Nato’s partnership with the UAE and other Gulf states on security is “more important today than it has ever been before” and will only get stronger, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Kuwait on Monday.
The UAE is a member of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative alongside Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, a framework launched in 2004 to bolster ties between the transatlantic alliance and Gulf countries.
At the alliance’s centre on the outskirts of Kuwait City, Mr Stoltenberg stressed the importance of security in the Gulf, and of co-operation on cyber and maritime security, and non-proliferation as the region is threatened by Iranian aggression.
“Our partnership is more important today than it has ever been before,” he said at a ceremony to mark the regional pact's 15th anniversary.
Mr Stoltenberg said the initiative “sent a powerful signal” to others.
“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,” he said.
“Real strength comes from a multilateral approach. This is why we value these meetings so highly.
“We look to the future together and we must work even closer together, to deliver the stability in the neighbourhood we share.”
The opening ceremony began with the Nato anthem, the Kuwaiti national anthem and a reading from the Quran.
The head of Kuwait’s National Security Bureau, Sheikh Thamer Al Ali Al Sabah, spoke on behalf of the Kuwaiti Prime Minister, Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah.
Sheikh Thamer paid tribute to the initiative that helped its members to strive “towards global and regional peace and stability".
He said the gathering of the initiative’s members was to “celebrate 15 years of an exemplary partnership”.
That partnership allowed Nato and Gulf countries to confront “more complex security issues” that have arisen since the Cold War, the basis of the alliance’s founding, Sheikh Thamer said.
“A wise man once said, 'One cannot achieve greatness by working alone',” he said. “Co-operation is the essence of success, with the common good as its driving force.”
“Our successful relationship with the organisation is a case in how inter-agency teamwork on one hand and collaboration with GCC government entities on another can generate maximum outcomes.”
All 29 Nato member states were present in Kuwait City, as was North Macedonia, which is set to become the alliance’s 30th member.
Also there were the initiative members and representatives from Saudi Arabia and Oman.
This year, Nato has celebrated 70 years of its own existence, 25 years of its Mediterranean Dialogue, which focuses on Europe’s southern border, and 15 years of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative.
Officials say that its relations with Gulf countries are only going to improve further.
“The partnership between Nato and the ICI has grown stronger over the years,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “But there is more we can do.”
One way in which the partnership is growing stronger is the increasing participation of Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Riyadh and Muscat “have also increased their engagement with Nato allies", Mr Stoltenberg said. “This is vital because the closer our co-operation, the safer we will be.”
Both countries were in attendance but remain outside the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative.
Mr Stoltenberg praised the Kuwaiti regional centre as serving a key link between the alliance and Gulf partners.
He spoke of the training and practical support that Nato provides to the initiative’s members, and thanked the Gulf states for their contributions to missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.
The speeches were followed by a closed-door meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
“I am proud of the culture of co-operation that has developed between our nations surrounding vary activities at this centre,” Mr Stoltenberg said in remarks to open the meeting.
He welcomed collaboration in the fight against ISIS, pointing to Kuwait's neighbour Iraq as an example of areas of shared interest.
Sheikh Tamer took the opportunity to congratulate Sheikh Abdullah Al Khalifa on the occasion of Bahraini National Day, which coincided with the event.