Updated: 30-Sep-2002 NATO Speeches

At the
"From Dialogue
to Partnership.
security and
NATO: Future

30 Sep. 2002

"Enhancing NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue:
Part of the Alliance's Transformation Agenda"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of this Conference: the Italian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Italian Institute of International Affairs. NATO has been delighted to co-sponsor this high level event, bringing together MPs, ambassadors and senior scholars from NATO and Med Dialogue countries.

You know that personally, I attach great importance to the contributions made in your deliberations, which will no doubt influence the internal discussions at NATO for the further enhancement of the Mediterranean Dialogue, at the upcoming Prague Summit.

Today is the last day of September. A month in which we commemorated and reflected. In which we looked back to 11 September of last year, and considered the impact of the brutal terrorist attacks that were perpetrated on that day.

The terrorist attacks against the United States shook the world, and they shook the Alliance. But they also concentrated the minds of the NATO Allies. And they strengthened our determination to prepare the Alliance for the entire spectrum of security challenges it might come up against in this new era.

And so, next month, NATO Heads of State and Government will meet in Prague for their first Summit meeting in the 21st century. Our meeting in Prague will be a real transformation Summit. It will result in an Alliance that is better geared towards the new challenges posed by terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

But it will also set the Alliance firmly on course to continue to pursue its wider agenda; achieving a more balanced transatlantic relationship; creating long-term stability in the Balkans; broadening the Alliance's membership; deepening the Alliance's partnership frameworks; and building upon the groundbreaking NATO-Russia Summit which was held in Pratica di Mare in Italy, just five months ago.

My message here to you today is a simple one. That NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue must be part of the Alliance's transformation agenda. And the reason is clear. Because NATO is not an inward-looking, self-centred Alliance. NATO is in tune with the world around it -- mindful that the security of its members is closely linked to that of neighbouring countries -- and conscious of the responsibilities this entails.

Shortly after the end of the Cold War, at the beginning of the 1990s, this strong conviction inspired NATO to engage neighbouring countries in Central and Eastern Europe in partnership and cooperation. And just a few years later, in 1994, this same conviction led the Alliance to also look to its Southern neighbours, and seek to engage them in its Mediterranean Dialogue process. And here I would like to pay tribute to the man who is now the President of the Italian Republic and who did so much to advance this agenda, Mr. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

NATO's active engagement of its neighbours to the East has been a tremendous success. It has resulted in a web of profound security relationships across the Euro-Atlantic Area - including countries as diverse as Ireland and Azerbaijan. Forty-six countries now regularly discuss security issues together, train and exercise together, and carry out peacekeeping operations together. As we saw when NATO's Partners rallied behind the United States shortly after 11 September last year, all this interaction has helped to foster a genuine Euro-Atlantic security culture - a real disposition towards working together to meet common challenges.

Our Mediterranean Dialogue has also proved to be very successful. Over the past eight years, the scope of the Dialogue has widened significantly. The number of Dialogue countries has grown from five to seven. Political discussions have become more frequent and more intense. The number of cooperative activities has grown from just a few to several hundred. As a result, many misconceptions have been dispelled, and mutual understanding has grown.

Over the years, the Alliance has worked hard to broaden and to deepen its partnership frameworks. However, NATO has made a particular effort this past year, in the run-up to the Prague Summit, to bolster both the EAPC and PfP, on the one hand, and the Mediterranean Dialogue, on the other.

Our interest in seeking to enhance the Mediterranean Dialogue has been influenced primarily by external developments. Last year's terrorist attacks against the United States have turned not just NATO's, but the entire world's attention towards what has been termed as the Greater Middle East. There has also been mounting concern regarding the worsening of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the breakdown of the Middle East peace process. And then there has been the influx of refugees and asylum seekers here in Italy and in several other European Alliance countries.

These developments have reminded us, in a very stark way, of the continuing volatility of the Mediterranean region. And of the way in which this volatility impacts also on our safety, on our economies, and on our general sense of well-being in Europe and America.

Having said this, we all realise that these are deep-rooted, complex, and inter-related problems. Problems that need to be addressed first and foremost by the countries in the region themselves. By politicians who show vision and leadership. Men and women who are prepared to come to terms with the past, but determined also to shape the future - that of their own countries, and that of their region.

It is clear, at the same time, that the international community has to be involved -- through political engagement and economic cooperation. Among the major international institutions, the European Union obviously has a key role to play. But I firmly believe -- and I think you would agree -- that NATO has a role as well, in engaging the wider Atlantic community, and complementing and reinforcing the efforts of other international actors.

