Launching NATO’s New Strategic Concept

Keynote Address by The Hon. Madeleine K. Albright, Principal of The Albright Group LLC and former Secretary of State of the United States at the NATO New Strategic Concept Conference

  • 07 Jul. 2009
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  • Last updated: 07 Jul. 2009 15:08

Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Secretary-General designate, Excellencies, special guests, good afternoon.

I am honored to be here.

This is such a distinguished audience; I can only conclude that Atlanticism is alive and well.

To begin, let me thank Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for inviting me and also congratulate him for his years of outstanding leadership.

Mr. Secretary General, you have guided this organization brilliantly and will leave to your successor an alliance that is strong, cohesive, and as central to global security as it has ever been.

The world owes you a debt and I hope that, in years to come, you will continue to share your wisdom with us all.

When I was secretary of state, I often came to Brussels to present the official policy recommendations of my government.

Today, I am here in an unofficial capacity – but my enthusiasm could not be greater – for NATO has always been part of my life.

Its birth was hastened by the Communist takeover, in 1948, of my native country.

From then until the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO had the dual role of shielding freedom in the West while preserving hope in Europe’s east; as a daughter of Prague living in America, I had one foot on each side of that divide.

A decade ago, I had the privilege of welcoming Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into our alliance and of working with many of you to end terror and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

As these events reflect, NATO has been the most successful alliance in history; as current events dictate, it remains a pre-eminent actor on the world stage.

So I am delighted to join with you in launching an effort to revise and to update NATO’s strategic concept.

Our goal should be a statement whose message is clear to audiences both within and outside the alliance; a text that will serve equally as an internal guide and as a constructive signal to people of all ages and cultures around the world.

We begin that task with the wind at our backs.

In many of our now 28 capitals, there is a fresh commitment to the success and vigor of our alliance.

In Washington, a new administration is emphasizing a comprehensive and collaborative approach to human security – with NATO at its core.

The French have sent a powerful message of support by rejoining NATO’s military command.

And, as was evident during the summit in Strasbourg-Kehl, alliance members are in general agreement about NATO’s primary missions and international role.

Each ally is committed to an enduring trans-Atlantic link; each supports the doctrine of collective defense; each understands the need for adaptation; each believes in our partnerships; and each is dedicated to NATO values.

Drafting a new strategic concept, therefore, is less a question of reinvention than of refinement.

We have a firm foundation upon which to build.

This does not mean that our job will be easy or that NATO’s future is assured.

Almost 20 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, our alliance is still in the process of adjusting.

The Cold War was bitter, but also fairly stable – with relations kept in place by an Iron Curtain and a concrete wall.

Today, political dynamics are more fluid – and so are the dangers.

Serious threats emanate from viral ideologies, failed states, irresponsible leaders, dangerous technologies, and environmental neglect.

This toxic blend demands a multi-faceted response: the NATO of the 21st century must combine political wisdom with military clout and diplomatic skills; it must be versatile and adept at preventive action; and it must be counted on to deliver whenever Euro-Atlantic security is on the line.

These imperatives should guide the day to day management of our alliance; they should inform the budget and policy decisions of each alliance member; and they should be at the heart of NATO’s new strategic concept.

In drafting that document, we might remind ourselves that NATO has never defined its purpose in terms of what we are against.

From the very beginning, we have described our common agenda in positive terms – to safeguard freedom, promote stability, uphold the principles of democracy, and to extend the rule of law.

These objectives are not tied to any calendar, nor are they dependent on any particular adversary.

They will survive as long as we have the courage to defend them, but defend them we must, for in the future as in the past, our interests and ideals will surely be opposed.

It’s no secret that Al Qaeda and its allies have made themselves the enemy of all who value human dignity and life.

Their attacks have triggered a worldwide confrontation, marked by incidents of outrage from New York and Istanbul to Moscow and Madrid, and from the Horn of Africa to the London Underground.

But if there is a center to this struggle, it is in Afghanistan, spilling over into Pakistan’s fiercely independent western frontier.

That’s why it matters so much that each alliance member do all it can to support NATO’s mission in that part of the world.

The good news is that the Afghan people know what living under the Taliban is like, and do not wish to repeat the experience.

But to capitalize on that, Afghanistan’s government must provide an effective alternative.

Through its presence and by its training, NATO can help the country’s legitimate leaders to provide the security and the opportunity their people so desperately need.

If we are patient in our approach and wise in our strategy, we can improve the prospects for stability in Afghanistan and throughout the region.

But if we grow frustrated or fail to make a maximum effort, we may witness the rise of yet another generation of terrorists, and see a nuclear-armed Pakistan pushed to the brink.

Elsewhere around the world, NATO must cope with the danger posed by nuclear activities occurring outside the safeguards established by the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty.

North Korea and Iran, especially, merit our concern.

Few developments would be more troubling than the emergence of new nuclear weapons states.

A three part response is required.

First, our alliance should insist that nuclear programs be legal and consistent with a stable and peaceful world order.

Second, we should be vigilant in protecting our people from the possible misuse of advanced weapons and missile technologies.

And third, we should be united in our support for arms control and for a future in which nuclear weapons play an ever-diminishing security role.

A further source of 21st century danger is one painfully familiar to students of history – and that is cross-border military aggression.

Although such incidents may occur less frequently now than at times in the past, there will always be some governments that are tempted to intervene in the affairs of neighboring states.

NATO’s core purpose has been and must remain to make attacks against its own members unthinkable.

We should also work through the United Nations to see that, in any place at any time, aggression does not pay.

Finally, there exists a viper’s nest of additional dangers, some originating with states, others with groups or even individuals.

These include cyber sabotage, biological and chemical contamination, organized crime, and piracy.

Each is a threat to world order.

Each places new demands on the capabilities of our alliance.

