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Amb. Sir Peter Ricketts

 

Well, thank you very much Oded [Eran]. It’s certainly a great pleasure to be here. I suspect it's fairly unusual to find at the Herzliya Conference a NATO ambassador, indeed, as Oded has said, a small flock of NATO ambassadors, with my Norwegian and Romanian colleagues. And it does suggest, at least to me, that there is something going on. There is something profound happening certainly in NATO, where there is a major change program underway, and there is also a period of huge new opportunity in your region here, and therefore I particularly commend Bruce [Jackson], Ron [Asmus], Uzi [Arad] and others who had the foresight a year or so ago, to start the thinking which is now leading to the debate we are having today. And there are some very interesting papers outside, from them all, on these issues.

 

Uzi says in his paper that the Euro-Atlantic community is perhaps the natural habitat for Israel, and I understand what you mean by that phrase; and despite Oded’s heroic efforts to represent Israel in both the EU and NATO, I think Israel has been too much absent from the wider debates that are going on in the Euro-Atlantic community, so I think it’s a very good thing that we should have this debate now. I am not sure that I can speak for Europe, as one says, because there will be very different views among European countries on the issues we are debating, and there are certainly no settled NATO policy on the issue of strategic cooperation with Israel. So all I can give you is a view of one closely interested participant. But I think you’ve caught it zeitgeist here, and therefore I think the debate is very timely.

 

Maybe I can start with a couple of comments about what is changing in NATO before looking at what opportunities that creates for Israel. First, a strategic assumption I would operate on is that NATO is going to be around for the foreseeable future. You probably read in the press, as we do in the British press sometimes, stuff about NATO being passed its sold-by date, on the way out, no longer relevant. I don’t believe that. I think as a political community and as a military alliance NATO is going to be around. In the Darwinian struggle among organizations to adapt and survive, I don’t think NATO is doing too badly. I witnessed the queue of countries interested in joining: seven countries joined this year, including Romania; others are beating on our door. The same is true, of course, in the European Union, the plastic moment, which Bruce and Ron talk about in their paper, of change and opportunity in the European institutions, I think, will last some time. We are off for decades worth of negotiations on Turkish membership in the European Union and we certainly got a pipeline of at least a decade of countries interested in joining NATO, so there is certainly change and ferment and evolution. But I don’t think the window is going to shut in the short term. Witness Ukraine; extraordinary things are happening in Ukraine, and no doubt that would put issues of much closer relationship for Ukraine with the European Union and NATO on our agenda.

 

So NATO is adapting, it has succeeded in adapting, I think, following 9/11 and the cataclysmic changes in our security landscape that that brought about. We’ve moved away from being a Cold War centered organization; we’ve also moved on from a decade of concentration on the Balkans and peace keeping in the Balkans. We are now undertaking military operations in Afghanistan, and we’ve just set up a training mission in Iraq, these are operations that no NATO country even three or four years ago would have dreamt of being involved in as NATO, and for a number of our countries - most of them - the challenge of developing deployable forces, which can actually go to far away regions and operate in often quite difficult military environments, is a real challenge, and it is bringing about a deep transformation in military forces.

 

We’ve had problems in NATO, as everywhere else, on the issue of Iraq. That’s one of the reasons why one can’t speak for Europeans collectively, because Europeans have been very divided on the issue of Iraq, and that has had its impact on NATO - it must, if allies are fundamentally divided on a major issue of security strategy - but even on Iraq, we now are at a point where NATO has set up a training mission. We have President Bush coming to Europe, to Brussels on the 22nd of February for meetings both at NATO and in the European Union; very much a sense at our NATO meeting last week of an opportunity to re-launch trans-Atlantic relations after a difficult period.

 

In this new security landscape NATO has shown it can adapt its peace keeping stabilization functions effectively. The Secretary General, and I’m sure he’ll say this when he comes to Israel, is also very keen to re-energize political consultations in NATO, to use it as a forum where countries bring security dilemmas, ventilate them, compare analyses, without necessarily the implication that NATO is going to go off and undertake a military operation. And he and I would like to see, for example, issues of Iran and the proliferation threats discussed in NATO as a place where the trans-Atlantic community can come together on security issues.

 

Counter terrorism as well - NATO has a role, I wouldn’t over-claim for what NATO can do in counter terrorism, but there are specialist capabilities that NATO has, and again, it’s a forum for information exchange and developing ideas, the transformation of our defense equipment, and doctrine, and training, and concept are important areas as well. So there is a lot happening in NATO, it’s not the NATO that people will have known if they visited us three years ago or five years ago.

 

How does that translate into the opportunities for strategic upgrade as the NATO-Israel relationship? I think there is a real opportunity here. So far Israel’s experience of NATO has been through the prism of this Mediterranean dialogue. We had the first ministerial meeting of it last week after 10 years, which says something about its political vitality up to this point, and frankly it’s always been the Cinderella of NATO’s outreach programs, because up till recently it was never at the center of NATO’s strategic agenda. Now there is a distinct move South and East in NATO’s focus, and therefore we’ve had our first meeting of the Mediterranean dialogue. But up till now we have never put the resources behind it from the NATO side, and we’ve never felt coming back to us from the Med-dialogue countries a consistent and coherent demand for relationship with NATO that we could really get a handle on.

