The author and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on their way to the NATO
Summit meeting last December.

The author and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on their way to the NATO Summit meeting last December.

A spectre is haunting Europe the spectre of communism. Thus wrote Marx in 1848. The revolution which swept across Eastern Europe in 1989 laid that ghost to rest. In Poland, a Solidarity-led government has been in place for several months. In the other countries of Eastern Europe, free elections have already taken place or are due this Spring. In the USSR itself, President Gorbachev has accepted the logic of a multi-party system, and is pursuing other sweeping reforms. The strength of the Red Army has been reduced and significant Soviet forces have already left Eastern Europe: it seems likely that the larger part will be gone within a relatively short period.

The Warsaw Pact's ability to prosecute collective military action must be close to zero. The classic Soviet threat – that posed by an expansionist power with a hostile ideology and enormous forces on the West's borders – is evaporating before our eyes. This has rightly put the spotlight on NATO, an organization founded to defend the West against that threat. Some say that the Alliance should be preserved exactly as it is, arguing that the threat is in essence unchanged. Others maintain that NATO's raison d'être has completely disappeared, that it is an obstacle to future progress in East-West relations, and that the organization should be wound up. Both camps are wrong. NATO remains essential: to preserve its members' own security and to provide a stable framework in which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe can evolve peacefully. But if NATO is to pursue these ends effectively it will itself have to change substantially. President Gorbachev has begun a radical process of 'new thinking' and perestroika in his country. We need new thinking and perestroika within the Alliance as well.


Before addressing what this might mean, let me first suggest why we still need NATO, and which of its attributes remain essential. We need NATO for four reasons: defence, stability, arms control, and the encouragement of political reform. First defence. All the allies wish Gorbachev and perestroika success. But the Soviet Union is bound to remain a problem for us. Soviet conventional forces in Europe greatly outweigh those of the West and will continue to do so until an agreement bringing both sides' forces down to lower but equal levels, has not only been reached at the Vienna talks on conventional forces in Europe (CFE) but also implemented.

Even after a successful CFE agreement, the Soviet Union will still be by far the biggest military power on the Eurasian continent. It will still deploy nuclear weapons on its own soil and elsewhere. There is, of course, no reason to think Gorbachev would have anything to gain from aggression against the West: the use of force outside his borders would probably set in motion a process which would sweep him and perestroika away. The danger from today's Soviet Union is rather that of fundamental instability. The reform process is putting enormous stress on the social and political fabric of the USSR. We cannot exclude that this might lead to the violent break-up of the Union. For that to happen to a heavily armed nuclear superpower would be uniquely dangerous, not only for the Soviet people themselves, but for all the Soviet Union's neighbours. It is reason enough for the West to keep its guard well up. In the longer term, if reform and Gorbachev were to fail, or if the Union were to disintegrate, a new leadership with a more threatening set of policies and with military capabilities largely intact could re-emerge. We hope none of this will happen. But it might.

A second, related, reason to keep NATO is to preserve stability. In the short and medium term, the reform process in the East may well result in greater instability in that part of Europe. The removal of oppressive regimes allows expression to be given to long pent-up political, economic and ethnic grievances. The allies are already doing a great deal, through provision of aid and assistance, to try to ensure that the traumas (e.g. large-scale unemployment) inevitably associated with the East's transition to democratic systems and market economies are as limited as possible. But it remains conceivable that in one or more of the reforming Eastern countries the pressures generated by change will lead to serious difficulties and that these could have international repercussions.

 Soviet troops beginning to pull out of Hungary last March.

Soviet troops beginning to pull out of Hungary last March.

Nor should we overlook the danger of tensions rising among European nations generally (as has happened so often in the past) if the collective bonds of the Alliance (and of the European Community) are allowed to slacken. We should not assume, simply because Western Europe has been at peace and its nations have worked together for the last 40 years, that the present state of affairs is irreversible. The key institutions set up since the war, NATO and the EC, have played a crucial role in ensuring stability. What we must avoid at all costs is (in the words of the Federal Republic's Minister of Defence, Dr. Stoltenberg) the renationalization of security policy – situation where European states are again driven to seek their security in shifting (and inherently unstable) coalitions. NATO is our guard against that danger. By helping to preserve the existing security framework in Western Europe, it promotes order in Europe as a whole.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that many of the risks facing us in the next few years will come from outside Europe. In the late 1990s, the more immediate dangers to the West may come increasingly from the South and the Middle East. There, demographic trends, economic difficulties and deep-seated political problems are combining with the progressive acquisition of destabilizing military technologies to create a preoccupying and volatile mixture. 12 countries outside NATO and the Warsaw Pact already have ballistic missiles. Many more could be in a position to acquire relevant nuclear and chemical capabilities by the end of the century.

