Rome '08 Workshop

Dealing with Crises in Europe and the Middle East 

Ambassador Tacan Ildem

Turkish Ambassador to NATO 

Ambassador Tacan Ildem



I am indeed pleased to be part of the distinguished panel that will discuss crises in Europe and the Middle East. The words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair,” in his novel The Tale of Two Cities, help us characterize the world today. 

Although our session is about instabilities in Europe and the Middle East, there are instabilities present in a vast area stretching from west Africa to southeast Asia.Sadly, there have been times when parts of this geography have succumbed to open warfare, areas that were marked by instability and insecurity for many years. Conflicts in the Caucasus and the Balkans, with all their tragic human consequences, are still fresh in our memories. Today, very close to Turkey, violence in the Middle East seems to have no end. 

However, there is also a brighter side, and we have reason to entertain hope about the future. The huge potential for multilateral cooperation both within and among different regions is enormously important. The east-west energy and transportation corridors are good examples. There are also examples of successful, established subregional economic and military cooperation mechanisms, such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization, the multinational peacekeeping force for southeastern Europe, and the naval task force for the Black Sea, all of which were initially proposed by Turkey.Overall, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights are asserting their universal nature all over the world.I am going to focus on these specific topics. 


Since the Cold War ended, a great sense of security has taken hold in the minds of Europeans. But, according to Arnold Wolfer, security should be defined as “the absence of threats to acquired values.” This perspective may sound pessimistic, yet I find it useful. Speculations about a new Cold War, which would have a tremendous effect on Europe, particularly terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increasingly occupy our agenda, threatening Europe and our values as well as the rest of the world. 

But that is not all. The present situation in the Balkans is a serious source of concern. Bringing about the independence of Kosovo was the culmination of a long, unique, and complicated process, and, to further consolidate stability in the region, we have to support Kosovo by all means as well as ensure the well-being of all the communities within its borders. 

After the parliamentary elections in Serbia, we remain cautiously optimistic about the security situation in Kosovo. The determined presence and increased activities of KFOR have contributed to stability and security, but it is very important for all actors in theater to assume their responsibilities and respective roles. 

While emphasizing the importance of developing a comprehensive approach to succeed in different operational terrains, we need to remind ourselves of the fact that not all international organizations share the same vision that we have at NATO. There is no doubt that for a comprehensive approach to be successful we need to not only create synergies among security, governance, and reconstruction/development sectors, but reach a clear understanding regarding the fulfilment of responsibilities by each individual international organization. When it comes to facilitating cooperation among international actors, perceptions regarding the role and value of “others” can constitute a barrier. 


It is a fact that whether NATO conducts operations in Afghanistan or in Kosovo, under the U.N. mandate, the U.N. tries not to be seen as associated with NATO, or at least there is a degree of hesitancy. The same is true for the NGOs active in those operational theaters, since they are concerned that their interaction with a “military organization” like NATO might tarnish their reputation. As to the EU, all I can say is that it seeks to initiate civilian missions after being certain of the safe and secure environment that NATO will provide and the substantial strategic support that it will render on the ground. Therefore, instead of considering NATO an organization on equal footing, the EU tends to take NATO for granted in whatever supportive role it is playing, as a sort of a “toolbox” or a subordinate body. 

My country will continue with its strong contribution to KFOR and will participate in the EULEX mission, providing a considerable number of personnel. We believe that there is room for effective interaction between the international actors present in the theater, and, regarding NATO-EU cooperation in Kosovo or anywhere else, I believe that the framework that defines the modalities of such interaction is quite clear. It is only a matter of putting the mechanism agreed upon by other organizations to its full use. 


In addition to Kosovo, I would like to mention that Serbia is crucial for stability in the Balkans and should be part of the Euro-Atlantic community. As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is of the utmost importance that this country not be negatively affected by the developments related to Kosovo, and we welcome the invitation extended to Bosnia and Herzegovina for intensified dialogue at the Bucharest summit. Last but not least, we hope to see Macedonia become a member of NATO as soon as possible. 

To sum up, the Balkans as a whole continue to be high on our agenda because of their utmost importance to stability, security, and prosperity, not only in their immediate vicinity but throughout Europe. 


In another part of the world, in the neighborhood of Turkey, a different kind of crisis prevails. The establishment of a lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East as well as the evolution of this geography into a stable and prosperous region are crucial. Two states, Israel and Palestine, should live side by side within secure and recognized borders. The situation in Iraq also deserves attention, for it will play an instrumental role in the future of the region. Clearly, positive developments in the Iraqi and Israeli-Palestinian situations will significantly improve the chances of rewriting the destiny of the Middle East. 

On the other hand, the developments regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability pose serious risks for stability in the region and beyond. Obviously, the Middle East does not need new sources of potential instability. In brief, regional governments have to act on many fronts at the same time. 


In order to ensure global stability and security, good governance, transparency, and accountability should prevail and fundamental rights and freedoms should be upheld. We must not forget that these universal values are the product of the collective wisdom of civilized people. 

While the current global landscape is rich in risks and threats, terrorism clearly stands out as a unique menace. Actually, it is neither a new phenomenon nor one of a temporary nature. The recent past has shown that no single nation is immune to this scourge, and, given its universal parameters, one should ask whether the international community is sufficiently involved in searching for strategies to be collectively implemented by all nations. We need to finalize the work on the comprehensive U.N. convention against terrorism and walk that extra mile to agree on a common and comprehensive definition in order to talk about common strategies to wipe out terrorist organizations and acts. 

With the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we suddenly found ourselves facing an omnipresent terrorist threat at a global scale. At the Prague, Istanbul, Riga, and Bucharest summits, NATO condemned terrorism, whatever its motivations and manifestations. Today, terrorist organizations run comprehensive international networks, conducting all types of illicit criminal activities to finance, facilitate, recruit, and propagate, usually through legally registeredoutfits and non-governmental organizations. But can any one of our states afford to shy away from confronting terrorism so long as they themselves do not become a target? The clear legal and practical answer is no. 


NATO has many useful tools to positively interact with the region this panel is discussing. The Mediterranean Dialogue, for example, has developed in leaps and bounds since the Istanbul summit of 2004, where we decided to elevate our dialogue with participating countries to a level of genuine partnership. Key points in this successful program include: 

  • The NATO training and cooperation initiative, which is in the beginning stages, is an important aspect of our improving partnership. 
  • The individual cooperation program (thus far, Israel and Egypt have developed a program and Morocco is preparing one) is a tool with which partners can individually deepen their relations with NATO in areas of interest to them. 
  • Trust fund projects within the Mediterranean Dialogue framework (Jordan and Mauritania) will bring our cooperation to new levels. This will not only improve the quality of life of individuals who live in the area where the project will be in effect, but also enhance NATO public diplomacy efforts in the region as well. We look forward to the successful conclusion of all such useful projects. 

As a Mediterranean country, Turkey strongly supports the Mediterranean Dialogue. We are well positioned and determined to contribute to it, building upon our existing bilateral military framework agreements and/or military cooperation agreements.We believe that a functioning partnership with Mediterranean countries constitutes one of the most significant investments that NATO can make for the future of our common security interests. 

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative has also had considerable success since its inception at the Istanbul summit. Four years after its enactment, four Gulf countries—Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—have acceded to it and expressed their intention to work with the Alliance on a mutually beneficial basis. They are participating with increasing numbers on a constantly increasing number of activities. 

I would like to conclude by underlining that in this setting, where peace, stability, and prosperity hang in the balance, joint cooperation, solidarity, and political will as well as principles and values will be crucial for success. 

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