Updated: 22-Mar-2005 NATO Speeches


11 Mar. 2005

Bridging the Mediterranean

Special interactive video forum series with Jamie Shea

Audio file
Video forum

DR. JAMIE P. SHEA (Public Diplomacy Division): Well, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon once again from NATO Headquarters, and welcome to the second edition of Stopwatch, the NATO website program where we invite a panel of NATO and outside experts every month to debate a live NATO issue.

I'm Jamie Shea, and once again it will be my pleasure to moderate today's discussion. I hope very much that you enjoyed the last program in which we discussed Afghanistan.

Now today we're going to turn to an area which for most of you will be one that's not normally linked to NATO. That's to say, our relations with the Muslim countries to our south in the Mediterranean and also in the Middle Eastern region, and NATO's progress with its training mission in Baghdad in Iraq.

It's quite a paradox that NATO, an organization which was originally set up to defend Europe against the Soviet Union, has launched nearly all of its peacekeeping operations in recent years in order to come to the help of Muslims. This, of course, was not the primary reason for those operations, which were done to preserve security, or to assist the human rights of oppressed minorities, but the net result is is that NATO, over the last few years, from the Balkans to Afghanistan to Iraq to the Middle East, has increased its profile vis-à-vis the Muslim world.

So what's the future going to hold? What is NATO offering these countries? What do these countries expect from NATO, and what are the perspectives of people from the Muslim world on NATO, where it is today, and where it's going in the future?

Now, to discuss these topics I have four invited guests. First of all, Nicola de Santis, who in the NATO Division of Public Diplomacy, is responsible for our cooperation programs with the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

I have also Colonel Giuseppe Clemente, who serves in the International Military Staff where he is responsible for the military aspects of our cooperation with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries.

We have Mustefa Souag, who is the Bureau Chief in London of the Aljazeera TV station.

And Habib Toumi, who is the Deputy Editor of the Bahrain Tribune.

So one expert from the Mediterranean, and one expert from the Middle Eastern region, and I should add that our two distinguished outside experts today are going to be speaking in a personal capacity.

So let's turn right away to the discussion. And first of all, I'm going to ask Nicola... Nicola, what exactly is NATO's cooperation, what is the Mediterranean Dialogue and what is this Istanbul Cooperation Initiative that was launched last year?

NICOLA DE SANTIS (Coordinator of the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) countries): Yes, the Mediterranean Dialogue was launched in December 1994. Therefore long before 11 September. And it is an initiative that the Alliance at the beginning directed towards five countries, which were: Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania and Israel.

The Mediterranean Dialogue was launched by NATO as part of its cooperative approach to security. NATO's cooperative approach to security was also part of NATO's external reorientation, or adaptation, following the end of the Cold War.

Now the objective of the Mediterranean Dialogue since the outset was to promote NATO's actions in favour of security and stability towards the Mediterranean region. The objectives were to promote a better mutual understanding and to dispel any misperceptions on NATO and on its policies. NATO at the time was changing and therefore it was important that this reorientation of NATO: the new NATO missions, the new functions in the post Cold War security environment, would be better explained and correctly understood by the countries in the Mediterranean.

SHEA: So what are the two that joined more recently then to make seven?

DE SANTIS: One of the principles, since the beginning of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue was to be a progressive initiative. It was open to the participation of other countries, that could be invited by the North Atlantic Council, and in fact in one year time, in November 1995, Jordan was also invited to join the Mediterranean Dialogue. And then in the year 2000 Algeria also was invited. This progressive character, the fact that the Dialogue remains open, is one of the principles, one of the guiding principles also, today.

SHEA: Thank you. Giuseppe, can you tell me a little bit about what kind of military activities NATO is involved in then, with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries?

COL. GIUSEPPE CLEMENTE (Italian army, Section Chief of the Mediterranean Dialogue in the Cooperation and Regional Security Division, C& RS): If you have a look in the past when the program start in 1997 with only a few activities and events, now in 2005 we are more than 200 activities and events. The military cooperation is a part of Mediterranean working program, is so-called practical dimension of the Mediterranean Dialogue, and these mainly focus on training, activity and education.

SHEA: Could you give me a practical example of a joint peacekeeping operation or something dealing with terrorism to sort of show our viewers how these practical activities are really delivering hard security benefits?

CLEMENTE: Yes, indeed. The program covers several aspects, several areas of cooperation. We invite (inaudible) country to participate, to exercise for the first year in 2005, live exercise, that's been the participation actively in the environment exercise open to Mediterranean Dialogue. They follow the course, seminary, activity. They receive some visit in the port, standing naval force, visit the port of the southern Mediterranean countries and so on.

