Manama, Bahrain

24 Apr 2007

First panel session: “NATO-Gulf relations in the framework of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative”

Remarks by Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero NATO Deputy Secretary General

Excellencies, Sheikh Abdulaziz,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the Kingdom of Bahrain, particularily the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, for organising this conference and say how pleased I am to take part in this first panel session alongside such eminent experts from the Gulf region.  And let me underline how significant it is to have today, here in Bahrain, in the Gulf region, the whole of the North Atlantic Council, the Secretary General of NATO and the NATO Ambasadors. The main purpose of a panel, such as this one, is to stimulate discussion.  So I would like to broach three issues.  First, I want to talk briefly about the rationale behind our cooperation.  Second, I wish to highlight how we go about cooperating under our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative today.  And third, I want to outline a number of challenges that we will need to address if we want to further develop our cooperation.

First of all, why do we need to cooperate?  The rationale is actually quite clear.  In this new century, all our nations face a number of very complex security risks and threats, including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and failed or failing states.  Not one of our nations is immune from these challenges – and not one can deal with them alone.  By fostering mutual understanding and practical cooperation, NATO is ready to respond positively to the countries that seek a common response to these common challenges – and, in so doing, strive to contribute to long-term stability and security.

That, in essence, has been the guiding principle behind the significant deepening of all NATO’s specific partnership programmes these past few years.  It has led NATO to intensify its cooperation with our traditional, Euro-Atlantic partners.  It has led us to reach out to countries across the Southern Mediterranean region, with the Mediterranean  Dialogue.  And it was the main motivation for NATO’s Heads of State and Government, at their Istanbul Summit in 2004, to launch an initiative specifically aimed at developing closer links with the countries here in the Gulf region – the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, or ICI.

We have been very pleased with the highly positive response to the ICI.  As the Secretary General recalled, Bahrain joined the initiative early on, together with Kuwait and Qatar, closely followed by the United Arab Emirates.  And we are hopeful that Saudi Arabia and Oman will also decide to take part in ICI in the not too distant future.  Because we all benefit if we work more closely together.  Let me say that the security of the countries here in the Gulf region matters to NATO – but I am sure that a transforming NATO clearly also matters to your security.

And why is this? Well not just because the scope of the Alliance’s operations has broadened to  countries of closer interest to you, with for instance our leadership of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and with our current mission to train Iraqi security forces.  We also all share an interest in the stability of the Middle East more generally.  Iran’s nuclear activities and missile programme are a continuing and growing concern to all our nations.  And we also have a common interest in energy security, whether we are suppliers, transit countries or consumers of energy.

So, it makes sense for us to engage in regular political dialogue on these and other issues of common interest.  It also makes perfect sense for us to deepen our practical cooperation, and to benefit from each other’s specific knowledge and experiences.  And that is exactly the kind of interaction which the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative has been seeking to promote.

So – and I come to my second point – how does our cooperation under the ICI actually work in practice?  Well, first of all NATO is certainly not imposing anything on any ICI partner, but it is offering to work together in areas where it has particular experience and expertise, and where our ICI partners themselves are prepared to define specific requirements, engage with us, and demonstrate genuine ownership.  NATO wants to complement rather than to duplicate ongoing cooperation by our ICI partners with other international fora.  And so we want to focus on those areas where NATO offers a clear added value, which is mainly in practical cooperation.

In concrete terms, as you know, the ICI offers a Menu of Practical Activities that ICI partners can choose from.  The Secretary General mentioned that the menu has more than tripled in size over the past few years.  It currently covers some 260 different courses, seminars and other joint activities in areas such as defence reform, military interoperability, the fight against terrorism, WMD proliferation, border security and civil emergency planning.  We have seen the number of ICI participants in these various activities grow steadily year after year. 

So, training and education has emerged as a particularly promising area for our practical cooperation.  NATO is keen to share with interested ICI partners its unique expertise in training military forces – to help our partners build forces that are interoperable with those of the NATO Allies. But we are also interested in discussing the specific experience that several of you, our ICI partners, have gained, especially in peace support operations. 

In training and education, we are in the process of establishing a dedicated faculty at the NATO Defense College in Rome, where two pilot courses on regional security were already successfully conducted last year; and two more courses are taking place in 2008, all of them, with active, significant participation from countries of this region. A longer curriculum, with fully dedicated professors will be in place in 2009. We have also started a network of national training establishments of the region, in order to stimulate information-sharing and mutual exchanges. 

Which leads me to my final point, which is the future of our cooperation.  And here I see three major challenges.

The first challenge is a challenge for NATO and its member countries – and that is, for us, to continue to pursue a pragmatic and results-oriented approach in our cooperation with all our partner nations, including of course our partners here in the Gulf region.  NATO developed a wide spectrum of tools and instruments to address partners needs and concerns.  We have agreed within NATO to make these tools and instruments available more widely to our newer partners, including ICI partners, and we should continue to do so with a pragmatic and open-minded approach, reflecting the specific needs and concerns of this region. 

Second, as I mentioned, the Menu of Practical Activities under the ICI has greatly increased in size and scope in the last few years.  That, of course, represents an enormous opportunity, but also a challenge.  The challenge, namely, for decision-makers here in ICI countries to clearly define key priorities in their county’s specific relationship with NATO; to identify where they can benefit most from what the Alliance has to offer, and to define in which areas they should concentrate their efforts and resources.  And it is precisely to help our ICI partners in focusing and structuring their engagement, that we have offered each one of them to elaborate an Individual Cooperation Programme, ICP,  with the Alliance.  And we do hope that as many ICI countries as possible will negotiate and finalize ICPs with us, as soon as possible.

Finally, and that is an important point, it will be vital for us all – NATO countries as well as ICI partners -- to bring and to keep our publics on board.  And here we must be honest – some stereotypes and misconceptions still exist in all our countries, and we must do our very best to correct those.  We must foster among our publics a greater awareness of the new security environment, and how we can better address the risks and threats of the 21st century by working together.  We must reach out and inform our publics and deliver concrete results that are clear for everyone to see, to understand and to appreciate.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today’s new security context, the ICI has got off to a very good start, and it still has enormous potential for growth.  Bahrain has been an active participant in the process right from the beginning.  And I wish to commend our host country today for that active engagement. In addition to the initiatives already mentioned by the Secretary General in the field of political and military-to-military contacts, let me recall the very successful visit of General Al-Zayani to NATO in March and the follow-on visit of NATO officials to the Ministry of Interior last week. 

I have described NATO’s basic approach with respect to the ICI; its focus on political dialogue and practical cooperation to meet the specific interests and requirements of our partner countries; and the new opportunities that are now opening up for closer concrete cooperation between us.  But I have also identified a few challenges that I believe we must all face up to.

The most demanding of those challenges, as I said, is the need to foster greater public support, in all our countries -- by developing better mutual understanding and by clearly demonstrating the merits of our cooperation.  I am absolutely confident that our meeting here today will be an important step in that direction.

Thank you.