All this helps explain why in recent months the Soviet attitude to NATO has shifted significantly: where once the Russians called for the immediate dissolution of the two military blocs in Europe, they now place much greater emphasis on maintaining each Alliance as a factor for stability. Gorbachev has made clear that he needs stability abroad to pursue reform at home. For that reason, he has as much interest in the continued existence of NATO as we do.

Defence and stability apart, the pursuit of arms control has become a highly important task for the Alliance. NATO is playing a vital role in coordinating allies' positions, notably for the crucial CFE negotiations in Vienna and the parallel talks on Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs). If the allies were to try to negotiate as 16 individual states, achievement of satisfactory results would be vastly more difficult. Both the Alliance's arms control role and its wider political functions are likely to grow in the future (see below).

What are the constants in NATO?

Which of NATO's attributes will be needed to ensure that the Alliance continues to preserve our security in the future? The following five elements seem to me essential: NATO's present membership; the United States strategic commitment; the presence of significant stationed forces (including US, Canadian and British troops) on the continent of Europe; a credible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons; and an integrated military structure.

 A mass rally in Tbilisi calling on 9 April for Georgian independence.

A mass rally in Tbilisi calling on 9 April for Georgian independence.

Why these five? We must retain the present membership because we could not credibly defend Europe if (for example) Germany were not a member of NATO, nor could we defend the southern or northern flanks without (say) Turkey or Norway. We depend equally on the varied contribution of all the other allies to maintain the Alliance's military credibility and its political solidarity. We must retain the US strategic commitment because only this offers a credible counterweight to Soviet strategic forces and (more generally) to a country – Russia – which because of its size and population will always be a major factor in Europe. We need stationed forces in Europe, not simply for defence of a given area but because their presence symbolizes and ensures a commitment by the sending countries to share the risks, roles and responsibilities of the common defence: a vital political signal to any potential aggressor. We need a credible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons because conventional weapons alone have never been sufficient to deter aggression. And we need an integrated military structure because this, and the Alliance's associated system of collective defence planning, offers by far the best way of ensuring maximum deterrence against war and maximum effectiveness in defence should war break out. But the integrated military structure is perhaps of still greater importance for another reason: the process of maintaining that structure of each nation taking account of others' plans and policies to produce a meshing of national forces for collective defence – serves to bind the allies together. That process will have a key role to play in ensuring that the temptation to renationalize security policy is resisted.

What should change?

Adapting the military role...

On the military side, the Alliance's defensive strategy, founded on flexible response and forward defence, remains by far the best insurance against war or aggression from any quarter. But the precise military dispositions by which NATO implements this strategy are going to have to change, in my view radically.

In the conventional field, a combination of political, economic and demographic factors is likely to mean that NATO will operate in future with markedly fewer in-place and stationed forces, smaller and less frequent exercises, and more emphasis on reservists, mobility, rapid reinforcement and pre-positioning of equipment. believe that one key innovation which the allies will have to pursue in this area is the creation of multinational forces stationed on Alliance territory. National units at an appropriate level (including from the US and Canada), could be combined into multinational units. Overall command would still be exercised by SACEUR. But some of these units would clearly be predominately 'European'. Such a move would have great advantages. It would demonstrate to our North American allies European solidarity in contributing to the common defence within the Alliance; arguably, it would help make the maintenance of stationed forces (both American and European) on the territory of individual European allies more acceptable to publics there; and it would show to everyone (including the Russians) that the Alliance was responding to the challenge of change. Apart from the overall political benefits, there could also be military gains. Greater mobility and flexibility might be one. The allies would also be forced to focus, more than they have in the past, on the key issues of standardization and interoperability. There would clearly be problems to be resolved: administration, logistics, reinforcement, even the language of command. But in my view, the advantages of multi-national forces committed to NATO would greatly outweigh their disadvantages.

I believe there will also have to be changes in the nuclear field. NATO's nuclear forces will remain essential to deter war. The presence of US nuclear forces in Europe will continue to be an important element in Alliance strategy. But the systems involved are likely to be very substantially reduced in numbers, with a shift in emphasis towards the greater flexibility offered by longer range, air delivered systems. The aim, as ever, will be minimum deterrence: or more accurately, maximum deterrence with minimum forces. The allies will continue to depend on the US strategic guarantee, but there may be scope for more cooperation between the European nuclear powers, Britain and France. Indeed, the changes in NATO's force structures and deployments which are likely in the years ahead may soon open up possibilities for wider French participation in collective arrangements for the defence of Europe.

Nations which elect governments genuinely accountable to their peoples usually become more stable, predictable places from which the risk of aggression is vastly reduced

The modalities of NATO's military role will therefore change, but I do not believe (as some argue) that this side of the Alliance will become less important in future. It is NATO's collective military capability which gives the Alliance credibility and authority, and which embodies the principles which have made and will continue to make it a unique institution.

