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The Post-Prague Agenda for NATO
In Prague, NATO decided to invite new members, including the Balkan countries, and to transform itself. Nows we must start to discuss the post-Prague agenda for NATO and Europe. My remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Aspen NATO Conference in Prague.

The Post-Prague Agenda

Remarks by Mr Carl Bildt

Aspen Institute Conference, Prague, November 22, 2001

My first visit to Prague – then as a young student – was in the fateful month of August in the fateful year of 1968.

Prague was a city of hope – and apprehension. Hope that freedom, after all that had been happening in the preceding two decades, would be possible. Hope that we were seeing a new dawn for Europe. Hope, then, for something called socialism with a human face.

I stood in the crowds as the people of Prague greeted President Tito of Yugoslavia as their guest. And I left Prague late in the evening of August 20. As the plane I was on took off, other planes had already landed, ready to start to unleash their cargoes of tanks and troops later during that night.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that night was a watershed event in the history of Europe. Twice before – in Berlin in 1953 and in Budapest in 1956 – the Soviet tanks had been called upon to uphold the Soviet empire against the wishes of the peoples of Central Europe.

Never more would they dare to do the same again. In Poland, others were called upon to hold the fort. But the fate of the empire was sealed. What I learnt during my days in Prague in August of 1968 was that it would never endure. That one day, the one way or the other, there would be a true new dawn for Europe.

In 1989, the collapse came. The regime in East Berlin that had been urging the Soviet leadership to send tanks to Budapest, to Prague, to Warsaw or to wherever their were signs of dissent or urge for freedom, collapsed without being able to rely even on its aging tanks.

And there were no other tanks available. In Moscow, Secretary-General Gorbachev believed that the socialist system could be reformed without repression. It was, as we now know, a fundamental misunderstanding. But it was a misunderstanding that saved the peace, liberated the nations and created a new future for all of Europe.

Within just months, the entire empire came crushing down. And we were faced with momentous tasks in securing the transition to a new Europe.

There were the success stories of truly historic dimensions.

The peaceful reunification of Germany. The peoples of what had been the German Democratic Republic voted in a free and fair election to join the Federal Republic of Germany as well as all the institutions of European and Atlantic integration and security.

The restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Independent nations before Hitler and Stalin decided otherwise, they had been absorbed into the Soviet Union itself, and been the subject also of demographic occupation. Now, President Yeltsin recognized their independence, and vast numbers of troops left their territories.

But there were also the failures.

In South-eastern Europe, nationalism broke through all barriers and degenerated into barbarism and brutality. As freedom erupted in most of Europe, war erupted in this always-volatile part of the world. We had to face a decade of the one conflict after the other, many tens of thousands of dead and millions force to flee their homes in Europe – again.

Then, the task we were given was to set up a new order of peace and prosperity in all of Europe.

And as the leaders of NATO meet here in Prague today, and the leaders of the European Union will meet in Copenhagen within a month, we are perhaps half the way towards that goal. Much has certainly been done – but much also remains to be done.

The structures of European integration have gone through vast transformation during the years since 1989. Then, it was the European Community of 12, with the completion of its internal market as the most important item on its agenda.

Now, it is the European Union of 15, having forged a common currency from Helsinki in the North to Athens in the South, now prepared to accept no less than 10 new member states by 2004, and busy discussing the first constitutional treaty – constitution, that is – of the evolving federation of nation states encompassing all of Europe to the West of Russia and the Ukraine.

And the structures of NATO have changed no less, as you have been discussing during these two days. The Czech Republic is already a well-established member of the Alliance. Now, new members as well as new tasks will be added. The Prague Summit is, as they say in the US, a “transformational” summit of profound importance.

These two processes are part of the one and same historical change: the creation of a federation of nation states of Europe in a close security alliance with the United States, and in an evolving and important security relationship with Russia.

Here in Prague, much of the attention is given to the threats and the tasks that are there primarily beyond the borders of Europe proper.

We are faced with a global terrorism that can only be handled by a common response. We are concerned with the issues of the spread of weapons of mass destruction in different parts of the world. We must be firm in demanding the respect for the binding resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations – and preferably the others as well. We are increasingly concerned with the failed region, in terms of economic, social and political developments, that meets us to the South and to the East of the Mediterranean.

These challenges beyond Europe are obvious priorities. And so are the different hardware issues in Europe and across the Atlantic that are also the focus of attention.

But as we deal with them, we should remain aware that there are major outstanding issues and tasks in Europe itself, and that we must be ready to develop not only the hardware, but even more the software of policies, to deal with those. We are half way – no more – to the new order of peace and security that we are seeing.

