Updated: 26-Aug-2004 NATO Speeches


24 May 2004

The Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Remarks by NATO Secretary General, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Madame Chairperson,

It is an honour and a great pleasure to welcome you to NATO Headquarters, and to open the 2004 Conference of the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces.

Let me first of all congratulate the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces for its commendable work. As the number of women in uniform increases throughout the Alliance, addressing critical issues that affect them becomes more and more important.

As NATO Secretary General, I am the first person to acknowledge also your important role in our NATO missions. Let me assure you that each Head of State and Government, each Minister and each Ambassador sitting around the North Atlantic Council table would do likewise.

In spite of all the efforts throughout our societies to address gender balance in terms of jobs and opportunities, there is still a long way to go. Maybe especially so in a still male dominated military environment. To achieve our aims and objectives in this respect will require daily efforts from all of us, and fits an Alliance that has “transformation” written all over it. It’s not just about transforming our structures and preparing for our new roles. It’s also about the way in which we function and the way in which we like to be seen: an open, transparent and modern organization, recognizing and promoting the role of women throughout the Alliance. It is essential that we benefit from the energy and talents of our entire population, not just one half of our population. You are our “enablers” in this process, you are key in moving it forward. But you are not alone. I am committed to working as your partner to transform this Alliance.
Let me now turn to the Alliance in its present day activities.

It has become much more active. During the first four decades of its existence, NATO did not have to use force – very luckily, I must add. But since the last decade, we have sent our armed forces to several new, increasingly difficult theatres of operations.

NATO today is an Alliance that acts – from the Balkans to the Mediterranean Sea (operation Active Endeavour) to the Hindu Kush. NATO can act, and act effectively, because it can rely on dedicated and capable people – above all the women and men in our armed forces. They make NATO tick. And I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support.

Let me commend your Committee for selecting a most appropriate title for this conference : “Women: an Integral Part of NATO’s Operations”. These last few years, more and more women have been involved in NATO operations. Increasingly, female soldiers are now sent into harms way – whether on the ground, onboard ships, or as fighter pilots.

This raises interesting questions for you to discuss over the next few days. Questions in relation to interoperability among our now 26 NATO member nations. Questions regarding the advisability of sending women to work in a specific cultural context. Most fundamentally, the question as to whether there are limitations on the role of women in an operational context, or whether there are objective physical and psychological criteria for the forces that we send on operations, regardless of whether they are male or female.

Operations are, today, very much at the heart of what the Alliance does. And operations will be at the top of our agenda at the June Istanbul Summit of NATO.

Afghanistan is NATO’s number one priority. When NATO took charge of the International Security Assistance Force last summer, it did so with full awareness that Afghanistan may be a continent and a half away, but it matters to our security right here. The global threats we are facing - terrorism, WMD, drug trafficking - exclude the option of ignoring failed states like Afghanistan.

NATO’s leadership of ISAF has helped turn things for the better. But we need to do more. At Istanbul, I want to be able to announce that we will further increase the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams and that NATO will play a strong role in supporting the elections later this year. You will know that I am pressing Allies very hard to come up with the few but critical military capabilities that we are still short of. But let me assure you that I am confident that we will achieve the goals we set out for ourselves at the end of the day.

As we broaden our role in Afghanistan, we will not forget the Balkans. Recent events in Kosovo clearly demonstrate the continuing need for international engagement. So NATO will stay in Kosovo for the foreseeable future. We will decide to end SFOR and transfer important military responsibilities to the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, NATO will remain present in this country mainly to help it in defence reform and ultimately, attain PfP membership.

Our operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, are very important. But they are part of a broader agenda. NATO is also a forum for political consultations and dialogue. And we do that not only among the 26 Allies but also with other countries and institutions. In this context, I would like to recognize representatives here today of some of our partner countries, from Europe and the southern Mediterranean region.

Strengthening the links with our partners will be another crucial element of the Istanbul Summit.

Our Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace have been enormously successful. At Istanbul we will re-focus the Partnership more on defence reform, to help several of our partners with their democratic transition. We will also enhance our cooperation with the strategic regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

At Istanbul, we will also recognize NATO’s special relationships with Russia and Ukraine, two countries of critical importance to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. The NATO-Russia relationship is particularly strong, and we are working together on terrorism, proliferation, civil emergency planning and military co-operation.

Istanbul will also be a fitting venue to reach out across the Mediterranean and the wider region of the Middle East. We are exploring how NATO, together with other international institutions, can help to build stability in that region. Because the time for building new bridges to this pivotal region has clearly come.

Istanbul will also highlight the strategic value of a strong NATO-EU relationship. When the EU takes over from NATO in Bosnia, this will be a major step towards a relationship that is guided by pragmatism, close consultation, and transparency. And it will promote cooperation in other critical areas, notably in combating terrorism and preventing proliferation.

As the vital underpinning for all this activity, our Summit will take further our military transformation. We have already made good progress. But as you will appreciate even better than I, transformation means more than new military hardware. It also means deployability and usability of forces.

Better force generation and force planning procedures are needed to improve our ability to make forces available for missions NATO decides to undertake. And I will push hard for a reform of these procedures – to ensure that we will continue to have the forces able to carry out our decisions. I would like to ask you to help me to spread the message in your countries’ defence establishments about the critical importance of delivering in this regard.

Dear friends,

Let me conclude. As NATO’s new Secretary General, I am committed to continuing the overall transformation of the Alliance including its internal reform. To make this organization truly representative of the societies that it serves. And to enable it to attract the best and the brightest – regardless of their gender -- to help move this Alliance forward.

I know that that is your cause as well. I wish you the very best in pursuing it.

Thank you.

Go to Homepage Go to Index