In 1982, the year Spain became a member of the Alliance, the Minister of Culture Dr Javier Solana argued against NATO membership and the stationing of American military bases in the country. Little did he know that 13 years later, he would become one of the most skillful negotiators and dedicated Secretaries General to have headed the Alliance. In fact, his nomination coincided with Spain’s participation in NATO’s integrated military structure in 1996.
Javier Solana became the 9th Secretary General in December 1995 at a crucial time for the Organization. NATO had just completed its first use of military force in Bosnia and tensions ran high in the region. The Partnership for Peace programme was still in its infancy and there were talks of expanding NATO membership. Yet, Solana demonstrated he had the skills to steer NATO through these turbulent times. Within days of taking up his responsibilities, NATO deployed its first peace-keeping mission since the end of the Cold War – the NATO-led multinational Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia.
With a near exhaustive work ethic, Solana ran meetings of the North Atlantic Council openly, encouraging debates to run their course. He skilfully managed discussions among Permanent Representatives and guided them toward consensus, sometimes calling their heads of state or government if needed. He was not without humour and once remarked:
WHY DO THEY ALWAYS PUT KISSENGER AND ME ON THE SAME PANEL? DO THEY LIKE PEOPLE WITH ACCENTS?
Solana was firmly committed to seeing an end to conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He paid numerous visits to the country during his mandate and did everything in his remit to reconcile the opposing parties. He also negotiated the foundations of a new relationship with Russia and Ukraine in May 1997.
His negotiating skills helped in 1999 over Kosovo. NATO’s 78-day air campaign to avert a human catastrophe started on 24 March 1999, just a few days before UN authorisation was passed. Allies all agreed in advance of the operation that there was a sound legal basis on which to proceed grounded in previous UN Security Council Resolutions and international humanitarian law. In a press statement made the day before the air campaign started, Javier Solana said:
WE KNOW THE RISKS OF ACTION BUT WE HAVE ALL AGREED THAT INACTION BRINGS GREATER DANGERS. WE MUST DO WHAT IS NECESSARY TO BRING STABILITY TO THE REGION. WE MUST STOP AN AUTHORITARIAN REGIME FROM REPRESSING ITS PEOPLE IN EUROPE AT THE END OF THE 20TH CENTURY. WE HAVE A MORAL DUTY TO DO SO. THE RESPONSIBILITY IS ON OUR SHOULDERS AND WE WILL FULFILL IT.
Events in Kosovo sadly dominated NATO’s 50th anniversary summit in Washington D.C. 23-25 April and the daily press conferences given by NATO’s spokesperson at the time – Jamie Shea – were a constant reminder that conflict was at our doorstep.
The accession of former Warsaw Pact countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – to NATO earlier on in the year, on 12 March 1999, brought renewed energy for the Alliance. Dr Javier Solana left NATO in October 1999 to become the European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.