Keynote Address by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
at the conference ''NATO-UAE Relations and the Way Forward in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative'' - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 29 Oct. 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you, Sheikh Abdallah, and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, for your gracious hospitality, and for welcoming the North Atlantic Council and myself to your country.
I should also like to congratulate you for your initiative to organise today’s conference together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. I have been looking forward to coming here, early on in my tenure as NATO Secretary General, to underline the importance of NATO’s dialogue and cooperation with the countries of the Gulf region, and to discuss with you how we can take our relationship forward.
When I took office in August, I announced that the development of stronger ties between NATO and its partners in the Mediterranean and Gulf regions would be one of my key priorities. I have, over the past three months, held consultations with each of the Ambassadors from these eleven partner countries back in Brussels.
I used my visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month to meet with you, Minister Al-Nahyan, and several other Ministers from the regions. During my term in office, I am determined not only to maintain such an active dialogue, but to further intensify it.
Why do I believe such strong engagement is important? Simply put, because the security of the countries here in the Gulf region, as well as in the Mediterranean, matters a great deal to NATO. And similarly, I believe that the Alliance matters a great deal to your security as well.
The same risks and threats increasingly affect the security of all our nations -- extremism, terrorism, trans-national crime, and the most dangerous terrorists getting their hands on the most dangerous weapons.
We have a shared interest in helping countries like Afghanistan and Iraq to stand on their own feet again, in fostering stability in the Middle East more broadly, and in preventing countries like Somalia and Sudan from slipping deeper into chaos.
We all are seriously concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions – and about the nuclear domino-effect they could cause in a region that is pivotal for global stability and security.
We also have a common interest in energy security, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers.
And we all have a strong interest in protecting vital sea lanes of communication against the threat posed by pirates, and in promoting maritime security more generally.
So it makes perfect sense for us to hold regular political consultations on these and other issues of common interest. And it makes perfect sense for us to benefit from each other’s specific knowledge and expertise, and to deepen our practical cooperation in dealing with these issues.
This, in essence, is the rationale that underpins NATO’s efforts to engage with the countries here in the Gulf region through its Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. It is an Initiative that I am personally committed to -- and that I very much want to develop further during my term in office as NATO Secretary General.
If we want our cooperation to flourish and to be mutually rewarding, I believe it must be based on several guiding principles. Key among these principles is respect for the specificity of each of our nations – respect for their history, their traditions, their culture, and their religion.
As I just indicated, I am very keen to listen. I am keen to better understand the concerns of each of our ICI partners, and to discuss how they relate to our own concerns as NATO Allies. And I am keen to look for ways in which we can address those concerns -- together.
I emphasise the word “together”, because it points to another important guiding principle for our cooperation -- which is that it should be a real two-way street. Finding common solutions to common challenges should be a common endeavour. We must all show true commitment to invest time, effort and resources into our cooperation, because without common commitment, there will be little added value.
And that term, “added value”, points to a third and final important principle – which is that our cooperation under the ICI should seek to complement, and not duplicate, other forms of multinational or indeed bilateral cooperation.
To sum up, NATO is not imposing anything on any of its ICI partners – nor on any other of our partner countries. Our partnership philosophy is all about offering to work together in areas where we have particular experience and expertise, and where our partners are prepared to define their specific requirements and demonstrate joint ownership.
Over the past few years, all these principles have already served us well in giving more momentum and greater substance to the ICI. Four countries have joined: Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. There have been more frequent and higher level political consultations, on a wider range of issues. In response to a clear desire on the part of our ICI partners, NATO has created more and more opportunities for practical cooperation. And we have been pleased to see that Saudi Arabia and Oman have also shown a growing interest in working with us, as demonstrated by their presence here today, which I very much welcome.
