No. 6 - Nov. 1995
Vol. 43 - pp.26-29


Sebestyen Gorka
Senior Reader at the Budapest Institute
for Strategic and Defence Studies.

Hungary, a participant in NATO's Partnership for Peace, is currently engaged in a major reform of its armed forces and as part of this process, it has established a special peacekeeping force and training facility. The Hungarian Parliament has now given its approval for the first contingent of fully-fledged peacekeepers to be sent abroad - to join the multinational force which helps uphold the Camp David agreements relating to the Sinai.

In common with its counterparts in the Western half of Europe, the Hungarian Defence Force (HDF) has undergone great changes since the momentous political events of late 1989 and 1990. The most obvious has been the down-sizing of the HDF. Back in 1989, the total number of personnel, including civilian staff, stood at 155,700. By the middle of 1995, the full complement, including all personnel of the Ministry of Defence and background institutions such as think-tanks, stood at 93,155. Along with this manpower cut of over a third, state expenditure on defence has also been slashed. Prior to the changes in the late 1980s, the defence budget of the then Peoples' Republic of Hungary stood at 3.5 per cent of GDP. For 1995, the figure for the reborn Republic of Hungary will be 1.48 per cent.

Does this mean that post-Cold War Hungary feels itself to be that much more secure? Hardly, considering that within a hundred kilometres of its southern border a civil war is being waged, a war which has at times resulted in armed incursions into Hungarian territory and airspace (including one instance when a cluster bomb was dropped on a Hungarian town - inadvertently , apparently). Therefore, since the actual threat assessment is somewhat visibly higher for Hungary at the moment, the reasons for the aforementioned changes had to come from elsewhere.

Prior to the 'system change' of 1989, when Hungary was a member of the Warsaw Pact, the whole military machine was shaped by requirements dictated by Moscow. Hungary had the majority of its forces located along its western frontiers, and had a prescribed role as a glorified main supply route support area and reserve base for the Soviet main axis across Germany, if and when that axis was to move West.

With the end of the Warsaw Pact, Hungary has been able to cut the size of its army and relocate many units to spread them across the country, in the process closing many unnecessary bases and not just those previously occupied by the Soviet units. The country, according to recent plans, will now be divided into only three military districts, including Budapest.

Hungary is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and has already submitted its Presentation Document and agreed its Individual Partnership Programme with NATO, being the only Partner country so far to publish the latter document for public consumption. The new Republic has also hosted a joint peacekeeping training exercise under the PfP programme with the UK. Another was scheduled for October this year, this time with the inclusion of a German contingent. September saw the opening of the Hungarian PfP Language Training Centre, a facility open to Partner and NATO states, teaching English, German, French and possibly Russian, if there is a demand for it. By January next year, the Centre will be expanded to include courses for both military officers and civilians in arms control expertise and the practice of the democratic control of armed forces.

These are only the activities planned for the near future. Beyond this, there is a broad realization among policy makers and knowledgeable commentators alike that the reorganization and reform of the HDF will require a long-term strategy in line with the challenges the country will have to face and the contributions it will be expected to make as a fully-fledged member of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) family of states and as a prospective member of the WEU, EU and NATO. With this in mind, the Hungarian parliament has passed a resolution on the reform of the HDF, the bill winning a three quarters majority.

This parliamentary resolution contains mid- and long-term stipulations concerning the status of the Hungarian Defence Force. By 1998, the total strength of the HDF has to be lowered to 60,000 and the control structure has to be simplified, with many units being subsumed into larger ones. By 2005, the army must stand at 50,000 men - 0.5 per cent of the population - the majority of the units being capable of rapid deployment (however, in time of all-out war, after some months of refresher training, the national force should be expandable to 150,000 if necessary). By both deadlines there must also be a pronounced growth in numbers of NCOs in relation to officers.

