13 Mar. 2009


by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Seminar on "NATO Challenges and Tasks Ahead"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am both very pleased and deeply honoured to be here with Prime Minister Tusk  speaking at this 10th Anniversary Seminar on the challenges faced by NATO.   Let me thank Minister Klich for having invited me.  And let me also congratulate Poland and the Polish people most sincerely with their ten years in NATO.  It is a very important day indeed.  When Poland joined the Alliance back in 1999, Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek promised that Poland would be, I quote “a good and credible ally, for good and bad weather”.  And I think there is no doubt that your country has more than lived up to that promise by one of the key political figures in its recent history.

Ten years of NATO membership is, I think, an excellent opportunity to look back and to reflect upon years gone by.  But it is also a good opportunity to draw some lessons for the future.  After all, NATO’s enlargement, as Prime Minister Tusk said a moment ago, is an ongoing process.  Seven more countries have become members of NATO since Poland joined together with the Czech Republic and Hungary ten years ago.  Two countries are about to enter.  And we know that several more wish to follow in their footsteps.  We owe it to all interested countries – whether now or in the future – to share your experience and to help them prepare for membership.

I know that the term "historic" is used too often perhaps nowadays.  Yet the significance of what happened on 12 March 1999 can hardly be overstated.  On that day, when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary formally acceded into NATO, the Cold War ended for good, and justice triumphed over history.  It was an overwhelming demonstration of the right of any European nation to determine its own fate, by its own free choice.  And it was a huge step towards the free, undivided and democratic Europe to which NATO had aspired from its very beginning, now almost sixty years ago.

The accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary was important for these three nations themselves, important for NATO and important for Europe as a whole.  For the three new members, it marked the return to the Europe from which they had been forcefully separated.  NATO membership gave you a seat at the table where key decisions are taken to shape our strategic environment.  It gave you Allies with whom to share the common burden of security.  And, of course, Prime Minister Tusk indeed as you have said, it did give you the ultimate security guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, and the assurance that Allies would come to your assistance if you ever came under attack.   

For NATO, the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary marked another step in its post-Cold War adaptation, with three new members adding new military and political weight to shape the strategic environment in a positive way.  And for Europe, it marked both the end of its erstwhile division and a new beginning – at the threshold of the 21st century, because the old continent was finally able to leave its tragic past behind. 

Over the subsequent few years, the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary proved wrong all those who feared that enlargement could be a net loss for European security.  It proved wrong all those who saw enlargement as the creation of a new division.  And it proved wrong all those who maintained that it would undermine NATO's cohesion and effectiveness, or that it would force the new members to devote too much of their scarce resources to defence.

None of these predictions came true.  Thanks to NATO’s enlargement and partnership policies, alongside those of the European Union, our continent has never been more stable and more secure.  And the prospect of membership into these two key institutions remains a major incentive for nations all across Europe to get their house in order, introduce difficult but necessary reforms, and pursue good neighbourly relations.

NATO's cohesion and effectiveness have not been affected, either.  The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have all integrated smoothly.  They have made their voices heard, and are still making their voices heard, of course.  But they have also displayed the same team spirit as all other Allies, and contributed to the consensus-decision-making which underpins our Alliance.  More than that, they have become important and valued contributors to NATO’s operations and missions : today Poland has almost 1600 soldiers in ISAF – and I will go to Ghazni province and visit your fellow countrymen next week – with another 285 in KFOR.

The costs of NATO membership have also remained modest.  We acknowledged that they would not be trivial, but that they could be stretched over a longer period of time.  We said that the necessary military reforms of our three new Allies would need to be ambitious, and that they should continue after their accession.  And we said that, while our new Allies would naturally have to make their contribution, the benefits that NATO membership would bring would be very much greater.  And that was borne out by the facts.  And today, while the global financial crisis leaves none of the Allies unaffected, NATO membership continues to offer us all excellent value for money.

Of course, back in 1999, some nations were disappointed to be left out of this first round of enlargement.  But none gave up its ambition to join NATO -- and seven more were admitted just a few years later.  At the beginning of 2004, as one of my first official acts as NATO Secretary General, I had the privilege to communicate to them our invitation to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty.  And I have warm memories of the accession ceremony in Washington D.C. in March of that year.

Now, in a few weeks’ time, at NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit, in Strasbourg and Kehl, in the heart of Europe, I hope that two more nations will be joining our Alliance - I say two because it is my strong hope that both Albania and Croatia will be with us as full members for this great celebratory moment. We have made clear repeatedly -- and no doubt will do so again at our next Summit -- that NATO’s door remains open for future members.  And interested countries, like everyone else, know that we mean what we say.

In retrospect, then, NATO enlargement has proved the doom-sayers to be totally wrong.  Enlargement has not fallen victim to a zero-sum logic.  NATO members have managed the process well.  And it has been a very clear benefit for European security.

Still, although NATO enlargement has been very successful thus far, we must constantly remind ourselves that it is not an end in itself.  It is a means to an end.  And that end is to safeguard our security in a rapidly changing world.  Now, if we take this aim seriously, then we must not rest on our laurels, but move on.  In fact, as someone once pointed out to me, he who can rest on his laurels probably wears them in the wrong place!

So what are the challenges ahead?  What must an enlarged NATO do in order to safeguard our security and our freedom in today’s world?  To my mind, three major challenges stand out:

The first are our operations and missions. We have always said that countries that join NATO must not be mere consumers of security, but providers of security.  With almost 300 soldiers supporting the NATO mission in Kosovo and 1600 in Afghanistan, Poland is making a significant, I would say very significant, and very welcome contribution to our common effort.  I am confident that your country will continue to demonstrate that same commitment, especially in Afghanistan where the stakes are particularly high, as we all know.

