"Managing Global Security and Risk"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the IISS Annual Conference

  • 07 Sep. 2007
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  • Last updated: 28 Aug. 2008 11:03

Professor Heisbourg
Dr. Chipman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to deliver the opening dinner speech at this 5th IISS Global Strategic Review.  The IISS has long been the benchmark for security studies all over the world.  For decades, it has managed to maintain its role as an intellectual pioneer, and its analytical work is widely regarded to be among then best in the field.    The participants list for this conference proves once again that the IISS remains the central meeting place for the international strategic community.

In the early 1990s, a few years after the end of the Cold War, a former director of the IISS summed up an annual conference with these immortal words: “We don’t know what we’re in, but we’re in it pretty deep!”. 

Well, I reckon that by now we do have a fairly good idea of what we’re in.  The uncertainties about the post-Cold War security environment have disappeared.  And they have been replaced by new certainties – certainties that, unfortunately, are not all very pleasant, and that require a major adjustment in our thinking and our policies.

Most of you will be familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm shift.  Kuhn argued that scientific communities share a certain set of beliefs, and that every once in a while changes occur that cannot be explained within the familiar paradigm.  The result is a shift of how a scientific community looks at the world.  And, from then on, things are never going to be the same.

Kuhn’s observations were initially meant to apply only to science.  But they gained popularity because they proved applicable to many other areas as well.  Indeed, I believe that the concept applies perfectly well to international security. 

In my view, we are in fact seeing a major paradigm shift in international security – a shift that is caused by two factors: the end of the Cold War, and the acceleration of globalisation.  These two developments have forced a fundamental change in our perception of, and approach to, security.  They are forcing us to jettison old, familiar worldviews.  And, most importantly, they are forcing us to develop a new set of policies and instruments.

In my remarks tonight, I would like to dwell on three things.  First, I would like to sketch some of the key features that account for the paradigm shift in international security.  Second, I will try to give you my assessment of how well we have been doing in adapting to that new paradigm.  And, third, I will identify some of the areas where I believe our reaction to this shift remains incomplete – and where we need to do more.

As Secretary General of NATO, my focus is inevitably on the transatlantic community.  But, as will become clear in my remarks, this community and the global community are becoming more and more intertwined.

So, first, what has changed?  During the Cold War, the prevailing security paradigm went something like this:  security is about safeguarding your territorial integrity, and this is something that can be accomplished by deterrence – that is, by the mere display of force.  This paradigm ruled, as we all know, for several decades, and it conditioned the thinking both of our security elites as well as our publics.

Over the past 15 years, however, that paradigm has been challenged to the point of obsolescence.  Developments since the end of the Cold War have increasingly been at odds with our established world view.  In Europe, our territorial understanding of security was put into question when parts of the Balkans descended into violence.  NATO nations were not under attack.  Our territorial integrity was not at stake.  And yet we realised that inaction threatened the very concept of a new, undivided and peaceful Europe.  We realised rather late in the day that inaction would ultimately carry a price tag far greater than the price of getting engaged.  In short, we realised that safeguarding our security meant more than simply protecting our borders.

In a similar way, subsequent developments also shattered our notion of deterrence as an effective way to keep trouble at bay.  Deterrence works between states that share a rational calculus about the costs and benefits of their actions.  It does not work against terrorists who are prepared to die for their cause.  The threat of reprisal is useless against people with no postal address.  When the world’s strongest military power suffered a terrible attack almost exactly six years ago – brought about not by another superpower, but by a bunch of radicals based in Afghanistan – we realised that deterrence had failed.

In my view, “9/11” dealt the final blow to the old, Cold War paradigm with its Eurocentric view of the world.  It demonstrated that, in the wake of economic globalisation, threats, too, are globalising: terrorism, failing states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are global phenomena that cannot be met with purely national or even regional approaches.  Against these threats, a passive, deterrence based strategy is of no use at all.

These, then, are the reasons why I believe that our prevailing security paradigm has shifted.  And the new paradigm can be summed up in just one word:  engagement.  We need to address the issues where they emerge, before they end up on your and my doorstep.

