Updated: 28-Nov-2006 NATO Speeches

Rīga, Latvia

28 Nov. 2006


by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the Young Leaders Forum “Building bridges for the next generation”

28-29 Nov. 2006 - NATO
NATO Rīga Summit

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this Young Leaders Forum. I want to thank you for taking an interest in NATO and joining the Alliance ’s political leaders here at their Summit in Rīga .

There are many reasons why I am always eager to come to Rīga .

One of them is the fact that Rīga was the birthplace and childhood home of someone whom I admire very much – Isaiah Berlin , one of the major philosophers of the last century.

The central message of Isaiah Berlin ’s work was that no single idea or utopian vision of society should be allowed to dominate – because when it does, people suffer. Isaiah Berlin believed that people are happiest when their own natural contradictions are allowed to flourish, and where individuals and states act freely.

This message certainly resonates here in Latvia , where for too much of the last century, people have suffered from the unitary visions of first National Socialism and then Communism. Today, however, Latvians are free to pursue their own path and their own vision of the future. And – as if to prove Isaiah Berlin ’s point – Latvia is prospering as a result.

It is clear, at the same time, that neither here in Latvia , nor anywhere else, freedom can ever be taken for granted. It has to be worked for – day in and day out.

Our values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law need to be promoted – and protected. Because even today, they remain vulnerable.

We saw as this in the 1990s, when values that we hold so dear were crushed in the Balkans. And we saw it again, five years ago, on September 11, when terrorists attacked not just the United States , but also our values.

How can we protect our values? My answer is clear: only by working in a team. Because together you are stronger than alone. It’s a simple, straightforward truth.

NATO is such a team – and a very unique one. In NATO, 26 countries are united in a commitment to defend not only their territory, but also their shared democratic values. And unlike other alliances in history, our commitments are not simply written on a piece of paper. NATO also has the political and military means to live up to its commitments. We can protect our values when they are under threat. That is why NATO membership is such a precious commodity.

And why so many partner countries, from Sweden to New Zealand , are associating themselves with NATO and what it stands for.

Our Summit here in Rīga will be another opportunity to make NATO an even more effective team. To this end, we will push NATO’s transformation another major step forward – through new capabilities initiatives, a strong signal on the open door to new members, deeper and wider partnerships, and through a strong commitment to stay the course in our operations and missions.

But to keep the Alliance in good shape, we need more than Summits. We need the steady support of young, creative and energetic people, not just from NATO nations, but from other countries as well. In other words, we need your engagement – the engagement of the successor generation. That’s why the theme of this Young Leaders Forum is well chosen: “Building Bridges for the Next Generation”.

The presence of so many young leaders here today, including from Afghanistan, Australia, Israel, Jordan and many other countries is a vivid demonstration that these bridges are being built.

I am also heartened to see that many of your proposals on NATO’s political and military transformation are in fact very realistic. You have resisted the temptation to produce high-flying, but unrealistic ideas. Instead, you have chosen the far more difficult path of looking for real solutions. And this, to my mind, is what truly qualifies you as leaders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I recently came across a saying that struck a chord: “Without bridges, men would be islands”. I believe that this saying reinforces the motto of this meeting here today. In a globalised world, we need bridges more than ever.

Thank you.


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