Effective multilateralism: how NATO adapts to meet changing security challenges

Keynote address by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, Chatham House, London

  • 06 Mar. 2017 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 09 Mar. 2017 11:32

(As delivered)

Thank you for that kind introduction. And for inviting me to speak with you today. I want to focus my remarks on what I will call “effective multilateralism.” And as you might expect, I will use NATO as a leading example.

NATO, the United Nations and the European Union are all products of the rules-based, multilateral order that was established in the aftermath of World War II.

This multilateral order includes trade and other economic rules and regulations that have helped to spread unprecedented prosperity to many countries and regions of the world. 

Globalisation, Multilateralism and Regional Cooperation

Increasing globalisation has had positive as well as negative aspects. The negative aspects have created a heartfelt cri de coeur at ballot boxes, including in my own country.

Further, on the negative side, the problems of one part of the world can swiftly affect the rest. Threats such as weapons proliferation, climate change, migration, terrorism and pandemics do not respect borders. 

Seemingly localised developments – like the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa – can have far-reaching ramifications. That’s why we need a World Health Organisation to step in and help to coordinate the necessary multilateral response.

Truly global problems demand global solutions – which in turn requires some form of multilateralism. Experience shows that effective multilateralism works best when it reinforces bilateral and regional efforts – as was the case with the response to Ebola.

NATO, of course, has a regional focus. For nearly 70 years, our Alliance – the most successful defence alliance in history – has helped keep the peace in Europe.

NATO represents a high standard of multilateral security cooperation. We have an unparalleled integrated military structure that is capable of addressing contingencies from high-end combat, to peacekeeping, stabilisation and training, institution building and reform, and disaster response and humanitarian tasks.

As a regional multilateral organization, NATO has always been a strong advocate of close cooperation with other international organisations that have both regional and global missions.

One such is the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have also worked closely with the OSCE – the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Our close coordination with the United Nations goes back to our 1949 founding Treaty. In fact, the very first sentence of the preamble states:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations …”

The UN is mentioned a total of six times in what is a remarkably short Treaty, only 14 articles long.

Multilateralism and Adaptability

The UN has shaped our thinking and our policies on important issues related to human security, including Protection of Civilians and Children and Armed Conflict. And we have learned a great deal over the past 15 years in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

NATO is very aware that gender balance builds capacity. It boosts the resilience of society, along with the readiness of our forces and the effectiveness of our operations.

We continue to build our coalition of partners to include representatives of civil society among them those who work on conflict prevention and resolution, and women’s empowerment.

Our work over the years with various UN agencies – and many other international partners – has helped to make NATO a smarter, more effective, and more agile Alliance.

I would argue that – in addition to reinforcing bilateral and regional efforts – another important characteristic of effective multilateralism is adaptability.

Whatever the multilateral organization, if it fails to adapt to changing circumstances it is essentially doomed to eventual failure.

I believe NATO has been so successful over the decades in large part because of our ability to change as the world has changed.

During our first 40 years, NATO focused almost exclusively on collective defence. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we adapted to the changed circumstances.

Security challenges had evolved. They had not evaporated.

So our focus broadened to include crisis management beyond our borders. In the 1990s, we helped to stop large-scale bloodshed and keep the peace in the Western Balkans.

We also expanded our membership dramatically – which helped to extend the family of countries in Europe that embraced NATO’s fundamental values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The spread of stability and security has contributed to economic gains across Europe.

In 1999, NATO welcomed three new members – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. This was the first stage in NATO’s recent expansion, which has seen the addition of 12 members to NATO over a brief 10-year period, bringing our current membership up to 28. Montenegro is expected to become NATO’s 29th member in 2017.

Expansion is a major factor contributing to NATO’s evolution and adaptability. By choosing to adopt NATO’s standards and principles, these newer members of NATO benefitted from the strongest possible security anchor. And the Alliance, in turn, has gained from their valuable contributions to our operations and exercises, as well as their wealth of experience and insights.

After the 9/11 attacks in the United States, NATO immediately joined the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. This was first and only time NATO’s Article Five mutual defence provision has been invoked.

As President George W. Bush said shortly after 9/11:

"This has never happened before, that NATO has come to help defend our country, but it happened in this time of need and for that we are grateful.”

