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We Must Continue to Explain What NATO Is Doing

We Must Continue to Explain What NATO Is Doing

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the 50th Anniversary General Assembly on the Atlantic Treaty Association. Rome, December 1, 2004. Source: NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the 50th Anniversary General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association. Since its creation in 1954, the ATA has played an important role in supporting the activities of NATO and promoting the objectives of the North Atlantic Treaty. And at the end of the Cold War, the ATA expanded its reach to NATO’s Partner nations and, more recently, the Mediterranean Dialogue countries and others. It has continued to support the Alliance by informing opinion formers of NATO’s changing roles and missions.

On the occasion of this 50th Anniversary, let me thank all of you, the current and past members of the ATA, for your unflagging efforts. They are essential to the success of our Alliance.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO remains the embodiment of the common values and security interests between North America and Europe, and their continued commitment to collective defence. The Alliance serves as a vital forum for political debate and security cooperation between twenty-six democratic countries. It also provides for an important framework to engage other countries throughout the Euro-Atlantic area in dialogue and practical cooperation. And it provides for a unique capability to act, once Allies have taken the decision to do so. In short, while the nature of the threat has changed, Europe and North America still need NATO.

As NATO continues to adapt itself to the changing security situation, the need to engage the public opinion in our member states and beyond is more essential than ever. To be credible and legitimate, every action NATO takes needs to be fully understood and supported by public opinion at home and in our partner countries. Because it is our public that we are accountable to at the end of the day. And I firmly believe that the role of the ATA in this process is essential.

  • What do we need to convey to our publics? I see four particular messages:

· First, active political debate between Allies is healthy and necessary;
· Second, shaping our strategic environment requires broad-based co-operation;
· Third, the Alliance is no loner a “eurocentric” Alliance, but it is an instrument we can use wherever our common security interests demand it; and
· Fourth, new threats require new, and often expensive, capabilities.

I want to work with you to ensure that we get our message out to a range of media, and that we reach a wide audience, including students.

Now, let’s look at each of these messages in a bit more depth.

Firstly, political debate between Allies is not something to be afraid of, but both necessary and healthy. Discussions at NATO are judged differently from discussions in other international organisations. This is a legacy of the Cold War, when NATO had to demonstrate undisputed unity against the threat of war which could result in total destruction.

In my view, this approach is out of date. In an era where our conventional security thinking is put to the test, there are no easy, automatic solutions. When protecting our security involves taking pro-active measures, nations need to argue their case – forcefully and convincingly. And if this sometimes means controversial debate, so be it.

We need an Alliance that does not dodge difficult questions, but tackles them head-on. Because only such a self-confident Alliance can play the stronger political role we need this Alliance to play. We must never confine ourselves to the role of a mere troop contributor to a process hatched at the EU or UN. When NATO engages in an out of area operation, we must also be part of the political process. Why? Because we have a strong stake in that process: since it is progress in the political process that will, on every occasion, determine if and when we can change or end our presence in a particular region.

That is why we must not only define a common military approach to a problem, but also a common political strategy. If we don’t, we would risk relegating NATO to a mere provider of military services. And that simply cannot be in the interest of maintaining a broader Atlantic security community. For these reasons, we have to look at debate in NATO not as a threat, but as an opportunity. And we need to make this case to our publics, so that such debate is welcome.

The second message to the public opinion is that shaping our strategic environment for the better requires the broadest possible international co-operation. Because the new risks and threats know no borders. And because we will only be able to get a grip on them through an approach that is truly multilateral – combining multiple disciplines, countries and organisations.

NATO is an important platform for that kind of co-operation. With our enlargement and Partnership policies, and our strategic partnerships with Russia and Ukraine, we are at the heart of a wide web of security relationships that stretches all over the Euro-Atlantic area. After the Istanbul Summit, we are in the process to strengthen our dialogue and co-operation with the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and enhancing our relations with our neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East.

Let there be no doubt that even, as NATO engages further away from home, our engagement in the Balkan is strong and getting stronger. Some have already become members; three more - whose Presidents are here today - are working to join as well, and we are working with them. Because we share that goal. And we will continue to help that region to become ever more part of the Euro Atlantic community.

Let me at this point just make a few remarks on Ukraine, our neighbour and strategic partner. The democratic future and territorial integrity of Ukraine are of direct and vital interest to NATO. After all, it was Ukraine who committed itself to the democratic values that the Alliance has always defended. The situation that came about after the elections should not be characterised as a West versus East rivalry, but as an issue of democracy and respect for people’s will. And whatever different approaches among the Ukrainians, the sense of belonging to one nation is very important. And it is on that basis that a non-violent, democratic solution should be found, within the territorial integrity of the country.

