Rebirth, Return, Reunion: Hungary's Euro-Atlantic Agenda

Report Europe

Rebirth, Return, Reunion: Hungary's Euro-Atlantic Agenda

October 26, 1995 14 min read Download Report
His Excellency Arpad Goncz
Policy Analyst, Transportation and Infrastructure

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be able to brief you, an audience of one of the most prestigious policy think tanks of the United States, on the principal foreign policy endeavors of Hungary. In your full-fledged democracy, the activity of research institutes devoid of the burden of day-to-day politics but dedicated to the thorough analysis of long-term processes and historical causality plays an important role beside the protagonists of politics. When it comes to shaping U.S. foreign policy, people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue no doubt pay heed to the work of The Heritage Foundation as well as the opinion of its researchers. I, therefore, address you now not only as researchers and people interested in the subject, but also as persons who have influence, to a lesser or greater extent, on the United States' foreign policy towards the Central European region, including Hungary, and thus on the success of Hungary's foreign policy objectives.


For well over 40 years Hungary, similarly to other Central European states, lived torn from the bosom of her natural European environment. In the wake of the imposition of Soviet rule, the Iron Curtain that fell across the center of Europe and along Hungary's western border hermetically isolated Central and Eastern Europe from the western part of the continent. The countries under Soviet rule were forcibly subjected to the inhumane and unnatural experiment of building communism. While east of the Iron Curtain the world witnessed the continuous destruction of human, moral, and material values, the United States and Western Europe registered never-before-seen democratic and economic progress, thus bringing about the cooperation of the community of prosperous democracies.

The non-viable Soviet regime eventually collapsed under its own weight, due in no small measure to the fact that it was simply unable to keep pace with the rate of development and the arms race dictated by the United States. It is clear today that the staunch anti-communist stance of President Reagan, accused of reviving the Cold War chill, in no way slowed the agony of the communist system; on the contrary, it reduced its duration considerably. In 1989 the zombie states of Central Europe came around from 40 years of inertia and set about building, on the ruins of communism, an open and democratic society working on the principles of a market economy. The undertaking has turned out to be a lot harder than was expected, in either East or West. The countries of the Central European region have had to come to grips with a gamut of difficulties posed by the simultaneous change of the whole political and economic system. This constitutes an unparalleled historical challenge for the region and, I daresay, the whole of the Euro-Atlantic zone as well.

The complexity of the tasks surfacing with the transformation is well illustrated by the example of Hungary. Democracy and the idea of an economy based on private property and healthy competition came as no novelty to Hungary. Perchance not all of you know that the basic principles of democracy and the thought of freedom had touched Hungary way back in the mid-19th century. Although the war of independence waged against Habsburg absolutism was lost in 1849, its ideals lived on and materialized to a large extent in the wake of the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867. Lajos Kossuth, leader and symbol of the Hungarians' freedom fight, is remembered to this very day as the champion of liberty not only in Hungary, but also in the United States, where his bust stands in the Capitol. It is also worth recalling that Hungary, albeit only as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, formed an integral part of the economy and culture of Europe at the turn of the century, and her legal system met the requirements of the age.

All the above-mentioned traditions notwithstanding, the transformation following the events of 1989 has been an extremely painful process, particularly from the point of view of the economy. Nothing characterizes better the enormity of the undertaking than the fact that transforming the structure of the economy has called for exceptional efforts even from Hungary, a country that was the first and only state in the communist bloc to introduce gradual market reforms from 1968 onwards.

The fundamental institutions of democracy -- a multi-party system, free parliamentary elections, accountable government, independent courts, and the freedom of information -- had all been created by the end of 1990. Adapting to a market economy, however, entailed negative phenomena with repercussions to date, such as galloping inflation and unemployment, the waning of whole branches of industry, and the bankruptcy of state enterprises. Although these phenomena are obviously understandable for an economist, they provoke discontent among the people. The change of structure has, nevertheless, been completed by now, and today the economy is governed by market mechanisms. The private sector now accounts for some 60 percent of production. In 1994 the economy began to register a slight growth. Over 70 percent of Hungary's foreign trade is carried on with industrially developed countries. Besides, the influx of foreign capital into Hungary in the last six years has amounted to some 9 billion U.S. dollars, more than in any other country of the region. I am pleased to see that U.S. companies lead the way in the field of investment in Hungary with an approximately 40 percent share. Such favorable changes, together with strict financial stabilization measures, are creating the bases of long-term development.

