Updated: 14-May-2002 NATO Review

No. 6 - Dec. 1991
Vol. 39 -

p. 3-8


Manfred Wörner,
NATO Secretary General and
Chairman of the North Atlantic Council

The meeting of Alliance Heads of State and Government in Rome on 7 and 8 November 1991 marks a watershed not only in the history of NATO but also of Europe. (1) The Rome Summit was the latest in a series of high level meetings that over the past two years have guided the Alliance's transformation and redefined its role and missions in the new Europe. What is significant about this process of transformation is not simply that it has been completed so quickly, but also that such a far-reaching exercise - involving all those political and military aspects of the Alliance built up over four decades - has been carried out in an exceptional atmosphere of consensus and common purpose among all the 16 Allies.

In Rome, Heads of State and Government were thus able to announce that commitments made 15 months before in the London Declaration (2) had been kept; and this not withstanding the diplomatic focus on the Gulf crisis in this period and the mounting political uncertainties in the Soviet Union both before and after the Moscow coup last August.

The action programme decided on by Heads of State and Government in London contained five key elements:

  • the establishment of a new relationship with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, once allied against NATO in the Warsaw Pact but now seeing in the Alliance a willing partner in their desire to draw closer to the West, and overcome a sense of isolation and insecurity;
  • the elaboration of a new military strategy that would not only reflect the fact that NATO no longer faces a single overwhelming threat but which would also allow the Alliance to manage the more probable security challenges and crises it will face in the future;(3)
  • the determination to strengthen the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and endow it with permanent institutions that would make CSCE more effective as a pan-European forum for cooperation and an instrument for managing crises and peacefully settling disputes;
  • a commitment to pursue the arms control process beyond the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with the aim of limiting the offensive potential of armed forces to the point at which surprise attack or major aggression would become impossible. A related aim would be to build trust and transparency with regard to the military activities of all CSCE states, and finally
  • the encouragement of a European security identity and defence role, reflected in the construction of a European pillar within the Alliance, as a means of creating a more balanced and mature transatlantic partnership of equals.
Over the past year and a half, the Alliance has made quite remarkable progress in all five areas. In the process, it has not only transformed itself but played an essential role in building a new European security architecture. The Alliance, however, has stated that this is not a goal that one institution acting alone can achieve, no matter how successful its record. Instead, security, stability and prosperity in the new Europe can come only from a framework of interlocking institutions in which NATO, a European Political Union and the institutionalized CSCE process will be the principal actors. Consequently, from the London Summit onwards, there have been two broad thrusts to Alliance activities during its phase of transformation: to establish closer ties among these three institutions and induce them to interact more creatively; and to optimize NATO's political role in those areas where it has a unique contribution to make to a future European security architecture.

New relationship with Central and Eastern Europe

The diplomatic liaison relationship that we established after London with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has proved a success. It has led to a number of visits to NATO Headquarters by both the political and military leaders of these countries, most notably President Havel of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, President Walesa of Poland, Prime Minister Antall of Hungary and, just after the Rome Summit, President Zhelev of Bulgaria. I hope that in the near future we will receive the President of Romania as well as President Gorbachev and the other political leaders of the new Soviet Union.

President Havel, in particular, gave a moving tribute to the Alliance's role during the Cold War years by saying that, 'If Western Europe can now enjoy such a measure of democracy and economic prosperity that it actually enjoys, it is undoubtedly due, among other things, to its having established together with the United States of America and Canada this security alliance as a tool of protection of its freedom and of the values of Western civilization'.

As Secretary General, I have travelled to all the capitals of our liaison partners carrying the message of NATO's desire to cooperate to the leaders, parliaments and peoples of these countries. SACEUR, the Chairman of the Military Committee and senior Alliance officials have made similar visits. Hardly a week now goes by without either myself or my senior staff receiving one or more delegations of officials, parliamentarians, academics or journalists from Central and Eastern Europe. NATO's Political Committee has visited Prague and Moscow and we have held several important seminars with high-level participation from these countries, including one last spring in Prague on the future of European security, and a number at NATO dealing with such matters as defence economics, civil emergency planning and air traffic management. Shortly before the Rome Summit, another first was achieved when special courses at the NATO Defense College in Rome and the SHAPE School in Oberammergau were opened to military personnel of the Soviet Union and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

As these relationships have developed, the Alliance has made it clear that it cannot for the foreseeable future invite these countries to become members nor offer them security guarantees. Yet NATO serves as a security anchor in Western Europe that helps the new democracies to develop their potential with the least instability and disorder and free from threat and intimidation. This protective function of NATO was especially important to these Central and Eastern European countries in the hours following the coup in Moscowlast August. In a special Ministerial Declaration, we reiterated that their security is 'of direct and material concern to us' and that we consider our security to be 'inseparably linked' to theirs.(4) The consequences of any attempt to reverse the positive gains for democracy and freedom in Europe these past three years are thus plain to see.