Let’s not forget, that Europe during the past century gave the world two totalitarian ideologies and two wars that covered the globe. We have a duty to make certain that this can never happen again. But then we must press on with the tasks of both the peace and the prosperity of our continent.

We must recognize that we still face enemies in this endeavour – and that the enemy is our common as well as divided history and – at the end of the day - ourselves. Our alliances and our unions are truly defensive alliances and unions against a resurgence of our past.

Europe is certainly rich in history. That history brings us together – but it can also tear us apart. And no task is more important that the building of the links and the institutions that allow us to emphasis what unite and allow us to handle all those issues that still divide.

NATO is the key instrument in integrating the military forces and the security policies of the continent. Few tasks are as important.

Throughout our history, armies have been standing against each other. Young men in uniform in millions have been seeing other young men in uniform as prospective enemies. Now, through NATO and its partnership, armies will be standing together, and young men and women in uniform will see other young men and women in Europe as prospective partners instead of enemies.

Day to day, this might not be particularly glamorous work. Joint exercises. Staff talks. Operational requirements. Standards and procedures. But over time, it’s a question of overcoming the forces of history, and paving the way for true peace.

The tasks of the European Union are of course more far reaching. Here, we are talking about an integration that over time reaches into each and every part of all of our economies, that shapes key parts of our judiciary and administrative systems and that gives a common political framework for all our political systems.

It’s a myth that we are standardizing the size of our cucumbers, but it is a reality that we our bringing the agendas of our different national political systems closer and closer together, with vast ramifications for the future of our continent. We will always a continent of bewildering diversity, but increasingly one of economic unity and common political will.

These processes of integration and institution building across old divides and borders are crucial in overcoming the conflict and tensions of the past. The tensions and challenges we have been confronted with in the Balkans are in essence no different than the ones we see in numerous other places in Europe – the difference is primarily that there are more of them in that part of Europe than in any other. No other part of Europe was ruled by multi-national empires for so long, and no other part of Europe has the mosaic of cultures and nations that this area has.

Thus, the mundane task of day-to-day integration must remain a priority all across our continent. We are by no means at the end of that process. We have by no means countered the threat that comes from our past.

In parallel, we need to start to discuss the software and policy issues beyond the twin summits of Prague and Copenhagen. Next year will be the year for the ratification of all the far-reaching agreements reached. But after that, we must be ready to move forward in the building of the structures of peace and security in all of Europe.

There are open conflicts and outstanding disputes in key parts of Europe that needs to be settled in order not to be sores for the future.

Most urgent of them is the issue of Cyprus. The United Nations have put a very elaborate and thought-through draft peace agreement on the table of the two parties in Cyprus as well as Greece and Turkey. It represents the necessary compromise that sooner or later is the only conceivable way to move forward.

It is my hope, that Prague will give the process for peace in Cyprus and important push forward. Both Athens and Ankara must face up to their historical responsibility. But at the moment the most urgent task seems to be to tell all our friends in Turkey that now is the time to take the necessary decision, and that there simply is no more time available. The process will succeed – or it will fail.

And the consequences will be profound in both cases. A success will not only smooth the way for Cyprus into the European Union, but also pave the way for the evolution of the candidacy of Turkey itself. A failure will complicate the issue of Cyprus, and will almost certainly delay if not altogether derail the issue of the membership of Turkey.

The later issue is of profound importance for the future of Europe. We have to thank Mr Valery Giscard d’Éstaing that he has at least launched the wide public debate on this issue that we should have had a long time ago. I belong to those profoundly convinced that the membership of Turkey in the European Union – although by no means imminent – is key towards overcoming many of the tensions that might otherwise build up also inside our different European societies.

In the concluding volume of his memoirs, Henry Kissinger gives prominence to the crisis in 1974 that lead to the present situation in Cyprus. He notes, that it was “a seminal event”, since it was “the forerunner of conflict between ethnic groups, which has become increasingly common and threatening since.”

Indeed, as the rigidity of the Cold War gave way to the freedoms of a new era, we have been tested again and again when it comes to the handling of ethnic and cultural conflicts of this sort. In Cyprus, within days and weeks, but not months, we will be truly tested if we – Turks, Greeks, Americans, other Europeans – can resolve one of the oldest and one of the most difficult of these issues.

This is important not only in terms of the relationship between Greece and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and the European Union. It has obvious bearings on our ability to overcome similar conflicts and tensions in that entire post-Ottoman world that stretches from Bihac in the northwest to Basra in the southeast. Cyprus is halfway between Kosovo and Kurdistan in respects that go well beyond just geography.