 

In Istanbul we proposed, given the shift of NATO emphasis South and East, that we should reinvigorate the Mediterranean dialogue, and we should set up as well, and [did] sat, an Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which would be essentially to offer the same partnership instruments that we’ve developed for central Europe, Caucuses, and central Asia, to the wider group of Middle East countries. And we’ve had some echo back from the Gulf countries in particular of interest in that. Each of these mechanisms allows countries like Israel to develop a relationship with NATO at "NATO plus Israel", “26 plus 1” as we call it, without having necessarily to work through the institution of the Med-dialogue.

 

If Israel is to develop a strategic relationship with NATO that goes way beyond anything that we’ve had so far, my first cardinal point is that the initiative will have to come from the Israeli side, in my view. In Bruce and Ron’s paper that approach is presented as a static and reactive European approach. I actually think it’s realistic, I don’t think NATO is going to take the initiative to come calling on Israel and say: “by the way, would you be interested in a strategic dialogue if we would offer it?” I think we’ve got to feel that Israelis have concluded that this is an Israeli national strategic interest. If they do, I think there will be a strong answering echo from the NATO side. How far it will go? I don’t know, and I think Ron is right to say we don’t need to talk now about end-destinations.

 

I think there is a lot that NATO and Israel could do together in a tailored cooperation program, in areas like counter terrorism, for example, in areas like discussing threats from WMD, maybe in areas of comparing notes on defense transformation as well, as Israel has one of the most modern and effective defense forces around. I don’t, myself, see Israel contributing to NATO stabilization missions in third countries, at least in the immediate future, but, as Ron said, I think NATO presents an opportunity for Israel to diversify its close bilateral strategic relationship with the US into a wider trans-Atlantic setting.

 

And I found in Uzi’s paper a reference to the British model, so I looked very carefully at what you said about the British model, Uzi, and I think what you mean by that is that there is no contradiction between having a deep strategic relationship bilaterally with the United States and developing multilateral links as well. That’s certainly true for my country. We have a relationship with the US that goes into the most sensitive national security issues you can imagine, which is as close as any relationship I think between two countries. Equally, we are deeply involved in the European Union and in NATO and we don’t see any incoherence between that. Actually, on the contrary, we see the one as strengthening the other. So, a closer relationship for Israel with NATO need not cut across your relationship with the US, I think that’s right.

 

I also found further on in your paper reference to the Swedish model as a model for Israeli relationship with NATO. There I think I interpret you to mean a very close working relationship short of membership. I wouldn’t myself get too tied up in the institutional plumbing of whether Israel should join the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, or whether it should develop this relationship outside those structures in a specifically tailored model, but I think Sweden, as Ron also said, is an interesting example of a country that is not a member of NATO, shares our security universe absolutely, actually contributes to NATO missions a lot as well, but we feel very comfortable in discussing with Sweden without the issue of membership arising, because the Swedes don’t want it to arise.

 

I myself would not exclude Israeli membership of NATO one day if that’s what Israel decided it wanted. I don’t think it’s for the immediate future and I think there would be a discussion to be had with other members of NATO. I don’t know what the views of some of my European colleagues would be about that. I am sure, though, that the issue of membership in NATO of Israel could only come about in the context of a wider settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue. I would not make that a condition for working now to develop a much closer relationship; I think that that is entirely compatible. I don’t see how Israel could become a member without a settlement of the Israel-Palestine issue, so I think all that fits into the opportunity that you are taking in the coming months to push forward work in that area.

 

There is one other issue which I just mentioned and leave aside because I think it’s not particularly relevant to our discussion here, and that is a debate that I have heard whether NATO might be the right vehicle to organize some sort of peace observing, peace monitoring mission to accompany a settlement and to work on the Palestinian side of a future Israel-Palestine border. My answer to that - and again, there is no NATO policy on that - is I don’t see NATO being in the position to undertake large scale military operations. But if there was an issue about a smallish peace monitoring operation in the context of a settlement, then if the Israeli side and the Palestinians were interested in NATO doing that, I think we would certainly be open to that. But I don’t see that as particularly relevant to the issue of Israel and NATO.

 

To sum up my points now, I think NATO has the mechanisms now to allow Israel to develop a closer strategic partnership. It could either be through a tailored program under the Mediterranean dialogue, or it could be through our new Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. I think the impetus, if we are going to move in that direction, has to come initially from Israel, because I think people will have to believe that Israel really thinks that this is in your national security interest. If it did, and especially if it was in the context of real moves towards peace between Israel and Palestine, I think there would be real interest from the NATO side. How far it would go, how fast it will go – I can’t tell you at the moment, but I think the sort of Swedish model of not a member but a free engaged and active partner with NATO is a good one to aim for at this stage.

Thank you very much.

 

 
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