Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Hungarian Military and the War on Terror1

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Hungarian Military and the War on Terror1

Article excerpt

Introduction and Overview

An assessment of the Hungarian military's experience during the Afghanistan war has to start with an assessment of connections of key variables in a broader context. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 are, to some extent, the source of the ultima ratio behind Hungary's involvement over the last decade in the Central Asian country, yet the connection is less direct than what is often asserted in sweeping generalisations, and therefore it needs critical examination.

It is a recurring statement by journalists and other public commentators that the hijacked aircraft that crashed into their respective targets on September 11 in 2001, or went down with passengers fighting the hijackers on board, changed the world we live in. In fact, the empirical reality of the overall phenomenon of terrorism may not have changed decisively, as the jihadi terrorism of al-Qaida seems to have remained the exception rather than the rule in light of world trends, as reflected in statistical data on terrorism incidents.2 The events of more than ten years ago may have shaped important world events, but the system of international relations has remained largely unchanged since the end of the Cold War. As Richard N. Haass, former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department (2001-2003), noted in relation to the tenth anniversary of the attacks in 2011:3 "September 11, 2001, was a terrible tragedy by any measure, but it was not a historical turning point. It did not herald a new era of international relations in which terrorists with a global agenda prevailed, or in which such spectacular terrorist attacks became commonplace. ... The most important developments of the last ten years have been the introduction and spread of innovative information technologies, globalisation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the political upheavals in the Middle East."

Moreover, the terror attacks of 9/11 and the war on terrorism directly and immediately launched in their wake had no major effect on Hungary whatsoever. Neither terrorism in general, nor the global jihadi terrorism of al-Qaida, seemed to pose a particular threat to Hungary.

In 2001, Hungary was, nevertheless, a new member of NATO. It was one of those Central Eastern European countries among the post-socialist Soviet satellite states that, at the end of the Cold War, showed the most promising development in its transformation to a liberal democratic system. The Hungarian political elite not only expressed from the beginning the intention to dissolve the Warsaw Pact and to integrate with transatlantic structures, but to this end was ready to be proactive in taking necessary policy measures, including in military matters, and was ready to bear the risks involved.

Ambassador András Simonyi, who in the beginning of the 1990s was leading Hungary's Brussels embassy, spoke at a conference at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs about how, at the time of the outbreak of the Yugoslav war, the U.S. asked for permission from Hungary to fly NATO AWACS aircraft in Hungarian airspace.4 The Hungarian political leadership feared that if they allowed these, otherwise unarmed, aircraft to use Hungarian airspace to this end, the Yugoslav leadership might retaliate in some limited way or respond with measures against the Hungarian ethnic minority in Voivodina. Assessing the likely implications, Budapest nevertheless went ahead in giving the green light to the U.S., effectively without any guarantees as regards the perceived dangers. NATO and the U.S. interpreted this as an indication of serious commitment and trust. Hungary's active participation in the NATO-initiated Partnership for Peace programme demonstrated the same commitment. In the Bosnian Interim Force/Stabilisation Force (IFOR/SFOR) mission from January 1996, Hungary took part with a unit of combat engineers, in battalion strength, a contribution which qualified as proportionally significant among the NATO allies, even though Hungary was not yet a member of the organisation. …

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