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May 31, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

NATO is shifting gears and Hungary has a plan to stay apace

Late last week, leaders of the 28 members of NATO gathered in Brussels to send, in the words of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a strong message of the unity of the transatlantic alliance and its commitment to collective security. NATO finds itself in an increasingly challenging environment due to the rise of complex security threats that require responsive capabilities. Grappling with terrorism, migration, cybercrime and more, every one of the member states must step up its game.

Even though a stronger and more responsive NATO is in the best interest of all the allies, many nations appear reluctant to put that into practice.

Not so with Hungary. Events have taught us, especially over the last few years, that it is crucial to demonstrate commitment to NATO and strike a fairer sharing of the burden. In 2014, NATO’s member countries agreed to increase military spending to at least two percent of GDP. As of last year, however, only five countries – the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia – had reached this level.

Hungary plans to join them and has embarked on its biggest military development program in the 27 years since the fall of the communist regime. Known as the Zrínyi 2026 Program, the initiative will gradually increase military spending to reach two per cent by 2026, although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that “we shall reach two per cent more or less by 2024.”

The May 25th NATO meeting was also part of US President Donald Trump’s first official foreign travel, making it clear that, despite murmurings that the new administration was wavering in its commitment, the United States continues to regard the strength of the alliance as a top priority.

The other hot topic at the meeting was enlargement, focusing on the Balkan states. PM Orbán made it clear that even though “the Balkans region is a complicated place, and there are tensions,” he would still argue in favor of enlargement.

Thirdly, NATO leaders have long debated how the Alliance should engage in counter-terrorism activities. Many of the member countries have participated in individual operations and coalitions aimed at repressing ISIS, but now the North Atlantic Treaty Organization itself will join the international coalition “seeking to restore peace and freedom,” said the prime minister.

Challenges facing military cooperation remain significant. Regardless, from Hungary’s perspective there is no reason to be afraid. If the Allies are committed, NATO will continue to dominate the global scene as the most successful military alliance in history. But we must not forget: NATO is only as strong as its member states.