In addition to the radical transformation of home affairs and the economy, Hungarian foreign policy has also undergone change. Hungary has turned towards the West again and is determined to return to the community of Western democracies. With the experience of the past well heeded, this time the overtures towards the West do not imply burning the bridges towards the East. Hungary has a vested interest in maintaining good relations with all the countries of the region. This intention, as well as our effort directed at our Euro-Atlantic integration, enjoys the backing of all the parliamentary parties and public opinion.


Hungary thus has irreversibly launched a program to try to catch up with the developed world politically and economically, and hopes to be able to join as soon as possible the Euro-Atlantic integrational organizations, primarily NATO and the European Union. Our integration would not be complete without our membership in the OECD and the defense organization of the European Union, the Western European Union.

Our Euro-Atlantic integration is a means to an end and a symbol at the same time. It is a means to an end because, we firmly believe, securing lasting stability and prosperity hinges on Hungary becoming a member of NATO and the European Union. Twentieth century history has proved without the shadow of a doubt that the Central European region must not be abandoned or left to wither into a grey zone. Both world wars broke out partly as a direct consequence of expansionist powers regarding Central Europe as spoils of war. We are justified in stating that Hungary and her neighbors, with the exception of some tragic states of the former Yugoslavia, have to face no external threat at the moment; therefore, her Western integration is not a matter of life and death right now. Yet it is precisely the bitter experience of the past that urges both Hungary and her neighbors to preempt even the shaping of potential crises and drop anchor firmly in the community of Western democracies. Integration is a symbol too, as it indicates as clear as daylight that Hungary, a country that holds values and pursues objectives identical with those of the Western democracies, has the right to seek her due place in the Euro-Atlantic community.

It is in the sphere of the economy that the European Union could best promote the stability of the region and Hungary. On the one hand, it is a well-known fact that economic growth and the resulting prosperity considerably reduce animosity between different countries. On the other hand, the common market system of the Union is what could make Hungary's market, small just by itself, and production capacity really viable. The integration accomplished within the European Union is at the same time the symbol of reconciliation and cooperation in Europe. Although not primarily a defense organization, the Union provides, nonetheless, some form of guarantee against both outside aggression and conflicts between member states. Integration results in a kind of mutual dependence that excludes the possibility of inner hostility while shaping a bloc that, by its mere size, may serve as a deterrent. In the wake of the change of regime, Hungary did not delay in widening and institutionalizing her ties with the European Union, and is by now linked to the organization through an association agreement. Parallel to this, domestic processes have been launched in the fields of economic policy and law harmonization, which are prerequisites of admission to the Union. Hungary made an official announcement of her intention to join in the spring of 1994 and hopes to become a full-fledged member of the Union by the end of the millennium. Allow me to focus from this point forward on NATO above all else, since it is in this organization that your country plays the leading role.

In the course of the Cold War, NATO proved that it could deter any potential outside aggression and that its members could rely on the organization's "hard" security guarantees. The engine of the alliance's success was the United States, whose brave leaders of vision realized that the security of America and the security of Europe are inseparable, and that it is worth making sacrifices in the interest of common security. Beside the actual military defense and the U.S. nuclear shield, we must not fail to remark the alliance's good influence on relations between the members, in particular on relations between France and Germany.

