The myths and benefits of partnership with NATO
Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at Comrat University in Comrat, Moldova
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by saying how very pleased I am to be here. I have a busy programme of meetings and speeches in Moldova yesterday, today and tomorrow. But I was happy to include Comrat in my programme as well, and to speak at Comrat University.
I have seen that Stefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, was here a few months ago to talk about the myths and benefits of Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union. I want to talk to you today about the myths and benefits of Moldova’s partnership with NATO.
I have spent a big part of my career as a US diplomat helping to shape my country’s relations with this part of the world. I have worked in various positions in Washington, and as Ambassador in Moscow. But back in December of 1991, I was the Deputy US Permanent Representative to NATO, and I was fortunate to be present at a seismic moment in European history.
That year, NATO had formed the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a consultative body that included the Allies and nine Eastern and Central European countries, including the Soviet Union – one of the first efforts to bring former adversaries together as security partners. During the NACC’s first Foreign Ministerial meeting in December, we were preparing an important communiqué for release. And I was sitting behind the US Secretary of State, when the Soviet representative informed the Council that he could no longer sign the communiqué because his country had just ceased to exist. A few minutes later, the NATO Secretary General announced he had just received a telegram from Boris Yeltsin stating that Russia was interested in joining NATO as a member.
That startling moment showed us how much things had changed, and were continuing to change. And it made clear to us that NATO would have to change, too: to make a determined effort to reach out to our neighbours in the East; and to help them with the very difficult economic and political transition they all faced. Because if we did not, Central and Eastern Europe risked descending into poverty and instability.
So we strengthened and broadened our partnership programmes, creating the Partnership for Peace in 1994. The NACC was renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997, and this body remains the principal political forum where NATO and its Euro-Atlantic partners consult, and where we coordinate our many cooperation programmes.
Partnership with NATO has benefitted many states, including several neutral countries and former Soviet republics like the Republic of Moldova. And it has done so in many different ways.
Our main focus is on helping our partners to adopt democratic reforms; to modernize defence institutions and make them transparent and accountable; and to promote the ability of partner forces to work with NATO forces. Through such efforts, many partners have become producers rather than consumers of security. They have made valuable contributions to NATO operations and helped to build stability in their own region and beyond.
But partnership with NATO is about more than defence and military issues. NATO also has unique experience to share in other areas. For example in civil emergency planning, where we help partners in coping with natural disasters like floods or other emergencies. We also promote scientific and technological cooperation. There is a growing focus on new security challenges, like terrorism and cyber defence. And we have programs whereby students can come and visit NATO and see what it is with their own eyes.
Moreover, our partnerships are not exclusive or competitive, but complementary. You can be a partner or member of the European Union, or a strong friend of Russia and a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and you can still be a NATO partner. You can use your partnership to prepare for possible future membership in NATO. But you can also preserve your neutrality and choose not to choose. That is your right.
This freedom of sovereign, independent nations to choose their own future is the foundation of our post-Cold War European security architecture. And it is regrettable that Russia has now called that architecture into question with its actions in Ukraine.
For over two decades, NATO has consistently worked to build a strong, cooperative and mutually trusting relationship with Russia. We established a special forum for consultations with Russia, and we have proposed numerous concrete and forward-leaning measures, such as cooperation on missile defence. At every step, we have tried to involve Russia. It is deeply disappointing that Russia now favours confrontation over cooperation. This is not an approach that we favour. But we must be – and we will be – ready to meet the challenge.
At our next NATO Summit in Wales in September, Allied Heads of State and Government will discuss the implications of Russia’s actions. A main focus will be on reinforcing our collective defence. But we will also focus on strengthening our partnerships, and we count the Republic of Moldova as an important partner.
Our partnership rests on a firm foundation. For well over two decades, our cooperation has developed in many areas, including military education and training, interoperability, scientific cooperation, civil emergency planning, and cyber defence. Since 2006, Moldova has had an Individual Partnership Action Plan to help structure its cooperation with NATO, and we are now looking to update that plan.
Moldova’s partnership with NATO also has immediate benefits for you and your fellow Moldovans right here at home. For example, a NATO Partnership Trust Fund is helping to ensure the safe disposal of huge stocks of dangerous chemicals and pesticides left over from the Soviet era. Some of this material can be found here in this region and our aim is to help destroy them in the near future.
As our NATO Summit in the UK approaches, the NATO Allies have already discussed several ways to enhance our cooperation. There is scope to deepen our political dialogue. And we are looking at ways to intensify our cooperation in the defence field as well, including by helping you to strengthen your defence institutions.
Going forward, NATO will continue to support Moldova’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and your country’s right to choose its own future – without interference, without intimidation, and without the threat of intervention or annexation.
I congratulate your country on its choice to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, as well as achieving a visa-free regime with the EU. NATO and the EU gather many of the same countries. We share the same values – freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. And we share a common interest in helping countries like the Republic of Moldova to advance on the path of democratic reform.
Your country can benefit from all that help while still staying neutral. It can have closer relations with the European Union and continued close relations with Russia. And you can have all that and closer relations with NATO too.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If we are to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous European future, then all countries must have the right to choose their own political and security destinies. And it must be every country’s right to opt for neutrality if it so wishes.
We in NATO understand and respect that Moldova is neutral, even if we also know that ‘neutral’ does not mean ‘uninterested’. We are keen to deepen our partnership. And to help you to continue your path towards the level of European integration, and as deep a partnership with NATO, as you find appropriate for your country.
NATO’s vision for Europe is based on cooperation, not confrontation. It is based on stable borders, and every country’s freedom to choose -- or not to choose. There is a strong role to play in that Europe for an independent, sovereign Moldova. I am convinced that, with your support, we can turn that vision into reality.