that the protection doesn’t come free,

sisimoto
Guest

Hungary had sold or scraped all of the military means what it had before like:self propelled artillery,tracked ifv’s,tanks,etc!This happened against the trend of the neighboring countries army modernization programmes!Hungary has no modern ground forces!Even Slovenia have modern IFV’s and modernized tanks!Slovakia have modern self propelled artillery systems!Romania have 300pcs of modernized tank fleet and artillery,IFV’s and humwee’s!Hungary doesnt have all these!It needs to be change!The Austrian tanks and light tanks can be an answer to this problem,but not because a clear treath of neighbouring countries!But because the current trend is this nowdays!

al horvath
Guest

This is the problem with Hungary. They are simply not prepared to spend money for national defence. The hungarian armed forces are pathethic. Manpower is about 1/2 the size of the NYC police department. There is no reserve of any consequence. They have about 14 modern planes and almost no modern attack helicopters. No modern tanks at all. Most of the tanks are old Russian crap and are in storage. This army will not last for 72 hours in a war. Sad.

A. Horvath
Guest
Time for the Hungarians to grow up and take responsibility for their national defense. During the past 200 years they have depended on others and look where it got them. Currently the Hungarian armed forces are in sad shape, completely unable to accomplish their mission of defending the Country. Manpower (29,000) is about half the size of the NYC police depratment. There is an almost complete lack of modern tanks. Only about 15 in service with another 180 T-72’s in storage. The Air Force has 14 modern combat planes. There is an almost complete lack of attack helicopters. Most of the Weapons are old Warsaw era crap. Senior leadership also dates back to the Warsaw pact and is of questionable loyalty. Basically this is a third world military force that will not last 72 hours in a war. Look at the map. Those who do not believe that war could happen should get rid of the force entirely and save a couple billion Euros a year. Most of their neighbors, even small ones like Slovenia, Croatia, etc have modernized and upgraded their militaries. To have a real national defense, Hungary needs to have a military of at least 75,000 personnel,… Read more »