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September 5-6, 2003
General Lord George Robertson
NATO Secretary General

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for having invited me to this conference. It is always a pleasure to visit Bulgaria, a future new member of NATO. But I consider it a particular privilege to address this meeting devoted to the shaping of a common security agenda for South-East Europe.

This is a timely meeting and an appropriate subject. The future of South-East Europe is of vital importance to the international community, including NATO. That is why, even as we are taking on additional, new and pressing challenges well away from our traditional boundaries, our commitment to South-East Europe remains undiminished.

The NATO Alliance has invested heavily in South-East Europe in terms of political, human and financial capital. We still have an extensive military presence in several countries of the region and have developed, over the years, a variety of partnership and co-operation programmes with each and every one of them. Today, this enormous investment is showing clear results.

South-East Europe is coming back into the European mainstream. The region is shedding its long-standing image as Europe's "powder keg". A return to the dark days of conflict is ever more implausible. That is an achievement of truly historic significance.

NATO can take considerable credit for this progress. And we intend to build on this success and reinforce it, together with the rest of the international community.

First, we are determined to continue our essential role in maintaining peace and security, for as long as we are needed. During the course of this year, we have been rationalising our forces and resources to reflect changing needs and challenges. But we are neither packing up nor pulling out.

Indeed, we are now able to deploy fewer troops because of the general progress towards stability; because the countries of the region are able to assume greater responsibility for security themselves; and because other international organisations are taking over some of our tasks - such as the EU in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*.

But we are still deploying a sizeable number of troops. And they are now able to focus their efforts in new areas where they can add real value - in tackling persistent regional problems such as border security, organised crime, and dealing with illegal weapons.

The second element of NATO's approach to South-East Europe is to continue to help the countries in the region to move forward -- by providing expert help, building true partnerships and holding out the prospect of eventual membership of Euro-Atlantic structures. We are engaging countries individually -- by offering assistance tailored to their specific concerns and requirements, while emphasising that their implementation of genuine permanent reforms will determine the pace of their association with NATO and other Euro-Atlantic structures.

But we are also encouraging regional co-operation to tackle problems that have an obvious cross-border, regional dimension. For instance, under our South-East Europe Initiative, the countries in the region have agreed a common assessment of the security challenges they face together. We are also promoting practical regional co-operation - such as the Ohrid Common Platform on Border Security signed last May.

And we want countries in the wider region - including Bulgaria and other countries represented here today - to increase co-operation with their neighbours. The South-East European Brigade, SEEBRIG, is one of the practical and concrete co-operation initiatives which the Alliance supports strongly.

The Common Platform on Border Security that I just mentioned was the result of co-operation between NATO and the European Union, the OSCE and the Stability Pact. That demonstrates the third component of the Alliance's approach to South-East Europe - our interaction with other international organisations.

Not one of the established international organisations responded effectively when Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s. Nor did we initially work together to great effect. But ten years later we were able to prevent a bloody conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - by learning from our mistakes, taking decisive action, and playing to our strengths. NATO, the EU and the OSCE all joined forces in this effort. And I am glad that we were able to continue that constructive approach these last few years.

I am particularly excited with the progress that we have been able to make in developing NATO-EU relations, which were virtually non-existent five years ago, into a true strategic partnership which I believe can have a decisive impact on the long-term future of South-East Europe.

The European Union's take-over of NATO's operation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was the first concrete manifestation of our strategic partnership. Last July, our two organisations agreed a concerted approach for the Western Balkans, which underscores our determination to work together in response to any possible future crises.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Three very appropriate themes have been identified for this morning's session: enlargement, leadership and shared responsibilities. They are important ingredients for past and future success in South-East Europe.

First, enlargement. Next May, at the NATO Summit in Istanbul, seven countries will join our Atlantic Alliance, including Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia, who are all represented at this conference. This step will consolidate Europe as a common security space from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, and from the Baltic to the Balkans. This is much more than most of us dared to dream even a few years ago. It is a testament to the irresistible attraction of our transatlantic community -- and to its ability to turn vision into reality.

But next year's enlargement will also strengthen the South-East European dimension of the Alliance. I am confident that our new Allies will play an important role in further enhancing our understanding of the region's current challenges. They will propose and lead further initiatives for NATO to consolidate peace and stability in the region and help its integration into Europe. The countries that will join NATO next year have worked long and hard to reach this objective. They have prepared themselves well by implementing many tough political, economic and military reforms. And they still continue to work to implement or complete these reforms. So they are well placed to advise their neighbours who want to become members of NATO.

