Hungarian troops near the Ukrainian border - Photo: MTI

Official: Hungary ‘important member’ of NATO

Hungary is by now "an important, significant, determinative" member of NATO, a state secretary of the defence ministry said on Friday. At a conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Atlantic Council (MAT), Tamas Vargha praised the council's "superhuman" efforts, adding that it had been crucial to the success of the 1997 referendum on Hungary's accession to NATO.

Hungary changed its “soviet-style, mass army” into an effective and professional one, Vargha said, noting government efforts to gradually raise salaries and army developments.

Vargha noted NATO’s crucial role in ensuring security in the Euro-Atlantic region and Europe. “In a fast-changing, unpredictable and complicated security environment the role of NATO is highly appreciated,” he said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has solidified unity within NATO, Vargha said, adding that Moscow was now “the most direct threat to our security, and this will only change if Moscow changes its aggressive stance.”

He emphasised that everything must be done to promote the restoration of peace in Ukraine.

In response to the Russian threat, NATO has greatly increased its defence capabilities, while the Hungarian military is being developed further in light of the situation, he said, adding that “we believe that peace requires strength”.

Peter Sztaray, state secretary at the foreign ministry, said in his address that Hungary had “broad political support” which was crucial for a country’s “credible and strong” NATO membership. Ever since the 1997 referendum, people’s “support for NATO, irrespective of their political affiliation”, had been an important point of reference, he added.

Ever since Hungary joined NATO, the country has adopted “a consistent attitude ready for consensus”, taking into consideration both its own interests and those of its allies, Sztaray said, noting however that Hungary has blocked NATO-Ukraine talks since 2017 because of Ukraine curbing ethnic minority rights. “This is an issue of international law; the rights of ethnic minorities must be guaranteed,” he said. The Hungarian government, he added, is ready to revisit the issue if the situation of ethnic minorities in Ukraine improves.

Concerning the war in Ukraine, Sztaray said “NATO should be kept at a distance from the conflict, but this does not mean that member states could not support Ukraine.”

Regarding Hungary’s military reform now under way, Sztaray said: “Hungary is at last making the financial contribution that it should have made from the start.” As a NATO member, Hungary has “now become credible and is growing politically stronger” within the alliance. “It’s not possible to be a NATO member without national power and thus able to participate in political decision-making,” he said.

In the past 30 years, “NATO has given a lot to Hungary, and Hungary has been giving NATO and its allies more and more; by now, a healthy balance has developed,” the state secretary said.

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