INTRODUCTION OF DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OVER THE MILITARY
The Experience of Hungary
This morning I will speak about the Hungarian experience in introducing democratic control over the armed forces.
The term `democratic control of the military`, or `civilian oversight`, was a new concept, an innovative idea of the political transition of the early 1990s. The objective to have a democratically controlled army was formulated by the first freely elected parliament and it has been an important political issue throughout the decade. It has been important not because of fear from an eventual military coup, Central Europe had no putchist tradition, consequently the probability of a military take-over was close to zero in the transition from the authoritarian rule to a democratic one.
1./ Legacy of the previous High Command structure: a Challenge for the Military Reform
Studies published on the subject of civil-military relations in the Central European countries often enumerate some basic conditions as being essential for an effective democratic control over the armed forces:
-Clear legal-constitutional division of authority between the president and government (prime minister and defense minister) in their relations with the armed forces;
-Significant role of Parliament in legislating on defense matters, in giving budget approval and controlling spending;
-Government control of the general staffs, and of the military commanders through civilian defense
-Restoration of the military prestige and effective accountability of the armed forces.
The topic of this paper is the evolution of the defense organizational structure in Hungary. Consequently, I will deal with all aspects mentioned above, but I will focus essentially on the inter-relationship among the main constitutional actors (the Parliament, the President and the Prime Minister), and the organizational issues related to the Defense Ministry and General Staff.
Hungary, unlike to countries of Western Europe and North America, is not an established democracy. This is a new (or more precisely: revived) democracy, where the multiparty system and the rule of law have returned after a break of four decades.
In this country, similar to Poland, democracy came about through a gradual evolution, a progressive rejection of the system by an increasingly emancipated society. The process reached its culminating point in the late l980s, namely in the talks, which began in 1989 between the emerging democratic opposition and the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. The 'National Round-Table' dialogue was the main instrument of a negotiated settlement which led to the first multi-party elections in 1990.
In the political transformation which followed the first free elections, the establishment of democratic control over the military was a major innovative concept. This was a new idea in my country - and in the whole region - because of the absence of such tradition in the Communist and even pre-Communist time. Both the domestic political changes and the external expectations – the wish to join NATO and European Union and respect their membership requirements – pushed the Central European countries to introduce the concept of democratic control.
In this respect an important legislative process took place especially in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. To take the case of Hungary, the security and defense concept were adopted in 1993, followed by the Defense Law the same year. In 1995 the National Assembly passed the Bill on National Security and in 1996 it adopted the Service Law (‘The Law on the Statute of the Soldier’).
Due to the progress in legislation on defense matters, the legal constitutional ambiguity constitutes today a much smaller problem than in the early 1990s. The focus of the public debates has switched from legal matters to the institutional-organizational ones; from the Law to its implementation, to the political procedures and attitudes, to the elements of political culture.
In the issues regulated by these legal documents, very often it was extremely difficult to reach a multiparty agreement. For instance the Defense Law covers almost the whole domain of civilian control over the military. It stipulates a complex system of "checks and balances" whereby the Cabinet, the Parliament and the President of the Republic all individually have a say in matters of defense policy. In this sharing of power and competencies, all parties both in government and in opposition were closely and directly interested.
To understand the complexity of the problem, we should emphasize that Hungary is a parliamentary type of political system and not a presidential one. (It is closer to the German or Italian constitutional models, than to the US or French government systems.) There are six parties in the National Assembly, and the parties constituting the parliamentary majority form the Cabinet led by the Prime Minister. The head of state, the President is elected by the Parliament and not by the population, through direct vote. Compared to the Prime Minister, the President has mostly representative, ceremonial functions, although his constitutional role as Supreme Commander of the armed forces does have a political significance in matter of defense. This was demonstrated in the legal-political debate, which broke out in Hungary, in the early 1990s over the key issue: 'who controls ultimately the Hungarian Armed Forces'. This debate was necessary because both the Constitution and the organizational structure of the High Command contained ambiguities and contradictions. This was of course a legacy of the past, but no defense reform was possible without confronting this legacy.
