Toespraak voor de Atlantic Club of Bulgaria en het Sofia Security Forum

Sofia, Bulgarije, 29 mei 2012

- - - The spoken word alone prevails - - -


Your excellences,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to take this opportunity to discuss with you the challenges that faces our common defence and security policy in the following years.


At both sides of the Atlantic, the economic crisis has struck hard. All the Western countries have been hit by volatile markets, economic and financial turmoil.


As a result, far-reaching austerity measures have been enforced in the public sector in order to sanitize public finances and allow for a durable economic growth. As Belgian Minister of Defence, I have experienced these cutbacks first-handed.


When will it end? Economic policy makers in the US as well as Europe cautiously state that the situation has stabilized and the worst is over. However, pre-crisis levels of economic growth are yet to be attained and the markets are still prone to unexpected external shocks. We have one certainty, though, and that is that the financial crisis as well as the sovereign debt crisis has influenced all layers of society, both public and private.  


What measures are we to take? These difficult times ask for strong leaders, leaders who are not afraid of making difficult decisions when reality calls for it, even when it harms their cause in the exit polls.  For the political decisions made today will determine the well-being of this generation as well as the future of the coming generations.


It is clear that in today’s globalized world, economic crises are of a cross-border nature and the economic interdependence of many nations also makes them more vulnerable to market volatility. Instability in one region has an immediate and palpable effect on all regions of the world. This makes the need for co-operation more pressing than ever since, as an individual country, we cannot tackle these challenges successfully. It is only through multi-level co-operation between nations, regions and international organizations that we will be able to get back on track. But just as we overcame important challenges in the past together, we will overcome these challenges today side by side. By doing this, we will rise out of this crisis stronger than before and maintain our leading role in the world.


In times of difficulty, be it politically or economically, an unfortunate link persists between instability and an increase in nationalist sentiments. We have to keep a close eye on this evolution, and especially the growing radicalism that is often the result of it.


We must be careful not to draw the isolation card. Not as a country, neither as a continent. The bond between European partners should become even closer, as is the case with our transatlantic partner countries. It is in difficult times, when desperate measures are necessary that we need our friends the most. Therefore, solidarity between partner countries must be confirmed, strengthened and assured for the future. We simply can no longer afford ourselves to turn a blind eye to international developments. The countries in the western hemisphere play a pivotal role in the world on the economic, political, social and cultural level. As an economic, political and normative power, the world counts on us and we can’t disappoint it.


When it comes to international security we are facing the same challenges; the fight against piracy, terrorism, cyber terrorism, arms and people trafficking and nuclear proliferation.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am sure you will agree with me if I say that, unfortunately, there is no positive correlation between cutbacks in the military expenditures and a decrease of international challenges in the field of security and defence.


How can we make sure that Western countries are able to effectively and jointly tackle these threats in the light of cuts in expenditures and budgetary discipline? The answer lies in the “Pooling and Sharing” of military capabilities. We have to form a common front against the looming threats of today. It is only through pooling and sharing our capabilities that we will be able to meet this century’s new security threats.


The time has come to re-align our notion of modern defence in a joint framework together in the light of the budgetary austerity ahead.


Defence Ministers have demonstrated that there is a real will at a political level to change the way we do business. At the end of the day, we are a union of countries with the same standards and values, a union that has the same interests to defend.


There is now a widespread understanding that the “pooling and sharing” of military capabilities – doing more together – is an effective response, if not the only possible response, to the financial and military pressures we face. It allows us to deliver more with less. It has become a must, rather than an option. It is far better to have collective and tangible capabilities rather than unsustainable or non-existent national ones. We must be prepared to search for innovative ways to deliver more performing military capabilities collectively. The creation of the European Defence Agency has proven to be very useful to attain this goal.


The EDA encourages and actively supports member states, both with know-how, logistical support and research & development in the efforts to work closely together in the field of security and defence. 


Crucial for success is to be able to maintain a strong political dynamic in this process. Member States have to participate in real projects. This has to be done in a structured way that ensures the long-term sustainability of projects. An open approach is mandatory for a successful cooperation expandable to new partners. Based on lessons learned from existing forms of cooperation, the best practices and criteria for success have to be identified.


