Updated: 26-Jul-2000 NATO Speeches

20 July 2000

"NATO in the 21st Century"

Speech by the Secretary General
to the Millennium Year Lord Mayor's Lecture

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today, among such very distinguished company. The Lord Mayor's Lectures have a reputation for attracting very high-level audiences, and today's gathering is certainly no exception.

There are, I notice, quite a number of my colleagues from the House of Lords. This reminds me of a concern I heard just a few days ago from a Young Parliamentarian from a Central European country. She has apparently being doing some research, and, in her words, noticed a "disturbing density of Lords" in international politics -- a very understandable worry, in my opinion.

In fact, in support of her theory, I am not the first, but in fact the third Lord to be Secretary General of NATO. The first Secretary General of the Alliance was Lord Ismay, who held the position from 1952 to 1957. As the first head of the organisation, he of course played a key role in defining NATO's purpose. It was he who coined the most famous and enduring phrase ever uttered about the organisation, when he said that the purpose of the Alliance was to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down".

This little phrase captured perfectly the complexity of NATO's political role during the Cold War. But let's face it: most people in NATO countries were not preoccupied in their daily life by the transatlantic relationship, nor did they spend their time endlessly talking about Germany's place among its European neighbours. People quite reasonably cared most about what NATO was doing, visibly, to preserve their personal safety - "keeping the Russians out", by preventing a war that would have been, by any definition, devastating.

But when the Cold War came to an end, that understanding of "what NATO does" was called into question. By the early 1990's, the threat of a massive attack on NATO territory was gone, to the great relief of us all. In those circumstances, however, some voices called NATO's continuing purpose into question. The average citizen quite appropriately asked how NATO still helped them, in the new strategic environment. Basically, they were saying: "Sure, you won the Cold War -- but what have you done for me lately?"

No institution exists for its own sake. If it does not have a useful purpose, it will wither on the vine. And yet, a decade after the end of the Cold War, NATO is more vibrant than ever. Indeed, it is impossible to have a credible conversation about security in the Euro-Atlantic area without giving pride of place to the Atlantic Alliance.

How is this possible? To my mind, the answer is simple. NATO still plays a crucial role in preserving the safety and security of all of its members. But today, that mission is being accomplished in a very different way. NATO has moved beyond preventing and deterring the worst possible threat to our citizens.

Instead, as we enter the new Millennium, NATO is engaged in a much broader range of activities, all designed with one fundamental goal -- to address proactively the security challenges which could, or already do, affect the safety or the interests of its members and their populations. And NATO remains vital to Euro-Atlantic security today because of its success in accomplishing that mission. In short, we are driving the security agenda of the 21st Century.

Let me give you a few examples of NATO's new agenda-- and how each element of that agenda makes a direct contribution to our safety, on a daily basis.

First and foremost: we have built a very different relationship between the West and Russia. We all remember the bad old days. The days in which we could not talk to Russia except in pressure-filled Summit meetings convened around disputes. The days in which disagreements were expressed through proxy wars in far away places, or through expensive and frightening arms races. The days in which each side would see its security interests in simply blocking the interests of the other.

When the Cold War ended, NATO was determined these days should end. What did that require? It meant setting up an organic, permanent relationship between Russia and NATO, so that consultations occur on a regular basis. We have done that. It meant working on certain security issues together, so that we solve them most effectively -- from peacekeeping to crisis management to proliferation. We are doing that too.

And despite the occasional very real disagreement, the proof of how far we've come is President Putin's recent musings about the day when Russia itself might join NATO. A far cry from the hostility and zero-sum games of the past, and undoubtedly a major contribution to European security.

Another major contribution to the stability of the continent is NATO's enlargement. Last year we welcomed three former members of the Warsaw Pact as full members of NATO - and we made it clear that these first new members would not be the last. Here too, NATO is making a direct contribution, today, to the safety and security of all our citizens.

Now, some of you might be thinking that I'm exaggerating. How can NATO taking in new members enhance the security of the existing members?

The logic is very clear. Our enlargement process helps to preclude major conflicts in Europe, because the very prospect of NATO membership serves as an incentive for aspirants to get their own houses in order.

Just look at Central and Eastern Europe today. NATO's decision to take in new members has sparked a wave of bilateral treaties, and supported the resolution of many border disputes. It has encouraged countries aspiring to membership to resolve minority issues, and to establish proper democratic control over militaries.