SHEA: Mustefa, you're from the North African region. How is this program over the last ten years been received, in your view? Is it seen, for example, as the beginning of possible NATO membership one day? Is it seen as delivering practical security benefits? Do people know about it at all?

MUSTEFA SOUAG (Senior Correspondent and Editorial Bureau Chief for Aljazeera, London Bureau): Well, it depends on whether we are talking about governments and the elite, you know, the media, some people who are interested in this kind of activities, or about the people.

The general public really doesn't know that much about... not only about what has been going on in the last ten years or so in the rapprochement between the NATO and the Mediterranean... the south of the Mediterranean countries. But also they really don't know that NATO actually is changing. They still have that image of the old NATO that was made to protect the West against... from the Soviet Bloc.

So actually that image is still sticking there, and I believe NATO still has a lot to do in order to show that it is changing in a different way.

For governments, of course, most, I believe most governments want the cooperation with NATO. For several reasons, but mainly because they can get some of the expertise from NATO on military, you know, issues, and on security issues.

On the other hand, they also want to cooperate with NATO because that would show that the governments are actually are open with the West and therefore the accusations that come usually from the West, from the western government that they are not democratic, or they should be, you know, improving, reforming their system, etc. might be a little bit, you know, a little bit lower.

So it's a kind of... they use that kind of relationship as a shield actually, to protect themselves, more or less.

SHEA: Mustefa, thanks. Before we pursue these issues in more depth, I think first we should also understand what the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative is all about. So Nicola, can you tell us that?

DE SANTIS: Yes, well the Mediterranean Dialogue is a ten-year forum which has also a multilateral component; that is to say you have on one end the 26 NATO member countries, and on the other the seven participating countries from the region.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative is a brand new initiative, which was launched at the Istanbul Summit of NATO's Heads of State and Government last June, and it is now reaching out to the broader Middle East region; starting with the individual members of the six countries participating in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Now, as the Mediterranean Dialogue was at the beginning, this Initiative is mainly bilateral, to promote interoperability, fight against terrorism through intelligence sharing and participating in NATO's operations such as, for example, Operation Active Endeavour. Or, also fighting illicit trafficking, such as arms smuggling, and also try to promote military-to-military cooperation, defence reform; activities which are also part of the Mediterranean Dialogue, but that form an outreach towards countries that right now are countries that are starting a relationship with NATO. In fact, three of the countries towards which this initiative has been addressed have now indicated that they want to join.

SHEA: Nicola, can you tell us which countries those are?

DE SANTIS: They are: Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. And we have indications that the others will also follow.

But I want to say that there's a number of principles which are very important because in Istanbul we also enhanced the Mediterranean Dialogue in a considerable way, moving from a simple security dialogue into a genuine partnership. A partnership which is tailored towards the specific needs and realities of the Mediterranean countries.

At the same time we are now engaged in this new Initiative with countries which have shown that they want to enter into this cooperation with NATO. But mainly by a bilateral cooperation, which as I said, is just at the beginning.

SHEA: Okay, thanks Nicola. Habib, you're from that region, how is NATO's sudden arrival on the scene being perceived? Because we feel that you're problem countries where the threats are coming from, or do you feel that we're seen as offering genuine cooperation that's in the interests of these countries to accept?

HABIB TOUMI (Editor of the Bahrain Tribune): The Gulf region is now looking for stability and security, especially after the terrorist threats that have plagued the region and the accusations from different parts that the region is not doing enough.

So certainly this NATO thing, initiative, is very, very welcome and people... most of the people are aware of it because there was some media attention and it was mentioned many times in different media outlets.

Now these countries, especially the three that have already indicated that they're joining--Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait--are very keen on having very close relations and cooperation with NATO, because they're aware that there are about 200 activities in which they can get engaged with NATO, and even though maybe about 85 percent of the activities are military, there are other activities which are non-military and these countries have the choice. They can choose whatever activity they want to engage in.

SHEA: You know the governments in this area, Habib, what type of specific cooperation do you think they're looking for? Is the real problem terrorism, and therefore, sort of sharing intelligence on terrorist threats or border controls, those kind of things, do you think?

TOUMI: Yeah, especially... yeah, it has to do with terrorism, of course, because they want stability, they want that. It's very high on the agenda, terrorism, that is. So they want to cooperate. They also want security and things to be stable there because the Middle East in general is the most volatile region in the world. And you need international cooperation to make sure that it's safe, secure and stable. And no country alone, no matter how strong that country is, can do it.

