by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Edinburgh

  • 17 Nov. 2009
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  • Last updated: 17 Nov. 2009 12:35

Remarks by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the 55th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Mr President,
Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

As already mentioned by the President, this is my first opportunity to address the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in my new capacity as Secretary General, and I have been looking forward to this event for quite some time. As a former parliamentarian for some 31 years, it is a bit of a home coming for me.

It is always enjoyable to be amongst colleagues and in the middle of lively political debate.

But more importantly, I have been looking forward to this occasion to seek your support. I strongly believe that now, more than ever, we need to re-build the bridges of understanding between NATO and the public of our member and partner states.

We need them to understand how our security environment is changing, how the role of military power in this environment is changing, and how NATO is changing.

You, the Parliamentarians of our Alliance and our partner nations, have a crucial role to play here in getting those messages across. And as we all know, at the moment, these messages must centre on our Number One operation priority: Afghanistan.

Let’s be honest: The past months have been extremely demanding. And our forces, both Afghan and ISAF, have suffered significant numbers of casualties. So let me first recognise the tremendous hard work, and sacrifice, that the soldiers from many of your nations are making. I have witnessed at first hand their remarkable determination, professionalism, and courage.

I understand that many people have started to ask whether the price of our engagement is too high.

They are frustrated by the pace of progress. And let me tell you, I’m impatient too. They wonder whether it makes any difference at all to their security at home. And they worry about the cost – both in blood and treasure.

These questions deserve a convincing answer – from me, from governments, and from you.

Let’s look at what we’ve achieved already. Al Qaeda no longer has any training camps in Afghanistan; they no longer have a safe haven in Afghanistan; and they haven’t managed to launch a single major attack from Afghanistan since we’ve been there. This is a major blow to them. It’s a real success for us. And it’s a clear contribution to our national security at home.

To my mind, it is obvious that if we were to walk away and turn our backs on Afghanistan, Al Qaeda would be back in a flash. They would have a sanctuary from which to launch their strategy of global jihad – a strategy that is directed first and foremost against us. There is absolutely no reason to think otherwise, and anyone who does so is not living in the real world. If we were to walk away, the pressure on nuclear-armed Pakistan would be tremendous. Instability would spread throughout Central Asia.

And it would only be a matter of time until all our nations, and all our citizens, would feel the consequence.

So in answer to the question about the costs of our engagement, my answer is yes - the costs of this operation are high. But the costs of walking away would be far, far higher. And that is why we have to stay the course and build on the considerable progress we have made so far.

I know that some people are concerned not just about the costs of the operation, but also about its future direction. Again, I understand why. But people should be reassured that soon there will be new momentum. And we have many reasons to be more optimistic. We will progressively be handing over more and more lead responsibility to the Afghans themselves – this is the key element of our approach that will be clear from the decisions we will be taking in the near future.

In a few weeks, I expect we will decide, in NATO, on the approach, and troop levels needed, to take our mission forward. I’m confident it will be a counter-insurgency approach, with substantially more troops, and will place the Afghan population at the core of ISAF’s collective effort – by focusing on their safety, and by supporting reconstruction and development.

And crucially, we will do more to build the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces.

And this is the way ahead: A transition to Afghan lead responsibility.

Don’t make any mistake. We will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job. But that is of course not forever.

Our mission in Afghanistan ends when the Afghans are capable of securing and running their country themselves.

The way forward is to hand over lead responsibility for security to the Afghan security forces – district by district, province by province as their own capacity develops.

Therefore we must train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police. We have already established a NATO training mission in Afghanistan. And I urge all Allies to contribute significantly to this training mission.

We need trainers, we need equipment and we need money. So there are many ways in which not just NATO allies and ISAF partners, but the whole international community, can invest in a transition to Afghan lead.

I am confident that we can, and should, start next year to hand over more lead responsibility for security to Afghan forces. We will do this in a coordinated way, where conditions permit, and this will allow us to progressively move into a support role.

These are very concrete steps. They are both realistic and achievable. But they cannot be done on the cheap. Indeed, if we want to do less in the future, we are going to have to do more now.

I am grateful to you, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for the support you have given us in meeting the Afghanistan challenge so far.

But I want to use this opportunity to strongly encourage you, and your governments, to make more military resources available – extra combat forces for ISAF; extra troops for enhanced partnership and teaming with the Afghan National Security Forces; and extra troops for training, particularly through the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

I firmly believe that we can continue to make progress – significant progress - if we can close the gap between the resources which the Commander of ISAF currently has available, and those he actually requires to do his job.

But extra military resources from NATO and its partners in ISAF are not a panacea.

More also needs to be done on the civilian side to boost the Afghan government’s own capacity - through the United Nations Assistance Mission Afghanistan, through other International Organisations, and through bilateral and multilateral frameworks. And again, I look to you to see what more your nations can do in this respect – on the civilian side.

Finally, of course, Afghanistan itself must also do more – far more. I have urged President Karzai and his new Government to demonstrate a strong and clear commitment to reform – to redouble their efforts to fight corruption and the drug trade, to provide basic services to the people, to reform the judicial system, and to improve governance at all levels. And I hope that you will also reinforce those messages.

