by NATO Deputy Secretary General Claudio Bisogniero at the China Institute for International Studies, Beijing, China

  • 10 Nov. 2009
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  • Last updated 23-Nov-2009 14:48

Esteemed Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be able to come back to Beijing and to speak at your distinguished Institute.

I consider it a real privilege to have been invited to visit Beijing, particularly so in the year in which both the People’s Republic of China and NATO celebrate their 60th anniversary. My delegation and I had a series of very interesting talks with high-ranking Chinese officials yesterday and today. We exchanged views extensively on a wide range of issues and discussed the potential for closer cooperation between China and NATO. And I greatly value the opportunity to complement those official talks with a public meeting here at the China Institute for International Studies.

I am sure that many people, including in this hall, may wonder why a NATO Deputy Secretary General should be interested in visiting China. And so, before I elaborate on our relationship, and how we might take it forward, let me talk to you first about what NATO stands for, how the Alliance has transformed since it came into being more than sixty years ago, and why it is now entirely logical for China and NATO to engage in discussion and explore the possibility of deepening their cooperation.

We all know that the acronym NATO stands for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, of course. And this name provides several important clues. First, its reference to the North Atlantic region indicates where NATO’s 28 member nations come from: from North America and Europe. Second, the term “Treaty” indicates that the NATO member countries are connected by a mutual defence agreement – in other words, that they view themselves as part of a distinct, common security community. Because the commitment to our collective defence remains the pillar of the Alliance. And thirdly, the “O” in NATO indicates that the Treaty is not just a legal document that ensured peace on the European continent in a crucial era of Europe’s history, but it is implemented through a major multilateral, international organization.

So these are the fundamental facts that we are all familiar with. But – you may add – NATO was established six decades ago, in the Cold War, as a response to the threat posed at the time by the Soviet Union. The Cold War, and even the Soviet Union, have long since disappeared. So why did NATO not dissolve as well, as some observers around the world initially expected?

The answer is simple. And that is that the logic of security cooperation between Europe and North America did not end with the Cold War. In an era characterised by many new security challenges, it still makes perfect sense for countries to work together to meet these challenges. Indeed, as I will argue here today, the need for international security cooperation has never been greater, and it stretches well beyond the North Atlantic area. Because not one of our nations is immune from today’s complex security challenges – and none of our nations can deal with these challenges, alone.

So what are the security challenges that compel us to work together? The first one that comes to mind is terrorism, which has evolved from a purely national concern into a truly global threat. Second, with the nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has reached a dangerous new level as well. Furthermore, failed states have shown to be a dangerous cradle for terrorism, organised crime and even piracy. And we have seen that regional conflicts can quickly spin out of control and escalate into violence on a much wider scale.

But let me use this opportunity to correct a widespread misperception. Contrary to what some may believe, including maybe here in China, NATO does not wish to play the role of a global policeman, standing ready to solve problems all over the world. That is not our ambition; and the last thing we want to do is to compete with, or even by-pass, the United Nations. We firmly believe that it is the United Nations that has the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security. But experience shows that NATO’s unique expertise and capabilities can sometimes make a real difference in tackling crisis situations.

Threats such as the ones I have described – international terrorism, proliferation, piracy, the consequences of failed states – do not stop at our borders. This is one of the major changes compared to the Cold War times. If we, the NATO Allies, want to tackle these new challenges, we need to be prepared to meet them where they emerge – even if that means sending forces far away from our own borders.

That is why, today, more than 85,000 troops are deployed under NATO command in a range of demanding, United Nations-mandated missions and operations, on as many as three continents. More than 70,000 of these forces are engaged in Afghanistan alone, to ensure that that country will never again be a training ground or a hub for the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

We are, at the same time, keeping the peace in Kosovo, on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. We are assisting defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO ships are conducting anti-terrorist patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, and protecting international shipping against attacks by pirates off the coast of Somalia. We have been helping the African Union with its own peacekeeping efforts in the Horn of Africa. And, when Pakistan was hit by a devastating earthquake a few years ago, NATO and NATO Allies also mounted one of the largest humanitarian relief operations in history.

I want to stress that not one, not one of these missions is about military victory or territorial conquest. Our goal is to contribute to a more predictable, more stable, more secure international environment. And the reason is simple. Because such a more stable international environment is in our own security interest.

It is NATO’s special range of assets, experien and skills, that gives the Organisation the potential to play an important role. Our mission in Afghanistan is a case in point. Let me spend a few words about Afghanistan. We are there on behalf of the whole international community, on the basis of a UN Security Council Resolution mandate. We all know that a stable Afghanistan – an Afghanistan that is capable of standing on its own feet, that is no longer a threat to its neighbours and the wider world – requires both security and development. And these two processes – creating greater security, and promoting reconstruction and development in the country – must go hand in hand.

