Updated: 12-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

23 November

Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture

by Secretary General, Manfred Wörner

It is a particular privilege for me to have been invited to deliver the 1988 Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture in a year which marks the 30th anniversary of the I.I.S.S. Not only this series of lectures, but the Institute itself, are fitting memorials to one of the outstanding strategic thinkers of post-war era. We are also on the threshold of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance. There is a natural link between these two anniversaries. The Alliance, composed of sixteen independent sovereign democratic states, relies on the continued support of its publics. The Institute, since its inception, has sought to contribute to the necessary development of an enlightened public consensus on Western security policy.

This distinguished occasion is called a "lecture", which is commonly understood as an informative talk before an audience, or a lengthy scolding. My purpose is neither. My purpose is to ask your help in maintaining the solid platform which is the only conceivable basis, in my opinion, for the political progress we seek over the next decade in East-West relations. The basic challenge which threatens our success, above all, is that of nurturing public understanding and support for our strategy -political and military - and thus preserving public confidence. It is people like you in this audience who play such an important role in shaping that opinion. I hope that my remarks tonight will stimulate 'your thinking about new ways to address things we dare not take for granted.

Anniversaries are traditionally a time to reflect on the past, and to try to draw conclusions which may better equip us to meet the demands of the future. If you will, a twin process of recollection and reorientation. It is almost a truism to suggest that throughout its existence the Alliance has been faced with challenges to its cohesion; indeed, a casual reading of the public commentaries of the last 40 years might create the impression that it has been in a state of recurrent crisis. Of course, there is no doubt that there have been periods of major upheaval, often focussed on nuclear issues. The Institute was founded at a time when the launch of the Sputnik had marked the beginning of the end of unchallenged American strategic nuclear superiority. This ultimately led, some ten years later and after a highly charged emotional debate over the role of nuclear weapons in Europe, to the adoption of the strategy of flexible response.

The nuclear debate resurfaced again after another decade had passed with the controversy over the modernisation of intermediate nuclear forces and the so-called double track decision. Nevertheless, the Alliance has survived -indeed more than survived, it has demonstrated a political solidarity and steadfastness that has led us to a situation where our peace and freedom rests on sounder foundations than ever. We have good reasons to be proud of our success of the past, and to be optimistic about the future.

Yet we now face a new challenge. For the first time we face a Soviet Leader who is moving to a more pragmatic approach to international affairs. I firmly believe that Mr. Gorbachev's attempts at reform, internal and external, are a response to our success, and the manifest failure of the Soviet system. His policies of reform have changed the East-West equation, and we must both welcome and encourage this. But at the same time they are designed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet economy on which the political system - and in the longer term the military strength - of the Soviet Union depends. This attempt cannot be successful without political reform, with the consequences that we are already seeing.

Across the whole spectrum of East-West relations there is a process of change which presents both challenges and risks to the Alliance. As Alastair Buchan himself wrote in the concluding lines of The End of the Post War Era: "A profound responsibility for this (orderly) process of evolution lies on the shoulders of the West.... It has been the West that has been the cradle of political ideas... If the springs of political improvisation in the West dry up then the new agenda of world politics will be a barren one".

These are words that ring true even in today's much changed circumstances. Our springs have not dried up. It is our agenda which is on the advance, and it is far from barren. We can no longer afford to set the process of East-West developments in the framework of a mutual status quo. We must go beyond this and create a dynamism with which we can establish a new political order in Europe, taking advantage of the prospects for change before us. The political competition in Europe is one in which the future of both Europe and the Western Alliance is at stake. As my distinguished predecessor Lord Carrington proposed in this lecture five years ago, the Alliance must have a clear vision of the future European security order in the years up to the end of the century, and a positive political strategy to pursue that vision. I believe we have a unique opportunity to create a new security framework, but this can only be achieved if we couple the process of dynamic political change to the creation of military stability incorporating a nuclear component.

Failure to define where our policies are leading and an inability to articulate them clearly has been in part, I suggest, a reason for our relative lack of success in convincing the younger generation, in particular, of the need to maintain our defence support. Our strategy must be capable of accommodating both the changing political relationships within the Alliance as well as with the Soviet Union. We must be prepared to seek actively to draw the Soviet Union more closely into the global community. What we are searching for is a shared concept of security that will provide the necessary basis for pursuing political change which may ultimately lead to a new peaceful, stable and more humane international order. The key to this process will be to maintain - and indeed enhance - stability while at the same time creating the conditions for promoting and accommodating the change on our terms.

