''NATO’s Approach to a Rapidly Changing MENA Region''

Keynote speech by Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Seminar in Marrakech, Morocco

  • 03 Apr. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Apr. 2013 11:24

Mesdames, Messieurs,

Permettez-moi tout d’abord d’exprimer mes sincères remerciements à l’Assemblée Parlementaire de l’OTAN, au parlement Marocain et aux autorités Marocaines pour leur aimable invitation à inaugurer ce séminaire conjoint sur un thème d’actualité, qui accapare aujourd’hui et à juste titre l’intérêt des gouvernements, de l’opinion publique et de la communauté internationale.

Depuis maintenant plus de deux ans, le monde arabe connaît des bouleversements sans précédent. Avec un courage hors du commun et une détermination admirable, les Tunisiens, les Egyptiens, les Libyens, les Yéménites, les Syriens se sont élevés pour revendiquer le respect de leurs droits. Ils se sont élevés pour crier leurs aspirations légitimes à la liberté, à la dignité humaine et à la démocratie, provoquant une vague de changements sans précédent dans la région. Aucun gouvernement ni aucun spécialiste du monde arabe n’aurait prédit un mouvement d’une telle ampleur. Et pourtant, par leur volonté et leur courage ces peuples sont entrés dans l’histoire en transformant irréversiblement le paysage politique régional.

S’il est vrai que ce vent de liberté souffle sur la région dans son ensemble, nous ne pouvons résolument pas parler d’un printemps arabe mais plutôt de plusieurs printemps arabes. Chaque pays est unique, chaque révolution est unique et chaque gouvernement a une manière différente d’y répondre. Certains se sont résignés à quitter le pouvoir comme en Egypte et en Tunisie, d’autres se sont livrés à une répression sauvage comme en Libye et aujourd’hui encore en Syrie.

Dans d’autres pays, portés par cet élan de liberté, les autorités ont pris les devants et ont fait le choix honorable d’écouter les revendications de leur peuple en entamant des réformes politiques conséquentes. Le Maroc est en ce sens un exemple sur cette voie que je tiens ici à saluer.

Si ces évènements sont essentiellement à caractère national, nous spectateurs que nous sommes ne pouvons y rester indifférents. En effet, nous observons ces transformations avec sympathie, émoi mais aussi bien conscients d’être à un tournant de notre relation avec la région.

Revolutionary change across North Africa and the Middle East has brought new hopes, but also new threats, uncertainties and criticism.

In some countries, like Egypt and Tunisia, Islamists in power faced criticism for failing to formulate a comprehensive approach for moving their country forward towards a brighter economic and social future.

In others, like Libya, the lack of strong security institutions, the persistence of powerful armed groups, and the proliferation of weapons have so far hindered progress towards a more stable and secure environment.

With the Arab Spring we have also seen the emergence of violent forces who are trying to take advantage of the situation to impose their own ideologies, like in Mali. And for some people in the region, like the Syrians, revolutionary change has brought new suffering, violence and destruction at the hands of brutal leaders -- leaders who are determined to resist the winds of change unleashed by the Arab awakening.

Yet despite the risks, there are also opportunities – if we are clever, if we are patient, and if we rely on experience and not just on hope.

Two decades ago, Europe faced a period filled with risks and opportunities when the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union disintegrated.  It was a victory for the West according to the logic of the Cold War, but it also created a vacuum in the middle of Europe that risked new conflict, new economic hardships could be imagined if things had gone south and new forms of radicalization and extreme nationalism could have emerged.

There was no guarantee that the new freedom that had been won by the beleaguered peoples of the Soviet Bloc would last. 

Indeed, in the former Yugoslavia, it took NATO’s military intervention – first in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and later in Kosovo – to stop the ethnic cleansing and create the conditions for ethnic coexistence, peace, stability and development.

In Central and Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union, the transition was much smoother, not least because NATO was proactive.  We extended our hand of friendship and cooperation to former adversaries.  And we created new institutions like the Partnership for Peace to assist the new democracies not just in defense transformation, but also in social and political reforms. 

We also reaffirmed the Open Door that is enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty.  We used the prospect of NATO membership to encourage further reform.  And all this helped to turn Central and Eastern Europe into a zone of democracy, stability and prosperity in which war has become unthinkable, and from which new Allies and partners have become security providers. 

We also reached out to Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, creating new forums for consultation and joint action that have yielded substantial gains for our common security in the Balkans in the 1990s and, now, in support of coalition efforts in Afghanistan.