One of the principal achievements of the Rome Summit was to raise the liaison relationship to a new qualitative level in recognition of the democratic progress made by the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. Thus our Rome Summit invited these nations, and including the three newly independent Baltic states, to join the Allies in an institutionalized framework of consultations. This will take the form of regular meetings at NATO Headquarters, involving the NATO Council in permanent session and the senior NATO committees. These nations are also invited to attend certain portions of Alliance Ministerial meetings. We will shortly initiate this new phaseof our relationship when the Foreign Ministers of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe meet with Alliance Foreign Ministers at the end of December in Brussels in what will be the inaugural session of a North Atlantic Cooperation Council. In taking this new initiative, the Alliance has shown that it can meet the expectations of the leaders of these countries who called for exactly such a qualitative upgrading of our diplomatic liaison.

At the same time, the Atlantic Alliance, along with the other major institutions of the free world, will play its role in helping with these countries' specific needs. We are organizing visits and exchanges, providing fellowships for the study of democratic institutions, opening up our science programmes to their participation and, above all, conducting multiple military contacts. Our aim is to help the new governments to remodel their armed forces, however they choose to do this, but strictly towards defence, open, transparent and fully subject to democratic control. We are also discussing a whole new generation of confidence and security building measures, covering all kinds of military activities, budgets, military doctrines, training and the like. Equally, we are helping to exchange information and experience on verification and the conversion of defence industries to civilian use.

NATO's relationship with the Soviet Union and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe is a dynamic process. It has evolved over time and will continue to do so. Yet the Alliance will request of its new partners that they abide by all their commitments under the CSCE Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Charter of Paris of November 1990. In particular, we expect them to pursue political and economic reform, refrain from the use of force in attempting to solve problems and respect all arms control agreements. The Alliance has been concerned recently at the prospect of nuclear proliferation in the Soviet Union. A separate statement in Rome called on the authorities at both central and republican level not to use nuclear weapons as political bargaining tools and to keep them under reliable central authority.(5)

Revision of NATO strategy

The second key area of change - the revision of NATO strategy - is discussed in succeeding articles by Michael Legge and General Galvin. I will merely add that the past 15 months witnessed much intensive work within the Alliance to rethink not only its risk assessment but also its entire force posture and command structure. This work culminated in a new Alliance Strategic Concept endorsed by Heads of State and Government in Rome thus reflecting the participation of France in the Strategy Review Group. As a result, the Alliance's new strategic concept will facilitate the creation of a European pillar within NATO by encouraging integration and planning among the European Allies.

Strengthening CSCE

In enhancing its relationship with Central and Eastern Europe, the Alliance made clear that it was not seeking to duplicate or undermine the role of the CSCE. Instead, it sees this relationship as complementary to the further strengthening of the CSCE whose new institutions must become more permanent and authoritative in ensuring compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and Charter of Paris. The Alliance's commitment to strengthen the CSCE was already manifest in the London Declaration of July 1990. The new CSCE institutionsestablished the following November at the Paris Summit, such as a Conflict Prevention Centre, a secretariat, an Office of Free Elec tions and an enhanced mechanism for political consultations, were precisely those which had been proposed by the Allies in London.

The CSCE Paris Summit can be viewed to some extent as the event which gave birth to the new undivided Europe. The Charter of Paris .(6) has the value of a new constitution to regulate relations both between and within states. We also agreed a Joint Declaration of 22 States pledging former adversaries to retain only those armed forces required to prevent war and maintain an effective defence, as well as to work for further arms control limits and confidence and security building measures in Europe..(7)

As a further sign of the Alliance's commitment to CSCE, the Rome Summit produced a very substantive and forward-looking set of proposals in preparation for the CSCE follow-up meeting in Helsinki next March. In particular, it adopted specific initiatives to reinforce the CSCE emergency mechanism by giving a more permanent role to both the Committee of Senior Officials and the Conflict Prevention Centre, and by suggesting that more means be given to implement CSCE decisions. The Allied proposal to suspend the rule of unanimity in the CSCE to allow measures to be taken against states violating the Helsinki Final Act or Charter of Paris is especially significant. In my view, if adopted, this proposal could mark a turning point in CSCE's evolution into an effective security forum with the instruments to implement its principles and decisions.

