''NATO: preparing for the unpredictable''

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Varna, Bulgaria

  • 30 May. 2011
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  • Last updated: 30 May. 2011 09:49

Mr President, Excellencies, Ministers,Distinguished Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen;

I always enjoy the opportunity to meet with parliamentarians – since I was one myself for many years. So I am very happy to be here today.

You have a tremendous responsibility to the people who have elected you, as well as to your nation. You have to balance the aspirations of the individual with the resources of the state. You have to look forward and anticipate the future. And my role as NATO Secretary General is very similar.

But predicting the future is not an exact science. So we must also prepare for the unpredictable.

No one predicted the terrible earthquake that struck Japan in March. Mr Suzuki, on behalf of everyone in NATO, I should like to extend my sympathy to you and to the people of Japan.

No one predicted that Ratko Mladic would now be on his way to a courtroom in The Hague. He played a key role in some of the darkest episodes of Balkan and European history. His arrest finally offers a chance for justice to be done. And for the entire region to move closer to Euro-Atlantic integration.

Looking across the Mediterranean, no one predicted the momentous uprisings of the Arab Spring.

No one predicted that NATO would be leading an operation to protect civilians in Libya under a United Nations mandate.

And that such an operation would involve the participation and active support of many countries in the Arab World.

Our operation in Libya, Operation Unified Protector, is achieving its objectives. And we are preventing Qadhafi from achieving his.

In just two months, we have made significant progress. We have seriously degraded Qadhafi's ability to kill his own people. We have prevented more massacres – in Misrata and elsewhere across the country. And we are saving lives every day.

Qadhafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end. He is increasingly isolated, at home and abroad. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting. As the international Contact Group made clear – it is time for Qadhafi to go as well. NATO Allies and partners have strongly endorsed that call.

We will keep up the pressure until all attacks and threats of attack against civilians have stopped. Until the regime has withdrawn its forces and mercenaries back to their bases and barracks. And until full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access is guaranteed to all those who need it.

But it is clear that the crisis cannot be solved through military means alone. If we are to see genuine peace in the country, then a political solution will need to be found. One that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.

It is still too early to draw full lessons from our Libya operation. But I do want to share with you my personal views of the lessons that we have already learned. Some of these lessons are similar to those we have also learned in Afghanistan. Others are new.

I shall address these lessons under three headings. Concept, capabilities, and commitment.

First, the importance of having the right concept.

The Alliance’s new Strategic Concept was prescient. It highlights NATO’s core tasks of crisis management and cooperative security. And it also highlights the value of early political consultations.

Twenty-eight nations bring twenty-eight cultures, perspectives, histories, geographies and foreign policies to the NATO table. And early political consultations allow us the opportunity to bridge any differences of opinion and build the necessary consensus.

We began to discuss Libya soon after the crisis started. And so we were ready to act immediately - when the call came. Our decision to assume command of the operation was taken in days. Compare this to the past. In the 1990s, for example, it took months to make the necessary decisions to intervene in the Balkans. And that was with twelve fewer Allies.

Our rapid decision making was also helped by the great work of the NATO Military Authorities. They answered the requests for military advice in record time. Their operational planning was comprehensive; it was timely; and it was clear.

NATO’s new Strategic Concept places considerable emphasis on working with partners. And they play a vital role in its implementation. Many of you here today are from partner countries. And I look to you to promote the value of NATO’s partnerships back home, and with other nations in your region.

The Libya crisis has once again underlined the importance of NATO’s partnerships. Our partners have been involved in the political consultations and planning from the earliest stages. They broaden the coalition politically – which is extremely important. But they also play an invaluable role where it matters most – operationally.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is historic. It is the first ever Security Council Resolution calling upon the international community to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. In Libya, NATO is at the heart of a broad international effort to turn the UN concept of “Responsibility to Protect” into reality. And we all have a moral responsibility to be ready to respond to similar calls from the United Nations in the future.

The second lesson is capabilities.

Notre mission en Libye a renforcé la nécessité pour l’Alliance de disposer de toute la gamme des capacités militaires. La technologie évolue rapidement, et les capacités de l’OTAN doivent suivre cette évolution.

En Libye, comme en Afghanistan, certains volets des opérations n’auraient tout simplement pas pu être conduits sans les capacités militaires très sophistiquées des États Unis. Je pense aux drones, aux matériels de renseignement et de surveillance, et aux armes de précision.

