How NATO Can Contribute to Middle East Security
How NATO Can Contribute to Middle East Security
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary
General, addressed in Munich the "Wehrkunde" Security Conference. Munich,
Bavaria, February 12, 2005.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It may come as a surprise to some that the NATO Secretary General is
addressing this topic. It shouldn’t. NATO’s engagement in the broader Middle
East region is not new. It has been part and parcel of NATO’s transformation
since the mid-1990s.
This transformation is based on a fundamental change in perspective for NATO
that providing security in this new strategic environment means reaching out.
In the post-Cold War world, the new NATO needs to set up a network of
partnerships. This network has to include countries across Europe, through the
Caucasus, and into Central Asia -- but it also has to include countries in the
Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern region, given the pivotal importance of
this region, for Allies of course, but also for the entire international
The Alliance started to reach out to its Southern neighbours ten years ago. The
initial goal of our Mediterranean Dialogue was to achieve better mutual
understanding, and to dispel misconceptions about NATO’s aims and policies.
This was initially a relatively quiet and low-key affair. The Mediterranean
Dialogue did not have the visibility of other NATO initiatives, such as the
Partnership for Peace programme. But it did help to change perceptions of
NATO to correct the outdated image of a Cold War organisation and to help our
Dialogue partners understand, and appreciate, today’s Alliance as a security
provider that can help us all to deal with common challenges.
I must confess, it also helped us, in NATO, to better understand the
Mediterranean and Middle East region. As you might expect, our expertise,
built up over many decades, was more focused on other parts of the world.
Over time, these contacts have had a practical benefit as well. The
Mediterranean Dialogue has helped our partners to the south to understand and
support some of NATO’s new operational commitments in the broader region. Our
anti-terrorist naval operation in the Mediterranean, for example, has long
been appreciated by our southern neighbours and we are now even exploring how
interested Mediterranean Dialogue partners could participate in it. In sum,
there has been a sea change in our understanding of each other, and our
willingness to work together.
Last December, the Foreign Ministers of our Mediterranean Dialogue partners
came to NATO to discuss the way ahead. This was a first, and highly symbolic.
But our discussions went beyond pro forma niceties. We discussed, openly, all
key security issues on our common agenda. And the visits I have recently made
in the region have also reinforced this trend. The perception of NATO in the
region has changed for the better, and there is a willingness to engage in
concrete security-related discussions and cooperation.
Last June, at our Istanbul Summit, we took our outreach to a new level. We
launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, through which we offer
cooperation to countries of the broader region, starting with countries from
the Gulf. Right away, we received a lot of positive feedback, especially from
Kuwait and Bahrain, which have already formally joined the initiative. Because
in the Gulf region as well, there is a growing awareness that we face common
challenges, and that we need to meet them together. The Istanbul Cooperation
Initiative is work in progress, and still needs to be fleshed out in detail.
But, politically, the stage is set for closer relations between NATO and
interested Gulf states.
All this is not to suggest that the image of NATO in the Middle East is
exactly what we would like it to be. We need to do more sustained public
diplomacy in the Arab world, to explain what we are and what we do today. But
the willingness to look at NATO in a new way is clearly there. And that must
include a fresh look at how NATO can contribute to Middle East security.
The time for a fresh look, and a more systematic approach has clearly come. The
Middle East is currently going through a period of big change and this time,
there might be a change for the better, even if huge challenges remain. The
election of President Mahmoud Abbas, the Summit held in Sharm El Sheikh just
last week, the possible Gaza pullout, and a renewed U.S. commitment have
opened new prospects for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Libya is coming back from its self-imposed isolation. The European Union, in
close contact with the U.S., is addressing the International Community’s grave
concerns on Iran’s nuclear programme and talking with this country on ways to
restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of its programme. In
Iraq, just over two weeks ago, millions of Iraqis went to the ballot boxes and
showed their determination to participate in building a new, democratic
country. I hope this courageous first step will pave the way for a stable
political environment in Iraq.
We must sustain this positive momentum, and I am happy to see that, earlier
this week, NATO Foreign Ministers focussed their discussion on Iraq and on
relations with the broader Middle East region. We can only offer encouragement
and assistance. But we have seen on many occasions in the past that outside
support can be critical to sustain a positive dynamic over the longer term.
What can NATO do? First and foremost, we must be prepared to listen. We must
get a feel for the concerns and needs of the countries of the region. And
then we must tailor our approach accordingly, because cooperation can only be
a two way street between NATO and each of its partners.
How could NATO’s role in the Middle East evolve? Let me give you my views on
where the Alliance might be able to make a greater contribution.
First, I believe that we need to explore with our southern neighbours how
NATO’s existing bilateral, multilateral and regional mechanisms could be
focused to suit the specific needs of each individual nation. The experience
NATO has gained through the Partnership for Peace could certainly be adapted
and used for the benefit of the partners in the Mediterranean Dialogue. Joint
training is one important area that comes to mind. Another is greater
cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Yet another is non-proliferation.
We could also assist interested countries in the field of security sector
reform and defence institution building. These offers might also be of
interest to others, if our initiatives were to be broadened to include more
This outside support has to be coherent and driven by each actor’s added
value, without unnecessary duplication. For its part, NATO can offer a broad
range of practical, defence related cooperation, in full complementarity with
initiatives of the EU and the G8.
I also believe that we should not shy away from already starting to think
about a potential role for NATO in supporting a Middle East peace
agreement. This is not a revolutionary idea. For years, politicians and
academics have, at various times, highlighted the potential added value NATO
might bring in supporting an eventual Israel-Palestine peace agreement.
But let me be clear: we are not yet at the point where an active NATO role is
in the cards. There would first have to be a peace agreement between Israelis
and Palestinians and a request from the parties for NATO to get involved, with
the understanding that the prime responsibility for security should remain in
the hands of the regional players themselves; and, I suppose there would be a
UN mandate to support such a role. These conditions do not yet exist. But I
believe that, if the call comes to NATO, this Alliance must be prepared to
respond positively and to play its full part.
It is no surprise that this idea is surfacing again. For reasons of military
and political credibility, any multinational peace operation deployed to the
region to support a peace agreement would likely have to include both North
American and European forces.
NATO is the only organisation that engages North American and Europe both
politically and militarily. It has the political and military structures
necessary for the effective political management of peace support operations.
It has long experience in the most difficult and complex multinational
missions. It has the arrangements necessary to include contributions by
non-NATO nations, and long practice at making it work. For all these reasons,
there is a logic to a support role by NATO in fostering peace and stability in
the Middle East region.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO’s approach to the broader Middle East is based on one fundamental premise:
that the Alliance can only help the countries of the region to help themselves.
We offer nothing more than a trusting dialogue and a hand of partnership. But
those who wish to enter into this dialogue and this partnership will find NATO
ready and willing.
But to be truly effective for NATO to make a real difference in the region
NATO Allies must also have a fresh perspective. They must be prepared to use
NATO to the fullest possible extent not only as a vital military framework,
but also as a unique political forum for transatlantic consultation. Contributing
to the security of a region as complex as the Middle East requires profound
transatlantic dialogue and coordination. And NATO is an important place
indeed, an unique forum -- to do just that.
There is a growing consensus between Europe and North America that new and
stronger ties must be built with this region of such strategic importance. There
is also consensus that NATO can and should play its part. For their part,
countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East also want to put their
relations with the West on a new footing. We have today a chance a chance
that we must seize, for the benefit of the region, the Euro-Atlantic community