by the Deputy Secretary General
In this context, let me add a word of personal thanks to Dr. Solomon Passy, the president of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, whose spontaneous offer of the use of an aircraft has made it possible for me to be with you today.
This is the first General Assembly Meeting of the ATA in a Partner country. The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria and its President, Mr. Solomon Passy, deserve our thanks for having organised this high-level gathering of distinguished personalities and representatives from national Atlantic Treaty Associations.
But it also comes immediately after an important regional meeting of Defence Ministers, hosted by the government of Bulgaria. These two initiatives - one non-governmental and the other governmental - demonstrate the widespread determination of Bulgaria and its people to forge ever-closer ties with the Alliance and its Partners and integrate fully into Euro-Atlantic structures. This effort is salutary. It is proof positive that Bulgaria is intent to reach beyond historic boundaries, and play a significant role in building cooperative security throughout Europe.
Last autumn, when the ATA General Assembly met in Rome, NATO was preparing for a historic year. In my remarks today, I shall briefly describe what the Alliance has achieved since then, and where we are heading. I would also like to mention the valuable work of the ATA and its associate members, and the positive role your organization will play in the future.
First, NATO. Only a year ago, there was much discussion on whether NATO would muster the energy to complete what it had set out to do -- namely, transform itself and indeed the wider Europe. Today, we can clearly say that we have lived up to the challenge. We are giving life and substance to the initiatives that have emerged from recent meetings in Sintra, Paris, and Madrid.
Our agenda is ambitious. But if we succeed, it will have a lasting positive effect on the European continent, as we strive to create a united Europe at peace with itself.
Three years ago at the Brussels Summit, NATO made the decision in principle to accept new members. NATO enlargement would reach to democratic European states in a position to further the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty and to contribute to Alliance security. It would be an evolutionary process, taking into account political and security developments in the whole of Europe.
After careful preparation and consultation, we turned the decision in principle into concrete action. At Madrid, we invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join the Alliance. At the moment we are in the midst of accession talks with each of the three invitees. We would like to complete these talks by next month, in order to pave the way for protocols of accession to be signed at the next NATO Ministerial this December. Our aim is to receive the invited states as full members of NATO by the time of NATO's fiftieth anniversary in 1999.
Let me underline an important point about enlargement. It is an open-ended process, not a one-time event. This was made perfectly clear in the Madrid Declaration, where NATO leaders reaffirmed that the door to NATO membership remains open. What this means on the practical level is that our intensive dialogues on the subject of enlargement will continue with those Partners interested - and in what we call a "16+1" format. We are also enhancing the Partnership for Peace, which has a wide array of cooperative programmes and activities to help Partners who so wish to prepare themselves for possible membership. And we have created the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council as a forum for closer political dialogue and consultation.
Enlargement also should be placed in a wider context - as a complement to the integrating and security-building roles of other organizations such as the EU and the OSCE. The very prospect of NATO and EU membership has already made a contribution in this regard. In anticipation of what would be expected of them if they joined NATO or the EU, a number of Central and East European countries have ratified bilateral treaties with neighbouring countries. The outcome? Good neighbourly relations, greater transparency and confidence, and the enhancement of stability in the region. Indeed, all aspects of NATO's current political agenda should be seen as linked to the wider context of an emerging European security architecture. We want to replace the old lines of divisions in Europe with a seamless web of partnership, of interaction, of cooperation.
At the Sintra Ministerial in June, we held our first meeting of the newly-created Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. This new body now serves as the overarching framework for all the Alliance's cooperation and outreach activities. Through the EAPC, Partner Countries can consult with the Alliance on security-related matters on a regular basis. It will provide a forum in which we can discuss together a variety of issues - from PfP activities to regional cooperation.
The new EAPC has been accompanied by a far-reaching enhancement of Partnership for Peace. Partnership for Peace has been a resounding success, but we can make it even better, working closely with our Partners. One of the main features of the enhanced PfP is greater Partner involvement and participation in the design, planning and implementation of specific activities. We are also encouraging the growing presence of diplomats and military representatives from Partner countries at NATO headquarters and SHAPE.
This past spring witnessed another unprecedented step - the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Symbolic of a new beginning and a commitment on the part of the Alliance, the Act creates a Permanent Joint Council, where NATO and Russia are able to consult regularly and to cooperate, wherever possible, on issues of mutual concern. It reflects the Alliance's conviction that creating a common security architecture in Europe cannot take place without Russia.
