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Address by the Minister of National Defence at a conference in Tbilisi

2016.05.24

GEORGIA DEFENCE AND SECURITY CONFERENCE

 

Session A: NATO Enlargement: If?

 

First of all, let me thank the organisers of this conference – our Georgian friends - for the opportunity to take part in this important event.

Georgia Defence and Security Conference has been on my agenda for the last several years. However, there was always something which did not allow me to take part in the conference. We all know that last year the conference was postponed due severe flooding in Tbilisi. In 2013 I was busy with the election to the European Parliament campaign. In 2014 I broke my leg during a so called ‘friendly’ :) football match. I am happy this time no force majeure interferes and finally I take part in the conference standing strong on my both legs.

I enjoyed presentations of the first session and I would like to share some of my thoughts on NATO enlargement and perspectives for Georgia.

I will start by saying that twelve years ago, on 29 March 2004, seven Central and Eastern European countries, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, became full-fledged members of NATO. This indeed is a success story of the Baltic States. Today we are members of the Euro-Atlantic community; we belong to the most powerful political-military alliance in the world – NATO.

The value of NATO membership could not be overestimated. Most importantly, we have been provided with a security and defence umbrella, which is the key deterrence factor to those who might attempt to threaten us. We are no longer alone. For my country this is of vital importance particularly nowadays when Russia shows no restraint to use military force against neighbours with a view to pursue its foreign policy interests.

Georgia is doing a great job in promoting its case for NATO membership. You have made an impressive progress in reforming your security and defence sector and adapting it to NATO standards. Georgian people support NATO membership. Your government is always vocal in advocating Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Indeed, you have already convinced a number of Allies, including us in Lithuania, that Georgia would be a trusted and valuable NATO Ally, an Ally which contributes to the Euro-Atlantic and global security.

At the 2008 Summit in Bucharest NATO leaders made a political pledge that Georgia will become a NATO member. A promise of an eventual membership was given and further reaffirmed during the following NATO summits. We do understand and support your desire to enter the NATO’s door. But this will not happen in Warsaw. We must admit that finding a consensus among 28 NATO Member States is rather difficult and it takes time. The political decisions, including decisions on NATO enlargement, depend on strategic considerations in the framework of current security environment, and on the assessment of readiness of an aspirant country.

 

Today NATO operates in a new disturbing security environment. Since the NATO Summit in Wales, the security situation in the Euro-Atlantic area and in its neighbourhood has further deteriorated. The Warsaw Summit will be an adaptation summit for the Alliance - adaptation to this new environment. Implementation of the reassurance measures, as agreed at the Wales Summit for the most vulnerable Allies in Eastern and Central Europe, and the agreement on deterrence measures will be assessed and reviewed. Also support to partners, including assistance to them in building their defence capacities, will be discussed and confirmed.

Developing a common understanding of Russia, which is no longer regarded as a NATO partner, will also be on the agenda in Warsaw. We need to agree a long-term approach towards Russia. The Alliance today is more vigilant than ever in monitoring Russia’s military activities. Also, politically there is a very high degree of unity among Allies to make sure that Russia’s potential aggressive moves towards its neighbours would have a very high price. I believe that internal developments at NATO and growing NATO’s footprint in your region are beneficial for security of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Overall, the entire enlargement issue is not really high on NATO’s agenda. However, this should not discourage the Georgian Government from continuing reforms and modernizing military and continuing active engagement with the Alliance. This is certainly a mutually beneficial cooperation.

It is obvious that NATO’s adaptation to the changing security threats will only be possible if the Alliance works together and coordinates closely with its partners. The leaders of the Alliance will emphasize the partnership aspect in their decisions at the summit. Georgia has already demonstrated that it is an enthusiastic and trusted partner of the Alliance.

We see your steady progress in carrying out ambitious defence reform agenda and building democratic institutions, also significant troop contributions to NATO operations. All Allies are truly impressed by your military commitment in Afghanistan. Your troops serving side by side with NATO military is the most vivid manifestation of Georgia’s readiness to underpin your political aspirations towards the Alliance with practical steps. All this shows Georgia as a security provider. Therefore, Georgia certainly merits a special mention in Warsaw.

NATO has already reassured Georgia with the Foreign Minister’s Joint Statement in December last year that Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains the practical tools to prepare for eventual membership. NATO has provided Georgia with all necessary instruments, including the specially designed one – the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, agreed at the Wales summit – to assist the development of your Armed Forces. A number of Allies, including Lithuania, has deployed military experts to work and support their Georgian counterparts in all key areas. We want you to take full advantage of this unique opportunity. The rest will come sooner or later.

What is important to highlight in this respect is the continuity of Georgia’s security policy both in its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and in its practical support to the Alliance activities regardless of political changes here in Tbilisi. Make sure that this political consensus on Euro-Atlantic security and defence policy remains unchanged in the future.

I am sure that the implementation of the Substantial Package has been another major step in the right direction. In many ways the Substantial Package goes further and deeper that the Membership Action Plan, which was the basis for cooperation between Lithuania and the Alliance in the run up to our membership in the Alliance. At the Warsaw Summit NATO should provide new, practical ways on your way to membership, namely: to intensify efforts including through high-level political dialogue and increased practical co-operation, and strategic communications.

Finally, my concluding remarks are as follows:

Forthcoming Montenegro’ invitation to join the Alliance reaffirms NATO’s commitment that the Open Door Policy is valid and continued. It also sends a message to Moscow that it does not have a veto on NATO’s enlargement. This development should give a hope and optimism to Georgia. Therefore, there is no question of “if”, only a question of “when” Georgia will become a NATO member.

You are on the right track. Do not stop and do not fling, despite the unfavourable circumstances and obstacles on your way, but keep going. It is not easy; we know it as we went through it.

I take this opportunity to reaffirm the strongest support of Lithuania, also support of Latvia and Estonia (you might have noticed that all three of us – Baltic Defence Ministers – are here in Tbilisi), for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration goals. I encourage Georgia to continue reforms, to stay committed to working with NATO. Your resolve and dedication is a value in itself, it is a powerful tool, as powerful as the Membership Action Plan. You will achieve your goal. It is only a question of time.

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