Updated: 18-Sep-2000 NATO Speeches

NATO Defense College,
Course 97
15 Sept. 2000

Secretary General's Eisenhower Lecture

The Relevance of Atlanticism

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Eisenhower Lectures have become a valued opportunity to explore that strange phenomenon that has kept the Atlantic Alliance together for over half a century: the phenomenon of two continents - Europe and North America - uniting in a community of values; the phenomenon called "Atlanticism".

What could be a useful definition of Atlanticism? I believe that we need to look no farther than a remarkable discussion held on the eve of the signing of the Washington Treaty 51 years ago. For here, in my view, all the characteristics of the next half century of Atlanticism were laid out very clearly.

On the evening before the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty US President Truman, his Secretary of State Acheson and his Secretary of Defense met with the Foreign Ministers of the ten European nations who had come to Washington to sign the Treaty. It was a private meeting. No advisers were present - a rather unusual set-up. But the reason for this arrangement became quickly clear:

In remarkably blunt words, Truman and Acheson told their future Allies how the United States viewed "the critical problems which we face today".

President Truman warned his guests that much of what he was going to say that night "would be disconcerting to many of you, that it presupposes a level of common action and understanding which … will be extremely difficult to attain in practice, and, finally, that it will require of some states sacrifices of traditional security and economic objectives which they may be most unwilling to make." But, as he continued, "great problems call for great decisions".

Remember: the time was 1949. Quite naturally, then, the Soviet threat was at the centre of the United States' concerns. There was also the fear of Communism undermining the war-weary societies of Western Europe. But as it quickly became clear, the American conception of this new Alliance went much further than a military bulwark against the Soviet Union: the conception was that of an increasingly unified Western Europe, a Europe with "a new sense of unity".
The United States, Dean Acheson said, viewed with a "sense of urgency" the desirability of "closer European political unification". He agreed that "no such step as a United States of Europe is feasible … at this stage, but rather a series of concrete steps to solidify and extend the remarkable progress already made".

President Truman made utterly clear that the Atlantic Pact would be a symbol "of our common determination, a contract, as it were, under which our new partnership must now proceed …" He made clear that the Treaty was only a framework - a framework for a project far wider and ambitious than mutual defence.

This memorable discussion took place more than half a century ago. Of course, much has changed since then: the integration of Western Europe, the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe. And yet this episode of April 1949 remains utterly relevant today. For it encapsulates the key features of Atlanticism - features that made it durable; features that continue to make it so tremendously attractive.

There was, first and foremost, the American willingness to lead: to act as an economic and military catalyst for Europe's recovery, even when this was extremely unpopular within the United States itself. American leadership proved immensely beneficial to both sides of the Atlantic. It enable Europe to channel its energies into re-construction and reconciliation.

And despite the early American lead, the transatlantic relationship was intended to become, and indeed has become, a partnership of equals, as Europe has grown stronger and more united. Yet understanding - and appreciating - the unique role of the United States as a catalyst for progress remains at the heart of Atlanticism.

There was also the clear awareness that, despite the US role of an honest broker, it was ultimately the Europeans who had to get their act together. Indeed, as Truman and Acheson made clear on that memorable night in 1949, fostering European integration was an intrinsic part of the Atlantic project from its very beginning. Security and economics are linked; one cannot flourish without the other.

Hence, the Marshall Plan and the Washington Treaty were "two halves of the same walnut". Understanding this link between security and economics is another characteristic of Atlanticism.

A third feature of Atlanticism is its comprehensive nature. Atlanticism extends far beyond security cooperation alone. As the conversation of 51 years ago also made clear, this new Alliance was seen as more than a defence contract. In military terms, the Treaty was about defending Western Europe against the threat of Soviet aggression. Politically, however, it aimed at managing change, about turning the North Atlantic area into a common political, economic and security space.
As John Foster Dulles put it a few years later, the idea was to achieve "cooperation for something rather than merely against something."

