Updated: 17-Jan-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 4
Winter 1999
p. 3-7

NATO in the new millennium

Lord Robertson
NATO Secretary General and
Chairman of the North Atlantic Council

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson speaks to multinational SFOR troops in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 21 October, during a two-day visit to the region.
(NATO photo - 62Kb)

In his first article in NATO Review, the new Secretary General sets out his vision of the Alliance and his main priorities at the start of his tenure, building on the achievements of his predecessor. As its essential foundation, the Alliance must maintain a healthy transatlantic relationship, based on shared values and a common commitment to uphold them. To achieve this goal, the new NATO must be better balanced, with a stronger European contribution within a more militarily capable Alliance. And the new NATO must remain open - open to new members, open to deepening cooperation with its Partners, and open to creative ways to bring peace and security to the Euro-Atlantic region.

Let me begin by stating how honoured and pleased I am to have been selected for this position. NATO has been and remains today the most effective Alliance on earth. No other organisation has done more over the past half-century to preserve the peace, freedom and democracy of its members. And in recent months, the Alliance has proved it is fully up to the most demanding security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Much of the credit for this success in recent years is due to my predecessor as Secretary General, Dr Javier Solana. During his four-year tenure, the Alliance faced enormous challenges:

  • the first NATO peacekeeping mission beyond its territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  • the first enlargement of the Alliance since the end of the Cold War;
  • historic agreements with Russia and Ukraine;
  • deepening Partnership with 25 Central European and Central Asian countries;
  • internal reform, including the new command structure; and, of course,
  • the massive challenge of the 78-day air campaign to stop the human suffering in Kosovo.

All these challenges were met successfully, thanks to the leadership of Javier Solana and to the remarkable cohesion of the Alliance, as well as its ability to adapt. The Alliance has evolved from a passive, reactive defence organisation into one which is actively building security right across Europe. NATO's agenda over this past decade has been so successfully implemented that the Alliance itself is more relevant and more indispensable than it has ever been. NATO's foundations as it enters the 21st century are rock solid.
My job is to build on that success, in order to ensure that NATO continues to meet the challenges of the future. Let me outline several of the specifics.

Stabilising the Balkans

The North Atlantic Council meets ethnic Albanian and Serb community leaders at KFOR headquarters, Pristina, Kosovo, on 22 October. (NATO photo - 23Kb)

First, NATO will have to continue to play its full role in the stabilisation of the Balkans. We must not only consolidate the peace we are building in Kosovo, but also contribute to the wider efforts of the international community to build lasting stability and prosperity across South-eastern Europe. We must ensure that the future of this region does not remain a prisoner of the past.

We have already made real progress in Kosovo. The air campaign achieved our objectives of reversing the ethnic cleansing, and forcing President Milosevic to withdraw his forces. A secure environment is slowly being restored. Over 800,000 refugees have returned home. The UN has established its presence, and 1,800 UN police are on the streets.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has been disbanded, and a civil emergency force has been created. A multi-ethnic transitional council meets weekly, setting the stage for a multi-ethnic political future. And preparations are underway for elections sometime next year. This is real progress, when one remembers the chaos and violence the Kosovars were suffering under the Yugoslav regime, just a few months ago.

There is still much work to be done. The immediate goal of the international community, including NATO, is to help every citizen of Kosovo enjoy the peace and security that we all enjoy. Over time, we must also foster democracy, and begin to create the conditions in which Kosovo can thrive economically. This will require real commitment, but we will persevere. We won the war - we must not lose the peace.

Bosnia shows the benefits to be derived from patient engagement. This country has made real progress since NATO deployed in 1995, and continues to improve. This year, some 80,000 refugees returned home - twice the rate of last year. More and more moderates are being elected to government because Bosnians want peace. In fact, the security situation has improved to the point that the Alliance is able to reduce the numbers of troops in Bosnia by one-third, to about 20,000. Our long-term goal is getting closer: self-sustaining peace in Bosnia.

But to reinforce our success in these two trouble spots, we must look beyond them, to South-eastern Europe as a whole. Throughout the Kosovo campaign, our Partners from South-eastern Europe showed their solidarity with NATO's actions, supporting the Allies despite the economic hardships and domestic troubles they face. They should be able to count on our support now.

The EU-led Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe is a major step forward. It acknowledges the need for a more comprehensive approach to the whole region, focusing on three areas: democratisation and human rights; economic reconstruction, development and cooperation; and security issues.

NATO is actively supporting the Pact in the security field. The key is the South East Europe Initiative that we launched at the Washington Summit last April. This initiative brings together the Allies and seven countries of the region to develop practical cooperation. We will work with these Partners to encourage regional cooperation. And, as part of NATO's enlargement process, we will help aspirant countries from South-eastern Europe to prepare their candidacies for NATO membership.

My goal is to help build a Balkans that is inside the European family of democratic values, not a problem for it. This will be one of my priorities during my tenure as Secretary General.

Boosting defence capabilities and interoperability

US soldiers from the 31 st Air Expeditionary Wing prepare the laser-guided bombs of an F-15 at Aviano airbase, Italy, on 30 March. The Allies relied heavily on the more advanced weapons technologies of the US air force during Operation Allied Force. (Reuters photo - 45Kb)

Both Bosnia and Kosovo demonstrated the value of diplomacy backed by force. If we need the same in future, we must ensure that adequate force is available. In this respect, the Kosovo crisis was not just a success but also a wake-up call. It made crystal clear that NATO needs to improve its defence capabilities. We have to make changes today, to be ready for an unpredictable tomorrow.

During the air campaign, the United States bore a disproportionate share of the burden, because the other Allies did not have all the military capabilities and technology needed. Clearly, we must rectify this imbalance and work to ensure that all the Allies have the technology necessary to be militarily effective, and to cooperate effectively together.

