''Why NATO Matters to America''

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Brookings Institution

  • 19 Mar. 2014 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 20 Mar. 2014 10:07

''Why NATO Matters to America'' - Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Brookings Institution

Thank you very much, Fiona, for that generous introduction. I would also like to thank everyone at Brookings for the excellent job in organizing this event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a different world than we did less than a month ago.

Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine is in blatant breach of its international commitments and it is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The annexation of Crimea through a so-called referendum held at gunpoint is illegal and illegitimate. And it undermines all efforts to find a peaceful political solution. This is a wake-up call. For the Euro-Atlantic community. For NATO. And for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace.

We know that we cannot take our security for granted. We have seen other crises in Europe in the past decades. The Western Balkans in the 1990s. Georgia in 2008. But this is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War.

First, because of its scale, with one of the largest movement of troops for many decades.

Second, because of the stakes – the freedom of 45 million people and their right to make their own choice.

And third, because this crisis is right on NATO’s border.

But Ukraine cannot be viewed in isolation. And this crisis is not just about Ukraine.

We see what could be called 21st century revisionism. Attempts to turn back the clock. To draw new dividing lines on our maps. To monopolise markets. Subdue populations. Re-write, or simply rip up, the international rule book. And to use force to solve problems -- rather than the international mechanisms that we have spent decades to build.

We had thought that such behaviour had been confined to history. But it is back. And it is dangerous. Because it violates international norms of accepted behaviour. It exports instability. It reduces the potential to cooperate and build trust. And, ultimately it undermines our security. Not just NATO’s or Ukraine’s security, but also Russia’s. If the rules don’t apply, if agreements are not honoured, certainly Russia also stands to suffer the consequences.

Russia was among those who committed in 1994 to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Russia pledged not to threaten or use force against Ukraine. By turning its back on that agreement, Russia has called into question its credibility and reliability as an international actor. And its steps to annex Crimea are a clear violation of the United Nations Charter.

Russia must honour its international commitments, cease all military activities against Ukraine, and seek a peaceful political solution. Including through direct dialogue with the government of Ukraine. Because on its current course, Russia is choosing increased international isolation.

There are no quick and easy ways to stand up to global bullies. Because our democracies debate, deliberate, and consider the options before taking decisions. Because we value transparency and seek legitimacy for our choices. And because we see force as the last, not the first, resort.

The only way to address such challenges is for Europe and North America to stand together. This is what we have done from the start of this crisis. NATO’s clear position has been to condemn Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. To stand firmly in support of the government in Kyiv. And to make clear that President Putin’s decisions to escalate the situation have consequences.

As a first step we have suspended joint planning for a maritime escort mission for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. This would have been the first joint operation of the NATO-Russia Council. We also decided that no staff-level civilian or military meetings with Russia will take place for now. And we have put the entire range of NATO-Russia cooperation under review. NATO Foreign Ministers will take decisions when they meet in Brussels early next month. At the same time, we have kept the door open for political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council to give Russia an opportunity to engage.

We have also taken measures to strengthen NATO’s readiness. They include more assets for our Baltic Air Policing mission, surveillance flights over Poland and Romania, and heightened awareness.

Allies have taken further steps to impose diplomatic and economic consequences. These are not our preferred choice. They are inevitable and appropriate consequences of Russia’s choices.

No one wants to turn away from our cooperation with Russia. But no one can ignore that Russia has violated the very principles upon which that cooperation is built. So business as usual is not an option.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In times like this, when the security of the Euro-Atlantic area is challenged, the North Atlantic Alliance has not wavered. And it will not waver.
For 65 years, we have been clear in our commitment to one another as Allies. And to the global security system within which NATO is rooted. Our transatlantic foundation is our strength. And it has given us the ability to consult, cooperate and cope with any crisis.

This does not mean that NATO is the only solution to every crisis in the Euro-Atlantic region. But I do believe it is part of every solution. Because the Alliance provides three elements that are crucial for facing modern security challenges. And that are vital for Europe’s, and America’s, defence.

These are political legitimacy. Tried and tested structures. And military strength.

First, political legitimacy.

The combined and voluntary will of 28 of the world’s strongest, sovereign democracies is an extremely powerful source of political legitimacy. Something that unilateral action or coalitions of the willing simply cannot enjoy.

This carries over into our missions and operations. It attracts partners whose political support and military contributions add to our broader international legitimacy.

