'The Future of Peace Operations'

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the University of Edinburgh

  • 17 Nov. 2009
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  • Last updated: 18 Nov. 2009 10:39

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen delivering his speech ''The Future of Peace Operations'' at the University of Edinburgh

Thank you Vice-President April McMahon,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here. I very much value the opportunity to meet with you, and to discuss with you the future of peace operations. Because many of you will decide to become diplomats, or soldiers, or aid workers, or even politicians. And all of you – all of us – will feel the effects, wherever you live, of conflicts far away from home.

Understanding what conflict means in the 21st century, and figuring out how to handle it, is what NATO is doing right now. But soon, that baton will be passed to you. So today, after my opening remarks, I’d very much like to hear what you think as well.

Now, I am well aware that for many of you, NATO is a Cold War organisation – and since, when it ended, many of you were very young indeed, the Cold War may as well be the Peloponnesian war. Ancient history.

In many ways, you are right. But not completely. The Cold War wasn’t that long ago. It shaped the way we think and the way we do things today, when it comes to security. And that is very relevant indeed for the way in which we deal with the conflicts we face today, and will face tomorrow.
First, I think that, because of the success we have had in preserving the peace in Europe for 60 years, too many of us take freedom and peace for granted.

Of course, I understand why. Like me, you live in a country which enjoys all the benefits of freedom and democracy. You live in a Europe which has benefited from peace and growing prosperity for more than 60 years. You live in a world that is more open to you than it ever has been.

But that success didn’t come because we Europeans are more moral, more virtuous, more peaceful than other people. We’re not. It came because we learned from the mistakes of the past. There is a famous expression that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. I prefer the version by Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Union. He said that the lessons of the past are only truly learned when they are embedded in institutions.

And that is what we’ve done in Europe through the European Union. And together with our friends in North America – the United States and Canada – we established 60 years ago a defence alliance – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO. NATO, which has guaranteed freedom and peace in Europe ever since, on the basis of solidarity, shared risk and shared burdens. And it worked. But it was hard. It took vision, and courage, and sacrifice. So the first lesson of the Cold War, for me, is that freedom and security are not our birthright. They have to be defended.

And that brings us to a second legacy of the Cold War which is still very strong in the minds of many Europeans, including the younger generation: the idea that security stops at borders, and can be defended at borders. Of course, that was true for many decades. And because it was, many people ask why we can’t still preserve our security the same old way: lining up tanks on the frontier, keeping our soldiers at home at the ready but out of harms way.

The fact is that it no longer works that way. Today, territorial defence can begin far away from our borders. This is a fundamental realisation, which will shape how we approach modern peace operations.

Afghanistan is a clear example. It may seem far away to you. And when you read about so many of your soldiers losing their lives there, you might legitimately ask why what we’re doing over there matters to your security back here.

It matters because that part of the world had become, until the Taliban was toppled, the Grand Central Station of international terrorism. Those terrorists weren’t just behind the attacks of 9/11. The UK Government has stated publicly that the majority of terror threats in the UK even today have their origin in that part of the world. Giving terrorism a free ride over there would mean increasing the threat to our airports, our metros and our streets. That matters.

So does security in Pakistan. Nuclear armed Pakistan. It’s no secret that Pakistan is under real threat from terrorists and extremists. That would only get worse if we let up the pressure on the Afghan side of the border. And that matters too.

So does the effects of the drugs coming out of Afghanistan. 90% of the heroin in Europe – including this city - comes from Afghanistan, principally from the area controlled by the Taliban. Globally, 100,000 people a year die from that heroin. The cost in lives, in broken homes, in addiction and in law enforcement is huge. All of which is why insecurity in Afghanistan means insecurity for us as well. Whether we like it or not.

So put simply, Cold War territorial defence needs to be fundamentally re-thought in the 21st Century. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to be able to defend ourselves against more traditional threats. We do, and I can assure you we can. When it comes to classic security, NATO remains the ultimate insurance policy for the almost 1 billion people living in Alliance countries. But to deal with modern threats and challenges, we need to lift our eyes, beyond our borders.

