Updated: 08-Nov-2004 NATO Speeches


5 Nov. 2004


by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at Baky State University

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is my first visit to Azerbaijan as NATO Secretary General, and I have been looking forward to this opportunity.

At NATO’s Summit meeting in Istanbul last June, our Heads of State and Government decided to put special focus on engaging with our Partners in the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. I have already visited all our Partners in Central Asia two weeks ago, and I am delighted to be here today.

Whenever I travel, I use every opportunity to meet with young people. After all, my own decision to go into politics was partly inspired by the debates I had with fellow students during my own university days.

Of course, when I was a student, the time was still the Cold War. The world we live in today bears little resemblance to that past era. The threat of major war has vanished, but other challenges have come to fore that are no less dangerous. And they affect us all.

If you ask why NATO attaches so much importance to its relations with your country in this new security environment, the answer is two-fold.

First, we have seen over the past decade that NATO’s policy of partnership and cooperation has enhanced stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. We have built sound and fruitful relations with our strategic partner Russia, as well as with countries ranging from Sweden to Azerbaijan. And NATO has offered concrete support in helping young democracies face challenge of transition, in particular in defence reform.

The second reason why NATO attaches so much importance to this country and this region is that our new security environment makes closer cooperation between all of us a strategic necessity. Terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are perhaps the most lethal of these new challenges. And in Afghanistan, we have also seen that failing states can cause instability in their own region and well beyond. These threats know no borders. We can only meet them through a broad network of international cooperation. And the Caucasus region is a crucial part of that network.

Over the past few years, NATO has transformed significantly in response to this new security environment. In the Balkans, the Alliance continues to play a key role as a peacekeeper. Last year, NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. This year, we have enhanced our presence in that country and helped the holding of peaceful presidential elections. We have also taken on the challenging task of assisting with the training and equipment of Iraqi security forces.

In many of these operations, our Partner countries play an indispensable role. Azerbaijan is no exception. Your country has deployed forces alongside those of NATO in the Balkans, and you joined ISAF in Afghanistan already two years ago. In addition, Azerbaijan has also made a significant contribution to the coalition efforts in Iraq. Clearly, Azerbaijan has understood that in today’s world, security cooperation is a strategic imperative.

As Azerbaijan moves forward into this new century, I believe that there are many areas where it can benefit from advice and assistance, and where NATO has valuable experience to share. Azerbaijan has decided to develop an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, which shows that this country, as well, is interested in enhancing our cooperation. And we welcome that interest.

What direction should our future cooperation take, and what kind of NATO assistance is available to Azerbaijan and other countries? NATO wants, in particular, to help with reforms leading to more effective defence institutions. This includes the difficult task of making sure that security services and military forces are appropriately sized, structured and funded to meet the challenges of the new security environment. It also means bringing these forces under firm and effective democratic control.

We are also interested in helping the military forces of Azerbaijan to become increasingly interoperable with NATO, in order to allow them to work smoothly with our own forces. Your troop deployments alongside NATO forces have already facilitated progress in this regard. Your continued active participation in our Planning and Review Process will increase interoperability even further. And that is in our mutual interest.

There is a lot on offer, as well, in areas that many people would not immediately associate with NATO. Partnership projects range from disaster preparedness, to defence conversion, to scientific and technical cooperation. An excellent example of this latter form of cooperation is the Virtual Silk Highway, a NATO-sponsored project that has established Internet connectivity between the countries of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the wider world – and that we have just recently extended to Afghanistan.

NATO is also encouraging its member nations, Partner countries and other international donors to set up Partnership Trust Funds. Here in Azerbaijan, we are helping to clean up the former Soviet military base in Sanoglu, removing the unexploded ordnance and hazardous substances that are putting the lives of the local population at risk.

So NATO is making a determined effort to promote cooperation with the Caucasus and Central Asia. Here with me today is Mr. Robert Simmons, whom I have appointed as my Special Representative for the two regions. Mr. Simmons will return here regularly, and he will report directly to me on his contacts and other efforts to improve our relations. In addition, we will also be posting a Liaison Officer in this region, to provide hands-on assistance to our efforts to develop cooperation.

At the same time, if Azerbaijan and our other Partners really want to enhance their partnership with NATO, and to benefit fully from the opportunities that are on offer, they have to be truly committed. They need to show the political will to press ahead with the necessary reforms including streamlining their military establishments.

NATO is and has always been a value-driven organisation. Defending and promoting democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law has been the essence of our Alliance. And the more our Partners share these values, the stronger our Partnership will become.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the context of the wider development of the Caucasus as a stable, democratic and prosperous part of the world, finding peaceful solutions to the conflicts should be a priority for the countries of this region. NATO has repeatedly expressed its support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of its Partner countries.

But let me be clear - NATO does not have a direct role to play here. The Alliance whole-heartedly supports the work of the OSCE and the Minsk Group. And NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership may help in facilitating dialogue. But it is critical, first of all, that the parties in the region themselves show political will and good faith. They must engage in meaningful negotiations, in a non-confrontational manner that serves to promote lasting solutions. They must work with the OSCE and the Minsk Group.

I am aware that some of you may be sceptical about the immediate prospects for greater cooperation in this region. But I remain optimistic that solutions can be found. Not so long ago, our entire continent was divided into two hostile camps, with forces on both sides on hair-trigger alert. Today, the antagonisms of the Cold War are only a fading memory. So it is certainly worthwhile to work towards lasting peace even in situations where this seems like a distant possibility.

In concluding, let me stress the importance of the emergence of a younger generation with a keen interest in foreign and security matters for the future of Azerbaijan. After all, your generation will provide us with the leaders of tomorrow. I urge you to maintain your active interest in world affairs. Your involvement will help to shape the future for the better. And NATO is ready to support you in this process.

Thank you.

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