Updated: 09-May-2000 NATO Speeches

Chicago Council
on Foreign
5 April 2000

Why We Still Need NATO: Safety for the Next Generation

The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Secretary General of NATO

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here in Chicago. I was in Washington DC yesterday and had several meetings with Senators, Congressmen, and talking heads of all stripes. I think they ought to call Washington "The Windy City," not Chicago.

And it is also a great pleasure to be here at this fine institution, and to see my good friend John Reilly, who is himself an institution within an institution.

The Chicago Council, like the city of Chicago itself, is fiercely independent and extremely successful. It is the most important international affairs council between the East and West coasts of this vast nation, and a crucial voice for foreign policy in the heartland of America.

If it were not for the Chicago Council, the role and visibility of foreign policy in middle America would be vastly different. And if it were not for John Reilly, the Chicago Council would be vastly different. He has done a great service to this city and this nation.

One of the great services performed by the Chicago Council each year is to report on public attitudes toward important foreign policy issues. I took particular note that in the 1999 survey, only 44 percent of Americans felt that defending America's allies is a very important goal for the United States. Going down the list, only 39 percent felt that defence of human rights is a very important goal, and only 29 percent felt that bringing democracy to other nations is an important goal.
To someone who knows what the U.S. has done over the years to build peace and security in Europe and elsewhere in the world; what it has done to stand up for the world's oppressed; and what it has done to spread the goodness of democracy, I am deeply saddened to see these figures.

And that is why I wanted to come here today and talk about why NATO - the organisation that pulls together America's closest Allies - is still essential, for both the United States and the world.

NATO still is vital to the United States because it is still the best means available to support the core values of American and European civilisation - freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law. And Europe needs the United States to stay committed to NATO - for exactly the same reason.

What does NATO do in practice to support these values? It makes our countries and our people safe - safe from attack, safe from fear, from instability, from violent nationalism, from refugee flows, from economic dislocation.

And the fact that they are safe means that our people can get on with their lives without want or worry. It means they can create the democratic and prosperous societies we want for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

I have a 5-year old grandson. And it is when I think of him growing up that I see most clearly NATO's role in providing for the safety and security of future generations.

I know what you're thinking. This is all motherhood and apple pie. But what about the real issues that NATO is dealing with every day - Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, relations with Russia, big gaps in defence capabilities, and dealing with the EU's ambition to stake out a new role for itself in defence issues?
What do these have to do with providing a safe future for our children?

And for that matter, is NATO even the right tool for today's world? The old quip about NATO is that I keeps "the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." But if we don't need to keep the Russians out or the Germans down anymore, why should America still be in?

In answer, let me make three points.

Risks to the safety of our populations and future generations are still there.

  • NATO is effective in addressing these risks.
  • And it is better for both North America and Europe to work together in dealing with these challenges, than for each to go it alone.

Let me take these points in turn.

Point one. Even with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are still serious risks and threats to our societies that NATO must address every day. Safety and security for our people still matter.

During the Cold War, we all lived under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation. NATO - including the nuclear umbrella - was the best means we had available to ensure our safety. Today, the risk of such a nuclear confrontation is nearly gone. But with the Cold War over, our security agenda has broadened, in terms of both the nature and the complexity of the issues we need to address.

For example:

  • We need to deal with the resurgence of ethnic rivalries and historical grievances that were suppressed for the 40 years of the Cold War. The conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo showed that - through instability, refugee flows, stagnating economies and ethnic cleansing - these conflicts have an enormous impact on the safety and well-being of Europe as a whole, and in turn, North America.

  • We need to help strengthen democracy and prosperity in Central and Eastern Europe. These nations, which threw off communism just over ten years ago, are counting on our help in ensuring a secure environment for their future development. A Europe that remains divided between a stable and prosperous west and a poor and unstable east is both dangerous and wrong.

  • We need to support Russia's political and economic transformation. If Russia engages with us as a trusting and trustworthy European power, we will all be more secure. If we fail to engage Russia, the consequences will be felt across the entire Continent.

  • We need to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a challenge that respects no geographical boundaries. The safety of future generations depends on getting this right - before it gets worse.

Point two. OK - these are the challenges. But is NATO doing something about them? Absolutely.

NATO has drawn the line against ethnic warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. That is morally right, and it's in our strategic interest. Erase that line, and ethnic conflict could tumble into a far wider and more dangerous zone. Now NATO is leading the peacemaking. We are not done yet, but we will succeed.

NATO is playing a leading role in Central and Eastern Europe. Through its own enlargement, NATO is erasing dividing lines in Europe, and providing a continuing incentive for aspiring members to put their house in order.
And through the Partnership for Peace program, NATO is developing security relationships with 25 non-NATO countries, including former Warsaw Pact members and neutrals.

