NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
at the international conference on
"Regional Stability and Cooperation:
NATO, Croatia and South-East Europe"
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here. Let me begin by thanking
the Croatian Institute for International Relations and the Croatian
Atlantic Club for organising this important conference, and
the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for sponsoring it together with
Some of the most knowledgeable and influential people on security
in South-East Europe are gathered here today. Your discussions
will contribute to our common goal of fostering stability and
cooperation in this region, a region that is so often referred
to as "troubled".
Calling South-East Europe "troubled" has become
a habit to many commentators, especially from outside this region.
But it is becoming a rather outdated label. Because if South-East
Europe is not yet a haven of tranquillity, the region is certainly
much less troubled today than it was even a year ago, when I
last visited Croatia.
Then, for example, it was not at all certain that the ethnic
Albanian community in Southern Serbia would accept a peace plan
offered by the Belgrade authorities. There were frequent outbursts
of violence in Kosovo, calling into question the elections due
to be held in the province later that year. And in Bosnia, eruptions
of extremist activity directly challenged both the Dayton Peace
Agreement and the country's legitimate institutions.
Just 12 months ago, these were all very real security concerns,
with potentially far-reaching consequences for the entire region
and beyond. And NATO was working hard to deal with them, together
with its Partners - keeping the peace through robust operations,
and applying strong political pressure on all parties to live
up their international responsibilities, and to work for diplomatic
solutions to disagreements.
However, the most immediate crisis was the tense stand-off
between ethnic Albanian rebels and the Government of the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . Fortunately, learning from
our experience elsewhere in South-East Europe, we had seen this
crisis coming. And through early and constant engagement, NATO
was able - together with the EU and the OSCE - to avert an all-out
civil war, and persuade the two parties to reach a political
NATO proved that early and timely intervention can make a
real difference. And it then continued to contribute to security
by assisting in the collection of weapons, and by providing
support for EU and OSCE monitors.
As a result, the security environment has improved significantly
over the past year or so. And it has improved not just in the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but throughout South-East
Europe. In sum, as recently noted by both NATO Foreign and Defence
Ministers, prospects for a brighter future throughout the region
are much improved.
The NATO Allies have obviously been encouraged by this positive
change - not least because it shows that their efforts have
started to pay off. Slowly but surely, a region once notorious
for brutal conflict is enjoying deepening stability and developing
democracy, and is steadily getting closer to European and Euro-Atlantic
institutions. Which is a net advantage to this region, to Europe,
and to international security more broadly.
The generally more positive picture has also allowed the Alliance
to decide on a rationalisation of its operations in South East
Europe, and a more regional approach to specific aspects of
those operations. After consultation with non-NATO troop contributing
partners, Allies have decided on a series of changes to SFOR
and KFOR aimed at providing a smaller, lighter, more mobile
and flexible force posture, one that will be more cost effective
and better able to meet current challenges.
This decision by the Alliance - which will be implemented
over time - is a sign of success. It reflects the positive change
that is clearly visible throughout the region. And it is grounded
in the belief that local populations and institutions will continue
to take more responsibility for their own security, stability
and prosperity. Which is, of course, as it should be.
The Alliance is determined to continue to play its full role
in the achievement of the international community's objectives.
It will place a greater emphasis on engaging the countries in
the region politically -- in cooperative security mechanisms
such as the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership
for Peace. And it will continue to lead sizeable contingents
of forces in Bosnia and in Kosovo - forces that will focus even
more strongly on the current security challenges in the region.
The challenges I am referring to are of a regional, cross-border
character, and hence require a forceful cooperative response.
They include the illegal movement of people, arms and drugs;
criminal and terrorist gangs feeding from such criminal activities;
and the way these gangs encourage both criminal aggression and
ethnic and political violence.
This is not a new task for NATO. For several years, KFOR has
detected, disrupted and deterred the transfer of people and
materiel along Kosovo's borders and internal boundaries. The
Alliance has also been working with governments throughout the
region to help them address border security issues. And in the
wake of 11 September, our troops have clamped down hard on terrorist
The Alliance will increase its efforts in these areas in the
future. Because they are areas that are crucial to the security
of South-East Europe, and that of the wider Euro-Atlantic community.
And because they are areas in which NATO has proven that it
can make a difference -- building on its practical experience
and expertise in the field, working together with civil authorities
and other international organisations, and fostering the common
approach clearly required to meet those common challenges.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite the achievements of countries in the region and the
international community, there is still much to be done - first
and foremost by regional governments. They are primarily responsible
for getting their house in order, for offering their populations
a better future, and anchoring their countries in the Euro-Atlantic
Certainly the biggest variable in this regard is the future
course of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This country's
transition to genuine democracy and responsible international
behaviour has contributed greatly to the progress this entire
region has seen over the last few years. Moreover, implementation
of the EU-brokered deal on redefining the relationship between
Serbia and Montenegro is moving forward.
In line with its more responsible, cooperative foreign policy,
Yugoslavia's relations with NATO have also improved significantly.
The Belgrade authorities have taken a generally very pragmatic
- and therefore helpful -- approach to working with the Alliance
on resolving important issues, such as the plight of the ethnic
Albanians in Southern Serbia, and the participation by Kosovo
Serbs in last year's elections.
