A strong Europe for a strong NATO

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Academy of National Defence in Warsaw

  • 06 Jun. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Jun. 2013 10:48

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen delivering his speech at the Academy of National Defence of Poland

General Pacek,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure to speak at the Academy of National Defence in Warsaw. Over the past twenty years, you have earned an excellent reputation as a prestigious academy. You are now sharing your experience and expertise in defence education reform with universities in many NATO partner countries. On behalf of NATO, I thank you for your work. It is a key contribution to security and stability. Thank you.

Sixty-nine years ago today, Allied forces launched Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings began. Polish forces served with great distinction in the Battle of Normandy and the many battles that followed. Those brave Poles fought not just for the freedom of Poland, but for the freedom of us all. They continued a proud and honourable tradition that began 350 years ago with the founding of the ‘School of Knights.’ 1

And they demonstrated that a country can achieve more by operating together with Allies than it can alone.

Today, that tradition still thrives. And that lesson still holds.

Two thousand members of the Polish armed forces are currently deployed in operations. Many are serving with courage and professionalism in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, alongside servicemen and women from NATO and our partner countries. And I actually had the pleasure of greeting some of them just before entering this room. Together, they are making Poland safer, Europe safer, and all the Allies safer. I would like to thank the Polish armed forces for everything they do to guarantee our security.

Our troops are starting to come home from Afghanistan. That is because we have stopped al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a ‘safe haven’. We are building strong Afghan security forces. And so we have improved our security, and that of the world. But other threats exist. Our world remains unpredictable. And we must stand prepared for any surprises.

In my view, the biggest dangers to our security are not cyber-warfare, terrorism, or proliferation. These are challenges. But they are not obstacles. I would say the real obstacles are Europe’s own limited ambitions in today’s world.

I believe that Europe must raise its sights. It should have the confidence, the conviction, and the capabilities to play its full part in shaping the 21st century. And Poland can help show the way.

Poland was in the first group of former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO in 1999, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic. And just 5 years later you were also in the first group of former communist countries to join the European Union.

I am proud to have helped negotiate the conditions for Poland’s entry into the European Union at the Copenhagen Summit in December 2002. Six months later, I visited Poland to encourage the Polish people to vote “yes” to EU membership. I was honoured to speak at the Castle of the Dukes of Pomerania in Szczecin. I said then that the chance was yours, and the choice was yours. And I was heartened that your overwhelming choice was the European Union.

The past ten years have demonstrated the collective wisdom of these choices. In NATO, and in the European Union, Poland is safer. It is stronger. And it is richer. With economic integration, Polish trade has flourished. And this country has avoided some of the economic difficulties that have troubled many other European countries.

Today, those difficulties are forcing many NATO Allies to reduce their investments in defence. But lower defence budgets and fewer military capabilities could translate into less influence for Europe. And instead of being a significant actor on the global stage, Europe risks becoming a simple spectator.

So we are now at a historic turning point. And we have to be clear about what we want. Do we want to act? Or do we want to watch?

In the past, better security led to better economic growth. With NATO focusing on hard security, the European Union was able to focus on economic growth and deeper political integration. In sum, a stronger NATO meant a stronger Europe. And this remains true today.

The emphasis, however, has changed. Now, a strong Europe is necessary to sustain a strong NATO.

By increasing investments in defence, and by increasing the availability of key military capabilities, Europeans will be able to act more effectively – nationally, within the European Union, and within NATO. Defence investments will yield more global influence. They will deliver more security for our peoples. And they will help us to advance a global agenda in line with our values.

At the end of this year, a European Council will focus on security and defence. This will be the first European Council dedicated to defence issues since 2008. And it could not be more timely. It will be the ideal opportunity to deliver the strong Europe we need.

But let me be clear. What we don’t need are more bureaucracies. What we do need are more capabilities.

Quite simply, a European Council that does not make a commitment to invest in hard military capabilities will be nothing but ‘hot air’. And it won’t bring us any closer to the strong and capable Europe we need.

As we prepare for that European Council, it is vital we all keep in mind three key points.

First, soft power alone is not enough. If we want to have credibility and exert influence, then hard capabilities are essential to back up our diplomacy. We have seen this in the Western Balkans, where restoring stability has required a mix of hard and soft power. The European Union brokered the recent agreement between Pristina and Belgrade. But NATO provided the security assurances both parties needed before they agreed to implement it.

Second, if European defence budgets continue to decline, many of our nations will no longer be able to help manage crises – whether through NATO, the European Union, or the United Nations. So we must stop the cuts. Hold the line on defence spending. And reinvest in security as our economies recover.

Our main challenge is not just about what we spend. It is also about how we spend. Too much funding goes on salaries and static equipment, instead of research and deployable capabilities. And many Allies spend scarce sums on capabilities we already have, or no longer need. Here in Europe, our nations should do more to coordinate their spending and their programmes, so we can develop forces that are more coherent, more modern, and more effective.

We must also do much more multinationally, instead of nationally. I understand the political concerns that inhibit the creation of a more transparent and open European defence market. But we must remember that today a purely national defence is a pure illusion. Many of the critical defence capabilities we need are just too expensive for any individual country to deliver alone.

Finally, having the right capabilities is important, but it’s not enough. We must also have the political will to use them.

We must be prepared to deal with security challenges on Europe’s doorstep. To help manage crises farther afield that might affect us here at home. And to better share the security burden with our North American Allies.

For this to happen, European nations must not remain distracted by their economic woes. Instead, we must develop a truly global perspective. We must stand united, not divided. We must look outwards, not inwards. And Europe and North America must hold more open, and frank discussions on the global issues that concern all of us. Within NATO. And between NATO and the European Union.

Hard power. Defence Investment. Political will. And a stronger Europe. This is the path towards a more secure European future.

Fortunately, Poland is setting an excellent example for us to follow.

Since 2008, Poland has made great strides in increasing its defence investment. It is one of the few Allies whose expenditure approaches the NATO target of 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. And I want to congratulate Poland for this effort.

You have also led the way in multilateral cooperation. Both in NATO and the European Union. And within the Weimar and Visegrad groups. This multinational approach is already helping us to fill some of our serious capability shortfalls.

I now urge Poland to build on this cooperation. Through continuing to invest in modern deployable forces and capabilities. And continuing to demonstrate the political will to use them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Polish soldiers of the Battle of Normandy fought for the cause of freedom. And today’s Polish soldiers are doing the same.

We must honour their efforts and their sacrifices by building a strong Europe.

A Europe that is able and willing to act.

A Europe that has a global vision.

And a Europe that can operate alongside North America in defence of our values.

That is the Europe the European Council should deliver in December. And that is the Europe we all need.
Thank you.

1 The National Defence University of Warsaw is the civil-military highest defence academic institution in Poland. Located in Warsaw, it continues the traditions of the “Szkola Rycerska” (“The School of Knights") founded in 15 March 1765.