Updated: 22-Feb-2007 NATO Speeches


3 June 2005

Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the conference on “NATO’s evolving role in the Middle East”
Carnegie Endowment, Washington D.C.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying that it is a real pleasure for me to be in Washington again, and to make what unfortunately can only be a brief stop here at the renowned Carnegie Endowment.  I also want to extend a word of thanks to the Stimson Center for having organised today’s meeting, together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division.

Over the last half-year or so, we have had some pointed but very constructive discussions in NATO on the Middle East.  To me, this shows two things.  First of all, a growing readiness among the Allies to engage in real political debate in the NATO context.  I applaud that development, and will continue to promote it.  Secondly, a realisation that what goes on in the Middle East matters to NATO, and that the Alliance, for its part, is relevant to the Middle East.  And I also welcome that recognition.

I see three major developments that underline the need for the transatlantic community to focus on the Middle East – including through NATO:

First, the interplay between Middle Eastern and transatlantic security is becoming ever more powerful.  Demographic and economic trends create an ever-closer interdependence between us.  New threats – terrorism, proliferation, organised crime, failed states – affect us all and require a common response.

Second, there is a new, positive dynamic in many parts of the Middle East.  Of course, questionmarks still hang over countries such as Syria and Iran.  But in many other countries, we see clear openings towards greater freedom and democracy.  Iraq is slowly finding its feet, even if huge challenges remain.  We still have a good window of opportunity to find fair and sustainable solutions for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Third, NATO has changed -- and it continues to change.  Long gone are the days when we were a static, euro-centric organisation.  We realise that we must be pro-active in dealing with challenges to our shared security and common values, wherever they may emerge.  That is why we launched challenging missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It is why we are modernising our military capabilities.  And it is why we are intensifying our relations with other nations and organisations.

It is in this overall context that one must view the enhancement of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue with seven countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and the invitation to Persian Gulf states to work with NATO under our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.  It is almost a year ago that we embarked upon those two efforts – at the NATO Summit in Istanbul last June.  And the response thus far has been very positive indeed.

I still have to visit Mauritania and Egypt, and will do so in the next few months.  But in each of the five Mediterranean Dialogue countries that I have already visited, I have seen considerable interest in working together with the Alliance.  And that interest has already translated in enhanced political dialogue as well as greater practical cooperation in areas such as the fight against terrorism or defence reform.

In the Gulf region, as well, there has been a very positive response to NATO’s engagement.  We have had very constructive exploratory talks with the countries of the region, including in their capitals and at a high-level seminar at the NATO Defence College in Rome.  In the past few months, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar have formally joined the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.  And I believe that more countries will join later this year.

So the interim report card for a more ambitious Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative is certainly positive.  But how do we sustain this momentum?  In order to do so, I believe that we must keep three broad principles firmly in mind:

First, we should continue to focus on practical cooperation.  This is where NATO’s comparative advantage lies.  And it is where countries in the Middle East have clear requirements.  NATO is an Alliance that acts – and it therefore offers a rich menu of practical cooperation for other nations to benefit from.

We can build on 10 years of cooperation with our Mediterranean Dialogue partners, as well as on the continuing success of our Partnership for Peace.  Launched over ten years ago, very much at the instigation of the United States, PfP has developed in a largely European context, and we do not want to simply transpose it to the Middle East, which has its own specifics.  But PfP does embrace several areas of quite unique NATO expertise, which appear valuable also to Middle Eastern nations, such as cooperation on border security, joint training and disaster preparedness.  And we should build on those strengths.

Second, we must continue to promote joint ownership.  Let‘s be honest.  In some parts of the Middle East, NATO faces an image problem.  We need to correct this, but can only do so if we are truly engaging, rather than imposing or overbearing.

This means that the “ownership” of our cooperation must be a “joint ownership” – in other words, that the countries in the region are shareholders in a cooperative effort.  The Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative are two-way streets.  And if they succeed, over time, in breaking down stereotypes and building trust, these initiatives have the potential to make a real contribution to our common security.

The third and final principle: complementarity.  Engaging the Middle East must be a multi-institutional effort.  All the different dimensions of cooperation – political, economic and security – must be addressed in a comprehensive manner.  That makes it paramount for all the major institutional players – NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the G-8 – to play their part, and not to work at cross purposes.

In this context I want to highlight the relationship between NATO and the European Union.  For the time being, this relationship is still very much focussed on crisis management in the Balkans.  If we manage to turn it into a real strategic partnership – which I will continue to promote -- it will also have considerable potential for engaging the Middle East.  If policy consultation and coordination between NATO and the EU are more firmly ingrained, a more coherent approach to the Middle East will inevitably result.  And this will be to everyone’s benefit.

In closing, let me say a few more words about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a key impediment to greater peace and prosperity in the entire Middle East region.  Clearly, the responsibility for resolving the conflict rests first and foremost with the parties themselves – and they have taken a number of positive steps in recent months.  But it is also clear that the international community – and especially America and Europe -- must be involved.  And in this regard, the renewed commitment by the United States is very welcome indeed.

I have gone on record arguing that an enhanced NATO role in the Middle East peace process should not be excluded – if there was agreement by the parties; if they agreed to a NATO role, and if there was a UN mandate.  I stick by that view.  Who could imagine five years ago that NATO would bring stability to Afghanistan?  And who could predict even one year ago that we would be lending assistance to the African Union with its peacekeeping operation in Darfur, something which we are now preparing to do?  If my many years in politics and diplomacy have taught me one thing, it is to never exclude any possible options in pursuing an objective.

That being said, however, we must focus on what is achievable in the near term  And as far as that is concerned, I believe the growing interaction between NATO and the Middle East will itself be beneficial for peace in that region.  Why?  Because a more structured NATO role in the Middle East will force the Allies – Europe and America – to develop coherent, long-term policies for the region.

 If there is any one lesson that NATO embodies, it is that transatlantic unity is essential for making progress.  When Europe and America work at cross-purposes, they both fail.  If they stick together, they can move mountains.  With regard to the Middle East peace process, both sides of the Atlantic have long realised that they need each other to contribute to a lasting solution.  We now have an opportunity to make decisive progress in that direction.  And NATO has a role to play.  Thank you.

Go to Homepage Go to Index Back to NATO Homepage