Updated: 16-Apr-2002 NATO Review

No. 6 - Dec 1992
Vol. 40 - pp. 9-14


Sir John Weston ,
Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom
on the North Atlantic Council

There has been no shortage of political and intellectual challenges to the North Atlantic Alliance during the late-1980s and the early years of the new decade. Individually and collectively, our 16 governments have had to address the most radical transformation in Europe's strategic geography since the birth of NATO. The Alliance has adapted with speed and vision. When I took up my post as the United Kingdomis Permanent Representative at the beginning of this year, one could already point to a number of important milestones in the Alliance's development: in particular, fundamental changes to our strategy and our force and command structures; and the establishment of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, putting our relationship with our former adversaries on an entirely new footing.

But our agenda remains a challenging one. In September, the French Defence Minister, Pierre Joxe, described change in the Alliance as "both indispensable and incomplete". The United Kingdom shares that view. We will continue to play a leading role in reshaping the Alliance. The work of defining NATO's future contribution to international peace and stability is unfinished. The terrible bloodshed in former Yugoslavia is a forceful reminder of the urgency of the task.T he British government is first duty is to defend the British people. The collective security provided by NATO, rooted in the shared values and close partnership between Europe and North America, remains essential if we are to fulfil that duty.

NATO's new Strategic Concept gave the United Kingdom a firm framework in which to reassess its security and defence policy. We began by identifying the risks to international stability:

  • ethnic and territorial disputes in Central and Eastern Europe, compounded by economic and political instability;
  • the proliferation of ballistic missiles, weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing conventional systems beyond Europe;
  • large conventional, chemical and nuclear forces left behind by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, sometimes under uncertain control.
Together with our Allies, we have looked in detail at what we need to meet this range of more diverse, less predictable risks, which may arise outside the traditional NATO area as well as in Europe. To respond to this shifting mosaic of risks, we must have various tools: political and economic cooperation; arms control and confidence building measures; crisis management and conflict resolution mechanisms; and, where necessary, peacekeeping operations.

We must also have a strong, effective defence, because armed forces are still essential as an insurance against the risks we face. We no longer need such large forces as in the past but those that remain must be trained and equipped to the highest possible standards, capable of rapid deployment and able to take on a variety of roles in Europe and beyond.

This year is Defence White Paper defined British defence policy in terms of three broad, overlapping roles:

  • to ensure the protection and security of the Uni ted Kingdom and our dependent territories, even when there is no major external threat;
  • to insure against any major external t hreat to the United Kingdom and our Allies;
  • to contribute to promoting the United Kingdo m is wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability.
We see all these roles as integral to our position in NATO. The defence of the United Kingdom's territory, airspace and territorial waters cannot be separated from the security of the wider Alliance area. Defence against major external threat will continue to rest on the collective security provided by the Alliance. In future, we also expect NATO to play an increasing part in nurturing peace and stability beyond its traditional borders. The White Paper concluded that "our security remains inextricably bound up with that of our partners in Europe and the Alliance".

The UK is contribution to NATO

We have reappraised the U K's strategy in the framework of NATO's Strategic Concept; and we have restructured our forces in parallel with the revision of the Alliance's military dispositions. We plan to cut our armed forces by around 20 per cent overall. But our all-volunteer force will still be versatile and capable enough to make a vital contribution in all areas of NATO's new force structures, from Immediate and Rapid Reaction Forces to main defence and augmentation forces.

NATO will place greater emphasis in future on multinational forces as an expression of the commitment to collective defence; the United Kingdom welcomes that. The Royal Marines (with whom I was privileged to serve during my own military service in the late fifties) have for many years enjoyed close and successful cooperation with their Dutch counterparts in the United Kingdom/Netherlands Amphibious Force. Through participation in the Standing Naval Forces for the Atlantic, the Channel and the Mediterranean, the Royal Navy will play a prominent part in NATO's Immediate Reaction Forces. We will be contributing Royal Air Force Harrier, Tornado and Jaguar aircraft to the new Reaction Force (Air) being established under German leadership.

Above all, the UK will lead the ACE (Allied Command Europe) Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). A very significant proportion of the British Army will be assigned to it, together with forces from 11 other nations. This is a vital part of our future contribution to the defence of Europe. The ARRC, whose headquarters was activated in Bielefeld in Germany on 2 October, will be fully operational early in 1995, with a range of deployment options throughout the ACE region. It is an excellent example of how NATOis military structures are being adapted to meet our need for smaller but more flexible forces, which can be augmented if necessary. The Corps exemplifies the increasing prominence of highly mobile, multinational forces. They will be central to the future integrated military structure, which remains essential to effective operational planning and the optimum use of resources for the common defence.

