Global NATO?

Remarks by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer<br />at the Clingendael Institute<br />

  • 29 Oct. 2004
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2008 00:07

Thank you, Bob, for your kind introduction,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It may be a strange procedure for the last speaker at a conference to take issue with the overall theme of the meeting, but I will do so nevertheless. I duly noted, of course, that "Global NATO?" has a question mark attached to it. Still, I cannot help but sound a note of caution. I believe that the term "global" is not the adverb to describe our Alliance.

Even if NATO troops are currently deployed in a country that borders China, the term "global" is prone to misunderstandings. To some, it will sound imperialist, to others it will appear as if NATO is simply trying to assert itself, and at the expense of other institutions. More fundamentally, the notion of a global NATO suggests a responsibility that the Alliance neither aspires to, nor could realistically sustain. And the Allies are agreed on that.

Now, I suppose I should come up with some viable alternative terminology. In my view, the phenomenon that we are trying to capture is simply a shift from a geographical understanding of security to a functional approach. In other words, a move towards viewing security challenges generically, instead of dividing them into "near" - which used to mean "serious" - and "far" - which used to mean "not-so-serious". In an age characterised by terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and failing states, that distinction is no longer sustainable. These challenges simply defy borders and, hence, they require the broadest possible, most comprehensive response.

It is evident to me that NATO must be part of that response - not as a "gendarme du monde", however, but as one important element of a much broader international approach.

This is a sea change in the way we think about - and employ - this Alliance, all the more so when you contrast it to the Cold War. Back then, Allies were concerned that so-called out-of-area engagements would distract NATO from the core task of collective defence. Of course, even during that period, our security interests did not end at NATO's borders. But the task of upholding Western Europe's political order against aggression or intimidation was seen as so paramount that we could not allow it to be jeopardised by out-of-area distractions.

This picture began to change with the end of the Cold War - but only slowly. The 1991 Gulf War was the first reminder that NATO had to overcome its "out-of-area-syndrome". It was a perfect example of how quickly a supposedly remote crisis can turn into a threat to Alliance territory. And although NATO only played a supporting role, the Gulf War was an example of successful cooperation between the Allies both "in-area" and "out-of-area".

Later that decade, in the Balkans, NATO's role was far more direct, but only after some hesitation. NATO initially opted for a kind of minimalist involvement - a reflection of the lingering unease with a dedicated role beyond traditional boundaries. It was only the mounting frustration with the course of events that compelled the Allies to take a tougher line. Eventually, the use of NATO airpower against Serb forces in the summer of 1995 got the ball rolling. It paved the way for the Dayton agreement later that year. And it led to the deployment of 60,000 troops from NATO and Partner nations into Bosnia to implement that agreement.

IFOR became NATO's first real "out-of-area" mission. And now that we are about to draw this mission to a close in little over a month, we can justifiably say that it has been a major success. NATO has not only demonstrated that it can act "out-of-area", but that it can make a real difference in doing so.

This is not the place to recall our subsequent engagement in Kosovo or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* in great detail. All I want to say here is that these missions further cemented NATO's role in stabilising Southeast Europe after Yugoslavia's collapse. Today, NATO is an indispensable - and widely accepted - player in the Balkans. And it will remain so for a long time to come.

The logic of tackling challenges outside the NATO Treaty area has also been evident in NATO's Partnership policy. Indeed, the entire rationale of this policy is to exert a stabilising influence beyond NATO member states. Today, with 20 Partners in the Partnership for Peace, including special relations with Russia and Ukraine, and another seven partners in the Mediterranean Dialogue, this policy has yielded considerable strategic benefits.

Why am I recalling these steps? Three reasons. First, they show that NATO's out-of-area evolution happened out of necessity. Second, in taking on these new missions, NATO demonstrated an ability to adapt to entirely new challenges. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Alliance also demonstrated the stamina to engage for the long term, and - as in the case of Kosovo - to take the heat for controversial decisions.

All in all, this is a pretty good track record. But even this successful track record could not remove all the hesitations regarding NATO's reach. Everyone here in this room who remembers the debates on the 1999 Strategic Concept will also remember the heated discussion on the geography issue. At the time, we dodged this question by referring to the "Euro-Atlantic area".

Then came "9/11" - and once again theory was overtaken by reality. NATO invoked Article 5. In other words, Allies agreed that an attack by a terrorist "non-state actor" could trigger collective self-defence. That was a remarkable development in itself. And when it became clear that the threat had emanated from Afghanistan, there were no longer any inhibitions to address the problem at its source. Individual Allies, and later NATO as a whole, deployed to Afghanistan, as if it was the most natural thing to do. Because, as one NATO Ambassador aptly put it, the out-of-area debate had collapsed together with the World Trade Center.

Our Afghanistan mission has brought NATO not only out-of-area, but out-of-continent. In my view, this mission marked the final victory of a functional approach to security over a geographical one. And, what is equally important, the players in the region - from Uzbekistan to China - have accepted NATO's presence as well.