And yet another distinct feature of Atlanticism became apparent on that memorable night in April 1949: the readiness to take a long-term view of things, the willingness to state a bold vision of the future, and even take "calculated risks", as President Truman put it, to achieve that vision.
This required an atmosphere of trust and frankness in dealing with one another. And it required a sense of partnership - a partnership based on equality and on mutual respect, a partnership that transcended the obvious differences in size, economic or military power of the different Allies.

In short, what was expressed that evening in Washington 51 years ago was Atlanticism at its best: forward-looking, bold, pragmatic, generous.

This Atlanticism more than survived the end of the Cold War. It is prospering. In fact, the features of the "original" Atlanticism which I described are firmly entrenched in today's Europe.

The need for the United States to play an active part in European security remains undisputed today. The United States retains unique capabilities as a crisis manager.
And from German unification to the Dayton agreements, the United States has also shown it remains an indispensable coalition-builder, a catalyst for rallying the international community to action. Today, no one seriously questions the role of the United States as a "European power". The United States is needed - and indeed welcomed - in the emerging new architecture.

Some of you may ask: does this logic still hold true? Aren't Europe's recent efforts to develop a European Security and Defence Policy a sign that Atlanticism is faltering - that Europe and North America are determined to go separate ways from now on? My answer to these questions is a resounding "no". The European Allies are indeed working to turn Europe into a more serious security actor, but they are not abandoning the logic of transatlantic solidarity.
On the contrary, they are adapting Atlanticism to the changing strategic realities of today's security environment.

Today, unlike 1949, Europe does not face a monolithic threat. What it faces instead are regional crises and instability. Many of these crises will be managed by Europe and North America together.

But not each and every regional crisis will affect the United States the same way as it will affect the Europeans. So there can be cases where the United States may not want to take the lead. In such a case, Europe must be prepared to lead.

And there is more. Much of the political unification of Europe that the Americans had hoped for in 1949 has now been achieved. Today, the European Union is an economic equal to the United States. So the United States has every right to expect a more even sharing of the security burden with its prosperous European Allies.

Thus, if NATO and the European Union today are building new ties between each other, if Europe and North America re-adjust their security relationship, they remain fully within the logic of Atlanticism - because Atlanticism is not static. It is a constant process of mutual adjustment.

Another feature of Atlanticism, the need for integration, and for linking security and economics, also still applies today. Nowhere is it more visible than in the complementary efforts by NATO and EU to project stability eastwards by offering membership to some, while associating others. Atlanticism has never been a concept based on geography, but on shared values. That is why NATO enlargement proceeds regardless of where a country is situated in Europe. That is why Partnership for Peace reaches out even as far as Central Asia. And that is why NATO and the EU are both developing cooperative relations with their neighbours across the Mediterranean. To cooperate in today's world is a matter of common-sense. And common-sense does not know geographical restrictions.

This logic also applies to Russia. In 1949, President Truman shocked his European interlocutors by suggesting that Germany should become part of the team of Atlanticist democracies. Only four years after the end of World War II, this seemed a far-fetched idea. But in the end, Truman's bold vision became reality. Today, it may still seem far-fetched to many to envisage Russia becoming a "part of the team" one day.
But if there is anything to learn from the last half-century of Atlanticism, it is that bold visions can come true, if we pursue them persistently. That is why NATO has worked - and very persistently indeed - towards a close relationship with Russia. This relationship has had its ups and downs, as all of you know perfectly well. But we are determined to make it work. Because a democratic, cooperative Russia is in everybody's interest.

To make bold visions a reality sometimes requires - if I may quote President Truman again - to take "calculated risks". This principle of Atlanticism - courage - has also been vindicated time and time again, most recently in the Balkans. Traditionally, people referred to the Balkans as "Europe's powder keg". That term implied a clear message: Stay out! Don't get entangled in this messy region!

Well, when Yugoslavia started to collapse, we did stay out - at first. But soon we realised that we had to become engaged.

