Burgas Free

23 May 2008

Acceptance speech

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at Burgas Free University

Professor Chobanov, Dr Passy, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, and last but not least dear graduates.

Thank you very much for those kind words of introduction.  Doctor Passy, you and I have known each other for many years and we have shared many speaking platforms together.  Indeed, we also once shared a journey in your famous Trabant car.  But none of those experiences has given me as much pleasure, nor as much honour, as being on this stage with you today, and receiving from you, Professor Chobanov, the title and insignia of Doctor Honoris Causa.

During our many conversations, Doctor Passy, you have often spoken with pride of your association with the Free University here in Burgas as a member of its Board of Trustees.  It is a university with an enviable reputation and situated in a wonderful location, at the most western point of the Black Sea.

Like all universities, reputations and location are important.  But the most vital elements are the academic staff and, or course, the students.  And today is a celebration of their achievements together – working as a team – to attain the awards that the students will shortly receive.  This is an occasion that, for many years to come, you should all be able to look back upon with tremendous pride.

When I look back on my own time as a student, studying law in the Netherlands, I remember the hard work, the friends, and of course, the student parties.  But one of my great passions was organising debates and discussions on the foreign and security policy issues of the day.  These events were not only hugely informative and enjoyable, but they also whetted my appetite for a career in politics.  

Let me reassure you that it is not my intention today to convert you all into politicians.  But NATO has played a key part throughout my life in providing the safe and secure environment in which I have been fortunate to live - and I am extremely proud to have been its Secretary General for the past four and a half years.  I should therefore like to take this opportunity to explain how today’s NATO is contributing to security and stability so that you will be able to enjoy the benefits of the qualifications you have worked so hard to achieve here at university in Burgas.

During my student days, NATO’s essential purpose was to keep the Soviet Union at bay.  But it was also about much more than just defending territory.  It was about defending essential values and freedoms – the freedom to speak your mind, the freedom to travel, the freedom to receive an excellent education, the freedom to elect your own government, and the freedom to practise the religion of your choice.  That is why I have always described NATO as a value-driven organisation.

Without these freedoms, your lives today would not be as promising and as exciting as they are.  That’s why these values I have just mentioned need to be worked for, they must be nourished, and they must be encouraged.  And most importantly, they must be protected.  But how can we provide the necessary security to allow us to foster and protect these values?

Whenever I discuss this issue, especially with younger people, I encounter essentially two views.  One view holds that, in order to be secure, nations should simply focus on the defence of their own territory.  According to this school of thought, military engagements in faraway regions are not only unnecessary, but they are also dangerous and provocative.  So the best way to stay secure and protect your values – according to this view – is to mind one’s own business and stay clear of any risky undertakings abroad.

The other school of thought argues the opposite.  It argues that in today’s increasingly interconnected world, we need to look at security in a different way than we did in the past.  According to this view, security and values must not just be carefully protected, they must also be actively promoted – and isolation is not a viable security strategy.

Bulgaria and the other member nations of NATO have understood this.  They have understood that because the threats are different, the responses must be different.  Against today’s global security challenges, geography offers no protection.  Terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts and failing states are all challenges that have an impact far beyond the place in which they originate.  These security challenges must be tackled whenever and wherever they arise, or else they will escalate and sooner or later end up on our doorstep. And that the best way of tackling these security challenges and keeping them away from our doorstep is by tackling them together as part of a team.

NATO is such a team –a very unique one – and a very successful one.  In NATO, sovereign and democratic countries from North America and Europe are united in a commitment to defend their territory and their shared values.  And unlike other alliances in history, this commitment is not simply written on a piece of paper.  NATO also has the means – political and military means – to give substance to this commitment, and actually protect and promote our security and values when they are under threat.

Shortly after I took office, I participated in a ceremony on the lawn in front of the NATO headquarters building in Brussels.  Doctor Passy – you were there with me.  We watched as the flags of Bulgaria and six other countries flew in the wind, and listened as their national anthems played to herald these countries’ accession to the Alliance.  That day, like today, was a great occasion, and one that I shall never forget.  It was day when the NATO team grew to twenty-six.  A team for which Article 5 of the Washington Treaty still presents the core of NATO.

But of course, NATO has not only become stronger in numbers these last few years.  Members, old and new, including Bulgaria, have joined forces to tackle new challenges to our security and values, in particular in Afghanistan.  And we have worked hard as Allies to adapt our policies and capabilities to the complex 21st century security challenges, and to better calibrate NATO’s role with that of other international actors.

