At the Czech
5th Mar. 1998

Speech by the Secretary General

Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a pleasure to address you today.

Almost exactly eight years ago, President Havel addressed the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. His speech contained much insight on the continuing relevance of NATO, and the challenges of political and economic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe. Partway through it, he noted that it was for the time being unlikely that the Czech Republic would become a regular member of NATO. He then said, and I quote: "However, we believe that an alliance of countries united by the same ideals of freedom and democracy should not be forever closed to neighbouring countries that are pursuing the same goals."

Today, eight years after these words were spoken, we are turning into reality what then seemed only like a distant vision: Czech membership in NATO.

The decision of NATO's Heads of State and Government at our historic Madrid last July Summit was a decision for engagement, and against indifference. It was a decision for a new era of cooperation, and against old dividing lines. It is a decision that bodes well for the future of Europe, and indeed for the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

The decision to invite the Czech Republic was based on the Allies' conviction that your country, together with Hungary and Poland, are the best prepared at this time to add to our common security. It was you, the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, whose courage helped to end Europe's unnatural division. It was your irrepressible desire for freedom which gave us the opportunity to build a new Europe - a Europe whose borders are defined by values rather than by spheres of interest.

The goal of NATO membership became even closer in a historic meeting last December, when NATO Foreign Ministers, in the presence of their Czech, Hungarian and Polish counterparts, signed the Accession Protocols that will pave the way for your country to become a full member of the Alliance at our 50th Anniversary Summit in 1999. In the same month, the European Council at Luxembourg invited the Czech Republic to begin accession negotiations with the European Union.

Membership in NATO and EU means far more than signing treaties or joining bureaucracies. Rather, it means participating in the most ambitious project Europe and North America have ever undertaken: to create the conditions for lasting stability and prosperity in the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

This stability cannot rest on economic integration alone. The postwar experience in Western Europe shows that political and economic progress and security integration are closely linked. Once their security is taken care of, countries can devote themselves with more confidence to their longer-term evolution. And a responsible military, firmly embedded in our democratic societies and under civil control, is part and parcel of this evolution. So, too, are military structures that are transparent, defensive, and multinational. All of these goals are easier to achieve in cooperation with like-minded Allies.

I'm well aware of the tragic history of your country this century. Sixty years ago, you were a pawn on the bloody chessboard of Europe. 30 years ago your country was victimised by the very alliance that professed to protect it. These were traumatic events, which have led some Czech citizens to the conclusion that their country should never again be part of an alliance. I am aware of these notions - but I cannot accept them. Let me make it very clear: NATO is not a military bloc. It is a security community of like-minded democracies. NATO is a voluntary association of free states. It exists, purely and simply, because its member states want it to exist.

This is a crucial difference which must never be forgotten. It explains why no NATO member ever wanted to leave this Alliance. As the Polish President told me some time ago, his country wants to join NATO for the same reasons no current member wants to leave it. I call on you, the representatives of the Czech people, to do your utmost to help us dispel these misunderstandings. A new Europe must not be based on old stereotypes.

The NATO that is opening its doors to new members is a unique democratic community. It is also a community committed to dynamic change. NATO has changed perhaps more than any other international organisation. Over the course of this decade we have overhauled our policies, our strategies, our structures.

You will be joining a NATO that is committed to the security and stability of the wider Europe. It is an Alliance that has developed close relationships with virtually every country in the Euro-Atlantic area. Over the course of this decade, NATO has reached out to draw dozens of countries into a common framework of cooperative security. We have established new patterns and networks of interaction - led by the immensely successful Partnership for Peace and the new political body, the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Council.

Both the Partnership for Peace and the Euro- Atlantic Partnership Council are destined to gain further momentum in the months and years ahead. We count on the Czech Republic to continue its active role in these partnership endeavours. The transition from Partner to Ally does not change our common commitment to the deepening of broader, as well as regional, security cooperation through these structures.

In Bosnia, the new NATO of partnership and cooperation has become most visible. Under NATO's lead, 36 nations have united in a historically unique coalition for peace. In Bosnia, Czech, Hungarian and Polish soldiers serve alongside their NATO Partners, as do soldiers from many other Partner countries, including Russia. Together, the international community is moving this war-torn country towards a sustainable peace. In the efforts of so many countries and international organisations to re-build Bosnia we can see an undivided Europe at work.

NATO is firmly committed to a strong relationship with Russia. It has been my conviction that the chance to anchor a new, democratic Russia in a new Europe is a historic opportunity which we must seize. NATO rejected the notion that we had to make a choice between enlargement and good relations with Russia.

The signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act last May showed how right we were. This document, and the rapidly evolving cooperation which it has inspired, demonstrate that NATO's enlargement and a solid relationship with Russia are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary. A new NATO and a new Russia are destined to cooperate.

It is this new NATO the Czech Republic will be joining. For the first time in her recent history, the Czech Republic will be part of a democratic Alliance - and by her own free choice. Your country will be able to organise her security collectively, together with like-minded Allies.

Working together eases the burden that each individual alliance member would otherwise have to carry. But in order to cooperate you must first of all become a full-fledged team member. Much has already been achieved towards this aim. Our cooperation within the Partnership for Peace and in Bosnia has demonstrated how well we can work together. Since the Madrid Summit we have also used the NATO Defence Planning Process to help the Czech Republic familiarise herself with NATO procedures and with the responsibilities of NATO membership.

While these steps have been important in establishing an unprecedented level of commonality, they have also underscored what still needs to be done. The adjustments the Czech Republic must make will be wide-ranging. You must continue to modernise your armed forces, improve the quality of military life, and develop a professional non-commissioned officer corps. You will have to make improvements in a number of key areas. And you will have to maintain a defence budget adequate to achieve this. I am not talking of huge amounts of high-tech equipment. But it does require the political commitment, as well as the readiness, to implement tough reforms.

Clearly, future new members, like NATO's present members, will have the time and the freedom to meet the requirements in a way that they can absorb. It is equally clear that NATO will provide a solid, reliable framework for this long-term restructuring - and that means a more cost-effective reform than could ever be contemplated outside NATO.

NATO will offer its assistance, but most of the work remains up to you. NATO is a voluntary framework, not a straitjacket. No detailed Alliance planning process can spare a member country - and its parliament - from having to make crucial decisions. I am confident that your determination to implement these challenging reforms will make the Czech Republic a net provider of security by 1999.

The willingness to be a contributor to our common security, not just a consumer, will not fail to have an impact on Allied parliaments, as they contemplate ratification in the months ahead. So will the level of public support for the accession process in general. Now is the time for parliamentarians to show real leadership. Membership in NATO is an investment in the long-term future of your country. It is too precious a goal to gamble with or risk letting slip away.

As we await the outcome of the ratification process in Allied Parliaments, we will involve the Czech Republic to the greatest extent possible in Alliance activities. Your representatives receive regular briefings on NATO policies, and they participate in all Alliance fora. Czech, Hungarian and Polish representatives in Brussels are already sitting at the conference table for the weekly meetings in Brussels of the North Atlantic Council and its subordinate committees. Your military take part in activities at the NATO military headquarters in Mons.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A democratic security community, based on common values rather than fear - such was the guiding vision that inspired the drafters of the Washington Treaty in 1949. They did not define NATO's purpose solely as protecting its members in military terms. The ambition from the start was both simpler and broader: in the words of the Treaty, "to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area."

Today, the Atlantic Alliance can finally return to its original vocation: to safeguard and further our democratic values and to support the widening integrative process of the new Europe. With the Czech Republic at our side, we can grasp this beckoning moment of history. I welcome you to our common European home. Thank You.

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