Updated: 30-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches


23 October 2006

Conference on “NATO’s Transformation, the
Mediterranean dialogue, and NATO-Israel relations”

Keynote dinner speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General,
Alessandro Minuto Rizzo

NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue
NATO Public Diplomacy Conference in Israel

Minister Livni,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much, Foreign Minister Livni, for these kind words, and for making us all feel so welcome.

Let me also express my sincere gratitude to the Atlantic Forum of Israel and the Institute for Policy and Strategy, for having organised, together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, what I am sure will be a most interesting conference.

My role here this evening is that of a dinner speaker, and I have no intention of pre-empting what will be said tomorrow, when we will tackle the relationship between Israel and NATO from several angles. Indeed, I have always been mindful of the saying that whoever invented the concept of the dinner speech neither knew much about speeches, nor about dinners. That said, let me share with you some general reflections on NATO, on the Middle Eastern region, and why these two can no longer be seen in isolation.

In about a month’s time, NATO’s Heads of State and Government will meet in the Latvian capital of Riga for their next Summit meeting. NATO Summits tend offer a fairly accurate depiction of where the Alliance stands. Riga will be no exception. Its agenda will reflect NATO’s transformation from an Alliance geared to the territorial defence of Western Europe into a framework for addressing 21 st century security challenges.

The Summit will have three main areas of work – operations, capabilities, and partnerships. The first and foremost area is, obviously, NATO’s operations. Today, NATO Allies and many partner countries are deployed on operations and missions on three continents. In Europe, NATO is keeping the peace in the Balkans, notably in Kosovo where we are facing challenging times in the months to come. In the Mediterranean, in our Operation Active Endeavour, NATO is conducting naval anti-terrorist patrols. In Afghanistan, in what is clearly our most important and challenging mission, NATO is leading the International Security Assistance Force, a mission that ranges from peacekeeping to combat operations. In Iraq, NATO is training Iraqi security forces. In Pakistan, after last year’s earthquake, NATO provided humanitarian relief. And in Africa, NATO is airlifting African Union troops to the crisis region of Darfur. It may surprise you, but today more than 50,000 soldiers are deployed under NATO command.

Why is NATO so much in demand? I would offer two reasons why. First, the Atlantic Alliance brings together North America and Europe – two continents that not only enjoy a unique level of cooperation with one another, but which also feel a strong obligation to contribute to global stability. And, second, NATO features both an exceptional political consultation mechanism and a multinational military structure to implement the decisions taken by its members. These two features make NATO unique. And they give the Alliance the cohesion to adapt and respond to new challenges like the multiplication of failed states, the fight against terrorism or the proliferation of Weapon of Mass Destruction.

This adaptation is also reflected in our military transformation, the second major area of work at the Riga Summit. It goes without saying that the missions and operations NATO is conducting these days are extremely demanding. We need forces that can react quickly; forces that can be deployed over strategic distance, and then sustained over a long period of time. And we need forces that are capable of performing both high intensity combat tasks and post-conflict reconstruction work.

We have made good progress in developing such capabilities. The NATO Response Force, which should be fully operational by the time of the Riga Summit, will enable us to react to new challenges even more quickly. We are also taking a hard look at our force planning and force generation procedures, to better match our political decisions and military commitments. And we are revising our funding arrangements – to make them fairer and more predictable, so that nations can more easily commit to operations. All these steps will ensure that future missions can be better planned, equipped, and paid for.

The third area is Partnerships. Partnerships with key institutions like the UN and the EU or third countries. In most of the missions and operations I mentioned earlier, NATO Allies do not act alone. They act with an ever broader group of countries from all over the world – from Europe, from Central Asia, from the Asia-Pacific region, from Northern Africa, and from the Middle East. Why? Because in a world of global threats and challenges, our security interests converge, irrespective of where our countries may sit on the map. And NATO’s partnership and cooperation policies must reflect this.

It is here where the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative come into play. Already a decade ago, NATO launched its Mediterranean Dialogue – an effort to build trust with North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Israel.

The initial aim of the Dialogue was to improve mutual understanding, and to dispel misconceptions about NATO’s aims and policies. And progress has been made even if some old stereotypes still have to be overcome. The Mediterranean Dialogue was not intended as a tool to play a direct role in the Middle Eastern peace process, or in handling other current challenges of the region, such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the Lebanon crisis. These are issues that other actors remain better suited for. However, we felt that NATO could play a useful role in promoting the logic of cooperative security – a logic that has ultimately carried the day in Europe, and that has yielded very beneficial results.

