26 November 2007 - Speech by Mr. José Lello, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly before the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia*, Skopje
Mr. Speaker, members of the Macedonian parliament,
Thank you for inviting me to address you today in my capacity as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is an honour and a privilege. Our Assembly has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with this Parliament since you became an associate member in 1993. Your delegation has participated regularly and actively in the work of the Assembly, ensuring that the concerns and perspectives of your country are not forgotten. Many of us remember the series of seminars in the late 1990's held at Lake Ohrid and organized together with this parliament. "The Ohrid Seminars", as they became known, allowed our members to see at first hand the crucial developments here in this region during that critical period.
In this context I should like to recognize the role of your current Ambassador to NATO, Nano Ruzin, who, as a member of parliament at that time, initiated the Ohrid seminars. We regret that he left our ranks to join the ranks of diplomacy, however I know that in his current position he continues to do an outstanding job for your country.
The NATO Assembly, as you know, provides a unique forum in which Alliance legislators can meet together on a regular basis to debate the key defence and security issues of the day. In this chamber I am sure there is little need to stress the central role played by parliaments in all our countries in the development of our defence and security policies. The deployment of NATO forces in areas of crisis and conflict such as Kosovo and Afghanistan gives an extra significance to our responsibilities of oversight and authorisation. It also makes more important our role in explaining to our voters why our armed forces are required to put their lives at risk.
Participation in the Assembly is not limited to the 26 full members of the Alliance but now includes delegations from a broad range of countries. Some seek NATO membership, as is the case for you and your partners in the "Adriatic Charter". Others are interested only in the benefits of cooperation and partnership. Others seek to know more about the nature and functioning of the Alliance before deciding on the merits of closer association. Our Assembly, therefore, has to respond to a diverse range of legislative interests and requirements. As a result, it has become much more than a forum for information. It is now a framework within which legislators can share their experiences and expertise in making parliamentary involvement in defence and security policy more effective. Your own delegation has both contributed to and benefited from this process.
my visit occurs during a period of great significance for this country and the entire region. Your country is one of the three countries under active consideration for NATO membership, a development we in the Assembly believe will strengthen stability and security in the region. Yet we are also deeply concerned with developments in Kosovo and elsewhere that could undermine the progress throughout the region that has been so painfully achieved.
In addressing the question of NATO membership, I want first to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the enormous progress this country has made since the declaration of independence in 1992. Too often we forget the conditions under which you became independent – the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the resulting widespread outbreak of conflict. At that time, many observers feared for your survival – a small but divided population, a weak economy and a volatile neighbourhood. Despite these worst fears you managed to avoid the conflicts around your borders, although not their effects. Gradually, under the leadership of President Gligorov, you began the road to recovery. Yet, just as this recovery was beginning to show results, the Kosovo crisis erupted, with devastating consequences for your economy and for your social cohesion. Yet again you managed to absorb the pressures inflicted on you and recover, overcoming on the way the crisis in 2001 with the mediation and direct assistance of NATO and the EU. The resulting Ohrid Agreement confirmed the multi-ethnic character of your country and established the framework for harmonious relations between the two main communities.
The progress you have made and the obstacles you have overcome are a credit to the determination, patience and perseverance of your leadership and of your society.
That period belongs to history. Unusually for this region, it is a part of history that you can look back on with satisfaction.
Now the process of integration into Alliance and European structures is underway, and, particularly important to us, you are actively preparing for NATO membership.
We do not know what our 26 governments will decide next April in Bucharest. We do know that your government, together with your two Adriatic partners, have made good progress in several areas of your Membership Action Plans. Reforms of your defence and security sectors are going well and each of you is making important contributions to current NATO operations.
As we have seen from past phases of enlargement, the best way to prepare for NATO membership is to act like a member by assuming responsibilities implied by membership. Your willingness to contribute forces in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and the logistical assistance provided to KFOR are much appreciated by NATO allies. Similarly, I know the Alliance is counting on you to play a responsible and moderating role in the current crisis over the status of Kosovo – on which I shall comment later.
