Acceptance Speech

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Bucharest University, Bucharest, Romania

  • 24 Apr. 2009
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  • Last updated: 24 Apr. 2009 13:10

Minister, Rector, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends from Romania,

Thank you for those kind words of introduction and for the laudatio.  And thank you very much for highlighting the very close historical links that exist between my own university, Leiden, and your wonderful university and its famous law school. 

I can honestly say that when I was studying law all those years ago, I never expected that one day I would be awarded a doctorate.  And I have to say that to be receiving such an award from the University of Bucharest makes it an extra special honour for me.  Let me explain why. 

Just over five years ago, a number of events took place that left an indelible mark on me.  The first, in January 2004, was when I took up office as the NATO Secretary General.  The second was a couple of months later, when I attended a ceremony at the White House to welcome seven new countries, including Romania, into the NATO Alliance.  And another was in May of that year, when I made my first official visit to your country.  I was granted the honour of addressing a joint session of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies – as a former parliamentarian, it was an honour that I particularly valued.

Since those early days of my tenure as Secretary General, and your country’s membership of the Alliance, we have walked an eventful path together.  And as I now approach the end of my tenure in a few months time, it is perhaps an entirely natural reaction that I should look back on those five years.  When I do, I am struck by the number of times that Romania features prominently, and favourably.  And that is why receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Bucharest has such special significance for me.

I hope you will allow me to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, and share with you some of those thoughts as I look back.  I promise it won’t take five years to tell, so please don’t worry.

As I mentioned, one of my earliest, and happiest memories, was of the wave of enlargement that swept the Alliance in 2004.  Seven new countries concluded many years of demanding preparations and took their rightful place in NATO.  And from day one of its membership, Romania has been a making a wide range of extremely valuable contributions to the Alliance. 

It is often forgotten that NATO provides a unique transatlantic forum for dialogue and cooperation on a broad array of political and security issues.  And that NATO is also at the centre of a network of partnerships that extends well beyond the transatlantic community.  But Romania was quick to learn the value of this NATO role.  And what better way to demonstrate that commitment to promoting dialogue and cooperation, amongst Allies, and with other partners, than by offering to host a NATO Summit. 

A year ago, Bucharest was host to the largest Summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in history.  Over 60 nations and organisations assembled here for two days of Summit discussions and decisions.  The meeting was a tremendous success – thanks not least to the vision and hard work of the Romanian President and Government, but also the generous and warm hospitality of the people of Bucharest. 

Today, a year later, many of the decisions taken at the Bucharest Summit continue to guide our work in NATO.

Take, for example, enlargement. NATO’s Open Door policy has been unambiguous and steadfast, and the Alliance’s commitment to that policy was re-iterated in emphatic terms in Bucharest.  We issued invitations to Albania and Croatia, and just a few weeks ago they joined NATO’s table as full members. 

Of course, NATO enlargement won’t stop there.  At Bucharest, we also agreed to extend to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹ an invitation to join the Alliance as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached.  And we agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will eventually become members of the Alliance when they fullfill the criteria for entering the NATO family.

Similarly, security and stability in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia are of vital importance not just for Romania, but for the Alliance as a whole. And Romania remains at the forefront, of those nations who emphasise the important contribution that our Euro-Atlantic partnership can play in enhancing stability and security in these critical areas. 

Naturally, the Black Sea is a region of particular importance for your country.  Through membership of the Alliance, Romania has succeeded in raising the profile of the Black Sea area, and it has gained Allied support for a number of regional initiatives and mechanisms that will contribute to greater cooperation among the Black Sea states. These efforts will further promote stability in the Black Sea area, and could be developed further in the future.

Missile defence was another important topic at last year’s Summit. One of the defining decisions at Bucharest related to the agreement to look at options for providing comprehensive missile defence coverage to all Allied territory and populations not otherwise covered by the proposed US system.  A vivid debate among Allies ensured that all the options would be based on the principle of the indivisibility of Allied security.  At our most recent Summit, at Strasburg / Kehl earlier this month, we launched the next phase in this work – and again it was clear that indivisibility of Allied security remains a guiding principle as we continue this work.

