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Freedom, Democracy and Pluralism Are Non-Negotiable Values Says Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Freedom, Democracy and Pluralism Are Non-Negotiable Values Says Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Speech by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary General,  at Vilnius University - April 22, 2005. Source: NATO.

Hosted by University Rector Prof. Benediktas, NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and his wife Jeanine first visited the University Library of Vilnius and signed the Guest Book before he met with students and delivered a speech with Antanas Valionis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania (NATO Photo).

 NATO Photo

    Mr Rector,
    Dear Students and Professors,
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are very happy to meet you here this morning, my wife and my delegation. As you know, over the last two days, we have held informal meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers here in Vilnius. And I would like to extend a big thank you to the people of Lithuania and the citizens of Vilnius for their perfect organisation and their great hospitality that they have shown during our Ministerial meeting.

As always, these kinds of meetings turn out to be quite hectic, as we need to discuss so many issues. So it is perhaps natural that after the meeting is over, people want to return home.

We were keen to stay a bit longer to meet with you as representatives of the younger generation, to discuss international security issues. This was an opportunity I just couldn’t resist. Because I sincerely believe that meetings like this are of great added value in reaching out to younger generations. And since I prefer a dialogue to a monologue, I want to keep my remarks this morning short, so that we have ample time for discussion.

I must admit that I also wanted to take the opportunity to visit this beautiful University. You must be proud to have inherited such a fine and long tradition of learning and culture, and I am very pleased to be able to address you today. It also houses a splendid library, which I have just visited.

  • I would like to focus my remarks on NATO’s present and future.

Allow me to start, however, with a brief look at NATO’s past. After all, just three weeks ago, NATO celebrated its 56th birthday. 56 years ago, in April 1949, in Washington, the representatives of 12 nations signed the Treaty that would connect North America and Europe in a historically unprecedented way.

The Washington Treaty was a bold move by both sides of the Atlantic. Never in history had two continents linked their security in such a way. And given the time, just four years after World War II, many observers did not believe that it would work.

The person who was responsible for selecting the music for the signing ceremony of the Washington Treaty must have had similar doubts. Because the band started playing "I got plenty of nothing". Some observers noted the irony. It was like a comment on an alliance that seemed too implausible to last.

Yet amidst all those sceptics, there was one observer who had a different reading of the events, the famous American commentator Walter Lippman. His assessment differed substantially from that of many of his contemporaries. Three days after the signing of the Washington Treaty, he predicted that, and I quote:

“The pact will be remembered long after the conditions that have provoked it are no longer the main business of mankind. For the treaty recognises and proclaims a community of interest which is much older than the conflict with the Soviet Union, and come what may, will survive it." End of quote.

Indeed, NATO outlasted the end of the Soviet Union. And, most importantly, it has grown. First, in 1999, when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined the Organization. And then again that moving ceremony a year ago, when seven more nations, including Lithuania, became full members of the Alliance. Many tears were shed that morning.

But even before Lithuania and others joined NATO, the Alliance was important for them. By defending the core values of democracy and liberty during the Cold War, NATO not only protected its member states, but also showed the way to other nations. And at the end of the Cold War, NATO proved to be a magnet for newly independent countries, hastening and strengthening their reform processes.

If Walter Lippman were still alive today, he would certainly feel vindicated about this turn of events. Because he understood what many other people did not understand at the time, and still fail to grasp today that the transatlantic community is not only a community of shared interests, but also very much of shared values.

A community of shared values does not mean that all NATO nations share identical views on all aspects of politics and society. Each country has its distinct historical experience and cultural background, and this diversity is what makes our Alliance so vibrant. Nor does sharing values imply that we would somehow live in eternal harmony with one another, on the contrary, we sometimes argue with one another. But being able to argue is precisely what makes our community so dynamic. Who am I to tell the Lithuanians what it is not to be able to argue ?

On key issues, however, such as the need to protect freedom, democracy and pluralism, all Allies agree. These values are non-negotiable. But they are also vulnerable. Which is why they need to be protected, every day, every week, every year.

We saw this when, less than fifteen years ago, Yugoslavia descended into chaos. The values that we thought were firmly entrenched throughout Europe were crushed. And what we saw instead were unspeakable atrocities.

On 11 September 2001 we saw another demonstration of how vulnerable we are. The terrorists who attacked the United States launched a direct attack against the values that we all cherish and stand for. In their minds, there is no room for freedom and tolerance. On the contrary, they preach hatred and they worship intolerance.