In politics and in public discourse we tend to focus on tactics, and lose sight of our strategy and goals. Our vision of Europe's future security and political order is already well defined. It is based on our values, and on the lessons we have learned from a bitter history. It is driven by the historic effort to build an East-West relationship in which we recognize that military forces are an inescapable reality, but in which the resort to armed force is no longer an option for the conduct of international relations. But it is equally based on the clear premise that defence, including nuclear defence, must be a precondition for stability. Realization of our ambitious political agenda, and management of our rapidly changing political environment, is not possible in a situation of military instability.

In developing this theme I must first say something about the political background, for we must not forget that the challenges we face are first and foremost political. Indeed, NATO is essentially a political Alliance. It was forged as much to consolidate the battered democracies of post-war Europe as to defend against the communist threat of aggression. This is reflected in the preamble to the Washington Treaty: "We are determined to safeguard the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law". In the end, the continued vitality of the Alliance depends on maintaining our collective will to preserve our democratic heritage.

Not only do we have to adjust to a process of rapid change in international relations, but also to changes in the relative economic strength and political potential of the West European partners. However I will not dwell today on the question of the sharing of roles, risks and responsibilities - the so-called burden-sharing debate - save to say that the resurgence of Europe must be seen as reinforcing the Alliance as a whole. Intensified economic co-operation not only strengthens the economic base necessary to sustain our collective military effort, but it directly facilitates the rationalisation of defence production and standardization of equipment. The Alliance will need to adjust to greater European integration in the defence field. But whatever form future European co-operation in security and defence matters takes, it must display transparency of activity and compatibility with Alliance goals. Ultimately the transatlantic partnership must remain the guarantor of our collective security.

It is only on the basis of that partnership that we will be able to build military stability, and be able to exploit the opportunities and manage the risks in the field of East-West relations. There is a great deal to welcome in Mr. Gorbachev's policies of reform. We should applaud the declared intent to expand the rights of Soviet citizens, to increase the free flow of information, to restructure the legal system. Of more direct concern to our security policy, we must also encourage the apparent priority of co-operation over confrontation and common human interests over antagonism between political ideologies. Being an optimist, I hope these signs reflect a greater acknowledgement of common values in international affairs. We are challenging Mr. Gorbachev: to the extent he responds, he should earn our co-operation.

But we should not forget that these reforms are the result of necessity, not altruism. Mr. Gorbachev's aim is to make the socialist system more effective: to release, as he puts it, its hidden potential. His goal is to ensure the Soviet Union's continued role as a world superpower. To achieve his economic and political reforms at home he requires a stable international environment both to avoid distracting his internal efforts, and to ensure that the West does not interfere with, and if possible assists, the process. But our aim, beyond giving him reassurance, should be to ensure that the Soviet reforms lead to a major degree of military self-restraint. A crucial question is whether or not Soviet military capabilities, after a period of change and reform, will still remain a key determinant of the European political order. It has been a primary goal of the Alliance throughout its existence to loosen this stranglehold over our future, and there are signs that it may now be attainable.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that so far there has been little change in the might of the Soviet military machine or in its offensive nature. Modernisation programmes across the whole spectrum of Warsaw Pact equipment continue unabated. The Soviet Union's claim to superpower status rests almost entirely on their military strength. Even if the Soviet leadership is prepared to draw down this strength to some extent, at least in the short to medium term, there are likely to be considerable limitations on their freedom of actions. For if the Soviet Union ceases to deploy an intimidating array of
military forces, how will it compensate in order to maintain its superpower status?

Herein lies a crucial dilemma for Western leaders. Faced with a continuation of the existing military imbalance, and the need for strength and credibility as the foundation of our political agenda, we have no option but to maintain our own defensive capabilities, and justify this to our publics. But in the defence community we tend to use the word "threat" as a term of art well understood by all the professionals. Maybe we use it too often, and too simplistically. The public may not perceive it the same way. The military threat to the Alliance is, of course, a combination of capability and intention. While we may assess that the Soviet Union has no present intention of attacking the West - and indeed the policies of the new Soviet leadership certainly appear a good deal more benign than those of even a decade ago - there is no doubt that the military capability to do so remains unabated. Moreover, intentions can change much more rapidly than armoured divisions.

