Updated: 29-Jan-2004 NATO Speeches

Washington D.C.

29 Jan. 2004


by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the National Defense University

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here. This is, as you know, my first visit to the United States as Secretary General of NATO, and I’m grateful to the NDU for hosting my first speech.

I do not intend to mince words. In the next few minutes, I want to lay out for you my vision of NATO over the next coming months, and the coming years. I will set out my priorities as Secretary General. I will identify what I believe to be the steps we must take to meet them. And then – in a very reasonable amount of time, I promise -- I will take your questions.

I accepted my new post because I have great confidence in NATO. The Atlantic Alliance today is, as it has always been, a unique and invaluable organisation. It is the place where North America and Europe come together to discuss the most serious political issues on our agenda. It is where the countries that share most profoundly our common values agree on common action. And it is the platform for the most effective militaries in the world to defend our security, our values and our interestes, wherever required, together.

To my mind, the 21st century NATO is an irreplaceable asset for the transatlantic community. I was certainly grateful to have been given the opportunity to lead this organisation.

Let me be clear, however. I have come into the job with my eyes open. I know that NATO has had a bruising year. The Iraq war sparked very strong debate amongst even the closest friends and allies, including in the UN and the European Union. And NATO didn’t escape the fallout.

My message is simple: it’s time to get back to business. There are simply too many threats on the horizon, too many challenges for us to tackle. For us to succeed, there is no alternative to open security dialogue, and profound security cooperation between the NATO Allies. And there is no time to waste.

Our first, and immediate priority is to get Afghanistan right. We cannot afford to fail. My predecessor, Lord Robertson, said that if we don’t go to Afghanistan, Afghanistan will come to us. He was right. No country knows that more clearly than this one.

NATO’s Afghanistan mission may be halfway around the world, but its success matters to our security right here. If the political process fails, that country will become, once again, a haven for the terrorists who threaten us, for the drugs that end up on our streets.

There is another problem as well. If we fail in Afghanistan – if we do not meet our commitments to the people of that country to help them build a better future – then who will have confidence in us again? Our credibility – as NATO, as the Euro-Atlantic community – is on the line. And credibility is one of our strongest assets. To preserve it, we have no choice but to succeed.

Just think of the implications of success, even if we still have a long way to go. Peace and security for people who have suffered terribly for decades. A major terrorist haven shut down for good. A more stable region. And an illustration of the power, and the potential, of transatlantic cooperation to achieve massive change for the better.

For all these reasons, Afghanistan is my priority number one. But going to Afghanistan isn’t enough. A simple presence in the capital, while important, isn’t enough. We must do more.

We have to spread security beyond the capital, to the provinces. We have to buttress the credibility and the authority of the Karzai Government. We have to protect and nurture the very fragile political process, to build on the success of the recent Loya Jirga and lay the foundation for free and fair elections to be held in the summer. And as part of that, the international community has to beat back any attempts by recidivist members of the Taliban to choke the peace and the progress in Afghanistan that is only now beginning to take root.

NATO is taking action. The Alliance has decided to take command of Provincial Reconstruction Teams throughout the country. We have already take over leadership of one, in Kundoz. We must now move forward on others.

At NATO headquarters, we are in the process of defining an overall operational plan. I will be pushing hard for that plan to be approved for March, in time for the June elections. And I will make sure NATO’s member states are well aware of the military assets needed to carry out their commitments.

Throughout its long history, NATO has never made empty promises. We have always backed up our words with deeds. My first priority is to ensure that that long and honourable tradition continues in Afghanistan.

My second priority is to ensure that NATO is prepared, if called upon, to play a greater role in Iraq.

Today, the Alliance is supporting the Polish troops leading a multinational division in Iraq’s central province. NATO is providing planning, intelligence and logistical assistance. And if Allies were to decide together that they wish for NATO to do more, it will.

Now, let me be very clear: This is a decision for the Allies themselves to make. My job, as Secretary General, is to ensure that, when a decision is made, NATO is ready to do the job.

For that to be the case, NATO must be a forum where Iraq is discussed, and where our common approaches are shaped. Because I can guarantee that there will be pressure for the Alliance to do more in Iraq.

Why? Because NATO has demonstrated over and over again that it remains the world’s most effective organisation at generating, leading and supporting large, multinational and long-term peace support operations – in the Balkans since the mid-90s, and today in Afghanistan. NATO is also a forum where enhanced outreach to the Greater Middle East, especially in the security area, will be discussed. It is too early to say what form this outreach will take, but we have successful models in the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Partnership for Peace.

NATO's success depends on open consultation and on trusting cooperation. But it also relies, as an essential foundation, on modern, effective military capabilities. And there is urgent work that must be done, starting right now, if we are to have the forces we need, when we need them, to go where we need them.

