by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson<br />at the Winston Churchill Lecture

  • 24 Nov. 2003
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  • Last updated: 03 Nov. 2008 22:56

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has become fashionable to portray international relations in terms of consumer choice. Europe or America. NATO or the EU. Multilateralism or unilateralism.

Tonight, I intend to be deeply unfashionable. I intend to argue that this concept of choice is simplistic and damaging.

Britain can no more choose between Europe and America than you or I can choose between food and drink. We need both. As Europe needs the United States, so the United States needs Europe.

Churchill understood that. His wise words can be - and often have been - used in support of policies he would neither have recognised nor endorsed. But he certainly understood that a strong transatlantic relationship and a strong Europe were essential components of peace and stability, complementary not contradictory.

That complementarity has deep roots. It is founded in common history, culture and principles. It was forged in the great 20 th Century struggles against tyranny. It stands now as a beacon of freedom, plurality, democracy and diversity in a world of uncertainty and instability.

The differences between Europe and the United States are no more fundamental than those within Europe, or within North America. They show that our family is strong enough to agree to disagree. They differentiate NATO and the EU from the Warsaw Pact and Comecom, and from the terrorist fanatics who detest debate and use suicide bombers to kill the innocent instead of arguments to sway the undecided.

My predecessor in NATO, Lord Carrington, used to say that NATO's strength was that the members sang in harmony, not in unison. He was right.

It is not my job alone to argue the case for a strong Europe. My main focus will therefore be on the NATO Alliance, the embodiment of the transatlantic relationship.

The fact is, however, that a vibrant transatlantic relationship can only be sustained if Europe is healthy and strong. As we saw earlier this year over Iraq, dissension among Europeans damages NATO, the European Union and the UN just as surely as dissension across the Atlantic.

Happily, despite the fashionable focus on what divides us, from Iraq to Kyoto and steel tariffs, the ties which bind us together remain deep and strong. Even Iraq was essentially a disagreement over means not ends. Look at the November 2002 NATO Prague Summit statement if you have any doubts.

I would be the last person to deny that some of these disagreements are important and damaging. After all, I deal with them every day.

But this audience will know only too well that there always have been differences, among Europeans, and between Europeans and Americans. Suez, Vietnam, Star Wars, cruise missiles, Bosnia, Kosovo, the list is a long one.

What you may be less aware of is the level of agreement that exists today among all 19 NATO members, plus the seven countries soon to join the Alliance and the EU members who are not part of NATO. Agreement on the challenges faced by all of us in this post 9/11 world, and agreement on how these challenges should be met.

It is often said that the strength of the Cold War alliance stemmed from a common understanding of the Soviet threat. The threat has changed beyond recognition. But the same common understanding has endured.

Don't take my word for it. NATO's Prague Summit Declaration, agreed unanimously like all NATO documents, paints a picture of today's security environment which reflects the views of Paris and Berlin just as much as those of Washington and Warsaw. An even more recent EU strategy paper describes that environment in almost identical terms.

It is an environment with five key characteristics.

The first is greater instability. Yugoslavia's disintegration dominated the 1990s. Now the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central and South Asia all offer the same rich cocktail of instability.

This cocktail cannot be confined geographically to individual countries or regions. Our world has been globalised. So have the spillover consequences of instability.

Afghanistan was a graphic example of spillover. Under the Taleban, it exported instability to its neighbours, drugs to Europe, terrorism and refugees throughout the world. We can be sure that if the international community does not remain fully engaged alongside the Afghan people and their government, the Taleban and Al Qaida will return, and Afghanistan will again spillover onto our streets.

If it does, the most dangerous manifestation will be terrorism. Even without their Afghan safe haven, Al Qaida and their associates have the ability to damage and destroy. Last week's horrific attacks in Istanbul were only the latest in a line of criminal atrocities.

21 st Century terrorism is different. It is more international, more apocalyptic in its vision, and far more lethal. The terrorists themselves are driven not by achievable political aims but by fanatical extremism and the urge to kill. What coherent political strategy is furthered by the deliberate targeting of the innocent citizens of Istanbul and Muslim workers in Saudi Arabia?

Terrorism is bred in failed states and supported by rogue states. This is not a regional phenomenon. In the past decade, we have seen states collapse in Europe, in Africa and in Asia. Nor are such states someone else's problem. Globalised spillover means that they produce illegal migration, illegal arms and illegal drugs as well as terrorists.

