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September 5-6, 2003
Ms. Zeljka Antunovic
Minister of Defence of the Republic of Croatia

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here in Sofia and to be able to take part in such a meaningful discussion in front of such a distinguished audience. I would like to thank our Bulgarian colleagues for hosting this important event.

For a decade, the "International community" has had a great impact and has played the major role in stabilizing the region of South-East Europe and improving its regional security. Today, thanks to the great investments made by the "International community", the process of transition towards peace, democracy and a new European future is well underway. There are more and more signs that the investment of the "International community" is beginning to pay dividends.

Why am I talking about the "International community"? What does this term mean for us, the peoples of the region? Allow me to go back to the beginning of the regional conflicts. I can clearly remember the high hopes of the society emerging from the ruins of communism. This society welcomed its newly gained freedoms and embraced the values of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law. It turned its head towards the "International community" for guidance and assistance. "International community" here represents the euro-atlantic family of nations sharing those values we sought. However, war was never an environment for these values to flourish. It was not until the euro-atlantic family of nations recognized itself as the "International community", and recognized the dangers to its common interests, that its actions finally started to provide substantial results. The International Community defined as a joint venture of the United States and Europe proved to be the winning combination.

Recent global events put Euro-Atlantic relations in the spotlight and under scrutiny. There were clearly implications for Trans-Atlantic relations. However, In South East Europe I am glad to see that the ESDP and European-American cooperation happily and profitably co-exist. This must be to the benefit of the countries of the Region.

There is a visible shift within that cooperation towards the greater role of the Europeans, and I find that a perfectly sound approach. Now the major conflicts are behind us, yet another difficult task, that of building modern and efficient state institutions lies in front of us. For this endeavour it is to the European Union and our future membership that we direct ourselves. The nations will look to the EU for the model and assistance in creating sound state institutions. This will provide an additional incentive for the EU to consider the region as an area into which it will expand, not as a distant region to be stabilized.

It is clear, however, that issues remain which could yet disturb the region. These unresolved issues still require the attention of the International community. The investment made by all might still be endangered. The need for the continuing presence of the "International community" still exists. Therefore, although the EU is assuming an ever greater role and the responsibility in the region, the United States still needs to focus on South-East Europe and continue to exercise its influence on specific issues.

As we have learned in the past, and as we are being reminded constantly, the International community can only provide the favourable conditions for further national development. The real incentive for change must come from within, from the countries of the region themselves. I am delighted to see that difficult national reform efforts are beginning to provide the visible results we desire as we progress towards, and embrace, NATO and EU memberships.

Meeting the requirements for NATO and EU membership is a great incentive for further defence reform and development of our armed forces. Partnership with and membership of NATO also allows the creation of systems able to provide security against wider threats to our nations, including the new non-traditional ones. Regionally it is clear that cooperation between neighbours is a must. Therefore Croatia welcomes positive developments in the neighbourhood, wishes to see all of its neighbours further enhance their ties with the euro-atlantic community of nations and is ready to assist in that process.

I believe that the success of the International community in South-East Europe teaches us one very important lesson. Weakening of the trans-atlantic link can only serve the forces of instability. As our countries today are emerging into the world as active participants in that International community, we can feel the effects of the different opinions on certain matters influence our own security policies and interests. In today's uncertain and unsafe world, the existence of a united trans-Atlantic International community of nations, sharing the same values and interests, is of utmost importance. The forces of instability must not perceive the differences of opinions on certain matters among the trans-Atlantic allies as their window of opportunity. And neither should these differences affect those who are just assuming their responsibilities as the part of that same trans-atlantic community of nations.

Thank you for your attention.
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