''Hungry for Security: Can NATO help in a humanitarian crisis?''

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

  • 30 Mar. 2011
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  • Last updated: 31 Mar. 2011 16:00

Speech by NATO Seceretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here to your university today.

It is a huge honor and a privilege to receive the World Cycle Leader Award for 2010,
This will encourage me to continue the reform and transformation of our defence Alliance, and its adaptation to the security challenges of the 21 century. Work that was actually started by my predecessor, your compatriot Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

I am also delighted to take part in the Economic Faculty (EFR) Business Week, which I believe to be the highlight of the Erasmus University academic year, and one of the most prestigious student events in Europe.

And I must say, I am impressed with the enthusiasm and effectiveness with which you – the students – have organized this event. It is a testament of true management and leadership skills.

I believe the aim of the week is for students to see how academic theories connect with the real world. I see it as my particular challenge today to explain to you how an organisation like NATO connects with the real world.

We have all watched a thought provoking film, depicting countries in crisis because of food shortages and floods. Today, we have a real crisis unfolding on our doorstep -- in Libya. And  NATO is not just sitting idly by. 

NATO has acted remarkably fast. In just over a week, we launched all three operations under a single command to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution. This decision sends a powerful message -- that NATO is ready, willing and able to fulfil the United Nations mandate to protect the people of Libya.

Every step of the way, the Alliance has played its role as part of the broad international effort, in close co-operation with the international community – including the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union.

Three principles have guided us throughout – a demonstrable need for NATO’s help; a clear legal mandate, and solid support from the region.  

We have now put together a complete package to support the United Nations resolution by sea and by air – and I would like to thank the Netherlands for their contribution to our Operation Unified Protector.…   

NATO warships, submarines and planes are patrolling Libya’s coast to enforce the UN arms embargo. Our aim is to cut off the flow of weapons and mercenaries to Libya by sea.  NATO planes are also enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.  And we are protecting civilians and civilian centres under threat of attack.
We also have a fully developed plan for humanitarian assistance that can be put into action rapidly on request.

The situation on the ground is developing rapidly.  I sincerely hope that we will see a ceasefire soon. And a political and peaceful solution that allows the Libyan people to decide their own future.  Because we all know that there is no purely military solution.

A crisis always tests people – it  demands that you make tough decisions, on complex  issues, under pressure. Events in Libya have put the whole international community to the test.   But the response shows what is possible when we unite around a common purpose. 

The film we have just seen shows another kind of crisis, but one which places similar demands on the international community.

Although the scenario is hypothetical, food security is critical for many around the world.  Just last month, the World Bank warned that a 15% rise in global food prices had pushed an extra 44 million people into poverty since last summer. That is almost three times the population of the Netherlands.

Rises in the price of basic foods also contributed to the momentous political change sweeping through the Middle East. The rising price of bread can make people realise they also hunger for democracy.  

Food prices can provoke revolutions. Food shortages can provoke a humanitarian crisis that will require the whole world to respond.

So – what relevance does a humanitarian crisis have for a security organisation like NATO?

NATO remains first and foremost a defence Alliance. But our values are firmly based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Our members are among the most powerful and wealthy nations in the world.  I am sure they would all agree that, as an Alliance of democracies ,
we have a responsibility to use that wealth to prevent indiscriminate human suffering - when we can, where we can, and if our help is requested.

At the same time, at NATO we have also increasingly understood that crisis prevention is a means of protecting our own security.  Which is why the new Strategic Concept that we adopted late last year – our roadmap for the next decade – identifies crisis management as one of NATO’s core tasks.

So NATO is ready to help. We are willing to help. And today I would like to focus on explaining just how we can help.

Firstly, what we could do in the scenario we have seen, where floods, food shortages and riots do not only constitute a humanitarian crisis, but also a security challenge. 

Secondly, what we have done to help in previous humanitarian crises.

And thirdly, how we as an Alliance are learning from our experience, in order to be better prepared for future contingencies.

Firstly, and I want to be very clear here. In this situation outlined today, unless the government of a country asks for our assistance, or the UN requests NATO’s help – the Alliance will not intervene. 

In this scenario, aid is desperately needed – and it is the job of the humanitarian organisations to provide the aid.  However, NATO can offer them support.  

In this respect NATO is a unique organisation. Our Allies have the military assets to get food and shelter to those who urgently require it; aeroplanes and helicopters that can fly to locations that are isolated; engineers able to build bridges to places that would otherwise be impossible to reach; and we have the ability to facilitate and co-ordinate all of this in real time.

NATO’s disaster response unit, ready on a 24 hour basis, can effectively act as a clearing house. Matching the offer of aid with the physical means get aid quickly to where it is needed. Right now – they are on stand by – ready to assist efforts to bring relief to the people of Libya – should it be requested.

NATO not only has the means to do all this, it also has considerable experience – which brings me to my second point.

Over the past 12 years the Alliance has responded to over 50 requests for assistance from nations.

In the summer of 2005 we flew aid to the US to help the people of New Orleans, following hurricane Katrina.

After the terrible earthquakes in Pakistan later that year, NATO delivered 3500 tonnes of aid to devastated populations. And when disastrous floods hit Pakistan last autumn, NATO was again part of the relief operation – flying food and shelter into the country.

Last year we responded to requests for aid as a result of floods, fires and earthquakes from a range of countries including, Tajikistan, Poland, Israel and Montenegro.

And today, NATO is actively supporting the United Nations’ humanitarian efforts in Somalia, by escorting ships with food aid and protecting them against the threat of piracy.

Thirdly - can we do all this even better? Undoubtedly yes.

As today’s film demonstrates – when disaster strikes – several priorities demand immediate attention.

In this film, people need food, shelter and medical treatment all at once; and with riots on the streets, governments are struggling to retain control. Clearly, not one government agency or international organisation can fix all those problems on its own. 

In complex situations like this, civilian and military organisations must work together to keep people safe --,and indeed to keep them alive.

NATO’s experience in Afghanistan these past few years has taught us that we need a comprehensive political, military and civilian approach.  Such an approach would allow us to assess situations jointly and properly co-ordinate our efforts. And would also enable us to interact and communicate better with each other.  By doing this, the international community would be far more effective at crisis management.

In order to deliver better interaction between NATO and aid agencies and humanitarian organisations, NATO is transforming the way we plan and operate.

We are putting the principles of the comprehensive approach at the heart of our operations. And we are developing a small civilian crisis management team to interface more effectively with all those other organisations who have a role to play in any crisis.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

As events in Libya have shown, we cannot predict what lies over the horizon.  In the future we may face the dangerous combination of climate change, water scarcity, population increases and a growing demand for food. We need to be ready for anything.   

The past few weeks have shown the difficulties of forging international solidarity and unity of purpose.  But they have also demonstrated NATO’s unique value when it comes to dealing with a security crises, or helping to relieve human suffering.

In a world where everything is connected, and not one single nation or organisation can solve all the problems, we must co-ordinate, co-operate and communicate. NATO is keen to play its role. As Europe’s future political, business and opinion leaders, I look to you to play your role too.

Thank you.