Hungary’s military spending means it’s no longer a ‘defense freeloader’

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Due to its intensive military modernization program, Hungary, which not so long ago disparaged by many of its Western NATO allies as a “defense freeloader,” is rapidly becoming the reliable and trustworthy partner within the alliance previous liberal governments never managed to achieve.

“This is a huge change compared with the unfulfilled promises we made when joining NATO because the armed force reductions disguised as ‘reforms’ of the previous socialist-liberal governments have made our international partners skeptical of our current efforts,” Szemán writes. First among the former Warsaw Pact members, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO in March 1999.

Just a few years ago, many of Hungary’s Western allies still doubted the country’s commitment that it will actually implement the promised armed forces developments. The first major change in Hungary’s image occurred in 2018 when the government signed its first major arms purchase agreements. Now that new helicopters, main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery pieces are arriving to Hungary and the related material, logistics and training infrastructure is taking shape, the last doubts seem to be dissipating.

The heavy mechanized battalion in Tata, central Hungary plays a major role in that image change. The unit took delivery of its first four Leopard 2A4HU main battle tanks in July, with another eight to be delivered by the end of the year. While these are for training purposes, the real deal will be the 44 Leopard 2A7HU state-of-the-art tanks scheduled to arrive in 2023. The heavy mechanized battalion will be complete with the arrival of the 24 Pzh 2000 self-propelled howitzers due in 2022. With these, the battalion will have procured all the equipment needed to make good of our promises to NATO.

The battalion will also be equipped with small arms made domestically under Czech license, and complemented with Swedish-made Carl Gustaf M4 anti-tank weapons.

So far Hungary also took delivery of nine of the 22 Airbus H145M light and H225M medium helicopters ordered in 2018, with the rest scheduled to arrive through 2023. Hungarian military sources said that this has fundamentally changed Hungary’s image within NATO, with its commitments now being carried out in a verifiable manner.

Last but not least, compared with the 0.8 percent of the GDP spent on defense in 2010 when the current conservative government came to power, that ratio will reach 1.6 percent next year, well on the way to meet the 2024 deadline by which time all NATO member states are expected to spend two percent on defense.

Title image: German-made Leopard 2A4HU main battle tank at the Tata military base in central Hungary. (Magyar Nemzet/István Mirkó)

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