Our ISAF mission in Afghanistan is a clear example. It has included 50 countries. All 28 Allies and 22 partner nations. That’s one-fourth of all the world’s countries. The biggest and most effective coalition in recent history. A coalition that only NATO could have gathered. And commanded.

That leads me to my second point. NATO provides tried and tested political and military structures.

We have a unique, permanent forum for political consultation, where North Americans and Europeans meet every day to debate and decide how to ensure our collective security. Just two weeks ago, we met at Poland’s request, to consult within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. This allowed us to immediately address the security concerns of one of our members. And to reaffirm our solidarity.

Our political and military structures also provide us with a permanent crisis response system – so we can react quickly and effectively to any concern. With political measures. With military measures. Or an appropriate mix of the two.

We also have the permanent NATO military command structure. So when we decide to take any military action, we have the right framework, with the right skills and the right people, already in place.

We have headquarters that can be deployed quickly to command operations and missions. We have reaction forces on standby. And we can bring the necessary military contributions together quickly. From NATO Allies, as well as from over 40 partner nations on 5 continents.

Time and again, when an Ally has felt its security under threat, we have come together and quickly provided the necessary support.
After 9/11, when we deployed surveillance planes here to the United States. During the Syria crisis, when we deployed Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey. And today, when our surveillance aircraft are monitoring our borders in Eastern Europe.

Now imagine that NATO did not exist.

Every time a crisis broke out, a political and military framework would have to be built from scratch. Political consensus would have to be forged. Partners found. Military plans developed. And capabilities designed, delivered and deployed.

This would be costly in terms of effectiveness. In terms of money. And in terms of time. Indeed, once the necessary elements for a response were in place, it could be too late to stem the crisis.

So our standing structures save time. They save effort. And they save taxpayers money. They bring other advantages too. They allow us to harmonise military requirements across the Alliance. They support the equipping, training and exercising of our troops. And they have helped us to build the most capable and connected military forces in history.

This is my third point. NATO’s unique military strength. It is a force multiplier. And it allows every Ally – even its most powerful one – to pack a bigger punch.

Let me point out a few of the ways that American security has benefited from NATO’s collective strength.

Again, Afghanistan is a good example. In 2010, as American forces surged, European Allies surged. And partners surged too. Over the past ten years, for every two US soldiers who have served in Afghanistan, one European soldier has always served with them. Some 400,000 European soldiers have rotated through Afghanistan, to help make sure it would never again be a launching pad for international terrorists.

In Libya three years ago, European Allies, Canada and NATO partners played a crucial role in enforcing an arms embargo, maintaining a no-fly zone, and protecting the people from attacks by their own leader.

Today in Kosovo, over thirty-one NATO European and partner countries are keeping the peace.

And off the coast of Somalia, ships from four Allied navies – Spain, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands – are sailing with US ships. Patrolling against pirates. And keeping vital sea lanes safe.

European nations are helping to ease America’s security burden in other ways too. For example, the European Union is running its own counter-piracy operation. And several European nations have stepped up to respond to the growing instability in Africa, in particular in Mali and Central Africa.

So NATO makes a unique contribution to our security. Because only NATO brings together the world’s most capable democracies in a permanent, integrated political and military structure.

And only NATO delivers the political legitimacy and military strength that no one nation or ad-hoc coalition can deliver on its own.

It comes down to a simple truth: shared security is better than solitary insecurity. And it’s cheaper too. It’s why NATO is a great defender of America. A great deal for America. And it’s why NATO matters to America.

That said, I am the first to stress that Europe must do more. I take every opportunity to point out that there should be a fairer sharing of the costs and the responsibilities.

Both between North America and Europe. And within Europe.

And developments in Ukraine are a stark reminder that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted. And that neither Europe, nor America, can come up with a solution alone.

That is why I will continue to remind European nations that they need to step up politically and militarily. To hold the line on defence cuts. To increase their defence spending. And to work together to fill key capability gaps. Including missile defence, cyber defence, and joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Later this year, in Wales in the United Kingdom, we will hold our next NATO Summit. We need to take tough decisions in view of the long-term strategic impact of Russia's aggression on our own security. Our commitment to the security of Allies is unbreakable.

We will bring our ISAF mission to a close and prepare our future partnership with Afghanistan. We will ensure we have the right capabilities we need to address the modern threats we face, like cyber attacks and missile proliferation. And we will strengthen our partnerships with like-minded countries in our neighborhood and around the world.

