“A nation that is incapable of defending itself does not deserve to be one,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán earlier this month as General Ferenc Korom formally accepted in parliament his nomination to become the new chief of the General Staff of the Hungarian Defense Forces. Hungary’s defense, the prime minister added, is “not the task of NATO or the European Union but our task.”
With initiatives like the Zrínyi 2026 program, under which Hungary responds to the NATO call to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by the year 2026, the Orbán Governments have made national defense a priority. Recent national consultations and a popular referendum have shown that Hungarian voters, moved by the migration crisis and the security environment in today’s Europe, give high importance to defending the homeland.
As part of this effort to strengthen national security, the prime minister said, the Hungarian government will more than double the budget of the Hungarian Army in the coming years. In 2015, Hungary spent 186 billion HUF on national defense, while in 2016 defense expenditures rose to 251 billion HUF. According to Parliamentary State Secretary Szilárd Németh, the expenditures will double by 2024, but changes will already be tangible in 2019.
Minister of Defense Tibor Benkő, who served as chief of staff until being named minister in the new government, said that the increased defense budget planned under the Zrínyi 2026 program allows for a sustainable development of the defense forces. The longer term commitment to raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP will make it possible to plan further and build a strong Hungarian army. The minister emphasized that new challenges and threats have emerged, like those coming with the migration crisis, which create new demands for the defense forces.
Concerning specific priorities, apart from border protection, defense planning puts special emphasis on the development of the air force (e.g. the recently acquired Airbus A319 airplanes), the personal equipment of soldiers, and cyber security. As part of the modernization of the equipment, Hungarian weapons production will be relaunched to support all law enforcement organizations as well as international trade.
The most important resource of the army, said Minister Benkő, remains the soldier him- or herself. More weight will be given to recruiting as well as developing the reputation of the defense forces and improving the material conditions of the army. New resources will be allocated to military education, beginning in high school. The voluntary reserve service program engages more and more civilians and university students each year in the service of the country. In the last few years, 3500 people joined the army, the minister said.
A powerful, state-of-the-art army cannot exist without soldiers who are committed to their home country, said PM Orbán. Though re-building the Hungarian Defense Forces after decades of decline following the regime change must start “almost with the basics,” said Minister Benkő, he will work to make this vision become reality.