This brings me to my second question: if our paradigm has indeed shifted from deterrence to engagement – from “being” to “doing” – how has the transatlantic community mastered the challenge of adjusting to that new reality?  To put it differently, how far have we come in absorbing the implications of the new environment?  How are we doing in drawing the right conclusions, and implementing the right policies?

A brief look at NATO’s recent evolution demonstrates that the transatlantic community has indeed moved quite a long way. Old terms, such as “in-“ and “out-of-area” no longer apply.  All Allies acknowledge that, in a globalised world, such definitions have become artificial.  They all agree that NATO must be prepared to address security challenges at their source, whenever and wherever they arise.  In a nutshell, the need to look at security functionally, rather than geographically, has been well understood.

What is more, this understanding is also reflected in the development of the military transformation of the Alliance.  The static command structures of the Cold War have been replaced by more flexible structures.  The heavy metal forces of the past have been replaced by less heavy, much more mobile forces, capable of undertaking peacekeeping and other tasks in places far away from NATO’s traditional Transatlantic and European perimeter.

The clearest demonstration of that change is in NATO’s operations.  Today, NATO is engaged in operations and missions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and, of course, Central Asia.  We are engaged in combat, peacekeeping, training and education, logistics support, and humanitarian relief.  For all these operations and missions, the old paradigm clearly no longer serves as a point of reference.

Equally importantly, these operations and missions are not conducted and cannot be conducted by NATO alone.  In the Balkans and in Afghanistan, all major institutions, from the United Nations to the European Union, are involved.  And partner countries from Europe to Central Asia, and from the Middle East to the Pacific region, are deploying troops alongside those of NATO.  This is a vivid demonstration that the new security paradigm is not simply an invention of the transatlantic community.  It is a truly global phenomenon.

This is encouraging progress, to be sure.  But we have not yet gone far enough.  Still more needs to be done – by NATO, and by the rest of the international community.

Which brings me to my third point.  In my view, there is still a gap between our intellectual understanding of the new security paradigm and the new challenges it poses, and the political will to address these challenges.  This is true for our publics, who find it difficult to understand why our No. 1 priority should be to bring stability to a faraway country like Afghanistan.  It is no less true, however, for many of our political leaders, who might talk eloquently about the new threats, yet fail to provide the necessary political and military means to meet them. 

We all accept – albeit from time to time grudgingly – the need for certain internal security measures: more video surveillance cameras, more police, etc.  But when it comes to external security measures, we remain hesitant.  As a result, our reaction to the paradigm shift is still incomplete.

What needs to be done to complete it?  What do we have to do to draw the conclusions of the new paradigm in full, and not just selectively?  In closing, here are a few suggestions:

First, we need to develop a truly comprehensive approach to crisis management.  Afghanistan here again  is a case in point.  We all know that success will only come from a seamless coordination of the relevant political, economic and military players.  But there is still too much separation between those who provide security and those who provide development.  There is still too much “tunnel vision”, with organisations focussing only on their very own area of work, and ignoring the rest.  Put differently, there is too much “amour-propre”, and not enough willingness to look at the bigger picture.

I am not underestimating the challenges of bringing civilian and military efforts closer together.  But there is no alternative to a comprehensive approach.  And I will continue to invest, difficult as it may be from time to time,  a lot of personal effort to make this a reality.

Second, we must maintain the momentum of our military transformation.  Again, we know perfectly well what kind of forces we need, but our efforts to acquire these forces do not always match our ambitions.  We are making progress in tackling some of the key capability gaps we have identified.  And we have already agreed innovative multinational solutions to address our shortfalls in strategic lift and air-to-air refuelling for example.  But other important capabilities, such as helicopters, remain in woefully short supply.  Clearly, not all security challenges require military solutions; but military competence remains crucial for dealing with many of them.  Without military force, the atrocities in the Balkans could not have been stopped.  And Al Qaeda would still enjoy a safe haven in Afghanistan.  With security, as with so many other things, you get what you pay for.  It cannot be bought on the cheap. And as my predecessors before me I will therefore keep repeating my plea to allies to keep up their defence budgets.

