Updated: 05-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches

At the Lithuanian

27 Feb. 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

During my three and a half years as NATO Secretary General, I have visited Lithuania on several occasions, each time for different reasons. This time I am delighted to be here to congratulate you, and through you the Lithuanian people, on the invitation that was extended at NATO’s Prague Summit last November for your country to join the Alliance.

That invitation was a full vindication of the vision of those who have, for many years, seen Lithuania’s future in NATO. It is a testament to the hard work of all those who have been involved in making that vision a reality. And it reflects very clearly the great progress which Lithuania has made, in a relatively short period, in implementing political, military and other reforms, and meeting NATO standards.

When Lithuania joins NATO next year, together with six other countries, NATO’s membership will grow from nineteen to twenty-six -- the greatest ever enlargement of the Alliance’s membership. Together with the expansion of the European Union, of which you will also be part next year, this round of NATO enlargement will be a major step towards a long-standing NATO goal: to create a Europe whole and free, united in peace, democracy and common values, from here – the Baltics – to the Black Sea.

That Lithuania and its two Baltic neighbours have their rightful place in this new Europe was never in any doubt. Because for centuries, the people in these lands have been strongly committed to the common values of free nations. You cherished your inter-war independence. You never accepted your incorporation into the Soviet Union. And once you were able to break free and regain your independence, you became a real success story.

The Baltic region is now truly representative of today’s 21st century Europe – a Europe characterised by cooperation and integration. You have managed to revive historic patterns of regional cooperation and commerce, while simultaneously seeking integration into the wider European family of nations. You have done so very successfully, and set a powerful example for regions elsewhere on this continent.

The Atlantic Alliance that you will be joining next year will not just be much bigger in size, but different in many other ways as well from the NATO of the past. Because in Prague last November, NATO Heads of State and Government did not just invite seven countries to join. They also set out a clear course for the Alliance to meet the security challenges of the 21st century -- with new policies, new capabilities, and new ways of doing business.

Three new policy changes, in particular, define the Alliance post-Prague.

First, NATO is determined to deal with terrorism, and to do so head on. The importance of NATO playing a role is clear. Our Alliance is so much more than a military organisation. It binds Europe and North America together in this common, long-term struggle. And it is able to marshal the full political and military might of democracies across the Euro-Atlantic area – Allies and Partners -- to disrupt, deter and defend against terrorism.

A second policy change is that we are defending ourselves better against weapons of mass destruction. The Al-Qaida terrorist network has demonstrated that there are those who will use these terrible weapons, if they get their hands on them. And since September 11th 2001, we have seen many more examples of proliferation.

The continuing crisis over Iraq’s disarmament demonstrates how central this issue has become to our security, and indeed to international stability. Which is why NATO, as the principal security organisation in the Euro-Atlantic area, must be engaged, and will be engaged. Our deployment to Turkey of AWACS early warning aircraft and Patriot missile batteries to deter and defend against Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction is clear evidence of our determination to do so.

A third policy change is equally important in gearing NATO towards the future. It is the agreement that NATO’s forces should be prepared to go wherever they are needed, and to defend against threats from wherever they may come. This is a real break with the past. The end to decades of discussion as to whether NATO could or should operate “out-of-area”. And a Summit decision that we were able to act upon right away, by providing support to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

At the moment, the Allies are working hard to implement all the policy changes they agreed in Prague. And in particular, to develop the capabilities that are needed to meet today’s security challenges.

We are putting together a new NATO Response Force. The plan is to bring together the best forces in the Alliance, from both sides of the Atlantic, into an elite and fast-moving force – a force to which Lithuania will be able to contribute once it becomes a NATO member. Our aim is to have an initial operating capability by next year, if not earlier.

In parallel, each of the 19 Allies is working on very specific capability improvements in one or more of four areas that are critical to modern-day military operations, namely interoperability, strategic transport, high-technology, and protection against weapons of mass destruction. This is where NATO needs to make immediate improvements. Our Prague Capabilities Commitment sets out a realistic blueprint for this effort.