We have already made excellent progress in adapting NATO to the 21st century security environment, but there is more work to be done.  With our 60th anniversary summit next year just over the horizon, the principal challenge before NATO today is to continue to transform -- to continue to adapt the political and military instruments so that we can shape conditions rather than be victim of them.  During my mandate as Secretary General, we have focussed our efforts on four key pillars of work to keep up the momentum, and take the adaptation process further. 

One – maintaining, and sustaining, our commitment to operations; two - developing our cooperation with other international actors; three - improving our capabilities; and four - deepening and extending our partnerships.  Let me highlight these four areas for you.

Our missions and operations are the most visible manifestation of NATO’s adaptation.  As I speak, over 67,000 troops are deployed under NATO’s operational command on three different continents – and Bulgaria makes an important contribution. 

More than 50,000 of our forces are in Afghanistan alone, where we are conducting our most complex mission ever, including peacekeeping tasks, combat operations, and military training of the Afghan National Army.

But the Alliance also continues to keep the peace in Kosovo; to assist defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina; patrol the Mediterranean Sea in a naval anti-terrorist mission; and provide strategic airlift support to move African Union troops into and out of Somalia.  We are training Iraqi security forces.  And we have been involved in some major disaster response and humanitarian relief operations, especially after the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan two and a half years ago.

Against this backdrop of increasingly varied operational demands, our second pillar becomes important.  I am convinced of the importance of the widest possible international cooperation in dealing with security issues.  That is why we are working hard to further develop our cooperation with other international actors.  On my frequent visits to the Balkans, and to Afghanistan, I have seen how important it is for security to go hand in hand with development – neither can survive without the other.  And so I personally, and NATO institutionally, will continue to make strong efforts to foster closer cooperation between NATO and the UN, the EU, the World Bank, Non Governmental Organisations and other international actors.

The third pillar of work is pushing ahead with military transformation, and continuing to gear our structures and capabilities to the new security environment.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying that all security challenges require military solutions.  But military competence has been, and will remain, crucial for dealing with many of them.  And so I am pushing hard for the Alliance maintains it military edge, and for our member nations continue to make the necessary investments so that our forces are more flexible and useable, and have the right equipment to do their job.

Finally, I am also keen to further develop NATO’s role at the centre of a widening network of security partnerships.  We want to tailor our cooperation even better to the needs and concerns of those twenty-four Euro-Atlantic partner countries across Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and.  I also want to continue to move the NATO-Russia partnership forward, as a long-term investment into European and indeed global security.  The Alliance has also developed relations with a string of countries in Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region.  But in an age of global challenges, I strongly believe we need to look further still and develop global partnerships - with countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand and others.  In all these countries, interest in NATO is rising as well – and for good reason.  They have carefully observed NATO’s evolution.  They share our values.  And they have concluded that many of NATO’s current and future operations benefit their own security -- and that it is in their interest to cooperate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have explained how NATO continues to transform and adapt so that Bulgaria and its North American and European Allies can defend their shared security interests, provide mutual protection, and shape the environment in line with their common values. 

But we live in a time of continuous change and we are constantly facing new threats.  That is why we are already looking ahead and preparing to meet some of the emerging security challenges, such as missile defence, cyber defence and energy security.  And of course, we must also try to identify other new challenges that we might face in the coming years – I believe we need to start thinking now, for example, about how to deal with the security implications of climate change, migration and the scarcity of natural resources.

My generation has started this work – but your generation will have to take over.  This 21st century is your century.  You are the leaders of tomorrow.  Your generation will produce the politicians, the thinkers and the do-ers to meet the challenges of the future.  Many of you will work in international companies and organisations – maybe some of you will end up working at NATO.  And perhaps, who knows, one of you will even end up as NATO Secretary General.

But whatever field you go into, I hope that your generation, just like my own, will realise that NATO is a remarkable achievement, and a precious asset – a very flexible instrument that provides you with security and stability, protects your values, and guarantees you the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your hard labours.

Again, thank you very much for the tremendous honour and privilege you have conferred on me today with this award of Doctor Honoris Causa.  Let me conclude by saying to all of you who are about to receive your own awards today - many, many  congratulations on your wonderful academic achievements, and my very best wishes for the future.