About the Hungarian military and its role

Csaba Hende, Viktor Orbán's surprise choice as minister of defense, has been super active ever since the cabinet was formed. If one were to judge the state of the Hungarian army from Hende's verbiage one would think that an incredible amount of money is going for the defense of the country. There was talk about buying new tanks, setting up an army reserve, and giving more duties to the present army of about 20-30,000 men. They created a special unit to guard the barracks, another to guard the Holy Crown. There will be another just to guard the president's office. In addition, there was talk about setting up new military high schools and completely reorganizing Hungary's military academy.

As I was reading about all these alleged new developments I kept wondering about their cost. Where is the money coming from? The truth seems to be that talk comes cheap because Hungary has never spent less on defense than it does today. Less than 1% of the GDP! Lately it was even reported that the Gripen fighter planes were grounded because of a lack of fuel.

But then why all this talk about "defending the country, even if singlehandedly, against hostile action"? For that "one needs heavy artillery: tanks, guns, and men." Chief of the general staff Tibor Benkő was convinced last September that for that kind of preparedness the army would need to double its budget. Instead, the defense budget was cut.

Benkő, talking on Duna TV, expressed his firm belief that "without a reserve army one cannot speak of a military force." If we take him at his word, in the chief of staff's opinion Hungary doesn't even have an army. When he was asked whether compulsory military service should be reinstated, he hesitated a bit and answered: "I don't think that we should talk about compulsory military service. On the other hand, we must not close the door in front of those youngsters who would like to play soldier a bit." In the original, the last part of the sentence was: "akik szeretnének egy kicsit katonáskodni." How charming. Here is a caricature of all this boasting about a strong Hungarian army.


"Csabi, the whole world will be frightened to death of this new Hungarian military force." Actually, the wording is a tad less polite.

The reference to the reserve as the backbone of any armed forces shows that a fair number of Hungarian military men are not entirely happy about the 2004 decision to abolish compulsory military service and set up a professional army.

In May 2011 a plan for a new law on military affairs was leaked. It caused quite a stir because it contained a reference to reintroducing military service for men between the ages of 18 and 40 in extraordinary defense situations (rendkívüli védelmi helyzetben). In the last few years the alleged problems of abolishing compulsory service came to the surface: "the supplementation of the personnel of the Hungarian Army is no longer ensured because of the decrease of trained reservists."

On the face of it this doesn't make much sense, as the author of progressziv.blog noted. A professional army can certainly have a supply of trained reservists to draw on–just think of the U.S. "weekend warriors" who ended up in Iraq. Perhaps the Fidesz government wants to reintroduce some kind of military service separate from the professional army. Let's say six to nine months of initial training in order to set up a reserve force like the National Guard in the United States. In fact, for years Undersecretary of Defense István Simicska's hobbyhorse has been the introduction of such a force in Hungary. Recruitment for the National Guard would be on a voluntary basis, and I have a fair idea who would be interested in taking advantage of such an opportunity. Perhaps the fellow who wrote a comment to an article entitled "Perhaps they will reintroduce compulsory military service in Hungary" that appeared in Napi Gazdaság on May 17, 2011. He stated that "Hungary must be strong enough to be able to defend the country alone against an attack by any of its neighbors." I'm sure that this man would be ready to join the reserves for the day when such an attack occurs.

Of course, at the moment it is hard to imagine that one of Hungary's neighbors would attack her. After all, most of them are members of NATO just as Hungary is. Austria is neutral. Serbia and Ukraine would like to belong to NATO. So, such an attack under the present circumstances is highly unlikely. On the other hand, all this nationalist talk encourages non-Hungarian nationalists to talk about bringing back compulsory service as well. For example, the Slovak Ján Slota who claimed that Hungary was planning a war against Slovakia. Slota’s claim is based on the fact that compulsory military service might be reintroduced in Hungary, something that he says proves it is “getting ready for war”! Slota's arguments sound very much like those of the Hungarian military. According to him "it is high time for Slovakia to get its military capabilities into shape and get young men back into some kind of compulsory military training … whether compulsory military service is reintroduced or whether young men just undergo some kind of basic training" is really up to the politicians to decide.

The Ministry of Defense is vigorously denying the government's intention to reintroduce compulsory military service, and most likely the military establishment is telling the truth. There is simply no money for it. But I'm convinced that if there were sufficient funds they would establish some kind of military force, perhaps a kind of home defense force (Heimwehr). It seems the League Against Compulsory Military Service which ceased its activities on November 13, 2004–that is, after compulsory military service was abolished–also thinks that the reintroduction of mandatory military service might be in the offing. The League reconstituted itself only a few days ago.