And each requires fresh thinking about how to adapt and apply NATO resources to cope with diverse problems.

In planning for the future, we must bear in mind that, although NATO is a leader, it must also be a partner.

As we have learned in recent years, most security crises have political, economic, social and sometimes religious dimensions.

An effective response may therefore depend on a pooling of talent and a sharing of tasks.

Our strategic concept must recognize that NATO’s work will often rely on a comprehensive approach, involving cooperation with other parts of the international system, including the UN in all its aspects, the EU, the OSCE, the African Union, other regional organizations, and major NGOs.

Alliance operations will also be influenced by NATO’s global standing.

It matters how our efforts are viewed in such capitals as Delhi and Islamabad, Pretoria and Cairo, Brasilia and Beijing.

We cannot simply assume that our intentions will be understood correctly, especially in parts of the world that have hostile or mixed feelings toward the West.

The NATO story is a proud one, even glorious, but it is has grown more complex as new chapters have been written.

Each year, across the globe, there are fewer people who recall NATO’s creation, fewer who remember its Cold War resolve, and fewer who have a clear sense of why NATO’s survival and success should matter to them.

So as we think about our strategic concept, we should bear in mind how such a document will be read not only within the Euro-Atlantic community but in every region.

And as we prepare to implement that concept, we must include a plan for explaining our policies and our actions persuasively and in real time, making full use of modern information technology.

We are in this room today because we believe in the ongoing importance of NATO’s mission.

But our challenge is to reach and to teach the billions of people who are not in this room.

We must convince them that even while protecting the rights of alliance members, NATO will uphold the rights of all.

To illustrate that truth, we must back our words with actions, but we must also be wise in the words we choose.

The original North Atlantic Treaty consisted of 23 sentences.

Our current Strategic Concept has 65 paragraphs.

If we want NATO’s purpose to be understood, we must speak in language that average people can understand.

Clear writing is a reflection of clear thinking and clear thinking is indispensable to NATO’s future.

Of course, much of our thinking in recent times has focused on the scope of NATO’s activities and missions.

A consensus exists that, to protect our interests, we must sometimes act outside our borders, as we have done in the Balkans, and as we are doing now in Afghanistan and through our maritime operations.

Some suggest that these external missions have opened a fault line within the alliance, placing on one side those who believe that NATO should assume the role of global police and on the other those who insist that NATO stay close to home.

In truth, I see no such fault line but instead a sensible search for a reasonable balance.

There are limits to what NATO can do and also to what we should attempt; we are a regionally-based security alliance and cannot be all things to all people.

At the same time, we must not settle for the role of turtle, hiding in our shell while external dangers flourish.

Article V and collective defense remain, properly, the cornerstone of our alliance.

However, we must also be prepared to respond to threats that arise beyond our territory, taking into account the urgency of those threats, the availability of other security options, and the likely consequences of acting or of failing to act.

We are a defensive alliance; but we cannot afford to be a passive one.

A similar sense of balance is necessary when contemplating another potential source of division within NATO – and that is Russia.

As I speak, President Obama is in Moscow for meetings with President Medvedev.

On both sides, there are expectations mixed with uncertainty.

Russia and the Euro-Atlantic community have an arm full of shared interests; we also have a handful of significant differences.

That’s why our strategic concept must be flexible enough to embrace Russia as a partner and firm enough to hold the Kremlin to its obligations.

Ultimately, only Russia can define Russia, just as only NATO can define NATO.

Our alliance must make decisions about future members based on qualifications alone – neither asserting nor recognizing a sphere of influence, neither opposing nor appeasing the government of any other country.

No nation can dictate to another what alliances that country may or may not join.

When I was secretary of state, we agreed that, when discussing security in Europe, Russia was entitled to a voice but not a veto.

That principle still applies.

Years ago, during the Cold War, NATO’s main objective was to defend freedom from the threat of aggression by the Communist Bloc.

When the Berlin Wall fell, we set our sights on a Euro-Atlantic community that was whole and free.

Today, we understand that neither the defeat of Communism nor our own freedom is sufficient to guarantee security.

NATO must strive for a world in which differences are resolved without violence; where people are allowed to live without fear of aggression or attack; and in which the rule of law is legitimately-constituted, broadly-recognized and widely-enforced.

By its nature, this is an enterprise to be waged on many fronts, simultaneously and continuously.

It will lead not to some climactic or universal triumph, but to the hope that our children can grow up in a world more peaceful, free, and humane than it has been.

For that to happen, NATO must operate in the future with all the energy and focus it has shown in the past.

And each member of the alliance must meet its obligations fully and without fail.

Looking back, we can see that many of the threats we faced in the past have vanished or shifted in shape.

Looking ahead, we can expect that many of the problems we worry about today will also wax or wane.

Global and regional dangers must naturally command NATO’s attention, but these impermanent perils must never define our alliance.

In 1949, we came together not because we were afraid, but because of our faith in the values of democracy, free expression, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

We have learned since that our organization must constantly adapt to the demands of political and technological change.

But we have also learned what must not change.

NATO’s strategic concept must begin and end with NATO’s founding ideals.

And just as surely, NATO’s future will depend on its unity.

Years ago, Thucydides wrote that the Peloponnesians and their allies were powerful in battle but handicapped by political divisions.

Each pressed for its own agenda, each thinking that others would act in time to preserve the common cause.

But because each operated under the same illusion, the alliance soon forgot its purpose and was ruined.

This must not happen to NATO.

The world remains too dangerous.

The role of our Alliance is too vital.

And our shared vision of the world remains too important for us to lose our way now.

So let us begin the task of charting NATO’s future with confident hearts, bearing in mind our responsibility to those who preceded us, to all who are among us, and to future generations.

Thank you very much, and now I would be pleased to respond to any questions you might have.