Extra Gripen C/D Jets and ‘Respect’ Grease Wheels for Hungary’s NATO Vote on Sweden

Hungary to Approve Sweden's NATO Bid, Orders More Gripens to Seal Reconciliation.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

One might have thought Turkey would be the last country to agree to Sweden’s request to join NATO. However, that wasn’t the case because Hungary was harder to deal with.

Hungary’s motives for delaying Sweden’s NATO application vary based on declared and assumed intentions. 

On the surface, it would appear that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is in favour of Sweden’s candidature, but he continued to insist that his party, Fidesz, demands “more respect” from Sweden before it will give its consent. On the other hand, opponents claim that Orbán is using the delay as a political leverage, maybe for motives unrelated to Sweden or NATO concerns. 

Several variables could explain Hungary’s confusing stance: 

Disagreements about Democracy: Hungary has received EU criticism for perceived democratic backsliding under Orbán. He and Fidesz could be responding to Swedish criticism of Hungary’s democratic deficiencies. 

Internal Politics: With a supermajority in parliament, Orbán may use the NATO issue to cement influence within Fidesz or force concessions from other NATO members. 

Unclear Demands: Unlike Turkey, Hungary has not specified requirements for sanctioning Sweden’s proposal. This ambiguity generates conjecture among NATO allies about Budapest’s intentions and irritation over the delay. 

While the rationale is most likely a combination of these factors, the complexities grow within the bluster. Ultimately, Hungary’s official argument contradicts allegations of ulterior political motives. Resolving this dispute will be critical to Sweden’s NATO membership.

Sweden and Hungary have maintained cordial military relations up until now. During the early 2000s, the Hungarian Ministry of Defence entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the Swedish manufacturer Saab to procure fourteen Gripen C/D fighter aircraft. The total value of the agreement was 555 million euros. Subsequently, the contract was extended until 2026.

Nevertheless, under the leadership of the conservative Viktor Orban, the Hungarian government expressed disapproval of what it termed “Sweden’s denigrative policy” regarding Hungary. It has condemned the “openly hostile attitude” of Swedish officials on multiple occasions. These officials have also been accused of “using their political influence” in Brussels to “harm the interests” of Hungary.

“We consider it necessary to dispel misunderstandings with Sweden before proceeding” to vote on its accession to NATO, said Zoltan Kovacs, spokesman for the Hungarian government, in March 2023.

Orban invited Ulf Kristersson, his Swedish counterpart, to visit Hungary in January to foster robust mutual trust via more intense political discourse. Ulf Kristersson, however, declined the invitation. “I see no reason to negotiate today,” he said before expressing readiness for “discussions,” particularly on “military cooperation.”

Kristersson finally went to Hungary on Friday. Their meeting was not the easiest to arrange. The relationship between the two countries has been contaminated. 

You’ll need trust and mutual respect. How else could we die for one another? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explained why it took so long to approve Sweden’s NATO application.

However, Hungary ought to expedite ratifying Sweden’s membership in NATO. Orban confirmed this, asserting that he had finally reestablished trust with Kristersson. The Hungarian parliament’s meeting to vote on the matter is expected to take place on Monday, February 26.

The Hungarian Prime Minister said it was the culmination of a year-long effort to rebuild confidence and that it was more than just a business settlement.

The Hungarian Prime Minister has also addressed the waiting period by stating that his party’s parliamentary group has been divided due to criticism of how Sweden has treated Hungary in other contexts.

In addition, Budapest will place an order for four additional Gripen C/D aircraft to solidify this reconciliation. According to Hungarian media, the Gripen agreement and NATO matters are unrelated.

“Hungary will purchase the aircraft and extend a related logistic contract,” Orban declared during the joint press conference with the Swedish Prime Minister on February 23. “This means that our commitment to NATO will be strengthened, and our participation in NATO joint operations will also develop,” he continued. And he added: “We don’t agree on everything, but we agree to cooperate as much as possible.”

This particular modification is an amendment to the agreement that was signed in 2001. The Hungarian Air Force will have sixteen Gripen C/D aircraft, or eighteen if the two aircraft lost in 2015 have been replaced.

“With the Gripen, Hungary has one of the most capable air forces in Europe. We look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the defence industry and the Hungarian government,” commented Micael Johansson, CEO of Saab.

The Hungarian Ministry of Defence and the Swedish company have reached an agreement to establish a “centre of excellence” and a “maintenance training programme assisted by artificial intelligence.” This is in addition to the four extra Gripens that will be purchased.


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