To help achieve this, the European Allies, in particular, are making a concerted effort to get more out of the money that they spend on defence. Several approaches are being explored, such as joint procurement, to buy more at lower prices; the pooling of key assets, such as transport and tanker aircraft; and role specialisation to develop niche capabilities. All are innovative approaches, aimed at delivering effective defence in an affordable way. They are clearly the way to go, for current and for future Allies.

In preparing to join the Alliance next year, all seven invitee countries face a double challenge. You must continue, and intensify, your own political and military reforms. And you must prepare to jump onto a moving train – because the Alliance’s transformation is both fundamental, and moving fast.

You have your ticket for the NATO train. We know that you like the security it offers, and the direction in which it is going. We know that you are eager to enjoy the guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. But we also understand and welcome that you are equally keen to shape and strengthen Euro-Atlantic security more broadly. And determined to contribute --politically and militarily – to the Alliance’s efforts in this regard.

In order to make this possible, Lithuania and the other six invitees will continue to work through the Membership Action Plan. This will enable you to benefit from the Alliance’s support and guidance in order to complete reforms in key areas; to stay abreast of the reforms which NATO itself is going through; and to ensure that you can all make a meaningful contribution to the Alliance, as soon as you get on board.

For Lithuania, the list of outstanding issues is relatively short and straightforward. In meeting the political standards that make NATO a true symbol of cooperation, democracy and peaceful relations, Lithuania has made excellent progress. But it needs to redouble its efforts to combat corruption which, as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, can so easily undermine democracy.

Any country that is seriously interested in contributing to security in the Alliance and the Euro-Atlantic area must have modern, deployable military forces. And this puts a premium on the continued reform of your armed forces. I welcome Lithuania’s decision to undertake a force structure review this year, to focus on effective and sustainable units able to support the full range of Alliance missions. I also welcome the agreement in this parliament to sustain defence spending at 2% of your country’s Gross Domestic Product until 2004 -- and would obviously like to see a continued commitment beyond that date.

As a former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, I know that it requires political courage and determination to pursue these changes. But I am very confident about Lithuania’s ability to take the necessary measures, and to see through the reforms that will make it an effective and respected member of NATO. Because you have a track record which inspires confidence.

Over the past few years, Lithuania has shown that even a small nation can make a very meaningful contribution to international security -- by showing political leadership, and participating in multinational crisis management.

The efforts you have made to improve relations with Russia, and to find a workable arrangement for access to Kaliningrad, are a good example of regional engagement that has a much broader political significance. The same can be said of your strong engagement towards Ukraine.

Lithuanian troops have also made their mark. You made a substantial contribution to our peacekeeping effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and currently provide an infantry platoon to the NATO-led force in Kosovo. But your military engagement with your future Allies goes even further than that, because you also take part in operations in Afghanistan. And this shows both a clear understanding of the new threats to our common security – and a willingness and ability to help to tackle them.

All in all, this is an impressive record of constructive engagement. A record of success that, if you manage to sustain and reinforce it, bodes very well for your future as a NATO Ally.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The recent debate in NATO on providing defensive support to Turkey will not have gone unnoticed in this country. And I am quite sure that some observers here will have made dire predictions about the implications of this debate for NATO, and for your country’s prospective membership.

So let me reassure you. The debate in NATO was not about whether the Alliance should support Turkey in the face of the growing risk of Iraqi military action. All Allies made clear their commitment to defend a NATO member at risk. The issue was when to start planning to do so. Not whether to plan but when to plan.

After 11 days of intensive negotiations, and six meetings of Ambassadors, we reached consensus in the Defence Planning Committee – without self-excluded France – that the time was right to start the planning process. Two days later, we agreed to move from planning to deployment. And a week later, last Wednesday, the first AWACS early warning aircraft and Patriot anti-missile batteries began to arrive in Turkey.

What we saw was not an Alliance-breaking crisis but NATO’s unique process of consensus building at work. Consensus is not always easy to achieve. Watching from outside, its birth process must occasionally be confusing, perhaps even disturbing. But the process always works, even in the most difficult circumstances, and it is vital to NATO’s cohesion and effectiveness.

The Alliance’s proven ability to reach consensus, and to take decisive action when it is called for, is another record of success. A record which Lithuania, once it joins NATO next year, will also be able to reinforce. And I am sure that it will do just that.

Thank you.

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