Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 9 News List

NATO isn't a military group only

By Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Today, 26 NATO Heads of State and Government will meet at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. They are here to demonstrate a strong spirit of unity in the transatlantic community, a determination to look forward and take action together.

There are important questions to be addressed, not only about the direction of NATO's missions and operations, but also about the future of transatlantic security cooperation and the role the alliance will play.

The broad range of issues to be discussed mirrors the essential place of the alliance in addressing today's security challenges.

They will discuss how to reinforce the success the international community has had in helping to build a new, democratic Afghanistan.

NATO and its members are already providing the essential security Afghanistan needs in order to make its aspirations for self-sustaining peace and prosperity a reality. Today, NATO leaders will reaffirm their commitment to the courageous people of this country:?we will help them for as long as it takes.

Iraq is a case in point. All 26 NATO nations are now, as an alliance, working together to respond to the Iraqi government's request for support:?by training Iraqi security forces, by providing equipment, or by helping to fund NATO's efforts.

We are building a stronger relationship with the broader Middle East. Already, the alliance is developing a deeper political dialogue and more practical cooperation with the countries of North Africa, Israel and Jordan, and opening up a discussion with the Gulf States. When Condoleezza Rice made her first visit as Secretary of State to NATO headquarters two weeks ago, Alliance Foreign Ministers had a discussion about the Middle East Peace Process. The broader Middle East will be on the agenda of Heads and State and Government again today.

Many other critical political issues will be addressed:?from ensuring stability in Kosovo as the political situation evolves this year; to the importance of maintaining strong relations and a frank dialogue with Russia; to building a stronger relationship with the EU, one that maximises the complementarity between our two organisations; to supporting the new government in Ukraine as it finds its path. In that regard, this morning NATO leaders will welcome their first meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko.

They will share with him their common determination to help him build a better, more democratic future for his people, and strengthen Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

But NATO leaders will also lift their eyes from the immediate challenges of the day, and discuss a fundamental strategic question as well: how to use NATO to its fullest potential as a platform for holding political discussions and building transatlantic consensus across the wide range of the issues where Europe and North America share common interests and wish to defend common values.

NATO is the only permanent political forum in which North America sits together with Europe. This is a unique framework for profound transatlantic political consultation and effective military cooperation. And it works -- but it can do more. The alliance can and should be the place to discuss and debate a broader range of political issues.

Indeed, as we face today's security challenges -- terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states -- we cannot afford not to. I am encouraged that, more and more, alliance leaders are coming to share the same view.

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