by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Academy of State, Astana

  • 24 Jun. 2009
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  • Last updated: 24 Jun. 2009 16:40

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Academy of State of Kazakhstan

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying how much I have been looking forward to returning to Kazakhstan. I had the pleasure of visiting Alamaty some time ago, and it was a most enjoyable experience. This is my first visit to Astana, and I am very happy to be here. But it is not just for personal reasons that I have been eager to return to Kazakhstan. There are professional reasons too. NATO continues to evolve. And I am keen to share with you my views on what these changes mean for the relationship between your country and NATO.

But before I say a bit more on our relationship, and how we might take it forward, I owe you a few words of explanation of what NATO is. What is behind this acronym “NATO”? To start with the easiest part, NATO stands for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization”. And this name in fact provides us with several clues.

First, the reference to the Northern Atlantic indicates where NATO’s 28 member are located: in North America and Europe. Second, the term “Treaty” indicates that our member nations are connected by a mutual defence agreement – in other words, that they view themselves as part of a distinct community. And thirdly, the “O” in NATO indicates that the Treaty is not just a piece of paper, but that it is implemented through a major international organization.


So far, so good. But NATO was established 60 years ago, in the Cold War, as a response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The Cold War, and even the Soviet Union, have long disappeared. So why is NATO still around? And why is it engaged in Afghanistan – a country that is far away from the NATO’s traditional European perimeter, and located in Kazakhstan’s Central Asian neighbourhood?

The answer is actually pretty simple. NATO may no longer have to defend Western Europe against the threat of a massive invasion from the East, as we did in the Cold War. But the Allies still face major threats to their security. One of these threats, terrorism, used to have a fertile breeding ground in Afghanistan. And even if Afghanistan is far away from NATO’s borders, all 28 Allies agree that it is smarter to tackle terrorism at its roots than to wait until it hits us again in our face.

This logic of engagement – of tackling problems at their source – is not confined to terrorism and Afghanistan. If we look around, we can see a growing number of threats and challenges that affect us. “Failed states” can be a breeding ground for lawlessness, organised crime, and drug-trafficking. Regional conflicts can cause humanitarian disasters. Cyber attacks have already taken place, and are likely to happen more often in the future. We are witnessing the return of piracy, notably off the coast of Somalia. And the spread of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery is reaching a tipping point, with Iran edging closer to the bomb and North Korea reversing its denuclearisation commitments.

No nation can hide from these challenges, and none can cope with them on its own. You need to address them by working together with others. And that is why, today, NATO is busy contributing to peace and security on 3 continents. There are currently almost 78,000 troops deployed in a number of demanding, NATO-led, United Nations-mandated, missions and operations. 60,000 of these troops are deployed in Afghanistan alone. But in addition to that most challenging mission in NATO’s history, the Alliance is also keeping the peace in Kosovo; it is patrolling the Mediterranean Sea in a naval anti-terrorist mission; it has been protecting ships of the UN-World Food Programme against pirates; it is involved in the battle against piracy; it has airlifted African Union troops; and it is training Iraqi security forces.

I want to stress that none of these missions is about Cold War-style territorial defence. Nor is any one of them about achieving military victory in the traditional sense. Nor is any one of them about NATO playing the role of a global policeman, standing ready to solve problems all over the world. This is a frequent – but false – perception. Quite simply, these missions are a demonstration of Allied understanding that, in an age of globalisation, NATO must take a much more active role in order to promote stability and security.

We also realise that military power alone is not going to be enough. And Afghanistan is the perfect example of this. We all know that success in Afghanistan requires both security and development – and that the two must go hand in hand to reinforce each other.

To achieve this aim, NATO obviously works closely with the Afghan Government. But more and more, we are also cooperating with other major institutions – such as the United Nations, the European Union, the G8, and the World Bank – as well as with Non-Governmental Organisations. Such a broad, international cooperative effort is the only feasible approach to safeguard our security in a globalised world.

Working with other institutions is a key characteristic of today’s NATO. But we are also building upon perhaps the greatest political innovation that NATO has ever produced, which is our vast network of Partnership relations.

Right after the end of the Cold War, we realised that we had to change our relationship with our neighbours to our East. We realised that we could only be secure if they were secure. And so we started to develop diplomatic relations with the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, including Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and Kazakhstan, together with many other countries, emerged as independent nations, all of these nations started to develop a relationship with NATO. And over the past two decades, we have consistently deepened this relationship.

We developed the Partnership for Peace Programme, which focuses on practical, military cooperation between NATO members and Partner countries. We created the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, where NATO members and Partner countries hold political discussions on a wide spectrum of security issues. And we developed distinct relations with Russia and Ukraine.