New impetus to arms control

Rome also gave a new impetus to arms control. It was decided that Allies involved in nuclear planning would continue close consultation on the process of eliminating ground-based short-range nuclear warheads until its completion. On the conventional side, the leaders welcomed recent achievements and reiterated the vital importance of early ratification and implementation of the CFE Treaty. All participants were urged to contribute to a successful and substantial outcome of the ongoing CFE-1A and Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBM) negotiations prior to the CSCE follow-up meeting in Helsinki. The Alliance's aim in the post-Helsinki security process is to shape a new cooperative order in which no country needs to harbour fears for its security. In this regard, our efforts will be directed towards three main areas: strengthening security and stability through the disarmament and arms control process, an intensified security dialogue, and enhanced mechanisms for conflict prevention.

European security identity

The final main area of NATO's transformation is in our active support and encouragement for a specifically European role in the field of foreign policy and defence. We must recognize that the United States - even if it remains the only superpower - cannot lead alone, or shoulder the material burdens alone. The Gulf crisis, in which European and Japanese economic interests were even more engaged than American ones, underscored how much we have all come to need each other. NATO fully recognizes that Europe cannot shoulder its fair share of global responsibilities on the basis of the disparate, even divergent efforts of individual European nations. And a combined European effort needs binding treaty commitments among Europeans themselves if it is to materialize.

We are confronted by two very important, even decisive, historical processes. One is the movement towards the unification of Europe and a European Union with a common foreign, security and, long-term, even defence policy. The other process is the transformation of the Atlantic Alliance. Our task is to link these two processes in such a way that they reinforce each other. It is possible to reach the Union of Europe not only by maintaining but also strengthening the transatlantic link. In this respect, the Communiqu' issued by the Foreign Ministers in Copenhagen last June - agreed by all 16 - already defined principles to guide the practical decisions that will be needed to ensure the necessary transparency and complementarity between the European security and defence identity as it develops in the Community and the WEU, and the Alliance, a process that will require close organizational relationships. .(8)

In Rome, Heads of State and Government strongly endorsed the continuing validity of the Copenhagen principles but they went a step further in agreeing to preserve the operational coherence on which NATO depends and in welcoming the perspective of a reinforced role for the WEU, both as the defence component of the process of European unification and as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the Alliance. They emphasized the different nature of WEU's relations with the Alliance and with the European Political Union. The Copenhagen principles, as built upon by the Rome Summit, are the acknowledged yardstick by which we must assess both the recent Anglo-Italian and the German-French proposals, as well as others that may be formulated in the future. Certainly, as the Summit recognized, the consultations within the North Atlantic Council on the progress of the European Community's Inter-Governmental Conference on Political Union have proved very valuable in implementing the pledge of transparency. It is now up to the EC member states to decide on the arrangements which will give best expression to their goal of a European security identity and defence role which will be reflected in the strengthening of the European pillar within the Alliance.

The Alliance of the future

The Rome Summit naturally could not answer all the questions about NATO's future role and tasks. It focussed on the current phase of the Alliance's transformation and no doubt other summits will be needed in the future to carry this process forward, making furtheradaptations as developments require. Nevertheless, Rome did demonstrate that in turbulent times, NATO has kept to the clear and steady course mapped out in London and has been capable of radical change.

The new NATO will remain first and foremost a means of common defence through collective arrangements. Of all the world's security organizations, only NATO has the binding treaty commitments among its members and common military assets to act as well as consult. It is thus unique in its ability to guarantee its members security. This is something that all Allies are naturally determined to preserve. In particular, the integrated military structure will become more important as a way of enabling Allies to share roles and responsibilities and thus minimize the security risks that could otherwise arise from the current major cuts in national defence budgets. Increasingly, and in a more complex and multi-directional security environment, the Alliance will be needed by the larger Allies as much as by the smaller to achieve a level of security that none could achieve alone.