Before 1990 the organizational structure of the High Command was relatively simple: the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Defense and the supreme military commander were merged in the hands of one person. The minister was simultaneously a member of the government, and the highest rank uniformed officer; in the general Warsaw Pact model, his first deputy served always as Chief of General Staff. Despite the fact that the Defense Minister was member of the Cabinet, the influence of the body on the military matters were negligible. The whole defense organization was under the direct control of the Communist Party, more specifically its Political Bureau.
In March 1990, the Hungarian reform-Communist government decided to separate the two functions, delineating the defense minister and from the military commander. This led to a split of the MOD; a small ministerial apparatus was created and it remained under direct government control The General Staff merged with a newly created High Command of the Hungarian Armed Forces. This resulted in an unusual arrangement in the line of command, as it is presented on the chart no. 1. annexed.
Line of Command of the Hungarian Armed Forces Following the
The declared and publicized intention of this action was to isolate the armed forces from party influences, to keep its ‘political neutrality’ considering especially the approaching free elections. The separation however was 'too successful'; it went too far, it made very difficult to the government to reach the General Staff, and the Army as whole, with its policy decisions.
In terms of policy making, the division has lead to a much scaled-down Ministry of Defense and a very large military High Command, which initially reported first to the President of Republic, and second to the Government (via MOD). In this organizational scheme the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense practically were left out of the chain of command. The split, left a poisoned legacy to the first democratically elected government, because of its ambiguity of ultimate control over the military, and because of its bureaucratic irrationality (duplication of several functions: for instance, in the area of defense economy, military international contacts).
This situation, on the one hand, confused the military leadership about its duties to whom to report and when. On the other, especially in 1991-92, the military also benefited from the unclear circumstances around civilian control and increased its independence vis-a-vis the political establishment as a whole. This was, no doubt, and undesirable tendency from the point of view of a democratic and effective civilian control.
These ambiguities led to political clashes between the Prime Minister and the President, and also confronted the Defense Minister and the military commander. These conflicts were not personal in nature, they were structural, they were preprogrammed by the described organizational arrangement.
In its dispute with the President over the issue of High Command, the Hungarian Cabinet asked for legal interpretation and clarification from the Constitutional Court.
In the legal controversy the Prime Minister's and the Defense Minister's argument was based primarily on the fact that, in terms of the Constitution, Hungary is a parliamentary democracy, where the cabinet is responsible before the Parliament for the conduct of overall policy, including that of defense. One cannot be responsible for policy- implementation, without having the necessary tools of direct control over the Forces. The opposing argument of the head of state was essentially based on his responsibility as Supreme Commander, who can eventually play a critical role in national defense, especially in case of emergency. Departing from this constitutional stipulation the President regularly asked reports from the High Command and sometimes even intervened in professional military planning and command.
In 1991 the Constitutional Court was consulted and ruled in favor of the government (MOD). It gave to the Ministry of Defense a legal argument to reinforce its control over the High Command/ General Staff in both political and organizational terms. It limited presidential powers; it ruled that the President as Commander in Chief may only render guidelines to the military instead of issuing orders.
Later, in 1993 the drafters of the Hungarian Defense Bill incorporated the main aspects of the 1991 ruling of the Constitutional Court.
2./ The Defense Law – Its Impact on the High Command Structure
The adoption of the Defense Law was instrumental in the delineation of responsibilities of the main political actors in matters of defense.
According to the Bill, the Parliament plays a primary role in defining the priorities of defense policy. The National Assembly decides the defense budget, the manning level of the armed forces, the balance between the services, and the main directions for the development of military technology. In accordance with the Constitution, it has the power to declare a state of emergency and a State of Exigency (Extraordinary Readiness). Tied to this are the details of how Parliament can establish the National Defense Council (in other countries, sometimes referred to as 'the War Cabinet').
The President of the Republic is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He appoints and promotes general officers as proposed by the Minister of Defense.
In the event of Parliament being prevented from passing decisions concerning the state of war, the President has the authority to make such declaration. There are however safeguards against abuse of power. The head of state cannot act on his own, but he has to act jointly with the Speaker of Parliament, the President of the Constitutional Court and the Prime Minister. Another safeguard is that such action has to be reviewed by the National Assembly as soon as possible to decide upon the lawfulness of the measures taken.