The fifth and final characteristic of today's strategic environment is the increased proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is perhaps the defining security challenge of the new century.

The spread of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons will put more fingers on more, and more dangerous, triggers. Because not all of these fingers will belong to rational leaders, traditional deterrents to the use of these weapons will not always deter.

Do not allow question marks over the final whereabouts of Saddam's WMD arsenal to divert attention from the clear and established facts: he had them, he used them and he was determined to re-acquire them. If the international community is not prepared to act, including by using force decisively when other means are not enough, a future 9/11 will inevitably feature WMD, with all that this implies.

Taken together, these five characteristics of the 21 st Century - instability, overspill, terrorism, failed or rogue states, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - add up to a guaranteed supply chain of disorder.

They add up to a security environment in which threats can strike at any time, without warning, from anywhere. Threats that could vary from a terrorist with a box-cutter on an airliner to a chemical weapon mounted on a ballistic missile. Threats that nobody can confidently predict.

The good news is not only that there is agreement within Europe and across the Atlantic about this analysis, but that we also agree on how to respond.

There is no chasm between unilateralists and multilateralists. Nor is there an unbridgeable gap between Atlanticists and Europhiles.

Last week in London, President Bush nailed his colours firmly to the multilateralist mast. His first pillar in ensuring the peace and security of the world's free nations was effective international organisations, particularly the UN and NATO.

Earlier in the month, Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, usually portrayed on the opposite side of a transatlantic fence, was equally robust in his public support for NATO as the foundation of Euro-Atlantic security.

The bottom line, recognised on both sides of the Atlantic, is that to face the post September 11 spectrum of transnational threats, the only credible response is multinational. And the most effective multinational co-operation in security and defence takes place where it has done for the past 50 years - in NATO.

To those who shake their heads at this and sigh wearily that the Cold War is over, and that NATO has not and cannot adapt to today's very different world, I invite them once again to look at last year's Prague Summit Declaration.

September 11 2001 gave each and everyone of the 19 NATO nations a powerful wake-up call. Wake up calls are sometimes ignored. Think of Churchill in the 1930's. This one was heeded and it was acted upon. This wake-up call produced the most profound transformation in the Alliance's long and distinguished history.

NATO had long since ceased to be a Cold War warrior. During the 1990s the Alliance intervened to bring peace and security to stricken Bosnia after the bloodiest civil war in recent European history. It acted to end Milosevic's brutal ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In 2001 it prevented a civil war in Macedonia.

It reached out to new democracies across Europe and into the former Soviet Union to build understanding and promote co-operation throughout a Euro-Atlantic partnership area stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostock. It began the process of engagement with Russia, tentative steps but a welcome contrast to the hostility of the Cold War.

September 11 changed the rules completely. But NATO proved equal to the task.

Our declaration of Article 5 of NATO's Washington Treaty on 12 September 2001, which made the attack on the United States an attack on all nineteen NATO countries, turned Churchill's famous dictum on its head. The old world came to the aid of the new.

A commitment to common defence, designed to enable the United States to save Europe, was invoked for the first time ever to allow Europeans to help protect the United States.

Article 5 was an immense political symbol. But it was much more than that. It made NATO an active participant in the war against terrorism. An Alliance designed to defeat Soviet tank armies in Central Europe sent AWACS early warning aircraft to protect American cities; smashed Al Qaida cells in the Balkans; and protected merchant shipping in the Mediterranean.

More important still, Article 5 set NATO on a road to radical change which led, barely a year later, to the Prague Transformation Summit.

Four themes underpin NATO's transformation. Four themes which bind Europe and America together in a common cause to protect our people from the dangers of today, just as NATO did from the dangers of the Cold War and its aftermath.

The first derives directly from September 11. NATO has formally taken on a range of vital new missions. We continue to fight terrorism on the ground and at sea in Europe and North America. But we have also abandoned the geographical constraints on NATO operations which hamstrung the Alliance throughout the 1990s.

Then we were told by critics that NATO had to go out of area or out of business. In 2002, the 19 NATO members agreed that the Alliance must meet threats from wherever they may come. In 2003, NATO is in Afghanistan doing just that.

In parallel, we have turned NATO into the motor for developing military plans and concepts to guide the contribution of armed forces in the war against terrorism and in defending ourselves against weapons of mass destruction.