Since, the Paris NATO Summit in Spring of 1997, NATO and Russia have been sitting down at the same table in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. Russia suspended ties with NATO during the Kosovo air campaign, but relations are now getting back on track.

I recently met Russian President Putin in Moscow, who told me he wants Russia to be part of the new Europe. We share this goal, and will work on it together.

NATO is tackling the menace of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological weapons - by sharing information and intelligence, and improving our capability to protect NATO forces from these threats.

Point three. These challenges exist and NATO is addressing them. But why does the United States need to stay engaged in NATO? Why not go it alone?

Because, to use a military phrase, NATO is a force-multiplier. Increasingly, Canada and the European Allies bring real resources, real troops, and real commitment to the common security table.

Let me just ask you to guess: Who is the largest troop contributor in Kosovo?

It is Italy.

And would you believe that European nations are providing 80 percent of all the forces for the KFOR peacekeeping force? It is true. Out of a force of some 45,000 troops, the U.S. now provides roughly 6,000 -under 15 percent.

European nations are, as they promised, picking up the lion's share of reconstruction efforts in the Balkans. The EU has provided some $16.5 billion to this region since 1991, and has budgeted nearly US $12 billion for the next 6 years. Although the U.S. is the single largest provider of international police force for Kosovo, at roughly 15 percent the EU countries provide 40 percent.

But this increased "burden-sharing," must go further. Europe is rich enough to do more. It is no longer tenable that 19 Allies agree on an air operation like Kosovo, but the United States flies 70 percent of the air missions. Europe must have the capability to take the lead in handling crises when the United States chooses not to be engaged. In the 21st century, we cannot be faced with a choice between massive U.S. involvement or no action at all.

So Europe adds extra muscle and extra money. But let me add one further thought: Underlying it all, the reason why NATO, at fifty-one years old, should still matter to the United States is that even in the different world of today, Europe and North America share the same values.

NATO is an unprecedented community of nations that is based on liberty, democracy, the rule of law, honest politics and fundamental human rights. And when Europe and North America act together to defend these values, they secure the future of generations to come.

Shared values may seem an abstract notion. But in the end, it is these values - more than anything else - that brought us together in two World Wars, and enabled us to overcome the many crises of the Cold War and beyond.

If you read the Washington Post yesterday or, even worse, if you saw me on C-SPAN, you will have already heard the story I am about to tell. But I am repeating this story at every stop on my U.S. trip this week because it is a powerful example of what NATO is really doing to support our shared values, and why we need to keep at it.

On March 24th, the one-year anniversary of the start of the air campaign, I visited a rebuilt school in a Kosovo village called Poklek, "ethnically cleansed" this time last year by the Serbs. When Milosevic's paramilitaries came to Poklek, 53 local residents, including 10 children, were locked in one house and the Serbs threw in hand grenades. They then burned the house and those in it. Virtually every building in the village was destroyed.

NATO drove out the Serb forces, and KFOR re-established security in the province. Families returned to their scorched and bullet-ridden homes. Children again began to study - inside tents. But they did so in their native language for the first time in ten years. And with KFOR's help, a new school for Poklek was built. The children still walk over an hour to and from school each day. There is no bus service, but life has begun again.

The message to me and NATO Generals Clark and Reinhardt was simple: NATO was their savior. Their joy and gratitude was as humbling and exhilarating as was the deep sorrow of honouring the photos of the 10 murdered children.

Without the NATO air strikes and the NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, this school would still be a pile of rubble; the villagers would still be refugees; and all that would remain is the grief and sorrow of a people destroyed; and Milosevic would by now have turned his attentions to another ethnic group in his shrinking country and would be making mischief across all of Southeast Europe.

So ultimately, this is why we still need NATO. It puts the resources of North America and Europe together to support our shared values and our strategic interests, for the safety of future generations.

Many people have said that with the problems we face today, if we did not have NATO, we would have to create it. Well, I think the public opinion data published by the Chicago Council makes clear that we couldn't create it.

Imagine putting to the U.S. Senate a proposal for the United States to make a fresh commitment to defend absolutely - including by using nuclear weapons if necessary - eighteen other countries, a continent away. I don't think you could do it.

And yet NATO is the best foreign policy investment the United States has ever made. That's why we have work hard to preserve and strengthen NATO, and the U.S. commitment to NATO, in the work we do every day. You do it here at the Chicago Council, and for me, as Secretary General, it is my most vital, personal mission.

Thank you very much.

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