The Hungarian presidency of the Visegrad Cooperation – for a stronger defence cooperation in Central Europe

Warsaw Security Forum 2014
Warsaw Security Forum 2014

Today countries of the Visegrad Cooperation (V4 - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) are facing a twofold pressure. On the one hand, the negative consequences of the economic crisis still have dramatic impacts on the defence expenditures of three of the V4 countries; on the other hand, the amortization of military equipment urges defence ministries to respond to the pressing need of modernization. This all happen in a security environment which is becoming  more and more fragile both at the eastern and southern borders of NATO and the EU.

Under these circumstances, any form of defence cooperation which increases synergies and cost-effectiveness among its participants is valuable and desirable. When Hungary took over the rotational annual presidency of the Visegrad Cooperation from Poland in July 2013, a strong commitment was clearly stated to direct defence-related initiatives towards a more visible and effective form of cooperation within the V4. Based on the achievements of the Polish presidency, Hungary vowed to establish those frameworks and political guidelines that enable the V4 to act on the European political scene with more visibility, credibility and with practical results. Thus, besides the bottom-up approach that characterised our cooperation in the past, a top-down approach has also been introduced to channel strategic intentions, which was manifested in the joint statement of our Prime Ministers last October. Due to the highest political attention, defence cooperation has become a flagship area of the V4 cooperation. The statement clearly defined the tasks to be fulfilled in the defence sector during the Hungarian presidency and even beyond.

One of the tasks was to organize common V4 exercises every year. The underlying idea was that common exercising would not only improve the interoperability of our forces, but would enhance the culture of cooperation, and could have a spill-over effect to other areas of cooperation as well. The second task was to strengthen defence planning cooperation among our countries. It is worthy of note, that the four states had already shared their defence and procurement plans with each other in 2013, but according to the tasking of the Heads of Governments, this should be regular, systematic and structured. The third tasking was to elaborate a long-term vision which would give further guidelines on how to move our defence cooperation forward in the long run. The existence of the strategy was also crucial from capability development point of view: if we wanted to see gains from our investments, we have to plan on the long-term and set our common goals in advance.

Long Term Vision on Deepening Visegrad Defence Cooperation

Elaborating a strategic document on how to improve our defence cooperation in the next 5 to 10 years was the most important tasking of the Prime Ministers. We have realized that besides talking about our present and near term projects we have to try defining those final goals or desired end state towards which we need to drive these projects. We need to investigate thoroughly and comprehensively all possible areas of cooperation and chose those ones where by making deals and compromises a win-win situation can be achieved in the future. This is not possible without suitable resources so we committed ourselves to at least maintain and once economic situation makes it possible, increase our defence spending in order to better align with the resource guideline in NATO’s Political Guidance.

The Long Term Vision of the Visegrad Countries on Deepening Their Defence Cooperation was signed on the 14th of March 2014. It focuses mainly but not exclusively on three critical areas: 1) capability development, procurement and defence industry; 2) establishment of multinational units and running cross border activities; 3) education, training and exercises.

Common capability development and procurement are based on harmonization of our defence plans. This process is enhanced by the Framework Document on Defence Planning Cooperation, which established the structure and mechanism to be in place in order to facilitate the identification and implementation of capability development areas and projects.

Establishment of common multinational units is a long term endeavour, which would provide the highest visibility and the greatest political benefits. With regard to the V4 EU Battlegroup, our experts have long argued that it should not be an isolated project. It should be part of a broader capability development and transformation strategy and should also be preserved for the future either as a periodically recurring Battlegroup, or some of its elements could be kept as a force package on the long run. The Long Term Vision provides an answer to this and building on the lessons learned from our V4 EU Battlegroup foresees the establishment of a common regional, modular unit, which could be offered for NATO, EU or other international purposes as well.

When it comes to defence cooperation we cannot forget about trainings and exercises, which is the best way of strengthening interoperability among our forces and provide high visibility to our cooperation. In the Long Term Vision we made a commitment to hold annual common V4 exercises starting from 2015, which is also a contribution from the Visegrad countries to NATO’s Connected Forces Initiative. In this context, I think we made a very wise and important decision last November when we initiated to link our V4 EU BG certification exercise to NATO’s high visibility exercise “Trident Juncture 2015”. With our joint participation, we could further reinforce the “V4 brand” and contribute to enhancing NATOEU cooperation besides saving money. I also believe that by building on the lessons of this exercise, we could make progress in the area of our annual V4 exercise, and we are going to be able to maintain and further enhance our cooperation.

To support the implementation of the objectives of the Long Term Vision, an Action Plan will be elaborated providing description of concrete joint projects and initiatives that are either being considered or are worth exploring for the future. The New Opening Concept circulated by Poland at the beginning of April contains very concrete project proposals which are needed to be taken forward and could serve as a basis for the Action Plan of the Long Term Vision.

