Looking towards the Wales Summit

NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow previewed the Wales Summit in a graduation speech at the NATO Defense College in Rome today (13 June).

  • 13 Jun. 2014
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  • Mis à jour le: 16 Jun. 2014 11:53

Excellencies, Officers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s always a pleasure to visit Rome in the springtime, but I am particularly honored to be at the NATO Defense College today. The College is NATO’s premier educational establishment. It always brings together groups with an interesting mix of nationalities and backgrounds. And it always manages to put together courses that leave their participants better acquainted, better informed, and better prepared for the future.

Your lectures and discussions this week have focused primarily on security challenges across the Mediterranean region and into the Middle East. We are all following events in Iraq with grave concern. I strongly condemn the violence in Iraq and the kidnapping of Turkish nationals. Earlier this week, I chaired an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council where Turkey briefed the other Allies on the situation in Mosul and the hostage-taking of Turkish citizens, including the Consul General. Our thoughts and our solidarity are with those taken hostage and with the people of Turkey, and we continue to follow developments very closely.

This is just another flashpoint among the multiple crises that surround us today. Right here in Europe, we see a new security landscape as a result of Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine. So let me focus on that and describe what it means for NATO and our next Summit meeting in Wales in early September, and also what it means for our relations with our partner nations, including some of your nations.

Recently, I was in Kyiv to take part in the inauguration of President Poroshenko. The presidential elections were an important milestone for Ukraine. In holding transparent and democratic elections despite significant challenges, including the Russian-backed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian people showed their commitment to a united, independent and sovereign country. We look forward to working with President Poroshenko and we are confident that his leadership will contribute to the stabilization of the country, building on the inclusive political dialogue that was launched ahead of the elections.

Now is the time for Russia to show genuine will to come back into line with its international obligations. Because over the past few months, we have seen Russia rip up the international rulebook. President Putin and his government have tried to change borders at the barrel of a gun. They have actively subverted the government of a neighbouring state. And they have proclaimed a right to limit the sovereignty of territories which have at some point in history been part of Russia, or where large Russian-speaking communities live. All these actions call into question fundamental principles that Russia subscribed to, and they put at risk the post-Cold War order that we have built with such effort together with Russia, not against it.

Indeed, for more than 20 years, NATO has looked at Russia as a partner. We worked together with Russia to keep the peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO made unilateral commitments to refrain from the forward stationing of nuclear weapons and substantial combat forces in new member countries. We also worked hard to engage Russia in dialogue and practical cooperation on issues of common concern, such as counter-terrorism and counter-piracy, and with some considerable success.

All this good work, and the potential for further constructive cooperation, have been undermined by Russia’s recent actions. And if NATO now has serious doubts about Russia, it is clear that President Putin has no doubts about NATO. The Alliance is at the centre of his threat perception. And it looks as if he has come to believe his own regime’s outrageous propaganda that falsely claims a sustained NATO attempt to encircle and marginalize Russia.

Despite all this, there is still a broad consensus across NATO that engagement with Russia is our preferred way forward.  This crisis is not ideological, and we do not face renewed Cold War competition across the globe. But we must face the possibility that, for the foreseeable future, it is Russia that will choose confrontation over cooperation with NATO.

This has obviously put our next NATO Summit in Wales in September in a very different light. Our Summit will have three broad themes.

First, Afghanistan. We will highlight the progress achieved in a decade of engagement through ISAF, and the success we have had in transitioning security responsibility to the Afghan national security forces. We will formally launch our new mission, Resolute Support, to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces from next year – provided, of course, that the necessary security agreements are signed. In this regard, we are increasingly confident that they will be signed, in light of the pledges made by both candidates in the run-up to this weekend’s second round of presidential elections.

We are also aiming to finalize commitments by Allies and partners to continue funding the Afghan security forces. And we will outline the future of our political and practical relationship with Afghanistan through our Enduring Partnership. We will definitely not turn our backs on Afghanistan.

The second broad Summit theme is the transatlantic bond. Here, I hope to see a formal “Transatlantic Declaration” in which North American and European Allies will reaffirm their mutual commitment to each other’s security and will agree to do more to share the burden of security more equitably. In particular, I hope that this commitment can be translated into an undertaking by European Allies to progressively increase their defense spending now that their economies are beginning to recover, moving towards the NATO benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP.

The third broad Summit theme is what we call “Future NATO” – which, in fact, is the overarching theme for the whole summit. It’s all about making sure that NATO is ready for whatever the future might hold – ready to deal with any challenge, wherever it happens, and whenever it occurs.

“Future NATO” is essentially about having the right capabilities, the right concepts, and the right partnerships to enable us to deal with both the predictable and the unpredictable events that the future might bring. And clearly, although it is too early to draw final conclusions from the recent crisis, there are at least three preliminary lessons that will influence “Future NATO” in our Summit preparations.

A first lesson is that we must maintain a strong defense and deterrence here in Europe. In a way, Russia’s aggression has prompted us to go ‘back to basics’ and to reemphasize the Alliance’s original purpose of collective defense. We have already taken a number of short-term measures to strengthen collective defense and reassure Allies on the front lines of the crisis, with more planes in the air, more ships at sea, and more troops on the ground. I am pleased to report that all 28 Allies are now contributing to these enhanced efforts – an encouraging demonstration of solidarity and commitment to one another.

That does not mean that we will revert to a Cold War posture. We are also looking further ahead. We are reviewing our threat assessments, intelligence-sharing arrangements, early-warning procedures, and crisis response planning. We are looking to strengthen the ability of our NATO Response Force to respond quickly to any threat against any member of the Alliance, including where we have little warning. And we are reviewing our Connected Forces Initiative to make our exercises more frequent, more demanding, and more visible.

