Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Mr Ó Ceallakee for that kind introduction.
It may be that I am not the first Dane to visit, but I am indeed, as you said, the first NATO Secretary General to visit Ireland. And I am delighted, and proud to have that honour.
But this is not my first visit to your wonderful country. In fact I have been here several times, and I have extremely happy memories of all those occasions. One event in particular stands out though. It was the 1st May 2004. I was among the European Union heads of state and government that gathered in Phoenix Park to celebrate a very special day in European history: the accession of 10 new members into the European Union. And I still remember the Irish Poet Laureate, Seamus Heaney, delivering a powerful poem about renewal and homecoming.
It was also a proud moment for me personally, as we had been able to conclude accession talks some sixteen months before in Copenhagen, when Denmark held the European Union Presidency.
Just weeks before, there had been another celebration of renewal and homecoming. In Washington. For the accession of seven new members to NATO.
Today, the European Union is made up of 27 nations. And NATO of 28. Together, NATO and the European Union have succeeded in healing the wounds of war in Europe. And we have made great strides towards building a Europe that is free, whole, and at peace.
From its creation in 1949, the transatlantic Alliance has played a vital role in keeping the peace in Europe. It has sustained security and stability. And while NATO has enhanced our security, the European Union has increased our prosperity.
As we all know, Ireland is not a member of NATO. But it is a very important partner. It shares NATO’s values. And it shares NATO’s commitment to strengthening the role of the United Nations as the guarantor of international security, and the rule of law.
This evening, I wish to talk about this mutual commitment. About how Ireland and NATO are working together for peace, today. And about how we could do even more together, tomorrow.
Let me start with our mutual commitment.
NATO shares with Ireland the same attachment to the United Nations. The Alliance was founded on a firm commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. And we recognise the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.
NATO and Ireland also share the same faith in freedom. Dedication to democracy. And loyalty to the rule of law. We share the same determination to build a better world – one where everyone is safer and more secure.
This common commitment - sustained by our shared values and principles - finds a common expression in our support for the United Nations.
This leads me to my second point. How are we – NATO and Ireland – demonstrating that support today?
Since 1958, Irish service personnel, and civilians, have been present on UN-led operations and missions all around the globe.
In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and in Central America, you have demonstrated that Ireland believes in the principles of the United Nations. And that you are also prepared to act to protect them, and to promote them.
That same attitude has also guided your participation in UN-mandated peacekeeping operations led by other international organisations. By the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. By the European Union. And also by NATO.
Take for example the Balkans. From the very beginning of the crisis, in the 1990s, Irish military personnel and civilians have played an important role in bringing peace and stability back to the region. In Bosnia, you participated in the NATO-led Stabilisation Force. And today, you continue to make a major contribution to providing a safe and secure environment in the region through your contribution to the NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo.
But it is not just here in Europe that you have supported UN-mandated, NATO-led operations. In Afghanistan, members of the Irish Defence Force are deployed along with personnel from all 28 NATO Allied nations, as well as from 21 other NATO partner countries. They are all playing a vital role in making Afghanistan more stable, and all our countries more secure.
I want to thank the brave, dedicated and selfless Irish men and women who have participated in those missions. And to offer my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who laid down their lives in pursuit of peace.
Some of you might well be asking why Ireland, a country that prides itself on its neutrality, should be sending its young people to participate in NATO-led missions.
Shared values, shared ideals, and shared commitment to the United Nations are three reasons. But there are others too.
By engaging with NATO, you get a voice at the table where the decisions are made. You get full political transparency and oversight. You get a military command and control system that is tried, tested, and trusted. And you get to operate alongside NATO Allies and partners from across the world that use the same procedures and practices.
In sum, Ireland’s participation in NATO-led operations and missions enhances the impact of your individual involvement. And you are able to make an even more effective contribution to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. This is why your country’s cooperation with NATO is of enormous benefit – for the United Nations, for NATO, and for Ireland.
So now to my third, and last, point. What more can we do together?
There are two areas that I believe offer considerable potential. Capabilities. And military education, training and exercises.
First, capabilities. NATO, the European Union, and the Defence Forces of Ireland, all need the right capabilities to get the job done. Yet acquiring and developing such capabilities during a major economic crisis represents a particular challenge.
One way to overcome this challenge is through increased multinational cooperation. And this is exactly what we are doing at NATO. We have agreed a new mindset that we call Smart Defence. This means nations working together to deliver military capabilities that they cannot afford to deliver on their own.
Alongside the Smart Defence approach at NATO, many European nations are also participating in the European Union’s pooling and sharing initiative. These two programmes complement each other. They are being carefully coordinated to avoid unnecessary duplication of time, effort, and resources. Because we live in tough economic times. And each of our nations only has one budget and one set of armed forces.
I would like to encourage Ireland to consider getting involved in more of these projects, including NATO’s. Because that would allow you to enhance your own capabilities – and it would be warmly welcomed by the Alliance.
I know Ireland is already participating in three European Defence Agency projects. Your strong support for this work reflects your strong support for the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy. And I welcome the emphasis that Ireland intends to place on defence during its EU Presidency.
Your country will play a key role in shaping the decisions to be taken at the European Council dedicated to defence matters in December.
The second area where I believe Ireland and NATO could do more together is in military education, training and exercises. Because keeping close links in times of peace will help us work together better in times of crisis. We need to make sure that we sustain our ability to answer quickly, and effectively, when the United Nations calls for support.
Let me finally speak of some areas where I think Ireland could bring a very specific added value to our cooperation.
The Irish Defence Forces Ordnance School in County Kildare has already provided invaluable training for NATO forces. This has undoubtedly saved many lives. Also, the school’s instructors have helped with tuition and training as part of NATO’s own Programme of Work in Defence against Terrorism.
Another outstanding facility is the United Nations Training School Ireland. Many NATO nations have benefited from the comprehensive training provided there. And this has helped to prepare them for peace support operations.
These are just a few examples of how you support, and improve, the overall quality, and readiness, of other nations forces – including NATO’s. And I hope we can expand, and enhance, this type of cooperation in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For over 50 years, Ireland has demonstrated its dedication to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Like NATO, you do not hesitate to take action to keep peace. And to make our world safer and more secure.
Like NATO, you understand that security can be delivered most effectively when it is in cooperation with others. And in support of the United Nations.
And like NATO, you are committed to making support to the United Nations even stronger and more effective.
This is why Ireland is such an important partner for NATO. Why we have worked so closely together for peace in the past. And why I look forward to us working even more closely together for peace in the future.
Thank you very much.