by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the anniversary ceremony of the NATO Defense College (Rome)

  • 13 Oct. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 13 Oct. 2016 16:17

(As delivered)

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and a great pleasure to join you in celebrating the NATO Defense College’s first 50 years – half a century – here in Rome.

And the College’s total of 65 years since it was founded in 1951.This is impressive efficiency: celebrating two NDC anniversaries on the same day! I welcome everything that promotes efficiency within the Alliance.

I want to begin by thanking President Mattarella for being with us today to mark these important milestones. The President and I will meet later today and I look forward to conveying a message of gratitude to Italy. It participates in so many ways in our Alliance and our collective defence. And I want to thank you for that.

I also want to thank the nation and people of Italy – one of the Alliance’s twelve original members – for their steadfast support for NATO. And for hosting NDC’s campus over the past five decades. NDC is NATO’s leading centre for pragmatic and forward-looking education. With a well-deserved reputation for excellence in scholarship and cutting-edge research that extends well beyond the countries of the Alliance.

This institution boasts a proud history. It has made a lasting contribution not only to NATO’s ability to keep up with changing threats and challenges. But also to help us to stay ahead of the curve. To help NATO adapt as early as possible to changing circumstances. This has been – and will continue to be – key to keeping the peace and protecting our freedoms. Today and for decades to come.
As we celebrate NDC’s role in keeping our nearly one billion citizens safe, we should give credit where it’s due.
NDC was, of course, the brain-child of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In a statement to the North Atlantic Council – dated 25 April, 1951 – General Eisenhower wrote:

“… It is highly desirable to establish in the near future a NATO Defense College for the training of individuals who will be needed to serve in key capacities in NATO.”

A couple of things are noteworthy about this message.

First, when he wrote this message, General Eisenhower was serving concurrently as NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander and as President of Columbia University in New York. Another expression of efficiency!
It illustrates that his vision of a NATO Defense College clearly combined his illustrious military experience with his love of education.

Secondly, I would call your attention to one more detail.
His statement proposing an NDC was dated 25 April 1951. The College was founded a mere two months later, on 25 June 1951. Now that’s fast! And I think we have something to learn from this efficiency in implementing NATO decisions. So that’s for our inspiration.

General Eisenhower – and NATO – moved very quickly. For a reason. They knew this facility was urgently needed – that it had an indispensable role to play.

A relevant Chinese proverb goes like this:

If you’re planning for one year, sow rice.
If you’re planning for a decade, plant trees.
If you’re planning for a lifetime, educate people.

NDC was created to meet the long-term educational needs of the Alliance. Not only for one lifetime. But for many generations. Throughout its celebrated history, NDC has trained wave-after-wave, generation-upon-generation of officers and civilian leaders. Leaders who have served with honour and distinction at the highest levels in the Alliance. Leaders who have helped to shape NATO’s strategies and capabilities, contributing directly to our success over the past 65 years.

Like NATO, NDC began in the early years of the Cold War. Like NATO, NDC has evolved over time. And just like NATO, NDC has remained true to our fundamental principles. The twelve founding members of NATO were “determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

NATO Allies – now 28 in number – continue to be united behind those enduring values. As NATO expanded, NDC has grown. And the curriculum has adapted. The course offerings increased to include new areas of interest. Including the Middle East, the Far East, the former Soviet Republics, and various NATO partners. 

In keeping with General Eisenhower’s vision, the College is dedicated to providing first-class training for the Alliance’s future leaders. This was true in November 1951, when 47 men from ten nations joined NDC’s very first ‘Senior Course’. And it’s just as true this year.

Senior Course graduates in 2016 – the 129th group to complete the prestigious study programme – face a very different world than the class of 1951. The Alliance today confronts a host of new, complex and very different challenges. Including the rise of terrorist groups like ISIL, threats to our energy security, hybrid warfare, and cyber-attacks.

We’re also responding to the destabilising behaviour of Russia, especially in Ukraine.
And addressing the arc of instability and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

To continue to strengthen our collective defence, to continue to enhance stability in our neighbourhood and to address a host of emerging threats and challenges, NATO needs a vibrant, inquisitive, world-class NDC.
Now more than ever. NATO needs what NDC has always provided: graduates who know how to think creatively and pragmatically. Graduates who can imagine the challenges of tomorrow.

But who are also able to apply what they have learned to help us tackle real-world problems today. This College has been essential to NATO’s ability to deal with evolving challenges and to prepare for an uncertain future.

I am proud of this institution. And I believe General Eisenhower would have been too.

On behalf of all Allies, and all partner nations, I thank NDC for its dedication to excellence. For all NDC has done for NATO over the past 50 years here in Rome and for 65 years in total, I congratulate you.

And I wish you continued success and many happy returns as the College helps to guide NATO over the next half century and beyond.