Despite this commendable progress, however, there is still work to be done. As Alliance officials emphasize repeatedly, NATO membership is "performance based". The term "performance" refers not only to defence reforms and military contributions – important through these are – but also to areas which reflect the very nature of the society seeking to join the Alliance. It is countries, and their societies that join NATO, not just their armed forces or Ministries of Defence.
NATO is first and foremost an alliance of countries who subscribe to the same democratic values. For this reason we are concerned with those areas that are central to good governance such as the rule of law, the rights of minorities, and the need to combat corruption and organized crime. It is sometimes said that as a "military" or "defence" alliance, NATO is too demanding in the standards it requires in these areas. Some observers say the bar is unrealistically high. Yet democratic values and the principles and standards that go with them are the core of the Alliance. They give it its distinct identity and its solidarity and cohesion. One of the goals of Alliance enlargement is to broaden the zone of stability. It is, therefore imperative that new member countries can show that they will be stable and reliable partners and not potential sources of instability neither internally, nor in terms of their relations with neighbours, nor as havens of trafficking and organized crime.
When discussing the merits of respective candidate countries, our governments ask two basic questions: what do applicants bring to the collective security of the Alliance? And how strong are their democratic foundations? These are not calculations made with mathematical precision but political assessments made by each of the 26 members. I know that recently the American Ambassador to NATO delivered some negative news on your prospects. It is not for me to comment on the merits or otherwise of this assessment. Nor do I know if this single assessment carries the agreement of all allies. However, the Alliance principle of consensus means that if an ally has criticisms, these must be taken seriously. Furthermore, it is better to hear tough news now rather than later. I believe the appropriate reaction is to address the criticisms squarely and firmly and take decisive action in the appropriate areas. The changes needed can only come from within this country and its society. We can provide advice and assistance but we cannot substitute for your own efforts.
This body must also shoulder its responsibilities by energizing the government to carry out the necessary reforms, but also by passing the required legislation. Most importantly, working together demonstrates to the outside world that internal differences and divisions are being handled in a democratic way.
The NATO Assembly has always been in the vanguard of those who support NATO enlargement and I am sure will remain so for the next stages. It is, of course, our governments who must take the decision as to "who" and "when" to invite. Nevertheless, it is for parliaments to signal what they and their publics expect and support, and of course to provide final endorsement through the process of ratification.
I am optimistic that at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April 2008, our governments will make the right decision. My optimism is based not only on the progress made by the three Adriatic countries but because of the wider strategic significance of further enlargement. Membership of NATO will be a further step towards locking this region into the broader framework of Euro-Atlantic institutions. It will also be an important incentive for your still-troubled neighbours, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who will remain the last pieces of the Balkan jigsaw.
Two previous stages of enlargement have demonstrated the stabilizing influence of Alliance membership and nowhere is this more needed than in this region, which remains fragile and a potential source of instability.
Which brings me back to the question of Kosovo. As we approach the December 10 deadline, we are entering a period of great uncertainty and potential danger. In terms of what will happen next, and assuming there will be no breakthrough in the negotiations, we are facing two "unknowables". What will happen in Serbia and elsewhere if Pristina makes a unilateral declaration of independence and what will happen in Kosovo if it does not. This is a highly volatile situation with serious consequences for us all – not least for our forces in KFOR. Whatever the course of events, it is important that calm heads and the forces of moderation prevail. We cannot afford a further outbreak of violence or a regression by this region into ethnic and factional infighting.
The influence that this country can bring to bear to avert any such development will be extremely important.
I am confident that your country can make the necessary effort to win the support of the 26 allies. Making the necessary changes will not be easy nor without pain. But responsibility lies here. I am convinced that if you show the same determination and commitment that you have in the past, you will succeed. It is in all of our interests that you do so. Only when you and the entire region are fully integrated into the European and Alliance family of nations can we all enjoy full security and stability.
* Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name