Speech

by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research

  • Last updated: 12 Aug. 2008 13:49

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for the invitation and for those kind words of introduction.  Let me first of all say how pleased I am to be here, and to thank the prestigious Emirates Center for welcoming me to these very impressive facilities.  And let me use this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan for having established this Center, and having made the Emirates a real focal point for strategic studies here in the Gulf region.

My visit to Abu Dhabi today is the first ever official visit by a NATO Secretary General – and given the pace of NATO’s developing cooperation with the countries of the Gulf region, I expect that it will not be the last.  There are many good reasons for us to further our cooperation, to broaden it to new areas, and make it more effective. 
And I appreciate the opportunity to address these issues before such a distinguished audience.

Let me start with the big picture.  And that big picture, of course, is all about globalisation.  Increasingly, over the past few years, all our nations have come to realise that globalisation is not only a means of opening up economies, lifting people out of poverty, and promoting democratic values, the sunny, good side of globalisation.  But we have seen that globalisation is also, unfortunately, a vehicle for importing radicalism, religious fanaticism and the techniques of terrorism into our own societies, as well as it has facilitated the free flow of goods, including the most dangerous ones, supporting nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programmes.

Nuclear proliferation, which for the past thirty years appeared to be a secondary problem, has taken centre stage again with the ambitions of Iran and North Korea.  Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and missile programmes are indeed a continuing concern to the NATO Allies, as they are, of course, to many countries here in this region as well as the broader international community.  That is why all Allies welcome and support the UN-process that seeks to resolve this issue.  NATO as such plays no part in this diplomatic process, but we do seek to reinforce it.  Just last month, our Foreign Ministers urged Iran to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747.  We expect that Iran will give the IAEA all the information it needs.

Diminishing energy reserves and water scarcity are another challenge that threatens economic and social gains and are a potent cause for conflict.  There again, Emiratis know what I am talking about: your country has just embarked on a transparent, civilian nuclear power generation programme and you have been practising water desalinisation for years.

Finally, weak and failing states, once considered a concern only for their immediate neighbours, can have truly global implications.

This much is clear, Ladies and Gentlemen: the big picture does not inspire a great deal of optimism.  So how do we respond?  Well, there is really only one answer.  And that is to pursue new approaches to security cooperation.  Bold and innovative approaches which go beyond established geographical, cultural, religious or institutional boundaries – and which promote a qualitatively new level of cooperation between nations and organisations.

It is that kind of openness and engagement which is very much the hallmark of NATO today.  Many people, even in the Alliance’s own member countries, still remember the old NATO, which successfully defended the West during the Cold War.  The Alliance has every reason to be proud of that achievement, and we are – but we are not resting on our laurels, and we have moved on.  Over the past few years, NATO has adapted to the new, 21st century risks and challenges and turned into a very flexible security instrument.  An instrument at the service not just of its own 26 member nations, but also, and increasingly, at the service of the wider international community as well.

While collective defence remains the core purpose of NATO, we all realise that we no longer need to defend Western Europe against the threat of a massive invasion from the East.  We all agree that a purely territorial understanding of security is simply too narrow to cope with the new security challenges before us.  That we cannot afford to wait for these challenges to come to us.  And that we must be prepared to tackle them as and where they emerge – even if that may mean sending our military forces far away from our traditional European borders.

And so, today, over 60,000 men and women in uniform are deployed under NATO’s operational command in several demanding, United Nations-mandated operations on three different continents – ensuring stability and protecting the fundamental rights and interests of millions of people, indeed the vast majority of whom are Muslims.

I am sure that you are all aware of our engagement in Afghanistan, the Alliance’s biggest and most challenging operation – to promote peace and democracy in Afghanistan, and to help ensure that the country will never again be an exporter of terrorism, crime and instability to its neighbours and the rest of the world.

But NATO today is doing much more than that.  The Alliance is also keeping the peace in Kosovo, where we face a particularly challenging period ahead of a final resolution of Kosovo’s status.  NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean sea in a counter-terrorist operation, “Operation Active Endeavour”, an operation launched after 9/11 under Article 5.  It is interesting to note that, as we speak, Russian ships are sailing side by side with NATO ships.  We are training Iraqi and Afghan security forces.  We have assisted the African Union’s peacekeeping operation in Darfur with airlift, and are now providing similar support in Somalia.  And we have been involved in major disaster response and humanitarian relief operations, especially after the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan a few years ago.

I want to stress that, in all these different missions and operations, NATO is a team player.  We do not want to be a global policeman, that is not and should not be NATO’s ambition, or to compete with the United Nations.  We are working both in the interest of, and indeed closely with, the rest of the international community.  Whether in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Darfur or elsewhere – we do realise that civilian and military actors must work together and reinforce each other’s efforts – because there can be no security without development, and no development without security.  And that is why we are keen to engage with the United Nations and other international institutions, such as the European Union and the World Bank, in a comprehensive approach to the common security challenges before us.

We are determined, at the same time, to develop closer cooperation not just with other organisations, but also with individual nations, wherever they may be located on the map.  Countries that realise that they, too, are not immune from the new global risks and threats.  And countries that are interested in working together with NATO, in a common effort, to enhance both the security of their own citizens, and the stability of the international community more generally.

