Major-General Al-Attiyah, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be in Doha today. This is my first visit to the Gulf region since I took office as NATO’s Deputy Secretary General at the end of last year. Following in the footsteps of my predecessor, one of the key issues that I am dealing with is the Alliance’s developing relationship with countries across the Mediterranean and into the Gulf region.
First of all, I would like to thank you, Major-General Al-Attiyah, for your introductory remarks. I also want to thank the Qatar Center for Military Strategic Studies for its hospitality and hard work in putting together this important conference on “NATO’s Role for Stability and Peace” together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division.
I see my keynote address this morning very much as a scene-setter – to help provide context for the more specific issues that will be addressed later today. And so what I want to do is, first of all, to discuss NATO’s evolution and illustrate its continuing and indeed growing relevance to the new, volatile security environment -- and to then highlight the mutual interest and growing opportunities for greater cooperation between NATO and the countries here in the Gulf region.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is the most successful alliance in history. Next year, NATO will celebrate is 60th anniversary, and for a security Alliance of sovereign states that is a remarkable age. There will be another anniversary next year as well, when we will commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War back in 1989. And it is undeniable that today, almost 20 years later, many people, not least in NATO’s own member nations, still associate the Alliance first and foremost with our success in defending the West and facing down communism during the Cold War.
But with the fall of communism, we have certainly not gone out of business, as some predicted nor have we remained trapped in the past. As a matter of fact, the more complex and, by and large, more dangerous world of today has made NATO busier than ever before. From a static vision of defence, NATO has had to move to a policy of active engagement not just at the service of the security of its own 26 member countries, but increasingly also at the servie of international peace and stability. Let me explain.
Compared to the relative predictability of the Cold War, we find ourselves today in a very volatile, fast-changing international environment. An environment where all our nations, and all our citizens, face a multitude of interconnected risks and dangers – terrorism, religious extremism, trans-national crime, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. An environment where non-state actors are able to exert more and more influence. And where power is more diffuse than ever before.
In essence, NATO’s relevance to this volatile new environment is explained by two, seemingly contradictory factors. It has to do with continuity – and it has to do with change.
First of all, NATO has always been unique in binding together North America and Europe – two continents that have very close historical, political, economic and cultural links, but which also feel a strong moral obligation to contribute to global stability. In NATO, Europe and America have not only an exceptional, permanent political consultation mechanism, but also an unparalleled integrated military structure to implement their decisions.
The Alliance is a transatlantic framework that allows all participating countries – big and small – to make their voice heard, to seek common solutions based on consensus, to train their forces together, and to undertake and sustain military action to a degree that no other institution can. These have been unique political and military assets of the Alliance, ever since its inception. And they continue to make NATO an anchor of stability in our age of uncertainty – for member nations and non-members alike.
And that brings me to my second point, which is NATO’s adaptability. Every time the strategic environment has changed over the past half century, the Alliance was able to respond to those changes, to steer them in a positive direction, and to shape the security environment.
We saw this immediately at the end of the Cold War, when NATO transformed into a catalyst for dialogue and cooperation between nations across the entire European continent. And we saw it a few years later, when Yugoslavia collapsed into chaos, and when NATO became the centre of a unique multinational coalition which ended the violence that threatened to engulf the Balkans.
Today, NATO is once again adapting to change. There is a strong consensus among NATO’s member nations that the fundamentally new security environment requires a fundamentally new approach. We all realise that we simply can no longer afford to maintain our previous posture, concentrating on the defence of our borders. We all agree that the new security environment requires us to tackle security challenges head-on, even well away from our traditional area of operations.
NATO’s missions and operations are the clearest manifestation of this new approach. As I speak, more than 60,000 men and women in uniform are deployed under NATO’s operational command in a range of United Nations-mandated operations – from Kosovo, to Afghanistan, to the Mediterranean and until rencently in Darfur – promoting peace and stability, and protecting the fundamental rights and interests of millions of people, in the vast majority of whom are Muslims.
In all these missions and operations, NATO is not working alone, but is acting as a team player. We realise that the Alliance’s engagement alone will not create lasting stability, and that security must go hand in hand with development. And that is why we are not just working in close partnership with the governments concerned, but also with other international actors that are better placed to promote development and reconstruction – such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank – in what has to be a truly comprehensive approach, promoting a stronger civilian-military cooperation.
What is more, NATO is interested not only in engaging other international organisations, but in building bridges to individual countries as well. Countries which realise that they, too, are not immune from the new global risks and threats. Countries which understand the added value of cooperating with a multilateral political-military organisation such as ours, with its unique assets and experience, to complement their own bilateral relationships and enhance international peace and stability.
In 2004, in establishing our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, or ICI, that opportunity to work together with NATO was opened up to the countries here in the Gulf region as well. And their response to the ICI has been very constructive and very positive. Qatar joined the initiative early on, together with Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. And we are hopeful that Saudi Arabia and Oman will also decide to take part in the ICI. Because we all benefit if we work more closely together. The security of the countries here in the Gulf region matters to NATO – but the evolving, 21st century Alliance that I have just described clearly also matters to your security.
This is not just because the scope of the Alliance’s operations has broadened to areas that are closer to your own interests with – for instance – our leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and our training mission in Iraq. We all share an interest in the stability of the Middle East more generally. Iran’s nuclear activities and missile programme are a continuing concern to all our nations and to the international community. And on this issue let me underline that – as the Allied Foreign Ministers stated when meeting in Brussels last month – we urge Iran to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747, and we expect Iran to give the IAEA all the information it requires. NATO as such is not part of this diplomatic process, but we support and seek to reinforce the UN-effort that seeks to resolve this sensitive issue. We also have a common interest in energy security, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers. It therefore makes perfect sense for us to conduct a regular political dialogue on these and other issues of common interest. And it makes perfect sense for us to deepen our practical cooperation, and to benefit from each other’s specific knowledge and experiences.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is certainly the direction in which the relationship between NATO and Qatar has developed these last few years – and allow me to say that we at NATO are very pleased indeed with that development and growth. Our political consultations have steadily deepened, and they were given a major boost with the visit by His Highness the Emir of Qatar to NATO Headquarters in Brussels in November of 2006 – which was the first official visit to NATO by a Head of State of a country participating in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
At the same time, our practical cooperation has intensified as well, especially at the military-to-military level. There has been a growing number of participants from Qatar in NATO courses and seminars. Qatar was the first ICI country to appoint a Liaison Officer to NATO in Brussels, in order to facilitate our cooperation. And a NATO team was here in Doha just two weeks ago to discuss additional opportunities, including in crisis management and civil emergency planning -- as well as the possibility of elaborating an Individual Cooperation Programme with the Alliance, in order to better structure and focus our cooperation.
A particularly promising area for our practical cooperation is in 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 more effective and more interoperable with those of the NATO Allies. But we are also interested in the experience of our ICI partners, especially in crisis management and peace support 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 towards the creation of a network of national training and educational establishments. And we do hope Qatar will continue to engage with us in this important area of training and education.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Looking ahead to the future, I am convinced that the strength and effectiveness of our dialogue and cooperation will increasingly also depend on our ability to inform our publics – to win their support -- and to keep them interested and engaged in what we are doing.
We must face the fact that stereotypes are still very much alive in all our countries, and we must do what we can to correct those. We have to develop a greater understanding of the complex new security environment, and how we can better address the risks and threats that it poses by working together. I hope, and I trust, that our conference today will help to foster that awareness -- both among ourselves, and among our publics.