The high levels of readiness and combat effectiveness of our full-time professional soldiers make them particularly well-suited to their role in the Corps. As well as providing the commander, a significant proportion of the Corps' headquarters infrastructure and some combat support, the United Kingdom will assign to the Corps one armoured division based in peacetime in Germany and a more lightly-equipped division based in the UK. In addition, we shall contribute an air mobile brigade to the new Multinational Division (Central), one of two such multinational divisions in the Corps. In all, some 55,000 British Regular soldiers will be assigned to the ARRC; and that would be increased on mobilization by members of the Territorial Army.

Our restructuring is designed to ensur e that in all three Services units are fully-manned and have a high proportion of modern equipment. Many older systems are being phased out altogether. The new Anglo-Italian EH 101 Merlin helicopter, in combination with the Type 23 Frigate, will significantly increase the Royal Navy's anti-submarine warfare capability. We estimate that re- equipping the 1st Armoured Division with new tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery will increase its combat capability by 25 per cent by the middle of the 1990s, and by more than one third by the year 2000. The Royal Air Force will benefit from increasing concentration on more modern and capable aircraft such as the Harrier and Tornado, which will undergo further improvements and upgrades to incorporate sophisticated technologies. From the end of this decade, we shall need an aircraft with the capabilities of the multi-role, all- weather European Fighter Aircraft. By maintaining well- equipped and capable forces, the United Kingdom will be able to continue to contribute very effectively to NATO's military structures.

The Strategic Concept reaffirms the need for a mix of nuclear and conventional forces to protect peace and to prevent war or any kind of coercion; nuclear forces will therefore remain essential to underpin security. The first of four Trident submarines, which will replace the Royal Navy's Polaris strategic force from the mid-1990s, started sea trials in October. Dual-capable RAF Tornado aircraft will ensure that we retain a sub-strategic nuclear capability for national and NATO roles.

We remain committed to nuclear deterrence; but in the changed security conditions in Europe, a credible deterrent posture can be sustained with fewer weapons. While the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) process is leading to massive cuts in American and Russian arsenals, we are playing our part. The UK is cutting its sub-strategic free-fall nuclear bombs by over half; reducing its nuclear-roled Tornado strike squadrons from eleven to eight; no longer deploying nuclear artillery and ground-based missiles; and eliminating its maritime sub-strategic capability. We can do all this, and build greater confidence, without prejudice to the essential framework of deterrence.

A changing security agenda

At the heart of t he United Kingdom's security policy stands our commitment to the North Atlantic Alliance, which protects the freedom and security of its members, and is a force for peace throughout Europe. Its effectiveness will continue to depend on the determination of all its members to respond to new security challenges. We have the ability and the political will to ensure the organizationis future vitality and relevance. We must pursue change as actively as we advocate it.

The outreach programme

When the Allianc e's Heads of State and Government decided in 1991 to create the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), they were showing their determination to respond to the challenges before us. NACC is one of the success stories of European security over the last 12 months. It has become a well-established and increasingly active forum for dialogue and cooperation, taking the message of NATO right across the Eurasian landmass. Foreign Ministers of the NACC countries have met twice this year, and Defence Ministers and Chiefs of Defence Staff once each. Visits to NATO headquarters by senior political and military leaders from our Central and Eastern European partners have become regular events; perhaps more important, because the effects may be more widely spread at the working level, are the detailed consultations in which I and my colleagues at all levels engage with our partners on the full range of security- related issues.

To get the full benefits of NACC, we must now move on from talk to action in specific areas of cooperation. There is a problem of overlap between NACC and other bodies such as CSCE; but there is no need for overlap to become competition: there is plenty for both organizations to do in the areas where they have most to offer. The United Kingdom is keen to take forward work in all the fields identified by Foreign and Defence Ministers, and to move from the necessary preliminary stage of seminars to more action-oriented contacts between experts. Practical cooperation, involving both NATO and national staffs, is already taking place in a host of areas, from air traffic management to the budgeting and management of defence. Among further subjects for closer cooperation, we believe that exchanges of expertise on peacekeeping should be of particular interest to many NACC members, as well as the wider membership of the CSCE. This is an area where the dialogue need not be limited to the purely theoretical, but could also cover aspects such as joint training.

