Hungary's Role in the Transatlantic Relationship

February 19, 2003

Hungary's Role in the Transatlantic Relationship

In the years since the Cold War ended, the international security environment has gone through a number of profound changes, while numerous new challenges as well as new partnerships have also emerged.

In the years since the Cold War ended, the international security environment has gone through a number of profound changes, while numerous new challenges as well as new partnerships have also emerged. The quantity and character of the challenges have once again raised the omnipresent question of NATO's relevance. The answer was partly given at NATO's summit in Prague and has become part of NATO's everyday work aimed at handling the problems and challenges it faces.

The most visible of the challenges were the brutal terrorist attacks that shook the world in recent years. The tragic events of September 11 in the U.S., followed by the attacks in Bali, Moscow and Mombassa showed the whole world just how dangerous the threat of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction can be. The masterminds behind these brutal attacks declared war on every freedom-loving nation that believes in the basic values of democracy: civil liberties, the rule of law, respect for human rights and tolerance for all religions. We have all become part of a global clash between democracy and dictatorship, construction and destruction, life and death.

At last November's Prague summit, NATO's members underlined their firm commitment to this alliance as the main guarantor of their security. They made a number of crucial decisions with a view to enabling the Euro-Atlantic community to face the new threats of the 21st century: they endorsed the largest expansion of the Alliance in NATO's history while announcing the creation of relevant new capabilities.  At the same time, they reaffirmed their commitment to the core principles of our Alliance-the continuing dedication to preserving and strengthening the transatlantic link, which is rooted in the idea of collective defense, Alliance cohesion, the principle of consensus and shared democratic values.

The Prague decision on new capabilities is of utmost importance.  The NATO Reaction Force and the Prague Capabilities Commitment will enable the Alliance to maintain its relevance as a strong and capable military organization and give a proper answer to all the new threats and challenges wherever they come from.

Calling the newest round of enlargement as a historic step is no overstatement. By inviting Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to join our Alliance, NATO has made a substantial step to overcome, once and for all, the division of Europe. It should be pointed out that the extension of the zone of stability in Europe ran parallel with the elevation of the NATO-Russia relationship to a higher level on the basis of mutual confidence. We also support NATO sending a strong positive signal to the nations that were not included in this round of enlargement: Albania, Macedonia and Croatia. We welcome Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia-Montenegro in their efforts to strengthen their ties with NATO by joining the Partnership for Peace program. The most recent round of enlargement was a substantial step towards a new era of stability in Europe, but certainly not the last one. 

We in Hungary are well aware what it means to become a member of NATO: it is not only membership in a community of collective defense, it is membership in a community of shared values. We have learned that the invitation to join is not only a great opportunity, but also a great challenge that the invitees have to meet through hard work. However, they must be assured that they are not alone in this undertaking. Hungary, just like the other members of the Alliance, is prepared to share with them all the relevant experience it gained in the accession process.

Prague gave a resounding answer to the old "whither NATO?" debate where the relevance of NATO has been put on debate. With our new members, our new capabilities and our new partnerships in Europe and beyond we have proven once again that our Alliance is able to live up to the expectations. But Prague was only a stage in a process that we will have to follow through, as pointed out by the decisions made last November. If we were to fail, NATO could indeed wither away, thus doing unthinkable damage to the stability and prosperity of Europe and to the cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic community.

The European Union has also invited new members, among them Hungary, to join. We in Hungary look at the EU not as NATO's rival but as its closest and strongest partner in the international arena. The strategic partnership between the two organizations serves the trans-Atlantic community as a whole. It is in the interest of all of us for the EU to take ever-increasing responsibility for the security and defense of its member states and for the whole of Europe as well. More Europe does not mean less America.  Very much to the contrary: a strong America also needs a strong Europe as a reliable partner in the long run. The transatlantic partnership can only survive if both of its pillars are equally strong. The whole Euro-Atlantic community would suffer if member states were forced to make a choice between Europe and the U.S. or between NATO and the EU. Hungary is vitally interested in strengthening the trans-Atlantic link and European unity-simultaneously.

Europe and America must share the burdens of security and the fight against terrorism. Hungary is willing to continue its contribution to the ongoing fight on terrorism and to bear the risks that go with it. Our collective efforts must serve the security and the strengthening of the transatlantic link.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is another battle we must fight together. We Europeans must resist the siren sounds of false pacifism, leaving us at the mercy of reckless dictators in possession of the world's most dangerous weapons. Current heated discussions over Iraq between members of the Alliance show only too well the need for unity and consultation. It is beyond doubt that there is common ground between the members of the Alliance on the nature of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime. There is also a broad agreement on the risks of dictatorships, like the one in Iraq, possessing weapons of mass destruction. This is why in Prague the Alliance and its partners affirmed their full support for the implementation of Resolution 1441, passed by the UN Security Council last November. We also pledged to take action to assist and support the UN to ensure the full and immediate compliance of Iraq. NATO also has a responsibility to Turkey, to provide for its security, and so must begin with contingency planning for the stability of the region.

The values NATO is based on must be reflected in every action we commit ourselves to. It is on both sides of the Atlantic that we need to make further efforts to strengthen the Alliance and preserve its relevance and efficiency. We do not have to see eye to eye on every issue. One of the fundamental values of our Alliance is freedom in its broadest sense including freedom to agree or freedom to disagree if we so wish. Disagreement on one issue or another will not shatter the trans-Atlantic ties. But inaction at a time when action is needed might. And action, even without the full backing of the international community, is a path our Alliance must take to further strengthen the security and stability of the whole world. Make no mistake: when it comes to making a choice, Hungary will know which path to choose. 

László Kovács serves as the Foreign Minister of Hungary.