SHEA: Giuseppe, I mean, from the military point of view, what can we actually offer which is really concrete? I mean, we can offer advice, we can offer encouragement, but do we really have hard, physical resources, like transfers of equipment, or training, that could provide a quick benefit to those countries?

CLEMENTE: Yes, as I told you before the military contribution is mainly focused on training and education, and for the ICI countries, as was for MD, we try to follow of taking our experience that we have already done in the Mediterranean Dialogue countries. And for this reason we develop and we have already... we are ready to present the ICI countries the program. This is focused on the interests of the countries. That means border security, combat terrorists, training and education, and especially to achieve interoperability. That is not only focus on the material of the weapon, but it concern also education, training and activity.

SHEA: Exactly. And let me therefore ask you a quick follow-up question here. Is the idea that each of these countries will have a kind of action plan or individual sort of partnership plan like NATO has with its partner countries from Central and Eastern Europe?

CLEMENTE: Well the individual cooperation program or action plan was agreed in Istanbul last summer, and for the time being is on the study is developing as well, and we tried to offer, according their need, we have the possibility to pick and choose in the program that we present to them.

But also, and I hope in the future, they are... their own individual cooperation program.

SHEA: Mustefa, one of the issues that concerned us here at NATO when this Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was launched last year was, is it bad timing? The image in the region is often that NATO is the sort of the foreign policy arm of the United States, the Iraq conflict has not been very popular in the region, particularly with United States and coalition forces still in Iraq. Does NATO, therefore, suffer from a public relations problem which could, in your view, hinder the readiness of countries to cooperation with us? For example, as compared to the European Union or the United Nations?

SOUAG: Yeah, Jamie. I mean, you know that politics practically is a perception. It's what... the success of politics is success in changing perception to your own benefit. And I think what... honestly, what I heard from Nicola and from Clemente, doesn't reassure me that much. It does create the possibility that people would perceive NATO to be actually helping governments, the military and the security in governments that are traditionally oppressive. And therefore it would be just for helping this government to change toward maybe a more cosmetic kind of democracy, but keeping the grip on the people. And this is very dangerous. If the people, and the people are very intelligent, they can actually read, with their instinct, they can read these possibilities. If they feel that NATO is just working to achieve its objective that is security for the West through helping those governments to continue their oppression one way or another, that would be very bad.

However, I understand that that might not be the purpose or the objective of NATO. But if that's the way they perceive it it will be very dangerous and it will continue, actually maybe even it would enhance that image, that negative image.

SHEA: Habib, is that your view as well?

TOUMI: No, not in the Gulf region anyway, because people are aware that there are changes and that the world in general, the international community, is not very keen on people from the Gulf region because they are... most of the time they think of them as terrorist potential and that's a very big problem.

So what people want is that they really... because there's a difference between people who live in the Gulf and they see the threat that comes from different countries and from different areas, and they really... they are really keen on having some kind of security, especially when I talk about the smaller countries, and that becomes very, very vital for them to have any kind of cooperation with NATO, for example, in order to ensure that the region is stable and secure.

So the people are not afraid of NATO there in the Gulf. In fact, they feel that NATO can do better than if America by itself came for their rescue, and that makes the difference.

SHEA: That's interesting. I mean, Nicola, you're the person here responsible for our public diplomacy efforts. What are you doing and how successful do you think we're being at the moment in changing that perception, or misperception that Mustefa was describing, around?

DE SANTIS: I kind of tend to agree with both interlocutors. On one hand we need, in fact, to prevent and also to address. To prevent misperception, misunderstanding. The fact that the objectives of these initiatives, both the enhanced Mediterranean partnership and the new initiative, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, towards the broader Middle East region, are well understood by the public.

I also believe that NATO and the countries of the region, and also the people from what Habib is also saying, in the broader Middle East region, share today's common security challenges and threats represented by terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means, and also by failed states, and the consequences that this could have by a combination of the first two.

Now, therefore we have a base for our cooperation in the security sphere, but we have to understand and know that NATO is an intergovernmental organization, therefore NATO will deal with governments. And also here, on one hand we have to understand that engagement is better than marginalization. What should NATO do? Should NATO prefer to marginalize the governments and the countries of the Arab world, or should, as we're doing, lend the hand of friendship and try to offer some cooperation?

In fact, one of the principles of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue is that there is no imposition. We're not imposing. We're offering our expertise in a number of areas.

Of course, NATO's business is security and that is where our cooperation in the security sphere can happen. But what we are proposing, the message is that by working together we can deal together with these challenges and we can address them better than each country would be able to do alone: through security cooperation.

SHEA: Thanks Nicola. I mean, Mustefa, you've been listening to that, what's your reaction?