Within NATO, the same principle of “Pooling and Sharing” is applied; here it carries the name “Smart Defence”. Belgium never considered the European integration project and unambiguous loyalty to the North Atlantic Alliance to be incompatible.  


NATO and EU can still improve their cooperation on many levels, not only in the field but also on the political and strategic level. Both organizations are not to be seen as competitors. Co-operation between both organizations should not only avoid any duplication and ensure transparency; it should also fully respect the autonomy of the two organizations and their action development.


We need each other to face the security challenges with a common point of view.  And there are some severe challenges in the field of security and defence. It is vitally important for the entire world that the Euro-Atlantic region remains peaceful. Pointing to recent crises in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue about the need for the international community to work together to deal with the “unprecedented peace and security challenges of the 21st century”, 


The situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa remains of great concern. More than a year after the beginning of the Arab spring, the situation in many countries is still far from stable. We must keep a close eye on the political evolutions in the different countries to assure that stability regains ground in this troubled region. Our intervention in Libya proved our willingness to help the citizens in their struggle towards a democratic and peaceful world. The military intervention in Libya achieved its goals. The burden shouldered by certain European countries proved that Europe is ready to take responsibility not only towards its allies, such as the US, but also towards its own values.


As a Minister of a medium-sized European country, I am proud of the role we played in this conflict. However, constant vigilance is needed to assure that our efforts have not been in vain. Libya needs further support of the international community to build a state structure fully at the service of all its citizens in a spirit of pluralism, democracy and respect for the rule of law.


When it comes to Syria, we are all shocked by the recent developments. The world watches as a government uses extreme violence against its own population, deliberately targeting those in disagreement instead of instauring dialogue and pacific coexistence. The UN estimates that more than 10.000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced since protests erupted in March last year. With the peace plan for Syria, the international community has taken its responsibility. The UN has demonstrated the world’s concern, commitment and solidarity with the Syrian people. We have deployed 300 monitors in different cities in the hope to lower the tensions. The Joint Special Envoy of the UN and the League of Arab States Kofi Annan has presented concrete proposals to achieve a sustained cessation of violence and he should continue his efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict in a diplomatic manner. Tomorrow the Security Council will discuss the first report of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria. We are entering a new phase, after the terrible massacre of Houla.


Everything should be done in order to ensure practical improvements and achieve concrete results for the daily life and a real perspective of political evolution. Belgium is in the final phase of decision-making about its own contribution to UNSMIS.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It has been more than ten years by now that NATO troops are in Afghanistan. Belgian and Bulgarian armed forces have been deployed side by side at KAIA International Airport, together responsible for the protection of this important airport. By the end of 2014, Afghan security troops must be able to assure the security in their own country. But our work there is not finished; we can’t leave the country to fend for itself. By the end of 2014, Afghanistan will not be a stable and self-sufficient state. As we have agreed on the latest NATO-summit in Chicago, we’ll have to keep a close watch on the situation and assure a long-term international support on all possible levels.


Here also, we need to assure a comprehensive approach for Afghanistan to play a stabilizing role to the region, especially with regard to Pakistan.


Despite all our efforts for peace and security, we live in a world full of conflicts and I do not see an immediate improvement of this situation.


The continuously increasing global population will aggravate existing tensions within countries, between countries and between regions on the economic, social, cultural, religious, ecological and military level.


In the beginning of the past century, the French politician Georges Clemenceau already stated that: “he didn’t know whether war is an interlude during peace or peace an interlude during war”.


To avoid tensions becoming open military conflicts, we can continue to do only one thing: talk to each other, strengthen our bond, cooperate where possible and settle our difference in a diplomatic way. The European countries are all willing to do this and it offers a concrete hope for a peaceful future. Hence, I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to Bulgaria, for its efforts and sacrifices brought to bring peace and stability to our region and the world as a whole.


I hope that the bond between Bulgaria and Belgium will continue to strengthen, not only in the military field, but also in other domains.


Pieter De Crem

Belgian Minister of Defence


- - - The spoken word alone prevails - - -

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