Wales Summit: the rollout of NATO 4.0

Remarks by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow at the NATO Future Leaders Summit, Cardiff – 5 September 2014

  • 05 Sep. 2014
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  • Last updated: 05 Sep. 2014 18:23

It is a great pleasure to bring both our successful Summits to a close – this Summit for young future leaders and the Summit for current leaders who are a bit less young. These past two days, you must have heard a lot about where NATO is going. But I think that a sound understanding of where we’ve been in the past is also key to understanding where we’re going in the future. So rather than give you a simple read-out of our decisions, this afternoon I’d like to give you a broader perspective of this Summit.

This has been described as one of the most historic Summits in NATO’s history. But only a year ago, it wasn’t meant to be historic. The biggest item on our agenda was to be the transition of our mission in Afghanistan from combat to training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. We were going to talk about improving our capabilities and strengthening the transatlantic bond. In some ways, this Summit was envisioned more as a reflective moment and less as a key inflection point in Allied history.
Our intentions didn’t change. But the world did.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its continuing intervention in eastern Ukraine have created a new and destabilising strategic reality. Russian leaders have used both conventional military power and hybrid warfare, together with a sophisticated propaganda campaign, to try to establish a sphere of influence in what they call their ‘near abroad’. Their actions have raised troubling questions about how much they intend to revise the geopolitical map and what means they could use to do it.

This crisis alone would be enough to fray the nerves of the most seasoned diplomat. But the instability we see in Ukraine does not end there. To our south and southeast, an arc of crisis extends across North Africa and the Middle East. In this arc, political institutions have either partially failed or largely dissolved, creating a fertile breeding ground for civil war, violent extremism, proliferation and other threats.

All this makes for an exceptional moment in Alliance history. But it is not an unprecedented moment. We have faced instability on our borders before.

I doubt than any of you remember the last time we had a Summit in the United Kingdom. It was back in 1990, in London. Just a few months earlier, crowds of East and West Germans had breached the Berlin Wall. Countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe were beginning to experience profound economic and political changes. And they would soon be free to make their own security choices.

Would these countries use their newfound freedom to engage with the countries of Western Europe and with each other? Or would old national and ethnic rivalries re-emerge, poisoning the promise of the future?

In that atmosphere of uncertainty, Allied leaders met in London. Their stance was clear. In the London Declaration, the Allies said that “[t]he Atlantic Community must reach out to the countries of the East which were our adversaries in the Cold War, and extend to them the hand of friendship.”

It was the start of NATO’s extraordinary transformation. A military alliance dedicated to static territorial defense would soon become a political instrument for the consolidation of an undivided and democratic Europe. Consultation and mutual understanding would lead to partnership. And in some cases, partnership would eventually lead to membership. If our Cold War alliance was NATO version 1.0, this was NATO version 2.0.

In an effort to kick-start our cooperation, in 1991 the Allies formed the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a consultative body that included our members, nine eastern and central European countries and the Soviet Union. That year we also adopted a new Strategic Concept, the first such concept that we made available to the public.

Many surprises still awaited us. I had the opportunity to witness one of the biggest surprises first-hand. In 1991, I joined the US Mission to NATO as the Deputy Chief of Mission. In December of that year, during the Cooperation Council’s first Foreign Ministerial meeting, we were preparing an important communiqué for release.

I was sitting behind US Secretary State James Baker when the Soviet representative informed the Council that he could no longer sign the communiqué because his country had just ceased to exist. A few minutes later, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner announced he had just received a telegram from Boris Yeltsin stating that Russia was interested in joining the Alliance as a member.

That moment, and others like it, made clear to us that the world had changed and we would have to change, too. Doing nothing wasn’t an option. Inaction risked leaving Central and Eastern Europe to descend into poverty, instability and even conflict.

That’s why, a few years later, in 1994, we created the Partnership for Peace. This was a pivotal moment for the Alliance, and for our partners. It created a cooperative framework that provided ways for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic region to benefit from NATO’s military expertise.

But very quickly, we came to realise that this might not be enough. Some nations wanted more than partnership. They wanted membership. And in Allied capitals, we realised that the prospect of NATO and EU membership would provide the necessary spur to encourage these partners to undertake a wider range of demanding reforms that were vital for political and economic stability. For these reasons and others, the question of a bigger NATO became not a question of whether, but of when.

I was privileged to have played a part in this process. In 1994, with my colleagues Daniel Fried and Nick Burns, I helped write a major policy paper on the path to NATO enlargement for National Security Advisor Anthony Lake. That paper had the advantage of going straight to the top without an interagency review process, and won President Clinton’s immediate approval. For all of you up-and-coming diplomats out there, that’s always a nice advantage.