In the early days, Partnership was essentially a one-way street. NATO would help its former adversaries with their post-communist transition. But that soon changed. More and more countries came in, bringing very valuable skills and experience to the table. And so Partnership evolved into a true two-way street. Partners were able to benefit from NATO’s experience in defence planning, defence budgeting, or establishing sound civil-military relations. And NATO was able to spread the burden of managing Euro-Atlantic security on more shoulders.

NATO-Kazakhstan relations began in 1992, and they have grown steadily ever since. Today, Kazakhstan is NATO’s most active Partner in the Central Asian region. We have achieved solid progress in defence and military cooperation, particularly in enhancing the ability of our military forces to work together. One Kazakh brigade has been made available for participation in international operations, and Kazakhstan hosts annual exercises where our forces train together.

Our partnership goes well beyond the military field, however. For example, next September we will hold a Civil Emergency Planning exercise in Almaty, where we will test our joint preparedness to deal with a sudden disaster. And NATO is also supporting a considerable number of science projects in Kazakhstan. Perhaps the best-known one is the “Virtual Silk Highway project”, a computer networking project that has established high speed internet connectivity in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

We have also supported projects to clean the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. Kazakhstan’s decision after its independence to return Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia and to remain a non-nuclear state was among the most significant and forward-looking decisions that a sovereign country could make. It is therefore all the more important that this country does not suffer from the nuclear legacy of the Soviet Union.

I want to add, in this context, that being a Partner of NATO does not come at the expense of other relationships. Partnership with NATO does not affect Kazakhstan’s bilateral relations with other states, nor its membership in other multinational frameworks. Each NATO Partner is free to choose how far and how fast it wants to develop its relationship with NATO. That way, the Partnership caters to a diverse group of Partners with very different traditions and interests.

I said earlier that Partnership is a two-way street. Partners benefit from working with NATO, but NATO also benefits from working with Partners. This is most obvious when it comes to Afghanistan. NATO benefits immensely from the support of its Partners countries. Many of them are sending troops that stand side-by-side with those of NATO. Other partners help us with military bases, air fields and transit rights, and some provide us with intelligence and expertise.

Kazakhstan realises the importance of our engagement in Afghanistan. Instability in Afghanistan affects Central Asia more than any other region – from terrorism to drug-trafficking. By the same token, no region has more to gain from stability in Afghanistan than Central Asia. It is therefore in Kazakhstan’s interest to see NATO succeed. And that is why Kazakhstan has given us invaluable support. The overflight rights which Kazakhstan grants to NATO planes are vital for the success of our mission. And I would like to use this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and that of all 28 member nations to your country for this crucially important assistance.

So my message is clear: the Partnership between NATO and Kazakhstan is a mutually beneficial partnership. We all stand to gain from it and, hence, we should continue to look for ways to deepen it. But deepening our Partnership should not just be understood as more joint exercises or more scientific cooperation. For me, a key element in our developing Partnership is to further engage civil society. It is vital that we raise public awareness and interest in what we do, notably among the successor generation. And that is why I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you - because you are the leaders of tomorrow.

I know that there is considerable interest in NATO here in this country. The NATO Information Centre at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty is being used by more and more people to learn about the Alliance and its Partners. And last year’s “NATO-Kazakhstan Partnership Week” received wide media and official attention. These are encouraging developments. They show that Kazakhstan has opted for a policy of engagement with the broader international community. And given the size and geopolitical importance of your country, everyone welcomes an outward-looking and cooperative Kazakhstan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the most fundamental things about our increasingly globalised world is that states realise how much they depend on each other. Whether they are NATO members or not, more and more countries realise that they are not immune from the new risks and threats; and that they need to cooperate in addressing those common challenges.

We have come along way in establishing such cooperation. A former NATO Secretary General used to say that, in the Cold War, he could not receive an envoy from a Warsaw Pact country in his office. That envoy had to leave a message at the gate of NATO Headquarters in Brussels -- he or she was not allowed in.

Today, all Partners, including Kazakhstan, have their own diplomatic missions at NATO Headquarters. In the NATO cafeteria, you hear many more languages than NATO has members.

As I prepare to step down as NATO Secretary General in a few weeks’ time, I continue to be fascinated by these changes. Indeed, I believe that the evolution of NATO’s partnerships has been among the most exciting – and most rewarding – aspects of my tenure. Together, we have built a culture of cooperation that stretches across the Atlantic all the way to Central Asia. We have created something unique, something precious. We must preserve it and further develop it – for the sake of our security, and for the security of future generations.

Thank you.