Third, we must move the NATO-Russia relationship forward.  We all know that in dealing with the challenges of a globalised world, a cooperative Russia is a boon.  Yet if we look at Russia’s recent behaviour, we see that, even after a decade of steady progress, the NATO-Russia relationship remains vulnerable to Cold War stereotypes.  We have to get beyond this state of affairs.  We must not allow short-term, tactical considerations to put at risk a long-term, strategic partnership.  For NATO, this partnership does not have a switch where you can put it “on” or “off”.  Nor is it a  partnership that can be defined by drawing “red lines”.  For us, a solid, trustful NATO-Russia relationship remains a long-term investment in European, and indeed global, security.   It is up to Russia to clarify whether she holds a different view.

Fourth, we must overcome the ambivalence in the relationship between NATO and the European Union.  Most of our members are the same, yet this relationship sometimes resembles a Kabuki play rather than the strategic partnership that we set out to achieve.  This must change.  Clearly, the pressure of operational challenges – in post-status Kosovo, in Afghanistan, and in future contingencies – is going to force NATO and the EU to coordinate more – and to coordinate better.  But the key to unlocking the full potential of the NATO-EU relationship lies on the political level.  Ultimately, what this relationship needs is political courage, vision and investment   among our nation’s leaders.  They must overcome the “zero-sum” logic that still burdens this  NATO-EU relationship.  The benefits would be tremendous. As Secretary General I am a devoted Atlanticist but I also have a very strong European vocation. This does go together.

Fifth, we must further enhance NATO’s relations with countries outside of Europe.  From Pakistan to India, from South Korea to Singapore, from Japan to China, and from Australia to New Zealand – in all these countries, interest in NATO is rising.  Why?  Because in a globalised world, our security interests are converging more and more.  And because NATO is increasingly acting as a hub of broader international coalitions, to promote these common interests.  Will a NATO with global partners undermine the United Nations?  No, it will not and it should not.  Quite the contrary.  I predict that in the years to come there will be much more regular and structured cooperation between NATO and the UN.  Because an overtaxed UN will increasingly look for NATO’s support.

Finally, and fundamentally, we must debate new security issues and ideas much more thoroughly – and less dogmatically – than we have been used to.  Our debate on missile defence, for example, needs to break out of the intellectual straitjacket of the 1980s.  Missile defence will not be the answer to all our problems, but its importance will definitely  grow.  The Summit meetings in Prague in 2002 and in Riga last year gave clear direction on the work that needs to be undertaken.  We must now carry it forward energetically.

By the same token, it is not enough to state that the threat of cyber attacks is growing.  We must also discuss ways to respond – and NATO is an excellent forum for doing so.         Lastly, the growing importance of energy security is something I hardly need to mention here in this distinguished forum.  Osama bin Laden has described refineries as the “hinges” of the world’s economy.  He once referred to the World Trade Center in very similar terms.  And we all know what happened. 

For all these reasons, having discussions in NATO about missile defence, cyber defence or energy security is not an academic exercise.  These issues are very real – and very urgent.  If we want to shape events, and not be their victims, we must address them now.  We need to find out where and how NATO can add value to the broader international efforts. Adding value is the keyword here.  NATO brings together Europe and North America in a permanent consultation mechanism.  And it has the means to turn collective decisions into collective action.  To me, this is a lot of value that we can add.  But we can only do so of course  if we are willing to debate the issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Cold War belongs to a distant past.  Globalisation is accelerating.    As a result, our security environment is becoming ever more complex.  We are forced to reconsider established approaches, and we must have the courage to jettison those ideas that no longer correspond to the world of today.  NATO’s recent evolution testifies that this rethinking is well under way, and that it has already yielded significant results.

However, if we want to successfully meet the new challenges, we cannot afford to go only halfway.  It is not enough to understand that things have changed.  It is not enough to acknowledge that a paradigm shift in international security has taken place.  We must also draw the right policy conclusions, and we must act accordingly – in terms of setting priorities and, last but not least,  in terms of  allocating budgets.

I have given you my brief assessment of our response thus far and where we need to go further.  I am confident that NATO and the rest of the international community will complete that transformation in our thinking, and in our actions.  And I am confident that the IISS will help us move in the right direction.

Thank you for your attention.