Our Wales Summit will move us along a path we have paved together. To ensure our Alliance is even better suited to meet the collective security requirements of every Allied nation – including your own. And fit to face any challenge the future may hold.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As recent events have shown, we continue to face critical security challenges. And new challenges are emerging all the time. The danger is not one country, or weapon or terrorist group. It is an environment where countries decide they can redraw the geopolitical map. Use the cyber domain to cause harm. Or attack innocent people because of political and ideological disagreement. We must stand united in the face of all those challenges, which make our world more dangerous and unpredictable.

Our common history shows us the way. In June, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I remember my own visit to Normandy, together with my family. Seeing the beaches where so many Allied troops – European and American – gave their lives for freedom. Walking past the rows of white headstones that mark those soldiers’ graves.

Those brave soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches knew then what we must not forget now. That sharing security today means preserving freedom, democracy and prosperity for tomorrow.
That is the spirit in which NATO was founded. And that is why NATO matters for the United States, and for all the Allies today and in decades to come.

Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: (...) I expect you will rise to the challenge, thank you. 

MELANNE VERVEER (Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS)):  Obviously questions about whether or not a security agreement will get signed that will enable NATO and its forces to be able to continue in an advisory and a training mode. 

Similarly, you discussed the very important role that women in Afghanistan have played. And thank you for the kind of support that NATO has rendered and demonstrated. 

But there are tremendous fears on the part of the women there that the great strides that they have made will be reversed as this transition goes forward and they will not be able to play the role they've been playing in advancing the peace stability of the country. 

So how do you see the possibilities for the future agreement in terms of the security arrangements going forward after Afghanistan assumes full responsibilities?  And how do you see the prospects for women in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much.  Let me go directly to the bottom-line.  I think the bottom-line is we will get a security agreement.  We will get a signature on the security agreement.  But I don't think President Karzai will sign.  So it will be for a new president to sign. 

I'm confident we will get a security agreement because a lot is at stake.  It's not only about security. But obviously if we don't get a security agreement in place we cannot deploy a training mission after 2014.  So if there's no signature, there will be no troops.  It is as easy as that.

But it goes beyond security because if we have no troops on the ground I think it will be difficult to generate financial resources to sustain the Afghan Security Forces after 2014.  We have built Afghan Security Forces to a level of around 350,000 soldiers and police. This goes far beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government.  So if they don't get international financing, they can't pay the salaries!  That would a very, very... I would say dangerous situation.  Because it might, in the worst case, lead to a dissolution of the Afghan Security Forces.  And we would see the security situation deteriorate. 

I think the Afghans are very well aware of this. And that's why we have seen all presidents and candidates express support for the security agreement.  We also saw last November Loya Jirga express a very clear view that they want the security agreement to be signed as soon as possible.  So for these reasons, I do believe we will see the security agreements signed. And we will be able to deploy a training mission from 1st of January 2015.

As regards women's rights, it is a matter of concern but the Afghan government has committed itself to protect human rights, including of course women's rights.  And that pledge was delivered at several conferences in Bonn, in Kabul, in Tokyo. And seen from the international community's perspective, it is a mutual commitment. 

We have committed to support Afghanistan after 2014 also financially with development assistance.  But in exchange we would expect the Afghan government to protect also women's rights.  And to put it very bluntly: if women's rights are put in danger in Afghanistan, I think it will be very, very difficult to generate financial resources in many countries to support the Afghan government.  So also in that respect, a lot is at stake. And that's why I'm confident whoever will be elected president this year, the new government will protect women's rights.

MELANNE VERVEER:  Thank you for that.  Now to our questions. And please give us your name and school you're in.

Q:  Hi, Secretary General, thank you very much for taking the time to come to Georgetown.  My name is Dominique Gilbert.  I'm an Evening Program Public Policy student here. And by day I work at Home and Security in our Multilateral Engagement. 

My question for you is while I appreciate what you're saying about the importance of respecting the customs of the countries working with, from your perspective what do you think are the first steps in dealing with the cultures that are very different from Western cultures?  And then secondly of that is do you see any lacking research that would helpful to put forward when trying to work in these complex situations and trying to encourage governments to include women?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, … quite complicated questions actually.  On research, I would leave it to experts actually to elaborate on that.  No doubt... no doubt that there is a potential for further research activities.  I suppose it's about women's role in preventing conflicts and the resolution of conflicts. 

