Bruxelles 02/03/2010

Address by Giorgio Napolitano President of the Italian Republic North Atlantic Council

Secretary General Rasmussen,
Dean of the Council, Ambassador Poulsen Hensen,
Chairman of the Military Committee, Admiral Di Paola,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am seizing with pleasure the opportunity which has been kindly given me to address you some key evaluations and positions inspiring me in the fulfilment of my role as President of the Italian Republic who chairs, according to the Constitution, the Supreme Defence Council.

My visit in Brussels will include, after NATO, all the main European institutions, on the basis of the vision and the strategic choice which led Italy in the late 40's and the first 50's of the last century to subscribe the Northern Atlantic Treaty and to take its place in NATO, and to be among the founding members of the European Community. That vision and that choice have remained the cornerstones of the international orientation and the foreign policy of Italy ; they have gone through a long series of events and tensions, gradually and substantially gaining consensus in the public opinion and in Parliament.

In fact, today, I am sure to represent, on behalf of Italy, a conscious and strong commitment very broadly shared - beyond the traditional political boundaries and differences - to the cause of European and Transatlantic security, relying on the two pillars of NATO and European Union.

In this spirit, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your determination. We know what NATO has represented through the past decades. Now, we have to live up to the challenge of steering the Atlantic Alliance through the uncharted waters of the 21st century, under the leadership of Secretary General Rasmussen. Let me pay tribute to our women and men in uniform. This Council bears the responsibility to make the right strategic decisions for them, as they willingly carry out their tasks on the front line. Day in, day out, they put their lives at risk. Many, too many, have paid the ultimate sacrifice. While we mourn their loss, we must make sure to deserve their trust. I think in particular of the 3.200 troups of the Italian military contingent in Afghanistan ; 24 of these brave soldiers have lost their lives. And yesterday, in Rome, I paid the last tribute to a highly qualified Italian intelligence official killed in action in Kabul days ago.

We are witnessing sea changes in international relations. We have to acknowledge a shift away from us: neither Europe nor the Atlantic are still the centre, or the only centre, of political and economic dynamics. The EU and the United States, together the 44% of the present world GDP, compared to 55% in the fifties, with a far smaller EU, no longer suffice to make the difference. This readjustment makes NATO more relevant for all us, Europeans and North Americans alike.

At the same time, NATO must, of course, interact with the rest of the world. I fully support the outreach to partners and to countries that share our security concerns and are prepared to support our stabilization and peace-keeping efforts by participating in operations, in particular in ISAF in Afghanistan.

First of all, NATO is an alliance which embodies our common values and, not only for this reason, is still needed in Europe. The stabilization of our continent is an unfinished job. Although no current threat to the Allies can be traced, "frozen conflicts" and underlying tensions across national borders can erupt in open clashes. We must remain vigilant.

Secondly, territorial defence only does no longer protect our security and our peoples. Volatility and trouble brew afar and then hit devastatingly in our midst. We cannot feel secure at home when State and institutions collapse in other parts of the world, when violent extremism and terrorism find safe heavens.

That is true looking at all new threats to our security arising from an interconnected and changing world. Of course, NATO is not alone in confronting these threats. The United Nations bear the primary responsibility for international peace and security. But NATO, also when it does not bear a primary or even major role, has to be part of the international response.

2010 is a crucial year for NATO.

Afghanistan is at a turning point. It is a major test for the Alliance. Let there be no doubt about Italy's commitment to ISAF and to the building of the Afghan nation. We have to stay within the course set by President Obama in his speech of last December first, with a strategy centred on protecting the population, enhancing Afghan ownership, training the army and police and seeking regional cooperation. We need increased military strength as a mean to an end. By demonstrating its military resolve NATO also wishes to encourage an Afghan process of national reconciliation.

Together with Afghanistan, the 2010 Strategic Concept will shape the future of NATO. Work is under way and I wish you good luck, especially to Secretary General Rasmussen, in the months ahead, leading to the November summit.

On either shore, we will be still looking at the Alliance to keep us together, Europeans and Americans. This is the cradle of Atlantic solidarity. In a world of shifting power balances and asymmetric threats we will need it more than ever.

Difficult as it may be, we must strive to bring Russia into a cooperative and mutually supportive relationship with NATO. Fact is that Russia and NATO share many concerns and security challenges, immediate and future, but are still separated by a gulf in trust and confidence. Russian recent behaviours have been cause for concern. However the Strategic Concept is meant to be forward looking. Russia is part of Europe and hence of the Atlantic community. European security will never be fully secure without Moscow's constructive engagement in its architecture. We need Russia "in" not "out", while expecting from the Russian leadership equally open attitudes and encouraging answers.

While deterrence still plays a fundamental role in preventing nuclear wars, NATO should consider how to contribute to the nuclear-free world goal of President Obama's Prague speech. Small, well-thought, concrete and concerted steps can go a long way in creating momentum toward the final goal.

As NATO becomes part of a wider international security network, it must heighten its capacity to share the burden of common goals with other international actors. We face increasingly complex crises that do not lend themselves to one-sided solution. We must be able to muster all the available resources from a variety of sources.

No longer security, stabilization and rehabilitation can be dealt in air-tight compartments. Either we work together, or we do not work at all. This is the "comprehensive approach" we need.

For NATO the EU cannot be "just one of the many international organizations" to work with.

The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty enhances Europe's potential to "live up to its responsibilities" in security, defence and crisis management.

If I may insist on what I said last year addressing the IISS in London : Europe cannot lay the responsibility for, and the burden of, its defence and security on the shoulders of its American ally. Any ambiguity in this regard must be overcome. Neither the European Union nor its individual Member States should anymore underestimate their joint responsibility for the safeguard of their security interests.Given the difficult situation faced by Member States' public finances - I added and now repeat - the way ahead lies in a significant increase in the productivity of European defence spending, still much lower than that of the United States defence budget and above all suffering from poor effectiveness and coordination ; it lies in a serious rationalization including an end to a costly and unproductive duplication of structures.

On this basis, not a simple cooperation, not a so-called division of labour, but a veritable synergy between NATO and a strong Europe can be solidly established.

I frankly don't see - certainly, I don't see it in Italy - a new wave of antimilitarism in Europe raising an alarming obstacle to the common effort which is required. I strongly believe in the success of a persuasive approach to win the broadest support for a defence and security policy in the interest of peace, democracy and social progress.