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Croatia Has a Rightful Place in that Europe

Croatia Has a Rightful Place in that Europe

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before the Croatian Parliament. Zagreb, Croatia, May 26, 2004. Source: NATO.

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 values.

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 Alliance.

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 military forces.

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 delivered.

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 Croatia.

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.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

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 environment.

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.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

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 like NATO.
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.

Thank you.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).