Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to appear before your Assembly again. And it is a great pleasure, also, to be back in Ljubljana, barely one year after Slovenia joined the ranks of our Alliance and the European Union, and at a time when it holds the Chairmanship-in-Office of the OSCE.
Slovenia's spectacular transformation over the past fifteen years cannot be seen in isolation from NATO's own success - both in bringing peace and stability to the wider Balkan region, and transforming from a Cold War alliance into a modern, 21st century security organisation.
NATO remains committed to helping all the countries of South-East Europe to follow in Slovenia's footsteps. We are working closely with Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) in the context of our Membership Action Plan. We are holding out the prospect of enhanced cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro - provided they meet certain conditions, notably full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. And during this critical period for the future of Kosovo we maintain a robust troop presence there, while we continue to engage in the Contact Group and to support the Standards Implementation Process. This is as necessary as ever at a moment where the international community begins to address what lies at the heart of the Kosovo question : the fulfilment of standards, and then possibly Kosovo's status.
But while our commitment to the Balkans endures, NATO has also had to turn its attention to a number of serious challenges beyond this region, and even beyond this continent. Today, we are no longer a "eurocentric" alliance - we can no longer afford to be. Instead of a geographical approach to security, we now take a functional approach - dealing with problems wherever and whenever they emerge, from our anti-terrorist naval operation in the Mediterranean to our training mission in Iraq. That requires a major overhaul of our military capabilities. And it requires a new level of cooperation with other nations and institutions.
Let me give you a quick update on each of these major areas of NATO transformation, turning to our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq first.
In Afghanistan, the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force into the country's four western provinces is underway.
Planning and force generation for ISAF expansion into the remaining parts of Afghanistan is now beginning, and this will require new commitments from nations. We want to give tangible support to the September parliamentary elections, which will mark the formal ending of the Bonn political process.
The Afghan Government must carry forward the post-Bonn political strategy, but we will want to lend our support. And we must maintain our support for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process, as well as for the national counter-narcotics programme. Narcotics production, in a country like Afghanistan, is a complex issue, not least because many Afghans depend on it for their livelihood. But we want to do what we can to help control this problem, especially with the help of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
When President Karzai visited NATO Headquarters just a few weeks ago, he made a strong plea for the Alliance to stay with his country after the September elections. I also firmly believe that we must stay the course in Afghanistan, to reinforce the considerable progress that we have helped to achieve over the last few years, and to help out in areas that are critical to Afghanistan's security and that of our own countries. I am pleased that there is broad agreement in the Alliance on this matter.
In Iraq, as well, democracy is slowly taking root, and NATO must do what it can to help the new government assert its authority by providing for greater security. The NATO Training Mission in Iraq is now operational, and I am pleased that all Allies are contributing in at least one of four ways: through in-country training; training outside Iraq; financial contributions; or donations of equipment. Our key operational challenge over the next weeks and months is to expand training beyond the Green Zone in Baghdad, and specifically to help to establish the planned Iraqi Training, Education and Doctrine Centre in Ar Rustamiya. That, as well, will require a strong effort on our part.
Another emerging theatre of activity is Darfur. The Alliance is prepared to respond positively to the request by the African Union for logistical support to its mission in Darfur. Mr. Konare, the Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, met with the North Atlantic Council two weeks ago. I was in Addis Ababa just last week to discuss how NATO can add value to the assistance offered to the African Union by the United Nations, the European Union, as well as by a number of individual nations.
The growing operational requirements that are being made of our Alliance underline the urgency of our military transformation process - which is the second feature of NATO that I wish to briefly highlight. We have made good progress in a number of areas. We have streamlined our military command structure and stood up the NATO Response Force. Allies are also working hard to make their forces meet the usability targets that we agreed upon last year. And we have developed procedures to make it easier for nations to commit capabilities to NATO operations.
Good progress - but, quite frankly, still not good enough. Collectively, in the Alliance, we have very great numbers of combat forces. What we do not have are sufficient support forces and capabilities to permit those combat forces to do their job in areas where there is little host nation support. Levels of defence expenditure, in many cases, are still not sufficient to support the investment in these necessary capabilities. Nor are they sufficient for many nations to properly address the modernisation requirements of their armed forces. And the problem is exacerbated by the costs of current operations that are being borne by defence budgets. Let there be no mistake: until we have the required capabilities, we will simply not be as effective as we need to be in the face of real emergencies. And I hope you will keep making your voices heard when your national defence budgets are discussed.
A third feature of NATO today is our determination to deepen and broaden our partnerships with other nations and organisations. Cooperation with them was essential to our success in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans over the past ten years. Just think of the important contributions non-NATO nations made and are still making to our operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in Kosovo. It is even more important now if we want to meet the truly global new threats to our security.
The Alliance has made good progress these last few years in enhancing cooperation with all its EAPC Partners, and especially those in the Caucasus and Central Asia. We have made the new security challenges a major focus of our cooperation. We are helping interested countries to introduce defence reforms and enhance their interoperability with NATO. And just last week we held the first EAPC Security Forum in Sweden, a new initiative to engage NATO and Partner officials and civil society representatives in a free-flowing discussion of the many common challenges before us.