But in the mind of the layman, "threat" is more associated with intention. The image of Mr. Gorbachev - a "man with whom one can do business"
- demonstrating unheard of flexibility in foreign policy, opening up new opportunities for co-operation, does not suggest to the public that we need to worry about the "Soviet threat". An attenuation of international adventurism, withdrawal from Afghanistan, and willingness to compromise in arms control all increase the pressures on the West increasingly to lower its guard, politically and militarily. The prospects - which are not yet realities - of fundamental political change in the East make it harder to justify the requirements of deterrence. Our task is to legitimise our continued defence efforts at a time when the public perception is that a robust defence posture is less necessary.

Of course the defence effort of the West is not a simple matter of a response to a military threat. The concept of maintaining security and stability encompasses the preservation of political and national sovereignty; ensuring continued freedom; maintaining international confidence, including an assur-ance of predictability in international relations; and demonstrating our collec-tive political will. If the West should begin a process of abandoning its competitiveness, political and military, the Soviet reforms could succeed with-out the desired reduction in Soviet military might, and the profound Soviet military restraint which we seek. Thus we would forfeit our own political success.

How should we respond to this challenge? I make no apologies for taking the Harmel doctrine as my starting point. Although the Harmel report was undertaken in very different circumstances from those which prevail today
- the Alliance had just undergone the twin shocks of the withdrawal of France from the integrated military structure and its strategy had undergone a radical
transformation, leading some even to doubt NATO's continued existence - its prescription remains sound, and in my view requires no revalidation. But as I have already made clear, this is not a call to maintain the status quo; we must be active in developing our policies on the sound basis of Harmel to meet the new challenge. We should seize opportunities to build on the traditional bases of Alliance strength - military co-operation and political solidarity.

Arms control will naturally play an important part in this process. The INF treaty, involving heavily asymmetric reductions and extensive verification arrangements, and achieved only as a result of Alliance determination and cohesion, has pointed the way. There are now clear opportunities in the fields of strategic nuclear forces, chemical weapons and, perhaps most challenging of all, in the prospective Conventional Stability Talks. But our central objective must remain clear: to seek enhanced stability at lower levels of forces. To manage this process effectively, we must ensure the various negotiations are set firmly within an agreed process for arms control, and are pursued in consonance with our security requirements.

But political dialogue, encompassing arms control, is only half of Harmel. We must equally maintain a strong defensive posture. That posture rests crucially on the role of nuclear weapons, and it is the role of nuclear weapons that lies at the heart of the strategic dilemma which has taxed the Alliance from almost its earliest days. It is to this theme which I would now like to turn.

I started this lecture by mentioning two anniversaries. This year also marks a third, one of major significance to the Alliance. Last January was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the final version of MC 14/3, the document which enshrines our strategy of flexible response. With the abandonment of the old "tripwire" strategy of massive retaliation, flexible response gave theatre nuclear forces a central role in providing the essential link to ensure the continued coupling of the United States strategic deterrent to the security of Europe, a crucial element of reassurance to the European members of the Alliance.

Nevertheless the sensitivities over coupling remained. Almost ten years later my distinguished predecessor as German Defence Minister, and by then Chancellor of the Federal Republic, Helmut Schmidt, gave what became perhaps the most widely-quoted Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture. In this he drew attention to the political implications for Alliance security of the advances that had been made in limiting central strategic systems in the SALT negotia-tion, in contrast with the total lack of progress in reducing conventional arms in MBFR. While he did not call for additional nuclear deployments - he rather concentrated on the way ahead in arms control - he highlighted the disparity that had arisen between East and West in theatre nuclear weapons. At almost the same time, NATO Defence Ministers meeting in the Nuclear Planning
Group agreed to set up the High Level Group to examine the need for the modernisation of the Alliance's theatre nuclear forces.