The significance of these proposals is clear in that they entail a ground up review and reorganization of the armed forces, which will eventually bring Hungary's defence capacity in line with norms recognized in other Western democracies, the main factors being professionalism, proportionality and ability to react in a timely fashion. These characteristics will also improve Hungary's capacity to contribute professional forces to international peacekeeping efforts. The military reform in itself facilitates the viability of the lower troop figures as it also permits the country to "make good' on certain informal obligations. These obligations concern making a net contribution to European security, rather than being simply a consumer.


The bipolarity of the Cold War environment did in truth make life much easier for both sides of the Iron Curtain, at least as far as planning for the future was concerned. Now, both sides of the former divide are struggling with the fact that they still have armies to maintain and territories to protect yet they have no clear military objective or obvious single foe. In the past, the unifying motivator in the West was the 'Red Menace'; in the East it was the ideologically loaded threat of 'Capitalist Imperialism'. Each side had one clear adversary. Ask any Ministry of Defence, Pentagon, or Foreign Office mandarin what the threats to both the 'old' democracies and the newly independent states are, and the answer will be manifold, including such things as terrorism, drug-trafficking, fundamentalism, proliferation of fissile materials and atomic know-how, inter-ethnic strife, organized crime and so on. The difficulty of compiling a comprehensive list is only compounded by the difficulty in prioritizing any such list.

Even so, one requirement is almost universally accepted and that is the need for all countries professing and exercising the values of democracy and the market economy, and who maintain armed forces, to develop and dedicate at least a proportion of their forces for possible deployment in roles other than those typified by conventional warfare and the mind-set of all-out conflict prevalent throughout the Cold War. More specifically, as the stability that the old bipolar system ironically supplied progressively slips away, we will see more and more scenarios unfold worldwide where international 'peacekeeping' and 'peacemaking' units will have to be deployed.

Hungary is one of the countries that has recognized this future requirement and responsibility, a responsibility which was heightened after it was host to the last CSCE Summit in December 1994, and then afterwards took on the chairmanship of the renamed OSCE. As a result of this desire to contribute to peacekeeping efforts, the Budapest Peacekeeping Forces Training Centre was established.

The Peacekeeping Forces Training Centre

The political decision to create a peacekeeping force was taken by the former coalition government led by the Hungarian Democratic Forum, back in the spring of 1993. Plans were originally for a brigade-level operation, but, for financial reasons, this was scaled back for the time being to a (reinforced) company-level facility. However, within the Hungarian Defence Forces, the Centre has the organizational status of a regiment, due to its importance as a role model for the rest of the army, and it hopes to eventually expand.

The tender for applicants - since ordinary conscripts were not to be deployed - was announced at the beginning of 1994, with personal interviews of applicants, after screening by committee in May of that year. By the middle of June 1994, Lt.Col.Zoltán Horváth had taken command of the Centre, and the officers and NCOs of the peacekeeping company had been assembled and had undergone a brief immersion course on the proposed programme, the available facilities and on the types of missions envisaged on completion of the programme. On 1 July, the other ranks joined the company officially, opening ceremonies took place on 4 July, and actual training began the very next day.

The tender was open to all Hungarian citizens who had already completed mandatory military service, which now stands at 12 months. If the individual passed aptitude, medical and physical tests, he was granted an interview and, if this was successful, he would be invited to sign a two-year contract to serve with the Training Centre. Rank would be at least Private First Class with pay in-country fixed at 30,000 Hungarian forints a month before tax (approximately US$250) - 50 per cent more than the average junior HDF officer - and earmarked monthly wages of US$2,000 while deployed abroad. Board and lodging are provided free.

Each contractee is subject to a 90-day probation period, has 20 working days of annual leave and is entitled to leave the base in the evenings without prior permission, so long as he is back on parade and ready for duty by the start of the next day's training. This last privilege of Training Centre privates is unique and a first amongst HDF units.

In the event of a breach of contract, the trainee is liable for the refund of training costs up to that date. In the first company batch, there were only four drop-outs, all of which occurred in the probationary phase. Otherwise, probably due to the combination of good basic pay and realistic privileges, discipline at the base has been maintained at an unusually high level, especially when compared to units where the majority of soldiers are conscripts.

