Why NATO’s door will remain open
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Bucharest University
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, let me extend a sincere word of thanks to Bucharest University for awarding me the title of Doctor Honoris Causa for my work in Denmark, in Europe and at NATO. This is truly a great honour.
I am honoured because Bucharest University is not only the biggest and most prestigious university in Romania. It also has a strong reputation in standing up for freedom, and against repression. Students at Bucharest University played a key role in the student protests of the 1950s. And they were active again during the anti-communist protests in 1989, which led to the emergence of a new, democratic Romania.
That new, democratic Romania became a NATO Ally in 2004. And it was a powerful symbol of continuity that, just four years later, at a NATO Summit here in Bucharest, we agreed on the next countries to join our Alliance.
Today, NATO has 28 Allies. And our door remains open for more European countries to walk through. Because we want to see a Europe that is truly whole and free. Where all countries, and all people, are at peace with themselves and with their neighbours.
By keeping our NATO door open for new members, we have already made enormous progress towards that free and open Europe. Let me highlight what we have achieved.
First of all, we have extended the zone of stability and security across our continent.
The prospect of joining NATO has motivated many countries to adopt important reforms. To build and reinforce their democratic institutions. To bring their armed forces under democratic control, and modernise their militaries. To fight crime and corruption. And to strengthen the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
But NATO’s open door has done much more than encourage domestic reforms. It has also encouraged many nations to reach out and settle long-standing bilateral disputes with their neighbours. And that, too, has created greater stability and security for us all.
Second, the security and stability that comes with being a NATO Ally has also enabled economic progress.
It has increased confidence in the business environment of new and aspiring Allies. It has stimulated foreign investment in their economies. And it has helped to create jobs.
Being a NATO partner, and then a member of NATO, helped Romania to become one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, before the global economic crisis hit us all in 2009. Although that crisis continues, it will not last forever. Europe will come through it – and it will be stronger than before.
Finally, membership of NATO, and also the European Union, has helped to open up our societies, and open up opportunities.
Today, you are free to study where you want and to share ideas. You have access to news and information from around the world. You can travel overseas – and not just for holidays. You can work and live abroad too.
Take for example my Spokesperson, who is here with me today. Oana studied at this very university, in the communist period. When Romanians had few opportunities to travel, NATO was the enemy, and freedom was just a dream. Now she, along with so many others born in Romania, are playing a vital role in the NATO Alliance in ways they could not have even imagined twenty-five years ago.
So NATO’s Open Door policy has helped to improve the quality of life for millions of people across our continent. It has delivered greater stability. Greater prosperity. And greater opportunities. These are all tremendous achievements.
However, we cannot – and must not – take any of these achievements for granted. Because our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace is not yet complete. We must continue to work hard – all of us -- to turn this vision into reality.
First, there is work to do in our own NATO member countries.
It is particularly important that we, as Allies, sustain our commitment to NATO as an Alliance of values which kept us together, in Europe and across the Atlantic.
At the same time, it is important that all European Allies – old and new -- continue to invest in defence. That we look outwards, not inwards, as we tackle the challenges and opportunities of a globalising world. And that we share the security burden more fairly with our American Allies.
Second, countries that are interested in joining NATO have work to do as well.
If they want to walk through NATO’s open door, they must deliver. They must continue to demonstrate strong political commitment. And they must stay on the path of reform and reconciliation.
Finally, there is work to do for countries that do not wish to join NATO.
Because a Europe whole, free and at peace is also in their interest. It is in their political and economic self-interest to implement the kind of reforms that NATO and EU aspirants are implementing. And it is in their security interest to improve the ability of their forces to work with our NATO forces, so we can meet common challenges together in the future. NATO will continue to assist partners across Europe, and beyond by offering them opportunities to train with us, learn and reform with us.
So there is work to do for all of us. But what is the way ahead? Which nation, or nations, will be next to walk through NATO’s open door? And when will that be?
The Western Balkans is a strategically important region for NATO. It is located at the very heart of Europe. And the Alliance has already made an enormous investment there.
I have welcomed the recent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina to settle their differences. It shows that more and more political leaders in the Western Balkans are ready to look to the future, rather than the past. And NATO will be there to help all countries in the region, whether they wish to join our Alliance or not.
Several countries of the region – Albania, Croatia and Slovenia - have already become a member of NATO. Three further countries -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹ -- all know that our door is open for them as well – when they deliver. And they know what we expect of them.
Bosnia and Herzegovina must show it can function fully and effectively as a state. As a first step, it must register all immovable defence property as state property before we can make any further progress. They know that.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will receive an invitation to join NATO as soon as the issue over its name has been resolved. They know that.
And in Montenegro, more reforms are needed in the security and defence sectors, as well as a greater effort to fight corruption and organized crime. They also know that.
Here in Bucharest in 2008, we made a commitment that Georgia will also become a member of NATO. Georgia has made significant efforts, but it also knows that there is more to do. As I told both President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Ivanishvili last November, we are looking to the Georgian government to respect the rule of law and due process when it comes to prosecutions of former government officials.
It is important to avoid even the perception of selective justice. We trust the Georgian authorities to uphold the rule of law in each and every case, to respect human rights and the rights of minorities. We also expect Georgia to continue key reforms and to conduct free and fair presidential elections later this year.
Again, all four current NATO aspirants know that they must deliver. NATO is there to help -- but ultimately it is up to them. They themselves must take the hard decisions, and do the hard work of implementing reforms.
But all four aspirants also know that, when they deliver, and when they can assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, they will find a home in NATO -- just like Romania did almost ten years ago.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I was younger, the same age as some of you here today, NATO and Romania were on opposite sides of an Iron Curtain. And it was hard to imagine that things would ever change. But things did change. And they changed for the better. Today, instead of being on opposite sides, we are on the same side. And both NATO and Romania are stronger as a result.
For you, the Cold War and the Iron Curtain are ancient history. During your lifetime, you have only seen the rise of a new Romania. And you have also seen the rise of a new Europe. A Europe that is increasingly whole, free and at peace.
By keeping our door open for new members, NATO has helped to shape our new Europe. And we will continue to do so.
But the new Europe is also your Europe. And so I encourage you to help shape it too. By taking part. By making the most of the opportunities you now have. And by making your voice heard.
Together, we can -- and we will -- make the new Europe a reality.