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Second Annual International Conference: NATO, EU and the New Risks: A South East Europe Perspective
 
29-30 October, 2004
Sofia, Bulgaria

Mr. Mate Raboteg, State Secretary for Defence, MoD, Republic of Croatia

Mr. Deputy Secretary General, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish to thank the organizers for inviting us and giving me the opportunity to present Croatian thinking and opinions in front of this distinguished auditory, and in this way contribute to further development of mutual understanding and confidence.

Part of South East Europe is still feeling the consequences of conflicts in the last decade of the 20th century. However, thanks to engagement of the international community we can state that today the possibility of the renewal of classic armed conflicts in the area of South East Europe has been reduced to a minimum. By active engagement, in the first place of NATO and EU, significant steps have been made towards stabilization of the Region and establishing lasting peace. The NATO-led SFOR and KFOR operations, with participation of partner states, and the EU "CONCORDIA" operation in Macedonia contributed decisively to long-term stabilization of the Region.

We believe that the transfer of mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina from NATO to EU, within the framework of the «Berlin +» arrangement, marks a new step in further stabilization of the Region. South East Europe is not a far away territory which needs to be stabilized but the area over which the EU will enlarge in future and encompass all the countries in that area. In this context, we welcome a more significant engagement of the EU.

Thanks to the minimal possibility of armed conflicts renewal and at the same time intensifying the activities of regional cooperation directed towards a common aim -entering Euro-Atlantic Integrations (NATO and European Union) - South East Europe states have begun to redefine their security concept This primarily refers to a new assessment of the security environment and security threats. Neighboring states are no longer perceived as the main security threat, but the source of instability for most countries in the Region has become common or similar to that of majority of European countries. To begin with, there are transnational threats - international terrorism, organized crime - in the first place trafficking of people and drugs, proliferation of weapons for mass destruction and the like.

Because they are transnational, no country can oppose these threats alone. Our task is to contribute to the establishment of such government institutions in the countries of our Region that will be able to face present day threats and that will cooperate with each other.

Allow me to express my satisfaction with the last latest round of enlargement within the Alliance. Admission of seven new countries to NATO definitely broadened the zone of stability and security in Europe and marked another step towards Europe without divisions. Croatia welcomes the continuation of NATO open door policy and expects the next round of enlargement with enthusiasm. The Final Communique of the Istanbul Summit recognized the Republic of Croatia as a serious candidate for NATO, to be invited to become a full-fledged member, based on individual progress assessment, by the next NATO Summit.

NATO and EU enlargement, in the first place the Sbvenian and Hungarian membership in these integrations, contributed significantly to the overall security picture of the Region; Republic of Croatia directly borders with the allied system of collective security. However, instabilities which still exist in the region of South East Europe have emerged as the product of conflicts during the 1990's and the enduring transition process, that is, economic hardship. Emerged destabilizing factors influence the capability of certain government bodies to control the sources and bearers of such asymmetric threats in their entirety and at their best.

Lately asymmetric threats, among which international terrorism is the most dangerous one, have overshadowed almost entirely classic war conflicts and have fundamentally changed a traditional understanding of the term security. We remember with grief the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the USA, the recent terrorist act in Madrid, and the daily terrorist activities in the World. Such a development of relations on the modified geopolitical map of Europe and the World indirectly influences the security environment of Croatia and the smoldering instabilities in the Region significantly influence the perception of our own security.

Croatia, aware of the mentioned challenges and risks, strongly supports the establishment and development of efficient democratic institutions in the Region and makes concrete efforts to contribute to the stability in the Region, by developing regional cooperation. Therefore, I stress that we support the integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro into Partnership for Peace and other Euro-Atlantic Integrations. We encourage both countries to fulfill commitments that are necessary for this step. We believe that their membership in the aforementioned integrations will contribute to further stabilization of the Region. Initiated defense reforms oriented towards the development of transparent institutions support the build-up of a system of confidence, stability, and lasting security in the Region.

Moreover, Republic of Croatia is aware that Croatian security system is more and more feeling the burden of the same security concerns our allies meet repeatedly. Croatia believes that the most effective response to asymmetric threats and risks is the membership in NATO and EU. Absence of direct military threat to the Republic of Croatia and the ascending process of establishing good neighborly relationships, as well as positive economic and social conditions within Croatia, create a favorable moment for the continuation of reforms in Croatian Armed Forces and for their transformation into force capable to respond to new security challenges - a force that can contribute to the NATO collective defense system, including NATO- and ELMed operations.

Our defense reforms and NATO membership support and complement each other. While the perspective of Alliance membership gives additional impetus to our reform efforts, with every new step we take in our reforms we move closer to meeting the requirements for NATO membership. Therefore, our defense reforms are oriented towards a more significant contribution to NATO than the one we are able to offer at the moment, with considerable stress on our own security and the security of our Region. The biggest Croatian contribution to NATO and the collective security in Europe will be Croatian positive role as a stability factor in the Region.

Moreover, Croatian government is conducting a broad spectrum of reforms with the aim to prepare the country for future NATO membership. The main tasks being: inner stabilization of the system, enhancing the relations with international community and meeting the commitments and criteria for NATO and EU accession, positive contribution to peace and stability reinforcement in this part of Europe, through proactive policy towards minorities and development of good neighborly relationships, solving all remaining and open issues in relations with neighbors, and readiness to participate actively in the work and missions of the international community. I wish to stress the need for full cooperation of the countries in the Region with the Hague Tribunal, and the fulfillment of assumed commitments.

As a good example of regional cooperation I would point out the cooperation of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia, with the support of USA in the framework of US-Adriatic Charter (A-3). Cooperation through the US-Adriatic Charter intensifies dialogue on bilateral level as well as on trilateral level. Besides other politico-military activities, in progress is the design of operational-technical details for forming a combined Albanian-Croatian-Macedonian military medical team to be engaged in NATO-led operations.

The Republic of Croatia actively participates in the work of different regional initiative forums related to Central and South East Europe (Stability Pact, SEDM, CENCOOP, Quadrilateral Initiative and SEEI). Croatia is prepared to deepen its participation in common foreign and security policy as well as in European Security and Defense Policy supporting EU efforts to stabilize the Region, including logistic support to the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Just as well, we will promptly meet the internationally assumed commitments in line with the Vienna document'99, sub-regional and other international agreements.

The Republic of Croatia is continuing its active participation in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, supporting the activities of the Antiterrorist Coalition, as well as the implementation of the follow-up UN Security Council Resolutions. We support the expansion of the ISAF mission by founding Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and offering participation of Croatian civilian experts as part of the German contingent.

Finally, I stress again that Croatia welcomes the Alliance involvement in the stabilization process of South East Europe and encourages further integration of the countries in the Region into Euro-Atlantic frameworks. Although we believe that the “worst days” are behind us, the future of South East Europe is still seen in the light of smoldering instabilities, so we stress the need for advance active NATO and EU involvement in stabilization of the Region where certain ethnic conflicts and asymmetric threats still have a significant influence on our common security. Croatia sees the future of South East Europe only in complete integration of all countries in the Region into the Euro-Atlantic security association.

In the end, I would like once again to thank the hosts for the invitation. I expect even better cooperation in the future that will, I hope, for all of us be brighter and more secure.
 
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