The Visegrad Defence Planning Cooperation

Defence planning was one of the concrete areas where we laid down the foundation of enhanced cooperation.There has been a significant drive in the Visegrad Group to develop military capabilities together and identify projects from mutually beneficial capability development areas. The four countries have already shared their defence and procurement plans with each other and have also taken part in each other’s bilateral meetings with NATO. However, except for two projects that include all four Visegrad states (the multinational CBRN battalion and the Joint Logistic Support Group), we could account for little success in the field of capability development so far.

Under the Hungarian presidency, the four states recognized that there was a need for a structured defence planning cooperation that enabled the systematic exploration of defence and procurement plans, the selection of most promising areas of cooperation and the harmonization of plans accordingly. According to the defence planning document called “Framework for an Enhanced Visegrad Defence Planning Cooperation”, our defence planning cooperation would take the results of the NATO Defence Planning Process and it would be complemented by the products of the national defence planning processes and the experiences of the V4 EU Battlegroup force generation when identifying areas of common interest for capability development.

The document endorsed the basic principle that in case of major acquisitions it should be a general rule to first examine the possibility of a common or coordinated procurement, whether in quadrilateral, trilateral or bilateral formations. In this process we are striving to promote V4 defence industry in the best possible manner involving as much Visegrád defence companies as possible. We were aware that this idea might be somewhat controversial and would require a significant change in our working process, but it was an important step to take for the success of our cooperation.

As to the mechanism of cooperation, a new senior body was created which has an oversight of the defence planning cooperation and is responsible for the implementation of the Action Plan of the Long Term Vision. This body comprising of state secretaries, defence policy directors or armament directors depending on the agenda, is an integrated group which will have the capacity to overcome the obstacle caused by the differences in the institutional set-up of the four ministries of defence. Because in the past it was sometimes difficult to determine who should be responsible for discussing and preparing capability development and procurement projects on a below-ministerial level. The work of the senior body will be supported by the newly established V4 Planning Group, which is responsible for the expertlevel examination of defence and procurement plans. By these measures the synergy of the armament and defence planning side of the Visegrád Group will be achieved and the oversight of both the defence planning and the armaments sides will be ensured.

The V4 EU Battlegroup – the flagship project

The idea to establish the V4 EU Battlegroup (V4 EU BG) dates back to 2011, when – after many years of negotiations – V4 ministers of defence declared their intention to establish a V4 EU BG until 2016. This declaration indicated a permanent discussion about the way of activation and the rate of contribution of V4 EU BG. In 2012, Poland undertook the lead of the EU BG as a framework nation, and partners also started pronouncing their offerings. The next event that is essential to mention is the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding concerning the establishment and operation of the V4 EU BG in 2016. After the Letter of Intent was signed in Warsaw in March 2013, the Memorandum of Understanding finalizes the general principles for the V4 EU BG. The ceremonial signing of this latter document on the 14th of March, 2014 was one of the most important achievements of the V4 defence ministers meeting in Visegrad that day, and this common success can be deemed as both a worthwhile final act of our presidency and a forward-looking step in the history of V4 cooperation.

The V4 EU BG, which will be on standby in the first half of 2016, is based on a modular structure: capabilities of the Battlegroup depend on the nations’ offers. There is aunanimous consensus among V4 partners that main capabilities of the V4 EU BG shall be ensured by the members, and only further, additional capabilities can be created with the contribution of third states on a case-by-case basis.

Hungary considers the future of the V4 EU BG as a priority. Our national contribution with 670 troops pursues to be capable for various tasks. The Hungarian contribution consists of an infantry company and an infantry platoon for force protection duties, a JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) group, CAS (Close Air Support) and various forms of engineer, logistics, water purification, military health, reconnaissance, special forces and CIMIC (civil military co-operation) capabilities.

It is very important to examine how we can utilize the experience or even the units compiled for the V4 BG in the future, as the experience and the invested resources and energy should not be in vain. The V4 BG, therefore, could serve as the foundation of common multinational units, just as it is envisioned in the Long-term Vision of the Visegrad Group.

Way forward

As a concluding event of the Hungarian presidency, Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries issued the Budapest Declaration on the New Opening in V4 Defence Cooperation at their meeting on the 24th of June, 2014. Besides addressing issues as the Ukrainian crisis, the transatlantic partnership or the increase of defence budgets, Heads of Governments endorsed progress made in the defence sector during the period of the Hungarian presidency and gave further tasking to Ministers of Defence for the months to come. During the next Slovak presidency the Action Plan of V4 defence cooperation as well as the V4 Training and Exercise Strategy have to be elaborated and finalized. We have to make further steps towards forming a permanent V4 modular force and explore options of the common development and procurement project of universal tracked platform and wheeled armoured personnel carrier being a primary example to future cooperation among the V4 national defence industries in order to provide efficient solutions for the capability needs of the armed forces and to strengthen the national defence industrial bases.

I believe that our common efforts of the past year made a lasting impact on our cooperation. We are at the beginning of a long road, but the documents and other deliverables of our presidency constitute a good basis for our future work. Although we still have a lot to do, I believe that the Visegrad Group has a precious moment, since despite all the present economic hardships, the international environment is especially conducive to new, innovative initiatives.

Dr. Csaba Hende -Hungarian Minister of National Defence