Hungary has not won a single war in 500 years. It is completely isolated linguistically and culturally. Most of Hungary's history revolves around being conquered and occupied by other nations, from the Romans to the Austrians. As with any country, Hungarian security attitudes are shaped largely by history and geography. For Hungary, this is a history of more than 400 years of domination by great powers -- the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, the Germans during World War II, and the Soviets during the Cold War -- and a geography of regional instability and separation from Hungarian minorities living in neighboring countries. Hungary's foreign policy priorities, largely consistent since 1990, represent a direct response to these factors.
Hungarians feel history had dealt them a bitter hand. The Hungarian armed forces, hampered by vulnerable geography, had almost never been successful on the field of battle. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after defeat in the Great War, the new government was forced to sign the Trianon Peace Treaty in 1920, divesting the country of 70-percent of its former territory, one-third if its population, and all of its raw materials. The Hungarian government initially sided with Hitler during the Second World War in hopes of regaining lost territory. This endeavor ultimately failed entirely.
Hungary had a glorious military tradition in the Middle Ages. However, long resistance to the Ottoman Turks left Hungary weak, and the country was eventually partitioned by the Turks and the Habsburgs in 1541. Thereafter -- except for the period between World War I and World War II -- Hungary's armed forces have been subject to those of an outside power, first the Habsburg imperial army and then, after World War II, the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact.
Except for the short-lived neutrality declared by Imre Nagy in November 1956, Hungary's foreign policy generally followed the Soviet lead from 1947 to 1989. During the communist period, Hungary maintained treaties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria. It was one of the founding members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and Comecon, and it was the first central European country to withdraw from those now defunct organizations.
Since 1990, Hungary's top foreign policy goal has been achieving integration into Western economic and security organizations. To this end, Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in May of 2004. Hungary also has improved its often-chilled neighborly relations by signing basic treaties with Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. These renounce all outstanding territorial claims and lay the foundation for constructive relations. However, the issue of ethnic Hungarian minority rights in Slovakia and Romania periodically causes bilateral tensions to flare. Hungary was a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, has signed all of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)/ Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) follow-on documents since 1989, and served as the OSCE's Chairman-in-Office in 1997. Hungary's record of implementing CSCE Helsinki Final Act provisions, including those on reunification of divided families, remains among the best in eastern Europe. Hungary has been a member of the United Nations since December 1955.
Hungary's key national security focus since joining NATO in 1999 has been contributing to the stability of the region while integrating its armed forces into NATO's force structure. Hungary takes a keen interest in NATO expansion and in the transatlantic link. It shares a more acute sense of the threat than many other European countries and is watching events in the Balkans, Ukraine, and Russia with great interest. Hungarians believe that Hungary's own security and that of its ethnic minorities in neighboring countries will be best served by a peaceful, unified region, which will be achieved when EU and NATO membership is extended to the entire region.
Hungary was especially helpful during the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords in the Balkans from 1995-2004, when its airbase at Taszar was used by coalition forces transiting the region. Hungary currently leads a Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan, and has an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT), as well as Special Forces personnel, without caveat, in Afghanistan in 2009. A second OMLT deployed in 2010. The Hungarian military took over command of a joint battalion in the Balkans in 2008. Hungary's Papa Airbase is the home base of the Strategic Airlift Consortium's C-17 operations, expanding its contribution to NATO and other European partners. Hungary's military still faces numerous challenges to its modernization program, as reflected in the 2008 Hungarian defense budget, set at 1.17% of GDP, well below the NATO target of two percent.
Hungary was initially the most disappointing new member of NATO, given allegations of anti-Semitism, extra-territorial claims against neighbors, a reactionary view of military reform, and a failure to play a constructive role in Balkan security. In the introduction to the new Defense Review, published 11 August 2003, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhász was candid about the state of the Hungarian military. Juhász stated, "The constant reforms and reorganizations of the HDF of the past twenty years have caused a downward spiral of serial failures by the armed forces.". He also stated that Hungary was so far from meeting its commitments to NATO that it "would have been expelled if there were a mechanism for expulsion in place."
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