The rest, as they say, is history. The HLG subsequently recommended the modernisation of NATO's intermediate range nuclear forces, and in De-cember 1979 Alliance Foreign and Defence Ministers endorsed the "double-track" decision. Following the Alliance proposal of the "zero option" in 1981 this ultimately led to the historic INF agreement, finally ratified earlier this year.

But despite the success of the INF agreement the nuclear dilemma re-mains; indeed the agreement, by creating an expectation of further stages of nuclear disarmament, has in some ways increased the problems for NATO. I say problems because they are essentially threefold.

The first, the role of the non-nuclear European nations in the nuclear decision-making process, was in large measure solved by the creation of the Nuclear Planning Group some 20 years ago. The Group has elaborated the political framework for NATO's nuclear planning, which culminated in the agreement in 1986 on the General Political Guidelines for the possible use of theatre nuclear weapons in the defence of the Alliance. It has dealt with the specific modernisation and deployment decisions which have to be faced from time to time. Through both efforts, the European Allies have been able to participate fully in the decision-making process.

The result has been a very responsible collective approach to the political treatment of nuclear planning, including a considerable degree of self-restraint in force structures. Moreover, while the basic strategy of MC 14/3 has in no sense been modified, the work in the NPG leading up to the General Political Guidelines finally resolved the debate between those who argued that theatre nuclear forces could be used decisively as a means of winning a conflict in Europe, and those who saw their role as essentially one of conveying a political signal: a political signal with a powerful military impact, but nevertheless one intended to convey a clear message to the Soviet leadership about NATO's resolve. The Guidelines unambiguously support this latter elaboration of the strategy.

But the very success of these policies, allied with achievements in arms control, have led to the second problem: the renewed public questioning of the strategy of deterrence just at the time, ironically, when responsibility and rationality govern the nuclear policies of the Alliance more than ever before. We are faced with the problem that sometimes it appears that every citizen is his own strategist - but a strategist who sometimes tends to disregard the solid foundation of thought and judgement on which the role of nuclear weapons in our security is based.

Fortunately, the founding members of this Institute - Alastair Buchan himself, Michael Howard, the current President and many others have sought to ensure that our security needs are defined in their relationship to our political purposes in a way that people can understand. Nobody has made it clearer than Michael Howard that participation and enlightenment, those vital needs of our democracies, have their price. Deterrence cannot endure without reassurance, and without the awareness of the citizens that all the measures necessary to preserve peace in the nuclear age are taken responsibly and purposefully.

Let us be in no doubt: nuclear deterrence has underpinned the deterrent strategy of NATO throughout its existence and created a form of stability which could not have existed with conventional forces alone. Moreover recent Soviet pronouncements indicating an acceptance of the doctrine that a nuclear war is not winnable by either side suggest a possible doctrinal consensus. It would be very odd if the Alliance were to jeopardise its policy of deterrence just at a time when there are prospects of making the Soviet leadership understand the importance of its contribution to maintaining the sort of stability in Europe which is the necessary precondition for peaceful change.

But if we are to convince the Soviet Union, we must first be secure in the support of our own publics. We therefore have to disabuse them of the notion that such weapons are peace-threatening rather than peace-keeping. During a time when our theatre nuclear stockpile in the West has been reduced by over a third to its lowest level in 20 years - tangible evidence of our intentions, however much the public ignores it - the armoury of conventional forces that we face has been dramatically enhanced. And in addition to the devastating power that even non-nuclear forces now command, the Soviet Union has available to it a vast array of modern chemical weapons. Without the deterrent provided by our nuclear forces, these capabilities might well be regarded as much more readily usable, with predictable consequences for stability and confidence.

It is of course a natural reaction to seek immunity from nuclear weapons. None of us like them, but none of us in the Alliance, under any circumstances that I can now foresee, can do without them. Given that they cannot be "disinvented", we must be clear that no area of the Alliance can be made immune from the threat they pose. Wherever nuclear weapons are deployed in East and West, for the foreseeable future the ingenuity of defence planners will see to it that none of the members of NATO, or of the Warsaw Pact, is beyond their reach. So, immunity is not possible. But can we in the Alliance secure greater safety, both from nuclear weapons and from warfare in general? The two cannot be separated. Here the answer is not only "yes", but that we are making progress. The sheer numbers and types of nuclear weapons matter far less than factors like stability, vulnerability, credibility and the conventional imbalance. Our defence goals have been repeated so often that they are often lost from sight, but they are crucial: low levels of forces, conventional and nuclear; stability; and the certainty that no aggressor could conclude that the gains of possible aggression could possibly outweigh the risks.

