Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, Brussels

  • 10 Mar. 2011
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  • Last updated: 10 Mar. 2011 14:40

Left to right: Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero (Deputy NATO Secretary General) with NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and ted Whiteside (Secretary of the Council)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon to all of you.

We meet at a time of great turmoil, of great challenges – and great opportunities. The world’s attention is focused on events in North Africa, the Middle East and in particular on Libya.

Juste sur l’autre rive de la Méditerranée, la Libye et les zones frontalières de ce pays connaissent une situation humanitaire grave, source d’une grande préoccupation pour nous tous. De nombreux Alliés évacuent leurs ressortissants et portent assistance à d’autres personnes en difficulté, dans des circonstances très pénibles.

Chaque jour, chaque heure nous arrivent des rapports faisant état de nouvelles violences perpétrées par le régime libyen contre des civils, c'est-à-dire par le colonel Kadhafi contre son propre peuple. Comme l’a indiqué clairement le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies, ces attaques systématiques et généralisées commises contre la population civile pourraient constituer des crimes contre l’humanité. La communauté internationale a réagi plus vite que jamais en condamnant le régime libyen, mais le temps continue de presser.

Cela fait maintenant de nombreux jours que l’OTAN consulte d’autres organisations internationales et régionales et qu’elle suit le déroulement d’événements qui se succèdent rapidement. Ainsi, j’ai invité Mme Catherine Ashton, haute représentante de l’Union européenne pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité, à participer à notre réunion pour que nous puissions examiner avec elle la situation en Libye.

En tant qu’alliance de défense et acteur international responsable, l’OTAN se doit aujourd’hui d’envisager toute éventualité dans le cadre d’une planification de précaution. C’est ce que nous faisons.

We have asked our military authorities to work on a range of options, to see how we,  as an Alliance, can support international efforts, for example on humanitarian assistance.  But we stand ready to consider other options if necessary, and we will discuss those areas today.  

But any operation we undertake needs to respect three key principles.

Firstly, there has to be demonstrable need for NATO action. Secondly, there has to be a clear legal base. And thirdly,  there has to be firm regional support.

We have already enhanced our surveillance in the Central Mediterranean.  This week, we are increasing the operating capability of NATO  AWACS aircraft to 24 hours a day. This is part of our long-standing counter-terrorist Operation Active Endeavour.

It  does not mean that we are deciding to carry out specific operational steps today.  But it does mean that we are are watching what the Libyan regime does to its people very closely indeed. And, if there is a demonstrable need, if we have a clear mandate and strong regional support, we stand ready to help.  Time is of the essence. 

But today, we should also look at the longer-term prospects for North Africa and the Middle East. We welcome the start of the democratic transition in Tunisia and Egypt, two of our valued partners in the region. We need to consider what more we can do to assist them, and other members of our Mediterranean Dialogue, if they so require. 

It is my strong conviction that time is on the side of democracy. In the long-run, no society can ignore the will of the people. Because the desire for freedom resides in every human being – regardless of whether they live in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.

We are currently seeing the start of a new era of freedom, which can generate peace, prosperity and progress. It can burst boundaries, barriers and borders.

Remember: just over twenty years ago, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe faced similar turmoil and similar challenges. They are now stable democracies, strong Allies sitting at this very table.   

We have a great amount of pressing work today. And we need to get on with it. So may I kindly ask members of the press now to leave the room.

Thank you.