The Alliance has also welcomed Yugoslavia's interest in joining
Partnership for Peace, and offered to work with the country's
leadership in making the necessary progress to achieve this
objective. From NATO's perspective, this must include full and
continued cooperation with the International Court for the Former
Yugoslavia; democratic reform and control of the military; full
and transparent implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement;
as well as support for the international community's efforts
In weighing its options, Yugoslavia might well take a cue
from Croatia. Because Croatia has shown that it is possible
for countries in the region to break with a troubled past, and
pursue a truly forward looking policy.
Croatia has made impressive progress in its reform efforts
these last few years. And it has done so by making good use
of the opportunities offered by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership
Council, Partnership for Peace, and its Intensified Dialogue
with NATO on membership questions.
Croatia has also shown itself to be a responsible regional
player. It has supported the international community's efforts
to enhance stability and security in this part of the world.
It has made an effort to assist neighbouring Bosnia with its
own, much more difficult, reform process. And it has been a
key player in a range of broader, regional initiatives, on which
I will say more in just a minute.
All this bodes well for Croatia's participation in NATO's
Membership Action Plan. Because the MAP also requires seriousness
and commitment. The NATO Allies are looking forward to receiving
Croatia's first Annual National Programme, and to reviewing
Croatia's progress next Spring as the first concrete steps in
Croatia's move towards membership.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my firm belief that the future stability and security
of South-East Europe will depend critically on the willingness
of the Governments in the region to deepen and broaden cooperation
with their neighbours.
The Alliance has long regarded inclusive, transparent attempts
at regional cooperation as important building blocks in the
overall Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Which is why NATO
has been eager to assist the development of such regional cooperation
initiatives - in the Baltics, the Caucasus, as well as in South-East
Here in this region, in the context of the EU-sponsored Stability
Pact for South-East Europe, NATO has helped to set up programmes
to assist discharged officers make the transition from military
to civilian life, and projects to close military bases and convert
them to civilian uses. These programmes are aimed at very concrete
challenges, that all the countries in this region face to varying
degrees. That, more than anything else, explains their success.
In other areas, NATO's has played more of a facilitating role.
This applies to the South East Europe Security Cooperation Steering
Group - or SEEGROUP - through which the countries of the region
themselves support the various cooperative processes at work.
And it applies to the South East Europe Common Assessment Paper
on Regional Security Challenges and Opportunities -- or SEECAP
- which sets out common perceptions of security challenges,
and identifies cooperative answers to them. SEECAP is notable
because for the first time, participating countries explicitly
say that they do not perceive each other as a threat.
NATO has been keen to promote these regional initiatives,
as well as others with a less specific security focus, such
as the Regional Centre for Assistance and Disaster Relief that
has been set up in this country.
Croatia has taken a very constructive approach to regional
cooperation. It has been an active proponent of various initiatives,
open to sharing information, and keen to learn from the experiences
Take for example the recent firefighting exercise, "Taming
the Dragon". It was a major regional exercise responding
to a major hazard common to every country in the region: wildfires.
It was jointly planned and conducted by Croatia and the Regional
Centre for Assistance and Disaster relief. 1100 personnel from
19 countries participated, including every country in South-East
Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a single team, comprising
both entities. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also sent
All in all, "Taming the Dragon" was the largest
civilian Partnership for Peace exercise ever. It was an extraordinary
success, not least because Croatia did an outstanding job in
the organisation and conduct of the exercise. And I want to
thank all Croatians who were involved for that.
"Taming the Dragon" was a good example of how instrumental
regional cooperation can be in underpinning security and stability
in South-East Europe. Regional cooperation can build greater
confidence and mutual trust. And it can promote economies of
scale, defence cooperation and role specialisation, encouraging
like-minded countries to pool resources to enhance their own
security more effectively.
Let me make one final point on regional cooperation. It is
sometimes argued that successful regional cooperation might
undermine aspirations to join NATO. This concern is totally
unfounded. Because far from being a constraint, successful regional
cooperation is actually a powerful selling point for aspiring
NATO is an organisation within which member states work together,
pool resources, and develop policy through consensus. Successful
regional cooperation not only prepares aspirants for membership.
It also demonstrates to existing NATO Allies that aspirants
not only understand the sacrifices and commitments that cooperative
security entails, but are indeed willing to make them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is simply wrong to assume that South-East Europe should
be - now or forever - a troubled region. There has been significant
progress over the past year, and there is every reason to be
confident that this progress can be sustained.
NATO remains firmly committed to South-East Europe, and to
the international community's objective of helping this region
rejoin the European mainstream. The NATO-led forces in this
region will continue to focus on key security challenges. NATO
will continue to engage the countries in this region through
EAPC and PfP, and to keep open the prospect of eventual NATO
membership. And even as our overall Partnerships deepen - with
a greater focus on new threats such as terrorism, and a greeter
role for Partners in NATO-led PfP operations -- the Alliance
will continue to promote regional cooperation as well.
NATO itself stands as a vivid testimony to the merits of regional
cooperation. It is an approach that led to the creation of NATO
back in 1949. And it lies at the heart of everything the Alliance
has been able to achieve over the past half century. That, I
submit, is not a bad example to follow.