27 Nov, 2006 – Speech by H.E. Mr. Artis Pabriks, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia at the Young Leaders Forum Opening – „Crossing the Bridge to Riga”
Photo: Gints Malderis
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Riga, 27 November 2006
Ladies and gentlemans!
To begin with, let me thank you all for coming to Riga where - it is no secret - the NATO Summit is taking place.
It is of the utmost significance for our country that – one would say – the most important gathering of state leaders is being held in Riga right now.
However spectacular and even awesome official NATO meetings may be, it is in the very interests of NATO that alongside, there should be an alternative, fresh and even provocative think-tank or forum for discussing global security concerns and developing new solutions or critically investigating the old ones.
I must admit that on reading the five most challenging aspects for the efficiency of NATO today, as seen by the young leaders, I began to think that there was a unifying moment among them. I mean - a unifying moment apart from the obvious fact that they all are connected with the future of NATO
Let us read the questions or the assertions once more:
Challenges in Afghanistan: Bringing Stability or Building Democracy?
NATO and its Partners: How to Improve the Cooperation?
Western Policy Towards Russia: We Need a Coherent Policy.
NATO Enlargement in the Future: Who Will Open the Doors?
Energy Security: A New Challenge for NATO?
So what do they have in common?
I think it can be said with a high degree of credibility that these are the challenges that up to now have been answered too conventionally.
It is by no means sufficient to provide conventional answers to unconventional questions. They are doomed to fail.
Nobody should expect an official meeting of state leaders to turn into an exercise, as the British might put it, in 'thinking outside the box'. It means – creative, challenging and really new thinking.
And it is essentially a new thinking that our forum has to facilitate.
As a representative of Latvia, I am deeply convinced that each of those problems – if not solved properly – will affect all of us, whatever the size or location of our country may be.
However, I would not rush to conclude that NATO is in crisis.
No doubt - confronting the Soviet Union gave NATO a clearly defined task - one on which all the allies could agree. With its former enemy gone NATO is experiencing difficulties – the most apparent of them was the controversy over Iraq that led some pundits to openly question the survival of NATO.
I still firmly believe that NATO, alongside the European Union and probably the United Nations, is still by far the most effective international organization.
The founding members of NATO committed themselves to come to each other's aid in the event of a military attack against any one of them. What gave the agreement strength was that it bound North America to the defense of Western Europe. This was a clear message to the Soviet Union that the US would step in if it tried to push further west into Europe.
When we regained our independence, we here in Latvia viewed NATO as the main guarantor of the long-term security of our country, while by the 1990's many people in the world believed that NATO was no longer needed.
The "old enemy" was no longer a threat and many countries reduced their military spending. However, as we all know, NATO was to find a new role as new conflicts emerged in the Balkans, parts of the former Soviet Union and in Afghanistan.
I think these operations have helped strengthen the alliance between NATO countries and reinforce the view that collective defense and cooperation continue to be the best way to guarantee security.
At the same time, any statement claiming there was no cause for concern would be very optimistic.
Threats against the democracies of Europe and North America are all but identical. This is made clear in the security policy documents of the EU, NATO and the individual countries.
The NATO alliance is the unifying factor, because it offers an infrastructure and mechanism for reaction, which do not exist within the framework of other organizations.
The problems NATO is experiencing are not unique or characteristic to this organization alone; - the challenges to NATO are simply a reflection of the most important problems inherent in today's world.
Numerous factors have created new challenges in the world: the emergence of international terrorism, asymmetric threats, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, increased social inequalities, a growing dependency on energy, technology and information resources, as well as ecological crises.
Global terrorism is not a problem of NATO alone – it is faced by the whole of civilization. Even if militarists refer to the danger of terrorism as asymmetric threats, this does not make the hazard any less relevant for the ordinary citizen.
The Balkans, historically one of the world's most persistent trouble spots, is a region where NATO has achieved substantial progress. The same - to a considerable extent - can be said about Afghanistan.
If we speak about the extraordinarily complicated relationship of the Western world with Islam, it is NATO that has shown the possibility of cooperating closely with Turkey on a partnership basis.
Ladies and gentleman!
The reference to the young leaders in the title of this conference stimulates us to question the role of leadership in answering the challenges NATO is facing.
Leadership is not an exceptional state as some philosophers have claimed; it is rather the capability of not only taking decisions, but also that of bearing responsibility and being accountable for them.
This means that the decisions have to be courageous and rational.
For example – if you propose the abolition of NATO that may well be a courageous decision, but I would doubt if it was rational.
I don't know what to expect from you, the leaders of tomorrow.
To paraphrase a popular Latvian riddle – what is that the young leaders have and the old leaders do not have?
The easiest answer to that question would be – the proposals you are to develop throughout the coming days will show that.
To put my position in a nutshell – I still firmly believe that NATO remains the only effective military organization in the world capable of mounting a range of missions, from peacekeeping to peace enforcement.
How we use and retain this capability is open to the discussion to which I have the pleasure of inviting you.