|Updated: 10-Mar-2003||NATO Speeches|
10 March 2003
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
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 Slovakia -- one of the seven countries that has been invited to accede to our Alliance next year.
This is my third visit to your country. I was here in May 2000 and again in November 2001. And each time I have witnessed firsthand the progress made in preparing for NATO membership. I never had any doubt that Slovakia's efforts would be rewarded eventually. And they were. At the Prague NATO Summit last November, the invitation was offered.
The invitation of Slovakia to enter into accession talks with NATO was a vindication of the vision of those who have, for many years sought to anchor Slovakia firmly to a Europe with which it shares democratic values. It is a testament to the hard work of all those who have been involved in making that vision a reality.
I want to salute, and to congratulate, all those who have been engaged in this 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. You have stayed the course, and you have overcome many obstacles along the way. And you resisted the temptation to play politics with defence. But I also commend those who have worked hard to actually implement political, military and other reforms, and meeting NATO standards.
When Slovakia joins NATO next year, together with six other countries, NATO’s membership will grow from 19 to 26 - the greatest ever expansion of the Alliance’s membership. Together with the expansion of the European Union, of which you will also be part next year, the next round of NATO enlargement will be a major step towards a long-standing goal of the Alliance: to create a Europe whole and free, united in peace, democracy and common values, from the Baltics to the Balkans, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
What will membership in NATO mean for your country, and for your citizens? Let me give you the three most important answers.
First, Slovakia will join the most powerful, most cohesive Alliance that ever existed - an Alliance that unites two continents. This will give Slovakia a new sense of security. But it will also change the perception others may have of Slovakia. The international community will recognise that Slovakia entered a unique zone of security. And we all know that investment and prosperity flourish best in a secure environment.
The second great benefit of NATO membership is a seat at the top table when crucial decisions are being made. Over the past decade, NATO has been shaping the security environment in many different ways. Thanks to NATO's decisions, the security climate in Europe has improved consistently. As a NATO member, Slovakia will take part in these decisions, rather than sitting on the sidelines. And, as the result of recent agreements with the EU, it will have a bigger role in the European Security and Defence Policy, which is based on use of NATO assets.
Thirdly, membership in NATO means that Slovakia's voice in international relations will be amplified. NATO acts on the basis of consensus. This means that even the smallest country in NATO has the same status as the largest. If Slovakia becomes a member of the North Atlantic Council, it will get a voice equal to that of the United States, the United Kingdom, or France.
The Atlantic Alliance that you will be joining next year will
not just be much bigger in size, but stronger in many other
ways as well. 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.
The European Allies, in particular, are making a concerted effort to get more out of the money that they spend on defence.
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 you are determined to contribute -- politically and militarily – to the Alliance’s efforts in this regard.
In order to make this possible, Slovakia 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.
Slovakia has made excellent use of the opportunities provided by the Membership Action Plan. Because your country has understood that a central aim of the MAP is to accelerate domestic reform in general, not just in the military sphere. I welcome the work on the comprehensive timetable for the completion of these reforms, including the high degree of Parliamentary involvement. I have no doubt that these measures will further strengthen Slovakia's case once Allied Parliaments start to ratify the accession protocols later this year.
Because of Slovakia's exemplary Membership Action Plan performance, the list of outstanding issues is short, but nonetheless challenging. For example, NATO Allies have been following closely the reform of your administrative and judicial system, as well as your efforts to reduce corruption. These initiatives are well on track, but they need to be implemented with persistence. Parliamentary oversight over security services needs to be further strengthened. And the legislation on national minorities needs to be completed.
In the military sphere, Slovakia's efforts are solid. You have given high priority to defence reform, your Long-Term Plan points in the right direction, and your have a clear vision of the future of your armed forces. Slovakia has made significant progress in the reduction of its hollow legacy force structures, which were geared largely towards territorial defence. Indeed, by the end of 2004, you will have achieved a considerable amount of compatibility with NATO standards and procedures, and I can only commend you on your determination to push ahead.
That said, defence reform is a never-ending effort, and Slovakia, like the other six invitees, has to keep focussing on this issue. Out-of-date heavy metal armies must be down-sized and modernised, including through the development of modern planning and budgeting systems. The security of classified information must be guaranteed, and the people handling that information must be fully cleared to receive it. And sufficient resources must be devoted to all of these reforms, if they are to be fully successful.
As a former Defence Minister, I know that it requires political courage and determination to pursue defence reform. But I am very confident about Slovakia's ability to see this through. Because you have a track record which inspires confidence.
One reason for my confidence is Slovakia's engagement in peace support operations around the world. You have provided an ever increasing number of military personnel and observers for many UN peacekeeping missions around the world. Slovak soldiers are keeping the peace in the Balkans, together with soldiers from NATO and other Partner countries. And you had an engineer unit participating in "Operation Enduring Freedom".
It is not only the fact that you are sending forces that makes me so confident, but that you do so with strong Parliamentary support. This shows that you have both a clear understanding of the new threats to our security and a willingness and ability to help tackle them. And it bodes well for Slovakia's future as a member of NATO. As the British expression has it, "you've got what it takes".
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. Becoming a member of NATO means never to have to worry to face a security problem alone.
The entry of Slovakia into NATO will be a vindication of your country's achievements. Above all, however, it will be a strong vindication of the idea of an enduring Euro-Atlantic Community, in which two continents work together to safeguard the security of current and future generations. Thank You.