The controversy over the role of the Hungarian military came to my mind because it is on August 20 that the graduates of the Hungarian Military Academy take their formal oath. President Pál Schmitt addressed the graduates. In his speech he said that "Soldiers have a new mission today. They are the ones who must change the country's attitude toward patriotism." And what I considered to be truly frightening was Schmitt's reference to the duties of soldiers which, according to him, consist not only of the defense of the country with weapons in hand; "it is the duty of the soldiers to defend the country from all kinds of danger that can be injurious to its well being, which wastes its strength, and which weakens it." Thus, the army's duties are all embracing. It can, according to this formula, intervene every time it feels that the country's interests are threatened, even by an internal force. And, of course, the army will decide what the true interests of the country are.

I really wonder whether this man knows what he is talking about. Because if he does and his "boss" has approved it, then the country is in bigger trouble than we think.


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I think Schmitt have no idea what he is talking about, but someone feed him with this line. He did not come up with those lines on his own I am very sure.
My opinion on the financing of the “new Hungarian Army” is that the money will come from the USA. THere were way to many praises from the USA for Hungary’s involvement with Nato initiatives. USA needs Hungary as it is strategically well positioned for the use of the NATO.
August 8/2011
“Finland has donated two surplus army Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters to Hungary, the nation’s defence ministry has revealed.
Gifted to the eastern European nation under the umbrella of a multi-national helicopter initiative established by NATO in late 2009, the aircraft will be used to support training activities, the ministry said.”
August 11/2011
“Paratroopers from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Army jumped out of aircraft from Papa Air Base, Hungary; Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; and the 37th Airlift Squadron here.”

Sackhoes Contributor
Actually, the US is not exactly happy with Hungary’s performance as a NATO partner. The positive acknowledgements are actually encouraging words to do more. BTW, US criticism is not directed at Hungary alone, b ut other NATO partners, too. Recently retiring Secretary of Defense Gates minced no words when he criticized NATO partners for not sharing the burden of keeping NATO operational and for underperforming on agreed tasks. An example was Italy’s inability to support NATO air missions at the agreed level, even though they took NATO funds for it. The US spends 5% of its GDP on defense. Of the 28 NATO partners, only 5 percent spend more than 2% of it GDP for defense. As a US taxpayer, I would be happy to see a reduction in US financial participation in NATO to no more than the average level of its European allies, while transferring the funding to US based, non-NATO military assets. I would also support putting underperforming members (like Hungary) on a 5 year notice, at the end of which the US would renounce its NATO treaty with the member, unless its performance improves above minimum level. Before anyone points out that Hungary is a small,… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
It has long been a tradition in the Hungarian army that it obeys the constitution and does not open fire on its own people. Professor you wrote ** “Thus, the army’s duties are all embracing. It can, according to this formula, intervene every time it feels that the country’s interests are threatened, even by an internal force. And, of course, the army will decide what the true interests of the country are.” ** What Mr President seems to wants is an army which will obey its supreme commander blindly. This will lead to coup d’état after coup d’état and ‘Military Dictatorship’ after Military Dictatorship. Why not? His Boss loves playing with fire. Shades of General Franco, the Phalange and dare I say Pakistan! I wonder when there will be a Marshal Orban Victor or even Generalissimo Orban Victor. Like all great ‘Mighty Ones’ Orban Viktor wants ‘serried ranks’ of soldiers (in daft outfits) marching past him on all National High Days. He would probably have several orgasms at the very idea. He dreams of ‘Out Napoleon’, Napoleon. The butcher’s bill does not worry him, nor does the destruction, the hunger, the weeping widows and mothers, the fatherless children. The sacrifices… Read more »

Sackhoes Contributor, although I do agree with some points you are making, I also need to point out that there were no such official, direct criticism arrived from the USA, more like some warming up (as far as Hungary’s Nato activities go). In order to serve the interest of all involved, I do feel that the USA will provide all the back-up for the “expending army”. Yes, maybe some other countries also benefit from some “merchandise”, the bottom line is that Hungary’s current political games do not stop the USA (or the Nato) to invest in Hungary too (next to other countries.)


