Hungarian Ambassador Istvan Kovacs

The Way Ahead

Ambassador István Kovács
Permanent Representative of Hungary on the North Atlantic Council


What is the way ahead? My answer is that NATO has a bright future. Why? Because we have so many security challenges ahead of us, even unknown ones, that we obviously have a bright future.

On ACT, I want to say that it is an essential think tank for NATO, and during lean times, when we have financial economic crises and budget cuts, we have to use more of our brainpower, our gray matter, and we have to be more creative. I really believe that we can solve the way ahead by thinking a little bit more than we have in the past years.
I would also like to reflect on NATO’s way ahead with the Strategic Concept by touching on a few subjects. For one, I believe that NATO’s core function—one for all and all for one—will remain in the next Strategic Concept, and that collective defense will be foremost. Remember that NATO is foremost a political-military regional organization, but one that is faced with global challenges to its security. That is why you have seen NATO’s role in the past, especially during the past 10 years, going out of area, and it will remain this way even though we want to stay a political-military regional organization.

The Open Door policy will also be emphasized in the Strategic Concept, but it has to be in line, as it has been up to this day, with Article 10 and with the Preamble of the treaty. This means that Alliance security cannot be weakened by any new additional member, so any new member has to bring stability, security, or even enhanced value to the alliance.

On Afghanistan, I would say that, yes, it is one of the most important NATO operations and one of the most important for many others in ISAF. But at the same time, I do not believe that Afghanistan is the future of NATO. We want to be successful, to stabilize the situation, and to hand over to the Afghans the security for and the running of their own country, with an economy that can be reliable and not depend on opium. We will help them and even stay there after military operations are no longer needed, but I do not think that it is the future of NATO, and not even the future of the Strategic Concept, to be approved in Lisbon in November 2010, because the life span of the Strategic Concept is usually about 10 years—the last one was enacted in 1999. So we believe that, within the next 10 years, Afghanistan and the other KFOR operation in the western Balkans and Kosovo will be successfully finished.

The new Strategic Concept will focus, in addition to the coalition, on the organization and its reform. Why do we need reform within NATO? There are many reasons, but two reasons are for sure: one, to be more efficient, to have a command and control structure that can successfully deliver and is geared to the traditional challenges that we still have to take care of as well as to the new challenges; and two, for financial reform, because even though some countries are luckily coming out of the current financial crisis, defense budgets were hit this year and this will have a ripple effect in 2011 and even 2012.


Cuts are needed but to achieve real efficiency first and foremost we must use our brain and our creativity better. Reforms are also needed because of the new challenges that lie ahead of us. We also need to take care of the asymmetric challenges that we face in Afghanistan and the future challenges that we will deal with in the Strategic Concept: Cyber defense, energy security, climate change, and many other things. It is very difficult to identify the future challenges because who would have said just a couple of months ago that there would be the earthquake in Haiti, the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and an oil spill—these of course are not NATO’s tasks to take care of, but they did affect almost all of us, for example, because we could not fly normally. So there are challenges that we may not be able to identify now, and that is why we need a clear mind and the ability to be mobile and to be ready for even those things that we cannot write down in the security concept. My main message is that we should be ready, prepared, flexible, mobile, and take on the new security challenges from any source and anywhere in the world that they come from.


On partnerships, I believe that Russia will remain a special partner, and I predict that within this next Strategic Concept, that is, within 10 years, despite the stagnation we see today in NATO-Russia relations, Russia will become much closer and will be much closer when we have to deal with the next Strategic Concept in 2020. This is due to NATO and Russia’s rising common security challenges, such as terrorism, drug trafficking from Afghanistan, and a few others that we identified.

On Ukraine, I am certain that the country should remain a strategic partner of NATO despite the present turmoil, because we need Ukraine. Without becoming a NATO member, Ukraine should keep on track at least on the security side and we should continue our projects together. Of course, in the security concept, arms control and nonproliferation, both traditional and nuclear, will be issues, and I can tell you that the principle of consensus will be kept all across the board.


To conclude, all of us need to have a much better communication strategy as of yesterday, not as of tomorrow, because we often lose public support because we are not coherent in our communication message, not only in the field but also with the media. I think our publics are sometimes not told the whole story, for example, why we are in an operation in which our sons and daughters are doing the duty to keep us safe. I would say that NATO has a bright future because of the many security challenges that are ahead of us. I am cautious about how many future challenges we will face, but we will be ready.

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