In the fourth episode of “The Bold Truth About Hungary” podcast, Minister of Defense Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky discussed the challenges of modernizing an army that has been ravaged by left-wing governments after the fall of communism, Hungary's strategic plans for revitalizing its military industry, Hungary’s relationship with NATO, and the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine.
Hungary is entering a new phase in its military development
Minister of defense: “NATO is nothing but the joint effort of member states”
When the Berlin wall fell, Hungary inherited a Soviet-style army based on mass conscription and equipped with Soviet technology.
Conscription was replaced by voluntary service, and over the next couple of decades, equipment was sold off or simply thrown away while trained personnel left the ranks; the left-wing governments in power thought the country could rely solely on the support and deterrence of our NATO allies.
Illustrating the scale of the issue, according to Minister Szalay-Bobrovniczky, at one point there were only 17 reservists, as the previous left-wing governments did not arrange for any reservist system to support the professional army.
The minister said that as a result, when Prime Minister Orbán’s government took over in 2010, Hungary’s military was in ruins since the progressive left had systematically destroyed the army and its heritage while in power.
The paradigm shift came after 2010, but it took years to have the solid economic foundation for an overall reevaluation of the Hungarian Defense Forces and to see how it should be modernized.
The Zrínyi Plan, named after a famous 17th-century Hungarian army leader, was set in motion around 2016 with the aim of reaching, by 2026, the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on the development of its armed forces, as agreed upon by all NATO members.
The minister explained that the aim and scope of the project is the “systematic replacement of the old Soviet-style equipment for modern NATO-compatible high-tech equipment.” This will mainly occur through European procurements and sources, with a major emphasis on the development of a domestic defense industry, which he called “essential.”
Minister Szalay-Bobrovniczky said that included in this development scheme are incentives for companies to invest and build factories in Hungary “where it makes sense for both the supplier and for us” to create domestic supply chains.
Regarding manpower, the minister said that not too long ago, the Hungarian Parliament approved the expansion of the army to 37,500 soldiers, with the potential to double this number in the coming years. So, the reservist force is of “special” importance to him, as he said it is “quicker to build a large number of reservists, than the core professional force.”
Accordingly, Szalay-Bobrovniczky added that “we are going to focus on (...) personnel development and then the new technology coming in. These combined will be our new force, which will have to be much bigger in numbers and much stronger in equipment.”
The key notion behind these developments is deterrence, says the minister; he mentioned that while “NATO is going to come to our help if required,” the alliance itself is “nothing but the joint effort of the member states.”
He further pointed out that the importance of redoubling our efforts to ensure our security is more important than ever, as “the brutal aggression of Russia on Ukraine brought a new reality really in security and in security planning.”
On how fragile the current environment is, he mentioned how “the Polish example, an accidental strike of a rocket killing actual innocents shows that while the conflict is open and armed and ongoing, anything can really happen.”
Minister Szalay-Bobrovniczky also noted that, thankfully, while the war has escalated, namely the explosion of the Nord Stream pipeline and the bombing of the bridge in Crimea, the Polish accident shows that within NATO, a “strategic calm” prevailed.
In his view, with no clear military outcome on either side, the war will rage on, and “a lot more lives will be lost,” but the winter may “slow things down a little bit.”
The minister said that sadly Hungary can do nothing except encourage peace and advise everyone to avoid escalating the situation. He added that Hungary is doing “everything possible to protect our citizens and our borders and build a strong national army” to ensure peace and prosperity for all Hungarians.