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LECTURE: NATO and the Mediterranean - Moving from Dialogue Towards Partnership

29 April 2002, 16:00
NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson gave the following speech on NATO's relationship with its Meditteranean neighbours at the Royal United Services Institute.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson gave the following speech on NATO's relationship with its Meditteranean neighbours at the Royal United Services Institute.

Lord Robertson argues that the Mediterranean matters for the security of NATO members. The Mediterranean Dialogue should, he argues, evolve into a more substantial programme of cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The attacks of September 11 have left people around the world with a heightened sense of insecurity. The helplessness we all felt in watching the World Trade Center collapse reinforced the belief held by many that, at the end of the day, we are just the victim of forces that are beyond our control.

Such feelings are understandable, but they are misplaced. The opportunities outweigh the risks. The threat of terrorism may be a challenge of unprecedented magnitude, but it will be overcome, just as piracy or slavery were overcome in previous centuries.

You may ask: What makes me so confident? I am an optimist by nature, but let me assure you that my confidence is based not on blind faith, but on facts. The past decade in Europe is vivid proof that we can shape events and don't have to be their victim. Since the Cold War ended we have achieved something many thought impossible: we have turned an ideologically and militarily divided continent into an ever closer community of common values. We have done so against all odds, with new states emerging and old states collapsing. And yet it worked.

Even when parts of the Balkans descended into violence, the transatlantic community proved that it could shape events for the better. A century ago, a crisis in the Balkans pitted the great powers against each other, sparking a World War that devastated Europe and planting the seeds for another. This time, all powers came in on the same side, and together they are pushing the region back into the European mainstream.

When the French actor Maurice Chevalier -- very old and very ill -- was asked how he was doing, he replied: 'Very well -- if you consider the alternative'. Indeed, if we consider the alternative, we must admit that things could have gone terribly wrong. In previous centuries, changes of a magnitude we witnessed since 1989 would not have occurred without major conflagrations and major war. This time, we did better -- much, much better.

One of the reasons why we did better is NATO. Indeed, the Alliance can claim 'ownership' for much of the positive changes we have witnessed throughout the past decade. We realised early on that NATO is more than a collective defence organisation -- that it is a framework for shaping the strategic environment in a broader sense.

And we used the organisation accordingly. Partnership for Peace, the special relationships with Russia and Ukraine, the NATO enlargement process, the Balkan operations, and now the new roles in combating terrorism -- they all have their common roots in the awareness that security is not achieved by waiting for Godot, but by a policy of cooperation and partnership -- in short, by a policy of active engagement,

In my remarks today, I will argue that the potential of this policy of engagement is far from exhausted. There is one region in particular, which stands to benefit from closer relations with NATO, and where NATO stands to gain as well. The region I am talking about is, of course, the Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean region is a region of enormous cultural, religious, political and economic diversity. Three continents meet there. More than 20 states border the Mediterranean Sea. So the Mediterranean eludes a simple definition that can fit on a bumper sticker or a T-shirt.

Given this diversity, does it at all make sense to speak about 'Mediterranean security'? Let me answer my own question by paraphrasing a line by a shrewd Dutchman: Mediterranean security is like a giraffe -- it may be difficult to define, but it is easy to recognise!

My point is that, irrespective of definitions, the Mediterranean matters. European and Mediterranean security are linked. Today, I believe the time has come to make this link even more explicit.

So why and how does the Mediterranean matter to NATO?

The first reason is, of course, its potential for instability. It is simply a fact that many crises that have affected NATO have in one way or the other originated in and around the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean region is thus a legitimate part of NATO's area of security interest, although it is clearly no longer the 'Southern Flank' it was during the Cold War.

The second reason why the Mediterranean matters is terrorism. Clearly, terrorism is not a specific Mediterranean phenomenon. Nor is it confined to any particular religion.

But the Mediterranean region, because of its many unresolved political, social and religious questions, is particularly prone to this menace. And without a coherent strategy to combat terrorism, neither the NATO Allies nor their Mediterranean neighbours can be truly secure.

The third reason why the Mediterranean matters is because it encompasses the Middle East. The anti-Iraq coalition in the Gulf War ten years ago showed that the relationship between Arab states and those of the Western community by no means has to be adversarial. Yet without a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process, a major obstacle to normalising Western relations with the Arab world will remain.

The fourth reason is proliferation. Several countries in the Mediterranean region are widely believed to be acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The example of Iraq, a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, demonstrates the difficulties of preventing a determined government from acquiring such weapons. And Iraq is only the distance of a short-range missile from the eastern Mediterranean.

The fifth reason is energy security. 65 per cent of Europe's oil and natural gas imports pass through the Mediterranean. Some 3,000 ships cross the area every day. Major pipelines connect Libya and Italy, and Morocco and Spain. And major work is in progress to open up the energy reserves held in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Against this background, the notion of energy security is taking on a whole new meaning. Not only the importing nations in the West share a strong interest in a secure and stable environment, but also the Mediterranean region's energy producers, as well as the countries through which their oil and gas transits.

Economic disparities and their close connection to migration are the sixth and final reason why I think the Mediterranean region matters to NATO. There are serious economic and demographic disparities between Europe and the Mediterranean: simply put, a rich North and a poor South. Since 1986 the per capita income in Middle East and North African countries has fallen by 2% annually. At the same time, the population growth rate in this region is 2.5% per year.

The results are obvious: high unemployment rates, particularly among a politically frustrated younger generation, and, consequently, migration. About six million immigrants from the Maghreb region currently reside in the European Union. This fact alone underscores that the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean cannot be artificially separated.

