Hungary’s acquisition of new military technology such as the Leopard tank is not just an equipment upgrade — it also highlights the need to change the command structure of the Hungarian Armed Forces and the civilian control represented by the Ministry of Defense, security policy analyst István Gyarmati writes in conservative daily Magyar Nemzet:
In 2019, Hungary began a reorganization of the Defense Ministry, the leadership of the Armed Forces and the general staff. These changes have triggered strong opinions, which is a good thing, even if some of those opinions are either ill-informed or have a political motivation. The present article does not claim to have the only viable solution for the challenges facing the Hungarian army, but our goal is to shed a light on the background of the changes and possibly also provide ideas for further fine-tuning.
Defense Minister Tibor Benkő properly summed up the changes in an interview: “We must create a ministry that is capable of directing the Hungarian Armed Forces, can provide the necessary conditions for the lawful and professional use of the available resources, and we also need a strong Hungarian military command. The organizations providing political oversight and military implementation must be separated.”
But what was the minister saying here? The crucial element of the current changes is to provide a solution to the age-old dilemma of how to ensure political and civilian oversight of the military without mixing the functions of the controlling bodies, meaning that the Defense Ministry cannot be both a political and administrative institution and part of the chain of command.
The current constitutional and legal framework is pretty clear: the minister leads the armed forces while the military command conveys the political expectations to the troops, while also ensuring the best possible use of existing resources.
The real question here is the exact position and role of the general staff. We should start from the point that its task is to provide planning and organization. This means that the task of the general staff is a more conceptional one, not one of hands-on leadership, which is the task of the commander of the armed forces.
The recent changes in the Hungary’s armed forces structure have solved part of the problem of the relationship between the ministry’s administrative secretary of state and the general staff. Now, their respective roles have been by and large defined by clearly designating the competences of the secretary of state and the chief of staff.
Have we established the ideal command structure? In our opinion, the established system is good, functional and able to respond to challenges. In light of experience, fine-tuning should be applied but the role of the general staff should possibly be revisited at a later date.
The technical modernization of the armed forces is both expensive and requires a different philosophy. By replacing the antiquated T-72 tanks with Leopards, we have adopted a technology that while conceived in the 20th century, is capable of being integrated into modern warfare, including information warfare.
Title image: Hungary’s new Leopard 2A4 (L) and Leopard 2 A7+ (R) tanks at a demonstration of the German manufacturer’s Munich plant on July 3. (MTI/Szilárd Koszticsák)