We must ensure that we have sufficient troops and enablers on the ground to ensure security, both during and after the coming election period.  As an Alliance, we have had considerable success in training and equipping the Afghan National Army, and we must build on that progress.  And while NATO, of course, alone cannot take sole responsibility we must look at how we can contribute to greater assistance in building up the ANP.  But there is a lot more that we – and the international community as a whole -- can do, and should do, on the civilian side as well – in helping the Afghans to build functioning institutions, to fight crime and corruption, and get a better grip of the narcotics problem.

And of course Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to look beyond Afghanistan.  We must take into account the wider region, and especially Pakistan, with which we must deepen our engagement.  We must also get our military and civilian institutions to co‑operate much more closely and more effectively in a truly Comprehensive Approach.  And I hope that we will be able to make progress in all these areas at the big Afghanistan conference in the Netherlands on the 31st March, as Hillary Clinton termed it, the so-called “Big Tent”meeting.

For while we are helping the people of Afghanistan, we are also fighting at the frontline of terrorism.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I am aware that Defence Minister Klich and Prime Minister Tusk have to defend Polish participation in Afghanistan, often in the face of very critical public opinion, but let’s be clear, the stakes are high and failure is not an option. 

The second major challenge facing our Alliance is our relationship with Russia.  When NATO started its enlargement process in the 1990s, there were fears that we would alienate Russia.  Indeed, there were Russian concerns about what enlargement would mean for them.  Where we judged these concerns to be legitimate, we sought to address them.  Where we felt them to be inappropriate, we made it clear that the future of Europe could not be held hostage to outmoded concepts of "spheres of influence".  On balance, this approach worked.  Within five years NATO grew from 16 to 26 members, and we still managed to deepen our relationship with Russia.

However, the conflict in Georgia last August led some observers to believe that our dual strategy of pursuing enlargement and simultaneously engaging Russia had run its course. Some even said that enlargement had turned from being the solution to being part of the problem of Europe’s security.  So has a success story ended?  I don’t think so.  NATO’s enlargement process remains part and parcel of our strategy of consolidating Europe as an undivided and democratic security space. 

At the same time, it is clear that the NATO-Russia relationship is too valuable to be stuck in arguments only on issues which divide us.  Afghanistan is one key area where we have obvious common interests, but there are other areas as well, such as the fight against terrorism and piracy, and the need to counter the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  NATO and Russia need a trustful partnership that encourages dialogue on all issues – not just those where we agree but also those where we disagree – with a view towards resolving problems and building practical cooperation.  And that is why NATO Foreign Ministers agreed last week to the reconvening of formal NATO-Russia Council meetings, including at Ministerial level, as soon as possible before the Summer.  Does that mean we suddenly agree with Russia on a range of difficult issues? No, but not talking is not an option.  This is an important partnership and we must see where we agree and disagree and engage in a dialogue which addresses those issues of difference.

The third major challenge for NATO is to define its approach to new risks and threats. NATO’s enlargement process began when the term “globalisation” applied mainly to economic developments.  Today, challenges to our security have also globalised.  We have seen these past few years that cyber attacks or the interruption of energy supplies can devastate a country without a single shot being fired.  We are witnessing the return of piracy as a serious, global security challenge.  At the same time, Iran’s nuclear programme continues to highlight the pressing challenge of the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

We need to better define NATO’s role in meeting these challenges.  NATO may not provide all the answers, but that should not serve as excuse for inaction.  We must make the best possible use of the Alliance’s unique value as a forum for transatlantic political dialogue, and as an instrument for translating political decisions into concrete action.  After all, threats don’t wait until we feel that we are ready for them.

At our Summit next month we must show that the NATO Allies are able to muster the necessary political will, imagination and solidarity to meet these challenges.  And I am confident that we shall.  But the Summit must do even more.  With a new US Administration settling in office, and with the prospect of France taking its full place in NATO’s integrated military structures this is good news, excellent news. So the Summit is also the perfect moment to launch work on a new Strategic Concept for NATO.

Such a new Strategic Concept will need to combine the Alliance’s core purpose, and let’s never forget it, of collective defence with the many requirements associated with out-of-area operations.  It will need to emphasise NATO’s role as a unique community of common values and interests.  It will need to make clear NATO’s strong desire to engage with the UN, the EU and other international actors, as partners, in a comprehensive approach to the security challenges of our time.  And it should also underline, just as our current Strategic Concept does, that NATO will keep its door open for new members.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If the history of the 20th century has told us anything, it is that the costs of indifference and neglect are ultimately going to be much greater than cost of investing in a strong, effective Alliance.  Over the past ten years, NATO enlargement has helped your country Poland and nine others countries in Central and Eastern Europe backontothe political map.  Never again will you be the object of someone else's ambitions.  Today, there are several other nations who share this same, very legitimate, aspiration – and others may follow in the future.  Your country, and our Alliance, must remain a shining beacon for them.  And I am sure that we willSo, finally let me thank Prime Minister Tusk once again, for being here and for Poland’s contributuion as such a committed, staunch member of the Alliance.  That commitment is essential if we are to defend hard won freedoms and values.  I realise today that I am preaching to the “converted” audience, but we also need to reach out to the successor generation and you are well placed to do that: while I was fortunate enough to be born on the “right side” of the iron curtain, you have fought for your freedom and know the values we all enjoy today had to be fought for and that they don’t come automatically, that a free world has to be defended.  Our successor generation must know too, the importance of defending those values and the key role that NATO plays in that.

            Thank you.

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