Defence Minister Tibor Benkő mainly spoke about the security situation and the development of the defence forces at the annual hearing held by Parliament’s National Security and Defence and Policing Committees on 18 June, Tuesday, in the capital.
As part of the committee reports, the Minister said both the wider and narrower security situation had deteriorated; we should expect challenges primarily from the East and the South. The conflict in Ukraine, the instability of the Western Balkans region, terrorism, illegal migration, cyber threats, hybrid warfare and the ever-increasing number of unstable countries are all challenges which it is very difficult to prepare for. He also said that Hungary’s security situation is stable, despite the fact that it is at the crossroads of the mentioned threats from the East and the South.
It was in response to these threats that a decision was adopted, laying down that there is a need for setting up a regional, multi-national divisional headquarters with the involvement of Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia. Additionally, a regional special operational forces component headquarters would also enhance the region’s security. This initiative has been joined by five countries so far. “Hungary needs a strong and efficient defence force equipped with the latest, 21st century technical equipment and presenting a dominant capability within the region which is able to guarantee our country’s and the Hungarian people’s security,” the Minister said.
Mr Benkő pointed out that the development of a strong and efficient defence force has already started, and the Defence and Armed Forces Development Programme serves that. He added that at the NATO summit held in Wales in 2014 Hungary agreed to raise its defence expenditures to 2 per cent of GDP by 2024, against the background of using 20 per cent of these resources for developments. The upgrading of the defence budget is making good progress; next year, for instance, the budget could increase by HUF 103 billion. “In light of the latest challenges, the role of the military is gaining in significance, but we must see that if we are to rise to these challenges, we must develop new capabilities,” the Minister said.
He highlighted that the purpose of the new developments is to also strengthen the Hungarian economy, and to turn the army into a self-sufficient entity. Restarting the Hungarian arms industry serves that purpose, of which a good example is the arms manufacturing plant built in Kiskunfélegyháza which could start its manufacturing lines as early as this year. Additionally, bus manufacturing and the light industry also form part of the renewal of the Hungarian defence industry: the combat clothing of soldiers is now being manufactured in Hungary. The renewal of the Hungarian defence forces further extends to management elements, military careers and the qualifications of soldiers, he added.
As part of the programme, they have started developments in some 40 areas, including the procurement of new military technology such as helicopters, aircraft, army vehicles, heavy artillery and air defence equipment, while military education will undergo a phase of renewal through the introduction of a cadet programme, defence scholarships and a cyber academy. At the same time, they will also be able to enhance the army’s social perception with a system of voluntary reservists organised on the basis of the principle of territorial defence which has already been joined by more than 8,500 volunteers. Defence camps, too, serve this purpose; the number of defence camps organised this year has increased considerably. In 2019 as many as 72 fully-booked camps with different themes await children throughout the country.
Mr Benkő further informed the committees that they had increased the mission ambition level from 1,000 to 1,200 persons, and at present soldiers are taking part in missions in fourteen countries around the world. Some one half of the soldiers participating in various missions are serving in the Western Balkans, he said, stressing that in this field the principle has remained unchanged: problems must be dealt with where they emerge. In answer to a question, he also said that the National Security Strategy could be presented to the government soon. The necessary consultations between the ministries concerned have already taken place.
The committees approved the Minister’s report. For the presentation of the annual reports concerning the work completed by the Ministry in 2018, Mr Benkő was also accompanied by Pál Kádár, Minister of State for Public Administration of the Ministry of Defence, and Lieutenant General Dr Gábor Böröndi, Deputy Commander of the Hungarian Defence Forces.