The speeches of all participants at the Rome Summit stressed that if NATO is needed less today for short-term protection, it is needed more for long-term stability. In particular, as Western Europe strives to build its own security and defence identity, all agreed that this would be meaningless and even weaken European security if not linked to the United States and Canada. Of course, the North American military commitment can and is being reduced - indeed by as much as 50 per cent for the United States - but it should still be militarily meaningful. Without a North American commitment, European nations would lack the element of reassurance that has allowed them to integrate and overcome historical animosities. In the words of one commentator, the United States remains Europe's 'pacifier' . Europeans would be tempted to renationalize their defence policies and return to the fragile military pacts of the past.

Naturally, we hope for a new Soviet Union in which Russia and the other Soviet republics will evolve into stable democracies, with market economies and firm ties to the world community. But this is not going to happen overnight. We do not yet know if we will see a Soviet version of the European Community or a Russia as heir to the old USSR with similar levels of nuclear and conventional power.The collapse of communism does not mean the complete or definitive elimination of those conservative forces which, at regional and local level, can still frustrate the political and, above all, economic reforms on which the future of the Soviet republics depends. We should not forget that Russia alone is bigger than the United States and Canada combined. The Alliance, of course, does not haveto balance Soviet military power in quite the same way as before. Indeed it can and does use its opportunities to cooperate with th e new Soviet Union and with the central and republican authorities that are emerging. Yet the Alliance will still be needed as a strategic counterweight to that formidable geopolitical mass with its still considerable military power.

Then, of course, there remain other risks for the security of our member nations, resulting from instability and uncertainty in the Soviet Union, in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and in the crisis belt from Maghreb, North Africa to the Middle and Near East. NATO is the only functioning collective security organization. Effective pan-european security structures that guarantee peace and stability have yet to be put in place.

Nonetheless, the Alliance of the future, while drawing its strength and vitality from the transatlantic link, its integrated military structure and its permanent forum of consultations, will broaden its political role to be a force for dialogue and cooperation. Over time, its relevance and direct benefit to non-members will steadily increase. Yet it is not my view that NATO should strive to develop into a pan-European security organization or, as some have argued, seek ultimately to become the security arm of the CSCE. This would dilute the binding commitments among Allies, and constrain its ability to translate a common purpose into action. The CSCE is clearly the appropriate forum for handling the political, economic and legal dimensions of tension and crisis situations in Europe. Yet, at the same time, if the Alliance s stabilizing presence already helps the CSCE process to operate effectively and thus contain potential conflicts, the relationship between the two institutions must become closer and more operational.

Apart from contributing its experience and expertise to the management of a post-Helsinki CSCE arms control regime, there may well be scope for the Alliance to contribute its logistics, intelligence resources and even rapid reaction forces to CSCE or United Nations-mandated peace-keeping operations or observer missions. Notions like in- or out-of-area will more and more lose their relevance. NATO will have to further improve its political and military instruments to deal with the new types of crisis and conflict, and support, where possible, peace-keeping and humanitarian missions. I must emphasize that this is my personal view, and very much looking to the longer term. It is also a view that is admittedly far ahead of any consensus among our member nations today. But I am convinced that this is the direction in which we must go. We have to think ahead if we want to stay ahead.

Our Alliance has come far on its way to transformation. Its relevance derives not only from its original purpose but from what it has become over time. It has evolved into a community of values and destiny, and a forum of political consultation on vital issues of foreign policy and security. It has evolved into an agent of change. The Rome Summit in this respect has taken the necessary decisions to set the Alliance firmly on its new course. It will become the core security organization of a future Euro-Atlantic architecture in which all states, irrespective of their size or geographical location, must enjoy the same freedom, cooperation and security.


(1) See Documentation section for text of Rome Declaration.

(2) For text of London Declaration, see NATO Review, No.4, August 1990, p.32.

(3) The Alliance's New Strategic Concept is published in the Documentation section.

(4) Statement on The Situation in the Soviet Union issued by the North Atlantic Council in Ministerial session on 21 August 1991. Text in NATO Review, No.4, August 1991, p.8.

(5) See Documentation section.

(6) Text in NATO Review, No.6, December 1990, p.27.

(7) Ibid. p.26.

(8) See text of communique in NATO Review, No.3, june 1991, pp.31-33.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1991.