We know... relating this second part of your question to the first part of your question... we know that women play a very particular role in these societies.  They have a very strong role in the family.  They have a very strong role in the local community.  And this is the reason why it's so essential to draw upon women and their human assets in preventing conflicts and in the resolution of conflicts.  And no doubt without being an expert in research, no doubt that further research in that area could strengthen the focus on women's role in peace and security.

Now, on the first part of your question, of course, it is a balance.  Let's use Afghanistan as an example.  I mentioned that it's of upmost importance to respect local traditions, local culture and also that also goes when it comes to the role of women. 

But on the other hand we belong to a culture where we do believe that women have equal rights.  And obviously we can't and shouldn't suppress that.  So though it's a delicate balance, we should of course promote women's rights even in a conservative society where women's rights have not been the focal point.  And that's why I mentioned the example from Afghanistan; because we have actually, I think, achieved a lot. 

When I meet female politicians in Afghanistan, I'm struck by their determination to promote women's interests and women's rights.  When I meet a female journalist I can assure you that they do a tremendous job to protect women's interests and women's rights.  And I have met female entrepreneurs. And they have been very creative in establishing new businesses. 

So that's also... that gives me some optimism when I meet the young generation, when I meet young women in Afghanistan, I feel confident they will never ever accept to return to the darkness of the past under the Taliban.  So it's a balance we have to be prudent in the way we approach this issue. But we should not compromise on our basic belief that women have equal rights. And we should promote these rights also in these societies.


Q:  Thank you.

MELANNE VERVEER:  And we hope here at the Institute we're going to add to that research data and scholarship base on this issue.

MELANNE VERVEER:  Let's go to this side.

Q:  Hi, thank you for coming here as well, my name is Elizabeth.  And I'm in the School of Foreign Service.  So a fair optimism in that security agreement with... on Afghanistan will be reached in the next year.  But do you think that say in a situation in the near future where perhaps NATO isn't directly on the ground that only provides financial support to the Afghan Security Forces, do you consider... do you think that it is... that the structures that are in place, helped women in Afghanistan, are sustainable without direct NATO or US military support?  I only ask this because it does seem that there is a correlation between, you know, military presence in Afghanistan and the improvement in the rights of women.  Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, let me stress that I am indeed very impressed by the capability of the Afghan Security Forces.  They have now been in the lead of security since mid-2013.  And they have dealt with security challenges in a very professional manner. So that's why we are confident that they will be able to take full responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan by the end of this year as planned.

But having said that, we also believe that they will need our assistance for some time when it comes to training, advice and that's why we have offered to establish a NATO-led training mission after 2014. So if we are not able to establish that training mission, my concern is that they will lack that training, advice, assistance that we could provide.

But more seriously, as I indicated, they will also lack funding. And I think that's the real problem if the international community is not willing to sustain the Afghan Security Forces financially it will be... to go directly to the point, it will be impossible for the Afghan government to sustain the Afghan Security Forces.  And in that case, the security situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate. 

So... let me stress what I said in my answer to the first question that I feel confident that we will get the signature and will be able to deploy a training mission after 2014.  So hopefully your question is a hypothetical question. 


Q:  Hello,  Secretary General, thank you again for coming here today.  And my name is Leo Luall (?).  I'm a student in the School of Foreign Service.  My question is:  What do you see as the most pressing security challenge facing the world in the near future?  And could you explain NATO's … how you see NATO's role in it?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, hum, if you'd ask two months ago my answer might have been different from what I will answer today.

Q:  Maybe both answers?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes. That's exactly what I will do; because we are where we are now.  So right now, seen from a NATO perspective, the crisis in Ukraine is the most pressing security challenge right now, also because it goes to the heart of what NATO is about.  NATO is about ensuring security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.  And what we have seen in Crimea is a threat to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.  So right now, this is actually the most severe security challenge. 

If you had asked me two months ago, I would have pointed to maybe a range of security challenges, including of course Syria, including the risk of a nuclear proliferation...I could mention Iran as an example...the risk of cyber-attacks. 

The reason why I now point to...  The fact that I now point to Ukraine as the most pressing security challenge shouldn't overshadow that we still have these other security risks and security challenges. And that boils down to the conclusion that NATO as the world's strongest military alliance should be prepared for all eventualities, whether it is a security challenge in our near neighborhood or even in cyberspace. 

And that's why we are, right now, working on an enhanced cyber defence.  We are building a NATO missile defence system to protect our populations against potential missile attacks.  Just to mention a couple of examples.  So this work will continue despite the fact that right now our Allies are, for good reasons, very much focused on the crisis in Ukraine. 

