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NATO members must explain goals to public

  • 2004-12-09
  • By Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
NATO should not become a global policeman. We neither have the intention nor the capability for that purpose. But we will go to remote areas where allies decide NATO should be engaged in.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the 50th Anniversary General As-sembly 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.

NATO remains the embodiment of the common values and security interests between North America and Europe and their continued commitment to collective defense. The alliance serves as a vital forum for political debate and security cooperation between 26 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 cooperation; third, the alliance is no loner a "Euro-centric" 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.

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 cooperation with the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia and enhancing our relations with our neighbors 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 are working to join as well, and we are working with them.

Let me at this point just make a few remarks on Ukraine, our neighbor 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 characterized as a West vs. 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.

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 in 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.

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.

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.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is secretary general of NATO. These are excerpts from his speech

on Dec. 1 in Rome.