Je suis préoccupé par le faible niveau des dépenses militaires. L’objectif à l’OTAN est que les Alliés consacrent deux pour cent du produit intérieur brut à la défense. Cependant, très peu d’Alliés atteignent cet objectif. Certains atteignent à peine la barre de un pour cent.

Je suis bien conscient que les budgets doivent être équilibrés. En tant que parlementaires, vous comprenez bien l’importance de la défense. C’est pourquoi je compte sur vous pour qu’on ne coupe pas de façon disproportionnée dans les budgets de défense.

En raison du faible niveau actuel des dépenses, les Alliés européens risquent de prendre encore plus de retard par rapport à l’évolution des technologies. Par conséquent, si nous voulons combler ce fossé, nous devons dépenser mieux.

Un grand nombre de pays sont incapables de se procurer individuellement des équipements de haute technologie dont nous avons besoin. Mais dans une Alliance telle que la nôtre, il n’est pas vraiment nécessaire que chaque Allié dispose de toute la gamme des équipements. C’est l’Alliance qui doit en disposer.

L’important, c’est que chacun des Alliés soit capable de jouer un rôle. Que chacun apporte une contribution significative. Et que tous soient rassemblés grâce au commandement et contrôle intégrés. Nous tirerons ainsi un profit maximum des contributions individuelles.

C’est pourquoi je plaide en faveur d’une « défense intelligente ». Il faut que les pays mettent en place une sécurité renforcée – non pas avec plus de ressources, mais grâce à plus de coordination et d’harmonisation.

Il faut inciter les pays à passer d’une approche strictement nationale à une approche privilégiant les solutions multinationales. Alors, nous pourrons développer, acquérir et maintenir en condition opérationnelle des capacités que les pays ne peuvent pas financer tous seuls.

Cela aiderait l’Alliance à disposer des capacités dont elle a besoin. Le fardeau du développement capacitaire qui pèse individuellement sur les pays s’en verrait allégé. Et cela nous aiderait tous à rester en phase avec le rythme soutenu de l’évolution technologique.

My third, and final lesson is commitment.

History tells us that the right concept and the right capabilities are worthless without the political commitment to use them.

Taking the political decision to deploy military force is never easy. But the rapid and careful application of force can often prevent a crisis from developing into a more serious one, requiring a long and complicated military operation.

Early intervention is therefore not only a way to prevent a crisis getting out of hand. It is also a way of cutting costs for the long-term.

From this point of view, our Libya operation was a great success. We managed to generate the necessary political consensus, and commitment, to authorise an early military deployment.

Where we were less successful, however, was in backing up that political decision with the necessary military contributions. To my mind, deploying our armed forces is the best message of resolve we can send to those who are opposed to freedom. But in the case of Libya, as well as in Afghanistan, we have sometimes struggled to generate the right forces and the right capabilities.

Here again, commitment is key. To demonstrate Alliance solidarity not just in words, but also in deeds. Having taken the political decision to act, we also need to take the political decision to deploy the right forces and capabilities. And this includes deploying them without caveats.

Our operational commanders face rapidly changing situations. The constraints that caveats impose upon them severely reduce the flexibility they need and limit their options.

We also need the commitment to see operations through. As politicians, we have a responsibility to lead and to look at the long-term. And this means showing the commitment and the solidarity as Allies, to keep on going, and to finish what we started.

This is particularly the case in Libya at the moment. We have achieved a great deal. We now need to maintain the pressure to complete the mission. And greater participation, by more Allies, as well as by more partners, would help us to do just that.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Libya crisis is not yet over. But looking at some of its lessons, we can look to the future with confidence.

As parliamentarians, you have a unique responsibility. NATO will remain an effective alliance as long as our nations maintain their firm commitments – politically, financially and through their capacities. And you have an important say.

You can support your governments in fulfilling their responsibilities to contribute to our collective defence. You can explain to your voters why defence in general and NATO in particular matter for our future. And you can keep alive the very spirit of Transatlantic solidarity that has made our Alliance enduring.

NATO is here to protect all 28 Allies. To serve all of our populations. To provide the glue that makes us stronger together than alone. But this strength, this vision, this capacity to defend our people comes from our nations. And we are all the keepers of that promise.

Thank you.