Why? Because all of the aspirants know that if they want to join NATO -- or the EU -- they need to do their homework. They know that NATO is not a social club, but a serious security organisation. And they also know that NATO membership is of enormous strategic significance for them -- not just a political gesture or a consolation prize for not getting into the EU as fast as planned. In short, NATO's willingness to open its doors has brought Europe closer together -- in spirit and in practice.

And the strategic benefits of NATO enlargement are not confined to the period before accession. NATO membership helps countries in transition to make the right choices when it comes to democracy and modernization.

The latest example is that of our three newest members, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. In each case, the new members were emerging from difficult periods of transition, and were making strong efforts to integrate with the Euro-Atlantic community. In each case, NATO responded -- and by offering membership, helped "lock in reform". This, from my perspective, is a direct contribution to security in Europe. Another reason why NATO remains so healthy today.

The Alliance is also contributing to stability well outside of NATO territory through a third major element of its new agenda: partnership. NATO has spent the major part of the last decade developing security relationships with, and between, almost all the new democracies of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.

Why? Because historically, after empires collapse, bad things happen. Nations and peoples feel alone, and nervous. In an unpredictable environment, they may make fragile and dangerous security pacts with their immediate neighbours. The result is often a volatile security system, with no solid foundation or structure, and a real possibility of violent conflict. Conflict which leads to tides of refugees and asylum seekers, which spreads the tension to neighbouring countries. Conflict which spawns ethnic hatred, instability, corruption, drug-running, human trafficking, money laundering - the dark shadows of our time. Conflict which itself visits our own doorsteps.

It was to prevent this very scenario that NATO deliberately developed the Partnership for Peace Programme, and created the little known, but historymaking, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Today, NATO is the dynamo at the hub of a new set of profound defence relationships across the continent. Forty six countries -- NATO members, former Warsaw Pact countries, ex-Soviet Republics, and neutrals, including Switzerland which is not even in the United Nations - now train and exercise together, discuss security issues together and even carry out peacekeeping operations together.

The value of this inclusive framework is very clear. Every country in Europe has a structure through which they can enhance their security interests. No small, rigid regional alliances are necessary. No unilateral solutions are required. Through PfP and EAPC, security across Europe has been structured towards inclusion and cooperation. European countries who chose a new path are included in Euro-Atlantic institutions. That alone is a massive change from the past, and another major contribution to the stability of the continent.

Unfortunately, however, conflicts cannot always be prevented or avoided, despite our best efforts. In Bosnia, and again in Kosovo, the best diplomats in the world tried to head off the violence -- but were unable to deter leaders who would not listen. Sanctions were employed -- but had little effect. Lightly armed monitors and unarmed observers weren't enough to stop the worst violence and the most horrifying violations of human rights from taking place, on the very doorstep of modern Western Europe.

It is in these circumstances that NATO has played its most visible role. Only NATO had the robust military capability necessary to bring such conflicts to an end, and enforce the peace afterwards. And because military operations are so exhaustively covered by the media, it is with this element of NATO's agenda that the Alliance is most identified in the public. For most people, NATO is about making and keeping the peace in the Balkans.

To many, this role too seems to have only a peripheral benefit to them. After all, the Balkans are far away, aren't they? Was it not Bismark who dismissed the Balkans as "not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier"? How could small wars, in places we have barely heard of, affect our security?

Of course, the answer is that they can -- and they do. Before they were stopped, the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were having a direct and very negative effect on both our security interests, and on our values.

Let me use Kosovo as an example. Kosovo sits at the crossroads of Europe, a volatile powderkeg that could easily have ignited the whole region. The ongoing repression of Kosovar Albanians was causing hundreds of thousands of them to flee to safety in neighbouring countries - some of them very new democracies who simply did not have the capacity to copy with them. Indeed, by this time two years ago in 1998, after a summer of violence, intimidation, murder and massacre by Milosevic's thugs, over 400,000 Kosovars had been forced to leave their homes, and more and more were on their way. Had this process continued, without a response from NATO, the fragile democracies of the region could never have withstood the strain.

And let us be blunt -- those refugees were not going to stop in Albania, or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . They would inevitably have ended up travelling further, including to our countries. Whatever our responsibilities to welcome true refugees, the best solution for everyone is if people can simply stay in their homes in peace and security.