These fact also makes clear why the European Union is reaching out to our Southern neighbours. The EU offers what the Mediterranean region needs most: economic cooperation. Hence the importance of the Barcelona process, and efforts to keep up its momentum, such as last week's Valencia Conference.

Yet the EU alone cannot carry the entire burden of building new relationships to its South. Nor can it accommodate all nations that exert a major influence on Mediterranean security. I am thinking particularly of the United States and Turkey. Other actors need to be involved as well, and one of them is NATO. There is, however, here potential for real EU-NATO cooperation.

As I said at the outset, the Mediterranean and Europe are not only linked by their economies, but also by their security. This explains why NATO, after the Cold War had ended, also reached out to the countries to the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

As NATO's policy of engagement and Partnership was bringing Europe together, we wanted to send a strong signal to our Southern neighbours: you are part of the whole -- we do not want the Mediterranean to become a new divide.

The Mediterranean Dialogue that NATO launched in late 1994 sent that signal. The Alliance invited several countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean to compare notes on security concerns, and it provided assistance in areas where its expertise offered a comparative advantage.

From the outset, the Mediterranean Dialogue was designed to evolve, and it certainly has. Over the years it has 'widened' and 'deepened' significantly. The number of Dialogue countries has grown from five to seven. Political discussions have become both more frequent and more intense. And the number of cooperative activities has grown from just a few to a few hundred.

These activities include, above all, information activities. Their key objective is to increase transparency and promote better mutual understanding between NATO and its Mediterranean partners.

Information, however, is not the only item on the menu. Other practical activities - also aimed at building confidence through cooperation in areas of common interest -- are laid out in an annual Work Programme. It includes courses, seminars and other activities in the fields of civil emergency planning, crisis management, science & the environment, defence policy & strategy, and small arms & light weapons, in addition to a programme of military cooperation activities.

It is obvious, then, that the Dialogue has progressed well. But we should not be complacent. For the fact remains that the Dialogue has not yet been able to free itself from the role of a stepchild of NATO's outreach programmes. It is still an exercise in confidence-building rather than a true partnership.

Our Mediterranean Partners have not failed to note this. As one observer from a Mediterranean Dialogue country once quipped, 'It pays if you have been a former enemy of NATO. If you haven't been an enemy, NATO thinks you're less important.'

There are several reasons why the Dialogue has not met its full potential. One reason has been a lingering difference of views among Allies as to how best to develop the Dialogue. But our partners, too, have yet to make up their minds as to what they ultimately want from the Dialogue.

We should not allow this lack of clarity of purpose to persist. It would be to the detriment of Allies and partners alike. After September 11, NATO and its Mediterranean neighbours can no longer afford to neglect each other. Instead, we must re-double our efforts to move closer together -- to become real partners in facing real, common challenges, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the frequency of meetings between NATO and the Mediterranean Dialogue countries has considerably increased since 11 September, fulfilling a need for consultation on both sides.

What can we do more to achieve this objective of still enhancing NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue? Let me suggest, in my personal capacity, three areas in which the Dialogue might evolve -- three vectors of change.

First, the Dialogue must be enriched by more military cooperation in areas where we have a common interest. This cooperation should emulate -- though not imitate -- our experience gathered in the Partnership for Peace. Such enhanced military cooperation would reflect -- and acknowledge -- the fact that several of our Mediterranean Dialogue countries have contributed troops to our Balkan operations.

Indeed, in developing the Dialogue, we have drawn repeatedly from our experience gathered in Central and Eastern Europe. The establishment of NATO Contact Point Embassies in Mediterranean Dialogue countries is one noteworthy example. The idea has been implemented in Central and Eastern European partner countries since 1992. The Mediterranean is different from Europe, of course, but good ideas remain good ideas.

Second, the Dialogue should take on a format of 'variable geometry', much like the principle of self-differentiation that worked so well in the Partnership for Peace programme. NATO cannot pretend, and never did, that there is a wholesale, uniform approach to Mediterranean security. Our Partners have different needs and different ambitions as regards their relationship with NATO. We should cater to this diversity and allow for individual relationships between with our Dialogue countries.

Finally,, the Dialogue should acquire an enhanced political and practical dimension. Above all, it must be more responsive to the Dialogue countries' needs. This could be achieved through various means. Regular meetings at Council-level could give the Dialogue more focus and visibility. And we should consider additional cooperation, particularly in those areas where Dialogue countries have expressed specific interest. Civil emergency planning, for example, is such an area where the Dialogue countries want to do more with us - and where I think we could do more.

My three proposals are not intended to turn the Mediterranean Dialogue into a replica of the Partnership for Peace. But they would bring the Dialogue closer to the mainstream of NATO's cooperative approaches - which I think should be our overall objective.

This is very likely to be an incremental process, given the fact that the Alliance has to transform in a variety of ways to deal with a variety of new challenges. But I do think enhancing our Mediterranean Dialogue should be part of that process.

As a first step, we could consider involving interested Dialogue countries more closely into some activities of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which is our most comprehensive forum for consultation and cooperation. And we could then take it from there.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What I have shared with you today are some of my own personal ideas as to how NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue might evolve. The Allies continue to discuss the matter, among themselves and with the Mediterranean partners. International conferences such as this one are important in this process of reflection.

I personally believe very strongly that the time has come to move NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue from the sidelines to centre stage. I am also confident that NATO leaders will have this consideration firmly in their in minds as well, when they meet in Prague in November to set out the future course of the Alliance. Because in the new strategic environment of the 21st century, the Mediterranean clearly matters to NATO.

Thank You.

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