This may sound arcane. But it is 50 years of co-operation of this kind in planning and preparing for conventional military operations which enabled US and European troops, ships and aircraft to work effectively together in the Gulf War, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, whether or not NATO as such was directly involved.

Better still, NATO is not working alone but forms the heart of a much wider set of partnerships, with the EU, with Russia, with Ukraine and with partner countries from Albania and Armenia, through Ireland and Switzerland, to Uzbekistan. This 46 strong Partnership for Peace is the world's largest permanent coalition and, thanks to NATO, it is a key player in the fight against terrorism.

Indeed, new partnerships was the second transformation theme at Prague. No single organisation can defeat today's threats alone. We are stronger and more effective when we work closely together.

Alongside Partnership for Peace, NATO has therefore built a strategic partnership with the EU, an issue to which I will return. It has a distinctive partnership with Ukraine. And it has an extraordinary new working partnership with Russia.

Churchill, the consummate coalition builder, would have heartily approved.

Most striking of all these new partnerships is that between NATO and Russia. No longer is our relationship clouded by Cold War stereotypes and suspicions. September 11 put us firmly on the same side in a new war against disorder and extremism.

This is not simply rhetoric or a marriage of convenience. We have together established a NATO-Russia Council in which the 19 NATO Allies and Russia work as equals to counter 21 st Century challenges. That Council is today tackling practical projects such as theatre missile defence, terrorism, WMD proliferation and defence reform; and providing a forum for frank political dialogue.

We overuse the epithet historic. The NATO-Russia Council deserves nothing less. When it was created in Rome in May 2002, the sun shone as the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the great powers met not to carve up Europe but to heal it. We do not agree on everything. But we have at last booted the Cold War firmly into the history books where it belongs.

Indeed, the strength of this new relationship is such that next year's enlargement of NATO by seven new members - the third transformation theme - which many feared would push us into a renewed period of confrontation with Russia, is happening with barely a ripple.

Russia might well prefer that three former members of the Soviet Union, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, did not join the Alliance. It recognises, however, that sovereign states can make up their own minds on how best to ensure their security. And there are more important interests at stake on both sides for us to fall out over an enlargement process which now appears both natural and beneficial to all concerned.

I have no doubt that an enlarged NATO, taking in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia as well as the three Baltic States, will make an even more effective contribution to security and stability across Europe. We will be better neighbours in a better neighbourhood. A neighbourhood in which Churchill's iron curtain is but the graphic description of a bad dream.

At the outset, our new members will make only a modest contribution to NATO's overall military capacity. But they are sensibly concentrating on niche capabilities where they can make a real difference as early as possible.

In doing so they are following the example of the last group of countries to join the Alliance, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are all now adding real military value.

Next week, for example, NATO will stand up a vital new military capability, our first multinational chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence battalion. We will be doing so not in one of the Alliance's traditional heavy weight countries but in Prague. We are doing so because this is an area of military expertise in which the Czechs have great expertise, and are willing and able to take the lead.

This new battalion is but one of a range of new military capabilities which form the fourth and final transformation theme.

Kofi Annan once said that diplomacy should always be the preferred solution to crises, but that diplomacy is more effective when backed up by credible military force.

To be credible, armies, navies and air forces have to change. Churchill, the godfather of the tank in World War One and a ceaseless proponent of technological innovation throughout his lifetime, is a model in this respect.

Today, however, it is the heavy metal armies formed by the giant successors to Churchill's first tank that need to be modernised to meet new threats for which they are no longer suitable.

Usability, deployability, agility, precision and information superiority are today's watchwords.

What they mean in plain English is armed forces available at short notice and able to move quickly to crises. Armed forces able to operate flexibly in different terrains against different adversaries. Armed forces able to hit targets in all conditions and to minimise the risks to civilians. Armed forces able to acquire information, and to take and communicate decisions in real time.

Some NATO countries, the UK among them, already have many of the capabilities needed to put these concepts into practice. The majority do not.

That should not be a surprise. For 40 years, the continental Europeans were rightly asked to concentrate on deterring the Warsaw Pact. Germany in particular was discouraged from any ambition to deploy beyond its boundaries.

Things started to change in the 1990s. Remember the pictures of a brave German officer facing down Serb soldiers in Kosovo. Today Germany leads NATO's stabilisation force in Kabul, Afghanistan.

But armies cannot be transformed overnight. They need a framework for doing so and the political will to provide the money required.

At last year's Prague Summit, NATO provided both.