Less than a fortnight ago, we held our first meeting of the Permanent Joint Council in New York. The meeting was a success. It brought home the fact that cooperation between NATO and Russia is a reality. An ambitious work programme including cooperative and consultative activities is now being implemented. We are hoping that high-level Russian military representation at the NATO Headquarters will be in place by the end of this month. And our joint experience in Bosnia shows the proven capacity of Russian and NATO military forces to work together in the field to secure peace. I sincerely believe that we have set in motion through the NATO-Russia Founding Act a concrete and workable instrument for NATO and Russia cooperation. Even more than that: it will give Russia a relationship with the Alliance commensurate with its size and weight.
Similarly, we are putting into effect the new NATO-Ukraine Charter, also signed at the margins of the Madrid Summit. The first meeting of the new NATO-Ukraine Commission takes place this week. The Charter demonstrates our willingness to support this important country as it draws closer to European structures and finds its own role and contribution to cooperative security in Europe.
So NATO is set on a course of ever-closer cooperation with all countries of the Euro-Atlantic area. But cooperation is not an end in itself, confined to mere ideas alone. It must lead to common action. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bosnia.
Since the last meeting of the ATA General Assembly, SFOR forces have been enforcing the provisions of the Dayton Accords through an unprecedented common effort of more than 30 countries - including the 16 Allies and many of our Partners and other non-NATO nations - in the Implementation and now Stabilisation Force. We have gained valuable practical experience of working together with Partners, such as Bulgaria, who has contributed to our common effort by sending an engineering platoon to Bosnia to construct medical facilities.
However, much work remains to be done if lasting peace is to be secured in Bosnia. The Dayton Peace Agreement must be implemented fully - in its civilian as well as military aspects. SFOR is working closely with other international organisations and agencies to provide the conditions for peace to take root. Our immediate focus is on the political re-building of the country, with its new institutions of governance. In this regard, the recent municipal elections provide encouragement that we are moving along the path towards greater stability in the country and in the surrounding region. We now have to marginalise and neutralise those political forces in Bosnia determined to destroy the peace process. Through incentives and sanctions set out by the Peace Implementation Council last May, the international community has greater leverage in demanding full compliance with Dayton.
SFOR is a truly international coalition for peace. Yet its creation, and the worthy efforts of the civilian agencies and organisations in Bosnia, would not have been possible without the support of our publics. Nor would our attempt to build a new cooperative security order in Europe been possible without such support. That is a fact of life for an alliance of democratic countries.
This brings me directly to the contribution of the Atlantic Treaty Associations. Over the years, you have served as bridge-builders in NATO member states between governments and public opinion. Like the Alliance, you were quick to respond to the historic changes in Europe. Like NATO, you have taken on new roles and are reaching beyond your traditional geographic area of activity with the new associate organizations in Central and Eastern Europe. Many of these organisations can now fully develop their potential.
Looking ahead, the "new ATA" will play a vital role in explaining the "new NATO" to publics in member and Partner countries. Together, we can shape a common approach to Europe's security. How? Let me offer a couple of ideas.
In my travels to Central and Eastern Europe, I am always struck by the intense thirst for knowledge about NATO -- especially among the younger generations. I am also heartened by the ardent desire on the part of peoples who were artificially separated from one half of the continent to find their rightful place in the new Europe.
Yet misperceptions about the future role of the Alliance still linger. Informing the public and the media in member and partner countries about NATO's new missions and its overall raison d'etre in the new security environment is crucial to our work. In fact, I would say that successful public diplomacy is key to the future of the new NATO. This public diplomacy will have to be increased in the months ahead as we move into the ratification process of bringing new members into the Alliance, enhance the Partnership for Peace, strengthen our Mediterranean dialogue, and put the NATO-Russia and NATO-Ukraine partnerships on track.
Implementing NATO's forward-looking agenda does not concern only the executive branches of member states. We need a broad public consensus in the whole community of Euro-Atlantic democracies to achieve our goal. We are therefore confident that the ATA and its respective member organizations will add a strong dynamic to the enlargement debate and take a pro-active stand by spreading the word about the new NATO, its role and missions.
Finally, a word about the broader role of non-governmental organisations, or NGOs, in Central and Eastern Europe. NGOs -- together with hundreds of citizens' initiatives that have thrived over the last few years -- are proof of the progressive maturity of democratic systems in this part of Europe. They are now breathing new life into societies coping with the effects of political and economic transition. In short, they provide an important conduit between democratic governments and society at large. They also act as guarantors of the free flow of information between countries. In this regard, the ATA has played a significant role, using the unique access you have to Central and Eastern European publics and government officials.
In sum, your role perfectly complements NATO's political agenda. And in an increasingly interdependent world, organizations like yours will remain key to keeping our vision of a united, free and secure Europe alive. NATO is looking forward to continuing its fruitful relations with all the Atlantic Organisations. I thank you for the support you've given the Alliance over the years, and I wish you much success in your future endeavours.