Experience with our Mediterranean Dialogue clearly shows that the Alliance can indeed offer valuable practical cooperation in areas of common interest. That it can help dispel misconceptions and build confidence. And that, in so doing, it can help eradicate any notions there may exist about the West being pitted against the Arab world. Helping to bridge the Mediterranean -- that is what the Alliance has already proven it can do, and that is what I firmly believe it should continue to do.

So how do we go about upgrading our Dialogue? Some have suggested turning it into an extension of the EAPC and PfP. That may not be a practical proposition at present. Because even if the overriding principle that underpins all of NATO's partnerships is similar - building stability through cooperation - the objectives that we have developed with our partners in Europe and Central Asia differ in many respects from where we want to take our Mediterranean Dialogue. We simply cannot transfer cooperative models wholesale from one region to another. We would be overtaxing both NATO's abilities and those of our Mediterranean partners.

Having said this, it would be foolish to ignore what we have already achieved with EAPC and PfP. Foolish also, I suggest, not to draw inspiration from the efforts that we have been making with our EAPC and PfP partners to ensure that also after Prague - when there will be more Allies and fewer partners - EAPC and PfP retain their dynamic, their attractiveness, and their effectiveness.

In our effort to enhance the Mediterranean Dialogue, I think we would therefore be well-advised to take some cues from the general direction in which the EAPC and PfP have been progressing. Three broad lessons come to mind.

It would seem to make sense, first of all, to focus on practical cooperation in areas of common concern, where we can achieve concrete results relatively quickly. I am thinking of, for example, military education, training and doctrine; defence reform and defence economics; counter-terrorism; border security; and civil emergency planning.

Cooperation in all these areas is inherently beneficial to each of our Mediterranean partners, regardless of how they view their longer-term relationship with the Alliance. But it will obviously also improve the ability of those of our Mediterranean partners who are already contributing to NATO-led crisis response operations, or who wish to keep open this possibility for the future.

Second, I believe that, like the EAPC and PfP, our Mediterranean Dialogue would benefit from enhanced opportunities for political and security-related consultations. We already have considerable experience with what we in NATO call "19+7" and "19+1" formats - where all the Allies meet with all the Mediterranean partners, or with individual partners, including at Ambassadorial level. Especially since 11 September of last year, these meetings have proved very valuable, and we should maintain this format.

In addition, however, we should explore the scope for introducing greater flexibility into our Dialogue. To recognise that the needs of our Mediterranean partners vary, and that it is up to each of them to identify the kind of cooperation that is best suited to those needs. And to develop a more continuous process of more individualised consultations, involving experts and higher level officials as appropriate, and at a pace that is sustainable for everyone involved -- bearing in mind that we all have busy agendas, limited resources, and competing requirements.

Let me add a side note here on adding value by introducing flexibility. Some of the work that we do in the context of the EAPC and PfP, such as on border security or counter-terrorism, would clearly benefit from the involvement of interested Mediterranean partners, and be beneficial to them as well. So I think that we - and when I say "we" I really mean NATO and its EAPC and PfP partners -- should definitely also be open to that kind of flexibility if and when we deem it useful.

Thirdly, and finally, in order to get real added value from our Dialogue, we should all keep an open-mind. We should be open-minded in terms of deciding whether our Dialogue is really the best instrument to pursue cooperation in a certain area, or whether other fora are perhaps better suited. But open-minded also in the sense of continuing to conduct our cooperation in a transparent and inclusive manner, without raising any suspicions, and always leaving open the possibility for other countries to participate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I have said on previous occasions, the Mediterranean region matters to the Alliance. It always has mattered -- and it matters even more now than it has ever done in the past. And that is why we want to enhance our Mediterranean Dialogue.

Taking my inspiration from the evolution of the EAPC And PfP, I have offered a few suggestions for taking our Mediterranean Dialogue forward - for gearing a partnership instrument, that has already proved very valuable, even more closely to the specific concerns and abilities of Allies and Mediterranean partners alike.

These were, of course, just my personal suggestions, but I hope that they will be helpful. That they will inform both your discussion here today, as well as the important work that still needs to be done in capitals and at NATO Headquarters in the run-up to our Prague Summit.

Because, by making our Mediterranean Dialogue an inherent part of NATO's transformation agenda, we have a real opportunity for making a difference in Mediterranean and Alliance security. It is an opportunity we should not miss.

Thank you.

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