Egypt and NATO: A Dialogue

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General at the Conference

Minister El Gheit,
Ambassador El Reedy,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is both an honour and a great pleasure for me to be in Cairo today, and to help set the stage for what I believe is a most important conference. I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs for its initiative and hard work in organising this meeting, together with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. Let me also thank the British Embassy, which is doing an excellent job as NATO’s Contact Point Embassy here in Cairo.

Egypt and NATO have moved a lot closer together these last few years. I very much welcome that trend, and I hope that this conference will reinforce it. For that to happen, we should discuss the way we look at security today – what we see as the main risks and threats before us, how we can work together in meeting those challenges, and how we can overcome any lingering doubts or misconceptions in our relationship. I hope that we can discuss all these questions openly and frankly during our meeting here today and tomorrow. And I am happy give you my opinion on these different issues in order to get our discussion going.

It is clear that our security today is threatened in a number of ways. We are all confronted with the scourge of terrorism. We must deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There are the risks that weak states pose to security and stability in their own region and well beyond. And there are serious dangers associated with the uncontrolled movement of people, arms and drugs.

Not one of our nations is immune from these risks and threats. And not one is capable of tackling them alone. The only way to deal with them is through strong and sustained international cooperation, drawing on all the different instruments that we have available to us as an international community. Globalisation has both its advantages and disadvantages: Security threats that know no borders are a negative element; so we must use the growing global cooperation to counter them.

For the past few years, the NATO Alliance has successfully promoted precisely that kind of concerted action – not just among its own member countries, but also with other nations and organisations.

In the Mediterranean Sea , NATO has been conducting a maritime operation – “Operation Active Endeavour” – to prevent terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from transiting across that vital sea-lane. We have taken charge of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan – to help create a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan , which will never again be a safe haven for terrorists. We have launched a UN-mandated mission to train and equip Iraqi security forces – to help the Iraqi Government to meet the basic security needs of its people. We have helped the African Union with logistical support for its peacekeeping operation in Darfur . And we have just terminated a large-scale relief effort to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Pakistan last October.

I want to underline that all these actions of NATO are part of a comprehensive political agenda. Our Alliance is not one that acts militarily to fulfil military goals. To the contrary, NATO acts in order to achieve political objectives, which in turn are determined by the highest political authorities of our member states. In the Alliance , all decisions are made by consensus, which means that all members have an equal say in the process. And our political decisions are always part of the response by the entire international community. This is why we are in constant contact with the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and, as of late, also the African Union, which we are supporting in Darfur.

Furthermore, NATO’s activities are not limited to military action. In the process of our transformation, we have strengthened our political dimension. We have intensified political consultations among our member states. We have built a large network of partnerships with countries throughout the Euro-Atlantic area, the Mediterranean and the broader Middle East region. We have developed a broad set of cooperation activities to support those countries which so request, in areas such as defence reform, training and education, civil emergency planning and border security. So today’s NATO goes much beyond just a military alliance. It embodies political dialogue, consultations, and possibilities for civil and military cooperation and activities. What guides us in our activities is not to duplicate other international organisations’ efforts, but to complement them where we can add value.

I am aware that NATO’s engagement outside its traditional area of operations has raised questions here in this country and the wider region. Let me make two points in that regard. Firstly, NATO has no intention to become a “global policeman”. The NATO allies have neither the desire nor the capabilities to take on such a role. Secondly, let me stress again that whether it is in Afghanistan , Iraq , Darfur , or Pakistan , NATO is working hand in hand with the rest of the international community, especially the United Nations and the European Union: only effective multilateral cooperation can provide lasting answers to the security threats and challenges that we all face.

NATO’s current agenda is very demanding – it bears little resemblance to NATO’s Cold War mission of static deterrence. And it continues to puzzle many observers how an organisation that was born in the Cold War can deliver security in new ways and new places – and how it manages to meet that challenge so effectively.

I believe that the answer to this question lies in NATO’s character and structure. NATO is the pre-eminent forum where North America and Europe come together. We have a trusted political consultation process. We have a military structure which can help the political process. And in its almost 57 years of existence, NATO has acquired considerable experience and expertise in the broader political and security fields. This experience and expertise is available in the form of advice and assistance to other countries who want it.

The fact that NATO facilitates security cooperation not only among its members, but also with partner nations, is a key point that deserves repeating here. Because if the challenges that we face today are not just challenges to NATO nations, but also to those around the Mediterranean Sea, then it is in our common strategic interest to seek the closest cooperation between us. We live in a world where inclusiveness, networking, and projecting stability together are key words.

As a matter of fact, NATO has long recognised the strategic importance of the Mediterranean region. More than a decade ago, in 1994, we launched our Mediterranean Dialogue with, initially, five countries in the southern Mediterranean , including Egypt . Essentially, the aim of this initiative was to learn more about our Dialogue partners’ specific security problems. And to dispel any misperceptions on their part about NATO’s reorientation after the end of the Cold War.

