NATO to Gulf partners: We share common interests, common challenges

Family portrait of the North Atlantic Council with the ICI Countries and the participation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (NATO)

Family portrait of the North Atlantic Council with the ICI Countries and the participation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (NATO)

By Habib Toumi

Kuwait: NATO’s partnership with the Gulf countries is more important today than it has ever been before, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

“The partnership between NATO and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) has grown stronger over the years,” Stoltenberg said.

“We have come to understand each other better. And work together more effectively. But there is more we can do. So, as we look to the future together, we must work even closer together.  To deliver the stability we need in the neighborhood we share,” he said during the 15th ICI anniversary ceremony at the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait.

The ICI was launched in 2004 during the NATO summit in Istanbul. Kuwait joined the ICI in December 2004, Bahrain and Qatar in February 2005 and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June 2005. Saudi Arabia and Oman, the other two countries making up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have not joined, but have been engaged in NATO activities.

“We are here together to celebrate 15 years of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. And to discuss how we all can work even more closely together for the benefit of our mutual security,” Stoltenberg said.

“The launch of the Initiative at the NATO Summit in 2004, sent a powerful signal. We share common interests and common challenges. The launch of the Initiative at the NATO Summit in 2004 sent a very powerful signal. We share common interests and common challenges. Not least fighting international terrorism, and maintaining stability for trade and commerce.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Anniversary Ceremony at the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait (NATO)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Anniversary Ceremony at the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait (NATO)

For 15 years, NATO has engaged in regular consultation and practical cooperation with all Gulf partners at all levels.

“Individual Partnership Cooperation Programs have brought structure and focus to our cooperation with our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative partners. Under these agreements, a wide range of bilateral activities have taken place. Including on energy and maritime security, cyber defense, civil emergency planning, and non-proliferation and arms control,” Stoltenberg said.

Some of these activities have been facilitated by the Regional Centre set up in 2017 in Kuwait.

“I am proud of the culture of cooperation that has developed between our nations surrounding vary activities at this Center. Since the inauguration in 2017, this Center has proven a great success. Really enhancing the cooperation between all our countries.”

Stoltenberg remarked that NATO that has just marked in London its 70th anniversary has never experienced in all the years “a more complex security environment than it does today.”

“To maintain our security, we need to be agile and prepared to respond to threats coming from all directions. From land, sea, air, space and cyber -space. From all directions. Also, from State and non-state actors. We need to protect our critical infrastructure and our cyber networks. Keep our sea lanes on communication open and prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons.  And we must continue to fight terrorism,” he said.

“NATO plays a key role in this fight. Working with our partners around the world to train local forces. A strong national defense is one of the best tools we have. As prevention is always better than intervention.”

NATO works to build stronger defense and security institutions with all its partners in the Middle East and North Africa, he added.

“All NATO Allies, as well as NATO itself, are part of the US-led Global Coalition Against Daesh. Despite significant progress made by the Coalition, Da’esh remains a threat. Conducting terrorist attacks here in the region and around the world. The membership of Gulf States in the Global Coalition has been crucial. Because of the capabilities you bring to bear. But also, to show the world that this is a battle between peace-loving peoples and those dedicated to violence.”

However, he warned that a great deal has been achieved, there is more that can be done.

“Our world is an increasingly unpredictable place. The best way to deal with that uncertainty is to be prepared. So, we must continue to strengthen the links between our forces.  And their ability to work together. But as well as military cooperation, we should further deepen our political consultation. The bilateral relationships between NATO and individual Gulf states are of great importance. They enable us to better understand specific issues and concerns. And to address them together,” he said.

“But as 70 years of peace and security in Europe has shown us, real strength comes from a multilateral approach. From working together. That is why we value so highly these meetings that bring all 29 NATO Allies together with all members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. To develop a shared outlook on the security challenges in this region.”

Shaikh Thamer Ali Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, President of the Kuwait National Security Bureau during the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Anniversary Ceremony at the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait (NATO)

Shaikh Thamer during the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Anniversary Ceremony at the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait (NATO)

In his speech, Kuwait’s National Security Bureau Chief Shaikh Thamer Ali Al Sabah said that the NATO-ICI meeting is a celebration of 15 years of “an exemplary partnership that has merged the requirements of a region confronted with complex security challenges and the capabilities of a historic alliance.”

“In 2004 with the launch of the ICI, the state of Kuwait found itself mirrored by the ideas presented by the Initiative, striving towards global and regional peace and stability. The State of Kuwait and other ICI countries found in the ICI a means to engender those ends. Since then we have worked diligently with our partners in Brussels to meet those goals,” he said.

In 2012, Kuwait committed to building a NATO-ICI regional center that was opened in 2017 to provide personnel from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE in addition to Oman and Saudi Arabia with training courses that reflect NATO’s expertise in a multiplicity of different fields both civil and military, Shaikh Thamer added.

“The NATO-ICI regional center has to this day successfully completed 24 courses and 10 various events, with 889 trainees successfully completing programs since late 2017,” he said.

“More than 200 experts passed through the center that will remain a hallmark of the success story, bringing together the State of Kuwait, ICI members and NATO. Our successful relationship with NATO is a case in how interagency teamwork on one hand and cooperation with the GCC government entities on the other hand can generate maximum outcomes.”

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