From the event


20 Nov. 2008


by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center, Ghana

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying how pleased my wife and I are to be here with you today.  This is a truly moving moment for us.  As a young Dutch diplomat, I had my first foreign posting here in Ghana, 30 years ago.  I can say that my wife and I were fairly embedded in Ghanaian society as my wife was a teacher at the famous Achimota school here in Accra.  And ever since that time, this country, and this entire continent, has occupied a very special place in our hearts.

I have been back here several times over the past three decades.  But to be honest, I never thought that I would come here in my official capacity as Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And in that regard I must thank President Kufuor sincerely for his kind invitation.  Because until very recently, NATO and Africa were two words that you would not expect to find in the same sentence.

But the world is changing, and developments that were unthinkable only a few years ago are now generally accepted.  One such development is the emerging relationship between NATO and the African Union.  It is a relationship that very much revolves around peacekeeping – the very subject that is the focus of this Center. In this respect, I would like to pay tribute to the action of your highly respected countryman and my friend Kofi Annan who could not be with us today but with whom I discussed only a few days ago my visit to this Centre, which bears his name and is very dear to him, I know.

In my remarks today, I want to set out how NATO got involved in peacekeeping.  I want to explain how this involvement has led to an ever closer relationship between NATO and the UN, and, more recently, between NATO and the African Union.

NATO was born almost 60 years ago as an attempt to unite the North American and Western European democracies in an Alliance against the threat posed by the Soviet Union.  In other words, the initial idea of NATO was to create a strong military alliance that, through deterrence, would make a major war in Europe impossible.

To achieve this end, NATO quickly evolved from a Treaty into an elaborate framework for political consultation and military cooperation.  Its member states – initially 12, next year 28 countries – would agree political decisions by consensus.  And an integrated military command structure would ensure that those political decisions would quickly and effectively be translated into military action.

During the Cold War, the notion of peacekeeping, or of intervening into regional conflicts for humanitarian reasons, played no role whatsoever for NATO.  Some of NATO’s member nations contributed to UN peacekeeping operations on an individual basis; but as an Alliance, NATO’s focus remained on the collective defence of its member states in case of an attack.  And as a consequence, there was no institutional relationship with the United Nations, although as an international organisation committed to peace and stability, NATO’s founding treaty contains many references to the UN Charter.

All this has long changed.  Almost 20 years ago, the Cold War came to an end.  The Soviet Union ceased to exist.  And it seemed as though political hostility and military competition would no longer mar the European continent.  Indeed, many countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and even some of the new countries that emerged from the former Soviet Union, now wanted to become members of NATO.  Because they viewed the Alliance as a successful example of how democratic nations cooperated in safeguarding their common security.

Even during these optimistic days, when Europe rejoiced about the end of the Cold War, only very few people thought of a future NATO role in peacekeeping.  And why should they?  After all, Europe seemed to be heading towards long-term peace, stability, and ever-closer political and economic integration.  We firmly believed that UN peacekeeping operations were not needed in Europe.  And where they were needed, for example in Asia or here in Africa, nations would continue to respond on an individual, case-by-case basis, to UN appeals for action.

But then, in the early 1990s, came a rude awakening.  In Southeast Europe, Yugoslavia started to collapse.  A multi-ethnic and multi-religious state disintegrated into a series of brutal wars.  In the 19th century, people had referred to the Balkans as the “powder keg” of Europe.  Just as peace was breaking out everywhere else on our continent, that powder keg exploded.  And we suddenly realised that Europe was not – or at least not yet – as stable and peaceful as we had hoped.

It was this realisation that forced NATO to move beyond its single focus on the collective defence of its member nations and to take on an additional role as a peacekeeper.  Initially, a UN peacekeeping force was sent to Bosnia, the war’s regional flashpoint.  NATO provided support for the UN, nothing more.  But peacekeepers can only be effective when there is a peace to keep.  In Bosnia, however, the UN blue-helmets found themselves in the middle of an ongoing war.  The result was a series of humiliations for UN forces – and thus of the UN itself.  Clearly, to make a lasting difference, we needed more than a classic UN peacekeeping force.  We needed a military alliance.  Provided with a mandate by the UN, it was NATO that took on the challenge.

NATO’s first venture into the area of peace enforcement and peacekeeping turned out to be a success.  As with any new undertaking, much had to be improvised, and a few things went wrong.  But the close and trustful relationship that the NATO Allies had developed during the Cold War now paid off in radically different circumstances.  The Allies still knew how to search – and to find – new solutions to new problems.  They still knew how to draw lessons from their successes and their failures, and to adjust their approaches accordingly.  And that is why, together, they were able to stem the bloodshed and violence, and to put the entire Balkan region on the road towards sustainable peace, stability and integration with the rest of Europe.

Throughout the Balkan crisis of the 1990s, NATO’s relationship with the United Nations remained a difficult one.  The philosophy of both organisations was different and so were their procedures and their bureaucratic cultures.  Still, we were able to act coherently.  Why?  First and foremost, because we were blessed with some outstanding individuals – dedicated and visionary individuals; individuals who understood that what was needed was not ideology, but pragmatism.

One such outstanding personality, perhaps the most outstanding of all, was Kofi Annan.  In his capacity as UN Under-Secretary-General, and as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the former Yugoslavia, he maintained close contacts with NATO.  The people at our NATO Headquarters in Brussels who worked with him were then already very impressed with his sharp analytical mind.  And I am sure that all those who knew and worked with Kofi Annan during that difficult period of European history were delighted when they learned that he was to become Secretary General of the United Nations.

