NATO: Looking to Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond

Posted in NATO | 22-Jun-04 | Author: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer| Source: International Herald Tribune

NATO summit

BRUSSELS The NATO summit meeting in Istanbul at the end of June will cap a month of high level international meetings that began with the D-Day commemorations. Iraq has been on the agenda of all of these, as it will be in Istanbul.

Our NATO summit meeting takes place only days before the Iraqi interim government assumes authority and responsibility for Iraq's future. It will be for that government to decide to what extent and in what form Iraq might call upon the international community, including NATO, for assistance.

Currently NATO is supporting the Polish-led division in Iraq, and many North Atlantic allies have troops on the ground in a national capacity. UN Security Council Resolution 1546 reflects the international community's resolve to support the interim government. It makes sense for NATO to discuss whether the allies could play a further role if asked to do so.

I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of such a discussion at the Istanbul summit meeting. However it is clear to me that the entire international community has a profound interest in ensuring that the new Iraq finds it feet. The price of failure is simply too high.

The same applies to the other key challenge we will also discuss in Istanbul, an issue which has been my first priority since taking office in January - helping to build a new future for Afghanistan. As in Iraq, we cannot afford to let Afghanistan fail.

NATO is already playing its part, mainly by helping to keep the peace in the capital. At Istanbul, I am confident that the heads of state and government, alongside President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, will confirm that NATO will expand its peacekeeping mission beyond Kabul by bringing more provincial reconstruction teams under NATO command. In doing so, they will illustrate NATO's effectiveness at building security where it is needed today - just as the alliance is doing in the Balkans and in the Mediterranean.

Afghanistan is not only an immediate challenge. It is also an example of the new kinds of operations this alliance must be prepared to face - largely unforeseen, far from our traditional areas of operation, and a test of our collective ability to contribute to peace when and where we must.

That is why in Istanbul I intend to put some fresh thoughts before the NATO leaders on matching our grasp with our reach. Should NATO own and operate certain key assets, beyond AWACS? Can we take a longer horizon for our force planning, which includes better preparation for new operations? What new steps can we take to make sure that our political commitments are matched by resources?

We must prepare the alliance for the future. Our heads of state and government will put into action a plan for NATO to acquire cutting-edge technologies to defend against terrorism. They will deepen NATO's partnerships with the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. And they will endorse a change in our relations with the six Arab nations and Israel in our Mediterranean Dialogue toward substantive, practical partnership.

In Istanbul, I am confident that we will also open up, for the first time, a security dialogue with the broader region of the Middle East. This dialogue must be, and will be, a two-way street. Such a bridge of open consultation will only be strong if it is built and maintained by all the participants together. And if it succeeds over time in breaking down stereotypes and fostering trust, our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative has the potential to make a real contribution to enhancing our common security.

Istanbul marks another major step forward for the Atlantic alliance. It will confirm NATO's role as an indispensable peacekeeper in new theaters. It will enhance our ability to shape change and build peace through dialogue and cooperation. Istanbul will continue the modernization of NATO's capability to take on the most demanding missions of the 21st century.

While NATO's transformation continues, its fundamental purpose endures as a vital instrument for Europe and North America to defend peace, democracy and stability in, and increasingly beyond, the Euro-Atlantic area, now and into the future.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is secretary general of NATO.