Which brings me to my third point – the third legacy of the Cold War. We also need to establish a fundamentally new contract, a new compact, between all the different actors who must work together, if our missions are to succeed. This is what we in NATO call a “Comprehensive Approach”.

For those of you who don’t remember what it was like in the old days – and no, I didn’t say good old days I say old days – I’d sum up the stereotyped and prejudiced way people saw security like this: NATO does war. The United Nations does peace. The European Union dishes out cash. The Non Governmental Organisations, the NGOs, do their own thing. And none of them needs the others, or needs to cooperate together.

I know I’m exaggerating, but just a little. And these attitudes remain very strong. There are many in the United Nations who are suspicious of NATO. Many NGOs on the ground keep their distance from the military, because they worry that cooperating with people in uniform will compromise their impartiality in the eyes of those they are trying to help.

And relations between NATO and the European Union are so restricted that we even can’t agree on a security arrangement for NATO to protect EU police in Afghanistan.

The result is very clear. With some exceptions, the various parts of the international community who do peace operations don’t train together. We don’t plan together. We aren’t joined up in the field. And we don’t analyse together what we might have done better.

Is that a problem? Oh yes it is. The days when the military could win the war, and then hand the baton to the civilians to rebuild, are finished. In today’s peace operations, we need to work together, from beginning to end, if we are to succeed.

Again, look at Afghanistan. To ensure that Afghanistan is strong enough to resist terrorism, we can’t just hunt and kill individual terrorists in the mountains.

The Afghan people have to reject terrorism themselves; by being able to fight it themselves, but also because their own Government offers them something better. Better quality of life; justice; education; and health care. And, of course, security.

Soldiers, alone, can’t provide these things. That’s not their job. But the civilians, in Government and NGOs, can’t do their work if they aren’t safe.

And sadly, the days when being a United Nations worker was sufficient to protect you are behind us. Look at the Taliban attack on the United Nations in Kabul two weeks ago that left five United Nations’ staff dead.

Afghanistan makes it very clear that a comprehensive approach – a truly joined up civilian and military effort - is the only way we will succeed.

Of course, every party has its unique role to play. We need the United Nations to lead the overall process – in close coordination with the legitimate government where there is one. NATO can provide security, and train local forces so they can eventually take over. The European Union can finance and run civilian projects, and now, military ones as well. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are vital for funding civilian reconstruction, from roads to schools.

We also need NGOs to spread their web of projects, from improving health care to promoting new approaches to agriculture. And we need individual nations to take responsibility for key aspects of good governance, such as demilitarising armed groups and building a balanced, impartial, and accountable, judicial system.

The point is, all of these elements need to work together. To reinforce each other, not just work side by side in the same space. That is the Comprehensive Approach.

Now, the theory makes sense. The problem is in the practice. Each player, military and civilian, operates within its own stovepipe, at its own pace, and with its own bureaucratic structures and working methods. And so the combined impact of our efforts remains much less than what it could be, and should be.

So, how do we strengthen civil-military cooperation?

How do we develop strong permanent relationships between all major institutions and NGOs? How do we deliver a truly effective Comprehensive Approach? Let me suggest some concrete steps:

First, we must instil a completely new understanding of the need for better civil-military cooperation. Early on in our Afghanistan mission, we created the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams – or PRTs. In these PRTs, soldiers and civilian development experts work together.

And this approach has been a true success. It combines the two things that Afghanistan needs most: security and development. And it shows that we can effect cultural changes, both in the military, and in the civilian establishments.

But more can be done – indeed, more is being done. We are opening up the way we plan and run our operations so that we include the indispensable civilian knowledge and expertise – from rule of law to alternative livelihoods; from public health to cultural aspects; and from education to gender awareness. This represents a real revolution in the way we think and organise our cooperation. And it will help to strengthen the essential civil-military cooperation and encourage military and civilian actors to see each other as indispensable partners, rather than competitors.

