Ladies and gentlemen,
This conference takes place in a magnificent historic city, which still bears the memory of recent conflict. But today is an excellent opportunity to look to the future, not to the past. And I am convinced that the key to a better future is a strong, open, and united Europe.
This is the Europe that NATO has always strived for. And for over six decades, keeping the door of our Alliance open for new members has helped make that vision a reality.
Looking back, it’s easy to forget the uncertainty after the end of the Cold War. In Central and Eastern Europe, the old order had been swept away. And a tremendous sense of freedom inspired people across our continent.
But this freedom was fragile. The new democracies were weak. Their economies lacked investment. And a return to authoritarianism was possible. To be enduring, freedom needed an anchor. And that anchor was NATO.
Because NATO meant security. And gaining security would allow these new democracies to focus on building freedom, democracy, prosperity, and the rule of law.
At the time, NATO Allies faced an historic opportunity. To unify Europe. To keep our continent free, strong and democratic. And to build a true European peace.
We seized the moment. And we created a virtuous circle. The prospect of membership motivated aspirants to adopt important reforms. Those reforms allowed them to become Allies. And as the Alliance grew, security grew and spread.
Today, the path to stability and security in South-East Europe is the same as it was for the former members of the Warsaw Pact twenty years ago.
On this journey, there are no shortcuts. NATO’s door will not open automatically simply because you stand in front of it. Countries that aspire to membership must demonstrate political commitment. A track record of reform and responsibility. And a new resolve to settle old disputes. In this region, there is still some way to go and work to be done.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, all immovable defence property must be registered as state property before further progress can be made.
For the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹, an invitation to NATO membership will be extended as soon as the issue over its name has been resolved.
And in Montenegro, more reforms are needed in the security and defence sectors, as well as greater reform efforts to fight against organized crime.
Serbia has an important role to play in South-East Europe. Its future clearly lies in greater cooperation with its neighbours. But also greater cooperation with the European Union, and with NATO.
Finally, Belgrade and Pristina must settle their differences. I encourage both of them to make full use of the European Union-facilitated dialogue.
We must look forward if we are to move forward. It is my strong hope that we will eventually see this whole region integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations. And NATO is here to help.
When Croatia joined NATO in 2009, its Ambassador to the United States said, and I quote “We are determined to take our share of responsibility for global peace and stability in places such as Afghanistan, but also in other parts of the world.” And Croatia has done just that. Our host country has set a strong example.
And so has that Croatian ambassador. She is Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. Last year she left Washington to join NATO Headquarters in Brussels as the Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. And like her country, she is a valued and valuable member of our team.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Across our continent, NATO and its Open Door have succeeded in promoting security and stability. But there is still work to do.
NATO is here to assist partner countries. And to embrace those that wish to move from partnership to membership. That applies to countries here in this region. And also to countries further afield – particularly Georgia, who Allies have agreed will become a NATO member.
But in all countries, real change must begin with the people. We must choose to break away from the past. And to stay on the path of reform and reconciliation.
Together, we can turn an important page in history. And we can look forward with hope and confidence. To a shared future. And to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.
- Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.