FROM: U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
NATO Official Discusses Southern Flank, Mediterranean Dialogue
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2014 – Russia’s blatant disregard of international norms in Ukraine is just one example of its attempts to reject an international order that promotes democracy, sovereignty and the rule of law, NATO’s deputy secretary general said in La Hulpe, Belgium, today.
Alexander Vershbow told the conference on NATO-Israel cooperation that challenges from Russia and from NATO’s southern flank share many of the same attributes.
Russia’s continued attempts to destabilize Ukraine “have blatantly breached international agreements and confidence-building measures,” Vershbow said.
And on NATO’s southern flank, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continues to spew its hatred, “pouring oil on the fire of extremism and sectarianism that is already burning across the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.
“ISIL’s advances in Iraq and the Levant also risk exporting terrorism much further afield, including to NATO and [European Union] member states,” the deputy secretary general added.
NATO Determined to Defeat ISIL, Similar Threats
ISIL is working to overthrow rules-based and values-based order that is the guarantor of freedom, security and prosperity for all nations, Vershbow said, and NATO is determined to play its part to defeat this threat and those like it.
“The capabilities and forces that we are now developing are very clearly aimed at enhancing NATO’s overall resilience,” the deputy secretary general said. “We want to be able to deploy them quickly not only whenever, but also wherever, threats emerge – whether it’s in our eastern or our southern neighborhoods.”
At NATO’s summit held in Wales in September, the alliance also decided to strengthen cooperation with partner nations. The summit also launched an initiative to help partners strengthen their ability to address security challenges.
“This initiative builds upon NATO’s extensive expertise in defense capacity building -- for instance, in Kosovo and Afghanistan,” Vershbow explained. “And we made clear that we stand ready to assist Iraq in strengthening its security sector, if the new government so requests.”
Risk of Extremism Has Grown on NATO’s Southern Flank
The risk of extremism on NATO’s southern flank has grown and produced more fertile territory since the Arab Spring, the deputy secretary general said. The Mediterranean Dialogue – a NATO initiative celebrating 20 years – is more valuable than ever, he added.
“The Mediterranean Dialogue was never intended to have a direct influence on the Middle East peace process, or in tackling the wider challenges of the region,” he said. “But it was a genuine attempt to improve mutual understanding, to dispel misconceptions and to foster a dialogue that otherwise would not exist.”
The dialogue has developed into a unique multilateral forum, he noted. “It’s the only structured framework where the 28 NATO allies, Israel and key Arab countries sit together on a regular basis,” he said.
But more can be done, Vershbow told the forum audience:
-- A firm offer to assist countries in transition with defense and security sector reform, including planning and budgeting;
-- Dealing with surplus ammunition; and
-- Encouraging what he called “good security governance.”
NATO nations have unique expertise in these areas, he said, and the alliance will look to include the European Union in these efforts.
More Focus on Capability Building
Vershbow said he would like to see more focus on capability building. “We want to help the countries of the region to be better able both to address security concerns in their own region and to participate in international peacekeeping and crisis management operations – including those led by NATO,” he said.
This, he added, could involve greater military-to-military cooperation, and invitations to participate in NATO training, exercises and education programs.
“But it could also involve more structured cooperation between NATO and organizations like the African Union and the Arab League,” he said.
The deputy secretary general said he expects a further strengthening of dialogue and cooperation where NATO shares the same values and interests with its partners to better address specific concerns and requirements. “And I see particular scope here for our relations with longstanding, active partners like Israel,” he added.