Similarly -- and perhaps somewhat prophetically -- at the Bucharest Summit several Allies, including Romania, advocated a role for NATO in the domain of energy security.  Just a few months ago, the Russian-Ukraine gas crisis had a severe impact here, as well as in several other Allied nations.  Clearly, this region now has experienced the unwelcome effects that disruption to the flow of energy supplies can cause.  That is why I welcome the decision by Allied Heads of State and Government earlier this month to continue the work they had set in hand in Bucharest last year.

Let me now focus on NATO’s military operations. As I stand here before you today, NATO forces are deployed in Afghanistan, in the Mediterranean, off the Horn of Africa, in Iraq, and in the Balkans – and your country’s soldiers are deployed alongside those of our Allies, and of many partner nations, in Kosovo, and in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, under a United Nations’ mandate, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, is assisting the Afghan authorities to bring security and stability back to their country so that democracy can take root.   The plan that guides our approach to Afghanistan – the comprehensive strategic political-military plan - was adopted here, in Bucharest, last year.  It was adopted not only by all the NATO Allies, but also by all NATO’s partners involved in the Afghanistan operation.  And that plan - continues to guide our approach. 

Clearly, no plan can be implemented successfully without the right soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.  And I should like to use this occasion to state publicly my profound gratitude for Romania’s contribution of close to one thousand soldiers to our ISAF operation.  I have visited Afghanistan many times, and I have seen the excellent work that your country’s military personnel are doing in, and around, Kabul.  Their task is dangerous.  And I deeply regret that over the course of the last 6 years, in Afghanistan, eleven of your brave soldiers lost their lives while serving for NATO, and for Romania, including three soldiers during these past two months.

I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of the injured and the fallen.  They put their lives at risk so that you, and I, can continue to live our lives in safety.  And I am confident that their sacrifice will not have been in vain.  Despite a difficult year, steady progress is being made and the Alliance is fully determined to ensure that it will prevail and that eventually Afghanistan will be a secure, stable and democratic country offering a significantly better life for all the Afghan people, and a safer life for you and for me. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, so far, I have looked back on what has been achieved.  But I should now like to spend just a few moments looking forward, and to the role I hope Romania will play as the Alliance continues to adapt to meet the security challenges it faces.

Earlier this month, the Alliance celebrated its 60th birthday with a summit meeting in Strasbourg / Kehl.  At that meeting, Heads of State and Government took a number of decisions that built on those taken the previous year here in Bucharest.  In addition, they also made two crucially significant decisions for the future of our Alliance.  First, they adopted a Declaration on Alliance Security which confirms the enduring nature of the basic values, principles and purposes of the Alliance.  And second, they launched the process to develop a new Strategic Concept to define NATO’s longer-term role in the new security environment of the 21st century.

This process will engage all Allies, in a major intellectual exercise. It will examine all aspects of NATO, and in particular the meaning of solidarity in this new security environment.  The challenges and risks we face today and in the future are ever more unpredictable – terrorism; proliferation; instability caused by failed and failing states; energy security; cyber attacks; piracy; and the effects of climate change. This shows the breadth, and complexity, of the task before us. To meet these diverse challenges and risks, NATO requires a correspondingly broad and adaptable set of instruments.  Above all, however, we require agreement among Allied nations on how and when to use these instruments in order to safeguard our common interests and values. 

A new Strategic Concept will provide us with the opportunity to reach this consensus.  And the political constellation for finding that consensus is favourable.  There is a new US Administration that is determined to take a fresh approach.  There is a European willingness to respond positively to this new US attitude.  The return of France to NATO’s integrated military structure will strengthen the Alliance and help reduce the ambivalence in the NATO-EU relationship.  And there are prospects for an improvement in the NATO-Russia relationship.  That is why the time is right for launching the process to develop a new Strategic Concept.  And I strongly encourage Romania to contribute actively to that process by drawing on the experience it has gained over these first five years of Alliance membership.

Rector, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s time for me to conclude.  And I should like to do so by repeating what I said at the beginning.  With Romanian accession five years ago, NATO gained an Ally that impresses with its enthusiasm, with its innovative ideas, with its strong commitment to the defining principles and values of the Alliance, and with Romania unselfish willingness to share the burden on operations. 

No one could ask for more from an Ally.  And it has been a privilege for me to have worked so closely for the past five years with Romania – not just with ministers and senior officials, but also with the people of this country.  And it is a tremendous honour that you confer on me the award of Doctor Honoris Causa – it is an award that I shall always treasure.  Thank you.

  1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.