ISDS Analyses

In-depth analytical papers on current strategic affairs in Hungarian and/or in English. 

Click here for the Hungarian publications 


Hungarian public opinion on security, defense and threats (2021)

The Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies (ISDS) conducted a new societal survey to analyze the main characteristics of Hungarian security perception. This analysis presents the primary results of the survey, specifically high-lighting the societal attitudes and knowledgeconcerning defense expenditures, military capabilities, allies and threats.

Authors: András György Deák - Alex Etl - Zoltán Felméry

Full article: 2022/6. pdf


Filling the two percent gap – An update on Hungarian defense spending trends

The 2022 defense budget proposal, requesting a 225 billion HUF cap to the current 778 billion, totaling 1,003 billion HUF (2.78 billion EUR) for 2022 has been approved by the Hungarian Parliament on June 25, 2021.This constitutes a 28.9 per cent year-on-year increase in nominal terms, continuing the generally increasing trend since 2015 and adding the fourth consecutive year of resource expansion, driven by the ‘Zrínyi’ Armed Forces Modernization Program. Following upon the scenario modelling in which we argued in 2019 that the previously politically committed annual increase of 0.1% of the gross domestic product (GPD) must be surpassed to meet NATO commitments, now we provide a reality check and update to the trend analysis. Furthermore, we point out how the gap to the 2 per cent NATO commitment, or the ‘missing dividend’ is being filled after a decade of neglect.

Authors: Tamás Csiki Varga – Zsolt Lázár
Full article: 2021/5. pdf

Escalating tensions between Turkey and Greece: turbulence in the Eastern Mediterranean

Historically, Greece and Turkey had many controversies ranging from minority issues to border disputes. However, the rivalry between the two neighbours has reached a new level during 2019 and 2020.

Ankara’s maritime delimitation agreement with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) signed on 27 November 2019 has been a turning point. The agreement did not only grant a huge portion of Greece’s EEZ but also signalled that Ankara was ready to join the regional Great Game which provoked other powers’ reactions.

During 2020, Turkey sent survey ships with military escort to the contested area in order to reach an agreement that assures its rights. Meanwhile, Greece tried to secure allies within the region and within the European Union as well. Eastern Mediterranean energy, security and political dynamics helped Athens to strengthen its position, but it was not able – despite the backing of strong allies within the EU – to solve the ongoing maritime question and push Turkey back. 

In August 2020, a Greek and a Turkish ship collided, demonstrating that tensions between the two neighbours can escalate further. Although the possibility of a war remains low, the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Greece will trigger negative effects for the whole region and will still remain on the agenda in 2021.

Thus, the paper intends to analyse the main disputes between Greece and Turkey and also outline the two countries’ relation within the Eastern Mediterranean context. While the ‘traditional’ controversies, like border issues in the Aegean basically remained at bilateral level, the situation is much different in the Mediterranean where the rivalry of two countries has recently become part of the regional power struggle and the result will be shaped by the interplay of various regional actors and the involvement of extra-regional great powers. 

Author: Zoltán Egeresi

Full article: 2021/4. pdf


Hungary’s new National Security Strategy – A critical analysis

The government of Hungary adopted a new National Security Strategy (NSS 2020) titled ‘Secure Hungary in a changing world’ in April 2020. The new document replaced the previous NSS of 2012, which has widely been considered outdated since 2014-2015, when three strategic shocks drastically changed the European security environment. These were the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the migration and refugee crisis, and the emergence of Daesh, resulting in a wave of terrorist attacks also in Europe. This analysis offers a critical evaluation of the new NSS through textual and contextual analysis, pointing out the most important changes and highlighting a ‘mature’ and realist strategic culture that a mid-size Central European country has adopted for the 2020s.

Author: Tamás Csiki Varga

Full article: 2021/1. pdf


The perception of the Hungarian security community

The Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies began to analyze the perception of security in Hungary, based on the results of a representative social survey and 10 semi-structured interviews that were conducted at the Ministry of Defense during the autumn of 2019.  As a follow-up to this initial research project, the perception of those security and defense policy professionals who work either at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or at various background institutions was also analyzed. During the autumn of 2020, 23 semi-structured interviews were conducted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies. This study aims to introduce the results of these interviews and compare them to the results of the interviews from 2019, to provide a more comprehensive picture concerning the perception of security and perception of threats within the Hungarian security and defense policy community.