In war time the National Defense Council has the authority to decide on operational deployment of the forces at home and abroad. The council is chaired by the President and has its members the Prime Minister, the members of government, the Speaker of the Parliament as well as the Chief of General Staff.
In peacetime the government directs the operation of the Hungarian Armed Forces.
They are directly subordinated to the MOD, which has administrative responsibilities over the Army. The Defense Ministry must execute the defense policy, which the Cabinet defined and the Parliament approved. The Bill also stipulated that the political authority will not interfere with the military chain of command, which is coordinated from above by the General Staff. On the other hand, it is the duty of the military High Command to communicate to the political decision-makers 'feedback' from the armed forces concerning requirements.
The newly defined power of the Cabinet is important when it comes to the question of 'limited deployment' in case of emergency. In the early 1990s Hungary found itself in a quickly degrading, volatile security environment.
As part of the fundamental changes in its close neighborhood, it witnessed the disintegration of three multi-ethnic states, with which it shared common border: Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
Since 1991 three independent successor states of the former Yugoslavia: Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia have become Hungary’s direct neighbor. The war which was broke out on its southern borders between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims has affected Hungary seriously and most directly.
Especially during its initial phase, the Yugoslav conflict meant frequent violations of the Hungarian airspace and borders.
It is difficult to believe that during most of the time of the conflict, neighboring Hungary had a constitutional arrangement which made rapid military reaction for an eventual attack virtually impossible. In the initial stage of the transition, the Parliament introduced an amendment to the constitution which strengthened to the extreme the checks on the executive branch. Only the National Assembly had the authority to make decisions concerning the use of the armed forces.
This cautious regulation was, to some extent, understandable at the initial stage of the political transition. Members of Parliament remembered about bad experiences during the Communist time. The memory of Hungary’s participation in the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops was one of the motivations to amend the constitution in 1990 in order to limit strictly the rights of the Cabinet in sending armed forces abroad. Since then the deployment of the forces required a two-third majority vote in the Parliament. In case of emergency, neither the Cabinet, nor the military leadership was entitled to react rapidly. Mobilization ordered by the Assembly would be extremely slow.
The Defense Law of 1993 has softened the restrictive rules concerning emergency deployment. The regulation if force stipulates that in case of surprise air or ground attack immediate actions have to be taken by the Cabinet, while simultaneously informing of the key constitutional actors, such as the Parliament and the President. The opposition finally gave up its reservation to enlarge the government's authority at this point. Previously fears were expressed that the government might misuse the extended power, which is provided to it by the concept of 'limited deployment', and this leads to the weakening the parliamentary control. Finally, the inclusion of guarantees (e.g. the government is obliged tosimultaneously inform the Head of State and the President of the Assembly about the actions taken) neutralized the initial objections.
As a whole, the Defense Bill of 1993, has constituted an important milestone in the whole process establishing civilian control over the military in Hungary. It has contributed to the clarification of the respective spheres of authority of the National Assembly, the President and the Government.
Obviously it did not solve all problems which might arise in such a complex relationship. A new Constitution is currently under preparation by the Parliament, which might add to further legal development in this regard. However, one should bear in mind, that the described problems of power-sharing in Hungary and elsewhere in Central Europe, are only partly legal-constitutional. They are also, and probably first of all: political. Consequently, no magic solutions can be expected from constitutional texts alone.
The described Hungarian conflict over the issue of High Command showed a remarkable similarity with other Central European 'Cabinet (MOD) versus President' debate. In the 1990s in Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and to a lesser degree in the Czech Republic the unclear subordination of the armed forces to the main political actors disturbed the smooth relations between the military and the civilian politics. In these countries too, constitutional ambiguity in matter of authority provoked originally the dispute, which was sharpened later on by party-political differences which frequently opposed the head of state to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.
This conflict was an important one in the early 1990s in several Central and Eastern European countries. Due to the legal and political efforts to find workable arrangement, the significance of the problem has considerably decreased today. At the present, structural issues related to the High Command and the organization of the Defense Ministry are in the center of the political and experts’ debates.
3./ Current problems of defense organizational structure in Hungary
Speaking about the current problems of defense organizational structure in Hungary, we should return to the question of the separated Defense Ministry. In 1990 the former large MOD was divided into two entities. A very small Ministry remained part of the government and the General Staff, as an autonomous organization was subordinated to the President.
