Croatia Has a Rightful Place in that Europe
Croatia Has a Rightful Place in that Europe
NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before
the Croatian Parliament. Zagreb,
Croatia, May 26, 2004.
Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured and delighted to have been invited to address this distinguished
House. This is my first visit to Croatia as NATO Secretary General. I hope and I
expect that it will not be my last.
Both the European Union and NATO increased their membership significantly this
year. With that enlargement of our two major institutions, we made enormous
progress towards a longstanding, strategic goal of NATO : to help create a
Europe that is free, undivided, and united in peace, democracy and common
Croatia has a rightful place in that Europe. And it has been making great
strides to occupy that place. If it continues on its reform course, I have no
doubt that before too long, it will be a member, both of the EU, and of our NATO
Progress has been impressive here in Croatia. It has been visible across a wide
range of domestic and foreign policy issues. And it is due, in no small part, to
your hard work in this House, as elected representatives of the Croatian people,
to initiate reforms to win political and public support for them and then to
implement them. I want to commend you for that work, which is crucial to
reintegrate your country fully with the rest of Europe.
Active participation in NATO’s Membership Action Plan has allowed Croatia to
benefit from the Alliance’s support and guidance to complete reforms in a range
of areas. I do not want to review all these achievements here today. I do want
to highlight four key issues that the NATO Allies have been following
particularly closely and will keep a close eye on as you advance your candidacy
for NATO membership.
First, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
Croatia’s record of compliance in the past was far from perfect. But that record
has improved significantly over the last few months, when a number of
indictments were dealt with both speedily and efficiently. We want to see that
cooperation continue. And, of course, former General Gotovina is still at large.
It is important that the Croat authorities do all they can to locate and
apprehend him and that you support that effort from this House. Croatia cannot
afford to sit back and relax. It must maintain its efforts until the last
indicted person answers to justice.
Second, refugee returns. In this area, as well, there has been good progress. We
appreciate, in particular, the recent agreement with the Croatian Serb minority
to facilitate greater returns. And we hope that all those who escaped from the
violence and bloodshed of the 1990s are offered a real chance to come back home,
to reintegrate into Croatia’s society, and to contribute to its future.
Third, judicial reform. The independence of Croatia’s judiciary is not in
question, and that is critical. But it is still inexperienced, and it needs
training and better organisation. And this makes it difficult to reduce the big
backlog in court cases. We are encouraged that these problems are now being
addressed through a reform of the justice system. And we look forward to seeing
early results in this process.
Finally, but importantly, defence reform. Every country regularly has to look at
how it organises its armed forces to ensure that they are in line with the
evolving strategic environment and that they represent real value for money. And
any country that is seriously interested in contributing to security in the
Euro-Atlantic area, and which aspires to join NATO, must have modern, deployable
Circumstances in this region have changed dramatically since the Croatian armed
forces were created. This necessitates a fundamental look at how the armed
forces should be structured and equipped in the future. It means a hard-headed
look at how Croatia will deal with the problem of ageing and obsolete equipment
and whether there are sufficient resources to obtain real military output from
the force structure that is now foreseen. That, in turn, means that the
Strategic Defence Review that has been set in train must be carried through
thoroughly and realistically. If this Review is not conducted properly it will
risk to fail, and the process will have to start again until a realistic plan is
In this context, let me briefly mention two aspects which I have already
addressed in several countries, but which have a specific bearing also on
Firstly, it would be an error to believe that smaller and more mobile armed
forces which are deployable in NATO missions require less funding than large
troops for territorial defence. In fact, in the age of the battle against
terrorism, and with NATO operations out of area, there is no “peace dividend” to
be channelled into other priorities.
Secondly, NATO remains highly interested in troops which are readily deployable
at short notice. Constitutional provisions which require high parliamentary
majorities for troop deployments do not serve this goal, as laudable and
wellintentioned as they may be.
Croatia is not alone in facing challenges. Defence reform is a challenge for all
our nations to modernise our forces, and to gear them to the real security
challenges of today, rather than those of the past. NATO will continue to assist
Croatia with this process, with military and technical advice, and support for
the retraining of former military personnel. But the process does depend
critically on genuine political commitment -- by the government of Croatia, and
by you here in this House.
Clearly, then, Croatia still faces a number of challenges on its way to NATO
membership. But in NATO we are confident that Croatia will meet those
challenges, for two reasons.
We are confident, first of all, because we have all seen the significant
progress that has already been made in this country, in just a few years’ time.
At the turn of the century, no one could have imagined that so much reform would
be accomplished. But it was. And that impressive track record encourages our
confidence in future progress.
We are confident, also, because Croatia has shown itself very determined, and
increasingly capable, to make a meaningful contribution to security and
stability both here in the region and beyond.
Croatia is a relatively big and advanced country in a still volatile region. It
therefore carries a special responsibility to resolve outstanding bilateral
issues, to promote regional cooperation, and to help other Balkan countries to
reintegrate with the rest of Europe too.
Croatia has demonstrated that is aware of that responsibility, in a number of
ways. It has given valuable support to NATO’s operations in Bosnia and in
Kosovo. It has improved its bilateral relations with its immediate neighbours.
And it participates in broader, regional initiatives, such as the South-East
Europe Cooperation Process and the Adriatic Charter.
But Croatia has gone further, quite literally. Over the past few years, Croatian
forces have worked closely together with NATO forces in Afghanistan, to fight
terrorism and create the conditions for stability and progress in that country.
This, to us, shows that Croatia’s Government has a broad vision of security.
That it understands the new threats to our common security the pro-active way in
which they must be tackled and NATO’s role in this regard. And it shows that
this vision finds broad support in this House.
NATO is preparing for an important Summit meeting, in
Istanbul in just over a month. At our Istanbul Summit, we will take forward
NATO’s transformation in response to the new security environment. We will fine
tune established mechanisms for shaping security, and we will agree on a number
of new policies and instruments too.
At Istanbul we will most probably not invite any new countries to join our
Alliance. But we will make it very clear that the door to NATO membership
remains open for Croatia and other nations to walk through, in due time. And we
will continue to help you prepare for future membership.
We need Croatia to stay the course. To continue on the reform path. To take the
necessary, but not always easy, political decisions. And to make your case for
NATO membership not just in Brussels and the other NATO capitals -- but also
vis-à-vis your own population.
The citizens of this country are entitled to know what eventual membership in
NATO will mean for Croatia, and for themselves. And I would point out the
following two major advantages to them.
First, by joining NATO, Croatia will never again have to face security
challenges alone. Croatia will join the most powerful, most cohesive Alliance
that ever existed an Alliance that unites two continents. This will give Croatia
a new sense of security. But it will also change the perception others may have
of Croatia. The international community will recognise that Croatia entered a
unique zone of security and an Alliance based on common values and standards.
And we all know that investment and prosperity flourish best in a secure
The second great benefit of NATO membership is a seat at the top table when
crucial decisions are being made. Over the past decade, NATO has been shaping
the security environment in many different ways. Thanks to NATO's decisions,
security in the entire Euro-Atlantic area has improved consistently. As a NATO
member, Croatia will take part in these decisions, and be able to influence them
-- rather than to sit on the sidelines.
These are times of great change and great turmoil in
international security. We face grave security challenges, and many
unpredictable threats. And there is no better way to deal with those threats and
challenges than as part of a strong community of like-minded nations a community
Croatia is well on its way to joining NATO. It has made impressive progress in
implementing the necessary reforms. It has stood by the Alliance in taking on
the new challenges. And it has demonstrated that it wants to be a provider, and
not a mere consumer of security. If Croatia continues in that direction, it will
find the door to NATO membership wide open.