Commandant Dalhaug, Honourable President La Loggia, His Excellency Minister Imami, Ambassador Terzi, di Sant’Agata, Admiral Di Paola, His Excellencies, Representatives of the Diplomatic Corp, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour and privilege for me to see you all here today at our 58th General Assembly.
I want to give a special thanks to the NATO Defense College for the hospitality, as well as to extend our gratitude to the Italian Atlantic Committee for its remarkable ability to organize and host such an outstanding General Assembly with such little time.
We are united here under a common goal and vision; that the peace and security we have strived for remains within our grasp, and only vigilance and steadfast commitment can guide us toward a better future. I say this not out of naivety or delirium, we all recognize the challenges of our times. All around us we see tectonic changes taking place and it is an unfortunate reality that crises surround us during times of enormous transition. However I believe that regardless of what surrounds us, it will never engulf us.
As our role there grows increasingly important with each day, our need to adapt to the rapidly changing environment is prized above all else. Addressing the threats that come with such rapid change is accompanied by a high cost, a cost of human life and treasure. Knowing the cost serves only to reminds us of the importance of our mission. Beyond the uncertainty, we see universal truths being played out in front of our eyes: that people around the world are fearless in their pursuit of freedom and liberty.
We look along our Southern border and to our allies throughout the Mediterranean to see how the Arab Spring continues to transform the world. We understand that the events unfolding before us are accompanied with turbulence, and we must be reminded that our role in this region is to support our Allies and the aspirations of those people seeking freedom. We are not delusional, we understand that there are forces that seek to derail the hopes and aspirations of the Arab World, bringing about a new era of repression with a veneer of democracy. This is why we must remain committed to cooperative security in the Mediterranean and work closely with our Partners in the Middle East to ensure that the changes we see unfolding are not hijacked by those who seek to regress their societies or do us harm.
This is why it is important for us to focus not just on why we are here, but what it is that unites us. We stand here today, united by our commitment to democratic values and a shared belief in individual and collective freedom. At a time when our defense and security are more intertwined than ever before, we represent more than an Alliance based on security but rather a commitment to a set of principles that combines civil society, individual liberty, human rights, respect for minorities and the freedom of women. That is why the Transatlantic community must continue to represent and protect those who share our vision of a better world amongst a peaceful community of nations.
Despite being one of many here today that was born and raised in the Cold War, we have all been fortunate to witness a time of unrivalled peace and prosperity where the world changed faster and more sharply than any other era in modern history. This is due, in no small part, to the strength and commitment of NATO and its Allies. Together we overcame insurmountable obstacles and joined forces to build a new generation of peace and stability. Today we can look and see that this era was short lived, for now we stand at a new horizon, confronted by new threats while still unified by the same common purpose.
Despite the challenges of living in these uncertain times, never before have we had more Allies to stand amongst, united behind a cause and pursuit for greater solidarity. It is a testament to the value we all place in our united commitment to freedom that makes the NATO Alliance the greatest alliance in human history. Never before have we seen more willingness amongst different peoples to band together for a common goal.
It is times like these that we must remember the surroundings that confront us. With our countries each in transition and with many of us still recovering from economic hardship, we must remember that the network of the Atlantic Treaty Association requires our full attention.
As we approach 2020, NATO’s vision and strategy continues to evolve. The ATA sees the importance of NATO for an effective and affordable defense and values initiatives such as Smart Defense and the Connected Forces Initiative. It is the goal of the ATA to help guide the Alliance to further pursue this path because more than anything else, our strategy for the future is based on cooperation. This cuts across all areas of our defense as we will be increasingly active in aligning our national priorities with Alliance objectives.
By undertaking these initiatives, it is important to remember that the current economic downturn compels us to take a closer look at our modern defense needs and capabilities. When doing so we must remember that now is not the time to slash our budgets or undercut our modernization efforts.
Now is the time to redouble our Smart Defense strategy in order to ensure that we strengthen the harmony of our alliance and increase our interdependence amongst each other. As we discuss this at length in our third forum, it is important to remember that we must never lose our shared transatlantic perspective or fail to maintain our operational capabilities, doing so is necessary in order for us to manage the current threats we face and to pre-empt those of the next generation.
In the coming years, we will look back on this time as the moment in which we endured to overcome what seemed like impossible odds. Our ability to prevail requires greater regional cooperation in defense. By engaging in multinational projects throughout Europe, such as the Visegrad Security Cooperation Initiative or the Baltic Air Policing Mission, we have demonstrated the necessary skill at combining our efforts and meeting the challenges we face as a unified front.
Cooperation between a stronger European Union and the Atlantic Alliance is crucial to maintaining the necessary cohesion between these two international organizations. By strengthening NATO-EU cooperation, our Governments will achieve the wise economies of scale that will allow us to maintain our capacity, upgrade our forces and maximize our resources.
This is why our goal must continue to be taking a more active stance in policy-making that goes beyond simply communicating the message of NATO but assists in actively supporting NATO’s policies and goals. Our efforts in public diplomacy are more important now than ever. The ATA network all together invests on supporting the Public Diplomacy of the Alliance more than what NATO is directly committing to its official Public Diplomacy strategy, both in terms of human and finance resources. A fact that we must remember and that NATO structures, must acknowledge. This is why we must band together, to form new partnerships and strengthen old ones in order to make better use of our resources and more effective targeting of our goals. We must be able to rely more on NATO’s support, to ensure that their message is heard and understood throughout the transatlantic community and beyond. We must remind our citizens that NATO is more than a military alliance, that together we represent the strongest standing hub of freedom and democracy ever created and that we are united in our goals of peace-making and collective security.
This is why we must place a stronger emphasis on our youth. I must extend a special thanks to our YATA President Ms. Kristin Durant who has played a major role in helping keep the youth from across the Alliance engaged in the Transatlantic network. The importance of youth cannot be understated. It will be the ideas of their generation, the hard work of their efforts and the results of their actions that will create the responses to the challenges of today and tomorrow. It will be the youth of today that govern the world of tomorrow and we must take a very active stance at encouraging their participation and securing their involvement.
I am indeed saddened by the fact that for the second year in a row, the Atlantic Association of Young Political Leaders is not in attendance. This represents our detachment from the tasks at hand. I mention this simply to underscore that we must make youth involvement a top priority in order to uphold our mission and continue our work.
We are uniquely placed in international affairs to make a strong impact on the environment surrounding us and the youth must be central to our approach. While many nations are continuing to evolve, others are being torn down and rebuilt before our eyes and we have a strong responsibility to help guide this change. People of this generation have a desire and access to knowledge unknown to any other in human history. Youth stand for more of a voice now than ever before. They are the guiding force of change that will define future generations. That is why the ATA and its Allies must work together to better inform our people and especially our youth, about the importance of what we stand for and the means through which we accomplish it.
Before us today we have a collection of some of the most brilliant and experienced minds that span across three continents and three generations. To be convened here under the same roof and united by a common purpose is truly remarkable. We have a unique opportunity to gain immeasurable insight from our neighbours, form alliances with new partners and expand the Atlantic Community in our on-going pursuit for collective security. Our mission is difficult, since working to ensure that we meet the challenges of our time amidst a backdrop of monumental change is no easy task.
It is truly an honour to be amongst you all today and I believe that over the next few days we will strengthen our commitments, innovate new strategies and gain immeasurable insight into the future of our Alliance. I am confident that our 58th General Assembly will be our most successful so far, yet again!