Author: Alex Etl

Full article: 2020/27. pdf


Quo vadis, PESCO? An analysis of cooperative networks and capability development priorities

Out of the 47 running PESCO projects, only 1/5 have more than 7 members, while almost half of the projects have only 3 or less participants. Based on coordination and membership accounts, France (31) Italy (26) Spain (24) Germany (16), as the Big Four, are the most involved participating Member States. Subsequently, with regards to Member States’ involvement in capability areas, the Big Four’s involvement is the most diverse, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Greece are also involved in at least 5 key project areas out of 7. Most PESCO projects contribute to general objectives of creating Enabling capabilities to operate autonomously within EU’s Level of Ambition (LoA), while high-end capability contributions are fewer, partly because PESCO projects contribute to Capability Development Priorities through complementing other activities and projects coordinated by EDA. Therefore, in some cases, the lack of PESCO projects aiming at these missing capability priorities can be explained by parallel EDA projects addressing those capability shortfalls.

Member states are rather aligning their PESCO capability developments with the Big Four than with anyone else. This makes the overall PESCO network fundamentally centralized, in which everyone is tied to the core, while the relations among the peripheral nodes are rather limited. Central and Eastern European intra-regional PESCO relations are rather weak, since the participation in PESCO did not lead to the emergence of a strong and visible regional sub-cluster. Similarly, the V4 remains less visible within PESCO, suggesting that members of the group did not align their efforts in this field.

Authors: Anna Nádudvari - Alex Etl - Nikolett Bereczky 

Full article: 2020/15. pdf


The transformation of Hungarian security perception between 1999 and 2019

The Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies (ISDS) has conducted various studies on Hungarian threat perception since the 1990s. This analysis follows these efforts and aims to introduce the transformation of Hungarian security perception between 1999 and 2019, based on the results of three societal surveys conducted in 1999, in 2008 and in 2019. The surveys focused primarily on four related areas: the conceptualization of security and threats; the importance and the perceived level of security within various sectors; the right to decide on the field of security policy; and the value preferences of Hungarian society.

Authors: Etl Alex - Dr. Tálas Péter

Full article: 2020/4. pdf


The perception of security in Hungary

The Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies (ISDS) has conducted various studies on Hungarian threat perception since the 1990s. This analysis follows these efforts and aims to introduce how Hungarians think about security, defense and military-related issues based on the results of a recent social survey commissioned by ISDS. Besides, this study is also an attempt to contextualize social perceptions with the security perception of those defense policy professionals who are participating in the formulation of Hungarian defense policy within the Hungarian Ministry of Defense.

Author: Etl Alex

Full article: 2020/3. pdf


Explaining Hungarian defense policy I. – Defense spending trends

Defense has become a central issue of strategic discourse among NATO’s Central European member states after 2014, following the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Reinforcing capabilities and readiness within the framework of collective defense requires much from these countries in terms of strategic thinking, capability planning, defense procurement and modernization – and as a central element to realizing their aims, in terms of funds for defense. U.S. President Donald Trump’s sustained criticism calling for ‘more fair’ burden sharing among member states, resulting in the adoption of The Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond (Defense Pledge), further incentivized member states’ willingness to dynamize their efforts. Since then, many European countries – some significantly – have increased their defense budgets and other forms of contribution. Ahead of the February 13-14 NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting, this paper offers an overview and analysis of Hungarian defense spending trends since the country’s accession to the European Union in 2004, as this can highlight what has been achieved in this specific ‘enabling’ field in the past couple of years to counterbalance the trend of underfinancing prevalent for a decade.

Author: Tamás Csiki Varga

Full article: 2019/5. pdf


Current Defence Policy and Modernization Goals of the Croatian Armed Forces

The internal and external security environment of Croatia has changed gradually since the declaration of independence in 1991. In the beginning, as in a post-war country, hard security played a vital role in the security policy documents, as reflected in the National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2002. With the accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 2009 and to the European Union (EU) in 2013, multilateral cooperation and collective defence had been prioritized and the new NSS from 2017 was designed to mirror this approach. The changed security environment spurred a reformed approach to defence matters and resulted in increased participation in international peace operations under EU, NATO and UN auspices. Furthermore, as a NATO member, Croatia needs to be ready to answer challenges threatening the collective security of the organization, such as cyber threats ranging from fake news and foreign electoral intervention to cyber-attacks. The first part of this analysis shows what path Croatia has taken after the declaration of independence, which is followed by introducing the current goals of Croatian security policy. Finally, international peace operations, defence spending trends and the capability development priorities of the Croatian Armed Forces are discussed.

