Updated: 05-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches

At the Latvian

28 Feb. 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be in Latvia today. It is an honour to have been invited to speak here in Parliament, before so many prominent Latvians. And it is a welcome opportunity to congratulate you and all the other people of Latvia with your country’s invitation to join the NATO Alliance next year.

For Latvia, joining NATO will be the fulfilment of a strong aspiration, and the culmination of many years of hard work. For the better part of a decade, you have been implementing far-reaching political, military and other reforms, and showing strong international engagement. In doing so, you have moved closer and closer to the Alliance. And when Latvia joins NATO next year, a key foreign policy objective will be achieved.

Today, I want to salute all those who have been engaged in what I know has been an enormous effort. I commend those who have been active at the political level, across your country’s political spectrum, to promote the goal of NATO membership and the reforms that are needed to achieve it. But I also commend those who have worked hard to actually implement such policy changes, to modernise structures and procedures, and to meet NATO’s standards in a wide range of areas.

When Latvia 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.

Together with your two Baltic neighbours, you have become a nucleus for today’s 21st century Europe – a Europe characterised by cooperation and integration. Although you have remained strongly committed to your independence, you have also sought integration into the wider European family of nations – and rightly viewed regional cooperation as a big step in that direction. And by pursuing this course of action, deliberately and persistently, you have set a powerful example for countries elsewhere on this continent.

The Atlantic Alliance that Latvia 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 Latvia 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 security 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, Latvia 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 make a meaningful contribution to the Alliance, as soon as you get on board.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, Latvia has already made great progress in implementing far-reaching political, economic and military reforms. And hence the list of outstanding issues is actually not that long.

Much has been achieved in the critical area of integrating your society – ensuring that all who wish to seek citizenship are given the opportunity to do so, and receive appropriate support. During my visit to the Parliament last year, you were in the process of debating changes to the election law. I was pleased that you had the courage to take the right decision, and to amend this law in line with international standards.

Corruption is a real threat to any democracy. Latvia has recognised this, and has been steadily building up the legal framework to counter corruption, wherever it may appear. I welcome the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, and hope that all members of Parliament will lend their support to ensure that it can function efficiently and successfully.

Becoming a modern European state, and an effective member of NATO, also requires that your institutions are appropriately modernised. And this includes state security institutions. The protection of NATO classified information is a very serious subject indeed. And while I welcome the progress that has already been made, I urge you to devote continued attention to this critical issue as well.

Finally, 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 therefore welcome Latvia’s decision to conduct a through review of its armed forces. It will be a good opportunity to rebalance your forces and ensure an appropriate mix between territorial forces and deployable units that are capable of supporting the full range of Alliance missions. The recent decision to despatch a small medical team to join the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is an indication of your seriousness in this regard.

So if I were to sum up, I would say that there is still room for improvement in several areas. But I would also note the commitment by Government and Parliament to making progress in these areas. And that commitment, I think, bodes very well for Latvia’s 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 Latvia, 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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