Second, we need a strategic partnership between all major institutions and Non Governmental Organisations – and at all levels. And for me, the key elements in such a strategic partnership should include better sharing of information; liaison officers; joint training; regular exchange of lessons learned and best practice; and joint seminars and conferences.

Again, we are making significant progress. Just a year ago, we signed a Joint Declaration between the United Nations and NATO. NATO and the European Union are also working more closely together, not just in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, but also off the coast of Somalia. Some of NATO’s projects have been supported by the World Bank. We are using our experience to help newer international institutions, such as the African Union, to be more effective. And Afghanistan has been a catalyst for bringing the NGO community and NATO closer together.

All these concrete steps are helping to build a strong and permanent relationship between all the major institutions. And I stress the word “between”. Because the Comprehensive Approach is not a veiled attempt by NATO to subordinate others. It is not about hierarchy. The Comprehensive Approach is all about synergy.

With this in mind, I will invite, next year, the heads of NGOs such as CARE and Medicins sans Frontières, to NATO HQ, so we can look at the lessons we have already learned in Afghanistan, and see how to cooperate better, from beginning to end of our operations.

Let me be clear: we are not trying to undercut the lead role of the United Nations, which I fully support. But when it comes to concrete operational requirements, where we are on the ground together already, we want to do better.

And then my third point: We need to strengthen the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict.
Women and children are those who are most adversely affected by armed conflict. But this also means that women have most to gain from reconciliation and conflict-prevention.

And since women play a key role in maintaining their families, they focus on the basic services that are essential for a society to function.

Women also play a crucial role in children’s education. So they are key to preventing conflicts of the past from being transferred to the next generation.

At NATO, we have started to look at the role of women in conflict resolution and peace-building in a comprehensive way. This is not just a matter of developing policy guidelines and specific education and training programmes.

We are also keen to take account of women’s perspectives and needs in the development and implementation of post-conflict strategies, and as part of this new approach, two gender advisers are currently deploying into our headquarters in Kabul.

Out in the field in Afghanistan, the United States, in particular, has made very innovative use of specialist women teams, and with considerable success.

They are able to search women at check points without causing offence; they run medical clinics; and they are far more successful than men at establishing the mutual trust that is necessary in countering an insurgency.

Let me say quite clearly that all this has nothing to do with political correctness. It has everything to do with the fact that women are making a real difference, including where it matters most for NATO – in our operations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish I could say that Afghanistan will be the international community’s last great nation-building project – but that would be naïve.

The fact is that most armed violence in the world today takes place in failed states. Two thousand people die in them every day.

And two million people have been killed as a direct, or indirect, result of armed violence since 2006 alone. So there are two reasons why we need to engage; first, because ungoverned spaces like Afghanistan can pose a clear and present danger to our security; and second, because we also have a moral duty to try to diminish that kind of suffering and death, if we can.

But in today’s world, we have to take a fresh look at what security means today, and at how we can achieve it.

We have to realise that the military is no longer the complete answer – now it is just part of the answer. We have to acknowledge that hard power is of little use if it cannot be combined with soft power instruments. We have to understand that the new security environment is too complex to allow any single institution to claim a monopoly on wisdom. And we have to understand that the only way forward is to coordinate and cooperate with others.

Does all this mean that military power is of diminishing value? Not at all. Military competence is indispensable for successful peace operations. Without security, there can be no development, and without development, there will be no long-term stability. Security is still the essential platform for the rest.

Which brings me back to NATO. This Alliance started out in circumstances that were completely different than today’s.

But it has adapted: from a static Cold War organisation into a dynamic security provider in the broadest sense; from a closed club into an open community; and from a solo player into a team player.

That is why NATO will remain an indispensable part of safeguarding and promoting your security – including here in Edinburgh - in an age of globalisation.

Thank you.