True, our nations were not threatened physically by the carnage in Bosnia. But our values were. With every day in Bosnia passing, the question became more urgent: Can we really develop Europe into a common political, economic and security space if we allow mass murder, mass rape and ethnic cleansing to persist?
In short, we realised that indifference can become more costly than engagement. That's why we decided to become engaged. And our engagement made the difference between war and peace.

In Kosovo, the problems were even more complex - militarily, politically and legally. Still, we decided to act. Because continued ethnic cleansing in Kosovo would have destabilised a much wider region. And because, like in Bosnia, our entire vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe would have been undermined if we had allowed the events to run their course. In the end, our engagement was successful.

Our air campaign ended the biggest mass expulsions since World War Two. Within just a few months, more than one million refugees and displaced persons returned to their homes.

Our engagement in the Balkans was risky and controversial - but we carried it through, because we knew that we did the right thing. What helped us in this endeavour was the fact that NATO did not act alone. It acted together with dozens of Partner nations - many of which are represented by you here today. Some of these nations supported NATO despite considerable political risks and economic sacrifices. But they stood firm. Because they, too, share the same values.
To me, the solidarity displayed in the Kosovo crisis was the strongest sign that Atlanticism today reaches far beyond NATO itself.

Atlanticism, as I pointed out earlier, is about vision and about persistence. And our vision of an Atlanticist Europe would be incomplete without a stable and prosperous Southeastern Europe. That is why we did not confine our engagement in the Balkans to a military campaign.

Quite the contrary. In both Bosnia and Kosovo, we accepted a much broader responsibility - namely that of helping to rebuild that war-torn region. We want to create the conditions that will make war impossible to erupt again.

Creating the conditions for long-term peace - that was the logic embraced by European and North American leaders after World War II. It was a tremendous success. Now we must apply this logic to Southeastern Europe.

And just like the Marshall Plan and NATO 50 years ago provided a powerful package of economic prosperity and security for Western Europe, so the Stability Pact and NATO's cooperative efforts will go hand in hand to provide Southeastern Europe with the framework for progress. We all know that it will take a long time until that region will be able to stand on its own feet again. But we will stay until the job is done - until the "Balkan powderkeg" is defused for good.

The need to reach beyond defence alone has also been vindicated time and time again. Today, Europe and North America have evolved into a broad transatlantic community, embracing political, economic, and security matters. It is a community based on interdependence. To give you just one example, 14 million jobs are sustained by the transatlantic trade relationship.

This pre-disposition to work together remains the key to cope with an ever-growing transatlantic agenda: bringing long-term stability to Southeastern Europe, managing regional crises, enlarging NATO and EU, supporting Russia's democratic transformation, stabilising the newly independent nations, encouraging open markets world-wide, or preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

This is a challenging agenda. But it is doable, because yet another characteristic of Atlanticism has stayed alive since its very beginning: its strong institutional foundation. One of those foundations is this very institution - the NATO Defense College. Almost since the inception of NATO, the Defense College has helped cultivate and promote the logic of Atlanticism.

In 1951, General Eisenhower, the first Supreme Allied Commander, called for the establishment of a NATO College because he felt that we needed individuals who have a firm grasp of the new security challenges. The College has produced a steady stream of such individuals - first within NATO members only, then among NATO nations and Partner nations alike.

Last year's move to these new quarters have opened another chapter for this College. The new curriculum is even better tailored to the requirements of today and tomorrow. The Partnership elements and the Mediterranean dimension of the College are growing further. Today, the College has become the centre of a defence network extending to some 50 nations.

The opportunities for conducting genuine research are growing. In short, the College has become NATO's key investment in strategic education. It has become an indispensable part of the new NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is an Indian saying that "a bridge never sleeps". This, I think, is a good metaphor for Atlanticism, and for our Atlantic Alliance. For it acts as a bridge - a bridge of substance and permanence - that links two continents in a commitment to one another.

Atlanticism is not simply a short-term marriage of convenience between Europe and North America. On the contrary, it rests on the conviction that the nations of Europe and of North America are like-minded nations - nations who trust and respect each other, nations who are better off together than apart. That is why all our nations do not only share a common past, they also share a common future.

Thank You.

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