Looking forward, all Allies recognised that we had to convince Russian leaders that a bigger NATO was not a threat directed at them. It was about consolidating our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. So engagement with former Warsaw Pact countries and with Russia became a two-track process. We would invite new members when they were ready and we would invite Russia to join us as an equal partner in a new, inclusive Euro-Atlantic security system.

So in May 1997, we established the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council as a special and important forum for consultations and cooperation. The next month, we invited Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to start accession negotiations.

NATO’s engagement with central and eastern European countries, both as Allies and partners, has been a triumph for the Euro-Atlantic community. It encouraged political and economic reform all across Europe; and it laid a solid foundation for the eventual EU membership of many of our new Allies. All told, enlargement made millions of people much freer, much safer and over time much richer.

But while security was steadily spreading here in Europe, the world remained a dangerous place. NATO struggled before it helped bring the Balkan conflicts to an end. And then came the 9/11 attacks, which showed that NATO had to be prepared to deal with security challenges even farther away from our own borders. This led to NATO version 3.0.

Our ISAF mission in Afghanistan has been the defining feature of this third phase in NATO’s evolution. Over 50 nations have participated – a quarter of the world’s countries. Many contributing nations were not Allies but Euro-Atlantic partners, such as Sweden and Georgia. Others came from much further afield, such as Australia, New Zealand, Jordan, South Korea and Tonga.

Now our ISAF mission is coming to an end. But a new chapter in NATO’s history has already begun.

President Putin’s aggressive actions in Ukraine have shaken the foundations of the Euro-Atlantic security system we have built since the early 1990s. But they have also made clear the wisdom of our Open Door policy. If the Russian President does attempt to draw new dividing lines, he will face the united opposition of all 28 Allies.

We will await a time when more enlightened leadership in Moscow allows us to rebuild the true strategic partnership with Russia that we desire. Until then, we are going ‘back to basics’. We will focus once more on strengthening our collective defense and perhaps on old issues like arms control and confidence-building measures.

But while we are going back to basics, we’re not confining ourselves to basics. Because we just don’t have the luxury of focusing on one core task.

We made clear here in Wales that NATO will remain a multi-purpose Alliance that‘s ready for all contingencies, that looks outwards with a global perspective, and that has the capabilities and the connections to match.

The Readiness Action Plan that we adopted heightens our capacity to respond to strategic surprise to a level that we have not seen since the end of the Cold War. We have also taken important new initiatives to strengthen the interoperability with our partners, so we can be more effective in meeting common challenges, and to help partners to become better at meeting security challenges in their own regions.

In particular, we have offered to help partners strengthen their defense institutions, their military forces and their interoperability with our forces through our new defense capacity building initiative. And I’m convinced this will be a growth area for our future cooperation: because it is better and cheaper to invest in preventing crises, rather than in managing and resolving them.

And here, there is clearly a need for the international community to cooperate more closely in defending an international rules-based order. Organisations like the UN, the EU, the OSCE and regional organizations like the Africa Union have to start working even closer together to create long-term peace and stability.

That’s why, at the Summit this morning, I chaired an important meeting involving Allied Foreign Ministers and the Heads of a number of Euro-Atlantic organizations, including the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

In the coming years, NATO will have to walk, chew gum and juggle at the same time. It’s a difficult task because we live in a dangerous world, and it’s all the more necessary because of that. Make no mistake: We must be prepared for every challenge the world throws at us. We need to do all our missions, political and military, extremely well. This is an Alliance that must multi-task, while remaining proficient at every task. But we also need the right connections so we can take advantage of the strengths of partner nations and organizations. This is the NATO version 4.0 that we have launched here in Wales. And you have been present at its rollout.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we look back over NATO’s history, certain questions tend to recur. How will we deal with instability on our borders? Can we more fairly balance the financial burden of our defense? Will the transatlantic bond remain strong? These questions have been asked since the beginning of our Alliance. But in each new era, we have provided the necessary answers.

Today, while our operations may change, our mission and vision remain the same: achieving a Europe whole, free and at peace within a strong and safe Euro-Atlantic community. For the moment, Russia has decided to ‘opt-out’ of this vision. But the days of spheres of influence in Europe are long gone. And NATO will continue to defend the principle that every country in Europe should be free to choose its own future.

We will leave open a place for Russia in this pan-European security system. I’m confident that, sooner or later, Russia’s fundamental interests will lead it back towards Europe and cooperation with our Alliance.

Because there is another recurring theme in NATO’s history: success. You never stop using an old tool because it works too well, and this old Alliance isn’t ready for retirement. Instead, it is experiencing a reinvigorating renewal. Here at Wales, we have sharpened our purpose, our potential and our resolve. With the right resources and political will, and with your support, I am sure NATO will continue to keep us safe for many years to come.