NATO's Partnership policy in a changing security environment

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the conference on ''NATO Partnerships: achievements and prospects'', Chisinau, Moldova

  • 14 May. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 14 May. 2014 10:56

Minister Gherman,
Deputy Minister Chiveri,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for that kind welcome.

I am pleased to be here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of a very productive and interesting two-and-a-half-day visit to Moldova.

We meet at a critical time for the security and stability of all our nations. I value the opportunity to share with you my views on how NATO's partnership policy can help us to steer through this challenging period, and how our partnership can help the Republic of Moldova.

Over the past two decades, NATO has developed a network of partnerships with 22 countries from the Euro-Atlantic area, with seven countries from North Africa and the Middle East, with four from the Gulf region, as well as with eight countries in other parts of the world. Today, we pursue political dialogue and practical cooperation with these 41 partner countries, and we engage actively with other international actors and organisations on a wide range of political and security-related issues.

NATO's partnerships have been a real success story. They have helped to preserve peace, reinforce stability, and promote progress, across and even beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. And they have done so essentially in three ways.

First of all, partnerships have been a unique tool for crisis management.

By working together – NATO and its partners – we have been able to mount an effective response to a range of different risks and threats to the security of our nations, from the Balkans, through Afghanistan, to Libya and other places such as the Gulf of Aden. Partners have contributed to the political legitimacy and operational success of our crisis management activities. And by plugging into NATO, they have not only multiplied the effect of their own contributions, but they have also strengthened the interoperability of their forces with those of NATO Allies.

Just recently, Moldovan troops joined the NATO-led, United Nations-mandated mission in Kosovo. And let me use this opportunity to thank the Moldovan Government for that contribution. It is a strong demonstration of your country's determination to work together with NATO and with other countries to help build greater security on this continent.

A second, key dimension of NATO's partnerships is practical cooperation.

Defence and security sector reform have been a major focus right from the start of our partnership policy twenty years ago. Drawing on NATO's unique expertise in this area, we have helped interested partners in building democratic, transparent, civilian-controlled defence sectors. This includes help with defence planning, modernising defence education, tackling corruption and increasing accountability. We have also helped with the retraining of decommissioned military personnel and the destruction of excess weapons and munitions.

Over these past two decades, we have had growing success in sharing NATO's expertise in other areas too. These include disaster preparedness and civil emergency planning, scientific cooperation and public diplomacy. But cooperation also covers new and emerging challenges like terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and cyber defence. Indeed, given the wide menu of opportunities now available, several of our partners – including Moldova – have found it useful to develop an Individual Partnership Action Plan to help them to set priorities and structure their cooperation.

Finally, partnership has helped several countries to prepare for NATO membership.

Over the past fifteen years, NATO's membership has grown from 16 to 28 Allies. All our 12 new Allies, including your neighbour Romania, were partners first. All 12 made a determined effort to use dialogue and cooperation to move closer to NATO, to implement bold reforms in their defence sector and in other areas, and to prepare to meet the responsibilities of membership. Ultimately all that hard work paid off for them, and we are very glad to have them as part of our NATO team.

But I hasten to add that partnership is not specifically aimed at promoting membership. Indeed, of our current 41 partners, only four aspire to NATO membership. Just like the Republic of Moldova, partners like Switzerland and Austria cherish their neutrality, and do not want to join our Alliance. NATO has always respected the right of every country to choose its own future, including the nature of its relationship with our Alliance: because that sovereign right is essential to the Europe whole, free and at peace that has been a longstanding goal of NATO.

In the wake of the Cold War, together with the European Union, we were able to make considerable progress towards that goal: by encouraging and helping countries to introduce democratic reforms; by overcoming the divisions of the past; and by opening the door to a new era where peace and prosperity could flourish. But all that progress has now been put at risk with Russia's aggression towards Ukraine, and President Putin's doctrine claiming the right to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers everywhere.