In 1990, the first civilian Minister of Defense inherited a numerically weak Ministry because most of the personnel and the functions were transferred to the separate General Staff. In addition to that, this was a remnant of a military Ministry and not a Ministry of Defense. Very few civilians were employed, administrative and public service positions were occupied by military officers. That Defense Ministry was supposed to deal exclusively with social and political matters with which the Parliament was concerned.
The ambition of the new administration was
First, to invite more civilians, more civil servants to the Defense Ministry (this was not easy, because of the lack of expertise among civilians on defense matters);
Second, to re-integrate the General Staff to the Ministry, or at least subordinate the military command to the decisions of the Cabinet.
This presentation focuses on the problem of the subordination. In 1991, after the decision of the Constitutional Court, the Hungarian MOD strengthened the government control over the armed forces. The Court ruled that the defense minister has the authority to give direct orders to the commander. As a result, a partial organizational reform was introduced, which - subordinated the military command/general staff to the defense minister, but- did not incorporate these bodies into the structures of the Ministry. (The new arrangement is presented on the chart no. 2. annexed.)
GEN. STAFF STATE SECR.1. STATE SECR.2. STATE SECR.3.
The Defense Law of 1993 provided legal grounds to more extensive reforms; to the re-integration of the General Staff to the Ministry. For the implementation of this concept several international experiences, especially the British and the German model of High Command was studied. In early 1994 the political decision on the reintegration was made by the Cabinet, but after the national elections of May a new coalition came to office, and it reversed the decision of the previous government. The separation remained, and the organizational arrangement presented on the chart no. 2., as far its substance is concerned, is still valid today.
This fact raises several problems:
First, the described arrangement has made the implementation of the principle of the democratic control over the military more difficult. The Ministry with a small staff of 300 has depended on the staff work of the military command with some 3000 personnel. Plans and projects prepared by the Ministry depended on the information and data provided by the General Staff. Consequently the latter has had unlimited possibility to influence, or even manipulate decisions. The Ministry still now lacks the necessary staff to prepare alternative proposals.
Second, the separated Ministry and Army Command contradicted to the practice of most of the established democracies which have an integrated MOD. Obviously our partners have been looking for compatible organizational structures when dealing with the Hungarian defense sector. Even currently the absence of compatibility makes international cooperation more difficult.
Third, the separation has created several problems in the chain of command and it has contradicted to bureaucratic rational. Two parallel organizations performing parallel functions have been developed. There is only one point where these two structures meet, and this is the person of the minister. He is responsible for two separate organizations that are supposed to communicate and cooperate.
However, frequently this is not the case. There are very few contacts and communications on the horizontal working levels. Documents go up to the top for decision and come down to working level in the other institution. This slows down the decision-making process, results in overlaps and counterproductive bureaucratic fights: waists of time, money and energy.
The incorporation of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry has not been a specific Hungarian problem either. Other Central European countries, for instance Poland, knew this type of tensions not long ago. Poland, however succeeded in solving this organizational dilemma, and directly connected the two structures at the end of last year. Hungary is also expected to do similar move, but probably this process will be concluded only after the next year general elections.
4./ The Parliament's Defense Committee and the Organization of High Command
The Committee currently has 19 members: 13 MPs from the government side and 6 MPs from the opposition side.
Seven Parliamentarians served already in the previous Defense Committee of the Assembly, among them the current chairman and the two vice-chairmen of the Committee, assuring in this way a kind of personal continuity in the parliamentary oversight of the defense matters. Another element of continuity of civilian control is that former Minister of Defense, Lajos Für, who had the office between 1990-1994, is member of the Committee on behalf of his Party now in opposition.
The Defense Committee also includes three retired generals: a lieutenant-general (ret) and a major-general (ret) from the opposition parties, and a major general (ret.) from the governing majority side. The three deputies were already retired from service, when their names were put on the electoral list of their parties, and subsequently took their seats in the Assembly.
Since 1990, the Defense Committee, has become a real, functioning institution, compared to its "window-dressing" counterpart of the same name, which existed under the Communist system. As a new democratic institution, however, especially at the outset, it had some of the typical difficulties of the emerging pluralist order.