The Peacekeeping Forces Training Centre was designed on a layered basis, consisting of a permanent Control Component - permanent staff, logistics branch, personnel section and finance section; a permanent Training Component - combat training staff and technical training branch; a deployable Peacekeeping Company; and finally, a 12-man reserve/skeleton unit in case of a need for more ground staff, or replacements as a result of injuries or accidents. The permanent staff numbers 24 officers, 20 NCOs and 12 civilians.

The assembled peacekeeping company undergoes a four-month training period, the first month consisting of basic/refresher training in drill, marksmanship, nuclear/biological/chemical warfare protection, and so on. The next two months are devoted to specific systems training: on Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), mine clearance, etc. The last month is dedicated wholly to the specialities encountered in the peacekeeping scenario and specific UN procedures. These procedures include observation drills, check point management, searches, interposition and negotiations. Throughout, this is complemented by English language training, the number of hours taken being second only to the number dedicated to peacekeeping procedures.

As a result of the political consensus in Hungary concerning integration with Western security bodies, more than just UN norms are employed. For instance, the unit has done away with Soviet era abbreviations and map-marking, favouring instead the more comprehensible standard NATO versions. It is hoped such steps will aid any eventual cooperation with NATO forces, if and when necessary.

Armaments and equipment

As already stated, the Hungarian Defence Force has to cope with ever-decreasing funds for procurement and operations. Therefore, the options for equipping a new HDF unit, possessing a wholly new military mission, were somewhat limited. The purchase of completely new equipment was out of the question, yet it was realized that the existing resources could be just as effective in the new role, if a little imagination and ingenuity were employed. So, apart from the bullet resistant flak jackets which are issued, the new company does not have any special weapons or equipment. What it has at its disposal can also be found in other units of the HDF.

The Training Centre has two mirror-image vehicle parks, one in white, for eventual UN/OSCE deployment, and another in combat colours for training purposes. Each includes 11 domestically produced D-944 wheeled APCs and Russian made Ural, ZIL and GAZ transport trucks. There are also specialist DAC vehicles for fuel, water, etc., which are of Romanian origin. For the company commander there is also a 4x4 jeep.

As seen in former Yugoslavia, the work of the peacekeeper is at times most threatened by the lone urban sniper, therefore the Hungarian unit is equipped with the semi-automatic Russian-made SVD rifle, for counter-sniper operations. Heavier weapons include the FAGOT anti-tank missile and the disposable Russian LAW type rocket-propelled grenade as well as the IGLA anti-aircraft weapons system and the Romanian KPVT large machine gun.

Small arms are all Hungarian in origin, being the PA-63 pistol and the AMMSZ assault rifle.

The deployable reinforced company consists of 20 officers, 31 NCOs and 117 soldiers, with a total of 47 vehicles. The make-up of the company is three infantry platoons, two with three squads and one with two squads, plus a support platoon with anti-tank and air defence capability. There is also a logistics platoon, medical section and the Control elements.

Since 1988, the HDF has been involved in 11 UN or CSCE/OSCE-type missions, sending small numbers of unarmed officers with roles as observers. Four of these are still going on: UNIKOM (Iraq-Kuwait), OSCETG (Georgia), UNAVEM II (Angola), and UNOMIG (Georgia). The Hungarian army, therefore, has some experience of the difficulties involved in peacekeeping missions. However, since the Centre is the first full-size unit dedicated to peacekeeping missions in an armed capacity, it has endeavoured to foster professional relations with other more experienced peacekeeping bodies. The Centre itself sees frequent visits by delegations from NATO and non-NATO Scandinavian countries which are prepared to assist the Hungarian training programme. The staff of the Centre have also visited similar facilities in Norway, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and France, as well as US units stationed in Germany.

The first batch of recruits completed training towards the end of last year but due to political complications with their immediate deployment, they underwent a further period of sustainment training so as to maintain levels of operational capability. However, following recent parliamentary approval, the first historic operational deployment of Hungarian forces abroad since the collapse of the Iron Curtain was carried out in September when a contingent of 41 military police officers (including four women) was sent to join the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) which operate to uphold the Camp David agreements relating to the Sinai.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1995.