Author: László Szerencsés

Full article: 2018/17. pdf


The Development of Czech Defence Policy in 2017-2018

Czech Defence policy in 2017 and in the first half of 2018 (the date of writing this paper) was influenced mainly by the perceived Russian threat, terrorism and migration – nevertheless, Brexit and the new U.S. administration under president Donald Trump were also important external drivers. These factors resulted in various steps taken within the Czech defence sector. Ranging from the adoption of refurbished national strategic documents, an increased defence budget, high (yet still problematic) support from the public and the rising numbers of Armed Forces personnel to problems with age structure both within the military and the civilian institutions of the defence sector. Finally, Czech foreign and security policy are likely to be heavily influenced by the result of the parliamentary elections in October 2017 and by the new government of Andrej Babiš during 2018.

Author: Lukáš Dyčka

Full article: 2018/14. pdf


Scramble for the Horn of Africa – Al-Shabaab vs. Islamic State

Over the past three years the so-called Islamic State (IS) has made significant progress in building an international network of Jihadist groups that pledged allegiance to the organisation. The affiliates of IS are both new-born movements like the Islamic State in Libya, and older groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria. The latter are much more valuable for the ‘Caliphate’ because they have broad experience and capacities that allow them to operate independently of IS. In its global Jihad, therefore, the Islamic State tried to gain the support of the members of former al-Qaeda franchises, shifting their alliances from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi. The analysis offers an overview of such IS efforts in the Horn of Africa and an evaluation of how successful this quest has been until 2017.

Author: Viktor Marsai

Full article: 2018/2. pdf


Somali elections in 2016-2017 – Business as usual or a new hope?

Following decades mired in civil war and lacking a functional government, Somalia established a new Federal Government in 2012. Nevertheless, its leaders’ (s)election process has been encumbered by corruption, bribery, and never-ending clan disputes. In addition, decision-making power has been concentrated in the hands of 135 traditional elders who were selected according to the 4.5 clan-formula without the participation of the wider society. To ensure the smooth transition from interim governments to permanent institutional structures, both the Somali elites and the international donors accepted the rules and handicaps of 2012. At the same time, they promised that the election will be credible, transparent and more democratic in 2016. The current analysis offers an evaluative overview of those circumstances that hindered the democratic transition, while also highlighting those features that offer hope for further progress.

Author: Viktor Marsai

Full article: 2017/14. pdf


Evaluating Barack Obama’s Middle East strategy

In light of the developments unfolding in recent years in the Middle East and Europe, the civil wars, the threat of terrorism and the growing influence of Russia, Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine – or the lack of it – has been recently at the center of scrutiny. As the President is approaching his final months in office, this paper seeks to give an evaluation of the main strategic objectives and means of his Middle East strategy.

Author: Gergely Varga

Full article: 2016/4.pdf


The Modernization of the B61 Gravity Bombs and the Problem of Misconceptions

Over the past few weeks, the modernization of the B61 gravity bombs has created intense debates within Germany, and between NATO and Russia as well. Although there is noth-ing new on the horizon, an incorrect report on the nuclear upgrades was caught up by several TV channels and journals, leading to a spiral of misinterpretations, which unnec-essarily heated up the already tense relations between Washington and Moscow. A hand-ful of experts have been quietly monitoring the nuclear modernizations of both the US and Russia, occasionally reporting on the newest developments. For those who follow these programs, it was clear from the very beginning that the unfolding debate was based on false information. Still, this situation showed again the power of the media when it comes to formulating threat perceptions and security issues. A series of incorrect articles like for example the “U.S. Will Station New Nuclear Weapons in Germany Against Rus-sia” or the “US Stations New Nuclear Weapons in Germany” almost immediately created grounds for a rhetorical war. In response to these reports, Moscow took the opportunity to express its own concerns and fight back with the prospect of very serious conse-quences. As a result, another wave of comments and articles has been published: “US Nuclear Weapons in Germany: Russia Concerned by American Plans to Add to Stock-pile,” the “Kremlin Threatens Response to U.S. Nuclear Bomb Deployment in Germany,” and “Russia pledges counter measures if U.S. upgrades nuclear arms in Germany.” Alt-hough the initial report was incorrect, this action-reaction cycle still adds to the already heightened nuclear rhetoric of the crisis in Ukraine, and it might trigger countermeasures which will actually weaken the European security architecture.