...and developing the political function

NATO Foreign Ministers agreed at their meeting in December 1989 that in view of events in the East, the Alliance "will increasingly be called upon to carry out its political function' and that in doing so, it must take up new challenges. The Alliance's political role will certainly develop in the future, but what is meant by this needs careful definition.

NATO has always had a political purpose. The preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty establishing the Alliance made clear that the parties were 'determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law'. The signatories stressed this not only because they believed in the inherent value of democracy, liberty and the rule of law, but also because they considered that their espousal by the countries of the East would make the allies themselves more secure. Nations which elect governments genuinely accountable to their peoples usually become more stable, predictable places from which the risk of aggression is vastly reduced. I suggest that in considering how NATO's political role should evolve, the Alliance should be guided by the same principle: that is, that it should take up tasks which contribute to our greater security, albeit security defined in the wider sense. The Alliance should not, in my view, be seeking to take on a greater role in other areas (e.g. narcotics control) whose relation to security is at best tangential and where other bodies, better fitted to the task, are already pursuing excellent work.

 NATO is playing a vital role in coordinating allies' positions, notably for the crucial
CFE negotiations in Vienna (above) and the parallel talks on Confidence and Security
Building Measures.

NATO is playing a vital role in coordinating allies' positions, notably for the crucial CFE negotiations in Vienna (above) and the parallel talks on Confidence and Security Building Measures.

What does this mean in practical terms for political activity by the Alliance? I see three main areas for potential development: arms control, political consultation and collective action. The pursuit of arms control is likely to grow in importance. The Alliance already has a key role to play in elaboration of the Western positions at the CFE and CSBM talks in Vienna. There is likely to be a need to intensify Alliance consultation on START and on the chemical weapons talks as those negotiations move closer to resolution. Further ahead, beyond CFE, the Alliance will provide the right forum for discussion of the next steps on arms control, including sub-strategic nuclear systems, and for the elaboration of common positions on them. The Alliance will also have a significant role to play in verification of arms control agreements such as CFE and Open Skies: Secretary Baker has set out some significant ideas on this, which are now under active consideration within the Alliance.

The role of NATO as a forum for political consultation is also likely to grow. The Alliance provides a unique structure for consultation and coordination among Western governments on an enormous range of issues. It is the only body bringing together the nations on both sides of the Atlantic with a remit to discuss all aspects of security: military, political and economic. Political consultations on developments in the East have taken place within the Alliance for many years. These consultations are likely to intensify in the months ahead. The allies may also need to address other subjects (e.g. regional issues) in greater depth than hitherto.

NATO has always had the ability to take – in-self-defence – collective military action. It may be that in future the allies will want to develop more collective political action to promote their shared interests and values. One possibility is encouragement for pluralism, democracy, human rights, free flow of information and the transition to market economies across Eastern Europe. The individual members of the Alliance are already doing much in these fields on their own. There may be scope for collective action at 16, perhaps in the context of CSCE: the allies are already preparing together for the CSCE Summit likely to be held at the end of this year. The Alliance may also provide a forum to help devise common responses to new threats, such as proliferation of destabilizing military technologies, or other out-of-area dangers.

Germany and NATO

One key element of the changing world in the title of this article is the situation in Central Europe, where the Federal Republic and the GDR are moving quickly towards unity. This is a goal which the UK, and all the other NATO allies, have long supported. The key question now is how a unified Germany will fit into European security arrangements. The Federal Government rightly asserts that a unified Germany must be a member of NATO. But all the parties concerned recognize that the way in which this is implemented in practice will need much careful thought, in particular as regards the territory of the former GDR. Due account will have to be taken of Soviet security concerns.

There are various possibilities: one of the most canvassed is for a special status for the territory of the GDR which, while forming part of the NATO area, might, following the departure of Soviet forces, have no foreign forces stationed there. These are matters which will need to be addressed fully by all the members of the Alliance together. They will also be considered in the two-plus-four, the forum in which the Foreign Ministers of the two Germanys, plus the four wartime allies (US, UK, France and the Soviet Union) will meet to discuss external aspects of the establishment of German unity.


The primary credit for the spectacular changes in the East should go to President Gorbachev for his vision and courage, and to the peoples of Eastern Europe, who, through their own actions, made 1989 a new springtime of nations. But NATO, by ensuring its own members' stability and security and thereby allowing them to develop as potent examples of successful, democratic and prosperous societies, helped to bring the revolution of 1989 about. In so doing, NATO has paradoxically raised questions about its own future. The maintenance of the Alliance, but an Alliance adapting imaginatively to the new challenges of the 1990s, will do much to ensure that all its members, and Europeans from the Atlantic to the Urals, reap the full benefits of last year's revolution in the decade to come.