Updated: 25-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches

Estonian Atlantic Treaty

24 March 2003


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson at the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to speak before such a distinguished audience gathered by the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association. In just over two years’ time, this Association has built up a very strong reputation, both in Estonia and within wider NATO circles.

My visit to Estonia today completes a round of visits to all seven countries that have been invited by NATO Heads of State and Government in Prague last November to join the NATO Alliance. I have used these visits to congratulate the invited countries and to commend them with their preparations for NATO membership. But I have also strongly urged each country to continue its reforms up to -- and beyond -- the date of its entry into NATO. And I will do the same here in Tallinn today.

So let me start with the congratulations, because these are certainly in order.

I salute and congratulate all the citizens of this proud nation, which is about to make another major step towards full integration into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic family of nations.

And I commend all those who have, for years, been active at the political and diplomatic 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 commend all the officials in government agencies and the armed forces who have worked hard to actually implement the necessary changes, and to meet NATO’s standards in a wide range of areas.

When Estonia and the other six invited countries join NATO next year, the Alliance’s membership will grow from nineteen to twenty-six – NATO’s greatest expansion ever. Together with the expansion of the European Union, of which Estonia 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 here – the Baltics – to the Black Sea.

That Estonia 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, you and your neighbours became a real success story – setting a powerful example for regional cooperation elsewhere on this continent.

The Alliance that you will be joining next year will not just be much bigger in size. It will also differ in many other respects from the NATO of the past.

It will be an Alliance determined to deal with the defining new security threats of this 21st century – terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. An Alliance prepared to send its forces to wherever they are needed, and to defend against threats from wherever they may come. And an Alliance whose members are fully committed to developing the capabilities to support this change in policy.

But that is not all.

Because the Alliance will also be at the heart of a vibrant Euro-Atlantic community, in which it will work together with partners throughout Europe, into Central Asia, and across the Mediterranean. It will have a particularly constructive relationship with Russia, a key player in Euro-Atlantic and global security, and a major partner in meeting the challenges of today. Last, but not least, it will also have a strategic partnership with the European Union.

As a result, NATO will contribute to a better, more equitable balance between Europe and North America.

That is the kind of NATO that is taking shape at the moment. Its essential purpose remains what it has been for over 50 years; to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members. But it is transforming in order to be able to fulfil this purpose in a significantly different security environment.

So as you can see, NATO’s current member countries have their work cut out for them in order to translate the political decisions taken at Prague into reality, in particular by developing the necessary capabilities.

But so do you! As a matter of fact, in preparing to join the Alliance next year, Estonia and the other six 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 NATO’s transformation that I have just described is both fundamental, and moving very fast.

You have your ticket for the NATO train. We know that you like the comfort it offers, and the direction in which it is going. That you are eager to enjoy the security guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

But we know that you are also keen to shape and strengthen Euro-Atlantic security more broadly. That you are determined to contribute -- politically and militarily – to the Alliance’s efforts in this regard. And that you intend to be a producer of security and stability, and not a mere consumer.

In order to make this possible, Estonia 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 ensure that you are able to make a meaningful contribution to the Alliance, as soon as you get on board.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Like all of the invitees, Estonia still has work to do. But it has already made considerable progress in implementing necessary far-reaching reforms. So let me simply highlight two issues that will require continued attention in the run-up to your entry into NATO and beyond.

Much has been achieved in the critical area of integrating your society: fostering the participation of ethnic minorities in public life, economic activity and political decision-making -- and making sure that all who wish to seek citizenship are given the opportunity to do so, and receive appropriate support. Now that Estonia is on the brink of NATO and EU membership, it is crucial that you remain committed to the integration of minorities in these various areas.

Of particular importance to NATO is that you continue your military reform process. Any country that is seriously interested in contributing to security in the Alliance and in the Euro-Atlantic area must have modern, deployable and sustainable military forces in addition to the forces it needs for the defence of its own territory.

Estonia, we all know, is addressing this challenge in a serious manner. I welcome the Government’s commitment to maintain defence spending at 2 per cent of Estonia’s Gross Domestic Product. I also welcome the decision, just a few weeks ago, to undertake a further review of your armed forces. The lessons from military reform processes in many countries – including my own – are clear enough. We all need to reduce outdated capabilities and structures to free up resources to undertake essential modernisation programmes.

As a former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, I know that it requires political courage and determination to pursue these kinds of changes. But I am confident about Estonia’s ability to take the necessary measures, and to see through the reforms that will make it an effective and respected member of NATO.

I am so confident because Estonia has such an excellent track record. Over the past few years, Estonia has repeatedly demonstrated that even a relatively small nation can make a meaningful contribution to international security -- by showing political engagement and leadership, and by participating actively in multinational crisis management.

Over the past decade, Estonian troops have participated in several UN and OSCE missions. They have also made a very welcome contribution to NATO’s peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans, first in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then in Kosovo. And your military engagement with your future Allies now extends to peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan.

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 international 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,

NATO membership will bring Estonia enormous privileges. A seat at the table where key decisions are taken to shape and strengthen Euro-Atlantic security. A role in the planning and conduct of major military operations. And the ultimate security guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

The crisis in Iraq is a case in point. Firstly, it demonstrates the Alliance’s commitment to defend an Ally under threat. Last month, when Turkey asked for consultations in view of the developing crisis, all Allies expressed their determination to fulfil their Treaty obligations to Turkey. They also sent AWACS early warning planes and air defence missiles to help boost Turkey’s defence.

In response to the evolving situation, with the beginning of combat operations in Iraq, we approved changes to strengthen the rules of engagement for NATO forces in Turkey. NATO deployments in Turkey are of course purely defensive measures, which remain strictly separated from other military operations in the region.

In addition, NATO’s civil emergency community which includes our Partners, is providing assistance to Turkey to help deal with the consequences of the possible civil emergency, including the use of chemical or biological weapons.

Secondly, NATO has proven, once again, that it is the primary forum for transatlantic security consultations. Immediately following the start of combat operations involving some Allies, NATO’s Ambassadors met in order to receive first-land briefings from the US and UK representatives. They also assessed the situation with regard to Turkey and reiterated their commitment to defending an Ally under threat. This morning, I chaired another series of meetings of NATO Ambassadors, where we continued our consultations. We have already started to discuss humanitarian and post-conflict issues.

So Estonia is about to become a full member of a privileged organisation. But the privileges of NATO membership bring responsibilities as well.

Any new members must play a constructive role within the NATO Council, helping the Alliance to arrive at consensus. They must be able to make a real and significant military contribution, in partnership with their NATO Allies. They must fully meet the political standards that make NATO a true symbol of cooperation, democracy and peaceful relations. And they must be able to do so as quickly as possible.

I am confident that Estonia will meet this challenge. That it will continue its very serious preparations for NATO membership. And that Estonia will be a major asset to our Alliance.

Thank you.

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