Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Transit to Bosnia, NATO Heads East HUNGARY'S ANGST

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Transit to Bosnia, NATO Heads East HUNGARY'S ANGST

Article excerpt

FOREIGN troops have often swept across Hungarian soil over the past 1,000 years. This time, though, they'll be invited.

Hungary's lawmakers, eager to join the West's military alliance, on Tuesday approved NATO's use of southern Hungary as a staging ground for peace-enforcement troops in Bosnia.

US-led NATO commanders are likely to use the town on Kaposvar as the logistical support for the 20,000 American troops to be based in Tuzla, Bosnia, roughly 150 miles away.

NATO officials worry that if the logistic center were in the former Yugoslavia, it would be vulnerable to attack from forces opposed to the Nov. 21 peace accord reached in Dayton, Ohio.

The decision to host NATO has divided this small nation of 10 million. Debates about whether to join NATO and the European Union - if invited - have illuminated starkly contrasting visions of the future for this European nation.

Kaposvar offers NATO two garrisons virtually empty because of drastic cuts in the Hungarian military. And in the nearby village of Taszar, the military airfield's runway is the only one in the region large enough to handle large military transport planes carrying heavy tanks and artillery.

Brussels has yet to decide how many NATO personnel will be stationed here. And awaiting the go ahead from Washington is the US 1st Armored Division in Germany, expected to contribute the bulk of the US contingent.

They will have access to rail links and 10 border crossings into the former Yugoslavia; an army hospital in Pecs, a tourist town 10 miles from Croatia; and R & R jaunts to nearby Lake Balaton, where most Hungarians vacation.

Western alliances

Membership in both NATO and the EU is a major thrust of Hungary's foreign policy and is presented as a panacea for healing Hungary's woes. Protection from the Russians has become secondary, overtaken by the drive to lure investment. The ruling socialist-liberal coalition duly notes that investors prefer to sink their money into stable, secure countries.

By contributing to the peacekeeping mission, Hungary will be prove itself to be a cooperative partner and improve its chances for NATO acceptance.

But the voices against NATO membership are growing stronger. Wishing for a neutral "Hungarian Switzerland," the opposition Worker's Party last week submitted to the electoral commission a petition bearing 100,000 signatures, demanding a nationwide referendum on NATO entry.

Visit could be a boost

NATO advocates hope the alliance's anticipated one-year stay will help make their case for membership. But hosting NATO is also a move aimed at political survival: The coalition must somehow demonstrate to voters seething over economic austerity measures that Hungary is inching closer to the West.

Complete civilian control of the military and compatibility with NATO technology and training are two major hurdles to NATO alliance. …

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