Foreign Policy / Hungarian foreign policy is national interest-based

Hungarian foreign policy is national interest-based

Hungarian foreign policy is national interest-based, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated on Monday at a conference held in Budapest on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs. Mr Orbán said in a perspective of a hundred years, Hungarian foreign policy has never before been as active and extensive as it has been in recent years.

In his address concluding the conference, the Prime Minister said countries in the great power status which have sufficient military and economic strength are able to command respect without having to remind their partners that this is their due. 

“We Hungarians are not a great power; yet, we lay claim to an independent foreign policy, and expect others – including those bigger than us – to accept this claim of ours,” he laid down. 

He added that this was a difficult task because “our relative advantage is low”; at the same time, a country of such ambition and size has no choice but to rely on its straight bearing and its robust and courageous stance, “the instinct not to run away, not to camouflage, not to find ways around in difficult situations, but to face the conflict.” 

Our most successful product on international waters is the very fact that while Hungary is only a country of ten million, it is nonetheless able to pursue an independent foreign policy, Mr Orbán stressed. 

He suggested that members of his audience not give in to the “siren voices” which attempt to lecture Hungary about how to adopt a well-behaved foreign policy attitude. 

He also said whenever during the course of its history Hungary was able to pursue a sovereign and independent foreign policy, that foreign policy was always centred around the prime minister.

Countries which are sentenced by history to setting more ambitious goals for themselves than would otherwise follow from their size or economic strength must hold “the rein of foreign policy” tight which means in the Hungarian constitutional system that “it is best if it is held by the prime minister,” he said. 

Mr Orbán mentioned among the cornerstones of an independent foreign policy that seeks to take the initiative, rather than follow others that if a country with no relative advantages wants to pursue an independent foreign policy, it must stand for a radical position. It should therefore have overarching visions, long-term, imposing but specific goals, plans and a strategy for how to become a strong country which is respected by others, he added. 

The previous government was even able to sum up the arguments against this in a most ingenious manner: “let us dare to be small,” he recalled their slogan. 
He said it is best if Hungary wants to be its own master, rather than the best disciple of another power. 

He pointed out that a radical position was necessary for tactical considerations in order to have something to yield from. Regarding the strategic aspect of this position, he said in the Hungarian language the word ‘radical’ means belonging to the root; in other words, we must stand for a position that grasps the essence of something. 

He mentioned as an example that the Hungarians do not conduct debates about the mechanism with which migrants should be distributed and integrated because these are technical questions, rather than matters relating to the essence. The question of essence for a Hungarian is whether migration is a good thing at all, while the debates of westerners never go this far.

He said despite all rumours to the contrary, the Hungarian foreign policy practice that “we keep our questions to the point” raises, rather than spoils Hungary’s prestige. That others do not speak in such a straightforward manner does not mean that they are not intrigued by these questions, he observed.

The circumstance that we are able to state our position not only to the point, but to also defend it both intellectually and in a political sense, and to then even fight for it, becomes a kind of trade mark; in actual fact, this is “the Hungarian soft power.” It is with the aid of this that we are able to enter into coalition with those who are unable to say what we say, but whose goals coincide with what we are talking about, he added. 

It is a widely held view that a radical insight leads to isolation, not to prestige; this view, however, does not meet with our experience, he stressed, adding that in a perspective of a hundred years, Hungarian foreign policy has never before been as active and extensive as it has been in recent years. 

A system of intensive western relations, “roaring easterly and southerly opening,” speed, capacity for action, trade, investments and connectivity – this is what this attitude brings with it, not isolation, he pointed out. 

Mr Orbán  stressed that a national interest-based foreign policy combines the best elements of idealism and realism. In this term, the word ‘national’ refers to the idealist element as the nation is primarily an ideal. At the same time, the word ‘interest’ is realism incarnate, a collective term for all things necessary, useful and practical, he explained. 

He said the most important task of a national interest-based foreign policy is to define in every situation what is the national interest, and to act accordingly. Such a foreign policy has intellectual content, conveys both principles and values, but continuously compels its employer to engage in flexible adaptation, he summarised. 

He said he believes in a system of extensive relations open in every direction, an arsenal of cleverly used “soft power” tools; this is what the true strength of Hungarian foreign policy lies in, and it is in this intellectual task that he expects the assistance of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs most. 

As Hungary’s foreign relations are becoming ever more extensive, there is an increased need for the work that interprets and identifies national interests in preparation for political decisions to be performed by the best-prepared experts of Hungarian foreign policy thinking, he highlighted. 

He spoke about the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs as a special intellectual division which will in the future help the work of the government and the prime minister through the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister and the prime minister’s political director.


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