But NATO, and this should also be true for the Euro-Atlantic Partnership embedded in Partnership for Peace, is based on common values. This is why we are deeply disturbed and cannot remain silent in the face of recent events in Uzbekistan. The North Atlantic Council has strongly condemned the reported use of excessive and disproportionate forces and supported the UN's call for an independent international inquiry. I will continue to insist that this inquiry takes place, as does the UN.
We continue, at the same time, to intensify our relations with our special partners, Russia and Ukraine. In Vilnius last month, the Foreign Ministers of NATO and Russia signed a Status of Forces Agreement that will boost our military cooperation. On that occasion, we also had a frank discussion of several issues of common interest, including sensitive topics such as Georgia. And I am confident that same constructive spirit will prevail when I visit Moscow next month.
NATO's relationship with Ukraine has entered a new phase. The new Ukrainian Government has left no doubt about its aspirations for Ukraine to join NATO. We agreed in Vilnius to start an intensified dialogue with Ukraine on these aspirations, while continuing to assist the country with the very challenging defence and other reforms that it still has to implement.
But we are also looking beyond the horizons of the Euro-Atlantic area. We have made good progress in enhancing NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - in engaging our partners in Northern Africa and the Middle East both in greater dialogue and real, practical security cooperation. We are also building closer relations with countries in the Broader Middle East, and have concluded agreements with Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar in recent months. And we are responding to the greater interest that countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand have shown in closer contacts with NATO.
Finally, the Alliance is keen to develop more structured relationships with other international organisations - especially the UN, the OSCE, and the European Union. Our success in the Balkans has shown the potential of our cooperation with the EU in particular. The situation in Darfur, where both NATO and the EU have been asked to assist, underlines that we should be able to coordinate strategically, not just cooperate tactically on an ad-hoc basis.
What we need, above all, is a genuine strategic partnership between NATO and the European Union. The European Union is a genuine security actor, there is no question about it. This is about making the Union a stronger partner, not a counterweight. I believe that is the only way the EU can and should go. And I am convinced our American friends understand and appreciate this. Among Europeans, I have been pleased to see greater realism about the challenges that are involved in playing a sustained, meaningful security role, and greater awareness of what NATO already offers.
I hope - and expect - that this greater realism on both sides of the Atlantic will contribute to a closer NATO-EU relationship. We need a strong partnership that recognises the unique contribution which NATO and the EU each make to the stability and security of this continent. And that will allow them to cooperate much more effectively in all areas of common interest - not just crisis management in the Balkans. I believe that such a strategic partnership is within reach, and I will continue to do my utmost to make it a reality.
You, Ladies and Gentlemen, are Members of Parliament who are both interested and experienced in security and defence matters. That means that you have an important contribution to make in all the different areas of NATO activity that I have just outlined. You understand better than most other people why the Alliance must tackle modern security challenges at their source, even well beyond our traditional area of operations. You also understand why this job requires different military means than those that we employed in the past, and a new level of cooperation between nations and institutions. And I hope that I can continue to count on your support in these various areas - to maintain the Alliance's effectiveness, as well as its credibility.
In order to keep the Alliance strong and credible, it must be used - and seen to be used - not only as an instrument for action, but also as a forum for debate. These have always been the two key functions of NATO, and this Assembly has always been a center of fre-flowing political exchange of ideas. In today's challenging security environment, it is critical that we not only preserve these two functions, but actually reinforce them. And in this respect, as well, I count on your support.
We face new and complex challenges to our security - terrorism, proliferation, "failed states". NATO's work here in Europe is far from being done, but other parts of the world also demand our attention - Central Asia, Northern Africa, the broader Middle East. We must adapt our capabilities, structures and procedures to the changing circumstances. New security players, such as the European Union, are finding their role, and we need to work effectively with them.
It is vital that those challenges are discussed in NATO. That the Allies share views and shape consensus - and that they are ready, if necessary, to take action together. All our capitals will maintain bilateral relationships. It is normal, and indeed desirable, that the European Union' s dialogue with Washington and Ottawa intensifies. But the transatlantic Allies need a structured forum, to continuously discuss the key security issues that they face together. And NATO is that forum.
Of course, we do not want to turn NATO into a debating society. More intense discussion in the NATO Council must be accompanied, and indeed nurtured, by enhanced debate with our parliaments and with our publics, to whom we are ultimately accountable. Extending debate in that way is critical in building the strong strategic consensus that we need to to tackle the great challenges of our age - and shaping NATO's vital contribution to this endeavour.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the years, it has become customary for NATO's Secretary General to address the NATO Parliamentary Asssembly when it meets in plenary session.
I want to assure you that I do not look at this as an obligation. On the contrary. I have been a member of parliament myself not that long ago, and I understand and appreciate your role in defining, resourcing, and explaining NATO policy. As the Alliance continues to adapt to a new and complex security environment - an environment plenty of challenges that demand thorough debate and solid consensus - that role is more important than ever.
1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.