Updated: 26-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

26 March 2001

"Security Challenges in South-East Europe: Perspectives from the Region"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Minister Mattarella,
Deputy Prime Minister Covic,
Minister Rados,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here. Let me begin by thanking the Minister of Defence, the Italian Center for International Policy Studies and the Center for Military and Strategic Studies, for co-hosting this important conference. Gathered here today are some of the most knowledgeable and influential people on security in South East Europe, and I believe that this meeting will serve to help us continue to meet the challenges we are facing together.

Let me also congratulate the hosts of this conference on the study which they have produced, and which has been presented here. It is a valuable contribution to the literature on the subject of South East European security, and it certainly provides a solid foundation for the discussions we are having here today.

And let there be no doubt --- these are important discussions. For at least the past decade, South East Europe has been at the centre of Euro-Atlantic security concern. No other region has seen so much turbulence. No other region has endured so much suffering. And no other area has drawn so much international attention. For South East Europe, and for the countries engaged in trying to assist South East Europe, it has been a very long, and very difficult decade indeed.

Now, if one were to read the papers today, one might be tempted to think that nothing was changing for the better. I keep seeing the same headlines I have seen for years: "Rebels attack Government forces". "Villagers flee in fear". "Observers fear crisis could spread". And the perennial, "NATO accused of not doing enough". Indeed, when I read the morning paper, I am reminded of the French expression "déjà vu" -- or as a famous American once said, "déjà vu, all over again".

But --with apologies to my friends in the media -- newspapers headlines are not necessarily an accurate barometer of what is actually happening. And if one steps back for a moment from the immediate day-to-day challenges, and takes a broader look at the region, and its development from the early 1990s until today, a very different picture emerges.

Today, South East Europe is no longer symbol of stagnation -- it is an area seeing steady progress. Where war has been replaced by peace. Where dictators have been replaced by democrats. And where violent division is being replaced inexorably by integration.

The examples of positive change are numerous, and they are important. They are important because they illustrate clearly that concrete progress is being made -- progress that must be recognised, if it is to provide both the hope, and the roadmap, for further advances.

Take Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only six years ago, this was a tortured country: the lost home of three million refugees; the graveyard of over two hundred thousand victims of war; and the cradle of the cruel euphemism "ethnic cleansing".

Today, it is a country at peace. A fragile peace, perhaps -- but peace. A peace buttressed by a robust international presence, both civilian and military. A peace that creates the foundations for the people of Bosnia to build a self-sustaining society: economically prosperous, politically stable, and eventually, fully part of the Euro-Atlantic community. A peace which has produced the first non-Nationalist government since the collapse of the socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Take Kosovo. Two years ago, Kosovo was the scene of terrible violence: mass killings, over a million refugees forced to flee their homes, and massive violations of human rights. Today, most of Kosovo is at peace. The refugees have returned to their homes. For the first time in living memory, Kosovo has had a free and fair election. And once again, a massive international presence, both international and military, is working with all interested parties to consolidate this new-found peace, and help Kosovo make the transition to self-sustaining democracy and stability.

Or take Yugoslavia. For most of the past decade, the Milosevic regime was the black hole at the centre of this region. For ten years, he engaged in extreme violence against fellow citizens, against neighboring countries, and against the wider international community. For ten years, he started wars he was destined to lose, for no better reason than the empty pursuit of an anachronistic goal: ethnic nationalism. As a result of Milosevic, Yugoslavia ended the 20th century as the pariah of Europe: politically isolated, militarily defeated, and economically shattered.

But today, a newly democratic Yugoslavia is back on the team, and back on the field. Under the democratic leadership of President Kostunica, Yugoslavia is now taking its rightful place as a partner in South East Europe, rather than an outcast. Yugoslavia has retaken her seat in the UN and the OSCE. She is now a regular and accepted member of regional gatherings. And of course, relations between NATO and Yugoslavia are getting closer every day. Foreign Minister Svilanovic's ground-breaking visit to NATO was an important step in that regard, as was the visit of Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Covic more recently.

These three examples -- Bosnia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia -- are only that: examples. But they are powerful illustrations of the progress that we - the countries of the region, and the wider international community -- are making, in bringing peace and security to a region that has suffered too much.

So my first point is simple: we are moving forward. The headlines are not the whole story -- not by far. Slowly but surely, South East Europe is becoming what it aspires to be: normal. Stable. Heading for prosperity. Fully part of Europe, and the Euro-Atlantic community more broadly.

Has NATO been a part of that progress? Well, as NATO's Secretary General, I would have little choice but to answer yes! But of course it is true: NATO has been a crucial contributor to the successes we have achieved so far.

Indeed, I must say that I wonder what the newspapers are referring to when they imply that recent turbulence is down to NATO. In Bosnia, the Alliance not only played a crucial role in ending the war, but it has succeeded for six years in keeping the peace, with the vital assistance of our Partners. In Kosovo, NATO played a central role in stopping and then reversing the ethnic cleansing, and is now working hand in glove with the people of the region, and the international community, to keep the peace we fought so hard to win.

And while NATO has consistently opposed the Milosevic regime, NATO is now working ever-more closely in cooperation with the new Yugoslavia, to support and promote the very positive trends we can see there now. All in all, from my perspective, a pretty strong record of success -- in complex and difficult circumstances.

Does that mean that the headlines are completely wrong? Of course not. While overall progress in South East Europe is good, the daily newspapers are quite right in pointing out that there is still work to be done. In Bosnia, in and around Kosovo, and across South East Europe, we still have challenges we must meet.

You have already heard today what some of those challenges are, and I don't intend to elaborate further on this. Let me just briefly outline for you three specific areas where I think we need to concentrate our efforts -- and how we need to move forward.