Author: Anna Péczeli

Full article: 2015/16.pdf


The Iranian nuclear deal in the cross section of great power interests

On July 14, 2015 Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign and Security Policy representing the E3+3 (or the P5+1, i. e. the permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China – and Germany), and Mohamed Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran announced that the comprehensive deal on the Iranian nuclear program was signed.

The Iranian nuclear negotiations have been going on – on and off - since 2002. However, in 2012 a new phase was started (with high level meetings in Istanbul, Mos-cow, Almaty, Istanbul, Geneva and Vienna), the main reasons of which were the in-creasingly tightening sanctions on Iran on the one hand, and the so-called “Arab Spring” transformation of the region on the other, resulting in civil wars and the emer-gence of the Islamic State as a common enemy. As a result, on November 24, 2013 a temporary deal was concluded followed – in two stages: instead of March 31 on April 2, 2015 and instead of June 30 on July 14, 2015 – by the signature of the Joint Com-prehensive Plan of Action.

While the US Congress had 60 days to approve or reject the deal, the UN Security Council has unanimously approved it. Though in the debate among the US decision-makers and the public in the media and the community websites the Obama admin-istration’s position had come to be supported in the Senate by the deadline, which meant that the President would not be forcd to use his veto, the debate itself and the worldwide publicity around it made the Iranian political elite send similar messages of disagreement, even if on a lesser scale. Simultaneously, an unprecedented rush has been started for the so-far relatively closed Iranian market, in which race the American companies cannot take part at the moment.

The regional powers in Iran’s neighbourhood were relating themselves to the deal according to their obvious political and security interests and were support-ing/accepting (Turkey and the GCC states) or rejecting (Israel?) it.

The present study aims at answering the questions how the signatories of the deal (the US, Russia, China and the European Union on the one hand, and Iran and the re-gional powers, Israel, the GCC countries and Turkey) are evaluating the deal and what strategic interests arise in consequence to the deal. The analysis will also discuss what changes the deal will generate in the domestic dynamics of the individual actors, and in the international and regional balance of power. 

Authors: Zoltán Gálik, Tamás Matura, Erzsébet N. Rózsa, Anna Péczeli, László Lipóti, Máté Szalai

Full article: 2015/15.pdf


Analytical approaches to the Ukraine crisis and the recent Ukrainian parliamentary elections

The Ukrainian parliamentary elections held on October 26, 2014 are, for many reasons, an important milestone in the crisis that has been going on for almost a year now. First, the elections ended a period of almost eight months, during which many have accused Ukrainian leaders of the illegitimate use of power, given that they came to power at the end of February as a result of an uprising, rather than having been elect-ed via a constitutional process. Second, the election results fundamentally changed the Ukrainian legislation and the composition of the Ukrainian political elite, allowing representatives of several new political groups into the Supreme Council that have been all but unknown to the public even a few months ago. Third, the elections ended an extraordinary period during which the political leaders of the country could stay in power without having to implement far-reaching reforms. These changes now offer us the opportunity to review the main turning points of the Ukrainian crisis, framing vari-ous analytical approaches to foster a better understanding of the ongoing processes and map up the main challenges that lay ahead of the newly elected leaders following the elections.

Author: Peter Talas

Full article: 2014/21.pdf


The Ukrainian Crisis from an American Perspective

The Ukrainian crisis opens a new phase in the relations between Russia and the United States. The policy of ‘Reset’ which was introduced with great expectations by the Obama administration in 2009 has irrevocably run off track. As Barack Obama had promised, Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine had consequences in terms of U.S. policy towards Moscow and its European NATO allies. However there are substantial questions concerning the long term impact of the Ukrainian crisis on US strategy towards Eastern Europe and Russia, whether we are witnessing a significant shift or just a correction, a sort of an adjustment of policies to the new realities in Eastern Europe.

Author: Gergely Varga

Full article: 2014/17.pdf