In his new position, Kofi Annan would continue to work together with NATO, even if the circumstances became more difficult.  In 1999, Kosovo was on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.  This time, Russia and China made it clear that they would not provide a UN mandate for an intervention by NATO.  Hence, after long deliberations, the NATO Allies decided to act without that  direct UN mandate.

It was a controversial decision, and it was a particular challenge for the Secretary General of the United Nations.  But once again, Kofi Annan understood what was at stake, and he also had the courage to speak out.  The UN Charter, he said in April 1999, “should never [be] the source of comfort or justification” for “those guilty of gross and shocking violations of human rights”.  “No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples.”

Kofi Annan was aware that not everyone liked to hear such words.  That he said them anyway is another testimony to his wisdom, his courage and his moral integrity.

The Balkan wars are long behind us now, and so are the difficulties of the early days of NATO-UN cooperation.  Instead, we face new and different challenges – truly global challenges that require us to go well beyond the hesitant and limited cooperation of those early days.

Today, we live in a world where instability in one area can very quickly affect regions far away.  That is why NATO has begun to tackle risks and threats head-on well outside Europe – to make its unique capabilities and expertise available to the wider international community – and to work with other nations and organisations in a comprehensive approach to come to terms with challenges which affect us all.

I am sure that you are all aware of our engagement in Afghanistan where 52,000 men and women in uniform are operating under UN Mandate – an engagement that ranges from stabilisation tasks all the way to high-end combat operations.  But NATO is also engaged in other places.  We continue to keep the peace in Kosovo where 16,000 troops are active.  NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean in a counter-terrorist operation.  We are training Iraqi and Afghan security forces.  And we have been involved in major disaster response and humanitarian relief operations, especially after the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan a few years ago.

As NATO broadened its horizons, the African continent initially did not feature very prominently.  Since the mid-1990s, we have been engaged in political dialogue and military cooperation with countries in Northern Africa, from Mauritania to Egypt, but until recently, NATO did not have any relations with sub-Saharan Africa.  Some believed that it was for the European Union, rather than NATO, to develop such ties and to assist with peacekeeping, which indeed it has done in a number of instances over the past few years.

This changed in the summer of 2005, when I received calls from the Presidency of the African Union and from UN officials.  Their question was straightforward:  Would NATO support the African Union in its attempt to resolve the crisis in Darfur?

As you all know, the answer of NATO’s 26 member countries was “yes”.  And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.  Since the start of the African Union Mission in Sudan in June 2005, NATO has provided airlift support for some 31,000 AMIS troops and personnel, including almost 600 soldiers, military observers, and civilian  police from Ghana.  This was truly the start of a new relationship between the African Union and NATO.  One senior African diplomat put it brilliantly when he said that strategic airlift was “NATO’s best ambassador”.  But we have done more.  NATO also provided support to an UN-led Mapping Exercise in August 2005.  And over the past three years, we have also trained and mentored over 250 AMIS officials in the three AMIS Headquarters.

This was an excellent start.  The African Union realised the value of what NATO could offer and, not surprisingly, it asked for NATO’s assistance in supporting the AU mission in Somalia.  In June of last year, NATO agreed to this request and we have been giving airlift support to AU member states in AMISOM.

In addition, NATO has also agreed to support the African Standby Force (ASF).  To this end, we are in close contact with the African Union, and we stand ready to offer advice and assistance throughout the ASF’s creation.  Just two months ago, at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, I met with President Kikwete, the Chairman of the African Union, to discuss how to take the NATO-AU relationship forward.

Since 2006, NATO has also had a Senior Military Liaison Officer team operating out of Addis Ababa.  This team is NATO’s military point of contact with the African Union and with the representatives of the countries that contribute troops to the AMIS operation.  In order to further enhance our contacts, I have also appointed a Special Envoy to the African Union.  He travels regularly to Addis to meet up with the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security as well as with other AU Commission staff.

Finally, to complete my brief summary of NATO’s ever closer relations with this continent, let me bring you up to date with NATO’s latest operation.  Just a few weeks ago, at the request of the United Nations, NATO vessels started to escort ships from the World Food Programme off the coast of Somalia, and to protect them against pirates.  And we have also acted upon a request by the African Union for similar support, in order to escort their logistic supplies into Somalia.

Could NATO do even more?  Should it do more?  This is a question that is first of all for the African Union to answer.  Our approach is clear: we respond to requests put forward by the African Union.  We do not see ourselves as a global policeman, or, as the French would say, “le gendarme du monde”.  We are not seeking to impose ourselves, nor do we pretend that we have the answers to all of Africa’s security problems.  This is why we strongly support the principle of African ownership.  And why we will always coordinate closely with other international organisations – especially the United Nations. We need African solutions for African problems.  To make that happen NATO and other international organisations should do more.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just a few months ago, Kofi Annan’s successor as UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, and I signed a joint UN-NATO Declaration.  The Declaration sets out our shared interests and how we can work more closely together in meeting those interests.  I hope – and I expect – that the Declaration will also help to open a further chapter in the developing cooperation between NATO and the African Union.  Our relations have already intensified significantly these past few years.  But we in NATO are certainly interested in taking our relationship even further.  And I hope that my visit to Ghana today will help us to move in that direction.

Thank you.