Dr Abdul Ghaffar,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to be in Manama today, and to be able to enjoy the warm hospitality of the people, and the Government, of the Kingdom of Bahrain. I am grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies and to Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar for inviting me to speak today, and I am particularly pleased to be sharing the podium with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa.
The Gulf States are natural partners of NATO. And in my remarks tonight I should like to explain why our partnership is so important. I shall then briefly review what we have achieved so far in our cooperation, before sharing with you some of my ideas on the possible future evolution of our relationship.
First, why is our partnership so important? In a nutshell, because NATO and ICI countries face common security challenges and threats – challenges and threats , such as failed states, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy and energy security. These are all security issues that cannot be successfully tackled by any one country alone – they require a multilateral and cooperative approach to security, including through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Therefore it is clear that the security of Bahrain, and of all our ICI partner countries, is of strategic interest to NATO.
We have a shared interest in helping countries like Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq to stand on their own feet again, and in preventing countries like Somalia, Yemen and Sudan from slipping deeper into chaos. And we all are seriously concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambition – and about the instability this could cause in a region that is pivotal for global stability and security.
There is one additional area where our common interests and concerns have become more and more apparent – and where we are also highly interdependent - and that is in the area of energy security.
And at a time when we have seen the resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa leading to attacks against ships carrying oil and gas shipments, it is clear why maritime security in its broad sense, and counter-piracy in particular, are further areas where we share a common interest.
I am delighted that this common interest has already been translated into practical cooperation. And I should like to express my sincere gratitude to Bahrain for hosting the monthly meetings to coordinate and harmonise the various contributions to the international community’s effort to counter piracy off the Horn of Africa. It is a vivid example of Bahrain’s willingness to play its part in shaping the international environment in a positive direction.
It was because of these common threats and challenges that the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was launched, almost six years ago. Since then, our partnership has gone from strength to strength, defying the sceptics who said that a strong relationship between NATO Allies and Gulf States was impossible.
The ICI was initially envisaged as a bilateral initiative between each participating Gulf State and NATO. This individual aspect remains important, since it allows each ICI member to tailor its cooperation with NATO according to its own specific interests and requirements. As we develop our partnership, let me reassure you that we will continue to recognise those specific interests and requirements.
But how should we develop our partnership? Allow me to share with you some ideas.
First – the practical dimension. The Menu of Practical Activities has already more than tripled in size and now contains some 600 activities and events for our ICI partners to choose from – ranging from counter-terrorism, through military education and training, to energy security and maritime cooperation. That broad menu represents a wealth of opportunities for each of our ICI partners. But it also represents a challenge: because partners have to make choices and decide what matters most to them.
It is precisely for this reason that we have suggested to our ICI partners to elaborate an Individual Cooperation Programme with the Alliance. Your country, Bahrain, has consistently been a real trail-blazer in the ICI framework. And so it is no surprise that Bahrain will probably be the first of our Gulf partners to complete an Individual Cooperation Programme. This will allow Bahrain to better define the scope and pace of its cooperation with NATO. At the same time, it will allow NATO to better focus its assistance and support, and it will, hopefully, also set an example for other ICI partners to follow.
If I were asked where I believe there is most potential for Gulf States and NATO to enhance their practical cooperation, I would immediately mention: the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, energy and maritime security. All are serious potential threats facing both NATO and its ICI partners. Terrorism is actually at the crossroads of many of these threats: a terrorist in possession of a radiological device is a dreadful prospect for us all; terrorists have also shown their determination to hit critical energy infrastructure. But tonight, I shall focus on energy and maritime security – after all, I am speaking upon the gracious invitation of the Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.
We should start, I believe, by stepping up our exchange of information and best practices with respect to energy security issues. We have much to learn from each other – and we should look to exploit all opportunities for sharing our knowledge and experiences.
One way of doing this is by establishing concrete procedures for management of environmental accidents.
Let me explain what I mean. Regrettably, we have often seen that accidents, or indeed deliberate acts of sabotage, can lead to dreadful consequences – both for our populations, and for our environment. At NATO headquarters in Brussels, we have a staff dedicated to coordinating relief efforts in the event of disasters, and last summer NATO offered our ICI partners direct access to the centre. Let us explore the possibilities of enhancing further the involvement of our Gulf State partners.
We also need to look more closely at protecting our critical energy infrastructure. Far too often when we use this term, we think of the extensive highly visible infrastructure such as the extraction facilities, refineries, pipelines and so on. But as in so many other aspects of our modern age, the glue that binds all these elements together is the computerised control system. And everybody who has an interest in energy security needs to ensure that these complex computerised systems are adequately protected.
Here again, I believe there is scope for enhancing our practical cooperation. NATO is already focussing much greater attention on protecting its own communication and information systems against attempts at attack or to gain illegal access. We have a NATO Computer Incident Response Capability, as well as a cyber defence Centre of Excellence.
I think we should now look closely at how NATO’s experiences and lessons learned in this field can be shared with Bahrain and the other Gulf States, and how we can work more closely together in the future to ensure that this vital aspect of critical energy infrastructure is properly protected.
Another key element of energy infrastructure that needs protection is the means of transportation. Approximately 15 tankers a day pass through the Straits of Hormuz, carrying about 17 million barrels of crude oil. This represents almost 40% of the world seaborne oil shipments – but most significantly from a Gulf States’ perspective, it represents 90% of the oil exported from the region. There is a direct link between energy security and maritime security.
The Alliance has a maritime capability that no other organisation can match. NATO is currently conducting two distinct maritime operations – Active Endeavour, a counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean, and Ocean Shield, a counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. With its presence, NATO is contributing to enhancing the security of energy shipments through these two vital sea lanes of communication.
I believe, there is scope for a strengthened cooperation between NATO and Bahrain and the other Gulf States.
First, I should like to offer our ICI partners the possibility of participating in NATO maritime operations in the region. This does not have to be necessarily with ships – there are other ways of contributing to these operations, such as with support in the fields of information, logistics, or exercises.
We will then need to develop an effective web of contacts. We should build upon the excellent relations that have already been established between our naval commands. NATO’s maritime commands - in Northwood in the United Kingdom, and in Naples in Italy – and your naval commands here in Bahrain, and in our other partner Gulf States.
In time, it might prove that the best way of maintaining and enhancing these contacts is through a system of liaison officers with the Allied maritime command structure – and I, for one, would welcome such an approach.
Taken together, these steps would demonstrate our joint commitment, and would be a major contribution to enhancing regional security and stability. They would also be fully in the spirit of the request for intensified regional and international coordination to fight acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, which was made by the Gulf Cooperation Council Supreme Council at its 30th session last December.
Let me now turn to the possible evolution of the political dimension of our partnership.
On Thursday, in Brussels, we will have a so called “NAC+4” meeting – a meeting between the North Atlantic Council and all four ICI partners. One major agenda item will be the security challenges in the Gulf region. It will give us an opportunity to share views on subjects such as Iran, Yemen and piracy off the coast of Somalia. In the future, I would like to see meetings of this kind becoming a more frequent feature of our partnership.
It makes eminent sense to have more regular meetings among all our nations to discuss current affairs. But I also see considerable merit in meetings where we would lift up our eyes to scan the strategic horizon – and try to develop a common assessment of medium and longer-term challenges, and their possible implications for our cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are facing challenges that force us to be much more proactive, and to work together much more closely, across frontiers, cultures and religions. It makes perfect sense for us to deepen our practical cooperation, and to benefit from each other’s specific knowledge and experiences. It also makes perfect sense for us to conduct a regular political dialogue on issues of common interest. There is enormous potential in our partnership. I look forward to fulfilling that potential together.