Just last week, I visited several of our Partner countries in Central Asia. Given their unique geographical position, these countries provide most valuable support to our Afghanistan mission. NATO, in turn, helps these Partners in coping with their specific security challenges, from terrorism to border control to the setting up of modern armed forces. These emerging relationships between NATO and Central Asia are mutually beneficial. They demonstrate the wisdom of our considerable investment of time and energy in our Partnership policies -- and of looking at security functionally rather than geographically.

I believe that we will see a similar evolution in the broader Middle East. As the Alliance has now taken on the task of training Iraqi security forces, some may feel that NATO's image as a distinctly "Western" body may be a liability. I don't think so. In the end, we will be judged by what we do rather than by what we are.

But before I get charged by some of you with being a starry-eyed optimist, I would like to point out three basic conditions that I believe need to be met if NATO's new roles out-of-Europe are to be sustained.

The first condition is a clearer understanding of the nature of the threats that we are up against. I am not revealing any secret when I state that too many people still fail to see the relevance of a mission like Afghanistan. They do not see a connection between, say, NATO's presence at the Hindukush and their own, personal safety. We need to rectify this. We have to make the point - cogently and consistently - that NATO's new missions are as essential to the personal security of our citizens as the deterrence role that NATO played during the Cold War. And this is a task that goes far beyond any Public Diplomacy effort by NATO. It is a task for our politicians - those in Government and those in Parliament - and not least for our think tank community.

This brings me directly to my second condition for a more ambitious NATO role: we need to match our political ends with military means. All our nations have understood that maintaining forces just for national, territorial defence is not the right use of resources. And they all have taken steps to increase the reach and deployability of their forces. But as our shortfalls in Afghanistan have revealed, there is still a gap between our political commitments on the one hand and the military and financial resources we commit on the other. If NATO is to play the role we want it to play, this gap must be bridged.

The third condition for NATO to play a more ambitious role is to have closer links with other international institutions. Addressing the new threats requires a comprehensive range of instruments - military, political, and economic. No single institution can provide all of those instruments. Hence the need for close cooperation on the ground and at the institutional level. In the Balkans, throughout the 1990s, we have been building such new relationships: NATO-UN, NATO-OSCE, and most recently, NATO-EU. These links have already demonstrated their strategic value.

But we need to go further. We need to broaden existing relationships, most of all with the EU. NATO and the EU need to cooperate across the full spectrum of modern security challenges - from the Balkans to Afghanistan and beyond, and from terrorism to proliferation and the development of modern military capabilities. With an overlap of now 19 members in both organisations, the time has come to move the NATO-EU relationship to another level. The EU has many instruments NATO lacks. NATO, however, includes the United States, the world's strongest power, without which a stable world order is simply inconceivable. The case for a complementary relationship could not be more compelling.

Finally, we also need to deepen our ties with those countries that are going to become increasingly important for us: Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan, to name just some of the most obvious. And we must build new ties to the Broader Middle East, including to the countries of the Gulf region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today's security threats are global in nature. Hence, a narrow, regional approach will not do. That's why NATO has changed. We are looking at problems functionally, no longer geographically. And we are acting in line with this logic.

We all realise that this functional approach creates a host of new demands for NATO, and we also realise that it entails risks. But there is simply no alternative. An Alliance that would have a purely reactive security approach to security - a kind of "waiting for Godot" - would simply no longer meet our basic security interests.

However, to fully embrace this functional view of security requires further work. We need a clearer appreciation of the risks we deal with; we need new military capabilities; and we need closer relations with other institutions.

But for NATO to sustain this more ambitious role requires yet something else: We also need NATO to become more than a forum for taking decisions on operations - we need the Alliance to become, once again, a central forum for political debate and decision-making.

NATO should be the place where Allies discuss fundamental security matters, not just to reach consensus or take a decision, but in order to exchange views -- even if the result may be to "agree to disagree". We have to get away from the very notion that a NAC discussion must always lead to consensus on a military operation.

It is clear, at the same time, that every operational commitment has to be based on thorough political debate. In cases other than immediate collective self-defence, views can differ on how to achieve our objectives. The case for each and every operational commitment has to be made, and it has to be made convincingly if we are to engage with our full political weight, and if all Allies are to play their full part.

Such a "culture of debate" would also allow NATO to play a political role commensurate with its operational contribution. In the Balkans, and even more in Afghanistan, we provide the basis for all other efforts. But we don't seem to be very much involved in the political process in these regions. That we leave up to other actors. To my mind, this is not a healthy division of labour. When NATO enters into an operation in a certain region, it not only needs to have an idea about the preferred "end state" it wants to see achieved. NATO should also have a voice in the political process leading up to that "end state".

Something is not quite right if, for example, a discussion in the NATO Council about the future of Kosovo has to be triggered by a UN Report. It should be a regular item on our agenda. So should be the future of other countries and regions that we have a stake in: from Afghanistan to Iraq.

The more NATO engages in complex missions in faraway places, the more Allies will have to break with established traditions of avoiding debate. They will have to engage in debate - frequently, and sometimes controversially. Fears of controversy are a Cold War reflex. In a NATO that acts "wherever and whenever" our common transatlantic interests are at stake, such fears are misplaced. The new NATO will not be weakened by debate. It will be strengthened by it.

Thank you.