From the event

Manama, Bahrain

24 Apr 2008

A New Era of Security Cooperation

Secretary General’s Speech at the ICI Ambassadorial Conference

Your Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the North Atlantic Council, I would like to thank the Kingdom of Bahrain, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and in particular His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Khalid Al-Khalifa, for their warm and generous hospitality. 

And let me extend a very special word of thanks to Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Khalifa and his team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who have worked with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division to ensure the success of this conference.

Here in Bahrain, in all the nations of the NATO Alliance, and as well as in many other countries, both policymakers and public opinion increasingly realise that there are two faces to globalisation.  Not only is it a powerful means of breaking down barriers, opening up economies and lifting people out of poverty.  It also has some extremely unpleasant and dangerous negative effects, to which none of our nations is immune.  Countries in Europe, in North America, and in the Gulf region have been the target of terrorist attacks.  Instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, affect all of us, no matter how near or far we are geographically.  Iran’s pursuit of a uranium enrichment capability in violation of its UN Security Council obligations is a serious concern not just for Iran’s neighbours, but for the entire international community.  And we also have a common interest in energy security, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers. 

Against global challenges, geography no longer serves as a shield.  What we need are global responses – innovative new approaches that extend across national, geographical and cultural boundaries.

The emerging cooperation between the Gulf states and NATO sets an encouraging example for providing security and stability in new ways.  In domestic terms, the Gulf states have long demonstrated a willingness to meet the challenge of change and reform.  Indeed, many Gulf states have shown a strong determination to combine their proud Islamic and Arabic heritage with the challenges and opportunities posed by modernisation and globalisation.  The diversification of their economies and the enormous investment in public services, education and infrastructure are just the most obvious examples.

But in foreign policy terms as well, the Gulf states have clearly embraced change.  They have emerged as true players in their own right, defining their relationships with other actors according to their own strategic interests.  And they sometimes have engaged in missions outside their own region, including by participating in NATO-led peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.

As an organisation that has been dealing with multi-national security cooperation for more than half a century, NATO has a wealth of experience to offer to non-NATO countries.  Most importantly, over the past decade, we have developed the necessary political and military links with non-NATO countries to make our cooperation very effective.  And that is why NATO is now in a far better position to make a tangible contribution to security and stability well beyond its own borders, including here in your region. 

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched in 2004, is a reflection of these changes.  It is an offer for cooperation with the countries in this region in order to further promote security and regional stability – an offer that can add value to the many other initiatives already underway – an offer for bilateral cooperation with NATO in areas where the Alliance, over its 59 years of existence, has developed particular skills and expertise that might be of interest to the countries of this region.  The ICI offers the potential for significant benefits to all of us – to this region and to NATO itself.  Bahrain chose to join the Initiative early on, together with Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.  We hope that  the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Oman will also join the ICI in the not too distant future.

Over the past few years, the opportunities for mutually beneficial practical cooperation have continued to grow.  They now range from the fight against terrorism to disaster response and public diplomacy.  Within two years, the number of activities that are on offer has tripled, currently numbering more than 260. 

But it is not the sheer numbers that are impressive.  What is even more important is that this programme has been developed through intensive consultations with the ICI countries.  This demonstrates that the basic principles of the ICI are sound: it is a demand-driven framework; it respects the specific, individual interests and ambitions of each ICI member country; it does not pretend that there could be a “one-size-fits-all” approach; and it follows the logic of co-ownership, to make sure that our cooperation is a genuine two-way street. 

Much of our interaction today is focused on military-to-military cooperation.  Bahrain has sent a growing number of participants to NATO courses and seminars. There have been several successful expert team meetings to discuss nuclear matters, public information and other issues.  And just last week, here in Manama, we held the annual Staff Talks between the Bahraini Defence Forces and NATO.  Needless to say, we look forward to further deepening our cooperation with Bahrain.

One area that offers particular benefits is training.  NATO is keen to share more widely with interested ICI partners our unique expertise in training military forces – to help them to build forces that are interoperable with those of the NATO Allies, and able to work together more effectively.  We have already created new opportunities for cooperation in this area, because as the Gulf countries can learn from NATO, the Alliance can also benefit from the unique experience of the Gulf countries.  That’s why I am convinced that this process has added value for both of us.

