Updated: 12-Mar-2004 NATO Speeches

Parliament of
Latvia, Riga

11 Mar. 2004


By NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure for me to be in Riga today, just a few days after this house voted in Prime Minister Emsis and his new government. In this important year for Latvia, I wish its Government and Parliament well in keeping the country on course towards further domestic reform, and effective participation in the Euro-Atlantic structures that Latvia is now finally able to join.

This spring, the Latvian flag will be raised not just at NATO Headquarters, but at the seat of the European Union too. Both organisations will increase their membership significantly, and that will bring us much closer to the Europe that we have all long aspired to: a Europe without dividing lines, united in democracy and common values.

However, threats such as terrorism, failed states, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction all represent new challenges.

To meet these challenges, the NATO Alliance is going through the most profound transformation in its history. It is a transformation that we know Latvia supports – and that, as a member of NATO, it will want to help shape and direct. And we look forward to that.

NATO’s number one priority is Afghanistan, where we are working hard at the moment to spread security and stability beyond Kabul. I will continue to press nations to make available more equipment and personnel for the International Security Assistance Force and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. And we want to do whatever we can to ensure a smooth conduct of the elections this summer.

Many hopes are currently pinned on NATO. And this is no surprise. Because whenever NATO has taken on a job in the past, it has succeeded. The challenge before the Alliance now is to continue this excellent track record. And we need Latvia to be part of that effort.

NATO is also engaged in Iraq. For now, we are supporting Poland in its leadership of a multinational division. But there are more and more calls for the Alliance to do more. My answer to those calls is clear: If a sovereign Iraqi government, with the support of the United Nations, were to request NATO to play a greater role, then I do not see how we could abdicate our responsibilities.

Afghanistan and Iraq are daunting challenges. No one should be under any illusions about the time and effort it will take to create the conditions for self-sustaining peace and stability in those troubled regions.

But we do have reason to be optimistic. A decade ago, we committed ourselves to a better future for the Balkans. Today, Southeast Europe is re-entering the European mainstream. Security has improved to the point where we can reduce our troop presence. The European Union will assume greater responsibilities in Bosnia. Patience and persistence are paying off in the Balkans. I am convinced they can pay off in Afghanistan and elsewhere too.

In facing the challenges of the new security environment, Latvia has always been at our side. It was one of the first countries to join our Partnership for Peace, just over ten years ago. And over the past decade, you have made active use of the opportunities for consultation and cooperation with NATO.

In addition, Latvia has also made valuable contributions to NATO-led operations. Your role in Bosnia was the first expression of that unique solidarity, followed by your contribution in Kosovo. In Afghanistan you took part in operation Enduring Freedom, and now in ISAF. Moreover, Latvian troops also contribute to the peace-building efforts in Iraq.

These are textbook examples of political solidarity translated into concrete action. A demonstration of Latvia’s determination, and its ability, to be a provider of security, and not a mere consumer – to play its full part on the NATO team.

This unique solidarity among Allies -- old and new -- will remain in great demand. Because no other organisation is able to launch and sustain large, multinational military operations like NATO can. NATO’s capability makes it a unique resource – not only for the Allies, but for the entire international community. And so we may well see more requests for NATO involvement in the future.

But one thing should be crystal clear. As we consider new missions, we won’t abandon our traditional tasks. Collective defence has always been, and will remain, a core function of NATO. The commitment to defend each other is the strongest commitment sovereign nations can give to one another. Collective defence is thus the ultimate expression of a true community -- a community that is willing and ready not only to consult and cooperate, but also to defend itself.

This is a historic achievement. We reinforced it when we invoked Article 5 following the terrorist attacks against the United States. And there is no reason whatsoever for us to change that commitment to collective defence now.

What is changing, however, -- what has to change -- is the military expression of that commitment.

Today we need forces that are light and mobile. Forces that can be deployed quickly and over long distances – and that can stay in the field for as long as needed. Such forces will be able to carry out the full spectrum of missions. Which means that they will not only be tailor-made for our new crisis management tasks. They will also be the right forces for upholding collective defence commitments in a radically altered strategic environment.

We have the right blueprints. We are making progress on the NATO Response Force, and on enhancing our defence against weapons of mass destruction. We have created the new Allied Command Transformation, to make sure that all Allies participate in the transformation of our forces. And all the NATO Allies are committed to making improvements in key areas such as strategic lift, command and control, or precision-guided munitions.

I am glad that many NATO Allies are also looking seriously at the issue of deployability. The recent difficulties in generating enough forces for ISAF have made the headlines, but the problem is not confined to Afghanistan. For practical and political reasons, all our members – old and new – must pull their weight. They must all carry on with the necessary defence reforms – and face the challenge of military transformation. And Latvia, of course, is no exception.

NATO is transforming in other respects as well. When Latvia and six other NATO Partners turn into Allies, our Partnership policy will enter a new phase. There will be more individualised cooperation with Partners. A much stronger focus on cooperation with the Caucasus and Central Asia. And an even greater emphasis on military interoperability to meet the new threats. And so the strategic value of Partnership will only grow.

In front of this audience I do not need to dwell on the strategic value of maintaining close relations with one very special NATO Partner -- Russia. A few years ago, many people argued that Russia's fragile reconciliation with Europe woud be put at risk if NATO invited countries that once were part of the Soviet Union. Today, NATO enlargement is proceeding smoothly, and neither NATO nor Russia lose much sleep over it. Indeed, what is most remarkable about the whole process is that it is so unremarkable.

This is not to say that our relationship with Russia is entirely without problems. We do have unresolved issues on our agenda, concerning the implementation of the CFE Treaty, for example, or Russia's Istanbul commitments. But none of these issues is going to jeopardise the NATO-Russia relationship at large. In the 21st century, NATO and Russia must cooperate in security -- in a relationship that is open, direct and fair. As a member of NATO, Latvia can be instrumental in forging such a relationship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many of you here today have long viewed the future of Latvia in NATO. When your country joins the Alliance in just a few weeks’ time, that will be a vindication of your vision, and a testament to your hard work in making that vision a reality.

Being part of NATO means that Latvia will never again have to face a security challenge alone. It means joining a community of democracy and shared values. But it also means new responsibilities, as Latvia will now be engaged even more directly in determining how NATO can best meet the new security challenges of the 21st century.

As the Alliance continues to work towards a Europe that is undivided – and not only free of war, but also free from fear -- we are very happy to have Latvia as a member.

Thank you.

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