SOUAG: Yeah, my reaction, I mean, I agree with the idea that everybody's looking for security. Certainly people in the Middle East are looking for security. They probably are looking for it more than anybody else because that's where the troubles are.

However, I know that NATO actually, it's very difficult for an organization like NATO to work without going through governments. Of course, they would work with government. So I think the question is: how can NATO... does its job work, I mean, for security etc., and still that work would benefit the people as well?

And I think this is where we have to think about with whom NATO will deal. For example, in terms of training, when you train the army, the officers, or the intelligence, you know, some of the intelligence officers or whatever, I think NATO has the opportunity maybe to encourage them to go more democratic, to stop interfering with politics, to be more tolerant of free speech, to actually enhance and...

SHEA: Mustefa, this is a fair point here. I'd like to bring in Giuseppe on this one. Giuseppe, you're the man who's behind the military training, do you feel that this is just technical training as Mustefa was fearing, or do you see that this is also helping a more internationalist culture, a more democratic control of the arm Armed Forces, a greater degree of cooperativeness, which could also have political benefits as well?

CLEMENTE: Yes, it could be. The important thing is to understand that from military point of view we don't take care about the culture, religious or whatever. We understand better each other because we have the same background. I'm speaking about the military point of view. That means, we have the same interest that's been training soldier and take care of soldier. But of course, if there are the background, the cultural background, of course, NATO that in the last time have... collects a lot of experience in this field could help these countries.

SHEA: Thanks. Habib, just a question here, because I'll turn to Nicola in just a couple, cut one of our listeners last time, knowing about today's program, e-mailed me and said, well, you know, to be really effective, this dialogue should contain the other Arab states or entities that are not yet in it, for example, the Palestinian National Authority or Libya. That country came up too. Is this the way you see it? That we have to be more comprehensive?

And Habib, a second question, I'd also like to ask you, do you think that this Dialogue would be more credible in the Arab world if it were attached to some sort of political consultative council with NATO, so we would sort of talk about the political issues as well as cooperate militarily.

For example, with our partners, you know, we had the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, do we need a sort of an equivalent for the Muslim countries?

TOUMI: As for the first question, there are three Arab countries, or two countries, and one entity, that are not engaged with NATO. They are Libya, Syria, and the Palestinians. Now these countries have not themselves expressed the wish to join, so it would be not the smart idea to impose it on them, because that could backfire.

I mean, the good thing about NATO is that it is open to any country that wants to join in or even conversation, discussions, etc. It is there. But neither Libya nor Syria have expressed this wish. The same thing with the Palestinian because of the question between Palestine and Israel and that's a different issue altogether.

So we can... NATO should not and cannot impose anything on any country.

Second question, yes, NATO needs to talk to people through their constitutional institutions. You cannot just, you know, talk only to one set of people, only the military, or only the politicians. There are also constitutional institutions through which you can talk with the people and reach out. And that's very, very crucial, because without that you cannot achieve a lot.

SHEA: And Nicola, from your perspective, do you feel that we... the political dialogue, not just the military-to-military cooperation, is developing?

DE SANTIS: Well, I want to say... I want to go back to two points. One is that when we talk about military-to-military cooperation what are we talking about? We're talking about having the possibility of bringing the armed forces of the countries party to the Mediterranean Dialogue, to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, together with the NATO armed forces to do what, basically? To address today's security challenges. So that if we need to have a crisis management operation, peace support operations, non-Article 5, what we call non-Article 5 operations, search and rescue: these are the things that we're trying to do.

In other words, to use NATO as a tool which brings together a large number of countries to manage successfully the crises that can threaten the international community. This is what military to military cooperation and interoperability aim at.

Now, going back to the public diplomacy. NATO is intergovernmental, but we do address, we do address civil society. We sponsor seven international conferences with think tanks. Some of them in the region, some which take place in NATO member countries. To do what? To build bridges. To bring together civil society representatives, the media, as we've done with also our two interlocutors here, the two journalists here today have been part of these programs in which we bring together journalists, academics, parliamentarians, because we want to have a frank dialogue.

So together and in parallel with the initiatives, the intergovernmental initiatives, NATO is trying to also provide a better understanding of the objectives of both initiatives toward the civil society and public opinion at large.

SHEA: Nicola, that... Nicola, that's interesting, but the clock on our stopwatch is ticking, so let me ask you very quickly, the political consultations? Do the ministers meet? Do we have ambassadorial meetings?

DE SANTIS: Well, in the Mediterranean Dialogue we have a multilateral component which of course we do not have with the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative because it's a new initiative, so it's normal that we start in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with new countries on a bilateral level. Like ten years ago we did the same with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries.