We created a cutting edge multinational NATO Response Force to take on the most demanding missions at the shortest possible notice. We streamlined our command structure. We agreed on new capabilities such as the WMD defence battalion.

At the same time, the President or Prime Minister of each and every NATO member agreed to a set of commitments to modernise their forces in key areas such as strategic air transport, air-to-air tanker, precision guided munitions, ground surveillance equipment and logistic sustainability. These capabilities do not sound as sexy as main battle tanks but they are without doubt tomorrow's real battle winners.

Finally, because soldiers can only be effective if decisions on their employment are taken quickly, we are streamlining NATO's political and military decision-making processes, and I have undertaken the first genuine reform of NATO's Brussels Headquarters since the Cold War was at its height.

Transformation is easy to describe, difficult to do, especially when two dozen or so countries are involved. I am therefore delighted to report that a year on from Prague the NATO Response Force is already in being - and that the biggest national contributor so far is...France. Major progress on air tankers and strategic air transport is being made by consortia led by Spain and...Germany.

And in place of a Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, poised to clear the sea-lanes to Europe of Soviet submarines, which are today rusting away and will never return to sea, we have a Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, tasked to take forward the Prague agenda of radical change.

A month ago, at a NATO meeting of Defence Ministers in Colorado Springs, we sat in a high tech auditorium to see how the new NATO Response Force would operate. The event's designer was the man who designed Disneyland Paris.

At the end of the seminar, I was given a T-shirt with the logo: this ain't your daddy's NATO. Absolutely true. It is in my view a much improved Alliance, still bridging the Atlantic but doing so in the face of a much more complex and in many ways more challenging international environment. I recognise, however, that some will still say that summits and seminars are all very well but what matters is delivering in crises and on the ground.

So let me give you two vignettes, one of NATO in crisis and one of the new NATO in action. Both are unashamedly intended to show that the transatlantic Alliance remains a real working partnership.

The first example is what many said was NATO's most difficult hour, the row over Iraq and in particular the so-called crisis over Turkey's request for help to deter an attack by Saddam in the run up to the war last spring.

This was indeed a real crisis for the Alliance, with deeply and honestly held views on both sides. Turkey felt vulnerable. Most Allies, whether or not they were involved in the anti-Saddam Coalition, believed that it was right for NATO to help. But four countries believed that to do so would deepen the crisis. They argued that NATO support was premature.

For eleven days we met, talked and failed to reach agreement. The press became frenzied. There was talk of the end of the Alliance.

Yet during those eleven days, the four countries separately came to the view either that circumstances had changed and the time was right for NATO to act, or that the case for joining consensus now outweighed that for staying aloof. NATO's decision-making machinery was also sufficiently flexible to allow consensus to be reached without loss of face on any side.

Eleven days may sound a long time. For those of us directly involved, it seemed like a lifetime. It was, in fact, a shorter time than NATO took to agree a similar deployment to Turkey before the first Gulf War.

More importantly, NATO reached an agreement on action. No other international organisation was able to do so. We were then able to deploy AWACs aircraft, air defence missiles, and chemical and biological defence capabilities rapidly into southern Turkey.

Commitments were met. Collective security worked. Sceptics worried, however, that NATO had been broken in the process. Consensus would be impossible in future.

In fact, NATO healed quickly. It always does.

Only a couple of months later, at the initiative of Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, NATO unanimously agreed to take over the UN's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Our first operation outside Europe, a step which those of you who followed NATO issues throughout the 1990s would - rightly - have thought inconceivable.

Even more extraordinary, a matter of weeks after that landmark decision, the Alliance which had supposedly fractured beyond repair over Iraq decided to provide planning and practical support to Poland in assembling a multinational stabilisation division to deploy to...Iraq. We are still doing so.

It is not simply that the habit of consensus is strong in NATO, which it is. Even those European countries most sceptical about the Alliance had looked into the abyss, seen the shape of a future without NATO, and recoiled.

My second vignette follows on from the decision on Afghanistan.

Since last August, NATO has been supporting the efforts of President Karzai, a good and able leader, to bring security to the capital, Kabul. Now, we are starting to expand our presence into the provinces, to help support the Karzai government there as well.

Afghanistan matters, really matters, to everyone in Europe. As I said earlier, if we do not go to Afghanistan and deal with its problems, Afghanistan and those problems will come again to us.

It was therefore an uplifting experience to visit the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul for the first time a matter of weeks ago.

