From the event

Cairo, Egypt

25 May 2008

Keynote Speech

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, at the Second NATO-Egypt Dialogue

Minister El Gheit,
Mr Chairman [El Reedy],
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to attend the second NATO-Egypt Joint Conference.  And I thank the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Council and NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division for making it happen.

Our first conference took place a little over two years ago.  Since then, NATO and Egypt have moved a major step closer.  The most visible expression of this is the Individual Cooperation Programme that we concluded last year.  This gives our cooperation more structure and focus.  And it enables us to exploit the opportunities of our partnership to the fullest possible extent.

This is a most encouraging development.  And I believe it is fair to say that it owes much to the personal engagement of Foreign Minister El Gheit, whom I would like to commend both for his vision, and for his persistence in making it a reality.

We have come a long way indeed.  When Egypt joined the Mediterranean Dialogue in 1995, NATO was still very much focussed on overcoming the Cold War division that had scarred Europe for so long.  Accordingly, neither the members of NATO nor our Mediterranean Dialogue partners were entirely clear as to what to expect from the Dialogue.

Of course, we all agreed on the relevance of the security and stability of the Mediterranean region for Europe.  We all agreed that, in economic terms, Europe and the Mediterranean are highly interdependent as well.  And, yes, we all agreed that we should not let the Mediterranean Sea become a new political or cultural divide.

But how should we give this shared view its appropriate political expression?  How could we ensure that our emerging Dialogue would be meaningful?  What kind of cooperative projects should we pursue to complement our Dialogue?  To what degree could we apply lessons from our specific cooperation experience with other partners, to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East?  And, last but not least, how could we ensure that our dialogue and cooperation was not going to be taken hostage by the inevitable ups and downs of the Middle East peace process?

Today, all these questions have clearer answers – and in a way that can only make one optimistic about the future of the Mediterranean Dialogue.  The Dialogue has become ever deeper and trustful, and the range of our cooperation projects has consistently been broadened.  Perhaps even more importantly, our Mediterranean partners – and notably Egypt – have become ever more self-confident in defining their own specific goals and objectives within the Dialogue.

In a nutshell, since its modest beginning in the mid-1990s, the Mediterranean Dialogue has moved from the sidelines to centre stage.   What once used to be a cautious extension of NATO’s outreach policy has turned into a partnership that has acquired a genuine strategic value of its own.

This is not only a heartening development – it is also a most timely development.  In the 1990s, when the Mediterranean Dialogue emerged, we were still in a transition period from the Cold War.  Today, however, new challenges present themselves with utter clarity, and force us to respond.

“Failing states” continue to offer a training ground for terrorists and a safe haven for organised crime of all kind.  The spread of technology and information provides great global opportunities, but also, unfortunately, provides fanatic individuals with unprecedented destructive power.  Climate change looks set to exacerbate the struggle over resources, notably water; it will provoke disputes over territory and farming land; and it will have a severe impact on the availability of staple and other foods.
Furthermore, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction is reaching a tipping point: if Iran’s and North Korea’s defiance of the entire international community continues, it could have a corrosive effect on the global non-proliferation regime – with dire consequences for all of us.  Finally, the rapidly expanding economies of Asia – a welcome development in itself – will obviously lead to a growing demand for energy, which will only increase the importance of energy security.  And I do not need to remind this audience that many of the challenges that I just listed are particularly acute right here in this very region.

In light of this all, the question can no longer be whether we should work together.  Egypt’s contribution to NATO-led operations in the Balkans, and its engagement alongside NATO in Afghanistan, have already answered that question.  NATO’s support for peacekeeping efforts by the African Union is a further demonstration that we are already engaged, across different regions, in tackling challenges together.  The only sensible question that is left for us to answer is how to deepen our partnership – how to make sure that it meets our common interests, objectives and respective concerns, in the most effective way.

I believe that the stage for such an effective partnership has been set.  The Mediterranean Dialogue Work Programme for this year consists of no less than 700 activities that are offered for our cooperation – activities that range from military training to scientific cooperation to civil emergency planning.  Tools and instruments that used to be limited to NATO’s cooperation with its Euro-Atlantic partners are now available to the Mediterranean Dialogue as well.  For example, Mediterranean Dialogue Partners have access to our elaborate electronic database “e-Prime”, and they can send officers to the Partnership Coordination Cell at NATO.  Our Military Training and Exercise Programme is now open to our Mediterranean Partners as well, and so are various other NATO groups, including in areas such as intelligence sharing and armaments cooperation.

A major element of our cooperation in the Mediterranean Dialogue is training and education.  Indeed, in this 21st century, cooperation between NATO and non-NATO forces has rapidly become the rule, rather than an exception. It is therefore most timely that we are expanding the opportunities in military training, education and doctrine.  And I am pleased to note that Egypt shares this assessment, and is actively participating in this field.  In less than two years, the number of Egyptian representatives participating in our military training and other activities has doubled.

Moreover, we are continuing to explore new areas for cooperation and consultation.  Just last month, the NATO members and the seven countries in the Mediterranean Dialogue endorsed the concept of regular informal meetings of policy planners and diplomats.  Among the NATO Allies, we have been holding these “brainstorming”, informal meetings since the early 1960s.  In the 1990s, we expanded this format to include special meetings with countries in the Partnership for Peace framework.  Now the Mediterranean Dialogue is making that same leap forward.  To me, this is another sign of the maturity of this forum – a sign that the Dialogue has not only a practical military dimension, but also a political one.

In closing, let me set out some issues that I believe will have an impact on how fast, and how far, our relationship can develop.

First of all, as I just mentioned, the Mediterranean Dialogue process offers an expanding menu of possibilities for practical cooperation.  This is an enormous opportunity, but it is also a challenge – the challenge for decision-makers in this country to define Egypt’s key priorities in its relationship with NATO; to define where Egypt can benefit most from what the Alliance has to offer, and where it wants to concentrate its efforts and resources.  Here, the Individual Cooperation Programme agreed between Egypt and NATO will make things much easier, as it will allow us to design our cooperation in a more forward-looking way.  And if, as I sincerely hope, Egypt and NATO will soon be able to also sign the agreement on the protection of information, then we will have in place a very solid foundation for the further expansion of our relationship.

A second challenge relates to public diplomacy.  Unfortunately, in our public opinions there are still too many outdates stereotypes and clichés that could hamper our cooperation. We need to dispel these misconceptions. We at NATO spend a great deal of time explaining the need for cooperation with our partner countries.  And I would hope that our partner countries, too, do what they can to explain the need for cooperation with NATO.  That, of course, is once again a challenge, but it is one which you all gathered here today – diplomats, academics, journalists – can certainly help to meet.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just a month ago, at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Foreign Minister Gheit gave a remarkable "tour d’horizon" of Egypt’s immediate security challenges:  the crisis in Sudan, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, continuing turmoil in Iraq, the split among the Palestinians, a paralysed Lebanon – these were just some items on Minister Gheit’s list.  But I did not detect any sense of pessimism.  For Egypt, the turmoil in its neighbourhood simply means to redouble its efforts to change things for the better.  It is this attitude that has earned Egypt such a strong reputation as a responsible international actor.

Given this strong reputation as a country that is keen to contribute to security in its own region and beyond, I am confident that Egypt will also grasp the new opportunities offered by the Mediterranean Dialogue.  This framework provides us with new, innovative ways and means to address the serious security challenges before us.  And I am sure that today’s conference will help us all to move forward in that direction.

Thank you for your attention.