These are some of the strands of a ‘Readiness Action Plan’ that we are now developing in preparation for the Summit in September. They are all defensive measures. They are in line with our international obligations. And they are in line with a changed security landscape where – more than ever – we need to be ready, prepared and flexible.

And that brings me to a second important lesson that is guiding our work ahead of the Wales Summit. For NATO, the Russia challenge has come on top of an already complex array of global risks and threats. You have already discussed many of them this week – from terrorism and piracy to proliferation, energy security and cyber warfare. In order to deal with all these challenges, the Strategic Concept that we adopted four years ago identifies three core tasks for NATO: not only collective defense, but also crisis management and cooperative security. 

Today, all three tasks remain valid.  Indeed, they reinforce each other, because to strengthen our security at home, we must be prepared to tackle crises abroad.  And we must be able to do more than one thing at a time. NATO cannot be a one-dimensional Alliance. It must be a full-spectrum Alliance.

This, in turn, means that we must have a full spectrum of capabilities.  And of course many of these capabilities are multifunctional. Assets like Special Forces, drones, and transport aircraft are relevant to all three tasks.  They are all about being able to react quickly, together, and effectively to all threats. We must be ready to deploy whenever and wherever required, and with the high level of interoperability that we have attained through nearly two decades of non-stop operations.

This puts a premium on our military training, exercises and education – including here at the NATO Defense College. And it puts a premium on our Smart Defense initiative, to encourage multinational solutions that can fill the capability gaps seen in recent operations more efficiently, and to ensure that the European members of the Alliance and Canada can shoulder greater responsibility relative to the United States.

A third, important lesson from the recent crisis is that we need to continue to invest in our relationships as well as in our capabilities. Over the past two decades, NATO has built a network of partnerships with more than 40 countries from all over the globe, including several countries represented here today. Our partners have made a major contribution to the success of our missions and operations, helping to provide security well beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. Indeed, I believe that partnerships are now as important for NATO as modern military hardware or flexible forces.

But partnership with NATO is not a one-way street. Our partners benefit too. We offer them a unique forum to discuss security issues and concerns. By plugging into NATO operations, partners can multiply the effect of their own contributions, and strengthen the interoperability of their forces with those of NATO Allies. They can benefit from NATO’s expertise on a range of issues, from security sector reform to civil emergency planning. And that expertise can also bring real benefits for ordinary people. In Jordan, for example, a NATO Trust Fund has helped to eliminate explosive remnants of war and to create a safe environment for local communities. And in Moldova, another Trust Fund aims to eliminate thousands of tons of toxic pesticides left over from the Soviet Union.

With a view to our next NATO Summit in Wales, Allies are now looking at various ways to deepen and broaden our partnerships. We could, for example, intensify our political consultations by making them more frequent and more focused. We could engage certain interested partners on specific subjects of common concern, by using both established fora like the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as smaller, more flexible formats.

But we also want to continue to engage interested partners in concrete cooperation. After the completion of our ISAF operation in Afghanistan at the end of this year, partners will have fewer opportunities to participate in NATO operations. And so we want to preserve and strengthen our interoperability, including through partner involvement in the NATO Response Force, as well as participation in joint military education, training and exercises. We also want to continue to involve interested partners in Smart Defense projects, to develop capabilities together that will strengthen the security of all our nations.

I believe there is particular scope to enhance NATO’s role in helping other nations and organizations to strengthen their own defense capacity. NATO has been offering that kind of support in several countries, from Kosovo to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from Iraq to Afghanistan. So we have a good basis to build on.

In light of the current crisis with Russia, a particular focus will be increasing defense capacity-building with Ukraine and other Eastern partners. But we also want to increase our support for countries in North Africa and the Middle East who are struggling to reform and modernize their defense sectors. In the latter case, we plan to coordinate our efforts with those of the European Union and the United Nations in order to maximize our impact and avoid unnecessary duplication. We also hope to work even more closely with regional organizations like the African Union, so that we can enhance their capacity to project stability in their own regions.

Finally, I firmly believe that NATO must remain bold in exploring contacts with any interested countries, wherever they may be located on the globe. Countries like Brazil, China and India are playing an increasingly important role – not only economically, but also as security actors. By intensifying our dialogue, we will better understand each other’s security concerns, and we can prepare the ground for possible concrete cooperation in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These past few months, much of NATO’s attention has been focused on the protection of our own territories and populations. But at a time of global risks and threats, it is clear that NATO cannot afford to become self-centred. Twenty-first-century security has to be cooperative security. Threats like terrorism, proliferation and cyber security require a new level of consultation and cooperation between nations and organizations.

Over the past two decades, NATO has become a major platform for that kind of consultation and cooperation: by engaging our partners in security dialogue; by sharing our unique expertise in a wide range of areas; by opening up our missions and operations to participation by partner nations; and by promoting interoperability between our forces. NATO’s partnership policy has been a real success story. It still holds considerable potential. And at our Wales Summit in September, we will want to take further steps to explore and realize more of that potential.

Some of the most pressing challenges of today are occurring in North Africa and the wider Middle East region. NATO has a lot to offer to meet these challenges, as part of the broader international effort. But these are your countries, and your regions. We also need your engagement, your advice, and your expertise to strengthen our cooperative security. Your conference this past week has been a big step in the right direction. With your continued support, we can make the partnership between NATO and your countries the busy two-way street that it can be, and should be.