The Defence Capabilities Initiative, which we launched at the Washington Summit, is a big step in the right direction. This project will help ensure that all of NATO's Allies develop certain essential capabilities. It will also take steps to improve interoperability between Allied forces. This is not just a question of spending more - it is also about spending more wisely.
Promoting interoperability with NATO's Partners is also a key priority. We have seen both in Bosnia and Kosovo how important they have become in the conduct of peace-support operations in Europe.

A more balanced Alliance

Dr Javier Solana, High Representative for the EUs Common Foreign and Security Policy, listens to Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, President of the EU Council, at the first formal joint EU foreign and defence ministers meeting, in Brussels on 15 November. Proposals for the creation of a European rapid reaction force were discussed, in preparation for the EU Helsinki Summit in December. (AP photo - 45Kb)

I also intend to help reinforce the European role in NATO. The European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) is not just an attractive idea: it is an urgent necessity. Simply put, the burden of dealing with European security crises should not fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the United States. We need to create a more balanced Alliance, with a stronger European input.

Europe recognises this - and is starting to do something about it. It now has to build the necessary capabilities, as well as institutions, to allow it to play a stronger role in preserving peace and security. NATO supports that process.
For my part, I will work to ensure that ESDI is based on three I's:

  • Improvement in European defence capabilities;
  • Inclusiveness and transparency for all Allies; and
  • the Indivisibility of transatlantic security, based on our shared values.

ESDI does not mean "less US" ... it means "more Europe" and a stronger NATO. I very much look forward to working on this project with Mr Solana, in his new post as "Monsieur PESC"(1).

Getting NATO-Russia relations back on track

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (right), Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (left) and Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev (centre background) at the opening ceremony of the OSCE Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on 18 November. One of Lord Robertsons priorities for the Alliance is to get NATO-Russia relations back on track. (AP photo - 44Kb)

Another of my immediate priorities will be to work to establish a deeper cooperation with Russia. I welcome the fact that Russia is once again participating in meetings of the Permanent Joint Council, including at the military level. But we must move beyond just discussing Bosnia and Kosovo, and resume work on the full range of cooperative activities agreed under the Founding Act.

The reason is simple - security in Europe requires cooperation between NATO and Russia. There is no way around it. Both Russia and NATO share common interests: keeping the peace in the Balkans, arms control, non-proliferation, and cooperation in science.

It is to our mutual benefit to cooperate in areas where we agree, and to continue talking even when we disagree. I intend to work hard to build this kind of strong, practical relationship.

Strengthening links with our other Partners

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Wesley Clark, meet Ljupco Georgievski, Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2) one of the Partner countries neighbouring Kosovo that gave the Allies staunch support during the Kosovo crisis, and provided invaluable assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees. (Skopje, 22 October ). (Belga photo - 70Kb).

I also want to strengthen still further the links between NATO and its other Partners. Throughout the Kosovo crisis, NATO's Partners have demonstrated clearly that they are no longer standing on the sidelines of security. They are key players.

The countries neighbouring Kosovo provided invaluable assistance to the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the brutality of Serb security forces. They were staunch supporters of NATO operations to bring the violence to a halt. And now, as in Bosnia, over 20 Partners are sending troops to Kosovo to help keep the peace.

Through these major contributions, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) have demonstrated their value in developing a cooperative approach to security across the Euro-Atlantic region. I want them to become even more operational and relevant to the security needs of our Partners. That is why I intend to support fully the improvements we have recently made to PfP to improve interoperability, and to give our Partners more say in planning and conducting NATO-led peace- support operations.

The next round of enlargement

Finally, one of my key responsibilities will be to prepare NATO for the next round of enlargement. NATO's Heads of State and Government are committed to considering further enlargement by no later than 2002.
Between now and then, we must utilise the full potential of the Membership Action Plan and give all aspirant countries as much support as possible in meeting their targets. The door to NATO will remain open.

Taken together, this is a broad and ambitious agenda, and it will require a lot of hard work to accomplish it. But as I look to the future of this great Alliance, I am very confident.

Today, NATO remains the centrepiece of Europe's collective defence, with new missions, new members, and ever-deepening partnerships. It is essential to ensure that NATO continues to make its unique and vital contribution to Euro-Atlantic security well into the next century.

Profile of the Secretary General

Lord Robertson (53) succeeded Dr Javier Solana as Secretary General of NATO on 14 October 1999.

Born in Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay in Scotland, he is a graduate in Economics of the University of Dundee. Following his studies, George Robertson worked as a full-time official of the General, Municipal and Boilermakers' Union from 1968 to 1978, where he was responsible for the Scottish Whisky industry.

He then entered political life and served as a Labour Party Member of Parliament for Hamilton (latterly Hamilton South) from 1978 to 1999. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Social Services in 1979.

After the 1979 General Election, he was Opposition Spokesman, first on Scottish Affairs (1979-80) and then on Defence (1980-81). From 1981 to 1993, he served in various capacities as Opposition Spokesman on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, including as Deputy Opposition Spokesman on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1983), and as Principal Spokesman on European Affairs from 1984 to 1993. He joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland in 1993, a position he held until the Labour Party came back into power after the May 1997 General Election.

Mr Robertson then served as Secretary of State for Defence until his appointment as NATO Secretary General.

Before taking up his new appointment, he received a life peerage and took the title Lord Robertson of Port Ellen on 24 August 1999.

He has served in an advisory capacity on numerous bodies and received a number of awards, including being named joint Parliamentarian of the Year in 1993 for his role during the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

[The full curriculum vitae of the Secretary General
is available on the NATO web site]


  1. High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union.
  2. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.