“20 Years of NATO Enlargement”
Keynote Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller at a commemoration ceremony in Prague to mark the 15th and 20th anniversaries of the Visegrad countries joining NATO
Thank you, Jakub Landovský for that kind introduction.
It is such a pleasure to be here with you all to celebrate the 15th and 20th anniversaries of the Visegrad Countries joining NATO. 15 years for Slovakia, which joined in 2004, and 20 years for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, which joined in 1999.
After decades of oppression, you were determined to forge a better, freer, more prosperous future for your citizens, and membership of NATO and the European Union were major milestones on the way to that brighter future.
While the countries of Central and Eastern Europe had been forced to join the Warsaw Pact, these same countries voluntarily sought membership in NATO. NATO believes that every country must be free to choose its own path, including with regard to its security agreements. This is a sovereign decision for sovereign nations to take – and no one has the right to interfere.
When NATO was founded 70 years ago it had just 12 members. Today it has 29, with a 30th – the Republic of North Macedonia - already sitting at the table at NATO Headquarters as an invitee. This is testament to the deep and fundamental attraction of an Alliance that exists to protect and defend its members; that promotes the shared values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law; and that respects national sovereignty.
Seventy years of NATO has brought 70 years of peace and stability among its members, almost unprecedented in the history of the European continent. For most of Europe’s history, a state of war was the norm, with countries great and small seeking to gain power and influence through violence and conquest.
NATO has provided the unifying mechanism to channel the political and military strength of its members to bring an end to that terrible cycle, and to create the conditions for security and stability throughout the continent. It has also helped to pave the way, through a stable security environment, for wider European integration and enlargement of the European Union.
But that is not to say that we have overcome all challenges. We all know how unpredictable and unstable the world has become in recent years. We face a wide range of challenges. Russia’s pattern of aggressive actions, including the illegal annexation of Crimea, a major military build-up from the High North to the Middle East, the use of a military grade nerve agent in Salisbury, and attempts to undermine our democratic institutions, all portray the challenge that unfortunately Russia has become.
Russia’s breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is part of this pattern of behavior. Russia has developed and deployed of a new intermediate range nuclear missile, the SSC-8. Allies have been raising concerns over this for the last 6 years, starting with the Obama administration. But our concerns have been ignored. This missile is mobile, easy to hide and can strike cities such as Prague in a matter of minutes. This development is incredibly dangerous, and all Allies call on Russia to destroy these missiles and associated technologies and to return to compliance with the INF Treaty.
Russia’s development, testing and deployment of the SSC-8 has prompted the United States, with the full support of all NATO Allies, to notify its intent to withdraw from the INF Treaty. There is still a window of opportunity for Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty. The withdrawal process will last until August and we very much hope that Russia will return to compliance in that time. In this context, it is regrettable that Russia has suspended its obligations under the Treaty.
So we have to prepare for a world without the INF Treaty, and with new Russian intermediate-range missiles deployed on our borders. Indeed, they are already there. It’s important to remember this.
This is one of the many reasons why ongoing dialogue with Russia is so important. Ensuring that we have open lines of communication reduces the risk of actions on either side being misinterpreted and of events spiralling out of control.
That is why we hold regular meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, where we can discuss important issues with Russia, such as Ukraine, the INF Treaty, transparency and risk reduction.
We will continue to pursue dialogue, while we keep our defences strong: not to provoke a conflict – but to prevent a conflict and to preserve the peace.
While we face a number of challenges with Russia, it is not our only concern. Instability in the Middle East and North Africa represents a challenge to our security. As many people flee for their lives, there is a vacuum that can be exploited by terrorist groups. The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Da’esh, of which NATO is a part, has made significant progress. We must ensure that ISIS does not return. That is why we have launched a new mission to train Iraqi forces and help them build their security institutions, particularly to help them establish a network of educational institutions.
We also continue to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces – so that they can fight terrorism and create the conditions for peace. Let me pay tribute to those soldiers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – and all others - who are serving or have served with such commitment and professionalism in Afghanistan, and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They served their countries, the Alliance, and the cause of peace with bravery and honour.
There are yet more challenges, and they are varied and unpredictable. This means we must be prepared for any threat coming from any direction. And to do that, we must invest in our defence. I am pleased the discussion this morning focused on this.
We are working to improve burden sharing across our Alliance. This includes cash, capabilities, and contributions to NATO missions and operations.
And we are making good progress.
In the last two years, European Allies and Canada have spent an additional $41 billion on defence and by the end of 2020, that figure will rise to $100 billion.
That money is strengthening our armed forces with more new equipment. We have increased the readiness of our forces and modernised our command structure. And we are doing far more to combat hybrid and cyber threats.
But there is still a long way to go. I know that there are always competing demands on national budgets. But our prosperity and our freedom are based on our security. Investing in the armed forces and security are the foundation of prosperity. And countries in this region know very well that we can never take our freedom or security for granted. So we must all continue to invest in our defence and keep our Alliance strong.
When the Visegrad 4 countries joined NATO in 1999 and 2004, it was on a wave of optimism. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and freedom and democracy were on the rise around the world.
Today, we face the most significant challenges in a generation. And some question the strength of our transatlantic Alliance.
Democracies will always have differences and engage open debates. This is a strength, not a weakness. Open debate is at the heart of what makes a democracy strong.
And the reality is, that despite our differences, NATO Allies have always come together to defend and protect each other. We have understood that this commitment to each other is in each of our national interests.
Today, we are doing more together than ever before.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia joined NATO because they saw NATO as a family to which they rightfully belong. And you do. This family is stronger thanks to you. Our strength comes from our unity. If we remain united, we can meet new challenges from wherever they may come.
I started my career during the Cold War. I recall, as I know many of you do, how different this continent was when divided by the Iron Curtain. And so it is a particular honor for me to stand here with you today, in Prague, to celebrate the European family reunited. Our unity truly is our greatest strength, and it is thanks to so many people in this room today that we have such a strong foundation on which to build our future.
We are here today in celebration of freedom and security – and in recognition of unity and progress. It is our duty to build on this progress to ensure that we are able to enjoy continued stability and prosperity for the years to come.