Against this background, NATO continues to work hard to enhance its so-called Mediterranean Dialogue with seven countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Our practical cooperation and political dialogue with these countries has increased significantly over the past decade.  And there was a highly successful meeting between the Foreign Ministers of NATO and those of our Mediterranean partner countries in Brussels to advance our cooperation still further.

In 2004 we also launched a special initiative – the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, or ICI – to reach out to, and engage with, the countries here in the Gulf region, and to offer them an opportunity to cooperate with the Alliance.  We were pleased to see the United Arab Emirates join the Initiative together with Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, and we are hopeful that Saudi Arabia and Oman will also join the ICI in the not too distant future.

There is an obvious mutual interest here, and we all stand to gain if we work more closely together.  The security of the countries in the Gulf region matters to NATO – but the Alliance also matters to your security.  Not one of our nations can shield itself from the global risks and threats of the 21st century that I highlighted earlier.  Extremism, trans-national crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are a threat to us all.  We share a common interest in the future of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a stable Middle East more generally.  We also have a common interest in energy security, and the safety of supply lines and energy infrastructure, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers.  If we want to meet those challenges we simply have to cooperate.  Bilateral cooperation is important, of course, as shown by the recent high-level visits to your country of the American and French Presidents.  But multilateral cooperation, including with NATO, offers important added value for all of us.  And as the scope of NATO’s operations has broadened to areas that are of closer interest to you, such as Southern Asia, it makes even more sense for us to work together.

That message has obviously resonated here in the Gulf region, and especially in the United Arab Emirates.  And quite frankly, that was no surprise to us.  Because even before the launch of the ICI, this country showed a strong determination to be a provider of security well beyond its own region, by contributing to NATO’s successful peacekeeping operation in the Balkans during the 1990s.  These last few years, the Emirates have very quickly become a most active participant in the ICI.  I am very certain that my official talks here today will once again clearly demonstrate that the leaders of this country do not only have a very sound understanding of the common security challenges before us, but also a genuine interest in pursuing further cooperation with NATO to address those common challenges.  And we very much welcome that.

Our practical cooperation has intensified significantly these last few years, and I am convinced that our political consultations will follow the same path.  Much of our interaction today, but not all, is focused on military-to-military cooperation. 

The Emirates have sent a growing number of participants to NATO courses and seminars.  There have been several successful expert team meetings to discuss nuclear matters, public information and other issues.  We welcome the decision of the Emirates’ authorities to appoint a Liaison Officer to NATO, which should greatly facilitate our cooperation.  And if, as I expect, we will soon conclude an information sharing agreement, that will allow the Emirates to make even better use of the wide menu of activities available under the ICI.

Let me just highlight one area in which the Emirates has shown a particular interest, and that is training and education.  NATO is keen to share more widely with interested ICI partners our unique expertise in training military forces – to help them to build forces that are interoperable with those of the NATO Allies, and able to work together more effectively in actual missions and operations.  We have already created several new opportunities for cooperation in this area.  We have made progress towards the establishment of a dedicated faculty at the NATO Defense College in Rome, and the creation of a network of national training and educational establishments, in which I hope and expect the Emirates Center will also play a prominent role.  We very much see this as a two-way process, in which the Emirates may learn from NATO but we can also benefit from your country’s experience, especially in peace support operations.  It is a two-way street indeed.  And so we look forward to the Emirates’ continued interest, and engagement, in this area of training and education.

Over the past few years, the opportunities for mutually beneficial practical cooperation between the Emirates and NATO have continued to grow.  And today they range from the fight against terrorism and other so-called hard security issues to disaster response and scientific cooperation.  As a matter of fact, given the increasing scope of our cooperation, there is merit in trying to structure and focus it better, and to make sure that we – NATO and the Emirates -- get the most out of the time and effort that we put into it.  To this end, the Alliance has offered its four ICI partners the possibility to elaborate an Individual Cooperation Programme with the Alliance.  And we would certainly welcome if the Emirates were the first ICI country to conclude such a Programme with us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Until a few years ago, the very notion of a NATO Secretary General visiting Abu Dhabi to discuss closer cooperation would have raised many eyebrows – both here in the Emirates, and within the NATO Alliance.  But today, it makes eminent sense.  Because more and more, the security of all our nations is affected by what is happening elsewhere on the globe.  All our nations face the same complex, inter-related, and potentially lethal risks and threats – profound challenges that we can really only come to terms with if we work together.  And promoting that cooperation, and taking it further, is the main objective of my visit here today.

At the beginning of my remarks, I noted that – at face value – the big picture of today’s overall security environment did not inspire a lot of optimism.  But let me tell you that I am confident about our ability to deal with the security challenges posed by globalisation.  NATO’s next Summit meeting, in Bucharest at the beginning of April, will underline the Alliance’s readiness, and its determination to reach out to other nations and organisations to foster a comprehensive approach to the challenges before us. 

The United Arab Emirates, for their part, have taken a very constructive approach towards developing greater dialogue and cooperation with the Alliance.  Our common interests are clear, and there are many opportunities for fruitful, mutually beneficial cooperation between us.  Let us grasp those opportunities – together.

Thank you.