After-Dinner Speech

by Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, Chairman of the Military Committee, honouring SHAPE Officers’ Association’s 50th Annual Symposium in Mons

  • 16 Oct. 2010 -
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  • Last updated: 24 Jan. 2011 12:00

Generals, Admiral, Monseigneur, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to share this wonderful evening with you.  I am especially grateful to General (Ret) George Joulwan for the kind introduction and having invited me to say a few words and I am honoured and privileged to be here on the occasion of your organization’s 50th anniversary.

When the SHAPE Officers’ Association was founded in Paris in 1961, NATO had only been in existence for 12 years and there were just 15 member nations [Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States].  At its origin, the organization's goal, as famously stated by Lord Ismay, the first NATO Secretary General, was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”  Fast forward to 2010 and we could paraphrase Lord Ismay by saying that today’s goal is “to keep North America in, Europe up, and Russia with.”
Essentially, what has changed is that in this 21st century global security environment we are faced with a plethora of threats and challenges that were unthinkable during the Alliance’s beginnings.  Back then and through the 1980s, our primary menace was the USSR and our operational focus was centred on the Fulda Gap.

The global chess board has been significantly altered since then and today’s threats and challenges are of an unprecedented nature.  When this association was created, we were not contemplating a threat from the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.  Imagine for a second the consequences of a nuclear weapon placed in the hands of terrorists or a rogue state; it could conceivably plunge the world into chaos.  I’ve often said and will repeat it again this evening, that today we live in a world where threats have no borders and borders have no threats.  This, my friends, is what constitutes the principal difference between the 20th and 21st century security environments.

So what do I see as NATO’s future role?  What are some key areas that will not change and which ones will be new?  And how is all of this influenced by the new global security challenges?  These are some of the questions I would like to approach with you tonight.
For starters, NATO’s new Strategic Concept, the draft of which is currently being vetted by the nations, will provide a roadmap for where we are headed over the next decade.  The document itself will be a highly political one and will undoubtedly be adopted by our Heads of State and Government at NATO’s Summit in Lisbon next month.

NATO’s new Strategic Concept is not only a document encapsulating objectives and aligning them with structures, instruments, and capabilities; it is also an exercise which has stimulated NATO, its 28 Allies, and for the first time, in close consultation with all the Partners that NATO has worldwide, to review in depth the effectiveness of all of NATO’s activities and to determine what should be preserved and what needs to change.

Having said that, there are some key areas that will not change.  NATO’s fundamental nature and purpose will stay the same, with the Alliance’s first and primary task remaining the common defence of its member states and the guarantee of their territorial integrity.  This must be supported through the necessary contingency planning and military preparations so that all Allies feel reassured.  The Alliance will also remain the essential forum in which North America and Europe consult on their common challenges, influence each other’s views and positions, decide on common actions and share the burdens, risks and responsibilities of implementing those decisions.  Decisions will continue to be taken by consensus and all Allies can continue to use the Alliance to consult on any threats to their security.  Lastly, NATO’s door will remain open to those countries that share its core purpose and values and which have demonstrated that they are willing and able to meet the commitments of membership.

But what will be new?  The new Strategic Concept will focus on three key aspects: collective defence and deterrence, crisis management and promoting international security through active engagement.

As NATO enters the second decade of the 21st century, the European continent is at peace and the threat of a major conflict affecting the NATO area is at an historical low point.  However, a range of new global security challenges have emerged to which we need to respond.  The Alliance has important political and military instruments which can make a key contribution to those international efforts, but this will require NATO to increasingly engage with the world beyond its borders.

There are, nevertheless, a number of unstable regions which have seen a conventional military build-up that may pose a threat to Allied security.  In order to be able to defend against these threats, if need be also with robust military force, NATO needs to prepared politically and militarily.

International terrorism remains a serious threat.  Extremist militant groups may have been severely diminished in Afghanistan but they have re-established themselves in many other areas of the world.  The efforts of terrorist networks to recruit and train individuals to carry out attacks in NATO or partners countries show no signs of abating.

There are also regions of concern to Allied security interests because prolonged instability in these regions can produce direct threats to NATO. The activities of extremist groups, ethnic conflicts or threatening postures and hostile actions by certain states can also make other regions of vital importance to Allied security.

Globalisation has made irreversible the flow of goods, services, people, technology and ideas but also of crime and weapons to which open democratic societies will remain vulnerable.  Such threats may be directed at the territory of Allies or at their citizens, economic systems, energy supplies, infrastructure or troops in operations.  In the longer term, climate change could exacerbate long standing global problems such as poverty, hunger, illegal immigration and pandemic disease.

Cyber attacks are among the challenges that require special attention and effort, as these attacks have become more organised and costly in that they can cause severe damage to national administrations, businesses, economies and infrastructures.

This new security environment does not make a robust defence any less relevant; but it does mean that such a defence will often be delivered in a different way from in the past when the threat was one of conventional attack against NATO territory.

NATO will also keep its nuclear deterrence posture as long as nuclear weapons exist, whilst working constructively towards the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.  Credible deterrence and support for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation will be kept in balance as part of an integrated approach to Alliance security.

In the future NATO will have to deal with asymmetric threats often aimed at NATO’s populations or economic communications and infrastructure assets rather than territory as such.  Collective defence activation can thus be in response to attacks which are not conventional military aggression, as was the case when NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on 9/11. 

The new Strategic Concept will also strengthen NATO’s contribution to the Comprehensive Approach, building on the lessons from its operations, in particular in Afghanistan.  Today’s security challenges cannot be dealt with by NATO alone; they require the comprehensive application of economic, political and other measures that go beyond NATO’s capabilities.  The Alliance has a vital role to play within such a comprehensive approach – but it has to be much better connected with other international players, including the United Nations, the European Union and the NGO community. Therefore, an ever-closer partnership with other international organisations that have the experience and skills in areas such as political institution building, development, governance, judiciary and police is a pre-requisite for success in operations which are increasingly of an integrated civilian-military character.

Increasingly, NATO also works with partners and other troop contributing countries in its operations.  These non-NATO countries bring valuable resources and skills to NATO-led operations and help to share burdens across the wider international community. In recognition of these contributions, NATO is involving non-NATO troop-contributing nations in the planning and conduct of its operations.

NATO will also continue to reach out to Russia and strive to intensify its cooperation with her based on common interests in areas such as terrorism, piracy or stability in Afghanistan, because a viable Euro-Atlantic security architecture needs the inclusion of Russia.

The 21st century Alliance needs a modern organisation to implement the vision that will be set out in the new Strategic Concept.  Reform is not a one off process to be undertaken once every ten years when there is a new Strategic Concept.  Rather, it is a continual process of adaptation to a rapidly changing security environment.  In today’s financially constrained climate, NATO needs to ensure that tax payers get better value for their money and more security from defence budgets.

An important component of NATO’s military transformation is a reform of the NATO Agencies and the NATO Military Command Structure.  Both areas have been thoroughly reviewed and reformed [as agreed by NATO Defence Ministers two days ago].

The new NATO Command Structure will be based on a report provided by a Senior Officials Group that contains recommendations on the functions and manning of the Command Structure, the number of types of its commands and headquarters and staffs, as well as on its links with national Allied forces.  It is expected that the new command structure will lead to considerable savings in NATO’s budget, while being more flexible and deployable to support the full range of NATO missions.

I will close by re-emphasizing that although the world around us is continuously changing, NATO’s fundamental purpose remains unchanged.  If we want to avoid or minimise any strategic surprise, we need to think about an ambitious Strategic Concept for the 21st century and gain in flexibility and openness for a greater cooperation with all security actors worldwide.  Thank you.