Updated: 20-Feb-2001 NATO Speeches

20 Feb. 2001


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
at the opening of the NATO Information Office

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all thank our Ally Belgium for the invaluable support it has provided for this project. Without the generosity of Belgium, all this would not have been possible. I also would like to acknowledge the constructive approach by the Russian Government in our negotiations on the letter of exchange establishing this office. Deputy Foreign Minister Gusarov, who is with us tonight, had a major part in this.

Russians are widely admired for their ability to think dialectically. So perhaps it is a special variant of dialectics that we are opening an office today that will immediately shut down again for renovation!

In a way, however, this is fitting. Because NATO-Russia relations, too, resemble a construction site. The foundations are in place -- the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Permanent Joint Council, and solid cooperation in the Balkans. But in order to turn it into a relationship that corresponds to the strategic importance of Russia and NATO, much more work is still required. In particular, we must cut through the maze of the outdated stereotypes -- stereotypes that refuse to wither away, stereotypes that keep us stranded on the shores of a distant past. These stereotypes come to the fore whenever our interests or perceptions diverge, and they have prevented us from achieving the trustful and confident relationship that would befit NATO, Russia and indeed European security at large.

But this is going to change. This Information Office will play a very meaningful role in the process of overcoming those stereotypes that still keep us apart. It will enable non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, and all interested individual Russian citizens to obtain first-hand information about the new NATO, and about NATO-Russia cooperation.

Nowhere are there more misperceptions about NATO than in Russia. But it is equally true that nowhere are people more literate and more hungry for new information than here in Russia. So I believe that the NATO Information Office will have a major task to fulfill. I'm sure that we will find that many Russians are quite receptive to the information we present.

Let me be clear: Our mission is to ensure that people in Russia have the facts about NATO. We want people in Russia to know more about the way NATO functions, and why the NATO countries take the decisions they take. You all know Tyutchev's famous phrase that "Russia is not to be understood by the mind alone ...". Well, I guess the same could be said about NATO: If you want to know why 19 different nations from two continents -- nations big and small -- work so closely and confidently together, you must read about it. To get an accurate picture of the Alliance, you must have the facts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

More then ten years after the end of the Cold War, at the start of the 21st century, the NATO-Russia relationship must evolve into a true strategic partnership. The NATO Information Office represents one pioneering step along this road. The Office may not yet be fully functioning in technical terms as of today - and this may still take some weeks - but this does not detract from its tremendous political significance. It marks a fresh start in NATO-Russia relations.

Clearly, a small Information Office is not going to transform NATO-Russian relations overnight. But in the broader context of deepening NATO-Russia ties, it will play its full part to turn former adversaries into real partners -- and even friends.

I wish the Office and its Staff every success.

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