That is why NATO and its ISAF partners (as many as 43 nations are engaged in ISAF today: all 28 NATO countries plus several partners from around the world): the ISAF participating nations have not only striven to strengthen the security situation in Afghanistan, and to train and equip the Afghan National Army and police. We have also been working hard to further engage other, civilian international actors, and to better coordinate our work with them.

We have been keen, in particular, to establish closer, more effective relationships with other key institutions, notably with the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank. With the United Nation in particular, NATO signed last year a Joint NATO-UN Declaration outlining in general the modalities and the priority areas for our mutual cooperation. We have also established closer contacts with several Non-Governmental Organisations active in Afghanistan, explaining our approach to them and, in turn, benefiting from their unique perspectives, and exploring how we can complement each other better.

Let me turn to another issue: NATO’s partnerships. Another key feature of the new NATO, is its readiness to work together - more and more closely - with a growing range of individual non-NATO countries, our partners. Countries which realise that they are at least as vulnerable to the new security risks and threats, as the member countries of NATO. And that working together is the only way to meet these new challenges, and to defeat them.

This is how our significant partnership programs have developed. Over the past few years, NATO has successfully broadened its partnership policy beyond Europe and Central Asia, by reaching out to countries across the Mediterranean and into the Gulf region. These are all well-established and extremely effective partnerships, based upon two pillars: political dialogue and practical cooperation. More recently, we have also made an effort to deepen our dialogue and cooperation with countries here in the Asia-Pacific region.

I believe that this is a most timely development. For several years, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea have made a concrete, and very welcome, contribution to our efforts in Afghanistan. Japan has worked closely with us in providing aid to the civilian population of Afghanistan through ISAF-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams. And governments throughout this region have repeatedly made clear their willingness to shoulder a greater share of the international security burden, together with NATO.

So what does this all mean for China – and its relationship with NATO? Of course, as it evolves into a global actor, China is more than capable of deciding its own foreign policy orientation. And – exactly like we do with our existing security partnerships that I have just mentioned – the last thing NATO would want to do is to impose its own perspective, and prescribe to China in which direction it should be going.

But I would like to take this opportunity to say, first of all, that the NATO Allies value the political support which China has given to the Alliance’s engagement in Afghanistan, through its constructive role in the United Nations Security Council and in other ways. We also very much welcome China’s contribution to maritime anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. It demonstrates that China shares our concern about the growing piracy threat which affects more than just NATO members or China. And it shows that China, like NATO, is prepared to take action against it.

We have also been pleased to see a gradual but steady increase in our practical cooperation, including through Chinese participation in several NATO seminars and conferences. And we are glad that we have been able to step up our dialogue as well, through various meetings with Chinese officials at NATO Headquarters in Brussels since several years now, and most recently with my visit to Beijing this week.

All this is good progress. Progress that I believe we not only could, but should try to build upon, reinforce and extend to other areas of mutual interest.

We have a lot to discuss, and much experience to mutually share. But rather than aspire to some kinds of formal partnerships, I believe we should go step by step. Indeed, I believe we should aim for - to begin with - a more pragmatic cooperation and more frequent consultations in areas of mutual concern, at appropriate levels of expertise.

This could include, for example, NATO-China staff talks, and closer contacts between military education establishments here in this country and the NATO Defense College in Rome. It could include NATO speakers lecturing at your defence college and other institutions. And it certainly could include closer contacts between our major academic think tanks – such as this Institute.

These are just a few suggestions, and we are interested in any views which China – and perhaps you yourself – may have about our relationship, and how we can give it more scope and substance. The new security environment, the XXI century security challenges, require that. I know that there is Chinese proverb that says: “one should not be afraid of growing slowly, but only of standing still” – and I believe those wise words certainly apply to the NATO-China relationship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Not that long ago, we could afford to be complacent about developments that happened far away. But today, globalisation has once and for all eliminated the notion of achieving safety by geographical distance. More and more, the security of all our nations, of our cities, of our people, is affected by what is happening a long way from home, elsewhere on the globe.

How should we respond? By thinking and organising ourselves differently than we did in the past. By overcoming the outdated security concepts of yesterday. And, above all, by reaching out beyond geographical, cultural or religious boundaries – and exploring new, common approaches of security cooperation.

That kind of openness and active engagement is very much the hallmark of NATO today. I have no doubt that openness and active engagement will be a central feature of the new “Strategic Concept” for NATO that is being developed right now and that we are planning to unveil by the end of next year. I very much hope, and actually I am confident that, with your support, China will continue to take a similar, constructive attitude towards its own future engagement with NATO.

Thank you for your attention.