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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.