NATO and the Arab Spring

The dramatic developments across North Africa and the Middle East remind me of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. From Tunis to Cairo to Benghazi, people overcame fear to embrace freedom. Some governments in the region have taken important steps to meet the rightful demands of their citizens. Others realized their time was up and moved aside. But I was appalled to see that in some countries, and especially in Libya, the call for freedom and dignity has been met with state violence.

NATO’s reaction to the crisis in Libya has been quick and resolute. In March, acting under the authority of an historic United Nations Security Council Resolution, the alliance took overall command of military operations to protect the Libyan people against Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s outrageous attacks. Working together with partners, including from the region, we have made significant progress in degrading Qaddafi’s ability to attack civilians and to lay siege to cities.

Some people have asked why NATO acted in Libya but not elsewhere, in particular in Syria. My answer is clear. We took action in Libya because we have a strong mandate from the Security Council and solid support from countries in the region. That is a unique combination which we have not seen elsewhere.

Three months ago, nobody would have predicted a NATO operation in North Africa. But NATO allies have long understood that our security is closely tied to that of our southern neighbors. That is why it also makes perfect sense to consider how we can help North Africa and the Middle East become a region that is free, democratic, and stable.

First, we will sustain our efforts to fulfill the United Nations mandate to protect the Libyan people. We will continue operations until all attacks and threats of attack against civilians have ended; until the regime has verifiably withdrawn its forces and mercenaries back to their bases; and until full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access is guaranteed to all the people in Libya in need of assistance.

However, there is no solely military solution to this conflict. The only lasting solution will be a political one that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people. NATO allies and partners will keep up the pressure to pave the way for such a solution. As the Contact Group and the recent G-8 summit made clear, the question is not if Qaddafi will go, but when.

Second, President Obama has already announced a far-reaching policy to support democratic reform and economic development in North Africa and the Middle East. The European Union could also have a major role to play. NATO, too, can make a unique contribution. Many allies went through demanding reforms after their own revolutions over 20 years ago and have a wealth of experience to share. Modern defense and security institutions which are fully accountable to democratically elected authorities will be a vital reform priority for Libya and many other countries in the region.

Finally, the Arab Spring has shown the importance of intensifying our political dialogue. NATO already has two partnership frameworks that bring together the 28 allies with many countries of the region: our Mediterranean Dialogue with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. They form an excellent basis to discuss common security concerns, develop common responses, and build lasting trust between our nations. We are open and stand ready to include other countries. A democratic Libya, if it were interested, would be a most welcome new partner.

As an alliance of democracies, we believe that fundamental values are the true foundation for stability. That is why I am convinced that lasting stability, security and prosperity across North Africa and the Middle East can only be possible once all the people of the region enjoy the fundamental values that we all cherish: freedom, democracy and human rights.

[Source: By Anders Fogh Rasmussen, The Opinion Pages, New York Times, 31May11. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the secretary general of NATO]

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