Sackhoes Contributor,
Even if Europe fails to pull its weight, the US still gets a reasonable deal out of NATO.
In the absence of NATO, if Europe were left to defend its own borders alone, it would have to develop a military capacity of a similar league to the US and would therefore become a rival power.
In a world where Europe fails to act because the US guarantees its security, it becomes effectively a buffer state for the US.
In other words the US gets to effectively neutralise a potential military rival. Provided that Europe’s defences remain sufficient to give a significant level of difficulty to any attacker on their own, which they are, the mere threat of drawing in the US will be a major deterrent to any opportunistic attack.
Having said this, the weakest military link in Europe is eastern Europe, where defence spending is very low and where Russia offers a potential military threat (see Georgia for possible precedent). Hungary is a weak country, but the more immediate weaknesses are with the Baltic Republics.

Sackhoes Contributor
David: Yours is an interesting argument and one that has been offered often in the past. Still, 65 years after WW2, perhaps it is safe to assume that the UK, France and Germany (the main contenders) are no longer on a military warpath against each other and their neighbors. Also, the US is no longer faces a nuclear military giant (USSR) in Central Europe, but faces threats across the Middle East and other places, so tying up a large standing (or maybe sitting?) army is not desirable. Given the serious budget deficit problem in the US, I think now is the right time to start reducing US military expenditures spent overseas. I mind less when the military is based in the US and the money flows into the local economy, but I do think spending in Germany and South Korea can be and should be cut back significantly. Hungary, specifically, is determined to distance itself from NATO. It’s Grippen purchase, its refusal to allow radar stations, etc., are decidedly unfriendly and therefore does not deserve reciprocal goodwill. Returning to a draft army, with 6-9 months of service is contrary to NATO philosophy. In the US, where states cling to their… Read more »

@Sackhoes Contributor: I certainly agree that it’s time to reconsider the European presence but the cost is probably the fraction of the money that is flowing into the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters. I also wouldn’t worry about Germany but leaving South Korea alone is not a good idea.
Anyway this blog is about Planet Hungary. For he US Hungary’s cooperation doesn’t mean much. The use of the Taszar airport in the 90s was a help but otherwise not much is expected. And this is very sad. I mean we are known as a bunch whiners who want protection from Russia but we don’t want to do anything in exchange. It’s a shame. We should see the NATO as chance to learn. We should have sent combat troops to Afghanistan partly as a commitment, partly because our soldiers have zero combat experience.
Beefing up an independent Hungarian military is incredibly stupid a costly idea.


The time for the US to pull out of Europe was 20 years ago, with the Soviet Union in meltdown. But now we have Putin’s Russia – and what sort of message would a US retreat send to him?
“Over to you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, Europe is all yours now. Why not start with Ukraine and Georgia? Belorussia, maybe – and then those upstart ‘Baltic States’?”
As for using reservists, this is exactly the direction the UK is heading in – presumably because it’s cheaper. A lot of our soldiers fighting (and dying) in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ‘Territorials’, as the reserves are known in the UK – so-called weekend soldiers.
I don’t know the facts and figures, but, from a military standpoint, it seems to work. Certainly the regular soldiers have a lot more respect for the reservists now. You don’t here the old joke “first thing you do when the battle starts – shoot the Territorials!” any more, at least.

peter litvanyi
This is a very touching subject to me thus I shall be brief with my comments. Our world doesn’t need more arms, more murder or any more bloodshed. Dear Eva: if you send me the address of “The Leauge Against Compulsory Military Service” I’d be grateful. I guess I missed the first round for many reasons; I’d like to sign on this time. Dear “Odin’s”: “It has long been a tradition..”. So I understand and I am hoping that those young people taking an oath on a hot summer day on a hot tarmac understand it the same way. Dear rest of you: I have no intelligent comment about your geopolitical idiocy. Anyone who wants to learn more about the US: “Why we fight”; a brilliant documentary. Watch it, it should be available at your local video store in the US. If you live in Hungary I can help you to find it on line. Everyone: This my way to convey my utmost respect to the people who were my fellow soldiers at times. I am hoping they will understand my stance. If not them, who will? I was Artillery, not Air Force. It was my brother /Sergeant Litvanyi/ who… Read more »
A Horvath

Sadlly, the Hungarian armed forces are a bad joke. Manpower is about 1/2 the NYC police department. There is an almost complete lack of tanks, helicopter gunships and the Air Force has about 14 modern combat planes. Unlike all of its neighbors (including smaller states like Slovenia, Slovakia, Craotia) Hungary refuses to spend money on its armed forces.
Consequently they are armed like a third world country, mostly with old Soviet era crap. The population has no respect for the armed forces beause of 1956, 1945, 1919, 1918 and 1848. Most of the senior officers are holdovers from the Warsaw pact and have questionable loyalty. The newly created “reserves” are tiny and composed of primarily of old volunteers. The Hungarian armed forces will nbot last 72 hours in a war.