Although the Cold War has ended and the Soviet Union has fallen apart, history has not come to an end, as Francis Fukuyama predicted a few years ago. On the contrary, the war in the Balkans and the conflicts raging in the former Soviet republics have shown that new and less predictable dangers encroach on the peace of the Euro-Atlantic region. The circumstances may have changed, and the tasks ahead may be different, yet NATO and an active United States presence in Europe are still needed as much as ever. Hungary, having taken the initiative to dissolve the Warsaw Pact, came to the early recognition that in order to ensure her long-term security she would have to become a member of the Union and join NATO. One cannot emphasize enough that Hungary's hope of becoming a member of the alliance is in no way directed against others. In other words, Hungary would not wish to use her eventual membership to the detriment of her neighbors in the region. On the contrary, it is in our interest that other Central European countries also be able to meet the requirements set for joining and be admitted to the organization, since security can be envisaged only in a wider context. Just to give you an example, the security of Romania and Slovakia, for instance, has a strong bearing on the development and security of Hungary, and vice versa.

Speaking of Hungary's intention to join the Euro-Atlantic integration, and the future of the Central European region, the question arises: What interest does NATO, and particularly the United States, have in expanding the organization and, thus, covering the subsequent defense expenditure? Among the numerous reasons, allow me to mention the most significant ones.

Guaranteeing human and minority rights and ensuring conditions for a free-market economy and democracy rank among the foreign policy priorities of the United States. In order for these values to prevail without any risks in Central Europe, not only today but in the future, the stability of the region must be increased, for which the expansion of NATO presents itself as the most convenient means. In the course of the Cold War, the world would have been swept to the verge of a catastrophe in the form of another world war had the United States endeavored to insist on the prevalence, even beyond the Iron Curtain, of the values she held dear. Today American values could spread and American interests could be guaranteed without a single gunshot and without any risk of a world war.

The United States has a vested trade interest in the stability and smooth economic development of the region, seeing that this region is becoming an increasingly significant market for U.S. products and investment. Expanding NATO may constitute a lasting means of securing this market. By the same token, the mere fact of NATO membership may exert a stimulating influence on investors, ever fearful of political risks.

We are positive that Hungary's NATO membership would benefit the security structure of the organization and, indirectly, the whole region and even the whole continent, in the geopolitical sense, as:

  • It would contribute to increasing stability in the Central European region;

    It would ensure NATO an access route to the Balkans, which, despite the peace process currently under way, can be expected to continue as a region of instability in the future; and

  • The Hungarian Army would contribute, albeit only to a modest degree, to the many-sided development of the alliance's military strength and even more favorable positions.
  • NATO membership is a foreign policy goal based on substantial social consensus in virtually all the countries of the region. The expansion of NATO would, therefore, have a favorable effect on the faith our societies have in Western values, would increase their sense of security, and would prevent the eventual upsurge of frustration, which could well emerge should the extension be prolonged for too long.


Now that we have reviewed what motivates Hungary to approach NATO and what interest NATO has in extension, it is worth summing up briefly what we have actually done with a view to joining.

The fact that the Atlantic alliance has recognized the need for eastward extension and has launched the preparatory process for the admission of new members is an encouraging sign for us. We particularly welcome the initiatives in this issue of U.S. politicians, both in the Administration and in Congress. We regard the Partnership for Peace initiative, outlined in the fall of 1993 and launched in 1994, as an integral part of the road leading to membership. Not forgetting her size and possibilities, Hungary for her part endeavors to make the most of the opportunities offered by Partnership for Peace by taking part in the different operations and training programs. I was thrilled to hear that the Hungarian units taking part in Operation Cooperative Nugget, held in Louisiana this summer, stood their ground excellently. The mere fact of a joint operation tells a tale in itself. Just think it over. No more than six years ago, we would have laughed at the idea of the units of a small member state of the Warsaw Pact joining American and other allied troops for a military operation somewhere along the Mississippi.

Beyond Partnership for Peace, other forms of excellent cooperation now characterize relations between Hungary and NATO and NATO member states. For Hungary it was a great honor that the North Atlantic Assembly, NATO's parliamentary organ, held its May 1995 conference in Budapest, since it was the very first time it had held its session in a non-member state. The fact that NATO intelligence aircraft, the famous AWACS, carry on their activity in Hungarian air space in connection with the crisis in the Balkans provides promising bases for our future institutional cooperation. The joint U.S.-Hungarian military rescue operation held recently in Hungary was also a success. Military and technical compatibility, cited as a precondition for admission, is considerably improved by the Hungarian Army's increasing number of defense arms purchases from American companies.

