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Right time, right place

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sets out his vision for both NATO and Turkey on the eve of the Alliance's Istanbul Summit.

(© Turkish Foreign Ministry)

As members of the Euro-Atlantic community gather in Istanbul, these are momentous times both for NATO and for Turkey. In the wake of the Alliance's latest round of enlargement, this is the first NATO Summit at which all 26 Allies will participate. Turkey is proud to welcome the leaders of the most successful alliance in history at what is by any standards a defining moment.

Today, an enlarged and transformed Alliance, committed to addressing the challenges of the 21st century and more robust than ever, is taking on new responsibilities to provide security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond. At the same time, in today's geopolitical environment, Turkey is becoming an increasingly important player at the hub of a vast region where the weight of the past comes up against the many uncertainties of the present and future. Our geography and history enable us to play a unique bridge-building role between regions, peoples and cultures, with the result that Istanbul provides a perfect setting for NATO's seventh post-Cold War Summit.

The changes in the security environment that have moved Turkey from NATO's periphery during the Cold War to what is effectively today's front line have also been the spur behind the Alliance's transformation. In a remarkably short time, NATO has grown from a collective-defence alliance into a collective-security organisation, with operations stretching from Kosovo to Afghanistan, with Partners from Ireland to Uzbekistan, and with roles varying from civil-emergency planning to the fight against terrorism. The most striking element of this transformation is that it has not followed any pre-ordained script. Rather, the Alliance has taken on new roles and missions in response to the emerging threats we face. Moreover, as the world keeps changing, NATO will continue to adapt and transform itself for the good of its members and the security of the wider international community.

The Istanbul Summit, with its ambitious agenda and concrete set of deliverables, is testimony to the way in which NATO is able to evolve and transform itself to meet new challenges. I believe that the Summit will not only confirm the progress that has been made in the Alliance's transformation since the Prague Summit, but also present a fresh and reinvigorated transatlantic vision for the Alliance in the years to come.

First among the elements of this new vision comes our recent historic enlargement – the largest in NATO's history. With seven new members committed to the defence of our core values, our Alliance is now stronger than ever. But the enlargement process must continue. The door should be kept open for every country in the Euro-Atlantic area that is willing and able to meet the criteria and commitments that Alliance membership entails. Our message in Istanbul to the remaining three aspirant countries – Albania, Croatia and Macedonia† – as well as others who wish to become members in the future, should, therefore, be one of motivation and encouragement.

The success of the enlargement process is to a large extent due to the achievements of our partnership policies. Without the guidance and assistance provided to Partners within the framework of both the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, we would not have been able to extend the security and stability that the Allies enjoy today across so much of Europe. In the process, both Russia and Ukraine have become genuine Partners and once uneasy relationships have been transformed in a remarkably short space of time.

Today, in the wake of enlargement, we need to ensure that our partnerships remain dynamic and effective so that we can meet even greater challenges. This, in turn, requires us to be more responsive to the needs and expectations of the remaining Partners, and in particular to those in Central Asia and the Caucasus, given the nature of the challenges they face. For this reason, we have decided to shift the focus of our partnerships to these strategically important regions. Given Turkey's special ties to this part of the world, my country is deeply committed to helping turn this strategic shift into a working reality. Moreover, I believe that the package of measures on the new direction of partnership prepared for the Summit provides a good start.

Our Mediterranean Partners find themselves in a similarly difficult situation. Here again, we have an obligation to develop and improve our relations with these countries. Indeed, given the stakes involved, the creation of a functioning partnership with the wider Mediterranean region is arguably the most significant investment that NATO can make in the future of Euro-Atlantic security. Since developments in this region have an obvious and direct impact on Turkey, my country has played and will continue to play an important role in bringing these countries closer to NATO and to the values that underpin the Alliance. A reinvigorated Mediterranean Dialogue together with the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, a new partnership programme aimed at building relationships with countries of the Greater Middle East, can help overcome misperceptions, build enduring stability and head off future problems.

As we reach out to the east and south, where new challenges as well as risks and threats abound, a renewed and stronger transatlantic link will be critical to developing effective policies and finding durable solutions. In this respect, the EU-NATO strategic relationship holds great potential that has yet to be fully realised. To be sure, we have come a long way in deepening and broadening our cooperation since the Alliance's last Summit. The best illustration of the progress that has been made is probably the imminent hand-over of responsibility from NATO to the European Union for the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is, however, still room for further progress. Since Turkey is both a key Ally and aspires to joining the European Union in the near future, we believe that we have a unique role to play in this process. Istanbul, therefore, provides an excellent opportunity for the European Union and NATO to demonstrate their commitment to combating today's security challenges on the basis of a common strategic vision and thereby more generally to reinvigorate transatlantic relations.

A functioning partnership with the wider Mediterranean region is arguably the most significant investment that NATO can make in the future of Euro-Atlantic security

Enhanced transatlantic cooperation will also be indispensable to our common fight against terrorism. The international community needs to stand together and to show resolve in the face of this threat, which seeks to undermine both our societies and the values that unite us. We should be under no illusion that this cancer will gradually fade away with the passage of time. Instead, in the war on terrorism, the Allies need to demonstrate as much determination and solidarity as they did during the Cold War, and to be prepared to combat this scourge for as long it takes. Our response to 9/11 demonstrated that the Alliance is committed to waging such a campaign. Yet more is both possible and necessary. We must, therefore, continue to explore the ways in which the Alliance can enhance its contribution to the war on terrorism.

While there is no justification for terrorism, we must not lose sight of its root causes. In this way, we should work together to eradicate the grievances and injustices that breed discontent and radicalism and contribute to the recruiting of terrorists. And we should pursue any initiative that seeks to address the underlying causes of terrorism and extremism, with the utmost determination.

Afghanistan presents a daunting challenge for both NATO and the wider international community in terms of terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking. In the words of former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, "Those who are not prepared to go to Afghanistan will find Afghanistan coming to them." Turkey has already played a major role in helping rebuild security in Afghanistan in addition to its contribution to the NATO-led peacekeeping operation in part because we have special historical ties with the people of that country. Indeed, even before the Alliance took responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August of last year, we were already heavily involved in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, having led ISAF II for eight months during a most critical period. While I do not wish to under-estimate the task ahead, I am confident that we will succeed in Afghanistan. This is both because NATO has consistently managed to rise to the most difficult of challenges and also because the way that the Alliance performs in Afghanistan – both politically and militarily – will have a direct bearing on its wider international credibility.

The NATO Summit comes at a crucial time with a number of important issues to be discussed, debated and decided by the Allies. The venue, situated at the crossroads of manifold civilisations, cultures and religions, in many ways corresponds to the agenda and should contribute to constructive and focused talks. With the echoes of Turkey's rich history reverberating around meeting rooms and through the discussions, I am confident that this special atmosphere will enable everyone to look to the future with a new sense of common purpose. Istanbul is the right place and this is the right time for this truly historic event.

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