Judging by its recent actions, Russia is determined to create a sphere of influence in Eurasia; to rip up the international rulebook; and to deny other countries their freedom to choose. It is exactly that kind of behaviour that has led to some of the darkest episodes in the history of this continent. And that is why we must all – NATO Allies and partners alike – stand united in condemning Russia's actions as illegal and illegitimate.

Our Alliance's long-term aspiration remains a true strategic partnership with Russia. But as long as President Putin favours confrontation over cooperation, we are forced to put that aspiration on hold. This is not our choice, but the result of Russia's illegitimate actions.

Now this does not mean that we give up our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. Indeed, we are more determined than ever before to uphold that vision. That means we not only want to preserve NATO's partnerships, but also to strengthen them. As we look ahead to our next NATO Summit in September in the UK, we are now looking at various ways to do that. Let me again highlight three areas.

First of all, there should be closer political consultations between Allies and partners. Today, we hold regular discussions with all our partners on security issues of common interest. We want to find ways to make those consultations more frequent and focused, and to better engage certain interested partners on specific subjects of common concern, using both established fora like the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and smaller, flexible formats.

Second, in addition to intensifying our dialogue, we also want to continue to engage interested partners in concrete cooperation. We want to further develop our ability to work together in operations, including with the NATO Response Force, and through better military education, training and exercises in the context of our "Connected Forces Initiative". This will be especially important after the end of our ISAF operation in Afghanistan, as our partners will have fewer opportunities to strengthen interoperability through participation in NATO operations. And we want to continue to involve interested partners in "Smart Defence" projects, to develop capabilities together that will strengthen the security of all our nations.

Finally, I see a particular role for NATO in helping other nations to strengthen their defence capacity and their ability to project stability in their region. Before the Russia-Ukraine crisis we were already looking at how we could step up our work in this area. And we think that such help would be particularly beneficial both for our partners in the Middle East and North Africa, and for the ones in Eastern Europe, such as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.

Last month, NATO Foreign Ministers endorsed a range of measures to enhance our relations with several of our partners in Eastern Europe, including Moldova. These measures will help to deepen political dialogue, to strengthen interoperability, and to provide support to capacity building. We have a solid basis to build on with our Individual Partnership Action Plan. And there is a strong commitment by Allies and Moldova to strengthen our partnership.

This being said, the assistance that Ukraine, Moldova and other partners need goes beyond the military and security sectors, which is where NATO can play a leading role. It also must cover economic institution-building, fighting corruption, and strengthening the rule of law, and this is where the European Union has a great deal to offer. So to deliver truly effective assistance, NATO and the EU must work together. We must make sure we complement each other, and not duplicate each other. And this is why I believe both organisations should develop a coordinated and coherent approach to assist our partners in Eastern Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO's partnership policy is neither aimed at enlarging the Alliance's membership, nor at creating new dividing lines. Our goal is to help build a community of shared values and interests across the globe, and ultimately, here on this continent, a Europe whole, free and at peace.

Let me repeat that partnership with NATO is not a zero-sum proposition. It is compatible with neutrality, as evidenced by NATO's close and effective partnership with several neutral Western European countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland and Switzerland. It is compatible with having good relations with Russia and other countries and organisations. And it is compatible with closer European integration, which we all know is a key foreign policy objective of the Moldovan Government.

Your country's partnership with NATO goes back a long time, and it has steadily deepened. We concluded your first Individual Partnership Action Plan in 2006. And your Government's decision last year to support our NATO-led mission in Kosovo demonstrated real commitment and resolve.

This all shows that you have a sound understanding of NATO; that you realize we all need to play our part in building greater stability and security at home as well as abroad; and that you appreciate the benefits of working with our Alliance in that challenging endeavour.

You have shown you are an important and reliable partner for NATO. For its part, NATO has shown it's an important and reliable partner for Moldova. And I am confident that our partnership has a very bright and promising future.