First, we must continue to isolate and control the ethnic Albanian extremists inciting violence in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . They must not be allowed to destabilise a country which is an example to the region that different ethnic communities can live alongside and amongst each other, without fear or violence.

My message to these extremists, and to anyone who supports them, is simple and clear: you will be denounced by NATO. The Alliance did not come to Kosovo to support any individual ethnic group, be they Albanian, Serb, or any other. NATO came to Kosovo to defend a principle -- that ethnic violence must not succeed. That is why we came to the defence of the Albanian community in Kosovo. It is in defence of this same principle that we oppose all efforts to destabilise the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

I commend the cohesion of the coalition Government there. They have shown restraint, but also determination to preserve the peace, security and territorial integrity of their country. Wisely, the multi-ethnic coalition government has understood the importance of maintaining national unity in the face of the extremist threats. NATO is doing its part by increasing security measures along the border in Kosovo, primarily by working to prevent any extremists or arms from crossing into the country.

These are important steps, and they will be effective. We will continue to isolate these groups, diplomatically and militarily, until they understand that their insurgency cannot and will not succeed.

Our second, immediate priority, is to continue to work to bring lasting peace and stability to the Presovo Valley. We must build on the cease-fire that exists there, and consolidate it into lasting peace.

For this to happen, the ethnic Albanian armed groups must continue to refrain from using force to achieve their goals. I commend them for doing so until now. Yugoslav forces must also show restraint and diplomacy -- and I commend them too, for also doing what is necessary to avoid unnecessary confrontation. The negotiation of political solutions is the only way forward.

The international community is doing its best to help stabilise the situation. The European Union has decided to increase the number of its monitors in the area to about 30. NATO will coordinate with the EU monitors in the Ground Safety Zone, over their security. This is a good example of how NATO and the EU can work together to manage crises.

Of course, NATO will continue to act along the boundary to prevent arms or people from crossing over from Kosovo. And the Alliance will also continue to facilitate discussions between Belgrade and the armed groups in the area. My personal representative, Peter Feith, has been liaising closely with Deputy Prime Minister Covic in this regard, and I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Covic on the constructive role he in playing in building trust and confidence in that volatile region.

Indeed, trust and confidence are the ultimate solutions to the tensions there, and we encourage the Yugoslav Government to build new relations with the people in the Presevo Valley, which answer their legitimate claims. That, in the end, will provide the long-term solution everyone is seeking, and turn this flashpoint into a foundation for better relations in the region.

Our third priority must be to build on our success in Kosovo. Yes, things there are much better, for the vast majority of Kosovars, than they were during the Milosevic years. That goes without saying. But that is not enough. Peace and security cannot be just for the majority in Kosovo -- it must be for everyone, regardless of their ethnic identity. That is the principle enshrined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, and the international community is unanimous in its determination to uphold that principle. That means, above all, that the violence against minorities must stop.

KFOR is doing everything it can to maintain a secure environment in Kosovo. It is not an easy job -- anyone who has been there can tell you that. But we are making progress. Despite the occasional upsurge, the overall numbers tell us clearly that the level of violence is consistently going down. The Alliance will continue to work closely with the UN and its other partners in Kosovo, and of course with the Kosovar people themselves, to build on this progress.

And let there be no doubt -- the primary responsibility for establishing peace in Kosovo lies not with the international community, but with the Kosovars themselves. It is their reputation, their future, and the support of the international community that is at stake. It is up to them to take the steps necessary to build the kind of society Europe wants to accept as a partner, rather than to hold at arms' length.

These three challenges -- stamping out the violence in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, maintaining peace in the Presevo Valley, and consolidating stability in Kosovo -- are daunting indeed. But some editorialists go further. They suggest that these areas of tension are a grave danger to the stability of the region. Indeed, some go so far as to say that another regional conflict could be around the corner.

Just a few years ago, these concerns would have been founded. When countries of the region lived in fear of their neighbor. When dictators were willing to use their armies to carry out their political goals. When borders were under dispute. And when the international community was engaged only sporadically in the region.

Today, those conditions have changed fundamentally. Now, all governments believe in the same basic principles: democracy; peaceful resolution of disputes; and cooperation to address common challenges. Cooperative regional initiatives are now in place, and delivering results: better trust and confidence, and practical problem solving. And importantly, the international community is fully engaged in the region -- through the EU's Stability Pact, through NATO's South East European Initiative, the work of the UN and OSCE, and of course, through our military presence.

This is why I am very confident these challenges will be managed successfully. All the governments in the region are in agreement with each other, and with the wider international community, on how relations ought to be conducted: peacefully, through productive political dialogue to address legitimate concerns. This is tribute to the massive change South East Europe has seen over the past decade -- and the most vivid demonstration possible that this region will continue to move closer and closer to the heart of Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are never easy answers to security challenges. In the real world, there are no quick fixes, no spray on solution to conflicts to make them go away the next day. Anyone who expects that is both unrealistic and unfair.

But while we do not have an instant solution, we do have some very effective tools: determined engagement; patience; and cooperation. These are the tools we have all employed in helping South East Europe manage its challenges, and its transition. And I believe the results speak for themselves. What was so recently an area riven by conflict is now an area broadly at peace. Where just a few years ago, human rights violations were common currency, today they are becoming encouragingly rare. Where until so recently, the countries of South East Europe were seen as consumers of security, today they are increasingly seen as contributors.

Winston Churchill once said, "the problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat - but they are no less challenging." The problems we have today are challenging indeed -- but we must not forget that, for South East Europe, for NATO and for the Euro-Atlantic region more broadly, the overall record is one of success. We must build on this success, for the benefit of all countries in the region and all of their peoples.

Thank you.

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