The break-up of Yugoslavia and the emergence of a new breed of terrorism make crystal clear that appealing to values avails us little if we are unable to protect them. But how can we do that? There is no single answer. But one part of the answer is NATO, our Atlantic Alliance.

This Alliance was and remains unique. In NATO, 26 countries are united in a commitment to collective defence, the strongest commitment that sovereign nations can give to one another. And unlike other alliances in history, our commitments are not simply written on a piece of paper. NATO also has the means - political and military means - to give substance to its commitments. We can protect our values when they are under threat. That is why NATO membership is such a precious commodity.

But given today’s challenges, protecting our values is not enough. If we want to deliver real, lasting security we must also seek to promote our values. Because in an increasingly globalised world, we will only be secure if democracy prevails. Promoting democracy is our best defence.

Since the end of the Cold War, this is exactly what we have been doing. If the Balkans are largely at peace today, and if countries in that region are now firmly on their way into an integrated Europe, it is because NATO got engaged. NATO stopped and reversed the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. NATO soldiers stopped the bloodshed in Bosnia. And it is NATO’s presence that creates the safe environment for other institutions ? from the United Nations to the European Union to help with reconstruction and reconciliation.

NATO also plays a major role in bringing back security and stability to Afghanistan. Today, the country is no longer under the Taliban boot. Al Qaida has lost a safe haven from which to plan its attacks against the West. Last autumn, the first democratic Presidential elections were held organised by the United Nations, and supported by NATO. And later this year, there will be Parliamentary elections another step towards democracy that NATO will firmly support. And I would like to mention Lithuania’s active contribution to NATO’s operations and missions, most recently by deciding to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team in one of the most challenging regions of Afghanistan. I commend Lithuania greatly for their engagement.

NATO also plays a role in Iraq. Whatever the disagreements we may have had about the war, there is no disagreement now about the need to stabilise the country and plant the seeds of democracy. By training Iraqi security forces, NATO is helping Iraq to hasten the day when it can stand on its own feet as a multi-ethnic democracy, where citizens can live free of tyranny and free of fear.

The Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq show that we can shape the strategic environment in line with our common values. But we are not resting on our laurels. We must improve our military capabilities and make them more relevant to modern-day operations. We are strengthening our relationships with an ever-growing list of partners, from the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia, across the Mediterranean and into the Middle East. And we are building closer ties with the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations, who are vital partners in conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict reconstruction.

These key items on NATO’s agenda underscore the enduring value of this Alliance for our security today and tomorrow. But I would like to conclude with yet another aspect of NATO’s transformation: the need for more dialogue.

Simply put, I believe that we need to understand NATO not only as a forum for action. Because NATO can act when necessary. We must also understand it as a forum for the necessary political debate. Today, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and “failed states” pose new challenges. New security players, such as the European Union, are finding their role. Other parts of the world are growing in relevance. We must adapt deterrence and arms control concepts to the new circumstances. And we must discuss new approaches to the broader Middle East, the Caucasus and other regions.

In the face of such enormous challenges, how could we avoid debate, and more importantly, why would we? NATO is the forum where Europe and North America come together to shape a common approach to these new challenges. That is a vital role, one that we should encourage. And that is why, when our Foreign Ministers met yesterday they discussed ways of enhancing the political dialogue at NATO. Because in order to be able to act together, we also have to be able to talk to one another. That is the essence of any real community.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    Dear Friends,

Compared to the early days of NATO, our job of providing security and projecting stability has become far more complicated. But security can be shaped by developing the right ideas; by devising the right policies; and by making the right choices. Yes, we have to look at security in a completely different way than we did in the past. But even today, with a far more complex agenda, we can make a difference.

Indeed, you can make a difference. After all, this 21st century is your century. You are the leaders of tomorrow. Your generation will produce the politicians, the thinkers and the do-ers to meet the challenges of the future. Many of you will work at international companies and organisations, perhaps some of you will even end up working at NATO. And perhaps someone of you will end up as NATO Secretary General.

How you will approach the challenges of the future is up to you. But I am certain that you, just like my own generation, will come to realise that NATO is a precious achievement, an instrument that can deliver real security in new ways and in new places. This is why this Alliance remains the cornerstone of our Atlantic community, a community of values, and a community of action. Now I am ready and willing to take your questions.


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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).