by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Defense College conference ''NATO cooperation with Partners in the Mediterranean and the Middle East''
Thank you so much, Nik, and first of all let me say that I’m really honoured to be part of this distinguished panel and once again being able to be here at the NATO Defense College.
Yesterday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the NATO Defense College here in Rome, and I thanked Italy, Rome, the President, for being the host nation for this very important NATO institution for so many years in this beautiful city.
Today, we are going to address NATO cooperation with the partners in the Mena region. And let me just briefly start by reflecting on the fact that NATO is a unique Alliance, we are a unique Alliance because we have been able to provide collective defence, security for close to seven decades. First, during the Cold War responding to the threats and the challenges from the Soviet Union. And then after that, NATO proved able to adapt to a new world with turmoil and crisis close to our borders. First we went into the Balkans and we helped create peace and stability in the Balkans in Bosnia and in Kosovo. And then later on we played a key role in the fight against terrorism, we responded to the terrorist attacks against the United States on 9/11 and we have also been part of crisis management and other operations and missions around the world since then. So we were able in a way to move from a world in which we were only focusing on collective defense in Europe to a world where we had to also focus on crisis management and security beyond our borders outside NATO territory.
So NATO has been successful because NATO has been able to adapt. But there is also another part of that success story and that is that NATO has been able to build partnerships, to work with countries outside the NATO Alliance. And an important part of that partnership is of course the cooperation we have with the countries around the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean Dialogue, and with the countries being part of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. And that’s the region and the challenges we are going to address today and I welcome that very much.
Of course that is an important region for NATO, we share many of the same security threats, we share many of the same challenges and it is a region which is of great importance for the security of all NATO Allies. And both the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative is something which we attach great importance to and I appreciate very much being Secretary General of NATO and having that platform of working with all the countries both in the ICI and the MD framework.
And this is important because it is a cooperation with countries that is multi-faceted, which has many dimensions and which requires that we use many different tools within the Alliance to develop and strengthen partnerships both with the MD countries and the ICI countries.
It’s partly about that we work together in missions and activities and operations and we have to remember that countries like Jordan, like Kuwait being present at this panel today but also for instance the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, Qatar and many other countries and many other countries in this region have participated in NATO operations like in Kosovo, like in Bosnia, in Afghanistan and also in Libya. So these countries have been important when it comes to providing support, forces, capabilities in many different NATO missions and operations and that just underlines the importance of the partnership with the ICI and the MD. Jordan, for instance, is part of our NATO Response Force, underlining how close the cooperation is between some of these countries and NATO.
Another part, another dimension of the cooperation with the Mena region is the political dialogue and again both the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative provide an excellent platform framework for political dialogue with individual countries in the region. This has always been important but I guess it is even more important now because we see more instability, more turmoil and therefore the importance of having close political contacts, dialogue, cooperation with all these countries is of great importance for the whole Alliance. And we also have to remember that the Mediterranean Dialogue encompasses several countries in North Africa, Jordan, in the Middle East, NATO Allies and Israel, and that is quite unique, that we have a framework where all these countries can meet and sit together and talk in times of high tensions and many difficulties.
The third dimension which is important for both these frameworks and our cooperation in the Mena region is what I will call practical cooperation. And again there are different layers, different ways of conducting this practical cooperation, but that’s a part of institution building. NATO helping to build security institutions in these countries but also we are receiving support on that for instance through our NATO Response Force. It’s about what we see at this school, this college, where many many students, many many officers, civil servants from countries in the MD and the ICI framework have attended and of course just the existence of a NATO Defense College with people from the Mena region participating on a regular basis is part of that practical cooperation which is of great importance for all of us.
But it’s also about how NATO can project stability, work with countries in the region to project stability beyond our own borders. And I’d like to start by underlining the importance of building capacity, of working with countries, and I’ve mentioned for instance Tunisia, a country which needs help, which is a stable country, but which has seen that is has suffered from terrorist attacks and which is under pressure, so I strongly that it’s an important task for NATO to be there to help because Tunisia is an example of what we often say in NATO, that if our neighborhood is stable then we are more secure. We work with Tunisia on special operation forces, on intelligence, help them. I would very much like to see that the scale of what we do in Tunisia is much bigger but at least it is the right approach to try to build stability in our neighborhood because that’s also important for our own security being NATO Allies.
Soon we will inaugurate NATO ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait and that is really a center that will take the NATO cooperation with the Gulf countries to a new level and I would like to thank Sheikh Thamer for being the key person making that possible and I had the honour to visit Kuwait together with Sheikh Thamer some months ago and I saw the center, it was not yet fully finished, but it’s a big building, a big center, an excellent platform for taking the cooperation with the Gulf countries to a really higher and new level. That will provide the opportunity, the platform, for a boost in our cooperation in the areas like civil emergency planning, public diplomacy and many other areas. Let me also add that even if that is not formally part of Mediterranean Dialogue of course this is also linked to the turmoil and the instability in Syria and Iraq. And as you know NATO decided at the Summit in Warsaw to step up our efforts to support and help Iraq, the coalition fighting ISIL and we will soon start to provide direct support to the coalition with our AWACS surveillance planes and we are stepping up our efforts to train Iraqi officers.
And I strongly believe that for NATO, it is in the long run much better to build local capacity, to train local forces, we’ve started that in Jordan already, training Iraqi officers. We’re going to start to do more inside Iraq early next year. And I strongly believe that in the long run that is a much more viable strategy in the fight against terrorism than deploying a large number of our own combat forces. Sometimes NATO has to be ready to deploy forces into big combat operations also in the future as we did in Bosnia or in Afghanistan before but in the long run it’s a more sustainable solution to enable forces in their own countries to take responsibility in their own countries themselves. So that’s the reason why I think it’s so important that we work on training local forces, building local forces, building local capacity because that’s one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism. So just to sum up, the cooperation between NATO and the partners in the Mena region is of great importance for NATO, I hope it’s of great importance for the countries in the Mena region. It is of great importance because we face the same security challenges and through political dialogue, through practical cooperation and through the fact that many countries in the Mena region support NATO in different ways we can continue to develop this cooperation which is an important part of the answer to a more unstable and demanding security environment surrounding NATO.