Updated: 05-May-2000 NATO Speeches

At the ACE
Change of
3 May 2000


by Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we say farewell to an exceptional soldier and military leader, who as Supreme Commander Europe has made an outstanding contribution to the success of this Alliance.

General Clark, when you arrived three years ago to take up your post as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, you brought with you a sterling reputation as a military officer with a unique combination of military expertise, political knowledge, and diplomatic skills.

Let me say that, in your time here, you have confirmed every bit of that reputation -- and you have enhanced it, because your record as Supreme Allied Commander Europe is a record of considerable and tangible success.

You helped win the peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Under your command, that country has evolved from a cauldron of ethnic violence to the point where we can see the day when Bosnia-Herzegovina stands on its own as a stable and secure sovereign country. SFOR, under your overall command, has played a key role in this historic evolution.

You have also played an important role in building NATO's new relationship with Russia. Military-to-military cooperation on the ground has been one of the most successful elements of our cooperative agenda, and that is because NATO's top soldier has been personally committed to serious and deepening cooperation with Russia.

Your practical determination sent out a very strong signal that NATO sees Russia as a Partner, and that our cooperative relationship can work and cement the links across what was a divided continent.

Your leadership has helped turn the concept of a "Euro-Atlantic community" into a living reality.

Your determination to bring the Partner nations close to the Alliance, here at SHAPE Headquarters and in the field, has helped our Partners in PfP make an ever-stronger contribution to our common security. Today, the fact that PfP and EAPC are centrepieces of a new security community is a historic success, and it is due in no small part to your work as SACEUR.

Indeed, each element of NATO's agenda has benefited from your wise military advice, your determined leadership and your political savvy. But of course, the most obvious example is Kosovo.

General Clark, the Kosovo campaign was, from its very beginnings, one of the most complex operations a planner could ever dream up.

The difficulties of the military operation alone have been daunting enough; but this crisis also required cool diplomacy, and deep understanding of the political context in which it was happening.

You were up to that challenge. Your diplomatic skills, your experience in the region, and your transparent honesty helped you to negotiate robustly with President Milosevic.

That same range of skills ultimately helped you understand when diplomacy alone would not suffice.

And when diplomacy had had its chance and we simply had to use military force to stop the hideous violence being used against the Kosovo people, you led from the front - and you led us to success.

In what was to be the biggest test to NATO in its 50 year history you ran an operation which saw all of NATO's goals achieved.

And let us be clear -- this operation demanded not only the highest military skills, but also real political acumen became this operation succeeded under the most difficult circumstances -- within the demanding political and military framework of a 19 nation Alliance, and always under intense media scrutiny. We have all been continually impressed by your ability to manage all of these complexities and still keep focused on your primary mission -- military success.

General, the results today are a testament to your achievements. Under the watchful eye of KFOR, a million Kosovars have returned to their homes, and are now living in peace and freedom for the first time in a generation.

Thanks in considerable part to your inspired leadership, the people of Kosovo, Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans have at last attained real hope for the future. This, too, is a historic achievement, and you have every right to feel proud.

The Alliance always relies heavily on the military leadership and political skills of its Supreme Allied Commander Europe. You have met that challenge, and in style. That is why NATO enters the 21st Century in better shape than ever. You were without any doubt the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

And as you hand on the flag today, your legacy to NATO will live on.

We in the North Atlantic Alliance thank you profoundly, and with affection and immense respect bid you, Wes, your wife, Gert, and son, a fond farewell and offer our good wishes for a happy and rewarding life after the military.

The torch must now pass to a new SACEUR, and NATO is fortunate, once again, to welcome an officer with a wealth of military and political experience. General Ralston, let me say welcome. This new post will be a challenging one, as I'm sure General Clark has already warned you. But I am sure he has also told you how rewarding it will be.

You inherit an Alliance which is playing a key role in building security for future generations. We have a chance to consolidate peace in Kosovo, Bosnia and South East Europe. We have the opportunity to build a strong and trusting relationship with Russia and Ukraine. We are building ever-stronger security relationships all across Europe. And of course, there are always one or two surprises along the way! General Clark will have mentioned that too.

General Ralston, on behalf of the entire NATO community, please accept my congratulations and our best wishes on your new command, and please accept my assurance that you can count on unflinching support for you, and for all who serve in the armed forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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