But in the Mediterranean Dialogue we have a 26-plus-7 dimension in which there are political consultations, the one to which you refer, and it's periodical.

We also have a bilateral dimension for the cooperation. But we've also decided to enhance in Istanbul, at the Istanbul Summit, to enhance the political dimension of the Dialogue, not only the practical one, by having meetings at the level of foreign ministers, and the first meeting took place last December, at the level of defence ministers even at the level of Heads of State and Government.

The Secretary General of NATO is now going to the country in a major, both political, but also public diplomacy initiative, visiting all of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries which he plans to do this year and hopefully even by the end of this year to begin also travelling to the broader region.

So also the political component of the Mediterranean Dialogue has been enhanced in parallel with the practical cooperation.

SHEA: Gentlemen, thanks. All of you, we've got a few minutes left here, and I suppose one question inevitably comes to mind when you look at the Middle East, is the need to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute. The prospects are looking better now, and everybody knows that in terms of our future relations with the Islamic countries, the Muslim countries, a creation of a viable Palestinian state, good relations with Israel, regional security framework; these are the essential things.

Now, there's been a lot of talk that you've seen about the possibility of NATO playing a role in implementing such an agreement. I mean, Mustefa, from your perspective, do you feel that this is a viable concept? Would NATO be welcome in that part of the world? Do you think we could do it?

SOUAG: Well, again, I mean if NATO is perceived to be even-handed, and if it's perceived to be actually helping the real peace, not leaning towards the Israelis against the Palestinians as it happened with some other foreign, you know, countries, than yeah, it will be welcomed.

And again, if NATO can change that perception or misperception as you said... as you called it, then it would certainly help.

I know that the Americans are going to supervise the whole security issue during this transition during this process. So is NATO going to be a part of that American-controlled, for example, supervision? Or it's going to be independent? What is NATO is going to do exactly? And I think before people know and before they are sure that it's not going to be another American arm there, it's difficult to say.

But governments would, I'm sure, would welcome NATO participation. People, I'm really not sure yet.

SHEA: Habib, in this connection, has our training mission in Iraq, which I referred to a moment go, helped to create a more positive perception of NATO as helping Muslims, Muslim countries to deal with practical security problems, which then could have a positive influence on a possible NATO role in the Arab-Israeli dispute?

TOUMI: The fact that NATO was not involved in the war is a plus point among Arabs, and NATO should build on this to make, you know, to score more points. And training the Iraqis without getting involved in the war itself is a very positive thing that is going to help NATO a lot.

The same thing, if NATO... for NATO trying to get involved in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is an opportunity, more than a challenge. They can do it. Of course they need both sides to approve it first, the Israelis and the Palestinians. If they can work their way around this and they win the approval of both sides, then they have a very good opportunity. Then people in the Middle East will look at NATO as an organization, international organization that's trying to secure... to achieve security and stability in the region.

SHEA: Yes, but Giuseppe, as you know, we've been criticized a little bit in the press when it comes to our training mission in Iraq, for not being able, really, to put a lot of trainers on the ground, and the fact that certain allies were not participating in the military mission. I mean, are you satisfied from a military perspective that this training mission is now up and running and really does have the support of the allies?

CLEMENTE: First of all, as you know, NATO is not involved in a combat operation and for the time being is in Iraq with the team, in order to help and to train the armed forces. Of course, we'll help, absolutely the Iraqi forces.

SHEA: Well Nicola, we're coming to the end, and we started with you and I think it's only fair to give you the final word as well. One question inevitably that the viewers are going to ask is that NATO now has so many things on. We're in Afghanistan, we're in Iraq, we have relations with Russia, we're dealing with terrorism, we have partners in Central and Eastern Europe and suddenly, suddenly we have now this new kid on the block, the relations with the Muslim countries.

How serious are we, and how important do you think this is going to be in terms of NATO's future priorities?

DE SANTIS: Yes, first of all, this is not sudden. In the sense that, as I tried to explain, it's since 1994, the same year in which NATO launched the Partnership for Peace and the major outreach towards Central and Eastern Europe and the successor states of the former Soviet Union part of NATO's new cooperative approach to security, that NATO also launched the Mediterranean Dialogue.

So it is not something new. It is something in which we're very serious. It is among the highest priorities of the Alliance.

SHEA: Nicola, thank you very much. We've come to the end of Stopwatch for today. I'd like to thank Nicola, Mustefa, Habib and Giuseppe for being on the program. I'd like to thank you, once again, for tuning in, and I invite you to come and look at Stopwatch 3 in four weeks time. but from NATO Headquarters, bye for now.

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