We have also made considerable headway in the area of public diplomacy.  As I said before, there are still too many outdated clichés and stereotypes that could hamper our cooperation.  We need to dispel these misconceptions, and I am pleased to say that Bahrain has played a strong role in these efforts.  In June of last year, here in Manama, our Public Diplomacy Division and Bahrain's Ministry of Information co-organised a very successful conference on the role of media.  It received wide coverage by the press and TV channels throughout the region. 

Last November, I had the honour to meet with the members of the House of Deputies and of the Shura Council of Bahrain.  And just a few weeks ago, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, I met with a delegation of media representatives from Bahrain.  All this demonstrates that a new dynamic of dialogue and cooperation is unfolding, and that Bahrain is playing its full part.

Given the increasing scope of our cooperation, we believe that the time has come to think about how we structure and focus this cooperation better, and to make sure that both our ICI partners and NATO members get the most out of the time and effort that they put into this common project.  To this end, we are offering our ICI partners the opportunity to elaborate an Individual Cooperation Programme with the Alliance.  Such a programme would be tailored to each country’s specific aims and interests.  And this makes them an excellent means to give even more substance to our emerging relationship, and to underscore that a new era of cooperation has already begun.

Cooperation with other countries and with the broader international community was actually one of the central themes of the Alliance’s most recent Summit meeting – a meeting held just three weeks ago in the Romanian capital of Bucharest.

This summit meeting was a very significant gathering.  It brought together Heads of State and Government from 60 nations as well as senior representatives from a number of international organisations. 

In addition to agreeing to further deepen our cooperation with the countries of this region, another very important part of the Summit dealt with our continuing cooperation with, and support to, Afghanistan.  For the first time, leaders of the 40 nations in the United Nations-mandated, NATO-led stabilisation force in Afghanistan met with President Karzai, with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and top officials from the European Union and the World Bank.  Together, we discussed how we can support Afghanistan even more effectively, to help this country become more stable and secure.

But there was more, much more, too, on the summit agenda.  For example, we invited Albania and Croatia into NATO – a step that will soon bring the Alliance’s membership to 28.  As far as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 is concerned, we decided to extend an invitation for membership as soon as a solution to the name issue has been reached. I expect these negotiations to be concluded as soon as possible. We agreed to enhance our partnership with the other countries of the Western Balkans.  We kept the door to NATO membership open for other interested countries and agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will, eventually, have their place in the Alliance too. 

With Russia, we discussed the future of Kosovo and of conventional arms control in Europe.  We also decided to extend our training mission for Iraqi security forces until the end of next year, and to explore proposals for a structured cooperation framework with Iraq.  Indeed, we discussed these ideas with Prime Minister Maliki when he visited NATO just last week. 

At Bucharest, we also agreed on the need to examine options for an Alliance-wide missile defence; to look at where we can add value in the field of energy security; and to pursue our new policy on cyber defence.  We agreed to continue our transformation process to ensure that NATO remains effective and efficient in addressing the increasingly complex challenges that we face. 

Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When you consider all these decisions from Bucharest, you can see that the way the Alliance thinks about security today is a far cry from the way we used to think about security during the Cold War.  And it is also a far cry from the way in which NATO used to operate in the past. 

You all know that NATO was created at the outset of the Cold War, and with a very specific purpose: deterrence and defence against a single, well-defined threat.  This situation lasted for 40 years – a long period indeed.  Perhaps this explains why still too many people think of NATO as a Cold War institution.  Indeed, when people talk or write about NATO, I am often surprised at how resilient outdated stereotypes can be. 

The reality is, of course, quite different – and again I would point to the Bucharest Summit as highly visible proof.  NATO has long ceased to be a static organisation.  Since the end of the Cold War, the Alliance has become a very flexible – and very creative – instrument for shaping change. While article 5, the common defence, is still the foundation of our Alliance, NATO realizes today that our defence requires more and more an Alliance that acts – and an Alliance that acts increasingly together with other nations and institutions.

Indeed, I would argue that cooperation has become the new security paradigm of our age.  In the age of globalisation, our security is becoming increasingly intertwined. No matter where our countries are on the globe, and no matter whether our cultures or historical experiences differ, we will find that, more and more, we share common security interests. 

Now is the time to turn these shared interests into practical policy.  The opportunities for fruitful, mutually beneficial cooperation are there.  It is our common obligation to use these opportunities to the full.

I wish you all a very fruitful conference. Thank you.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name