Updated: 25-Apr-2002 NATO Speeches

Medal Ceremony,
25 April 2002


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I do not exaggerate at all when I use the word "historic" to describe NATO's crucial role in helping to prevent war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . And the recipients of this medal, gathered here today, have played a crucial role in that historic success.

When fighting broke out in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia early last year, we all feared a repeat of the ethnic wars that had already ravaged Bosnia and Kosovo. In both of those crises, NATO has played a crucial role in bringing fighting to an end, and in helping to keep the peace. But the response to this crisis broke new ground: in terms of timing, in terms of cooperation between institutions, and in terms of success.

The timing of the international intervention was, in and of itself, historic. In Bosnia, the international community intervened years too late, and the results were horrific. In Kosovo, we acted sooner, but still in response to massive ethnic cleansing and terrible human rights abuses.

But in FYROM, the international community's reaction was, finally, in good time. In time to prevent conflict from exploding. In time to help put in place the foundations of peace. And in enough time that the only international presence required was small, and short-term. In this operation, NATO demonstrated that we had learned the lessons of the past - and acted on them.

This was also an unprecedented example of cooperation between institutions.

For years, we have been negotiating in our conference rooms about the political value and mechanical requirements of NATO - EU cooperation In this operation, we just got on with the job, and proved the value of cooperation where it really counts - on the ground. From our joint diplomatic efforts, to the cooperation between NATO and EU personnel on the field, this has been an unprecedented success. We even went so far as to trade one of our best players to the EU team!

Finally, these efforts have been historic in terms of their success. Indeed, I believe firmly that historians and political science students will look back at this operation as one of the most successful examples ever of preventive diplomacy.

And so much of the credit goes to the people gathered here today. These medals are important because they recognise a vital truth - that NATO is not a building, and it is not only an Alliance. It is a collection of individuals. Individuals who do difficult and often dangerous jobs, sometimes far away from home, and do them without fanfare.

Some of you have spent many weeks and months in the field - negotiating with government officials and rebels, monitoring and reporting on what is happening. You have maintained NATO's eyes, ears and voice in the region, and the value of your contribution cannot be overstated.

Others among you played an equally important role in headquarters - providing political analyses and advice, and managing the tricky technical and legal aspects of the operation. And in fact, most of you did both - doing your work in headquarters, while also going regularly into the field to put out fires there.

This medal is in recognition of that contribution. It symbolises the importance of the role that each of you played. And it is testimonial to the historic success that you helped NATO to achieve - averting war, and laying the foundations for peace, in a country where conflict could so easily have been the outcome.

Let me, therefore, very simply say thank you, and congratulations.

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