We are fully aware that in today's world, security transcends the military aspect and embraces political, economic, social, and even cultural areas. Hungary does her utmost in order to ensure that her own peace and that of the region rest on stable foundations. Joining NATO as soon as possible serves our interest, but only as part of a complex process that aims, in the final analysis, at increasing the stability of the whole Euro-Atlantic region.

Keeping this objective in mind, Hungary pays particular attention to the most all-around possible strengthening of relations with her neighbors. Hungary looks upon the Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries as the cement of bilateral relations and not as a source of conflict. I must emphasize at this point that relations between Hungary and neighboring Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Ukraine are virtually problem-free. This spring we were able to sign a basic treaty with Slovakia with a view to accomplishing comprehensive progress in our relations and regulating the situation of the minorities. The agreement has already been ratified by the Hungarian Parliament, and we hope the Slovakian legislature will soon follow suit. We have conducted negotiations with Romania for nearly a year in order to draft a similar document, but unfortunately no breakthrough has yet come during the talks. I wish to stress that signing a basic treaty, while important, is not the sole element of relations between Hungary and Romania. We strive to deepen bilateral relations in all areas regardless of whether there is or is not a basic treaty. What gives us hope for the future is that economic, trade, and military ties are developing well between Hungary and Romania. All the aforesaid goes to show that Hungary has no problem with any of her neighbors that could even remotely hold the threat of a "second Bosnia," as is occasionally alleged by some who oppose the extension of NATO.

In connection with a more comprehensive interpretation of security, I wish to mention the pivotal role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE, among whose members the United States plays an active part, is the only Euro-Atlantic institution with wide-ranging security competence. Hungary, in her role as Chairman- in-Office, has recognized the OSCE's unique opportunities in the field of confidence building, crisis prevention, and management, and strives to make the most of them.

In 1995, under Hungary's chairmanship, the organization opened a mission in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, and appointed three ombudsmen responsible for human rights, thus considerably enhancing the activity of the Sarajevo mission. Another mission, soon to be inaugurated in Croatia, is also to serve the comprehensive settlement of the conflict in the Balkans. These missions everywhere spare no effort to reach a peaceful settlement in the conflicts. In Chechnya this led to the signing of an agreement between the warring parties on July 30. If the guns in the Balkans are silenced for good, the OSCE is ready to undertake an increasingly active role in consolidating peace and the process of rehabilitation following the conflict. In the same manner, the OSCE provides an institutional framework for Russia to discuss Euro-Atlantic security issues. This function of the organization is expected to gain more impetus as NATO expansion materializes.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hungary did not delay in setting off on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration, and she is now doing her utmost, both in the area of preparing the country and in her foreign policy, to become a full-fledged member of NATO and the EU as soon as possible. The fact that Western democracies and integrational organizations have recognized the importance of the chance to open towards the East and are willing to cooperate with the fledgling democracies of Central Europe is a source of encouragement for us. And yet, opinions are voiced over and over again criticizing the too speedy reintegration of Hungary and her neighbors in the region and questioning the justification for NATO extension. Such opinions are fearful of accepting new responsibilities and the consolidation, not to mention the possible defense, of the Central European democracies. Any delay or uncertainty may eventually exact a high price, since there is no excluding the possibility of the situation in these fledging democracies growing critically worse due either to their own internal problems or to any unfavorable developments in the region east of them.

Our common task and responsibility is, therefore, possibly even greater than it was in 1989, when the picture was rather more simple. All the hard work of recent times may have been in vain unless Hungary and her neighbors in the region are able to drop anchor as soon as possible, and for good, in the safety of the developed democracies' haven. In conclusion, permit me to quote the great statesman, President John F. Kennedy: "The United States will pay any price, bear any burden in defense of freedom around the world.... "1 If President Kennedy's message still holds good, bearing a not-too-big burden today, for the same purpose and right on the finishing line, cannot constitute a matter for discussion. The burden must be borne.


1. Inauguration speech, 1961


His Excellency Arpad Goncz

Policy Analyst, Transportation and Infrastructure