Although we maintain substantial military forces in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, we know in our hearths that we have a long way to go until we can say that we have resolved all of the issues that lead to wars there during the past decade. We have democracy in both Croatia and Serbia, we have had numerous elections in Bosnia, we have seen the beginning of the institutions of self-government and autonomy in Kosovo, and we have seen a new government taking office in Macedonia.

But core issues of the conflicts of the past are still outstanding. The political structure of the region is in crucial respects wide open. And there are many hundred of thousands of people who have not been able, and might no longer be willing, to go back to where they were born and used to live.
If the issues of the Eastern Mediterranean are urgent, the issues of the Balkans are once again starting to move in that direction. Not because there is an imminent risk of war, although there are still those believing in the power of the gun, but because outstanding political issues inhibits the necessary and ultimately decisive process of integration of all of the region in the European and Atlantic institutions.

Thus, I would hope that the leaders of NATO as well as the EU, acting in dialogue also with Russia, will not neglect the issues of the Balkans. Military forces can separate armies and deter adversaries, but on their own they can’t achieve reconciliation and bring peoples and nations together for the future. In the next year or two there is an urgent need for major political initiatives to settle all the outstanding issues of the region, thus putting it on the path of being truly part of our Europe whole and free, and thus safeguarding its peace for generations to come.

The issues of the post-Ottoman areas are the most challenging we will face in the years ahead – all the way from Bihac to Basra. But there are others which we must not neglect either.

We must enter into a dialogue with Russia over the future prosperity of its province of Kaliningrad that goes well beyond the issue of transit rights and possibilities. We must clearly hold Russia to its obligations concerning Transniestra and help Moldova towards a more stable development. We should support the discussions underway of new ways of trying to support the development of democracy and decency in Belarus. And we must start a more serious discussion on our possible future role in all the complex issues in the Caucasus and Tran Caucasus area between Russia, Persia and Turkey.

In all of the areas I have mentioned, the issues will require a complex mix of diplomacy, economic and political incentives as well as, in some cases, military help and military presence. They all call for a profound dialogue between Europe and the United States, be that within NATO when that is appropriate, or between the US and the European Union, when that is more appropriate.

The dialogue should be the same, but the means available are somewhat different, and it’s only the closest coordination both when it comes to the aims and when it comes to the means that has any hope to succeed. We should have learnt the lesson of the Balkans. Are disagreements there, and failure to agree on the framework for a possible peace, kept the wars going for far longer than they should have done. Let’s never repeat those mistakes again.

As we deal with these and other issues, we must discuss the further enlargements that will be on our agenda in the years ahead.

I have already mentioned the case of Turkey when it comes to the European Union. Membership is by no means imminent, will be dependent on the future progress of reforms in Turkey, will require lengthy negotiations on the full application of the evolving aquis communitaire in all of Turkey and must be preceded by profound political debate throughout Europe. We are talking about a step after which it no longer will be London, but Istanbul, that will be the largest city of the European Union, and where the boundaries of the deep integration that Europe is seeking will span from the Arctic Sea in the North to the edge of the plains of Mesopotamia in the South.

I’m in favour of this step being taken, but I am mindful of its consequences, and I want it to be taken in full realisation of those.

Starting to knock on our doors is also Ukraine. In terms of the European Union, the road is certainly longer than it is for Turkey. In terms of NATO, the issue might be seen as somewhat less complicated. But we should be mindful of the fact that an open door to the Ukraine must be hand in hand with an open door to Russia, since it seems difficult to conceive that the security and the integration boundary in Europe should run through the diffuse border zones between Russia and the Ukraine.

An open door to Russia is certainly not something that we should close our minds to. I find it difficult to see when it comes to the European Union, with its very demanding integration. In the case of NATO, a membership of Russia would clearly contribute to the stability of Europe, but would extend our security collegiality to the far-away reaches of the enormous Siberian borderlands between Russia and China, thus having its impact also on our relationship with that rising power in East Asia.

Thus, our task is by no means complete with the steps that will be taken here in Prague, and later in Copenhagen, nor can we allow ourselves to concentrate totally on the priorities of the global war against terrorism and the efforts to get Iraq to fully comply with all of the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Today, our Europe is far more whole, far more free, far more dynamic and far more democratic than ever before in its history. That’s cause for celebration. But this must not blind us to the remaining issues of peace, order and prosperity in its different parts, nor to the major issues of the future that we must face in the years to come. We should celebrate what has been achieved, and concentrate on all that remains to be done.

Bildt Blog Comments

In addition to this webpage, and the email letters ongoing since 1994, I have now started a blog as well.

You find it at

At you will continue to find articles, speeches and different documents.

At the blog there will be the shorter and perhaps somewhat faster comments.

And the e-letter continues to give at the least an attempt at analys.

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