Keynote address

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo at the Conference on “NATO-Gulf Cooperation in the Framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative”

  • 21 Jan. 2007 - 21 Jan. 2007
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  • Last updated: 21 Aug. 2008 16:07

From left to right: NATO Deputy Secretary General, Alessandro Minuto Rizzo and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia H.R.H. Prince Saud Al-Faisal

Your Excellency,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Visits to Saudi Arabia by officials from NATO are rare events.  Although NATO has been in existence for nearly 58 years, and although many NATO Allies have cooperated actively with Saudi Arabia for many years on security issues, NATO was for much of its history focused on Europe.  While the Cold War was still going on, a dialogue between NATO and Saudi Arabia, let alone practical cooperation, would have been unthinkable. 

So I see my presence here today in Riyadh not only a symbol of the new NATO that has emerged in recent times, but also as a symbol of a new global order: one which not only allows but also encourages countries from very different regions to come together and to cooperate in order to protect common security interests against common threats and challenges.

So I would like to begin by underlining just how pleased I am to be in Riyadh today.  I would like to extend a sincere word of appreciation to the Institute of Diplomatic Studies and the Gulf Research Center for their initiative in organising this meeting together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division.  And I want to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to attend.

Over the past few years, I have been closely involved in the development of NATO’s cooperation with countries across the Mediterranean region and into the Middle East.  And I see our meeting today as a most welcome opportunity to discuss both the rationale for that cooperation, and its enormous potential, including for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

But first, however, as this is such an exceptional occasion, and as NATO is undoubtedly as new to Saudi Arabia as Saudi Arabia is new to NATO, I would like to say something about what NATO is today and how much it has been transformed since the days of the Cold War.  Because before you can discuss cooperation, it is undoubtedly useful to know who exactly you are cooperating with.

Just over a month ago NATO Heads of State and Government met in the Latvian capital of Riga.  They took a number of far-reaching decisions which to my mind encapsulate clearly how NATO’s roles and missions are changing to address twenty-first century challenges.  The primary focus of Riga was on NATO’s operations.  For an Alliance which never fired a shot in the Cold War and was essentially waiting to be attacked, it never ceases to impress me that today NATO’s Allies and many Partner countries are deployed on operations and missions on three continents.  In Europe, NATO is keeping the peace in the Balkans, notably in Kosovo where we are facing challenging times in the weeks to come as the United Nations takes up the issue of Kosovo’s final status.  In the Mediterranean our Operation Active Endeavour is conducting naval anti-terrorist patrols.  In Afghanistan, which is undoubtedly our most important and challenging mission, NATO is leading the International Security Assistance Force, a mission that ranges from peacekeeping to reconstruction tasks.  In Iraq, NATO is training Iraqi security forces.  In Pakistan, after the earthquake in 2005, NATO provided humanitarian relief.  And in Africa, NATO is airlifting African Union troops to the crisis region of Darfur. 

Today more than 50,000 soldiers are deployed under NATO command, and these come not only from the 26 NATO member countries but also from 18 Partner countries.  Arab countries such as Morocco, Jordan or the UAE have been or are still part of our missions in the Balkans and countries from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and South Korea contribute to our mission in Afghanistan.  So NATO is increasingly an organisation which is able to bring together the international community in the broadest sense to defend common values and common security interests.

Why is NATO so much in demand?  Certainly we are not the only organisation able to carry out peace support missions.  The United Nations is still obviously the leader in this area.  And in recent times we have seen the European Union or the African Union take up the challenge of deploying forces to stabilize conflict areas – a development that NATO does not see as rivalry but as a positive form of international burden sharing.  This said, NATO has unique advantages.  For instance it brings together North America and Europe who always work best when they work together.  NATO has also an exceptional political consultation mechanism which ensures that everybody has a say in the way in which it is run.  NATO has also a multinational military structure that makes our forces inter-operable and gives them the experience of working together.  We have an extensive planning organisation which allows us to react to crisis situations quickly. Perhaps most importantly of all NATO has shown a willingness to adapt to change and to address the new challenges that preoccupy us so much now:  for instance the multiplication of failed states, the fight against terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Another area where the recent NATO Summit has taken us forward is Partnerships.  During the Cold War NATO did not need other countries to fulfil its essential security mission of self defence.  Allied solidarity was enough.  But as we send our forces now globally on peace support operations we know how important partnerships with other countries are to our success.  Partners help us in many ways: As I said, they provide forces to our missions (ten per cent of all of the forces in NATO missions today are from Partner countries) and they provide us with intelligence and expertise.  But our partners benefit too.  NATO is an effective framework that they can use to make their contribution and our many NATO partnership programmes provide these countries with material help and expertise in reforming their military forces and taking care of their own security problems.  But first and foremost the enormous success of our partnership is based on the fact that in this age of globalised threats Allies and Partners realise that they face common problems which they can only solve by working more closely together. Therefore at Riga we agreed that we must build further by consulting more closely with partners that contribute to our operations, by expanding the menu of our partnership activities, especially to new partners in the Mediterranean region and in the Middle East, and in developing a serious educational and training programme with countries in this region. 