As a transatlantic community, and as an Alliance, we face a real and urgent shortfall in useable military forces. The US military faces a daunting array of challenges and its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be over tomorrow. European and Canadian forces are heavily deployed as well. Germany has some ten thousand troops deployed outside of its borders, including in Afghanistan. France has thirty thousand troops deployed, including some in all NATO missions. And in taking command of ISAF in Afghanistan, Canada has over ten percent of its total army across the oceans.

All of these commitments should, first and foremost, demonstrates that America’s Allies are determined to pull their weight when it comes to security. But these operations also illustrate a broader trend – that we are close to the point where, as an Alliance, we are going to be unable to meet new commitments. And this would have very negative repercussions indeed.

Look at Afghanistan. I will be honest – we are not flooded with offers of troop contributions to expand into the provinces. Not because NATO members don’t want to. But because they are having real trouble coming up with deployable forces to take on this new task.

This is already a real problem today. But what about tomorrow? I can guarantee you that Afghanistan will not be the last crisis we face. We need to make the necessary improvements now, to be able to handle the crises and challenges that certainly wait around the corner. Improving the capability and usability of our forces is critical and I will be as persistent as my predecessor on this issue.

We are already making progress. The NATO Response Force, which Secretary Rumsfeld proposed only two years ago, is already up and running with an initial capability. It will be fully operational no later than 2006. The NRF will not only give us a fast-moving and hard-hitting force. It will also ensure that all the Allies can engage together at the sharp end of military operations, so there is no division of labour between those who do the dirty work and those who do the dishes.

Together, the NRF and our new Allied Command Transformation will play another vital role as well -- as a transmission belt for the latest technology, the latest doctrine, the latest thinking on defence. We cannot let technology divide us. We cannot afford a world where the US is forced to act alone simply for technical reasons. That would make US unilateralism in military affairs inevitable – and I guarantee you that that is not healthy for this country, for NATO, or for international relations. My third priority, as Secretary General, is to ensure that transformation happens .

My fourth priority builds directly from this. I intend to work hard to put transatlantic security cooperation back on a more pragmatic, realistic and trusting footing.

Over the past few months and years, some pernicious myths have started to become a little too popular. Myths that are undermining the foundation of our cooperation – trust. And I fully intend to make my voice heard in dispelling them.

The first myth is of a Europe that might rival the US. Let us be clear: such a Europe is politically impossible, militarily unrealistic and financially unaffordable. Europe wants to stand together as a partner to America.

Europe, as Europe, can only be a partner to the US. There cannot be, and there will never be, a rivalry between Europe and the United States in the security arena. In this context I want to underline NATO’s commitment to build a strategic partnership with the European Union. We have successfully worked together in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1), and NATO is prepared to support a possible new EU mission in Bosnia.

The second myth is the flip side of the first: the dangerous illusion that the US can, and should, go it alone when it comes to security. Iraq should demonstrate the impossibility of that approach.

Pushing the US down a unilateralist road serves no one’s interest, least of all America’s. President Bush said, just a few days ago in the State of Union address, that the US must never forget the vital contribution of its international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices. I couldn’t agree more. And I will continue to make that case, loudly and clearly.

With its NATO Allies, the US is part of the world’s most effective permanent coalition. A group of countries that share values; who share a determination to defend them; and who share the capability to defend them, wherever and whenever required. In an increasingly volatile world, that mutual commitment and robust capability is something precious. It must never be taken for granted. It must be preserved. It must be strengthened. It is at the very heart of the “effective multilateralism” that President Bush has talked about.

That means having open debates, in the Alliance, on all the key security issues on the agenda today, so we can shape true cooperative approaches to the threats and challenges we all face. It means enhancing and modernising NATO’s military capabilities, so the US doesn’t have to act alone. And it means using NATO, not as a tool-box, but as the most effective and most reliable tool of transatlantic security cooperation.

We have a broad and important agenda to complete together: bringing peace to troubled areas; welcoming new democracies into the NATO family; engaging with Russia, and with Ukraine; building our partnerships with countries across Europe, through the Caucasus, and into Central Asia; strengthening our bridges to countries of North Africa and the Middle East; and building a true and trusting Strategic Partnership with the European Union. We have no more time to brood over past disagreements. As I said when I began, it’s time to get back to business.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s NATO has taken on new missions, in part of the world that had never before appeared on the Alliance horizon. It is tackling the threats we face today – terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, failed states. It is building security through dialogue and cooperation. And it is sparking and guiding the transformation of the military capabilities that we, the transatlantic community, need to preserve our common security, today and into the future.

But amidst all of this transformation, some things do not change. America still needs reliable friends – and it has them in its NATO Allies. NATO remains the world’s most effective security coalition. And NATO still delivers security when it is needed, and where it is needed, even in a radically new security environment.

That is the NATO which I took over a few weeks ago. It is a NATO in which I am very confident. And I intend to do my utmost, leading up the Istanbul Summit this summer and beyond, to ensure that our great Alliance continues to deliver on its enormous potential.

Thank you.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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