In the coming months, there will be an international conference, led by the United Nations. This will be the perfect opportunity to create a new compact between the Afghan Government and the international community, and to provide clear benchmarks for progress. It will also be the ideal occasion for the international community to demonstrate its long-term commitment.

And I can assure you that NATO will continue to play its full part. The Alliance has a clear strategy for the way ahead. It is a strategy that will not only help in building a secure and stable Afghanistan. It is a strategy that will help enhance security for everyone – for Afghanistan, for the wider region, and for all our nations. It is a strategy that deserves your full support.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I make no apology for speaking at length about Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is only one example of the changing security environment NATO faces. We must not ignore the many other new, complex security challenges that are becoming clearer by the day – challenges such as proliferation, cyber attacks, energy security, piracy, and the security implications of climate change.

Whenever one talks about new threats, one encounters sceptics who believe that NATO is just looking for new excuses to justify its existence. I say to those sceptics that, as a security organisation, it is our obligation to lift our eyes from the present, and to scan the horizon for what might be looming.

Ten years ago, no one would have imagined NATO in an anti-piracy role. Today, we are involved – as is the European Union and many other nations from around the world. Because times change – and the challenges change. NATO needs to continue to adapt to these challenges. And I am determined to drive that process of adaptation further forward.

I see five areas of adaptation that I consider to be most critical.

The first is military transformation. Military transformation lies at the heart of the new NATO. So we need clear thinking about the way ahead. Let me make clear: safeguarding one’s territory against outside aggression is among the foremost obligations of any state – and of any alliance that takes itself seriously. This will never change.

It is equally clear, however, that most of today’s challenges originate far beyond our borders. That is why our territorial defence does not begin at home, but abroad. And it is why a debate about collective defence versus expeditionary missions misses the point. We need forces that are mobile and flexible – we need forces that are deployable in any contingency. And so one of my priorities as Secretary General will be to continue to remind the Allies – and you, as parliamentarians with a key role in defence policy – to speed up the transformation of our military capabilities.

Second, I will keep on urging all Allies to devote adequate resources to defence - but also to spend their money wisely. In the current economic crisis, it is more important than ever that we get our priorities right – and that we match requirements and resources. And so we need to keep looking at the way in which we plan, man and pay for operations.

And we need to continue focusing on capabilities that we all know are relevant to the new security environment: strategic and tactical airlift, and modern command and control systems – to name but a few. And we need to promote multinational solutions through joint funding and the pooling of vital assets. And that is certainly what I will be doing.

Third, we need a more mature NATO-Russia relationship. We cannot talk seriously about an undivided Europe if we prove unable – or unwilling – to engage Russia. Among our 28 Allies, there are different views on Russia. That should not surprise anyone. History cannot be erased. But neither should we become prisoners of the past. We need a new relationship with Russia – one that allows us to pursue common interests and air our differences, such as, for example our unflinching commitment to the “open door” policy. Some consider Russia a challenge – I see it as an opportunity. And it is in this spirit that I will go to Moscow in a few weeks’ time to discuss the way ahead on a deeper NATO-Russia relationship.

Fourth, we need to draw our partners closer. Our traditional partner countries have become an indispensable part of our team. And new partners from across the globe, from A like Australia to Z like New Zealand, participate in NATO-led operations. So partnership has become a true strategic asset.

We need to nourish it, and develop it further.

And finally, I also want to push forward NATO’s internal reform – to improve its structures, its procedures, and its working practices. I want, in particular, to get the civilian and military side of NATO to work closer together. I want to make sure that our policy-making is supported by a strong intelligence process. And I want to continue pruning our committee structure – not in order to do away with the consensus principle, but in order to make our decision-making faster and more effective.

All these changes, taken together, will be key elements in making NATO fit for the 21st century – which is why I am determined to pursue them. I firmly believe that we need, at the same time, to agree on a broader, long-term vision for NATO – and to set this out in our new Strategic Concept. Because this will help us to make the right political choices; to better prioritise our tasks; and to better identify the resources needed to fulfil them.

To put it simply, the new Strategic Concept will give us a vision of NATO in the changing security environment – and it will give us a firm, and agreed, foundation for all our future work.

We have deliberately made the development of a new Strategic Concept a very open and very inclusive process. I have asked a group of twelve eminent experts led by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to come up with recommendations.

We are also engaging the strategic community more widely, as well as the general public, through a series of conferences and other activities. Needless to say, I expect the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to continue to play its part too, in helping to shape the future of NATO. And I am very much looking forward to receiving your inputs next spring.

Distinguished Parliamentarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

Never before has our security environment been so complex. And never before has NATO’s agenda been so broad. We are doing more, in more places, than ever before. That is why a new Strategic Concept is so important.

I see it as a means not only to create a new, solid consensus among Allies on our key tasks, but also to connect our populations with the new NATO. After all, people will only support what they understand and appreciate.

To me, this means that we have to invest not only in NATO's continuing political and military transformation. We also need to invest more time and effort in connecting with our publics - nearly a billion people. These people are our customers.

It is their safety - their security - that we are responsible for, and that we care for. I firmly believe that a modernised NATO, supported by a dynamic NATO Parliamentary Assembly, will bring home this fundamental truth.

Thank you.