House Speaker László Kövér, Defence Minister Tibor Benkő, NATO dignitaries and other officials attended a conference in the Hungarian Parliament, marking the 20th anniversary of the country’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In his opening address, Kövér said that NATO was indispensable in preserving the balance in the international arena and should be preserved as a dynamic alliance to successfully face challenges ahead. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO on March 12, 1999. Kövér noted that the alliance and its member states faced security challenges such as illegal migration and terrorism. “If we want to guarantee our security, there is no alternative,” he said, adding that Hungary was intent on preserving its ability to enforce its interests within NATO. Kövér also said that keeping NATO’s support high among voters and within parliament was an important aspect of that work. Support for NATO has remained robust among Hungarians in the 20 years since accession. Hungary makes considerable contributions to the alliance’s operations and is not just a beneficiary of the security provided under its umbrella, he said.
Defence Minister Tibor Benkő said that in “today’s unstable world”, the risk of armed conflicts had grown. Hungary is surrounded by “unstable territories” from the east and south, and security in the Western Balkans was still “fragile”, he said. All this suggests that NATO is essential in preserving the region’s security, he said. Hungary currently spends 1.4% of its GDP on defence and it expects to reach the 2% goal set by NATO by 2024, he said. Modernisation centres on the air force, army, special operations, logistics and cyber security, he said. Levente Magyar, a foreign ministry state secretary, said NATO was among the most successful alliances in world history, “an achievement to be preserved”. Hungary aims to outperform its obligations in NATO, he said. Its membership was the first time Hungary was able to “take its fate into its own hands”, after a long history of having to fend for itself or participate in alliances it had been forced into, Magyar said.
David B. Cornstein, the US Ambassador to Hungary, said Hungary had been a reliable ally for 20 years. Close to 1,000 Hungarian soldiers are serving side by side with allied troops in NATO, EU, and multilateral peacekeeping missions, Cornstein noted. It is actively modernising its military and purchasing NATO-compatible equipment, and is on track to meet its NATO commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on defence, he said. Patrick Turner, NATO’s assistant secretary general for defence policy and planning, said the greatest challenges of NATO were the “threat from Russia” and the Islamic State terrorist organisation in Iraq and Syria. He praised Hungary’s contribution to the alliance’s missions in Iraq and Kosovo. NATO is committed to expanding and to accepting as members Montenegro and North Macedonia soon, he said.