We must therefore seek to convince Western public opinion that the vision of a nuclear-free Europe, far from reducing the risks to our security, would in practice entail the much greater risk of leading to a greater instability and to conflict that, quite apart from its consequences for the continued survival of the Western democracies, would inflict a devastating degree of damage. The chimera of a non-nuclear world held out by Mr. Gorbachev would not lead to a safer world. Successive Governments in all the NATO countries have considered this balance of risk and invariably concluded that the best way of ensuring continued security is a strategy of deterrence based on some mix of nuclear conventional forces.

An inescapable corollary to this - and one which we must not shrink from - is that this means even if we succeed in achieving heavily asymmetric reductions in conventional arms control negotiations, leading to a broad balance of conventional forces in Europe, we shall still need to rely on a modern theatre nuclear element to underpin our deterrent. Naturally we should keep our nuclear stockpile at the lowest possible level consistent with the needs of deterrence, and conventional stability at lower levels of forces could considerably assist the process of further reducing the number of nuclear weapons.

This is not an easy message to convey. But deterrence, and particularly nuclear deterrence, cannot endure unless our citizens are convinced not only that it is as a direct result of our policies that we have maintained our security in the past, but that the measures we are now taking are designed further to promote peace and security. So long as the deep political divide exists between East and West, and both sides retain the capability to inflict devastating destruction on the other, we must maintain a balance of conventional and nuclear forces. Allied governments must thus first be satisfied we have the right strategy, and then convince our publics.

The third problem is how we should deal with the Soviet Union. During a period when we may continue to see rapid political change within the Warsaw Pact, how should we conduct our policies so as both to continue to deter any possibility of aggression, but also to seek a more stable security relationship? If my thesis that the prospects exist for a degree of doctrinal convergence on the principles of nuclear deterrence is accepted, then I believe we need to work towards some form of political recognition by the Soviet leadership of our way of seeking military stability at lower levels of forces, but including a nuclear component.

Both sides need to acknowledge the need for strategic stability in order to promote political change. This stability can be enhanced by lower force levels, both nuclear and conventional, providing there is agreement on the need to maintain a nuclear force structure that preserves what some have described as a "just deterrent". In other words we seek to make our current strategy of nuclear deterrence an accepted modus vivendi. The elaboration of MC14/3 that has been developed over the last 20 years and enshrined in the General Political Guidelines would thus be endorsed as a principle of international security that has stood the test of time.

In this approach the continuing process of arms control can play a role. But while such a process can contribute to reducing tension, it is only an adjunct to the development of a political dialogue, not a substitute for it. Ultimately we must hope that the development of such a modus vivendi, while providing en-hanced security and stability, can be an essential step towards a very different world order. The post-war era has seen a dramatic change in favour of democracy. Most importantly the winds of change have begun to blow in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. What the consequences will be we do not yet know. Our hope must be that the East will conclude that they must avoid a military conflict with the West, not because of the risk and penalties that it would entail, but because of shared rules of responsible conduct, and wider sharing of values, which make the thought of conflict ever less imaginable, as it has become among the nations of the West themselves.

This I believe to be the real meaning of the Harmel doctrine. To quote Alastair Buchan again: "The modern international system springs primarily from the minds and experience of Western man and Western civilization... The intellectual challenge of the next decade is both to use and to modify this great historical tradition, flawed but enriched by sporadic failure, to provide an interim accommodation with other civilisations and ideologies in an intractable social order which limits our ambitions but must not suspend our efforts".

The decade Buchan was referring to was the 1970s. If we have fallen short of his aspirations, it was perhaps less due to our own failings than our inability to sustain the necessary dialogue with a regime imprisoned in the iron cage of its own history. Now at last, we may have the opportunity to realize that dialogue. We can do so with confidence in the success of our political and economic systems, and the continued vitality of our Alliance. But we must be united, strong and clear in our purpose. Two hundred years ago John Curran noted that the condition of liberty is eternal vigilance; the Alliance has shown that vigilance for the past 40 years and we must not neglect it now.

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