For all these reasons, it was in our own security interest to stop the repression of the Kosovar Albanians. But more than that -- we had to act uphold our values. Too many times, in the past decade alone, the international community waited far too long to take action -- and the results were horrific. In Bosnia, we waited almost three years before using force to enforce peace, and those three years saw 3 million refugees, two hundred thousand dead, mass murders, rapes and torture, with concentration camps and deportation trains.

After that and just as our parent's generation said in 1945, we said: never again.

In the last year of the 20th Century we knew what was happening and it chilled the blood. To have done nothing would have been to do everything we had promised never to repeat.

In Kosovo, we knew a humanitarian disaster was already starting. We saw the Serbian troops massing in Kosovo, and the heavy armour rolling in. We saw the Yugoslav Government training the army, police and paramilitary thugs to organise the expulsion of the majority Kosovar Albanians. We knew that Milosevic had moved the most barbaric paramilitaries, including the notorious Arkan, into Northern Kosovo -- and where Arkan went, the worst depredations were bound to follow.

We gave peace every chance. But despite our best efforts, the diplomacy failed. In the face of all the evidence of an impending explosion of violence, which would betray our values, damage our interests and spill over well beyond Kosovo - NATO had no choice but to act.

One year later, all we know and see vindicates that decision. Today, Kosovo is different and better. The hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned, schools and homes have been rebuilt, multiethnic institutions are slowly getting off the ground, and elections are planned for October. Despite some continuing tensions and hotspots, Kosovo is a success story, not only because most Kosovars no longer fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but because the international community has delivered a blunt message: that where we can be decisive, massive violations of human rights will not go unopposed.

Now, there is one simple lesson we have learned expensively for Bosnia and Kosovo - and from European wars before that. It is that diplomatic credibility requires military capability. If diplomacy is to be successful in stopping troublespots becoming crises, then credible military resources have to be available to back it up.

As we enter the 21st century, we still need capable forces -- but we need them to do very different things. They need to be able to go to a crisis before the crisis comes to us. Before the refugees and the asylum seekers are forced to flee. Before weapons go flooding into the conflict region, and then further afield. Before the chaos of conflict is exploited by organised crime, drug-runners, money launderers, and the effects are inevitably felt in London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam. And before the idea of violence as a tool of ethnic hatred becomes accepted as common currency in Europe -- something which we know from history can easily happen.

To manage 21st Century crises, NATO needs 21st Century forces. We need forces that can move quickly to a conflict area, and that can arrive in enough force to have an immediate effect. We need forces that are high-tech enough to dominate the situation, to accomplish their mission as quickly as possible, and with the lowest possible risk to them and to innocent civilians. We need forces that are able to stay in the field for as long as it takes to accomplish their mission.

The forces we built up in the Cold War don't always fit that description. We no longer need concentrations of heavy armour designed for a massive tank battle in Germany. Across NATO, we still have too much of that. Kosovo made that very clear. In today's security environment, Cold War forces are a waste of money. To all intents and purposes, they exist only on paper -- and paper armies don't prevent trouble.

When I took up my post as NATO's 10th Secretary General, I said that I had three key priorities: capabilities, capabilities, capabilities. And at last year's Summit in Washington, our Heads of State and Government agreed. They directed that the Alliance take steps to make our forces more mobile, more effective in the field, and better able to stay in the field for extended periods of time.

This direction to improve our capabilities was a recognition by NATO countries that a complete and solid peace across Europe has not yet been achieved -- and as a result, that the peace dividend has reached its limit. Kosovo could not have made that more clear. NATO's members recognise that in the 21st century, we need better defence spending and more defence spending, if we are to be able to address the very real challenges to our security.

Some NATO members have already begun to put their money where their mouth is. Britain is one example. I was very pleased to see that, earlier this week, the British Government released a budget that foresees a real and significant increase in defence spending. This is a welcome step in the right direction. And many other NATO members are taking similar steps. Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United States have also announced increases to their budgets. Other NATO Allies, like Belgium, Germany and Denmark are embarking on significant restructuring programmes that will achieve more efficient and effective force structures.

We have finally turned the corner on defence spending. The Kosovo alarm bell has woken up Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today's dangerous world, there is no credibility without capability. And NATO goes into the 21st century as the most credible security organization in history precisely because we are capable. Capable of building a strong new relationship with Russia. Capable of encouraging reform in new democracies. And capable of managing crises, when they occur. That is why the NATO Alliance is in such good shape. And as NATO's members continue to improve their defence capabilities and effectiveness, the Alliance will make an even more effective contribution to the security of its members, and to the safety of future generations.

Thank you.

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