The Mediterranean Dialogue started slowly, but it gathered momentum. The number of Dialogue partners grew from five to seven; our days: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and of course Israel. And the menu of concrete cooperation activities went up as well. And I reveal no secret when I say that, from the outset, Israel has been among the most enthusiastic Dialogue partners.

Two years ago, at NATO’s Istanbul Summit, we agreed on a more ambitious and expanded framework for the Mediterranean Dialogue. At the same time, we unveiled the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, to reach out to interested countries in the Gulf region. Four of them have already started political cooperation with the Alliance. Today, we are busy i mplementing the expanded Dialogue agreed at Istanbul. And, with very strong Israeli engagement, we are definitively moving from dialogue to true partnership.

On the political side, progress includes the first ever Defence Ministers’ meeting in Taormina, Italy, earlier this year, as well as an informal ambassadorial meeting in Morocco, which was the first ever high-level meeting in a Mediterranean Dialogue country. In December 2004, we had a first meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers and we are now thinking about possible follow-up to those meetings. In addition to greater political dialogue, the number of opportunities for concrete, practical cooperation under the Mediterranean Dialogue process has increased dramatically. For those of you who like statistics I can tell you that, compared to 2004, the number of participants in Mediterranean Dialogue activities almost doubled to well over 800 last year and should be over 1000 this year.

The enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue now offers far greater opportunities to structure our cooperation in a more individualised way, so we can maximise the flexibility inherent in our outreach policy. New tools and mechanisms have been derived from the successful Partnership for Peace programme and open to Mediterranean Dialogue countries. And I very much hope that at Riga next month, Allies will agree to expand the toolbox of practical cooperation activities even further. We clearly need to retain a certain balance within the Mediterranean Dialogue, but we also need to give countries like Israel even more possibilities – and a greater opportunity for self-differentiation.

When I look more closely at the Mediterranean Dialogue and focus on the specifics of NATO-Israel cooperation, I am struck by how much we have achieved and how quickly things are now moving forward.

We have recently agreed an individual cooperation programme – or ICP. This programme is the first of its kind in the Mediterranean Dialogue. It covers many areas of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism and joint military exercises, where Israel’s expertise is very much valued. And it should give greater focus and impetus to our cooperation. While talking about the ICP, I should like to take this opportunity to encourage Israel to publish this document as a way of persuading other countries to start a similar process – already Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia have expressed an interest in this individualised process.

J ust a few weeks ago, an exchange of letters between NATO and Israel set the stage for an Israeli contribution to “Active Endeavour”, NATO’s maritime anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea. This will be the first contribution from a Mediterranean Dialogue nation and represents another truly significant step forward for both NATO and Israel. The posting of an Israeli Liaison Officer to the NATO Command in Naples is a further indication of the vitality of our cooperation, as was the demonstration of a NATO AWACS plane in Israel. And, last but not least, over the course of this year, Israel has participated in two major NATO/PfP military exercises in Romania and Ukraine.

Looking to the future, one area where I believe we could make further progress is education and training. Over the years, NATO has acquired a wealth of experience and expertise in this area. Education and training have been a highly successful feature of our outreach and partnership activities with our Euro-Atlantic Partners. They are an integral part, also, of several of our ongoing missions and operations. And it is no surprise, therefore, that several of our Mediterranean partners have also shown a growing interest in what NATO has to offer in this area.

I expect that next month’s NATO Summit in Riga will advance that kind of cooperation, building on our tried-and-tested frameworks, such as the NATO School in Germany or the NATO Defense College in Italy. Over time, this process could evolve into a dedicated Training Centre in the Middle East.

Having said this, we are keen to pursue this initiative in close consultation with our partners, and we are pleased with the positive reception that it has already received.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A new chapter in the cooperation between Israel and NATO has opened. It is a development that was long overdue; a development that corresponds to the imperative of cooperation in a globalised world. But as we seek to write this new chapter together, we must remain realistic about one thing: without progress in the broader peace process in the Middle East, we will not be able to exploit the full potential of our cooperation. Without a renewed serious effort to solve the security dilemma of this region, we will find time and again that the cooperation in our Mediterranean Dialogue will be held hostage by outside events. We must do our utmost to prevent this from happening. Because our cooperation has acquired a strategic value in its own right.

Thank you.

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