NATO and the Arab Spring

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Forum for New Diplomacy hosted by Carnegie Europe

  • 01 Jun. 2011 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 01 Jun. 2011 19:10

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Ambassador Cousseran,
Mister Techau
Mister Cohen,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the inauguration of the ‘Forum for New Diplomacy’ here in Brussels.  It is a very timely initiative.  And I would like to thank the three hosts:  l'Académie Diplomatique Internationale, the International Herald Tribune and Carnegie Europe.

These last few months have been among the most eventful that I can remember.  We have seen a new wave of freedom spreading across the Middle East and North Africa.  From Tunis to Cairo to Benghazi, people broke down the wall of fear, just as another brave generation broke down the Berlin Wall.

They chose change through peaceful demonstration, not violent extremism.  They chose the idea of freedom, not the ideology of fear.  And they showed the world that the future lies in the hands of the people.

Across the region, there are vast differences and unique challenges. And in each country, the authorities have responded differently.  Some took steps to meet the demands of their citizens. Others realised their time was up and moved aside.  Yet others answered the call for freedom and dignity with state violence.

Today, I would like to look at three questions. What has changed in the region; why does it matter for NATO; and how can we work together with the countries of the region to shape the future?

First: What has changed? 

A younger generation is demanding a brighter tomorrow.  For too many years they heard about economic growth, but did not feel the benefits.  They saw wealth, but were unable to share it.  Some even saw elections, but did not experience democracy.  Now they want to have all those for real.

We should not underestimate the importance of this moment – for all of us.   This is the beginning of a long, complex and possibly turbulent transformation.  But it will shape the region and the world for years to come. And, I believe, for the better.

We should embrace it.  And see it is a chance to make a fresh start.

For too long, many thought that you could not have both stability and democracy in that region.  The men and women on the Arab streets have shown they want both.  They sent their governments, and the world, a very clear message: stability at the expense of our aspirations is not true stability. 

This is because freedom is not just a western value - it is a universal value.
It is not a commodity for the few – it should be shared by the many.
And it is not to be feared – it is the best guarantee of long-term peace.

Tragically, some governments have answered the call for change with repression, not reforms. 

In Libya, Qadhafi’s regime brutally and systematically attacked its own people.  The region, and the world, did not stand idly by.  In an historic decision, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, authorising all necessary measures to protect civilians.  It is under this explicit mandate that NATO took overall command of military operations in Libya. With strong support from the region and the participation of partners from the Arctic to the Arabian Sea. 

Obviously, this development is of immense importance. And it matters a great deal to NATO.

Our  essential mission is to ensure that the Alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security and shared values.  Allies have built a solid security home in which we are prosperous and at peace.  But how safe can we really be when a crisis breaks out on our doorstep?

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 must work together to deal with them. 

It is the same with the crisis in Libya.  If NATO and our partners in the region had not acted, we would have seen more bloodshed from Benghazi to Brega, and the end of the freedom movement in Libya.   Across the region, the bright Arab Spring could have turned into bleak winter.

We want to see the Arab Spring blossom. And  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 wants to help make it happen.

So that brings me to my third question.  How can NATO work with the countries of the region to shape the future?

First, we will continue our efforts to fulfil the United Nations' mandate to protect the Libyan people.

In just two months since we started our mission, we have made significant progress.  We have the momentum, and we are fulfilling our mandate. We have considerably degraded Qadhafi’s ability to use force against civilians and lay siege to cities.  We have saved countless lives.

I was struck to read about Amran Zoufrey, an eighty-four year old man from Misrata. He wept as he walked through the town centre, past buildings blasted by Qadhafi’s forces. He said, “If God hadn’t brought NATO, they would have burned us all.” 

Clearly, the only permanent solution will be political, not  military.  But to pave the way, Allies and partners need to keep up the pressure. And we will -- for as long as necessary.  Actually, just today, NATO and partners have decided to extend our mission for Libya for another 90 days.

So the question is not if Qadhafi will go, but when.  The Contact Group and the recent G8 summit made that absolutely clear. And NATO Allies and partners strongly endorse that call.

It could take some time yet. It could happen tomorrow. 

Let me be clear: I do not see a major role for NATO in Libya after we have completed our UN mandated operation.  But once  Qadhafi has gone, the international community must  help the Libyan people  ensure a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy. And it must start to plan and prepare for that day.

Secondly, the reform of the military and the security sector are key milestones on the road to democracy.  Modern, effective and accountable defence and security institutions will be a vital priority for many of the countries in the region.  And NATO is well suited to help achieve this.

Many Allies went through demanding defence reforms after their own revolutions just over twenty years ago.  We stand ready to share this collective experience and  expertise, also for the benefit of Libya.

A new Libya needs modern, democratic security forces that will not attack the people, but protect them. 

I could imagine providing assistance in building Libya’s new Ministry of Defence, a joint General Staff and a National Security Agency. Institutions that would be accountable to a democratically elected government, in a country where all institutions have been systematically wiped out over the last forty years.

Of course, any assistance from NATO would be tailor-made. It would complement other support, particularly from the European Union and the United Nations.  And it would be developed at the request of each country, and in close cooperation with them.

Finally, we are ready to engage in an enhanced dialogue on security matters . We have a successful track-record of political  engagement with countries in North Africa and the broader Middle East.  We have already two partnerships that bring together the 28 Allies with many countries of the region: our Mediterranean Dialogue with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. And our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar,  and the United Arab Emirates.

 The Arab Spring has underlined the need to elevate our dialogue and partnerships to a new level. Our new Strategic Concept calls for such enhanced cooperation.

Twenty years ago, a new future emerged in Central and Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War.   NATO established the North Atlantic Cooperation Council to provide the countries of that region with vital political and practical support.
Now a new future is emerging in North Africa and the Middle East. 
We are prepared to engage with partners across and beyond our existing partnership frameworks.  This will allow us to discuss a broader range of issues, including those that our partners wish to raise. And it will allow us to involve all others who have an interest in bringing security and stability to the region.

I see a democratic Libya as a most welcome partner for NATO, regardless of whether they would want to seek engagement within or outside our Mediterranean Dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO member states form a unique community of values, committed to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We consider these to be universal principles that apply to all peoples of the world, including in North Africa and the Middle East. That’s why NATO Allies support the legitimate aspirations of people throughout this region.

The Arab Spring has inspired us all. It has shown the tremendous potential waiting to be unlocked in the region.  And NATO is ready, willing, and able to help to unlock it.

We can help countries in the region build the future they want. But stability, security and prosperity cannot be imposed from outside.
They can only come from within.  
They can only come by meeting the legitimate aspirations of people throughout the region.
They can only come once all the people in the region have the opportunity to enjoy the universal values we all cherish: freedom, democracy and human rights.

Thank you.