Updated: 15-May-2003 NATO Speeches

At the Azeri

15 May 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here once again. I last visited Azerbaijan just over two years ago. At that time, I stressed the dangers posed by new security threats, and the importance of cooperation between countries in defending against them. But to many in Europe and beyond, that message was not yet understood. The Caucasus region seemed to many to be very far away on the map, and on the periphery of their security as well.

Almost exactly one year after I visited your country, this need for cooperation 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. Azerbaijan continues to play its part in this struggle.

The post-“9/11” security landscape posed many difficult questions, also in this country. Would the focus on combating terrorism divert Western attention to Central Asia, away from the specific problems of the Caucasus? Would the events of "9/11" lead to a dramatic turnaround in Western perceptions and policies -- a change at the expense of this region?

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 Azerbaijan 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.

By taking these decisions, the Atlantic Alliance has truly become a 21st century Alliance. An Alliance that tries to defuse crises before they get out of hand. And an Alliance that is prepared to deal with threats wherever they arise.

Today, many NATO nations have deployed forces to Afghanistan. Just a few weeks ago, we decided to take over the command of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

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 take in new members, and 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.

The NATO that emerged from the Prague Summit is a profoundly transformed NATO. But transformation cannot apply only to NATO itself. In a world where threats cross borders with impunity, our response must transcend borders as well. Our Partnership, too, must transform, to be relevant and effective in the 21st century.

That was the vision set out at the Prague Summit, which agreed to a new approach to Partnership.

The first element of our new Partnership is the Individual Partnership Action Plan. This Plan responds to the desire of a number of Partners who want to engage in a more intensive and demanding relationship with NATO. Such a more individual approach will allow our Partners to benefit, in particular, from country-specific assistance with democratic reform. An Individual Partnership Action Plan would help Azerbaijan 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.

These new, deeper partnerships have real potential. If they are realistic, comprehensive and results-oriented, they can deliver real progress, for NATO and partners alike. They will build on the success we are already having in security and military cooperation. For example, NATO is looking at providing assistance to Azerbaijan in the field of border security. And the Alliance is in the process of setting up a PfP Trust Fund to clear and rehabilitate areas contaminated with unexploded munitions. This will not only save lives – it will also restore land to agricultural and economic use that is now denied

The second element in our new approach to Partnership will also be of interest for Azerbaijan 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.

I understand the difficulties involved in promoting cooperation in this region. But I believe that the results would be worth the effort. NATO Allies see regional cooperation in the Caucasus as an important step in building the confidence necessary for the countries concerned to address their common security issues.

That is why I congratulate Azerbaijan for the positive stance this country has adopted so far, including in our EAPC Ad hoc Working Group on Prospects for Regional Cooperation in the Caucasus.

But let me be clear. We also believe that regional cooperation cannot be a substitute for real dialogue on key issues. The first answers to the simmering conflicts in the Caucasus must lie here, not with outside actors. NATO cannot and will not claim a leading role in facilitating the peace processes in this region. That responsibility rests first and foremost with the parties of the region themselves.

It is also 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. Azerbaijan’s bilateral relations with Russia are crucial in this regard, and I have been glad to see that they have improved in recent months.

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 last Tuesday 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.

Third, we agreed on a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism. Already, many Partner countries have contributed enormously to the fight against terrorism, including by providing transit to the forces fighting Al-Qaida and the Taliban. But terrorism is a long-term threat, requiring long-term cooperation.

The Action Plan provides for just that. We will enhance our political consultation on this threat. And we will develop practical programmes to combat it, coordinated through the Action Plan.

Azerbaijan has taken a positive and helpful stance in the fight against terrorism, and I congratulate you for it. The most recent example is the EAPC seminar held just a few days ago here in Baky, on the “links amongst terrorism, drug smuggling, organised crime and other illegal activities”. This conference recognised that to tackle terrorism effectively, we must look at the political, legal and economic environment in which terrorism operates. That is the only way to move forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know that, in calling for regional cooperation, and in appealing for the resolution of long-simmering conflicts, I am asking a lot. And I know that it will take a great effort from us all, over a very long period, to defeat the treats of terrorism, and proliferation, and so many others.

But we can make progress – a step at a time. Through political consultation. Through assistance for democratic reform. Through practical military training and cooperation. And through honest, profound dialogue. And we are doing just that -- moving forward, together.
Thank you.

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