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NATO in the age of global challenge: speech, Munich.



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The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

Speech

10 February 2007, Munich

NATO in the Age of Global Challenges

Introduction

Thank you Mr Chairman

I'm very pleased to be able to contribute to this Conference because in many respects the topics today goes to the heart of Australia's foreign policy. Our belief in political freedom and democracy has very much shaped our foreign policy.

We may be geographically distant from Europe but we have often been engaged in events far from our shores to defend freedom and democracy. And we're very much doing that today in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world.

70,000 Australians died in Europe in the last century.

And during the Cold War, Australia proved itself a reliable ally in the Western alliance, more broadly defined, in the struggle against totalitarianism. NATO was the cornerstone of the Western Alliance during the Cold War.

But the post Cold War period has presented the organisation with a major challenge to retain its relevance. As President Clinton said in NATO's 50th anniversary year in 1999:

"Yesterday's NATO guarded our borders against military aggression. Tomorrow's Alliance must continue to safeguard our shared security while contending with new threats that recognize no borders -- the spread of weapons of mass destruction, ethnic violence, and regional conflict."

And of course we can now add to that list: terrorism.

Since the 50th anniversary, NATO has had robust internal debates about its role.

In that debate, some have favoured extending NATO into a kind of global alliance, while others have been more circumspect.

NATO's role

The consensus now seems to be that NATO will not be a global alliance, but an alliance with global partners. I think that is the right outcome. It recognises that new threats that respect no borders have to be tackled not regionally, just by regional

institutions, which of course have been very fashionable in the post war years-but they have to be tackled globally.

At the same time, this approach upholds NATO's fundamental purpose to bind together the United States and Canada with Europe in a common trans-Atlantic security framework and that's something that we strongly support.

I welcome the development of the European Security and Defence Policy. It should be a means to strengthen Europe's contribution to global security. And I hope it will be.

But it should not undermine NATO's pre-eminence as the trans-Atlantic security organisation.

Indeed, if you could allow me a brief transgression into a debate in Europe, particularly within the European Union involving Turkey.

We should commend Turkey's contribution to NATO, through its role as a founding member, its unswerving support for the trans-Atlantic alliance through the Cold War, and recently, by its substantial troop deployment to Afghanistan. Turkey would similarly work for regional and global stability as a member of the European Union.

It would be unfortunate if the debate over the size and shape of the Union did not take into account Turkey's long record of solid support for the NATO trans-Atlantic alliance.

Australia and NATO

Over the past two years, Australia and NATO have developed a relationship based on principles of flexibility, practicality and mutual interest. We share NATO's appreciation of the global nature of threats to international security.

We now have in place agreements that allow us to exchange information and to draw on each other's expertise.

As what is now known as a "Contact Country", the outcomes of the Riga summit will allow us to do more work together, including through NATO's sharing of its expertise by allowing access to the Partnership for Peace 'tool box'.

And new areas of potential co-operation have opened up as a result of NATO's expanding operational agenda, demonstrated by its roles in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Darfur.

NATO's activities and Australia's direct security interests now overlap more than they have ever done before.

The NATO Allies and other Asia-Pacific Contact Countries and I mention specifically here Japan, South Korea and New Zealand; we share the same commitment to freedom and democratic values.

We are all confronting the same threats to global security - terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the challenges arising from failed and failing states.

It is critical that we strike the right balance between our national interests and our commitment to global security.

The strategic advantage of distance is no longer a safeguard against rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction or long range ballistic missiles; or for that matter against threats from non-state actors like international terrorists.

Unlike Europe, the Asia-Pacific region as yet has no NATO-style collective security framework.

Of course the United States' strategic alliances in the region have underwritten our region's security, in particular its alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The United States also has alliances with the Philippines and Thailand. And the ASEAN Regional Forum also has a growing role.

But several potential flashpoints in Asia pose a continuing risk to stability.

North Korea's worrying development of nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction programs has enormous implications for East Asia and it also has implications for Europe.

That's why I welcome NATO initiatives to strengthen cooperation with countries outside of its trans-Atlantic base.

Over time, we would see value in NATO expanding informal linkages to some parts of South East Asia; countries like Singapore-whose Defence Minister is here at this conference-Malaysia and Indonesia.

Winning in Afghanistan

Nowhere is co-operation outside of NATO's trans-Atlantic base more vital than in Afghanistan.

Our mission is to help Afghanistan achieve stability, peace and democracy after years and years of violence and extremism.

To this end, I welcome the European Union's major contribution in the policing and justice sectors.

And I applaud the significant contribution of many European Union member states and other NATO members, particularly Turkey, to the battle for freedom and democratic values in Afghanistan.

I welcome the role played by our host Germany, which has over 3,000 troops in Afghanistan.

And I support Germany's emphasis on civil and military co-ordination as we heard from Chancellor Merkel and Defence Minister Jung today.

I support the German Government's steps to extend support to the south of the country, including through ad hoc deployments and the planned deployment of Tornado aircraft.

As a partner with the Netherlands, Australia is a member of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

For Australia, as for NATO, Afghanistan is a critical test of our collective resolve to meet one of the most profound challenges to international security.

Afghanistan is a major front in the battle against extremism.

A defeat in Afghanistan means allowing the Taliban to regain power and re-impose extremist rule and we will all pay an enormous price for that.

Australia's role

Our effort there has been long running. We originally sent troops in 2001.

Between September 2005 and September 2006, our Special Forces provided reconnaissance, surveillance and other specialised capabilities for operations against Al Qaida and the Taliban.

To illustrate our efforts to support stability and security, Australia announced last week that our Federal Police personnel will be deployed to assist police in Afghanistan over the next two years.

We have agents in Kabul to mentor senior police and act as high-level advisors to the Afghan National Police. And we have others dealing with Counter Narcotics.

The International Community's role

The number of countries that are prepared to be involved in this conflict underlines its importance. But with such a large international investment in Afghanistan, the consequences of failure are unacceptable.

A defeat of the international community in Afghanistan would do incalculable damage to the national security interests of Australia, the United States, Europe and the rest of the civilised world.

It would also, by the way, be simply catastrophic for NATO and be a setback from which NATO might never recover.

Clearly, the Afghan Government and international community must overcome the insurgency in the south of Afghanistan.

And we expect substantial increases in activity in the spring of this year.

A key to victory is having an international force with the capacity and flexibility to fight the Taliban.

And while I was hearted by the outcomes of the NATO Summit in Riga, let me just say again that we would urge all countries involved in Afghanistan to relax or remove the national caveats on their troop deployments.

This would give the ISAF commanders the flexibility they need to achieve victory.

Australia and NATO have a common interest in peace, security, stability and global prosperity, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere throughout the world.

So it is only natural that countries like Australia, Japan and others-countries that are allies of the United States in the Asia Pacific Region-seek to co-operate with NATO so that we can work together to protect and promote our values of democracy and

freedom.

Thank you very much.

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