The United Arab Emirates are a fitting venue for our meeting today, because they have quickly become a very active participant in the ICI. This morning, we will raise our cooperation to a new level by signing an Agreement on the Security and Protection of Classified Information. And we have also been discussing the possible conclusion of an Individual Cooperation Programme, to give further structure and focus to the growing range of practical areas in which we cooperate – from the fight against terrorism, through military education and training, to civil emergency planning.
But there is more. For many years, the United Arab Emirates have shown a strong determination to be a provider of security well beyond the Gulf region. Following its support for NATO’s successful peacekeeping operation in the Balkans during the 1990s, the Emirates have also made very welcome contributions to our engagement in Afghanistan. And we look forward to building upon that common effort, and reinforcing it, as well.
Looking ahead, I see significant potential for all of us – the United Arab Emirates, the other Gulf states, and the NATO Allies – both to broaden and to deepen our cooperation under the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. I see three areas, in particular, where I think we can give a fresh impulse, and which I hope we can discuss today.
First, a clear focus on practical cooperation – because that will produce the kind of concrete benefits that will strengthen the political rationale for our cooperation, and also help to demonstrate its logic to our publics. As I just noted, NATO has opened many possibilities for practical cooperation these last few years. That broad menu of possibilities offers enormous opportunities to our ICI partners, but also a considerable challenge – not to spread their efforts too widely, and to focus them on the most promising areas. Concluding an Individual Cooperation Programme with NATO is an excellent way of doing just that.
Second, I believe there is scope for further developing the ICI as a genuine framework for multilateral political consultations on the increasingly complex security challenges facing all our nations. As I already noted, our political dialogue has intensified significantly – but for the most part that has been through bilateral talks with individual ICI partners. Over the past year, there have been two meetings between all the NATO Allies and our four ICI partners, and those were seen as most useful.
And so I believe we should build upon that positive experience, and hold more regular consultations, including at the expert level, to scan the strategic horizon.
Finally, NATO is working on a new Strategic Concept to better define its own role and responsibilities in the emerging security landscape. This is a unique process in which we are reaching out to the strategic community – think tankers, academics, journalists – but also to the general public, including by using new media in ways we have never done before. In my consultations with ICI partners these last few months, I have noticed considerable interest in this exercise. I very much welcome this.
It demonstrates just how much our security concerns are converging. And I would encourage our ICI partners not only to stay informed of the development of NATO’s Strategic Concept, but also to make their voice heard. There is every opportunity for you to do so.
I realise that there are still many misunderstandings, stereotypes and misconceptions to overcome, at all levels of society, in all our nations. I realise that establishing new patterns of security cooperation across age-old geographical, cultural and religious boundaries will take persistence as well as patience. But I also realise that any such efforts will be hampered by a lack of real progress in the Middle East peace process.
NATO countries, and I personally when I was still Prime Minister of Denmark, have repeatedly stressed our attachment to a two-state solution, in which Isreal and Palestine live side by side in peace and security.
To reach this objective, the parties involved must fullfil certain requirements:
Firstly, the Palestinians must declare an unequivocal end to violence and undertake visible efforts to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere.
Secondly, Israel must take all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life and stop all settlement activity, while the Palestinians undertake to reform their civil institutions and security structures.
Thirdly, Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian areas occupied after the “Al Aqsa intifada” in 2000 and be ready to do what is necessary for an independent, viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state to be established.
Forthly, the Palestinian leadership must issue an unequivocal statement reiterating Israel's right to exist in peace and security.
And finally, the two parties must conclude an agreement that ends the occupation that started in 1967, which includes a just, fair and realistic solution to the refugeee issue and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the religious interests of Jews, Muslims and Christians worldwide.
If these conditions are met, we can hopefully accomplish the desire for a lasting peace in this region based on two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.
And this could hopefully pave the way for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace with security for all the states of the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative offers a range of exciting new opportunities – a new dynamic in our relationship, new channels for political dialogue, and a wide menu of possibilities for practical cooperation. I want to do whatever I can to make sure that we seize those opportunities. The security of all our nations, and our populations, demands nothing less.