THE ROLE OF NATO
Dr. Paul C. Rambaut,
NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General
for Scientific and Environmental Affairs
Recently, the environmental situation in a European
country was described in the following terms:
"A great part of our forests is dying; you would be disgusted if
you dipped your finger into some of our rivers: there are places where
it is almost impossible to breathe. In these areas people die earlier
and children are born ill. From time to time they are even prohibited
from leaving the house or opening a window. I have seen a television commercial
for gas masks for children to wear to school. Large areas of our country
have been transformed into lifeless moon landscapes. Our food products
have been contaminated for years now..."
These were the words of President Vaclav Havel
of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, as he addressed Ministers of
the Environment and others at the opening session of the conference Environment
for Europe held at Dobris Castle near Prague last June. While Mr.
Havel was speaking of his own country, he was certainly characterizing
the en-vironmental legacy of Communism. Unfortunately, his words apply
in an apocalyptic sense to the rest of the world as well.
Today, we are concerned with the quality of the
air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we liveand work.
We are worried about the damage being wrought to our natural resources
and to our historical treasures. Our concern encompasses the survival
of endangered plants and animals and the health of human beings. It embraces
all forms of matter and energy deposited haphazardly by man throughout
the land, sea and air. It even extends to accumulating debris in orbit
around the Earth and to the cluttered wavelengths of the electromagnetic
For several decades now, the environmental movement
has gathered momentum. It has aroused citizens, spawned organizations
and nurtured political parties. It may be surprising to learn that NATO
has always stood in the forefront of this movement and continues to be
active in it today. The roots of its involvement go back many years to
the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. Implementation of Article
2 of this treaty eventually took the form of both scientific and environmental
cooperation, first with the establishment of a Science Committee in 1957
and then of a Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society in 1969. In
1979, a Science for Stability Programme was added to the Science Committee's
work to assist NATO members Greece, Portugual and Turkey in their own
The programmes of the Committee on the Challenges
of Modern Society (CCMS) and the projects of the Science Committee include
many environmentally related activities. Together with some of the activities
of the NATO-affiliated Von Karman Institute, (1)
these constitute NATO's environmental portfolio.
That our global environment is presently undergoing
change at a rate not previously experienced has riveted the attention
of the scientific community, policy makers and the public in general.
Controversy, however, abounds. Some stress the need for immediate action
while others first demand clearer evidence of the menace. All, however,
agree on the need to understand the underlying processes.
Over the years, NATO has contributed to this understanding
by supporting studies in such areas as Oceanographic Research, Air-Sea
Interaction, Marine Sciences and in Global Transport Mechanisms. These
various programmes have helped, in many ways, to develop and consolidate
knowledge in the field.
NATO's newest programme in this global environmental
area attempts especially to advance man's capability to predict changes
that result from human activities including those that increase greenhouse
gases in the troposphere and decrease ozone in the stratosphere.
A unique contribution
It might be asked why NATO should continue working
in this field now that a complex network of international organizations
has begun to operate with seemingly similar mandates. This question was
thoroughly discussed by the NATO Science Committee two years ago before
embarking on its latest programme. The Committee concluded that the specialized
workshops and summer schools sponsored by NATO were not undertaken by other
international organizations and were truly a unique contribution.
In addition to the science of global environmental
changes, NATO studies have focussed on many regional issues. They have
brought together experts from government, industry and academia to work
on the development of less polluting engines and to recommend priorities
to be pursued in national research and development programmes. A NATO
study suggested by Norway recognized that the emission of air pollutants
from large marine diesel engines is a major problem when ships are used
in rivers and canals and other land-locked water courses. Ways might be
sought to reduce these pollutants through changes in engine design and
through the use of new fuels. Projects in Turkey are seeking cleaner ways
to exploit that country's huge reserve of lignite for commercial use and
to improve the design of the household stoves that now pollute the air
in Ankara and other Turkish cities.
Various NATO studies have been directed at pollution
of the oceans, rivers and ground waters. Rapid and unplanned urbanization
of the coastal regions of the Marmara Sea, for instance, has led to drastic
environmental deterioration. A NATO project was concerned with processes
that could be used to treat the phosphates, borates and fluorides released
from mines, fertilizer plants and other chemical factories around Izmit
Bay in Turkey.
NATO studies led by France have focussed on the
effects of shipping accidents and on the use of anti-fouling coatings.
A study led by Italy has just been started to better understand the interaction
of various elements of the sea-lagoon environment. This is stimulated
not only by particular concern for the effects of land subsidence and
of rising sea levels on low-lying cities but also for the effects of industrial,
agricultural and urban pollutants.
