Thank you very much, Steve Lewis, for that kind introduction, and thank you very much for your kind invitation to speak in the National Press Club today. I’m also pleased to see Minister Smith here today, and let me also congratulate Eleanor Hall on the journalist’s award.
As you mentioned, Steve, it’s only my second visit to Australia. I was here 15 years ago, on a 10-day trip during which I met a lot of wonderful people and learned a lot about this great country. I saw shipbuilding in Perth and the Opera in Sydney. I climbed Uluru, Ayers Rock, and dived on the Great Barrier Reef. I heard about political visions in the Parliaments, and learned about the Dreamtime in the Outback. I met politicians in the federal and state parliaments, and kangaroos everywhere. I met journalists here in Canberra and crocodiles in Queensland.
I am impressed by the beauty of your country, by your warm hospitality, and frankly, by your no-nonsense approach to getting things done.
Unfortunately, Australia was the only continent that I didn’t visit during my tenure as Prime Minister of Denmark. The more I appreciate to be here again, now as Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation: NATO.
And I have come to Australia, first and foremost, to say “thank you”.
Tomorrow, I will visit the Australian War Memorial. The symbolism of that sacred place epitomises what is very special about you as a country and you as a people: brave men and women, both known and unknown, who have fought selflessly for a greater cause.
I’m thinking about soldiers such as Private John Hamilton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his most conspicuous bravery during the Gallipoli campaign in World War One.
And Corporal Mark Donaldson, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan for deliberately putting himself in the firing line so that his wounded colleagues could be brought to safety.
Almost a century separates the actions of these two incredibly brave men. But there have been many other brave Australian soldiers throughout history. Some of them lost their lives on Flanders Fields, and have their names carved in the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium, where NATO is based. And some remain anonymous. Which is why it is with my utmost respect that I shall lay a wreath tomorrow at the tomb of the unknown Australian solder. As a sign of my deepest gratitude for the determination of Australia’s soldiers. To help others. To do what is right. And to ensure our security, even at the cost of their own.
From Gallipoli to Uruzgan, your men and women have been on the front line – fighting for freedom. It is that enduring commitment that makes Australia a natural partner for NATO. We may be oceans apart, but we are close in security interests. The common challenges we face only serve to bring us closer together.
So from me personally, and on behalf of NATO, thank you for helping to make our world a better and safer place.
And this brings me to the second reason I have come to Australia. Globalisation.
Our world has changed tremendously over the past few decades. The security challenges we face are more complex and unpredictable. But one thing is clear. Wherever we are, we are connected. Our economies are connected. Our people are connected. And our security is connected.
Failing states can have consequences far beyond their borders. As we have seen in places such as Afghanistan and Somalia.
Any disruption to transport, communication and information systems comes at great cost. To individuals, nations, and the world economy.
So we need to develop common responses to these common problems. To deal with instability. To confront global threats. And to maintain the free movement on which our economies depend.
Take terrorism as an example. You know only too well the human cost of terrorist atrocities. Australians were killed on “9/11”. Many more were murdered the following year in Bali. And your embassy in Jakarta was attacked in 2004.
Take cyber attacks. Australia is a highly networked country. Two years ago, an attack disrupted the Parliament House website. Your government departments and ministerial offices are regularly subjected to similar attacks. And in recent months your financial institutions have been targeted as well.
Or take piracy. Your country’s economic success has been built largely on the export of commodities. And the bulk of these go by sea. The worldwide cost of piracy has been estimated between 7 and 12 billion dollars a year. With a large part being borne by the major sea trading nations, such as Australia.
Terrorism, cyber attacks, piracy. These are just three examples of today’s global security challenges that we face, like you. Because geography and distance no longer protect us. No country or continent can be insulated against global challenges – or deal with them on their own.
So NATO-Australian cooperation is not as strange as it might appear at first sight. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Because we are like-minded. And we are single-minded when it comes to security.
Like no other organisation, NATO brings together the United States, Canada, and twenty-six European countries. This vital bond is built on common values – freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. And is kept strong by our firm commitment to work together to preserve those values.
That includes the promise to fight together to protect those values whenever necessary. And to come to each other’s assistance in the event of an attack. This is what’s known as Article V of NATO’s founding treaty – all for one, one for all.
So at its core, NATO is about collective defence. But since the end of the Cold War, we have also looked outwards, managing crises and projecting stability well beyond our borders.
In Bosnia and Kosovo, in the 1990s, NATO intervened to stop massive human rights violations.
In Libya, last year, we enforced a United Nations Security Council resolution to protect civilians. In the Indian Ocean, we are protecting sea lanes off the coast of Somalia.
And in Afghanistan, we are denying a safe haven to extremists, and building a safer future for Afghans and the whole region.
We are doing this with considerable help from our friends, such as Australia. You are among the top ten troop contributing nations in Afghanistan. Your country is the largest non-NATO troop contributor. And let me say here how much I value your recent decision to assume the leadership of the ISAF effort in Uruzgan province later this year. Australia’s contribution to our common effort is outstanding. And we highly appreciate it.
In fact, from Afghanistan to Libya and Kosovo, partnerships are essential to NATO’s success. That is why we are determined to continue to build on that success with countries that are able and willing to contribute where we all have a stake.
Our unique network of partners includes over 40 nations and spans the globe – from East Asia to Western Europe, from North Africa to the South Pacific. When it comes to security, NATO is the world’s partner of choice. Because we can provide a tried and tested framework for our partners to play their role on the global stage.
We saw that at the NATO summit in Chicago last month, which brought together 60 nations and organisations focused on the future of Afghanistan. And it brought together NATO Allies with 13 of our most valued and active partners. Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined us at both those meetings in Chicago, in recognition of Australia’s significant contribution to our work.
As we gradually wind down our combat mission in Afghanistan, we are looking very closely at how we can retain the lessons we have learnt there under such challenging conditions and maintain the ability to work together in the future.
One promising area for greater cooperation between Australia and NATO is the development of military capabilities. We must also look to conduct more training, education, and exercises together. I see particular scope for closer cooperation between our Special Forces. And I am convinced that our cooperation should also encompass maritime security and cyber security.
This is how we can learn from each other. Share best practices. Develop common standards. And reinforce each other’s efforts to all our benefits.
Finally, of course, we should continue to intensify our political dialogue. It’s always good to talk. And how better to do it than face to face. That is why I am here. And why I am particularly pleased that Prime Minister Gillard and I will sign a Joint Political Declaration between Australia and NATO.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO and Australia share the same commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights. And we share the courage to stand up for those values.
NATO is determined to strengthen its ties with partners right around the world. To work ever closer together. And to find common solutions to common problems.
United by a common vision and common values, NATO and Australia are ideal partners. Because we are determined to do what is right. And to take responsibility for our shared security.