by NATO Deputy Secretary General Claudio Bisogniero at the ICI Public Diplomacy Ambassadorial Conference on deepening the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative partnership co-organised by the state of Qatar and NATO
Mr Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you, Mr. Prime Minister, and the State of Qatar, for the very gracious hospitality that has been extended to the members of the North Atlantic Council and the other NATO representatives here with me today.
I also want to thank the representatives of the other ICI partners, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, as well as of Oman and Saudi Arabia for attending our conference.
We meet at a time of momentous change in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world. Events have been moving at a pace few of us could have predicted. So I can understand why many fear instability in the region. But I also understand the strong desire in these societies for real reform. I have urged all parties to engage in an open dialogue and ensure peaceful transition to democracy. Because democracy means far more than majority rule. It means respect for minorities. It means freedom of speech. It means respect for human rights. And it means the rule of law.
As the secretary-general of an Alliance of democracies, I firmly believe that democracy is the basis of genuine, long-term stability. And that is in the interest of all our nations. Because security in the broader Middle East is of importance far beyond the region. Your security, and NATO’s security, are intertwined.
That is why we are here today. Because the time has come to give fresh momentum to NATO’s relations with our four partners in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Let me underline that we are also very interested in deepening our dialogue with Oman and Saudi Arabia. We would welcome their participation in the ICI.
We are not starting from scratch. Since the launch of the ICI in 2004, there have been more and more opportunities for political dialogue and practical cooperation in the security field, both in a bilateral and a multilateral framework.
But let us be honest with ourselves. Despite a promising start, it has proven more difficult to move forward in recent years. We are here to talk, but also to listen – to take your concerns and your ideas on board to strengthen our partnership.
These are uncertain times and world has become a smaller place. Technological progress has shrunk geographical distances. Our societies and our economies have become increasingly interdependent. But at the same time, we are confronted by common threats – terrorism and piracy; cyber attacks and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and a disruption of the flow of energy and other resources on which our nations depend.
No single country, nor any single organisation, can meet such complex challenges on its own. Since the challenges are multi-dimensional, our response has to be multi-dimensional too.
Our experience in Afghanistan makes this clear. Under a UN mandate, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is now helping the Afghans to take the lead for security district by district, province by province. The aim is that they should be in the lead across the country by the end of 2014. That is their stated goal, that we share and support. And we will help them get there.
But there is no purely military solution to stability in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan will need the continued commitment of the international community well beyond 2014 – for security support, for investment, development, and political reconciliation. I very much hope that the Gulf countries will be part of that effort. It is in the interest of all of us that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can stand on its own feet. That it can look after its own security. That is can feed and educate its citizens. And that it can resist terrorism.
This multi-dimensional approach is a whole new way of looking at security – not only in terms of what we seek to achieve, but also how we seek to achieve it. It means we need fresh approaches within NATO – and we need fresh approaches with our partners.
We have already started transforming NATO. The new Strategic Concept that we agreed at our Lisbon Summit last November marks a significant change in the way NATO looks at the wider world -- and the way in which we interact with it. Our new strategy highlights the new risks and threats. Proliferation, cyber attacks, terrorism and energy security are given a prominent place, and fighting them represents an important new role for NATO. Our new strategy also stresses the need for NATO to work much more closely with other nations and organisations.
So what exactly do we have to offer?
First, we will offer all our partners greater opportunities for consultation on security issues of common concern. This will allow all of us to improve our understanding of what’s happening, and what might happen – and as a result, our ability to prevent and manage crises. I think that might be of interest to our partners here in the Gulf region.
Second: we give all our partners greater access to the full range of the Alliance’s cooperation activities. We will fully open our tool-box and let you choose, including in areas that I know you find important, such as military-to-military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and security sector reform.
Let me point out two other areas of potential enhanced cooperation, in particular, that NATO could – and I think should -- explore with our ICI partner countries.
First, energy security. All countries rely on vital communication routes for their energy security. As you know, 50% of the world’s energy supplies transit through the Gulf region. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries account for 60% of the world oil reserves and for 40% of gas reserves. So this matters to you, and it matters to us.
The first step we could take is to hold consultations on energy security, simply to share views.
The next step would be to look at concrete initiatives that we could develop together. Let me be clear: partnership is a two-way street, so cooperation on energy security must also be a two-way street. We are ready to offer what we know and keen to learn what we don’t know. And in this respect, training and education in the field of energy security looks like a particularly promising area for cooperation.
Another area that we could explore is the safe transport of oil supplies, in particular through maritime routes. NATO is increasingly focusing on maritime security, and we have a wealth of experience. Recent attacks by pirates on oil tankers in this region underline that there is a real threat to energy transit. So there is scope to explore what we could do together to protect our vital energy supplies and trading routes.
We are also open to discussing with our ICI partners the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. This is a menace that we all face – and this region is certainly not immune. We should discuss it together.
These are a few ideas to re-energise our partnership. I see many interesting opportunities for deepening our political dialogue and practical cooperation. But I also see challenges.
The lack of a solution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict continues to undermine the stability of the region.
NATO is not involved in the Middle East peace process and is not seeking a role in it. The three conditions for any possible NATO involvement are well known: if a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was reached; if both parties requested that NATO should help them with the implementation of that agreement; and if the United Nations endorsed NATO’s possible involvement.
Of course, at the moment, those three IF’s are far from being met. The lead for the Middle East peace process rests with the parties themselves, with the Quartet and with the UN. But NATO-Allies attach the utmost importance to reaching a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, to achieve a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace and security.
As the Quartet recently made clear, further delay in the resumption of negotiations is detrimental to prospects for regional peace and security. We do not have all the time in the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Until now, NATO’s dialogue and cooperation with its partners here in the Gulf region may not have met its full potential – but the reason for our partnership remains as relevant as ever: to tackle the increasingly complex, global challenges that all our nations face.
NATO is determined to give greater structure and substance to all our partnership relations. Let us seize this opportunity so that, together, we can improve security and long-term stability both here in this region and in the wider world.