Updated: 26-May-2003 NATO Speeches


26 May 2003


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is always a pleasure to meet with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. You represent NATO’s shareholders. These gatherings are always an excellent opportunity for you to take stock of where your Alliance is, and where it is going. And I cannot think of a better city in which to have this discussion than Prague.

Six months ago, NATO held its first Summit meeting of the 21st Century here. It was one of the most important in the history of the Alliance. It was the Summit where NATO’s Heads of State and Government set out an agenda for fundamental change -- of NATO’s policies, its membership, its capabilities and its Partnerships. It was, in the truest sense, a transformation Summit.

Prague was a clear statement that both sides of the Atlantic shared a common vision of the security environment, and a shared a determination to face new threats and challenges together.

Some pundits have argued that the Iraq crisis undermined that unity. I say: look again. Of course, the past few months have been difficult. But to my mind, the picture that is beginning to form tells us that we got Prague right.

Prague was the theory test – and we passed it. Today, we are putting our reinvented NATO, and our shared strategic vision, into practice.

The transformation at Prague was guided by a shared assessment of the security environment. We all know that this is an era of greater and globalised instability, which respects no borders. Afghanistan under the Taliban exported instability to its neighbours, drugs to Europe, terrorism and refugees throughout the world. Other failed states pose similar threats to all of our states, NATO member and Partners alike.

The scale of these threats has also increased. Today, terrorism is more international, more apocalyptic in its vision, and far more lethal than before. The deadly attacks in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, and then in Morocco, are proof that although we are winning the fight, the threat is still with us. And the spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons is already a defining challenge of this new century.

All of this adds up to a guaranteed supply chain of instability, turbulence and danger. Danger which can strike at any time, without warning, anywhere.

It is a daunting reality. But it is reality. And to defend ourselves effectively in this new world, two key tools are necessary, as part of our broad, comprehensive response to these new threats.

First, we need, modern, effective military capabilities. I made this my clarion call from the beginning of my term. Last year, all the NATO Allies made it clear that they had got the message. At the Summit, they took real steps to transform the tools with which NATO does its business.

The Iraq operation demonstrated that the priorities we set at Prague were the right ones: precision weapons, ground surveillance, chemical and biological defence, and the means to move forces quickly and supply them once they arrive.

I am determined to keep up the pressure on Presidents and Prime Ministers to deliver on the Prague Capabilities Commitments they made at the Summit. I count on you to do the same. If I think they are not doing so, I can promise that they, and you, will hear about it. In 2 days Deputy Defence Ministers will devote a day in Brussels solely to this key issue of capabilities, preparing the ground for the meeting of Defence Ministers in June.

In parallel, we are pressing ahead more quickly than expected with NATO’s new Response Force. The NRF, as we call it, will help to ensure that all NATO Allies can contribute effectively to the most demanding operations. In the final analysis, nothing could be more important for Alliance unity than taking on crises together. The NRF will help ensure that that remains possible.

Both the NRF and the Prague Capabilities Commitment are being developed in such a way as to complement the European Union’s capability improvements, including the Headline Goal and the European Rapid Reaction Force.

The logic is clear, and so is its importance. I am the strongest possible supporter of European initiatives which add real value to our overall capabilities. Improvements in both organisations underpin the little understood but extremely important Berlin Plus cooperation arrangements between NATO and the EU. If our cooperation develops in a transparent, coherent and mutually reinforcing way, they will help turn our two organisations into twin pillars of security cooperation for this new century.

But of course, capabilities alone are not enough. We must also have the will to use them. That is the second key to preserving our security today, and in to the future.

There are those, particularly in the United States, who say that Europe has become unwilling to use force. That Europe has become Venus to America’s Mars. That the US no longer has a brother in arms in Europe.

I say: look at the facts. They tell a very different story.

In Prague, all of NATO’s governments agreed that Allied forces should be able to go wherever required to ensure our common security. And now, they are putting that commitment into practice – together. I am not saying that NATO should or will become the world’s policeman. But it will no longer simply be Europe’s neighbourhood patrol.

The clearest example, for the moment, is in Afghanistan. Already, ninety-five percent of the troops in the International Security Assistance Force patrolling Kabul are from NATO countries. And starting in August, the Alliance itself will take over command, coordination and planning of the ISAF.

Now let me be clear. ISAF is not due to change suddenly. It will continue to operate under United Nations mandate. And contributions from Partner and other countries will remain very important.

NATO’s enhanced role will, however, strengthen ISAF’s effectiveness and its sustainability. It will demonstrate that the international community is committed to the long term goal of rebuilding peace and democracy in Afghanistan. And it will show that Europe and North America still believe that pragmatic, multilateral cooperation through NATO is the best way to meet our common security challenges.

Indeed, it is now quite natural for NATO Ministers to look beyond Afghanistan to consider a possible role for the Alliance in post-conflict Iraq. Following an initial discussion among Foreign Ministers, at which no-one ruled out such a development, Poland has now asked for NATO planning and other assistance, and that request is being actively considered by all Allies.

