Updated: 23-Mar-2000 NATO Speeches

IISS, Arundel
House London
22 March 2000

Dinner speech

by Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening. Samuel Johnson, once said that "a man seldom thinks of anything with more earnestness than he does of his dinner". I agree completely, and I must admit, it applies as much to the speaker as it does to the audience. I am therefore very happy that tonight, I have the opportunity to say a few words after we have finished our meal, so that I can concentrate fully on my words -- although I hope I don't end up eating those too!

Let me begin by saying what pleasure it is to be here, at the opening of these impressive new premises. It is highly appropriate that the IISS has moved to a bigger and more impressive building; the Institute has been growing more and more influential almost since the day it was founded. Leading figures across the globe from Government, industry, the financial sector and the media have all come to rely on the IISS as probably the foremost organization in the world for the study of military strategy, arms control, regional security and conflict resolution. There are few of us around this room, I suspect, who do not regularly dip into our well-thumbed copies of the Military Balance!

You will not be surprised if I focus on one main subject tonight - Kosovo. In two day's time, I shall be in Kosovo, one year to the day since the beginning of Operation Allied Force. It is, perhaps, a heavy topic to digest at this hour of the evening and after such an excellent meal. But it is highly relevant nonetheless. For NATO's actions in Kosovo not only demonstrated how essential the North Atlantic Alliance remains for the peace and security of Europe. It also set the agenda we must follow if we are to keep NATO relevant into the 21st century.

The first point I want to make is that we were absolutely right to act as we did. It may not surprise you that I am saying this - but frankly, it surprises me that I have to keep repeating it.

In the media, the voice of revisionism is increasingly strident. The revisionists argue that the situation in Kosovo today is just as bad - if not worse - than last spring. They make out that there were not so many victims in Kosovo before Allied Force, just two sides fighting for their interests. They accuse NATO of a partisan approach, of misleading the public, of conducting a misguided and incompetent air campaign.

The lies and so-called statistics churned out by the Belgrade regime are being quoted as if they were facts, and commentators who ought to know better are basing some very misguided conclusions on them. Some are even ignoring or distorting the evidence produced by independent, neutral international bodies such as the OSCE and Human Rights Watch.

The revisionist view of Kosovo is, to put it mildly, utter nonsense. Let us just remember what was happening in Kosovo this time last year, what had been happening since the summer of 1998. I will not dwell on the vast human misery and suffering that Milosevic's racist policies were causing long before the first NATO bomb struck home.

But remember that Kofi Annan, and the UN Security Council had stated unequivocally and repeatedly that there was a clear threat to peace and security. The UN High Commission for Refugees warned that a humanitarian emergency was impending. Indeed, it was only NATO's tough stance in support of the international community's demands that prevented a catastrophe of biblical proportions over the winter of 1998/99. The OSCE has since demonstrated that there was incontrovertible evidence that Milosevic was preparing a Spring offensive in Kosovo in 1999 against ethnic Albanians.

Let me offer just a few quotes from the OSCE's report on human rights in Kosovo before NATO's air campaign:

  • mass killing as an instrument of terror, coercion and punishment against Kosovo Albanians was already in evidence in 1998.

  • Arbitrary killing of civilians was both a tactic in the campaign to expel Kosovo Albanians and an objective in itself.

  • Women were placed in positions of great vulnerability and were specific objects of violence.

  • There is chilling evidence of the murderous targeting of children.

The requirement for action was clear. NATO could not have stood back and let events run their course - not if we had any pretence to be the guarantor of peace and stability in Europe. Was diplomacy given enough of a chance? Of course it was - again and again, by the UN, the Contact Group and the G8. When Milosevic finally rejected peace at Rambouillet, it was clear that diplomacy alone was not enough.

Here, let me pause a moment to dispel another revisionist myth. There were no last minute conditions imposed on the Serbs at Rambouillet, no unacceptable clauses knowingly inserted in the paperwork to force Milosevic's hand. Milosevic deliberately chose the course of conflict. His calculated gamble was that NATO, and the wider international community, would never remain united. That gamble failed.

So with 20-20 hindsight, knowing what we know now, I am proud that NATO took action in Kosovo. The air campaign was conducted with remarkable accuracy and concern to minimise civilian casualties. Operation Allied Force was not only the right thing to do -- it was the only thing to do.