The parallels between the Prague Spring and the Arab Spring were, without doubt, seriously exaggerated in early 2011.  But I am convinced that some of the tools we developed in Central and Eastern Europe can be applied to North Africa and the Middle East -- if we adapt them to the needs of the region, and if the countries of the region seek our help.  

This is the beginning of a long, complex and possibly turbulent transformation.  But it will surely shape the region and the world for years to come. And it matters a great deal to NATO. Throughout history, the fates of Europe and North Africa and the wider Middle East have been linked.  Our economies are linked.  Our people are linked.  And our security is linked too.

We face the same threats: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, potential disruption to our energy supplies, and illegal trafficking.  These threats are the same wherever we live – in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe or North America.  And we can only meet them, and defeat them, if we work together.

We also have a clear shared interest with many of our Arab partners in promoting reform and the rule of law and in countering aggressive regimes and promoting stability. 

The Libyan crisis showed the extent to which the security of NATO nations and that of our Mediterranean partners has become interwined. It also demonstrated the value of our dialogue and cooperation with regional partners and organizations.

Following a historic resolution by the United Nations Security Council, and an equally historic call by the League of Arab States, a no-fly zone was imposed over Libya.  This was instrumental in the launch of our NATO-led Operation Unified Protector.  And the concrete contributions by Morocco, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were critical to the success of our mission to protect the people of Libya.

The challenge before the entire international community now is to identify ways to encourage and assist further positive change in the region.  And I see particular added value in what NATO can offer to help the people of the region to build a better future for themselves.

Back in 1994, NATO launched the Mediterranean Dialogue.  Since then, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia have joined the Dialogue.  It has become a unique forum where NATO Allies and Mediterranean partners hold regular consultations on shared security issues.  But it has also become an important tool for concrete military-to-military and other practical cooperation.

At our NATO Summit in Chicago last year, our Heads of State and Government sent a strong signal of support for the aspirations of the people of the region for democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, which are the very values that underpin our NATO Alliance.

Looking ahead, I believe we may see three main strands in NATO’s future engagement with the countries of the wider region. Of course, any assistance from NATO would be tailor-made, would complement other support, particularly from the European Union, the United Nations, the League of Arab States and the African Union and would be developed at the request of each country, and in close cooperation with them.

First, a firm offer to assist countries in transition with defence and security sector reform, which is an area where NATO has unique expertise to share.   This includes defence planning and budgeting; dealing with surplus ammunitions; and encouraging “good security governance”. 

In Libya, for example, all institutions have been systematically wiped out over the last forty years.  NATO could help in building a new Ministry of Defence, a joint General Staff and a National Security Agency that would all be accountable to a democratically elected government. 

Second, I expect a further deepening of our current partnerships where we share the same values and interests, to tailor our cooperation even better to the specific concerns and requirements of partner countries.  NATO has extensive experience and expertise in a wide range of areas that could be put at the disposal of any partner country on a bilateral basis through the Individual Partnership Cooperation Programmes that we have developed with our Mediterranean partners.

At the same time, any tailored programmes will need to continue to address not just the individual needs of our partners, but also our common security challenges. And here I anticipate greater attention to three areas in particular – countering proliferation, the fight against terrorism, and building maritime security.  These three security challenges are set to grow, and they require far greater cooperation between us.

Third, and finally, I see a greater focus on capacity building -- to help the countries of the region to be better able to address their own security, but also to be better able to participate in the international community’s peacekeeping and crisis management operations – including those led by NATO.

This could involve greater military-to-military cooperation, and more opportunities to take part in NATO training, exercises and education programmes.  But it could also involve more structured cooperation between NATO and organisations like the African Union and the Arab League.  NATO is certainly open to exploring all those opportunities.  And we hope our Mediterranean partners are too.

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Le printemps Arabe est - et restera - une source d’inspiration pour nous tous. Nous observons le processus de changement initié dans ces pays avec un grand espoir et nous le voyons comme une opportunité, non-exempte de risques, mais sans aucun doute une opportunité si elle est bien saisie. Aujourd’hui c’est à chaque pays, avec son histoire et avec ses spécificités, de prendre son destin en main et de créer son propre avenir.

We all have an interest in seeing a region that is free, democratic, modern and stable. All of us have so much to gain from a closer relationship – politically, economically, and culturally. It won’t happen overnight. But it can happen and NATO is ready to play its part to make it happen.

Thank you.