by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, in Baku, Azerbaijan
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ambassador, Thank you very much for that kind introduction. It has been eight years since a NATO Secretary General visited this country. Frankly, that’s too long. So I am delighted to be here, and I am particularly pleased to be here at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Because this academy has become much more than a training institute for Azerbaijan’s diplomatic service. It is an important school of international affairs as also reflected in the Ambassador's introduction. And it attracts high quality students from this country, from the region and beyond.
I think my visit is timely also because NATO and Azerbaijan have recently taken important steps to deepen our partnership further. Azerbaijan has committed to a stronger, and longer contribution to the international peace effort in Afghanistan, which NATO is leading. And for our part, NATO is also looking at ways we can do more together.
In fact, the depth of our cooperation might surprise those who haven’t been following NATO’s evolution. Of course, many people know the basics about NATO. That for over six decades, NATO has united democratic nations from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Today, we have 28 member nations. 28 Allies committed to defend not only our shared security, but also our common values – freedom, democracy, and human rights. And we operate under a firm principle - all for one, one for all. That means that if one Ally is threatened, all other Allies will come to its defence.
For the first forty years of its existence, NATO prevented the Cold War from getting hot. When the Iron Curtain fell, we extended a hand of friendship to countries all over Europe, including here in the Southern Caucasus region. We helped many former enemies to become friends. And we opened our door for many European nations to become NATO Allies.
But what some might have missed is that, since the start of this new century, NATO has once again moved with the times. We are tackling new, global security challenges – such as terrorism, piracy, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This means we need to look well beyond Europe’s borders. And we work together with other international organisations, and with partner countries on all five continents.
Our role in Afghanistan has been the most visible example of this new engagement. NATO is leading the biggest coalition in history under a United Nations mandate. Today, 50 nations are working side-by-side to ensure that Afghanistan will never again provide a safe haven for terrorists who threaten our nations.
We are extremely grateful that Azerbaijan is one of those nations. Your military personnel are doing a fantastic job there. And you can be very proud of what they are achieving.
You are also contributing in other ways. Azerbaijan has allowed other countries over flight and transit of its territory. And you have made a generous financial contribution to the training of Afghan security forces. These contributions are less visible than uniformed personnel – but they are just as important. Azerbaijan has been, and continues to be, a solid, reliable partner for NATO on Afghanistan.
We continue to face challenges in Afghanistan, but together with our Afghan partners, we have also made significant progress. The NATO-led combat mission will be completed by the end of 2014. But we will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces after that date. And I very much hope that Azerbaijan will continue to be part of that effort. This country knows it will feel the effects of another breakdown in Afghanistan. It clearly makes sense for us to continue to work together to help bring lasting stability to that troubled country.
Afghanistan proves that the only sensible approach to 21st century security is a cooperative approach. NATO will continue to build on the success of working with our partners. To deepen the understanding and trust that we have built together over the past two decades. And to consolidate the invaluable practical experience that our military forces have gained by working together in Afghanistan and on other NATO-led missions and operations.
We are determined to work more closely with our partners, including in this region. We need partners who share our desire for security, and our values. In this respect, we encourage Azerbaijan to pursue democratic reforms in such areas as elections and free media, which will first and foremost benefit this country.
I also think there is more we can do together when it comes to practical cooperation. And I believe that this is a two-way street, with benefits for NATO and for our partners.
The NATO-Azerbaijan partnership gives your country access to a unique security forum. A seat at the table where we can address vital security concerns like Afghanistan together, Allies and partners. And my aim is to have more such discussions, on a broader range of current and new security challenges, like energy security and cyber-defence.
Our partnership also supports Azerbaijan’s reforms. Especially in defence reforms, where you are developing modern and accountable military forces that are relevant to today’s security challenges, and able to play their full part in multinational operations.
Much of our cooperation is focussed on military-to-military activities, such as training and education. We are also deepening our cooperation on energy security and cyber-security. And this might seem far away from the needs of average people. But we also do things together that have more tangible benefits.
Let me give you one example. Together, NATO and the Azerbaijan Mine Agency have removed huge quantities of landmines from the soil in this country. Half a million unexploded munitions have been destroyed. This is one of the biggest projects of this nature in the world, freeing up hundreds of hectares of land for agriculture and development.
Those remnants from the past endangered lives. Now, people can walk, farm and open businesses on that land. You might say this project is literally paving the way to a better future. And I might add that the Azerbaijani Agency is now helping with demining in other countries, including in Afghanistan.
But for all this progress, this region still faces great security challenges. Azerbaijan has a complicated neighbourhood. And the most pressing regional challenge remains finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Two things are clear. First, that there is no military solution. And second, the only way forward is through dialogue, compromise, and cooperation.
As I said in Yerevan yesterday, NATO as an organisation is not involved directly in finding a solution to this conflict. Nor do we take sides. But we will continue to support the Minsk Process and efforts towards a peaceful settlement.
As I also said in Yerevan yesterday, I am deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani decision to pardon Ramil Safarov. The act he committed in 2004 was a crime which should not be glorified, as this damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process. There must be no return to conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tensions in this region must be reduced, and concrete steps must be taken to promote regional cooperation and reconciliation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Azerbaijan is an important partner for NATO. And NATO will continue to be an important partner for Azerbaijan.
We have already achieved a great deal together. We have an opportunity to do much more. To solidify our long-term partnership. To strengthen our political dialogue and practical cooperation. And hopefully, to contribute to a better, more peaceful future for this region, where trust is restored, borders are opened, trade is restored, and the people of this country and this region can truly benefit from its huge strategic potential.