Updated: 18-Mar-2004 NATO Speeches

Czech Republic,

18 March 2003

Five Years of the Czech Republic in NATO

Remarks by NATO Secretary General, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
during his visit to the Czech Republic

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Five years ago, in the Truman Library in the town of Independence, Missouri, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty.

From a technical point of view, depositing the instruments of accession was just a small step -- a few signatures and a few short speeches. Politically however, this was history in the making.

A decisive step in overcoming Europe's Cold War division.

The name of the city in which the accession ceremony took place -- "Independence" -- was deeply symbolic. Because by joining the Atlantic Alliance, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were making their newly acquired independence irreversible. They would no longer be the object of the ambitions of others.

For this country, in particular, becoming a member of NATO was a truly historic step.

Having suffered from many of the ill-winds that swept the 20th century, the Czech Republic, as a member of NATO, would no longer be alone in facing the challenges of the future.

But the Czech Republic's membership in NATO did not only benefit this country. It was also a major step forward for our Alliance. Even before joining NATO, the Czech Republic already demonstrated that it would be a staunch Ally.

This country embarked on the difficult challenge of defence reform, and introduced far-reaching changes in other areas to qualify for membership. And it demonstrated unflinching solidarity where it really counts -- on the ground, in our common efforts to bring peace to the Balkans. Membership in NATO is about responsibilities as well as rewards, and the Czech Republic never lost sight of that fundamental fact.

After accession, the solidarity offered by the Czech Republic has continued to be exemplary.

Only a few days after enlargement, the solidarity of new Allies was put to the test when they were asked to share the responsibility of the Kosovo Air Campaign.

The Czech Republic as well as the other two new members passed that test and showed that they fully lived up to their new responsibilities. And the Air Campaign, which lasted 78 days, succeeded in putting an end to the campaign of violence against the Kosovar population. It also paved the way for NATO’s subsequent peace keeping operation, KFOR.

The Czech Republic, of course, is also taking part in that operation.

As the recent tragic events have shown, the job in Kosovo is not yet done. I would like to salute once again the courage and professionalism of all KFOR soldiers, including the Czech troops, in dealing with the situation. Let me stress that we are determined to help all the people of Kosovo and maintain a safe and secure environment.

But a special duty also falls on the political leaders of all ethnic communities in Kosovo to stop the spiral of senseless violence. I have called on all concerned, both in Belgrade and Pristina to do the utmost to prevent further escalation. All ethnic communities must act with calm and restraint.

I am also in contact with other international organizations, in particular UNMIK. It goes without saying that we have to continue to work closely together.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, NATO declared Article 5 – our collective defence clause. This was another challenging period for NATO Allies, old and new.

The Czech Republic, once again, played its full part in showing Allied solidarity with the US. Furthermore, Czech special forces will go to Afghanistan to take part in the counter-terrorist operations in that country.

Today, Czech forces are on peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

So the Czech Republic has been playing a role commensurate with its political and economic importance. And although the challenge of defence reform remains a daunting one – for this country as well as for many other Allies -- the Czech Republic has never left any doubt about its commitment to see it through.

This city, Prague, was a most fitting venue for NATO’s historic transformation Summit in November 2002.

And over the past year and a half, the Czech Republic has taken an active role in implementing the decisions that were taken at that Summit.

Decisions that will allow NATO to better meet the security challenges of this 21st century – with new members, new missions, new capabilities, and new partnerships.

Czech forces will participate in the new NATO Response Force that will give our Alliance a multinational, highly capable quick-reaction unit, ready for operational deployment wherever required.

And most recently, the Czech Republic took the lead in NATO's new battalion for the defence against biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons.

Through this multinational unit, all of NATO stands to gain from the Czech armed forces' unrivalled excellence in detecting and protecting against these deadly weapons.

As the history’s most successful alliance, NATO is increasingly called upon to take on more and more challenging tasks. First and foremost, we are now gradually expanding ISAF in Afghanistan beyond Kabul.

We are in the process of deploying more Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the countryside. This is crucial if stability will return to Afghanistan in an irreversable way.

Getting Afghanistan right is a top priority for the Alliance, and I am confident that I can count on the Czech Republic’s support in this process.

But more may eventually come our way: If a legitimate Iraqi government, supported by the UN, asks for NATO help, I do not see how we can abdicate our responsibilities.

And the Czech Republic is already participating in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq, another sign of its determination to take part in international peace operations.

Solidarity has also been the hallmark of the Czech Republic's approach to its European neighbours. Above all, Prague has consistently, and convincingly, supported Slovakia's bid for NATO membership.

In just only two-three weeks' time, that goal -- our common goal -- will be realised, when Slovakia and six other countries join our Alliance.

Soon, not only NATO will see the greatest ever expansion of its membership, but also the European Union – when it includes this country and nine others during the month of May.

These will be momentous steps in the history of our continent. Steps that will bring us even closer to a unified goal of defending together the values that we fought for and that we cherish so much.

Thank you.

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