Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here today in Israel, which as you know is a
first for a NATO Secretary General, and to have the opportunity to address
this distinguished audience.
Just two days ago, NATO Heads of State and Government met in Brussels to
discuss the way ahead for NATO and the wider transatlantic relationship. They
discussed a host of issues from the recent positive developments in Ukraine
to NATO’s support for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. But they also
spent considerable time discussing how to further deepen the ties between the
Alliance and the Middle East.
It is not difficult to see why building closer relations between us has become
a strategic imperative. Our strategic environment is confronting us with new
developments that are simply too powerful to be ignored:
Demographics, economics, and energy needs create an
ever-closer interdependence between us. New threats such as terrorism, the
proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and transnational organised
crime affect us all and require a common response. “9/11” and the Iraq
crisis merely reinforced what we already knew: how this region will evolve
will affect Euro-Atlantic security in a fundamental way. So the Middle East
and the transatlantic community are to use a fashionable term increasingly
Second, we are witnessing a new, and very positive, dynamic in the Middle East,
even if huge challenges remain, as we were reminded by the murder of former
Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Lebanon.
And experience in dealing with Middle
East politics has taught me to be cautious. But the election of President
Mahmoud Abbas, the recent Summit held in Sharm El Sheikh, the possible Gaza
pullout decided by the Israeli government, 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 activities and talking with this country on ways to
restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of its programme. In
Iraq, just a month 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. Of course, from the outside we can
only offer assistance. But it is equally clear that this outside engagement
remains indispensable to sustain a positive dynamic over the longer term. And
we all know the transatlantic community has been engaged for a long time in
the Middle East, given the big stake it has in contributing to peace and
stability in the region.
This brings me to the third development in the strategic environment that I
would like to highlight and that is the changing role of NATO.
In fact, the very
moment the Cold War ended, that old NATO ceased to exist. NATO today is an
agent of political change. NATO enlargement has been a key factor in
overcoming the division of Europe. NATO’s cooperative mechanisms, such as
Partnership for Peace, have turned this Alliance into the hub of a network of
continent-wide cooperation cooperation that encompasses the most diverse
countries, from Switzerland to Uzbekistan. And NATO’s military involvement in
the Balkans has created the conditions for long-term stability and
reconciliation in a troubled region.
In a world of
“globalised insecurity”, a regional, Eurocentric approach simply no longer
works. We have to address security challenges when and where they emerge, or
they will show up on our doorstep. Obviously NATO does not aim to be a global
policeman. We have neither the political will nor the means to do so. But if
our vital interests are at stake and if there is consensus among Allies to act,
then NATO has to be ready. That is why we are now engaged in peacekeeping in
Afghanistan. It is why we are conducting an anti-terrorist maritime operation
in the Mediterranean. And, last but not least, it is why NATO is now running
a training mission in post-Saddam Iraq. Because a stable, democratic Iraq is
a linchpin in a more stable Middle East.
And this change must also be reflected in
NATO’s relationship with our Mediterranean Dialogue partners. Here in Israel,
I don’t have to explain the history of the Dialogue in any great detail.
Because from the moment we started this project ten years ago, Israel has been
one of its most enthusiastic participants. The initial aim of the Dialogue
was to improve our mutual understanding, and to dispel misconceptions about
NATO’s aims and policies. And we had some success in doing that.
It is fair to say, however, that our Dialogue has not achieved its full
potential so far. And it is not difficult to guess that the lack of progress
in the Middle East peace process has impacted on our relations. As long as
this process was stalled, cooperative outreach processes from NATO or the EU's
Barcelona Process were going to suffer from a lack of trust.
Despite the impact of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict however, we
always made it quite clear that our Mediterranean Dialogue should be judged on
its own merits. That both sides of the Mediterranean face common challenges
which require common responses. That transparency and joint ownership is of
the essence. And this message has started to resonate also in many parts of
the Arab world.
On that basis, last June, at NATO’s Istanbul Summit, we agreed, in close
consultation with Israel and other partners in this process, to try to move
our relationship to another level in short, to move from dialogue to
partnership. We want to further intensify our political dialogue; to promote
greater interoperability between our military forces; and to encourage greater
cooperation on defence reform, as well as in the critical fight against
terrorism. These are all areas where we have a lot to offer to each other,
and where working together is beneficial to us all.
Since Istanbul, there have been more encouraging events. Last December, the
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 so far 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.
I am happy to note that Israel has very recently stepped forward with a list
of concrete proposals for enhancing our cooperation. These proposals cover
many areas of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism or joint
military exercises, where Israel’s expertise is very much valued. They
underline your country’s desire for a strenghtened relation, and we are
looking forward to working with Israel in the framework of an individual
NATO's outreach is certainly flexible enough to allow each partner to go its
way, at its own rythm. So the stage is set for a more substantial cooperation
between NATO and Israel. In doing so, we also want to make sure to keep
everybody on board in this Dialogue and to take account of the overall
even-handedness of the process at large.
In that context, further positive developments in the Peace Process, as we
seem to witness them now, should allow our nascent partnership to achieve its
full potential, both in terms of bilateral and regional cooperation.
The enhanced Mediterranean Dialogue will go a long way towards putting the
relationship between NATO and its Middle Eastern partners on a new footing.
At a certain stage if the current positive trend continues, Allies might also
have to look into the possibility to extend this dialogue to others in the
region. In that regard, you will remember that NATO Heads of States and
Government in Istanbul did not exclude, at some stage to cooperate with the
Palestinian Authority under our initiatives, subject of course to an approval
by the North Atlantic Council.
If long-term stability for the region is our common goal, we have to build
bridges to the wider region as well.
This is what we are trying to do with our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.
Through the ICI, we have offered cooperation to countries of the broader
region of the Middle East, starting with countries from the Gulf. Right after
we launched this initiative at our Summit last June, we received a lot of
positive feedback. And this was, quite frankly, no surprise. 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. With Kuwait, Bahrain and
Qatar we have already moved to the stage where we are in the process of
developing a programme of activities that will be open to them. And I am sure
that other countries will follow this example.
Coming back to the peace process, clearly, nobody can predict its
outcome. And we should not predjudge anything, including about the need for or
the modalities of an outside support to a peace agreement. Furthermore, the
responsibility for achieving peace and stability in the region lies first and
foremost with the parties themselves. In that context and within these
parameters, the idea of a NATO assistance has been brought up.
I have stated many times the necessary preconditions before envisaging any
NATO contribution. There would first have to be a lasting peace agreement
between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, the parties concerned must be in
favour of a NATO role in its implementation; and there would have to be a UN
mandate. These conditions do not yet exist. For the time being, NATO lends
its political support to the efforts by the Quartet to realise the goals of
the “Roadmap”, which, again, should remain the immediate priority for the
whole international community.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As someone who has spent much of his political life dedicated to peace in the
Middle East, I have learned to prefer modest and pragmatic steps over grand
designs. And I believe that this is the spirit that also characterises NATO’s
current approach. For countries willing to engage in cooperation with us,
NATO has much to offer and we now have the political and military links to
organise our cooperation in the most effective way. In an era that requires
cooperation across continents, we must also build new ties across the
Mediterranean Sea. That is why I am currently touring North Africa and
the Middle East. That is why I am today in Israel.
Thank you very much.