|Updated: 12-Mar-2001||NATO Speeches|
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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.