Ten years later, at NATO’s Istanbul Summit in June 2004, the NATO Allies agreed, in close consultation with Egypt and the other Mediterranean Dialogue countries, to give a significant boost to the Mediterranean Dialogue process. To make a qualitative leap from limited contacts to much more extensive political and practical cooperation. In short, to move from dialogue to genuine partnership.

Over the past few years there has been good progress in realising that ambition. We have had more frequent and fruitful political discussions on a wider range of issues. Contacts and cooperation between NATO and each of its seven Mediterranean Dialogue countries have increased significantly. And we have certainly also seen that positive trend in the relationship between NATO and Egypt . We have made progress in reaching out to the Egyptian government and also the public.

High-level meetings have been important in moving our relationship forward. Foreign Minister El Gheit has taken an active role in establishing closer contacts, and I would like to thank him for that. Secretary General De Hoop Scheffer visited Cairo last October for a very constructive series of meetings. And we were also very pleased to see a strong Egyptian delegation attend the Informal Meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Taormina just last week.

At the same time, there has been progress in several areas of practical cooperation. For example, in moving forward a pilot project on landmine-detection, which is a clear concern for your country and an area in which NATO nations have considerable experience and expertise to share. We are also exploring possibilities for greater intelligence sharing, which is critical in the fight against terrorism. And we hope that Egypt might also consider joining several other Mediterranean partners in contributing to “Operation Active Endeavour”, NATO’s maritime operation in the Mediterranean Sea that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. Let me add that I also believe Egypt could benefit more from possibilities offered by NATO’s training and education facilities.

So we have clearly made some good progress in developing closer, mutually beneficial cooperation between Egypt and NATO – and this constitutes a very good basis for us to build on. As we develop our relationship further, there are a number of basic principles that have underpinned the Mediterranean Dialogue process from the beginning, and that I strongly believe we should continue to keep in mind. Let me outline them for you.

The first principle is joint ownership. NATO is not imposing anything on any of its Mediterranean partners, but offering to work together in areas in which it has experience and expertise. It is up to Egypt and other interested countries to engage with NATO. We want them to be shareholders in a cooperative effort.

The second principle: non-discrimination. NATO does not treat any of its Mediterranean partners different from the others. The same possibilities for dialogue and cooperation are available to all.

Third: self-differentiation. While the same “basic menu” is available to all our Mediterranean partners, we realise that the security concerns of Egypt are different from those of, say, Morocco . That is why NATO is keen to work with interested countries on an individual basis, and to define together with them how their specific security concerns and requirements can best be met.

Finally, and importantly: complementarity. We know that Egypt and our other Mediterranean partners work with many different nations and organisations, including the European Union and the OSCE. NATO wants to complement those efforts, rather than to duplicate or to complicate them.

Practical cooperation is where NATO’s advantage clearly lies. As a matter of fact, over the past two years, the number of activities for practical cooperation under the Mediterranean Dialogue has more than doubled. And today, they range from a wide array of military-to-military activities to cooperation in the field of border security, airspace management, civil emergency planning, and many other areas.

I have described NATO’s approach to the new security environment – the importance that we attach to working with our Mediterranean partners, the current state of our cooperation, and the basic principles that should underpin its future development. Let me finish by setting out some issues that I believe will have an impact on how fast, and how far, that relationship can develop.

First of all, as I just mentioned, the Mediterranean Dialogue process offers a very large menu of possibilities for practical cooperation. That broad menu represents an enormous opportunity, but it also represents also a challenge – the challenge for decision-makers in this country to define Egypt’s key priorities in its relationship with NATO; to define where Egypt can benefit most from what the Alliance has to offer, and where it wants to concentrate its efforts and resources.

A second challenge relates to public diplomacy. It is the challenge of fostering among the general public in this country a sound understanding of the new security environment, and how we can better address the risks and threats that it poses by working together – NATO and Egypt. That, of course, is once again a challenge primarily for the policy-makers here in this country. But it is one which you all gathered here today – diplomats, academics, journalists – can certainly help to meet.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Working together to meet common challenges is what the NATO Alliance has always been about – ever since it was created, almost six decades ago. And it is very much what the Alliance is still about today.

Against that background, enhancing the Mediterranean Dialogue, and developing it into a genuine partnership, is a logical step. A step which is very clearly not just in NATO’s interest, but also that of the countries to whom we are reaching out. Because it provides us all with new ways and means to address the serious security challenges before us, and which demand a common response.

NATO is keen to explore those new opportunities for cooperation. Given its strong reputation as a responsible international actor, a country that is keen to contribute to security in its own region and beyond, I am confident that Egypt , as well, will not fail to grasp the new opportunities. And I am sure that today’s conference will help us all to move forward in that direction.

Thank you.

Conference Co-sponsored by the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division Cairo