Presentation By Claire A. Poulin Ambassador Of Canada To Latvia
RIGA – 15 NOVEMBER 2006
It is a real pleasure for me today to join your Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pabriks, for a presentation linked to the preparation of the next important event which will take place in Riga. Last Spring, Riga was host of the International Hockey Championship. Six months later, in less than 2 weeks, the world will again look at Riga, but for different reasons. No competition, here! Only solidarity between nations which share a same goal!
Actually, 26 countries will focus on something which is related to solidarity among Allies in bringing to this world a more peaceful environment, bringing more security. This is what will be discussed during the NATO Summit in Riga.
I am please to be here today and share with you some thoughts about NATO, the organization itself, about the Riga Summit and about Canada’s participation in this very special Alliance which is known as NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
NATO – the organization and its evolution
Why do we call it like this – North Atlantic Treaty Organization? In fact, it is because the treaty which was signed in 1949 in Washington by 12 countries was designed to promote the stability and security of the North Atlantic area (Western Europe and North America).
Canada was among these 12 countries which founded the Alliance. Canada and the United States were and still are the only 2 members which are located on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. All other members are European. It explains by itself the fact that this Alliance is considered as a very important transatlantic bridge which is the pillar of the security in this part of the world.
Mr. Minister, in 1949, when our Minister of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, explained Canada’s decision to join NATO, he said: “We will work together in peace and stand together in danger”. He was right! NATO is a military force composed of countries which stand together to respond to crisis scenarios in order to protect the stability of this world.
Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO was forced to change, not its values - but its vocation in relation to Eastern Europe and to the former Soviet Union. NATO adopted a strategic concept that maintained the principle of collective defence, but also put more emphasis on dialogue and cooperation through partnerships with other countries.
With the emergence of new threats, NATO is challenged and has to adapt to the evolving security environment which now prevails. As your President mentioned in her recent speech at the First session of the new Saeima, “NATO is being reborn in a new form as a global security organisation and it is predicted that decisions will be made in Riga that will achieve a new increase in the political and safety philosophy of the organisation. (…). She also said that: This NATO Summit will wash away the last remains of the Iron Curtain (…) and thus it will be proved that Latvia has become an integral part of the NATO security area.”
The Riga Summit
Therefore, the Riga Summit will be an important Summit for Latvia and for NATO. Why? First, because of its symbolic location. It will be the first time that such a Summit is taking place in a country of the former Soviet Union, the first in the Baltic States, the first in Latvia. In fact, the first since Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joined the Alliance in 2004 – only 2 and half years after your accession. (By the way, I am proud to say that Canada was the first to ratify the Latvian accession to NATO.)
RIGA, the first Summit “at 26”, is also an important event for NATO because the Alliance is now in the process of defining its mission in the contemporary world. With the end of the Cold war, the attacks on September 11 and the on-going fight against terrorism, NATO’s role in this world has changed. The Alliance has to adapt itself.
The Riga Summit will focus on 2 main topics:
- a real reform of the Alliance – and
- the involvement of NATO in Afghanistan – a good example of the new vocation of NATO, an example of an operation which is taking place at a far distance from the traditional territory of NATO and which is not directed towards a country or against a government.
This brings me to Canada and its participation in NATO and its special commitment towards Afghanistan.
Canada in NATO
Why is Canada involved in NATO? What are the benefits for our country to be a member of this important forum?
First, NATO is a cornerstone of Canada’s relations with Europe. The dividends of Canada’s investment in NATO include exercises with allied forces and an equal voice in high-level decisions affecting Euro-Atlantic security and stability. Canada also benefits from the diplomatic weight, technical expertise and military capabilities of NATO.
Since 1949, Canada has been the sixth largest contributor to NATO’s budgets. Concerning the Baltic States, for years before they join the Alliance, Canada had offered special language and peacekeeping training in Canada. More than 300 Latvian militaries, for instance, have been trained in Canada over the last 10 years.
Canada is involved in many NATO operations: in the Balkans, in Iraq (since 2004 mainly in training of security forces), in Africa and in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, as you know, has become a priority for the Canadian government and it is one of the reasons why this NATO Summit will be very important.
Canada and it commitment in Afghanistan
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, the ISAF mission, shows the practical role that NATO can play in ensuring peace and security beyond the Euro-Atlantic region. It is an important NATO contribution to the global campaign against terrorism.
Ensuring that Afghanistan is stable, democratic and secure, and never again becomes a haven for terrorists, is the top priority for NATO and for Canada.
NATO took command of the UN-authorized International Security Assistance Force in August 2003. Originally responsible for security in Kabul and its region, ISAF has, at the request of the Afghan authorities, progressively expanded its presence throughout Afghanistan. Approximately 31,000 personnel from all 26 Allies and 11 partner countries are currently under NATO command in Afghanistan.
Canada strongly supports NATO’s leadership in Afghanistan and currently has approximately 2,500 Canadian Forces personnel deployed in support of operations.
Our soldiers are in charge of the security in the province of Kandahar – in the Southern part of the country where the Taliban are still very active. It is not an easy task and I am proud of our troops which try to bring more security to the zone. The military phase is the first step. An important Official Assistance Programme is also part of our contribution and is progressively put in place to improve the quality of life of the Afghan population. It is a whole-of-government approach, an integrated Canadian effort, to assist Afghanistan in stabilizing its democratic institutions, assist the reconstruction process and alleviate poverty in the country. I repeat, it is not easy and, even if today a recent survey indicates that 57 % of the Canadian population support the use of Canadian troops in combat operations in Afghanistan, the death of 42 soldiers since the beginning of 2006 has been difficult to take. However, 80 % of Canadians agree that we are playing an important humanitarian role in Afghanistan.
If you are interested to know more about the programmes we are developing in Afghanistan, I will leave some documents on Canada’s key contributions, like disarmament, police training, counter-narcotics programmes that focus on alternatives to poppy cultivation, destruction of landmines, micro-credit programmes for women, irrigation, human rights, good governance practices, education, etc.
Anyhow, what I wanted to tell you today is that Canada has made a clear commitment to stabilize Afghanistan and, with Latvia and other Allies of the NATO group, it is possible to create a more secure world for million of people.
What is needed? Energy, political will and, more than anything, solidarity among the nations which are lucky enough to be members of NATO, a group of 26 States which can make the difference.
Latvia, as Canada, should be proud to participate in peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations under NATO’s umbrella.
Of course, to coordinate their efforts, the 26 members have to meet every two years. After Prague and Istanbul, Riga is becoming NATO’s capital for 2 days. It seems a lot of logistical work to prepare such a Summit. In my point of view, it is unique. Do we realize how special it is to have 26 Heads of State or Heads of Government all together in Riga?
It is a lot of preparation for Latvia, for the Latvian authorities. It is as well a challenge for small Embassies which have to provide all the necessary support to the visit of their Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers. It is a real challenge for everybody, but a very exciting one! A very valuable one!
As the Canadian Ambassador here, I feel privileged to be a witness of this historical moment. I hope that you, young Latvians living in this marvellous city of Riga, share the same feeling, and Minister Pabriks’ presentation and mine contribute to increase your interest in NATO.