NATO has assessed the economic, financial and environmental
impacts of various inland water resource policies. A NATO project on a
heavily contaminated river basin, that of the Ave in northern Portugal,
gave rise to the first Integrated Water Resources Management Commission
in Portugal and is likely to lead to the development of a water resources
management framework for the entire country.
Man-made treasures are also an integral part of
the environment which NATO seeks to preserve. A German led study of historic
stained glass was prompted by the realization that damage tomedieval glass
by acid rain has been so grave that, unless successful action is taken
rapidly, very little of this unique part of our heritage will survive
into the 21st century. A new protective coating has been developed that
seems to offer for the first time good prospects of adequate protection.
Damage caused to historic buildings by atmospheric pollution has also
accelerated greatly. In a study led by Greece, the effectiveness of various
stone protecting agents was evaluated and a data base on the state of
historic monuments developed. Another study led by Germany is presently
under way to evaluate the extent and causes of damage to historic brick
structures and to identify methods for their preservation.
Impact of military activities
Military activities can also, whether in peace or war,
damage the environment. The man-made conflagration in the oil fields of
Kuwait, evoking an image of the nuclear winter that was the nightmare of
an earlier age, the sight of tanks ravaging the national parks and historic
cities of Yugoslavia, the sound of low-flying jet aircraft renting the tranquil
air above Europe's fields and villages are dramatic examples. NATO has long
acknowledged its unique capacity and responsibility concerning military-related
A series of international conferences and seminars
carried out by NATO since 1980 have dealt with the environmental implications
of military activities. Especially important has been NATO's recent development
of a statement of principles for Environmental Awareness and Protection
in the Armed Forces. These recognize that protection of the environment
must be of critical concern to all armed forces.
NATO-sponsored surveys led by Germany and the United
States have shown that the armed forces have already taken many actions
to minimize water, ground and air pollution. The need to alleviate the
nuisance caused by aircraft on low-flying exercises, to reduce the damage
to training grounds from manoeuvres and to minimize the use of shooting
ranges is well recognized. A current study led by the Netherlands is surveying
opportunities within NATO for the wider use of simulators and a recently
completed study led by Germany and the United States examined ways of
reducing noise from aircraft engines, propellers and rotors both through
engineering modifications and by operational changes.
Whether emerging environmental problems are global
or regional, an effective response to them entails international cooperation.
NATO could well have developed a unique capability in the international
field not only for exchanging, but also for making practical use of, technological
and scientific information. It is natural for it to draw on this experience
to formulate recommendations which can stimulate national authorities
to take action.
When CCMS was created in 1969, it was envisaged
that the Alliance's environmental efforts would be outward oriented and
that they might in due course involve cooperation between member as well
as non-member states. This dimension was reaffirmed by Foreign Ministers
at the meeting in Turnberry, Scotland, in June 1990 and a year later in
Copenhagen. In particular, Ministers foresaw the participation of Central
and East European experts in certain Alliance activities including those
related to the environment.
The NATO Council has now endorsed a series of practical
measures that will ensure much broader participation of scientists from
Central and Eastern Europe in NATO's scientific and environmental programmes.
Such experts have already been invited, for example, to participate in
a new US led study of pollution control technologies. Participants in
this study, managed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency,
considered it particularly important to involve representatives of the
pre-market economies of Eastern Europe who might incorporate
from the outset appropriate incentives against pollution.
In conclusion, it might be well to recall that
on the 20th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1969, the then
President of the United States, Mr. Nixon, declared that:
"We are all advanced societies, sharing the benefits and the gathering
torments of a rapidly advancing industrial technology. The industrial
nations share no challenge more urgent than that of bringing 20th century
man and his environment to terms with one another - of making the world
fit for man, and helping man learn how to remain in harmony with his rapidly
At NATO's 40th anniversary summit meeting in 1989,
a continuing and expanding involvement of the Alliance in meeting these
challenges was underscored when allied Heads of State and Government expressed
their wish for NATO to embark on new initiatives that would give even
greater impact to its scientific and environmental pursuits. (2)
As we face the dawn of a new millennium, it is this mandate that underlies
the cooperative efforts between NATO's 16 member nations and, to an increasing
extent, between NATO and its new-found partners in Central and Eastern
(1) The Von Karman Institute for
Fluid Dynamics, located in Brussels, is an international non profit-making
scientific organization dedicated to post-graduate training and research
in fundamental and applied fluid dynamics.
(2) For text of the Summit Declaration,
See NATO Review, No.3, June 1989, p.28
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