Opening remarks

by The Hon. Madeleine K. Albright, Chair of the Group of Experts, at the Third Seminar on NATO's Strategic Concept

  • 14 Jan. 2010
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  • Last updated: 14 Jan. 2010 15:35

Mr. Minister, thank you very much, and a great pleasure to be here with Excellencies and guests and friends. Good morning.

I really do want to thank our Norwegian hosts, and also the co-organizers from Germany, Romania and Spain, for putting together this remarkable seminar. There's no better test of the capacity of an Alliance for joint action than asking four countries to organize one seminar. Defending freedom can be simple compared to assembling good panels and coming to agreement on an agenda, so it augurs well for NATO's efforts to develop a new Strategic Concept that our hosts today have put together such a superb program.

The timing is also right because this month marks the beginning not only of a new year, but also of a pivotal period in the history of our Alliance. The Experts Group will complete our work by the end of April and the Strategic Concept should be in place by December, which means that we have some very hard work to do.

In short order our collective task will shift from discussion to recommendations and from wide-ranging debate to the search for consensus. And today's deliberations should help us to make that important transition.

The reason is that our theme of the day, which is partnerships, is central to any realistic vision of NATO's future. And that's why I'm delighted that representatives of many and so many partner countries are here with us this morning.

One might think that as NATO membership has grown the need for outside partners would have been reduced. In fact, the opposite has occurred.
I well remember a January 16 years ago when the era of partnerships began. And in the company with the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, I made a flying tour of frostbitten capitals throughout Central Europe. Together we invited newly democratic governments to come to Brussels to join the Partnership for Peace, and we promised each country a desk, a filing cabinet, a telephone and the chance to work side-by-side with the world's most successful political and military team.

It all went very well until I briefed the press in Warsaw, saying that I hoped countries in the region would pick up the football and run with it. This actually made sense in America where people do run with footballs, but not in Europe. It was the last sports analogy I have attempted.

Despite this, the Partnership for Peace worked remarkably well, and it helped to promote stable transitions to democracy, encourage security cooperation and prepared a dozen countries for entry into the Alliance.

Throughout their existence, the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council have served to enhance military planning and collaboration along the periphery of the Alliance. This task has become more complicated as NATO's boundaries have broadened, and as new and more complex threats to international stability have arisen.

The passing years have created the need for a NATO of greater flexibility and reach and we have learned that partnerships can act as a force and efficiency multiplier, and I have found very interesting a statement that the Foreign Minister just made, which is that there are more partners than allies, and that partners are, in fact, making substantial contributions to NATO operations.

Truly productive relationships help us to be more vigilant, better prepared, smarter in what we do, and more effective in our actions. And so we have expanded our partnerships to the east and south, including the Mediterranean and the Greater Middle East.

We have also deepened our ties to institutions that share our values, such as the European Union and the United Nations. And we've engaged with countries as distant as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, in addition to the embattled governments of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the questions that we will seek to answer today is whether these partnerships, individually and collectively, are fulfilling their potential. This is an issue that must be considered from more than one point of view because a partnership that benefits one side but not the other is unlikely to thrive for very long.

A second issue is whether the same set of principles and tools for cooperation can be applied to all of NATO's partnerships, or whether each is unique and must be considered and planned for in its own terms?

A third area of inquiry related to the second concerns the definition of partnership. Does the term apply to any government that is willing to sit across the table from Alliance members, or does it require a genuine commitment to act on behalf of mutual security goals? Also, is it a requirement that NATO partners share our democratic values, or is it sufficient for them to recognize a common interest in, for example, countering violent extremism?
A fourth issue concerns the scope of partnerships. Are they ambitious enough? Can they be more productive in crisis consultations and in fostering regional stability? Where's the balance between expecting too much and demanding too little?

And finally, there is the relationship between partnership and membership. Since the end of the Cold War every country that has been added to the Alliance was a graduate of the Partnership for Peace, but does this mean that not every partner desires or will achieve Alliance membership?
Every country that aspires to membership is entitled to fair consideration, but none begins with a guarantee. This question of membership is linked in the minds of many to one of NATO's most prominent and sometimes contentious partners, and that is Russia. Much more could be said about this relationship than my time this morning permits. The essential facts are that NATO members and Russia have a variety of shared interests, including non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, maritime security, fighting organized crime and promoting international stability.

In NATO's view each of these objectives is advanced by support for certain basic norms, including international law, respect for the independence of nations, human rights, and a desire whenever possible to settle disputes peacefully.

Given the history of the last century it is not surprising that suspicions still linger between Russia and the West, but the solution is clear - good faith dialogue, matched by good faith actions over a period of years.

As illustrated by Secretary General Rasmussen's constructive speech in Moscow last month, NATO is prepared to do its part, and I hope that Russia is too. There is no need for either side to view the other as a rival. On the contrary, we have learned the hard way that American, European and Russian security reinforce one another, while serving the interests of nations big and small from the English Channel to the Black and Baltic seas. Thus, there is no inherent conflict between principled engagement with Russia and the protections offered to NATO members by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. And this fact should be reflected in the new Strategic Concept.

Our emphasis today is on NATO's relationship to its many partner countries and organizations. Our responsibility, overall, is to examine every aspect of NATO's operations and plans within the context of an ever-changing globe. And we know that we cannot bring back 1949 or 1989 or even 2009. We must adapt our Alliance to meet new dangers and to cope with the constant turning of events. But we should do so with confidence that the democratic values we embrace are the right ones, and that together we can prepare NATO successfully to meet its full range of responsibilities as it enters its seventh decade of life.

Thank you all very much, and I now look forward to a very interesting day. And, again, Mr. Minister, thank you so much for your really superb hosting and your work as Foreign Minister of this great country. Thank you.