Thank you all for coming. I'm told that in Brussels, the word "August" doesn't exist; the summer months here are "June, July, Les Vacances". So it's nice to see all of you today.
As you know, I formally took up my duties as NATO SG on Saturday. But I didn't think I would get off on the right foot with the press corps if I held my first meeting with you on the weekend.
Let me begin by saying how honoured I am to take up this post. I'm grateful to the 28 NATO Allies for placing their confidence in me. And I want to congratulate Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the excellent job he has done over the past five years. I saw that he was back in the office last week - I'm very glad he's making a speedy recovery.
It is often said that NATO is the most successful Alliance in history. That's been true for 60 years, and it's just as true today. NATO is doing more, in more places, than it ever has before. Because it is a family of nations that can trust and rely on each other, at any time, against any threat and in any weather. It is a community of democracies defending common values: freedom, peace, security. And NATO remains the ultimate insurance policy for almost 1 billion (actually 900 million) people in 28 countries.
My intent, as NATO SG, is to make the most of this enormous capability: in our operations,; in our partnerships; and by transforming the way NATO does business. I want to see NATO reach its full potential as a pillar of global security.
Of course, that starts with succeeding in Afghanistan. Our mandate from the UN is clear. So is the importance to global security -- to help prevent Afghanistan from becoming again the Grand Central Station of international terrorism. The moral argument is also powerful: anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women's rights, should support this mission.
A lot has been accomplished already. But this year will be an important one. This month's elections will not be to the same standards as we expect from Parliamentary votes in our allied nations. But they must be credible, first and foremost in the eyes of the Afghan population.
NATO is doing its part. We've transported voting material all over the country and helped candidates meet voters. We're supporting the election observers from the EU and OSCE. And of course, we're providing security, in support of the Afghan police and army.
That is the immediate goal: credible elections. The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans.
I believe that, during my term as NATO SG, Afghans must take over lead responsibility for security in most of their country.
Let me be clear. I say "LEAD" responsibility for the Afghans. NATO must and will be there in support. Let no Taliban propagandist try to sell my message as a run for the exit - it is not. We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes - let me repeat that, for as long as it takes.
But supporting them means helping them stand on their own feet. Afghanistan needs more trainers; it means more civilian support, and more help for the Afghan to build their institutions. NATO - by which I mean both sides of the Atlantic -- will do its full part, but we can't do it alone. This has to be an international team effort, military and civilian - with more effort from the Afghans themselves as well.
I am convinced that we have to show the Afghan people, and the people in troop contributing nations, more light at the end of the tunnel, if we are to maintain their support. It will not be easy, and the past month has made that bitterly clear. But it can be done. And we will do it. Let there be no doubt about that.
Second priority: NATO-Russia relations. I believe that, during my term as NATO SG, we should develop a true strategic partnership with Russia. We should extend practical cooperation in areas where we share security interests.
There is clearly scope for us to work together, on counter-terrorism, on Afghanistan, on piracy, on non-proliferation, and many other areas as well.
Now, I'm not a dreamer. It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree. We have to insist, for example, that Russia fully complies with its international obligations, including respecting the territorial integrity and political freedom of its neighbours.
But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship. So my message to the Russian leadership and people is clear: let us build trust on cooperation, and base our cooperation on shared interests.
Another partnership will also be a priority for me: NATO's relationship with the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries.
Let me assure the Government and the people in the 11 MD and ICI countries that I am fully committed to building stronger relations with them, on the basis of mutual respect, understanding and trust, and to face common challenges: terrorism, proliferation, the dangers of failed states.
Starting today, I will take concrete steps to engage with the MD and ICI countries I will personally engage in dialogue with all of them, to hear their views, and to help support their reforms. And I've started today, by inviting each of their Ambassadors to meet with me, one on one, here at NATO HQ, to discuss how to take our relations forward.
This Alliance has, over years, built up a strong relationship and cooperation with our MD and ICI partners. I will build on this strong foundation throughout my term as NATO SG.
I have highlighted three priorities here. But NATO's agenda is broader than that, and I am committed to making progress across the board.
On Kosovo, my aim is clear. By the end of my term, I want to see KFOR reduced to just a small reaction force, or out altogether. It should not be rushed - we should not stumble so close to the finish line. But I believe that the conditions will, in the foreseeable future, be right to retire KFOR with success.
Fighting piracy is another kind of operation - one I don't think we could have predicted, a few years ago, would be so important. But the reality is that 20,000 ships a year are passing through pirate infested waters in the Gulf of Aden, and this problem is only getting worse
I want to see NATO having a standing anti-piracy role, with the capabilities, legal arrangements and force generation in place to make it happen.
These operations, and the many others that NATO has taken on over the past 15 years, make it crystal clear that this Alliance needs to make sure it has the right forces, when and where they are required. Which means enough forces, deployable and sustainable in the field. Forces that have the modern equipment and training they need.
With global finances the way they are, we cannot afford anything but efficient, modern and, where appropriate, multinational approaches to defence.
And let me add that for the Balkans, as indeed for the Euro-Atlantic community more broadly, I am fully committed to the principle of NATO's Open Door. Membership is not a right - countries must be ready. But NATO enlargement has already demonstrated it's power to spread stability and promote reform. I expect that will continue during my tenure.
Today, I am also pleased to launch a new and comprehensive project that will form the framework for the development of the new NATO.
NATO needs a new Strategic Concept. Today I'm putting in place a roadmap for the work on this. I will lead this work from now until the Strategic Concept is agreed at our next Summit, in Lisbon.
Let me outline for you how I will take this process forward:
I have appointed a group of 12 experts; chaired by Madeleine Albright, and co-chaired by Jeroen van der Veer, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. The full list is now on the website.
They will consult as widely as possible, in NATO and far beyond, with governments, think tanks, NGOs and other international organisations. They will then submit their conclusions to me; I will then lead the final phase of negotiations with nations.
It should also be by far the most open and the most inclusive process of policy development NATO has ever conducted. Which is why I am also launching, today, a program of public consultation.
I want to hear the views of the public on what NATO should be and do in future. There is, as of now, a forum on the website where anyone can post their views on how NATO should evolve.
I will also conduct town halls in as many NATO countries as I can, to hear from all walks of life. And I want to assure everyone who shares their views with us that they will be heard. We will compile the input and it will be fed directly into the process and to the people that will develop the final document.
This will be a major exercise. And I think it is very timely. Since the last Strategic Concept was adopted, 10 years ago, this Alliance has almost doubled in size and taken on missions and threats no one could have imagined at the time. The moment has come for the theory to catch up with the practice, and for all the members of the Alliance, old and new, to chart a common way forward. And that is what we'll do.