Updated: 31-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches


31 March 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the Handover Ceremony

Two years ago, your country faced the terrible prospect of civil war. After Bosnia and Kosovo, the collapse of Yugoslavia seemed set to produce yet another tragedy.

The international community was not prepared to let that catastrophe happen. The Atlantic Alliance was not prepared to let it happen. NATO faced up to its responsibilities, as it had in earlier Balkan crises. You, Mr. President, asked for NATO’s support. We provided it.

NATO’s Operation Essential Harvest deployed 3,500 NATO troops to disarm armed groups and destroy their weapons. The operation was an undisputed success and a model of rapid, effective crisis prevention, on mission, on time.

Operation Amber Fox followed. NATO troops contributed to the protection of the international monitors overseeing the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. This operation was also a resounding success.

Then came Operation Allied Harmony, which has continued to support the monitors and advised the Government on how to take ownership of security throughout the country.

Three NATO operations. Three successes. The security situation has progressively improved. This has been an extraordinary common effort by international organisations, and the government and people of this country, and a tribute to the good sense of all communities.

It has also been a demonstration of NATO's commitment to the future of this country and to the wider region. Together, we turned tragedy into opportunity. We stood together in the face of crisis. Now we stand together in friendship and partnership to build for the future.

This has also been a partnership between NATO and other international players, especially the European Union. Javier Solana and I have been a team in working to keep peace here, both before and after the Ohrid Agreement. Today, our cooperation takes another important step forward.

Indeed, as NATO hands over the mission to the European Union, a new chapter in European security has opened.

By taking on its first military mission, the EU is demonstrating that its project of a European Security and Defence Policy has come of age. Based on new institutional ties with NATO, the EU can now even more effectively bring to bear its full range of political, economic and military tools.

Today's handover is a sign of continuity. The EU will continue the job NATO started and NATO will stay engaged – in support of the EU-led force and as an advisor in security matters. We will continue to have a Senior Civilian Representative and a Senior Military Representative in Skopje, who will help the Government with security sector reform and adaptation to NATO standards on the road to NATO membership. And most importantly and significantly for continuity, the operational Commander of the EU force Admiral Feist is also NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Let me take this opportunity to salute the vision of the leaders of this country, in particular your vision, Mr. President. As a result of the great progress made in the past year, your country is again on track to Euro-Atlantic integration. Political leaders from all communities and especially you, Mr. President, can be proud of this remarkable achievement. This country can now look confidently to the future.

In closing, let me salute all of the women and men in and out of uniform who served here under NATO's command. In particular, those who gave their lives, Sapper Collins, and three other who died as well, Sergeants Pavel Legencki, Piotr Mikulowcki, and Captain Angelo Rugge. This has been a model of multinational military cooperation, undertaken on the ground with exceptional dedication and professionalism.

Everyone has played their part and it is always difficult to single out individuals. But as Secretary General, I would like to thank in particular the commanders of the NATO missions and the Senior Military Representatives: Major General Lange, Brigadier White-Spunner, Brigadier General Keerl, Brigadier General De Jonge, Lieutenant General Careterro, Lieutenant General Cigna, and Major General Alvarez de Manzano.

But every soldier who has served here under NATO colours can confidently and proudly say: "mission accomplished".

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