Today, one year later, the situation in Kosovo is still far from perfect. There is still too much violence. The tension of Mitrovica needs resolution. We need more international police officers to maintain law and order. And the international community has to come up with the funding it has committed to help build the solid foundations of lasting peace. Daunting challenges indeed.

But we also have to keep this in perspective. It has only been 12 months and much has been achieved.

The refugees have returned, and have survived the winter. Mines are being cleared, roads repaired, schools and hospitals reopened. Major crimes have declined dramatically: the per-capita murder rate in Kosovo is below that of Washington DC. New institutions have been created, to help the Kosovars govern themselves. The economic situation is beginning to pick up. The United Nations is already planning for free elections by the end of the year.

By any measure, today's situation is a far cry from the anarchy and lawlessness that many predicted when KFOR first deployed. We cannot expect miracles overnight. As in Bosnia, patient engagement must be our watchword. As Bernard Kouchner has said, after forty years of communism, ten years of apartheid and more than a year of ethnic cleansing, it is a trifle unrealistic to expect to create a Switzerland in Kosovo in nine months!

Kosovo has shown, as did Bosnia beforehand, that NATO can make a difference for the better, if we have the courage and determination to take the right action. The lessons of Kosovo are many - from the technical and operational to the political. The importance of the West's relationship with Russia; the need for a strategy to stabilise the whole of South-East Europe; the essential nature of the transatlantic relationship in NATO. Each deserves a speech in itself. To avoid keeping you here until breakfast, let me focus on one aspect of particular interest to the Institute - the security relationship between Europe and North America.

Ten years after the Cold War ended, this relationship is as important as ever -- but to remain effective, it needs a bit of a tune-up. In this regard, Kosovo has been a wake-up call. It showed us that one member of NATO may be getting technologically so far ahead of the others that our forces could have trouble operating together. We must avoid the creation of a "two-tier" NATO, where those with the more advanced technology provide the stand-off weapons, the aircraft and the logistics, whilst the rest provide the soldiers. This is an unfair and unsustainable division of labour.

Our Defence Capabilities Initiative is designed to address these challenges. It will work to ensure that our forces remain interoperable, and that capabilities are spread fairly across the Alliance, so that burdens can be shared fairly as well.

This principle of burden-sharing is at the core of the second adaptation that must take place in the relationship between North America and Europe. I am referring, of course, to the development of the European Security and Defence Identity.

Now, to listen to some of the press today -- including, I'm afraid, the British press -- you would think that European defence is the worst thing that ever happened to transatlantic relations.

Imagine, however, if European defence was not happening. Imagine a situation in which an ever-richer and more unified Europe still refused to take on its own defence responsibilities. Where Europe continued to make strong statements, but relied on the United States to back those words up with deeds. How long could such an unbalanced relationship last?

That is why European defence is good for the transatlantic relationship -- because it means that Europe will be a stronger and more mature partner for North America in maintaining security. Where NATO takes the lead, Europe will carry a fairer share of the burden. Where NATO, as an organization, is not engaged, Europe will have the capacity to take the lead. This means that North America won't have to become directly involved, through NATO, in every security crisis in the neighbourhood simply because Europe can't handle it. On both sides of the Atlantic, European defence makes sense.

Of course, as the initiative develops, there are issues to manage. The non-EU members of NATO must be included as fully as possible in any EU-led operations, from the planning to the operation itself. We must avoid all unnecessary duplication of assets or structures that already exist in NATO. And just as importantly, the EU has to put its money where its mouth is. The EU has set itself a Headline Goal for military capabilities and the credibility of the EU is on the line to deliver.

This goal must be met, not with empty words, or new bureaucratic structures, but with real capabilities and real money. Spending more wisely is only one side of the equation. For European defence to be truly credible, we must face up to the fact that we may need to spend more. That, in the final analysis, will be the litmus test of ESDI.

These are significant challenges. Public opinion needs to be convinced that money spent on defence is not a luxury that we can afford but an indispensable insurance policy. I am confident we will meet these challenges. ESDI is moving forward, and it is moving forward in a spirit of both good will and pragmatism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One final ingredient we will need, to manage all of these issues well, is imagination. That is why I am so pleased at the continuing success of the IISS, which is a constant source of innovative ideas and creative thinking on the toughest security issues we face today. Let me conclude by congratulating you once again on your sparkling new premises, and wishing the IISS the best of luck in this new century!

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