ATA’s cooperation programs in the Balkans and the broader Middle East

In the upcoming future, the Atlantic Treaty Association16thconf6 (ATA) and its national chapters will be called on to face increasing challenges and responsibilities, especially in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The broader region presents a variety of security threats and challenges which are of growing concern for the Euro-Atlantic and international community. Extremism and its terrorist manifestations, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, arms trafficking, and the massive flows of refugees fleeing wars and humanitarian crisis, are the most crucial and evident elements affecting  today’s security scenario.

Moreover, the series of uprisings termed as “Arab Spring” pointed out the existence of even more relevant instability factors, which are of a political, social and economic nature, rather than a military one. These instability factors are damaging mostly the new generation, and produce a dangerous fallout in the security domain. According to the latest Human Development Report issued in March 2013 in the framework of the United Nations Development Program, such factors still need to be addressed, whereby it will be no wonder if further turmoil will occur in Arab countries. The labor market is in the spotlight. The extremely high rate of youth unemployment (exceeding  50 per cent in Egypt), coupled with the endemic poor performance of Arab economies and the consequent soaring poverty, jeopardizes the prospects of the new generation.

The “Arab Spring” could not overcome the troubles underlying its eruption. The impressive demographic growth in the Mediterranean region should demand the creation of at least 50 million  new jobs within the year 2020 in order to employ a new generation, 60 per cent of which is already looking to emigrate to Europe. A perspective that appears unrealistic when we consider that the combined GDP of the 22 Arab countries belonging to the Arab League is less than the GDP of Spain. In addition, human and food insecurity will burden the Mediterranean and Middle East scenario  in the years ahead, while the climate change will increase the scarcity of water in the region.

In this respect, NATO cannot afford to disregard the ongoing developments across its Southern neighborhood. In today’s world, ever more globalized and interconnected, the break out of the uprisings which swept the region must be considered as an alarming wakeup call urging a more constructive and effective cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

In this framework, the Atlantic Treaty Association has a significant role to play. Recalling the spirit of the Report on the Non-Military Cooperation of the Alliance, that in 1956 already acknowledged the role of the Atlantic Treaty Association and paved the way for NATO engagement in cultural and economic cooperation activities even beyond the North-Atlantic borders, the ATA can act in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East by taking stock of its extraordinary experience and accomplishments achieved in the cooperation with the Central and Southeastern European countries.

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain prompted cooperation with Central and Southeastern European countries. In parallel to the NATO Partnership for Peace program, the ATA contributed to the NATO integration of several Balkan countries by organizing on site training courses for military and civilian personnel, seminars, and youth programs on NATO-related subjects. Ties with the new Atlantic Councils set up throughout the area have been intense from the start and have consolidated over the years, promoting the integration of the Balkan countries in the Euro-Atlantic structures as well as the regional cooperation itself.

The Atlantic integration of the Balkans has been successful. However, still much work remains to be done in order to complete the unfinished business in the region. In this respect, in 2014, the Atlantic Treaty Association will mark its 60th anniversary by an Extraordinary Assembly that will be hosted in May, in the marvelous framework of Budva, by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro. Thus, testifying the ATA’s enduring commitment to accompany all Western Balkans nations into NATO.

Likewise, the ATA intends to shore up its Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dimension. There is no Iron Curtain in the Mediterranean separating the South from the North. Yet, a combination of conflicting viewpoints and misconceptions, inherited from the past and intertwined with the current events, hinders the deepening of relations in a cooperative security perspective, along the lines of the NATO Strategic Concept.

To foster a better mutual understanding, the Italian Atlantic Committee has been conducting for ten years numerous dialogue and cooperation activities within the ATA umbrella, involving the NATO partner countries of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, and other states and entities.
NATO and government authorities, together with representatives from the political, diplomatic, military and academic field, centers for study and research, non-governmental organizations and the civil society, were engaged in training programs, roundtables, high level conferences and workshops on selected and practical issues.

Close attention was particularly devoted to the successor generation, through a series of initiatives, educational courses and events, attended by young researchers and professionals, PhD and university students, coming from Europe and the Mediterranean and Middle East. The future leaders were provided with an opportunity to delve into the main issues of the present security scenario, exchanging ideas, expertise and best practices on the way forward to bring about effective solutions to the common challenges affecting the broader region.
These activities allowed ATA to create,  consolidate, and  expand a new wide living network of decision-makers, experts and researchers, able to enhance the cooperative security perspectives in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Therefore, the ATA outreach in the Southern neighborhood proved to be successful and able to offer NATO an extraordinary added value, since it comes to fill the gap that still exists between the Atlantic Alliance and the public opinions of the Arab world. In this context, the level of cooperation achieved by the Atlantic Treaty Associations in the Western Balkans should be an inspiring model for the new generation in the Mediterranean and Middle East and for the future ATA programs in the region as well.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary, it is in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East that the Atlantic Treaty Association will  test its traditional skills in promoting dialogue and cooperation, while fostering peace and stability along the Atlantic core values, with the aim to revive the success story of the Balkans. 

Opening Address at the 16th International Conference of the Atlantic Council of Albania, Tirana, 20th December 2013