NATO agreed on a package of urgent measures to support the United States. Among other steps, we launched our first-ever anti-terror operation – Eagle Assist – deploying seven NATO AWACS radar aircraft to help patrol the skies over the United States.

Soon thereafter, we launched our second counter-terrorism operation – Active Endeavor – deploying Naval Forces to patrol the Eastern Mediterranean to detect and deter terrorist activity. In March 2004, the operation was expanded to the entire Mediterranean.

2014: Collective Defence, Partnerships and Projecting Security

Fast-forward another decade and we come to 2014, a watershed year in NATO’s recent evolution.

In response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the rise of ISIL, NATO must engage in both collective defence and crisis management at the same time.

Allies have implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defence since the Cold War. In the last two years, we have:

  • Tripled the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000.
  • Established a 5,000 strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, ready to move within days.
  • And set up eight multinational headquarters in the eastern part of our Alliance.

NATO is increasing our presence in the south east of the Alliance, centred on a multinational brigade in Romania. We have also stepped up air policing over the Baltic and Black Sea areas. 

We are currently deploying four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the United States.

On that point, I want to pause here to thank the UK – for being such a strong NATO Ally from the very first days of the Alliance.

The UK has played a leading role in many NATO initiatives, including in our Very High Readiness Joint Task Force this year. And in the fight against terrorism – in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in the coalition fighting ISIL. The UK is also playing a key role when it comes to strengthening our cyber-defences.

We are confident the United Kingdom will continue its strong leadership role in NATO for many decades to come.

As NATO has expanded and evolved over the past two decades, we have learned an important lesson: Security is not only about what happens at home. It’s also about what happens in our neighbourhood – beyond our borders.

So we are working with our network of partners to step up our efforts to project stability to the South and the East. The way we see it, if our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.

All told, NATO works with a network of 41 partners in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia – and beyond. Our extended family of partners includes many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, such as Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Tunisia. 

Several countries to the east – such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – are active NATO partners. Our training and defence-capacity building efforts in these countries have made a difference, helping them defend their independence and better face external threats while strengthening their institutions and fighting corruption.

We also have valued partners across the globe, including Japan, Australia, South Korea, Mongolia and New Zealand.

We are increasing our support for partners across the Middle East and North Africa, with a range of training and defence capacity building programs with several partners, including Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan.

Our experience in Afghanistan taught us that training local forces is one of our best weapons in the fight against terrorism. We have also been training Iraqi officers in Jordan. And this year we expanded that programme to Iraq itself – with an initial focus on countering Improvised Explosive Devices.

We know that, after the full liberation of Mosul, Iraq will require additional support. We will need to scale up our efforts or risk giving back hard-won gains.

In December we opened a new NATO Regional Centre in Kuwait. And NATO Defence Ministers decided last month to create a new regional Hub for the South – based in Naples. This will better enable NATO to work effectively with partner nations and organisations in dealing with instability and insecurity to the South.

We have been helping to address the biggest migrant and refugee crisis since World War II. We have worked with our Allies Greece and Turkey, along with the European Union, deploying ships in the Aegean Sea to help stem the flow of illegal migrants and human trafficking.

Last year, NATO launched a new maritime operation in the Mediterranean called Sea Guardian, working in close cooperation with the European Union’s Operation Sophia.

In fact, NATO and the EU – the two leading multilateral organisations in Europe – are now taking our level of cooperation up to a new level.

We recently agreed on more than forty proposals in several key areas, including dealing with hybrid and cyber threats and building the capacity of our partners.

We recognise that each organisation – working alone – does not have all of the tools and resources needed to effectively address all of the challenges we face – both military and non-military. By working together, we can leverage our capabilities. 

Increased NATO-EU cooperation is also important and timely because the European Union is now stepping up its efforts to strengthen European defence. NATO welcomes these efforts. We know that enhanced European defence capabilities will strengthen the European Union. And a stronger EU will strengthen NATO.

But we have to make sure to avoid duplication. We must complement each other – not compete with each other. And that’s exactly what we are doing.

So NATO, supported by our network of partners, has been doing a great deal – to enhance our collective defence and project greater stability to the South and East.

For almost 70 years, NATO’s unique partnership between Europe and North America has helped to ensure peace and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

NATO members and partners know that we are much stronger when we work together. We also know there is more that needs to be done.

And NATO will do our part. In turbulent times, NATO’s “effective multilateralism” is more essential than ever.