Updated: 10-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches

At the Slovenian

10 March 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Prime Minister,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and a privilege for me, as Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to be here in Ljubljana today, and to address the Parliament of one of the seven countries that have been invited to accede to our Alliance next year.

In recent weeks, I have already visited some of the other invited countries, and I will have visited them all soon. But my visit to Slovenia is one to which I attach particular importance, for obvious reasons. In less than two weeks, the people of this country will go to the polls to vote in a referendum on Slovenia’s future place in Europe, and in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

This is, by any standards, an immensely important decision –particularly for Slovenia, but also for the European Union and for NATO. Which is why I considered it crucial to be here today.

Let me be clear from the outset: Slovenia’s decision is a sovereign one, for the people of this country alone. That goes without saying.

But the people who go to the polls on March 23rd must be fully informed as they enter the referendum polling booth, because this is a once-in-a –lifetime opportunity. And if I were a Slovene today, I would be asking myself three fundamental questions.

First: What exactly is the new NATO that we are invited to join? How has the Alliance changed to meet the challenges of the 21st century?

Second, what’s in it for us? What advantages can membership in NATO bring to our country?

And third, what’s in it for NATO? What can a small country like Slovenia offer to such a large Alliance, and one that includes such powers as the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom?

Were I heading into the voting booth, these are the questions I would want answered. As Secretary General of NATO, I will attempt to provide the answers.

The first question is simple: what is NATO today? And my answer is equally simple: NATO is an organization transforming to meet the security threats and challenges of the 21st century -- welcoming new members, adopting new missions and acquiring new capabilities.

I do not need to elaborate on NATO membership. You all know that for the Alliance, and for the seven invited countries, the Prague Summit was a momentous event.

For Slovenia, it was a milestone in its integration into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations. And for NATO, the invitation of seven countries represented a major step towards a strategic objective: to create a Europe truly whole and free, united in peace, democracy and common values, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

Today, I want to salute, and to congratulate, 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. And I also commend those who have worked hard to actually implement policy changes, to modernise structures and procedures, and to meet NATO’s standards in a wide range of areas. For all of you, Prague was proof of your success.

But apart from agreeing the most important enlargement in the Alliance’s history, Prague was a transformational Summit in many other respects as well. Because it set the Alliance firmly on course to meet the security challenges of the 21st century, not only with new members but also with new policies, new capabilities, and new ways of doing business.

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.

All Allies have committed to modernise their armed forces. European Allies, in particular, are making a concerted effort to get more out of the money they spend on defence.

This, in a nutshell, is the new NATO. An Alliance of independent democracies, consulting and co-ordinating their positions on the key strategic issues of the 21st century. Pooling their individual military capabilities to create a strong and capable defence community. And meeting common threats together.

That is the community Slovenia has been invited to join. And if Slovenia chooses to become a member of the Alliance, it will reap the benefits that all members enjoy.

First and foremost, NATO provides security. It provides security to its members – and the reinforcement now being provided to Turkey is a good example.

Concrete security, delivered to an Ally in need – that is what NATO was created to deliver, and it still does so better than any other organization in the world. Slovenia has already directly benefited from NATO’s success. Slovenia gained its freedom from a communist ideology and regime, which NATO opposed for 40 years throughout the Cold War.

But those who decry the Alliance as simply a Cold War institution are manifestly ignoring the past decade in this region.

The Balkans are at peace largely because of NATO’s peacekeeping role in Bosnia, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . Indeed, NATO operations have created the opportunity for the countries that were once part of Yugoslavia -- including Slovenia -- to grow in peace, democracy and freedom for the first time in generations.

As a result, Slovene soldiers have not had, once again, to defend themselves and this country in perpetuated and bloody wars. NATO’s peacekeeping saved Slovenia from more massive refugee flows, perhaps tens of thousands who might not have been able to return to their home countries even now.

NATO is playing a key role in maintaining the security of this region, and the entire Euro-Atlantic area. It will do so into the future. And present and future members will, as individual nations, play a key role in shaping that future. That is the second great benefit of NATO membership: a seat at the top table, taking part in the decisions the Alliance makes, and helping shape the Alliance itself -- rather than sitting on the sidelines.

And let there be no doubt: in working to build the consensus on which NATO works, the smallest country in NATO has the same voice as the largest. Anyone who questions that should look at the debate we had within NATO in recent weeks, and see how Belgium’s voice was listened to with great care.

Slovenia will lose none of its independence, sovereignty or the right to make decisions on its own. Because NATO is not the Warsaw Pact. It is an Alliance of free nations and democratic countries which make decisions unanimously and not as a dictate.

That, in a nutshell, is what NATO brings to its members. The security guarantee of collective defence. Participation in one of the world’s great peace making forces. A full, equal voice at the table of leading Euro-Atlantic democracies, helping to shape the security of this continent. And, as the result of recent agreements with the EU, a bigger role in the European Security and Defence Policy, which is based on use of NATO assets.

But of course, with privileges come responsibilities. And it is legitimate to ask what a small country like Slovenia could contribute to an Alliance as large as NATO.

My answer is simple: plenty. There are already small countries in NATO, smaller than Slovenia. They make small but specialised contributions to the overall work of the Alliance. Indeed, the best of the Slovenian military make a top-notch contribution to the NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, in particular in Bosnia. And new members can participate in the efforts within Europe to pool assets, capabilities and procurement, to get the most return on their defence investment.

Let us be clear: Defence spending is necessary for any country, whether or not it wishes to join NATO. Just look at Switzerland. But NATO members spend their resources more efficiently, because they are members of a collective defence Alliance. And invitees can profit from the same advantages: economies of scale, division of labour, and guaranteed partners in times of difficulty.

But in preparing to join the Alliance next year, all seven invited 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.

To achieve this double challenge, Slovenia 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 will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the Alliance, as soon as you get on board.

I am confident that this country can meet these challenges. Because I have seen the progress that has already been made, in Slovenia and in the other six invited countries. A decade ago, no one could have imagined that so much political, economic and military reform would be accomplished. But it was. And that effort has delivered enormous results, to the invitee countries and to NATO. That kind of track record encourages confidence in future progress, and in the strength of our future, larger Alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are times of great change and great turmoil in international security. The past decade, and in particular the past 18 months, have made it clear that our security cannot be taken for granted. We face great security challenges, and unpredictable threats.

There is no better way to face such threats and challenges than as part of community. And NATO is just that: a community of democracies that share values, and both the determination and the capabilities to uphold them. It is a community that has defended peace for over fifty years. It is a community that will grow next year, to become even stronger and even more effective – and which would welcome Slovenia as a new member.

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