Updated: 24-Jun-2002 NATO Speeches

Zagreb, Croatia
24 June 2002


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
at the international conference on
"Regional Stability and Cooperation:
NATO, Croatia and South-East Europe"

President Mesic,
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 NATO.

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 But it is becoming a rather outdated label.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 agreement.

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 cells.

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 community.

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 Bosnia.

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 Europe.

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 of others.

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 official representatives.

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 members.

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.

Thank you.

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