From what I have said it is obvious that the NATO of 2007 has a much broader range of roles and missions than the NATO of 50 years ago.  There have been claims that NATO is trying to be a new global policeman, imposing its will on the rest of the world.  This is not true.  NATO’s primary mission is still the collective defence of its own members and we do not intend to solve problems all over the world. We do have neither the means nor the political will to do so.  And we do not try to solve problems all by ourselves.  In the Balkans and in Afghanistan, we know that we cannot succeed with military forces alone, but that we have to work closely with other institutions.  Security and development are two sides of the same coin.  That is why we are constantly calling on the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and other institutions to contribute their expertise and resources to this common effort.  Only this comprehensive approach will allow us to achieve lasting benefit. In short we may not be able to succeed without NATO; but we cannot succeed with NATO alone.

And of course we also fully realise that local ownership over the reconstruction process remains key to success. In engaging in Afghanistan or Bosnia or Kosovo our aim is not to stay forever but to leave as soon as possible after we have managed to create a self-sustaining peace: that is to say the capacity of the countries themselves to stand on their own feet and to handle their own affairs.  So later this week, when our NATO Foreign Ministers and Partners meet in Brussels to discuss the way ahead in Afghanistan, we will do so with the Afghan Foreign Minister at the table with us. We are there to help them, not to replace them.

This brings me to my central theme today which is our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and what it can offer to a key country such as Saudi Arabia.  We launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative at our Istanbul Summit in 2004.  Why is NATO interested in this region?  First and foremost because the future of the Middle East is key to our own security in Europe and North America.  We are not that geographically distant and we share a number of common challenges: how to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; how to counter extremism and especially highly organised and disciplined terrorist networks; how to deal with destabilising effects of failed states? When we launched this Initiative, we already had ten years’ experience with our Mediterranean Dialogue which established a new relationship between NATO, the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. So today the Mediterranean Dialogue has led countries like Algeria and Israel to cooperate with our Active Endeavour mission in the Mediterranean:  the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s most senior political body - has visited Morocco, and we now hold regular meetings at the level of Ministers in this framework. 

Based on this positive experience we have offered partnership to interested Gulf States.  This was the result of extensive consultation with the countries here in the region in which I had the pleasure of being personally involved. 

Essentially, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the ICI have the same objective: to enhance mutual understanding, build transparency, and engage in concrete cooperation on issues of mutual interest.  The basic approach can be summarised quite easily as well.  NATO is not imposing anything, but offering to work together in areas in which it has experience and expertise. Moreover, NATO wants to complement ongoing cooperation by our partners in, and with, other international fora.  We don’t seek to duplicate or complicate this cooperation. 

A lot has already been achieved.  Four Gulf countries have joined the Initiative -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  Our political contacts have increased significantly.  Just last month we held a very successful conference in Kuwait, with the involvement of the entire NATO Council.  And we have also seen a significant increase in our practical cooperation.
As we start this new year, my firm belief is that both NATO and the countries of the Gulf Region should seize the opportunity to enhance NATO’s partnerships.  I highlighted just a moment ago the three key areas: political consultations, practical cooperation and training.  I would like to develop these in a little more detail. 

First, at Riga we invited our partners who support NATO’s operations to consult more closely with us.  To do this we agreed to set up more flexible frameworks, whereby the North Atlantic Council can meet as the need arises with individual nations or groups of partners.  We value the views and advice of our partners and agree to consult them more closely.  This offer will give the partnership much more political substance. 

Second, our Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI partners will now be able to benefit from many of the partnership tools that until now were only available to members of our more elaborate Partnership for Peace framework.  This will allow our partners in this region to be able to choose from a much greater menu of practical activities.  It will also lead to more self-differentiation in which partners can choose the speed and extent of their engagement with us. 

Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly,    we launched the so-called NATO Training Cooperation Initiative.  Through almost six decades of military cooperation among Allies, NATO has acquired a wealth of experience in education and training.  With our partners from the Mediterranean and the Gulf region, we will make another step towards the “human interoperability” that is so crucially important – for the success of future joint missions, as well as for our day to day cooperation.  We are currently looking at how we can rapidly set up this programme, beginning at the NATO Defense College in Rome and other NATO academies, but also through the creation of mobile training teams. 

In implementing this initiative, I believe that joint ownership among equal partners will remain a key principle of our cooperation. These principles have served us well – and they will continue to guide us in our efforts to enhance our cooperation with our partners in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia has not yet joined the ICI, and of course to join or not to join is a decision for the Saudi authorities alone to make.  But I do want to stress here today that NATO would very much value the participation of Saudi Arabia in the ICI.  Saudi Arabia is a key country in this region.  Its potential and its traditional role in promoting peace and stability in the region make it a major player in the Gulf area and beyond.  Saudi Arabia, as I said earlier, also has a long history of cooperating bilaterally with many of our allies. I see this conference in Riyadh today with the participation of so many senior Saudi political figures as an encouraging sign that this country is willing to take a close look at NATO and what it has to offer.  Let us build on these contacts and this emerging dialogue.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let me sum up my key message.

Not one of our nations is immune from the complex new threats and risks that have come to define the 21st century security environment.  If we want to meet those challenges, and to defeat them, we must reach out beyond geographical, cultural or religious boundaries – and to explore new approaches of security cooperation.

 One promising new avenue for cooperation is the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.  The ICI has got off to a very good start.  As someone who has been closely involved in the Initiative ever since its inception, I am convinced that it holds enormous potential for closer, mutually beneficial cooperation.  And I believe it would be in the interest of this country – Saudi Arabia – to explore that potential, together with its neighbours in the Gulf region.

I wish us all an interesting and productive meeting, and thank you for your attention.