Most of the Committee members lacked both parliamentary and defense expertise; nor did they have experience in developing communication-channels between legislative and executive branches. For instance, it was not clear which kind of information MPs can or should require from the Ministry of Defense.
At the initial stage, there were no regulations, how classified data should be treated in such cases. How the legitimate demands of deputies for access to information can be meshed with the not less legitimate demand of safeguard of the same information? How issues can be debated without violating fundamental needs for military secrecy?
Budgetary limitations have constituted another problem. The deputies frequently have lacked the necessary financial and professional-technical assistance (advisors, experts), what that representatives in established and affluent democracies very often have in order to perform correctly their duties.
In spite of these problems, the increasing activity of the Defense Committee should be acknowledged . MPs have got more and more domestic and international expertise. Party political concepts have become increasingly articulated in connection with defense policies. The Committee has been especially active in the area of budget decisions and control of spending. It has listened to regular reports from representatives of the General Staff and to briefings from top officials of the Defense and Foreign Ministries, and from the military intelligence and counter-intelligence. Senior leaders of the MOD and of the High Command have regularly been called for hearing before their official nominations to their post.
Projects of saving the failing Hungarian military industry in form of restructuring, privatization or conversion, have been often discussed in the Committee. Despite the fact, that the ratio of the war industry in this country was less significant in the general industrial output, than that in Poland or (ex)-Czechoslovakia, its difficulty of survival in the general context of shrinking markets was a standing issue for the Defense Committee.
Questions related to the moral and discipline within the Army, have figured frequently, with heated debates, on the Defense Committee's agenda. Since 1990, a number of criminal offenses, major breaches of discipline (abuse of power by superiors, hazing of recruits by older soldiers) came to light as a consequence of greater transparency in the armed forces. MOD and General Staff officials, military prosecutors briefed the Committee on the facts, and the measures, taken for improvement were discussed in sessions open to the media.
On some occasions, the Defense Committee has initiated investigations concerning financial scandals in the armed forces, which have been not infrequent in the last five years. In the early 1990s, one of the best known of such scandals in Hungary was 'the case of the oil-colonels'. It involved some senior military persons from the economic management of the Forces, who were accused - and later found guilty by court - of corruption and criminal abuse of their oversight over the Army's gasoline-reserve. The opposition MPs and the press heavily attacked the 'serious negligences' which were revealed also in the monitoring system of the MOD and the High Command in this area.
The material damage caused by the stealing was considerable. Bigger was however the moral and political harm of these acts in the period 1992-93, when both MOD and military leadership tried to gain public and parliamentary support for a larger - more adequate to the real needs - defense budget.
To conclude, let me mention two problems related to the issue of High Command structure:
First, the status of defense intelligence. In Hungary there are four intelligence offices: two civilians and two military. Prior to 1990 the military security activity was carried out by the Ministry of Interior. After the political change a separate organization was created for this function, and it was transferred to the authority of Armed Forces.
For years, the military command directly controlled two organizations. One is the Military Security Office, which deals with counter-intelligence and operates within Hungary. The other is the Military Intelligence Office, which operates internationally. The minister of defense had only supervising authority over these bodies, which were incorporated into the military command, and directly subordinated to the Chief of the General Staff. Consequently the Defense minister did not have proper capability in matters of intelligence and depended on the military command in this respect.
In 1995, an ‘Act on National Security’ was adopted by the Parliament. The Law provided grounds also for organizational re-arrangements between Hungarian MOD and military command. As a result, currently the chiefs of two intelligence offices report directly to the Minister. Their activity are overseen by two Parliamentarian committees: the Defense Committee and the National Security Committee of the National Assembly. Parliamentarians receiving classified information concerning defense and security of the country are responsible for these data, and are bound by their oath for the proper safeguard of the same information.
Second problem is the lack of a high level inter-agency body which is engaged in formulation of national security policy. Such an organization (similar to the KSORM in Poland) has to implement long term planning of security matters, based on a comprehensive risk analysis. This body could be placed under the Prime Minister and has to coordinate the respective activity of several ministries, namely Defense, Foreign Affairs and Finances. It could be also very important component of the democratic control over the armed forces. If created in the future, it will certainly influence the general procedure of long term defense planning in Hungary.