Updated: 14-May-2003 NATO Speeches

At Tbilisi
Tbilisi, Georgia

14 May 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be back in Tbilisi again. My first visit to Georgia as Secretary General of NATO was in September 2000. Already at that time, I was struck how much the countries in NATO and those in the Caucasus had become real neighbours, in spirit and shared interests.

Almost exactly one year after I visited your country, this commonality became even clearer. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 changed the strategic landscape beyond recognition. They united the entire civilised world in the struggle against terrorism. Georgia continues to play its part in this struggle.

The post-“9/11” security landscape posed many difficult questions, including in this country. Would the focus on combating terrorism divert Western attention away from the specific problems of the Caucasus region? Would it affect Western views of Russia and that country’s policies vis-à-vis the Caucasus? In short, would the new strategic dynamic encourage a dramatic turnaround in Western perceptions and policies -- a change at Georgia's expense?

Today we know the answers to these questions. The world may have changed after "9/11", but the Caucasus remains a region of crucial importance for the stability of Eurasia. And Georgia remains a key partner of the West, and of NATO. If anything, "9/11" has reinforced the Alliance’s determination to further develop security relationships all across Eurasia. And over the past year and a half, we have been working hard to do just that.

Last November, NATO leaders met in Prague to chart a new course for the Alliance. They re-focussed NATO towards the defining security threats of this 21st century: terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. And in so doing, they underlined the Alliance’s continuing central role in Euro-Atlantic security and stability.

NATO has long ceased to be solely the Cold War shield of Western Europe. In the last 15 years, it has broken down the barriers which divided the Euro-Atlantic area, and helped spread the values of peace and democracy. It has brought peace and stability to the Balkans, ending civil war in Bsonia, halting ehtnic cleansing in Kosovo and forestalling conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). And it has built strategic partnership with the European Union and Russia.

In Prague, we transformed NATO for its next challenges: dealing with 21st century threats from wherever they may come. That means being able to take on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the consequences of instability. It means modern and effective armed forces. And it means realising the potential of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership as the world's largest permanent coalition.

This is not rhetoric but reality.

Just a few weeks ago, NATO decided to take over the command of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. I have taken note with interest of Georgia's preparedness to help us in this endeavour. And back in Brussels, we are now looking at how NATO might help to bring stability to post-conflict Iraq.

But as we reorient NATO to deal with new security threats, we do not forget our long-standing objective of building peace and stability throughout the Euro-Atlantic area. That is why we will continue to work ever more closely with our Partner countries.

As I am sure you know, at Prague, we invited seven countries to start accession talks with the Alliance. If all goes well, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will join NATO as full members in May of next year. This will consolidate Europe as a common security space from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, and from the Baltic to the Balkans.

It will be a giant step forward. But it will not be the end of the process. NATO's door will remain open for additional new members in the future.

A larger NATO, and a focus on new risks and threats -- we have long realised that these changes called for a fundamental re-examination of our Partnership policy. We have undertaken such a re-examination. And we have done so together with our Partners, many of whom, including Georgia, contributed very actively to the process.

In Prague last November, this work came to fruition. There we agreed a new approach to Partnership that allows for closer, and more focussed, cooperation. Cooperation that is geared better towards the specific needs and concerns of individual countries, or groups of countries. And cooperation that will be particularly important for countries in this part of the world to engage in.

What are the elements of this new Partnership? Essentially, there are three.

The first element of our new Partnership is the Individual Partnership Action Plan. This Plan responds to the desire of Partners who want to engage in a more intensive and demanding relationship with NATO. It will help Georgia to define more clearly the kinds of reforms that it wants to pursue -- and that it needs to undertake if it is to move closer to the Alliance.

The second element in our new approach to Partnership will also be of interest for Georgia and its neighbours: a stronger focus on regional or functional cooperation. There are greater opportunities now for groups of countries to work together on practical issues of common concern, such as civil-emergency planning or border security. But there are also opportunities for addressing regional security issues. And those are issues that are obviously of particular importance in this part of the world.

It is quite evident that there will be no comprehensive settlement of the disputes in the region without the participation of the region's major powers -- including, of course, Russia. Georgia’s bilateral relations with Russia are crucial in this regard, and I have been glad to see a move towards constructive dialogue in recent months. There is no escaping the fact that today, more than ever, neighbours can only guarantee their security with each other, not against each other.

But we also hope, and expect, that NATO's relationship with Russia can help. That it can foster a spirit of cooperation that will help resolve some of the outstanding issues in this region.

Just yesterday, 20 Ambassadors of NATO nations and Russia had an historic first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Moscow. After only one year, NATO countries and Russia have achieved enormous progress in building practical cooperation on the pressing security issues we all face today. NATO and Russia have decisively moved beyond old antagonisms to address their common challenges together. This is the spirit we need to deal with the broader challenges of this region.

The third element is our Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism. Terrorism is a menace that can only be defeated by broad coalitions of like-minded nations. Our new Action Plan sets out a range of concrete ways in which Allies and Partners can cooperate more closely in this area. And I am pleased that Georgia is keen to work with the Alliance in this struggle.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The road ahead is clear: we must focus on closer cooperation. The instruments for such closer cooperation between us are now in place. Now it is up to Georgia to use them to the full. Georgia has certainly already made encouraging steps. But it needs to pursue the work that still lies ahead with the same enthusiasm and determination it has demonstrated so far.

Georgia is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. This has often been a curse for your country, as many outside powers were trying to impose their will upon you. But even though Georgia had to suffer repeated invasions and foreign domination, it never lost its sense of identity. Today, there is no denying that Georgia's rich cultural and intellectual heritage make it a country with enormous potential to be a responsible and respected international player.

We are all aware of the many obstacles that need to be overcome for this potential to be realised. But Georgia does not have to face these obstacles alone. The international community, and in particular NATO, stand ready to help. Let us get down to work!

Thank you.

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