Updated: 21-Nov-2002 NATO Speeches


21 November


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
at the Prague Atlantic Student Summit

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I envy you. This is the kind of event I would have loved as a student – although mainly because I would have expected to disagree with almost everything that was said. The US President? Bring him on. The Secretary General of NATO? Let me at him.

But so much has changed since my student days. Face to face debate with world leaders was not easy in the 60s, especially in Prague. The certainties of the Cold War produced more rhetoric than reasoned argument. NATO was a very different organisation, working in a very different world.

So my first message to you is that we all owe a big thank you to the Atlantic Treaty Association, the Atlantic Council of the United States, the Czech Government’s Summit Task Force, and the Association for International Questions for putting together such a wonderful programme for you. A programme that will give you a first-hand look at how our Alliance is adapting to the rapidly changing security environment. And to hear personally from world leaders such as President Bush how they are helping to shape this environment .

My second message is that change has always been NATO’s trademark. It enabled the Alliance to play the key role in safeguarding the safety and security of its members throughout the Cold War. And it allowed the Alliance to play a leading role in re-shaping European security when the Cold War ended – through its enlargement process, its various partnership initiatives, and its strong engagement in the Balkans.

Since September 11th of last year, we have all been living in a new era of instability and uncertainty. This has challenged NATO to take its adaptation another decisive step forward. That is what NATO Presidents and Prime Ministers have come to do here in Prague.

Today and tomorrow we will set the Alliance on course for the 21st century. But everyone talking or listening next door must keep in mind that this 21st century is your century. For you are the leaders of tomorrow. Your generation will produce the politicians, the thinkers and the do-ers to meet the challenges of the future.

In doing so, you will probably approach many issues and problems in a different way. It is right that every generation looks at things with a fresh perspective. But I am certain that when it comes to maintaining peace and stability, you will find that there is one instrument that remains crucially important: NATO, our Atlantic Alliance.

This is my final message. Over the course of fifty-three years, NATO has achieved something which few people believed possible: it has created a community of peace across two continents, a community of nations that seek security and stability through cooperation, not through confrontation. What unites all our countries, whether big or small, is the awareness that peace is something that does not just "happen". It has to be worked for actively.

That work is far from over. It will be your job in the years and decades ahead to finish this grand project of peace. This conference, the knowledge and the experience that you will gather, and the contacts that you will make, will help you all in this endeavour.

I wish you a very successful, and a very enjoyable conference. And if you see me sitting in the back of the hall, you will know that envy has got the better of me.

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