Updated: 18-Jan-2001 NATO Articles

First published
in "El Pais
Yearbook 2000"

The Future of NATO

by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson

The start of the new century finds the Atlantic Alliance in good health. NATO has re-shaped both itself and European security after the end of Cold War. It has made partnership and cooperation the operating principles of security. And, by engaging itself in the Balkans, NATO not only reaffirmed its role as a unique community of common values and interests, but is also helping those parts of the continent that have failed as yet to make their full transition to democracy and ethnic tolerance. In short, NATO has become the catalyst of a broader cooperative security order.

But pride in our achievements must not give way to complacency. The project of managing security is far from over. Quite the contrary. The 21st century will confront us with an entirely new set of challenges. Globalisation, for example, will make our societies more creative and prosperous, but also more vulnerable. The rapid dissemination of technology and information offers entirely new ways of production, but it can also bring the spectre of more states developing weapons of mass destruction. And, perhaps most importantly, regional conflicts will again and again confront us with a cruel choice between costly engagement and costly indifference.

To face these challenges, NATO has evolved. With new members, new partners, new missions, and with a stronger European personality, the Alliance post-2000 is ready to play a major role in managing security in the 21st century:

This Alliance of the 21st century will be larger. Last year's admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland represented a fresh start for a new, re-shaped Europe. But the enlargement process will not end there. Other nations will continue to state their case for membership, pointing to their successful political and military reforms, their progress in establishing good relations with their neighbours, and their commitment to Atlantic values. That is why NATO will keep the door open for further accessions, and welcome the contribution to our common security that new members can provide.

The Alliance of the 21st century will be characterised even more strongly by partnership and cooperation. The Partnership for Peace programme, NATO's flagship of security cooperation, will broaden in scope to cover the full spectrum of peace support operations, building on the lessons of our operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which now brings together 45 nations from Ireland to Georgia, will further gain in importance as a consultative framework between Allies and Partners.
NATO after 2000 will have Russia and Ukraine more closely associated. NATO and Russia cannot afford to ignore each other. With common interests in crisis management, arms control, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, NATO and Russia are destined to cooperate, providing us with the opportunity to forge a genuine strategic partnership. NATO's cooperation with Ukraine will also deepen further, helping this pivotal nation to find its rightful place in European and Euro-Atlantic structures.

The transatlantic link remains the heart of NATO. But the Alliance of the 21st century will be based on a new, more mature transatlantic relationship. New arrangements to support European-led operations will create new political and military options for crisis management, allowing Europe to play a security role commensurate with its economic strength. Such a stronger Europe will contribute to a new transatlantic relationship in which roles and responsibilities are shared more equitably. Over time, this should also lead to more synergy in the policies of both NATO and the EU: on security and defence, Russia, enlargement, and the Mediterranean.

The Alliance of the 21st century will also cooperate even more closely with other institutions. The crises in Bosnia and Kosovo have taught us that if long-term peace is to be established throughout this continent, all major institutions must cooperate in order to ensure the most effective use of the full spectrum of political, economic and military instruments. That is why NATO will seek new patterns of cooperation not only with the EU and the WEU, but also with the United Nations or the OSCE - to help firmly entrench democratic values across the continent, and provide for a stable and peaceful Euro-Atlantic area.

Finally, the Alliance of the 21st century will be an Alliance of undiminished military competence. The Allies are committed to keeping their defence capabilities up-to-date and to improving interoperability. This will allow us to deploy forces effectively in peace support missions while continuing to meet our fundamental collective defence commitments.

This is how the Alliance is likely to evolve in the years ahead. It is a NATO geared to the shaping of Euro-Atlantic security in the broadest sense. It is an Alliance geared to change. None of these changes, however, would mean that we are abandoning those fundamental characteristics of the Alliance which give it its dynamism and strength, particularly its transatlantic dimension. North America and Europe represent the strongest combination of likeminded democracies, and the most successful example of a community of shared values, interests, and of pragmatic problem-solving. This unique community is our best asset to face the many challenges ahead of us and to ensure peace and stability across the Euro-Atlantic area for the next millennium.