- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Would-be prophets foretelling the demise of NATO, omnipresent in the alliance's 53-year-old history, will be proven wrong again. The past 13 months have once again witnessed the resurrection of the old "whither NATO?" debate where the relevance of the most successful military organization for 21st-century international realities has been questioned. Many saw their judgment reinforced in the way the war in Afghanistan had been conducted and wrongly concluded that Washington sees no further military value in NATO, which, for all practical purposes, would amount to the alliance's marginalization.

Countries that spent much of the past century on the darker and sadder side of history take a different perspective. Hungarians, just like other Central Europeans, continue to believe in NATO's sustained relevance because its foundations are sound, and its members still see it as the ultimate guarantor of their security and a most efficient instrument for advancing their interests. Supporting the accession of its neighbors and other qualified candidates, Hungary finds it reassuring to see that enlargement is right on track, and this November we are likely to invite the largest group of applicants in the history of the alliance. All these countries want to become part of an alliance that will remain strong, militarily effective and capable of efficient decision-making.

We have no doubt that the brutal terrorist attacks of September 11 represent a major turning point in the history of mankind. Their relevance and consequences can only be compared to such seminal events as the end of the Cold War and the division of Europe. Recognition of the need for unity then, as now, proved imperative for advancing the cause of a value-based international community. At the end of the Cold War it was the United States with a clear vision as to how to reintegrate countries of our region into the community of democratic nations that decided to play a pivotal role in reaching out to the nations of Central Europe.

Now terrorism has become a major threat to international security targeting our civilization and our values. The new situation has led the United States to concentrate its political and military might on fighting this new challenge. While standing shoulder to shoulder with Washington in building the international coalition necessary for an efficient campaign against the scourge of international terrorism, Hungary is committed to take its share from this joint struggle.

In our neck of the woods, trans-Atlantic solidarity is seen as being the sine qua non condition of European security. Europe and America need each other to fulfill their international aspirations.

A prospective EU member, Hungary is interested in developing a productive trans-Atlantic relationship based on the idea of "more Europe" but not "less America." We are conscious of the need for Europe to provide meaningful military contributions to make this a balanced and lasting relationship. In order to be relevant for new challenges, NATO needs to be transformed and equipped with modern defense capabilities. This must indeed be the key accomplishment of the upcoming NATO summit at Prague whose importance for the alliance's future cannot be overemphasized.

For its part, Hungary has started exploring useful niche capabilities that will enable it to make a considerable contribution to the alliance's New Capabilities Initiative. We also support the American proposal for a standing NATO Response Force that can be deployed quickly in or out of area to take on the full spectrum of NATO's missions.

The attacks on New York and Washington have reinforced our worst fears about the use by terrorists of weapons of mass destruction. It is imperative and of immediate importance that we act to prevent these weapons whether nuclear, biological or chemical from being used against us. We cannot allow ourselves to be exposed to any form of international blackmail if the international democratic community is to prevail.

To this end, NATO will not only have to take a significant leap toward enabling its forces to defend themselves and the civilian population against such threats, but the rationale for an allied missile defense system has also received a significant boost. Hungary is committed to participating in the creation of such a protective shield capable of effectively frustrating destructive designs by irresponsible forces from the margins of the international system.

Our history, rich in foreign occupation and struggle for independence, has taught us to appreciate our newfound place in a community where our values are shared. Through the centuries, we have also learned the importance of friends on whom we can count in times of need. We will always remember the words uttered by the head of American diplomacy on the occasion of our accession to NATO in 1999: "Never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips on a bargaining table. You are truly allies; you are truly home."

In good and bad times, the United States too can count on its Hungarian ally.

Laszlo Kovacs is Hungary's minister for foreign affairs.

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