Q: Thank you.


Q:  Good morning, Madam Ambassador, Mister Secretary General, my name is Michelle Barsaw (?).  I work for a DC-based NGO called the Institute for Inclusive Security focused exclusively on women, peace and security.  There are a number of people in this room who’ve dedicated a lot of attention to thinking about how to institutionalize attention to women, peace and security within US defence operations.  And one of the ways we've approached thinking about that is integrating it into the international level of strategic guidance; so for us the national security strategy, insofar that it forms the national military strategy and the guidance for the employment of forces. 

I'm wondering if you can draw parallels for us for the NATO experience.  And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how attention to these issues has been integrated into the highest level strategic guidance.  And I'm also particularly curious about the space for amending and revising NATO's contingency plans for attention to women, peace and security.  If you think that's viable.  And if NATO might commit to doing that.  And if not, what you think the other strategic entry points are?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That's a very comprehensive... question.

MELANNE VERVEER:  Another one!

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes indeed.  But maybe I could best answer the question by describing some of our major strategic documents.  The overall document is the NATO Strategic Concept.  We adopted a new strategic concept in Lisbon... at our summit in Lisbon in November 2010.  In that strategic concept we defined three core tasks for NATO: first, collective defence; secondly, crisis management; and thirdly, cooperative security.

Collective defence: that is of course the traditional territorial defence of our populations and our Member States.  And you will see during the current Ukraine crisis a lot of focus on that specific task. 

Crisis management:  you have seen a recent example on that, namely Libya in 2011.  Libya is out of area; but it is an example the UN Security Council adopted an historic resolution responsibility to protect the Libyan population against attacks from its own government.  NATO decided to take responsibility for that operation.  That is an example of crisis management. 

And cooperative security:  that's very much about our partnerships.  We realize that if we are to accomplish our security mission in today's world, we need strong security partnerships across the globe.  So we have signed partnership agreements with countries like Australia and Japan.  And we have strong partnerships with New Zealand and South Korea.

In today's world, I think it's safe to say no-one can go it alone.  Even the strongest nation needs collaborators to give political legitimacy as well as operational strength.  And we see that in Afghanistan with a coalition of 50 nations, 28 Allies and 22 partners.  That's our overall strategic concept.

And underneath we have other strategic documents.  We transformed the strategic concept into concrete military plans.  You mentioned contingency plans.  As a matter of principle, we never comment on concrete contingency plans. But I can assure you that we have all plans in place to effectively protect and defend all NATO Allies against all possible threats.

Q:  And attention to women, peace, security within them?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but that's an integrated...  as I described it in my introduction this morning, that's now mainstreamed in our policies, in our military plans. So that's actually the essence of our approach that it should be an integrated part of our strategic documents and our concrete military plans.

MELANNE VERVEER:  And this will have to be the last question.

Q:  (Inaudible) ... the School of Lifelong Learning.  It's not a Georgetown school.  Maybe it is.  In any case, back when they were in power, the Taliban managed to eliminate poppy growing almost overnight with very few resources other than a few working telephones.  Under NATO with all its tremendous resources, Afghanistan has become the opium capital of the world, how do you explain that?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually it is the Taliban that profits from the poppy production and poppy cultivation.  The fact is that it is the Afghan government that has responsibility for dealing with the poppy cultivation. It's not part of ISAF's mandate.  And it is... Let me be honest with you, I also consider it a major problem. And of course it is disappointing to see the development. But I also have to tell you that it's not that easy to solve the problem.  Sometimes, we are advised that we should just eliminate the poppy fields. But it's not that easy because if you destroy the poppy fields without providing farmers with an alternative and sustainable livelihood then you'll just push them into the camps of the Taliban. 

So the way to reduce poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is to provide farmers with crops that are more profitable than poppies.  And that's a more complicated task and it's a more long-term task.  Of course, if you destroy, if you burn all fields from one day to the next, then maybe you would feel some satisfaction that you have seen a destruction of the poppy fields.  But it's a very, very short-term solution; because if people are not provided with a sustainable alternative livelihood then you will end up in a much worse situation. 

So that's the explanation. But I share your frustration.  And among the mutual commitments the Afghan government has made as part of the international conferences is that the Afghan government will intensify the fight against drugs production and drugs trade.  And hopefully, they will live up to their commitment.