Currently, three more countries -- Albania, Croatia, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- have stated their willingness to follow the example set by their neighbours. All Allies and the NATO Secretariat are working with these countries in the framework of the Membership Action Plan to help them make the necessary reforms.

There are differences of emphasis between the three countries, but their political agendas have a lot in common, including judicial reform, combating organised crime and corruption, and abiding by international commitments.

Their agendas also include defence reform. Out-of-date armies must be modernised, including through the development of modern planning and budgeting systems. And sufficient resources must be devoted to these reforms if they are to be fully successful.

These are familiar messages. But the invitations to join the Alliance which seven countries secured at Prague are a powerful demonstration that they are not insurmountable challenges. NATO's Partnership for Peace programme deserves much of the credit. It has proved to be a remarkable success in helping the countries of the region to improve interoperability with the Alliance and to reach NATO standards.

So far, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro remain the only countries in the region that are not part of PfP. But both countries have expressed a desire to join it and are preparing for this prospect through our tailored co-operative programmes with them. There is little doubt in my mind that they will eventually join PfP, once they have taken the critical steps that the Allies have outlined.

Serbia and Montenegro plays a pivotal role in the region, and contacts between NATO and Belgrade have intensified significantly over the past years. We have all been pleased to see the reform process in Serbia and Montenegro continue following the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. Now, full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and continued restructuring of the armed forces are two areas where NATO will continue to watch carefully.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is no longer in a post-conflict situation, but it still has a lot of work to do. One urgent priority that the NATO Allies will continue to emphasise is the strengthening of common state structures. We are particularly keen to see further efforts to reform Bosnia and Herzegovina's forces, and to create an effective state-level, democratic, and civilian command and control structure.

And this brings me to the second key theme for this morning's session: leadership.

With thousands of peacekeeping troops still in Bosnia, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, it is perhaps natural that many people think of South-East Europe as a reconstruction project run largely by the international community. But while the international community certainly has a role to play, outside support will not succeed if the domestic situation of the countries of the region is not conducive to progress. Scaffolding around a house is of little use if its very foundations are not sound.

All the countries of South-East Europe face a number of fundamental problems that impede them from making further progress - from economic stagnation, to corruption, to outdated military structures. The main responsibility for tackling these problems rests with the political leadership in each of the countries. They must take crucial and sometimes painful decisions. They need to convince their populations that certain short-term sacrifices are necessary to secure a better future.

In a nutshell, South-East Europe needs politicians who look to the future, not to the past. I am glad to see that such people -- real leaders -- do exist. And I am particularly pleased that so many of them are present here today.

Which brings me to the third and last theme: shared responsibilities.

A quality that we need in modern politicians is the ability to take a broad, international perspective rather than a limited, nationalistic view. The growing realisation that many problems in the region can only be tackled by working together is an encouraging sign that South-East Europe's progress is truly irreversible.

Increasingly, however, the countries of this region have shown themselves to be responsible and constructive international actors in other ways as well. For instance, they have been strong supporters of the international coalition against terrorism, and have been working with the international community in implementing counter-terrorism measures.

They have been playing their part in peace operations, as well. Over the last years, several countries of South-East Europe have made very valuable contributions to NATO-led operations in this region. And increasingly, they are contributing to the security of regions beyond Europe: In Afghanistan, in Iraq, and elsewhere around the globe.

This is a testament to the fact that South-East Europe is becoming a producer of security rather than a consumer. That it is no longer exporting instability but stability. And that it is helping share the responsibility and burden of upholding international security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have all come a long way. The countries of South-East Europe have made considerable progress these last few years -- in getting their house in order, implementing difficult but necessary reforms, and moving closer to Euro-Atlantic structures.

But our Euro-Atlantic structures have come a long way too - in finding their feet after the initial impact of former Yugoslavia's break-up, and learning to work together in dealing with crisis situations and promoting the development of South-East Europe.

This progress must continue. The countries of South-East Europe must continue to look to the future. They must continue to build democracy, to root out crime and corruption, and to establish the rule of law. They must comply with their international obligations. And they must co-operate with their neighbours.

The major international organisations need to reaffirm their commitment to the long-term future of the countries of South-East Europe. They need to continue to offer a realistic prospect for their eventual membership. And they need to exploit fully the opportunities for working together, complementing each other's strengths and redoubling each other's contributions. In this effort, NATO will continue to play its part.

Thank you.
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