I saw French and German transport aircraft flying in troops and supplies across the Hindu Kush from airbases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two of NATO's partner countries.

I arrived at Kabul airport, which is run by Germans and guarded by Belgians. Soon, tiny Iceland will start to play a major role in its management.

Danish military policemen took me to meet the German force commander, his British boss and his Canadian deputy in a Headquarters guarded by Italians.

Everyone was working with a sense of common purpose which flowed from fifty years of mutual trust and cooperation in NATO. I pay tribute to all of those whose work and dedication during those years is now paying dividends in such unexpected circumstances, a continent and a half away from the Cold War theatres where NATO first came into being.

Afghanistan is an extremely difficult mission. History teaches us that. The difference is that the Afghan people today want peace and know that only the defeat of the Taleban and Al Qaida can deliver it. They know that ISAF and NATO are a critical part of the solution, and they welcome our soldiers and our commitment.

What most of them do not know is that once NATO is committed, it does not fail. Because failure would not only be a disaster for Afghanistan. It would be a disaster for Europe and for North America as well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that I have demonstrated this evening that the choice between America and Europe is a false one. Indeed, no choice at all.

One of the reasons that I am so confident about this is that the two institutional manifestations of Atlanticism and of Europe, NATO and the European Union, are locked together not in competition but in cooperation.

It used to be said that the two Brussels-based headquarters lived in the same city but on different planets. Our representatives met hardly at all, and then only in secret.

The Balkans crises of the 1990s changed all that. We have been partners in stabilising a region widely thought to be condemned to disorder.

NATO's military commander in Bosnia cannot do his job properly unless he is at one with the EU's High Representative, Paddy Ashdown. And vice versa.

Macedonia is today a candidate to eventually join NATO and the EU because the EU's Javier Solana and I worked side by side to stop a crisis between ethnic and religious communities becoming a bloody tragedy. We succeeded.

As in so many areas of international relations, our partnership was a success in practice before it became a success in theory. However, as the result of lessons learned in Macedonia, we are building a genuine strategic partnership between NATO and the EU. A partnership based on procedures and mechanisms which allow us to consult, cooperate and even share military capabilities.

Today in Macedonia a small EU military force is deployed, not as an expensive stand-alone operation but with support from NATO's forces already in Kosovo.

Last week, NATO and EU staffs held a joint exercise to test the mechanisms by which NATO assets might be used in a future EU operation where NATO itself decides not to be involved.

Next week, NATO and EU Foreign Ministers will meet together in Brussels for consultations which for those taking part have become routine but which are, historically, anything but.

So to those of you who are following the twists and turns of the EU's Intergovernmental Conference Negotiations, which some observers see as another blow by Europeans against NATO, I say: remember that this is not a zero sum game. A stronger Europe does not automatically mean a weaker NATO.

Look instead at what a stronger Europe actually delivers in practice. If the result is a Europe able to put more, better equipped soldiers into the field, whether in NATO or, where more appropriate, under EU, UN or coalition command, I will welcome it. Because that will reinforce not weaken NATO.

Only if the result is a Europe with no more soldiers and no more modern equipment, but more unnecessary headquarters and complicated wiring diagrams with nothing at the end of them, will I be sceptical.

President Bush said last week that he trusted Tony Blair to deliver the former. I would go further. I am confident that the Prime Minister's European colleagues will want the same thing as well.

They will want a genuinely stronger Europe which reinforces NATO because that is the only way in which the international community, of which Europe and North America form the indisputable core, can rise to the challenges of this new century.

These challenges are as great for our time as those faced by Churchill in his. If the scale of terror today is less, the uncertainty is greater. And the suffering of individual victims of violence is precisely and unacceptably the same.

The difference in 2003 is that we have half a century of cooperation and partnership across the Atlantic, among Europeans and more widely still on which to build. We have common beliefs in peace, democracy and order which cement together a free world united in a common struggle against fanaticism and terror.

Most important of all, we have organisations able to translate principles into action.

Today's transformed NATO, of which I have been proud to be Secretary General for these past four extraordinary years, is I believe the right vehicle for much of this action to be successfully pursued.

NATO bridges the Atlantic. It binds in partners from Ireland through Russia to Central Asia. It allows friends to disagree without falling out. It is the platform for all successful military operations. And it has a record of unparalleled success.

Most of all, it makes hard choices unnecessary.