NATO and Georgia – on the right path
Keynote speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the National Library of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia
Ladies and gentlemen,
Professor, first of all thanks for the kind introduction.
It is indeed a pleasure to address you here today.
Georgia is known around the world for its exquisite wines and excellent water. But less is known about Georgia’s extraordinary history. Over a thousand years of having to fight for unity, for independence, and for integration into the wider world.
That rich history – and Georgia’s many contributions to the arts, to science, and to inter-cultural understanding - are well documented in this National Parliamentary Library.
Since regaining your independence in 1991, you have achieved a huge amount. You have your freedom. You are building a dynamic and democratic country. And you are proceeding steadily, but surely, on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration, including in NATO.
Your journey has not been easy. Sometimes it may seem like you are trying to walk up a difficult mountain path. A path filled with obstacles, with the destination out of sight.
So let me be clear. You are on the right path. Because it’s the path to NATO’s Open Door. You are making real progress. With consistent and determined efforts, you will reach your destination. And you will walk through that open door.
Today, I do not want to look back at history. I want to look ahead to the future. And I am particularly pleased to see many young people here today. Because young Georgians have every right to expect their future to be bright, prosperous, and secure.
Last October, Georgia experienced the peaceful transfer of power. For this, Prime Minister Ivanishvili deserves congratulations, and President Saakashvili deserves credit. Beacuse the true measure of a politician is not only how you gain power, but how you hand it over.
Later this year, President Saakashvili will step down. And when he does, he, his successor, and the Prime Minister will all be remembered as builders of democracy.
This is only one sign of the promising future in prospect for Georgia.
Your government has also waged a remarkable fight against corruption and crime. Before the Rose Revolution, Transparency International ranked Georgia as one of the world’s most corrupt states. Now it is ranked better than several European Union members. Crime is shrinking – in fact, this city has become one of the safest capitals in Europe.
Another important indicator of Georgia’s progress is your contribution to building peace and security in this region, and beyond.
Your country is a strong supporter of shared security. It has more troops in Afghanistan than any other of NATO’s partner nations. And I welcome Georgia’s pledge to contribute to our post-ISAF mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.
I have met Georgian troops both here and during my visits to Afghanistan. They are a true example of courage, professionalism and determination. I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of all those Georgian servicemen who have been killed or injured, especially in the tragic incidents in recent weeks.
I know that many Georgians are asking how many more of their brave soldiers will be lost in order to gain NATO membership. Let me stress. Your soldiers are not in Afghanistan as a means of buying entry into NATO. They are there, first and foremost, because it is in Georgia’s security interests for them to be there.
Your soldiers are playing a vital part in the international community’s efforts to stop extremism and terrorism spreading from Afghanistan to other parts of the world – including this region. Their deployment abroad is helping to make Georgia safer at home.
But there are other benefits from your participation in NATO-led operations. Your forces are developing the standards, the procedures, and the ability to work alongside the most professional and most capable forces in the world. And this is helping to further improve the high standards of your own armed forces.
It is for this reason that I was glad to see that President Saakashvili signed the Strategic Defence Review last month. This review has been developed in close cooperation with NATO and it builds on the reforms achieved under the previous government.
The Review lays out the reforms that are necessary to increase transparency in the Ministry of Defence. And enhance democratic control over the armed forces.
They will also make your military more effective and more efficient, so that your armed forces will be better able to meet the threats that face your country.
The priority now is continued implementation. So that your forces become more like NATO forces. And so they can work even better with NATO forces.
But let me be clear. Meeting the requirements for NATO membership must not be viewed only through a military prism. Because NATO is far more than a military Alliance. NATO is a community of values. It is a family of nations that believes in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
As I look up the path ahead, I can see our shared destination of a stable and democratic Georgia at the heart of the Euro-Atlantic community. Georgia will become a member of NATO. But further work is needed to meet the requirements of membership.
For example, Georgia should continue to work to ensure the highest democratic standards
That starts with political compromise and dialogue.
We in NATO welcomed the Parliament’s decision to adopt unanimously the resolution on Georgia’s foreign policy course, including its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We also welcomed the unanimous vote to amend the constitution. This is real political progress that should continue.
But the Allies do have some concerns, particularly regarding the judicial processes against former government officials.
As a politician, I’m not worried about political disagreements. That’s what democracy is all about. So, I would be worried for Georgia if there were no disagreements. Because it’s only in dictatorships that everyone seems to get along all the time.
But Georgia cannot afford even the perception of selective justice. Let me stress, corrupt or criminal officials must be prosecuted. But prosecution must never become, or be seen to be, an exercise in political revenge.
The Georgian government is committed to promoting due process, a politically independent and strong judiciary, and public confidence in the courts. And during my meeting with members of the government they all reaffirmed these basic values. So I trust the Georgian authorities to uphold the rule of law in each and every case. And I trust the Georgian people to stay actively engaged in holding your institutions of government to the highest standards.
I also hope to see greater tolerance. The violence we saw on the streets of Tbilisi last month – on the 17th of May - has no place in democratic societies. The right to gather peacefully and to freely express one’s opinion is fundamental to democracy.
Because as well as standing for the values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, NATO also stands for human rights, including the rights of minorities. These values are not Western. They are universal. And respecting them is fundamental to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
For this reason, I commend Prime Minister Ivanishvili, for his powerful Independence Day address, when he strongly reaffirmed the importance of these values.
We will continue to follow events in Georgia closely, including the presidential elections in October. Free and fair elections will be an opportunity to reaffirm Georgia’s democratic credentials and its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
But democracy is more than just a ballot box. A democracy is more than majority rule. A mature democracy is also about demonstrating that pluralism, political cohabitation, tolerance and protection of minorities are firmly rooted.
Georgia has moved forward in many areas of its democratic development. And Georgia has moved a lot closer to NATO. The burden may still be on you now to continue to deliver the necessary reforms. But once you have delivered, the burden will be on us to live up to our pledge that Georgia will be a member of NATO.
Ladies and gentlemen, NATO supports the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. Your new government has stepped up the efforts of the previous government to improve relations with Russia. NATO welcomes these efforts. They show political courage and a realistic understanding of what is achievable. But it takes two to tango. And Russia has to help in this regard.
We have welcomed Georgia’s commitment not to use force and we have called on Russia to reciprocate. We share concerns about recent moves to build fences in South Ossetia. Such moves are contrary to international law and they are contrary to the ceasefire agreement. Fence-building impedes freedom of movement. It can further inflame tensions. It is not acceptable, and should be reversed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At NATO’s Defence Ministers’ meeting earlier this month, your minister of defence, Irakli Alasania, said something that I thought was very significant. He said, Allies and partners are always honest with each other. That’s why they are Allies and partners.
It’s good advice. Advice that I have tried to follow here today. And in that spirit, let me say the following.
You are on the right path, and you have come a long way. If you continue your efforts, and with our help, Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration will only be a matter of time. In Bucharest in 2008, we made a decision on your NATO membership. All Allies agreed it. All Allies stand by it. It is an ambition we all share. Let’s work together to achieve it.