The reason NATO is in demand in Afghanistan, and potentially for Iraq in the long run, is clear. When it comes to supporting or leading large, complex multinational military operations,. no other organisation has comparable capabilities, experience or forces. Which means that when we face challenges such as these, the Atlantic Alliance is a unique asset for the international community.

We can see that in the Balkans, where NATO and its Partners are helping the countries of the region to overcome the wars of the past decade. We can see it in the Mediterranean, where NATO ships are even now conducting anti-terrorist patrols.

We can see it over the defensive support provided past month to Turkey. Yes, there was a debate within the Alliance over when – not whether but when – best to provide that support. A debate of only eleven days in an organisation of 19 democracies might not seem that long -- except that it took place under the harsh spotlight of the international media.

You all know that, in the end, NATO did what it has always done – provided assistance to an Ally under threat. After the end of the Iraq conflict we are now withdrawing the surveillance aircraft, anti-missile defences and chem-bio defences. And after all the headlines, the final story was simple: “NATO meets its Treaty commitments”.

This should come as no surprise to those who know NATO. The Alliance is today what is has always been – an enduring community of values. A community that is about to grow, as seven more democracies prepare for membership.

The invitations issued at the Summit were an historic step, for NATO and the invited countries. But it was only one step. Since then, we have made a great deal of progress in making this round of enlargement a reality. The Protocols of Accession have been signed. The ratification process has begun and already been completed in some member states. And the invited countries are continuing their military, political and economic reforms.

We expect all seven countries to join the Alliance at our next Summit meeting next Spring. When it happens, it will be a major milestone in our common project of building a Europe whole and free, from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

But this project will not end next Spring. NATO’s door will remain open to the aspirant countries that have not yet been invited, and those who might apply in future. Because security is not guaranteed by building walls – it is accomplished by building bridges.

That spirit is also what drives the new NATO-Russia relationship. Two weeks ago the 20 NRC Ambassadors went to Moscow, where we held, for the first time, a meeting of the one-year-old NATO-Russia Council on Russian soil.

You are all aware, by now, that we have a new, more cooperative spirit to our relations. You may not be aware of how much practical progress this new relationship is delivering. We are developing common assessments of the terrorist threat; we are preparing the ground for some real interesting prospects for cooperation in TMD and for smoother peacekeeping cooperation; and we are deepening our military-to-military cooperation through joint training and exercises.

These are just four examples. But they tell a clear story.

We also continue to deepen NATO-Ukraine relations, built upon implementation of the Action Plan agreed at Prague. At a recent high level conference in Washington on NATO-Ukraine relations Ukraine’s ambitions for Euro-Atlantic integration were reconfirmed by all sides.

Both partnerships clearly show that we have moved beyond the Cold War, and into the 21st century. We have gone beyond the rhetoric of cooperation to the reality. And we share a common understanding that cooperation, even if it is sometimes difficult, is the only way forward.

That same spirit is what has always guided NATO’s Partnerships with countries across Europe, through the Caucasus and into Central Asia. Euro-Atlantic Partnership has helped to build an unprecedented security community, the world’s largest permanent coalition, built on consultation and cooperation. It is paying off in our joint peacekeeping operations, and in our collective fight against terrorism.

And it is set to deliver even more. We are enhancing our partnerships with individual partners who desire it. We are implementing a Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism. And we are exploring ways to make to make the Partnership more effective in future, as security requirements change.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In just a few days, NATO Foreign Ministers will meet in Madrid, along with their counterparts from Partner nations. They will take stock of our progress in implementing the Prague agenda. They will review NATO’s new missions. They will review progress on enlargement, and look forward to next year’s Summit. And they will look to further deepening and broadening our Partnership, to the benefit of the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

This is not an agenda of division. It is the agenda of a strong, united Euro-Atlantic community, determined to defend against threats and to build our common security together, today and into the future.

But it is also a complex agenda. And one of our main tasks – you, as Parliamentarians, and me as Secretary General – is to explain it to our publics in a way that they can understand and support.

This is no easy task. The threats we face today, like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are by nature invisible until they strike. It can be challenging to maintain support for defence, and in particular for defence spending, when we cannot show thousands of enemy tanks on television.

But the new threats are no less deadly for being hard to see and hard to predict. We have enough tragic evidence of that.

So our elected leaders must perform a difficult, but crucial double act. You must make the investments necessary to have the capabilities we need to defend our populations from harm, and we must do that now. At the same time, you must ensure that our publics understand and support these investments, to ensure that they are sustainable both financially and politically.

As I said, no easy task. But it is a task that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has understood, and taken on, throughout its long history. I congratulate you for that contribution – a contribution that is perhaps more difficult, and more important, than ever. And at least we in NATO have given you a good story to tell – a new NATO for a new century, transformed at Prague and now being put to the test.

Thank you.

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