Alliance contribution to peacekeeping

The United Kingdom sees peacekeeping as currently the most important single issue on the Allianceis agenda. This is a challenge which NATO and individual Allies will have to face. The United Kingdom pressed hard for the decision which Foreign Ministers took in Oslo in June 1992, that Alliance resources could be made available in support of peacekeeping operations under CSCE auspices. Here at NATO headquarters, in many committees, my colleagues and I are now working to give substance to the Oslo decision. This is a new area for the Alliance, and we have much to do to move from the fine words of the Oslo communiqué to active involvement in peacekeeping on behalf of the CSCE. The United Kingdom considers it particularly vital that other CSCE states should be able to take part in peacekeeping operations alongside NATO forces; we have to find ways for other European countries to cooperate with NATO deployments, to make our contribution to peacekeeping as effective as possible.

The terrible crisis in the former Yug oslavia has at times meant that events on the ground have overtaken debates in Brussels. The United Kingdom is one of several Allies contributing troops to the expanded UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The Alliance has supported the UN operation directly by providing personnel from NATOis Northern Army Group headquarters to the UNPROFOR command. In the Adriatic, NATO's Standing Naval Forces for the Mediterranean and Atlantic, both of which include British ships, have been involved, together with a force of WEU (Western European Union) ships, in implementing the UN sanctions and embargo. Aircraft from the NATO Airborne Early Warning force, which includes British aircraft, are monitoring the UN "no-fly" zone over Bosnia. NATO contingency planning on a range of military options has been passed to the UN. The Alliance has continued its regular political consultations and has issued many public statements on the crisis in the former Yugoslavia.

Much of this takes us into unfamiliar waters, in circumstances particularly fraught with military risk and political uncertainty. We must be wary of proceeding too fast, but we cannot appear oblivious to this substantial threat to stability in Europe. We cannot yet say in detail what the Alliance's role in crises like that in the former Yugoslavia should be, but we would be foolish indeed to think that they do not have a bearing on our security.

Developments in the former Yugoslavia have shown that NATO can make a contribution to peacekeeping, whether under UN or CSCE auspices, which no other regional organization can make. The contribution which the Alliance and individual Allies are making to the UN's efforts in the Balkans should give us a good base from which to build a close working relationship. We all know now, if we did not before, that maintaining security in present-day Europe is too complex an undertaking to be managed by any single organization. We must rely on a network of mutually reinforcing institutions, through which we can fashion a collective response to security challenges by whatever means is most appropriate. The need to use flexibly the institutions which we have created, sometimes for purposes other than those which we had in mind when we set them up, will be an increasingly common feature of international affairs.

NATO and European defence

The United Kingdom has been closely engaged in efforts to develop the Western European Union as the forum for closer European defence cooperation within the framework of the Alliance. WEU Ministers marked the way forward at their meetings at Maastricht, in the Netherlands, in December 1991, and Petersberg, in Germany, in June 1992, and in Rome last November, identifying the WEU as the defence component of the European Union and a means of strengthening the European pillar of the Alliance. All WEU members have agreed that WEU policies must be compatible with the collective defence provided in NATO: an important demonstration of this principle of compatibility is the invitation to European Alliance members not in the European Community to take up WEU associate membership, with the right to full participation in its activities.

The United Kingdom is playing an active part in the work to enhance the WEU's operational role, covering such critical aspects as command and control and selection of headquarters. An embryonic WEU Planning Cell is now in place in Brussels and will be developing close links with the Alliance. The Planning Cell will shortly be joined in Brussels by the WEU Secretariat, which is moving from London (a move long advocated by the United Kingdom), to facilitate the closer relations necessary in future between the WEU and both NATO and the future European Union.

I take a particular interest in all this, since after WEU's relocation I shall take on the additional role of the United Kingdom's Permanent Representative to the WEU. The UK believes that this step, together with the double- hatting of our NATO Military Representative to take on WEU duties, will be invaluable in ensuring the transparency between NATO and the WEU which all Allies want, and which I believe will be crucial if we are to have a sensible division of labour between the WEU and NATO, and to maintain effective security arrangements in Europe.

Internal reform

One other, perhaps less exciting, topic in which the UK takes a particular interest is the efficient and cost- effective running of NATO itself. The British Civil Service has undergone a management revolution in the last dozen years, our goal being to match up to the best standards of private industry and commerce. Our approach, based on setting objectives and shifting resources to meet them, has given us great flexibility to respond to crises and changing demands without having to call on vast extra resources. We want no less for NATO. When the international landscape has changed so much, it would be pointless for NATO to carry on with many of its old activities as though nothing had happened. If we cannot organize our own affairs efficiently, then we