The United States recently agreed to help Hungary scrap more than 1,500 excess shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. A top Department of State official has told lawmakers that he will be urging similar operations elsewhere.
On Sept. 27, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary George Walker signed a cooperation agreement with Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhász to destroy 1,540 SA-7 missiles, also referred to as Strela-2s. These Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) are leftover Soviet-era weapons from when Hungary was a member of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact. Hungary is currently part of the 26-member NATO alliance, which for decades squared off against the Warsaw Pact across Europe.
Washington will contribute $350,000 to cover transportation, logistical, security, and destruction costs for the missiles. The process is expected to get underway within the next few months and to be completed within six months.
Motivating the agreement is mounting concern that terrorists might buy or steal these types of weapons to attack civilian aircraft. The State Department asserts that more than 40 such attempts have been made since the 1970s.
Hungary will retain roughly 100 MANPADS. In a June 2005 report volunteered to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (see page 33), Hungary said its MANPADS holdings include 243 Strela-2s, 61 Iglas, and 45 Mistral-2s. A Hungarian Ministry of Defense spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 27 that all of these Strela-2s would be destroyed, but the Iglas and Mistral-2s would be kept “to ensure the safety of Hungarian air space.”
Still, the Hungarian destruction program will add to the U.S. government’s tally of having helped destroy more than 17,000 MANPADS worldwide to date.
John Hillen, who was confirmed Oct. 7 by the Senate to serve as assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 30 that he will seek to increase such activities, as well as “to address other conventional weapons that are potentially proliferable, dangerous, or otherwise might fuel regional conflict.” The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs oversees the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, which implements conventional weapons destruction and landmine clearing programs. (See ACT, November 2003.)
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who chairs the foreign relations panel, welcomed Hillen’s pledge. “I haven’t been able to get such a vigorous statement before, and I am thankful for your statement today,” Lugar said. He added, “I have not found quite the enthusiasm that is necessary, and this is one that ought to be elevated.”
Lugar has been pressing the Bush administration to boost efforts to address the threats posed by surplus conventional weapons and has introduced legislation toward that end. Lugar’s legislation is part of the foreign affairs authorization bill for fiscal years 2006 and 2007, which the Senate has not yet voted on and may not.
The exact size of the task facing Hillen and the State Department is unknown. A May 2004 report by the Government Accountability Office, however, estimated that 500,000-750,000 MANPADS may exist worldwide. In a September 2005 estimate, the State Department projected that “several thousand” MANPADS might be outside government control.