NATO’s close relations with other international organisations -- the UN, the OSCE and the European Union -- are also part of a broad security network that I just mentioned. And here I would place a special emphasis on our relations with the European Union. Because a strategic partnership between NATO and the EU is essential for our security. Together, NATO and the EU have a broad spectrum of means and instruments at their disposal – political, economic, and military. We need to have all these means available to us – and we need to apply them judiciously – if we want to make a difference. That’s why NATO-EU is a promising combination. And why I will do everything in my power to make it a success.

Tomorrow I will attend a ceremony in Sarajevo, which will mark the transition of peacekeeping responsibilities from NATO to the EU. This event will be a watershed in the short history of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state. And it is a testament to what NATO and the EU can achieve if they work together. But NATO and the EU should aim for much more than this. We need a partnership that covers all aspects of modern security policy: combating terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, preventing the emergence of failed states and dealing with them where and when they occur. And we need a co-ordinated policy in dealing with pivotal regions.

The third message to our publics is that we can no longer answer most of today’s threats through territorial defence. NATO is no longer a “euro-centric” Alliance. It will continue to engage in so-called “out of area” operations, wherever our common security interests demand it.

It may not be immediately clear to our publics how a peace operation as far away as in the Hindukush in Afghanistan is linked to their own security. We need to explain them that protecting our security today sometimes necessitates addressing the risks and threats that arise far from our homes. If we do not tackle these problems at their source, they will end up on our doorstep – not only in the form of illegal migration, trafficking or terrorism, but also in the form of instability that will inevitably affect us in an increasingly interdependent and globalised world.

Of course, NATO should not become a global policeman. We neither have the intention nor the capability for that purpose. But we should, and will, go to remote areas where Allies decide NATO should be engaged in.

This is why NATO is in Afghanistan. This is why its naval forces are engaged in an anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea. And it is why the Alliance has decided to contribute to the stability of Iraq through training the Iraqi security forces.

For some, the decision to train Iraqi security forces – both in Iraq and outside the country – was a difficult decision to take. But whatever the initial position on the war on Iraq, the fact remains that a stable, democratic Iraq is a strategic goal we all share. And the sooner the Iraqis can take care of their own security, the better for all of us both here and in the region. That is why NATO responded positively to the request by the Iraqi Interim Government to assist the country in this important area.

The fourth message is that the new kinds of missions that we are called upon to undertake require new capabilities
. The continued transformation of the Alliance’s military capabilities and its planning and force generation processes is more than a nicety. It is a real necessity.

Allies must invest in forces that can react quickly, deploy over distance and be sustained over a long period of time. We also need a mix of forces capable of performing both high intensity combat tasks and post-conflict reconstruction work. And security has never come on the cheap in the past. It is important for our publics to understand that today and into the future, there will also be a price to pay to develop these capabilities.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know that I can rely on the ATA and its member organisations to continue to help underline these messages and explain the new NATO to public opinion in member and partner countries.

But like the messages themselves, their delivery and the target audiences also need to be adapted. I believe that, in order to increase the effectiveness of our work, we, NATO and the ATA, should concentrate on three key challenges: Information, education and dialogue.

Firstly, I believe that we must further diversify the dissemination of information. In particular, the internet and our websites, including those of ATA’s national members, could be exploited more systematically. In addition, we may think of organising “NATO Days” or “Open Days”, or look at other ways for the broad public to get a better understanding of the Alliance and its role.

Secondly, I am convinced that we still have far more work to do in engaging young people. If we are to garner continued support for NATO in the years to come, we need to reach out to the next generation. The Istanbul Youth Summit has clearly been a success in this regard, which I believe we should build on. ATA’s Youth Sections, YATAs, are particularly effective and I encourage you to promote them in your countries and to integrate them in your work.

I would very much welcome enhanced effort by the national chapters of the ATA to provide education to the youth, in particular high school and university students, about international security and NATO. Clearly, the young people are concerned about the risks of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and the instability in countries and regions torn by conflict. So I have no doubt that you will find the youth an interested target audience. This has been my own experience, as I make a point of addressing student audiences whenever I travel.

Finally, a word on dialogue
. The key challenge here is to reach out to, and to connect with, a broad audience and not only those who are positively inclined towards NATO. In this vein, we should think about broadening our target groups, and giving our activities more visibility in the press.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO’s adaptation to the new security environment has been swift, comprehensive, and remarkably successful. But the Alliance’s transformation is work in progress. As I said in the beginning, we need not just the support of governments, but just as importantly also that of our publics, if we are to sustain and build on NATO’s achievements in the service of peace and stability.

I want to work with you to ensure that a broad spectrum of our publics understand, and support, what the Alliance stands for and what we are doing. And I am interested in hearing from you further ideas on how to accomplish this.

We must continue to explain what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what it will take to pursue our work successfully. I am confident that we will do this, with the help of your continued engagement, imagination and hard work. My staff and I look forward to working with you in that critical endeavour.

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).