Updated: 25-Jan-2001 NATO Speeches

At the 5th
Editors' Forum
of the Federal

25 Jan. 2001

"European Security in the 21st Century"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with you today. This is one of my first speeches of 2001, and considering how much NATO has been in the news in the first few weeks of this year, I can think of no better audience than one that includes a large number of news editors!

As you all know, NATO has taken up so much air time and newsprint in these past weeks because of the controversy surrounding the use of depleted uranium munitions. Because it is important, I will address it right at the start.

First: No NATO country, nor NATO itself, has any interest whatsoever in using munitions that would pose significant long-term health risks apart from their intended military purpose. Everything we know about Depleted Uranium, and there is a lot, makes clear that these munitions are not in this category.

Second: We have a collective duty to ensure that the rhetoric on this issue doesn't rapidly outpace the reality. The reality, to date, is that a wealth of experts, from a variety of countries and institutions, have looked at DU, and none of them have found a link between its use and illnesses among people who have served in the Balkans or live there. We must, of course, always be alert to new information and be prepared to take measures if the evidence warrants it. Meanwhile, we have to take the current scientific evidence fully into account, and not be stampeded into unwise and hasty decisions.

That is precisely what NATO is doing. At a meeting in Brussels on January 10th, NATO's Ambassadors agreed to set up a committee to look at all the studies on any possible health effects of DU, and to share freely all information we have amongst ourselves and with interested parties outside of NATO. This special committee, to which the UNEP, WHO, the European Commission, other NGOs, and also the Yugoslav government have been invited, has met twice already and will keep meeting. The heads of the Military Medical Services of the NATO nations met on 15 January and exchanged their information about Depleted Uranium - again indicating that it is not responsible for any illnesses among soldiers who have served in the Balkans.

Let me stress again: NATO countries have every reason to expose the truth, and nothing whatsoever to hide. The measures we are taking will help us highlight the facts, coordinate information from experts and nations and act as our clearing house for maximum openness.

January 10th, 2001 was, however, an important day at NATO headquarters for more than the meeting on the issue of depleted uranium. There was another meeting that I believe will come, over time, to be seen as much more historically significant. On that day, the Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia, Mr. Goran Svilanovic came to NATO Headquarters. He met with me, and he met with NATO's Ambassadors. And he made perhaps the most important statement made so far this year in international politics, when he said that "NATO and the FRY are no longer enemies".

Now, I don't know who among us, even six months ago, would have dared to bet that this meeting, and that statement, would take place so quickly. But they did happen -- and they illustrate vividly the dramatic importance of the change of government in Yugoslavia.

We don't have to look very far back in time to realise how significant that change is. Just six months ago, the Milosevic regime was still in power. Milosevic was still looking for ways to cause trouble in Kosovo, and exploit the volatility in the Presevo Valley, adjoining Kosovo. He was threatening to use force to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Montenegro. He refused to recognise the legitimacy of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country. He provided a safe haven for fellow individuals indicted for war crimes. He refused to participate in clearing the Danube, with enormous financial implications for the region. Milosevic, personally responsible for four Balkan wars, for so much suffering, so much dislocation, and so many grave abuses of human rights and outrages against human decency, his very existence as a Balkan leader was an affront to his neighbours, and to the broader international community. He represented a permanent threat to peace and stability in Europe.

Today, things are very, very different. Yugoslavia is no longer a pariah state. On the contrary -- President Kostunica has moved quickly to bring his country in from the cold, and the international community has moved with equal speed to open the door. Yugoslavia has now retaken its seat in the United Nations and the OSCE, and it is working hard to join the Council of Europe. Relations between Serbia and Montenegro -- so recently seen as the next potential Balkan conflict -- are now following a peaceful path. Yugoslavia has recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country. The countries of the region have welcomed Yugoslavia back into the fold. And in a true sign of the times, NATO and Yugoslavia are working on a daily basis towards a common purpose: preventing extremists from causing more violence in the Presevo Valley.

Simply put, a black hole has been closed in South East Europe. When the people of Yugoslavia bravely and decisively removed the Milosevic regime from office, Yugoslavia began the transition that the other countries of the region have already embraced: towards democracy, peaceful resolution of disputes, and integration into the wider Europe.

This is an historic success - for the Yugoslavs and those who helped them topple Milosevic. And our first challenge of the year 2001, in NATO and in the broader international community, is to reinforce that success. To support Yugoslavia, where possible, in making that positive transition. And in so doing, to continue to contribute to the steady democratization and growing stability of South East Europe.

Of course, for there to be stability in South East Europe, there must be stability in Kosovo and Bosnia. And a second challenge we face in the upcoming year is consolidating the progress we are making in those two areas as well.

For Kosovo, the year 2000 was a good one, in terms of setting the foundations for a peaceful, self-sustaining future. The people of Kosovo held their first free and fair democratic election perhaps ever, and they mainly chose representatives who espouse a non-violent, democratic approach to accomplishing their goals. This is a sign of political maturity, and it bodes well, I believe, for stability in Yugoslavia.

This does not mean that there are no more challenges. There most certainly are. The security situation for minorities, and support from inside Kosovo to the insurgent activity in the Presovo Valley and the 5km wide Ground Safety Zone on the Serb side of the boundary with Kosovo, are real causes for concern, and NATO is fully engaged in tackling them. But overall, I believe that Kosovo is heading in the right direction.

The record in Bosnia-Herzegovina, too, is mixed -- but also heading in the right direction. The recent elections were portrayed by much of the international press as a victory for nationalist parties. On the surface, it seems that way. But it is also worth remembering that, in each and every election held in Bosnia since 1995, moderate parties have won more and more votes. This was true in the most recent elections as well -- and as a result, for the first time, it is as least mathematically possible for Governments to be formed in Bosnia without the participation of Nationalist parties. This may not seem like much -- but we have to remember that it has been only five years since the war ended. Patience is still necessary. And that patience is being rewarded -- albeit far too slowly. One of my main priorities in 2001 will be to make all the politicians of Bosnia understand that international patience is not infinite, nor are our resources -- and that sooner, rather than later, the people of Bosnia will have to take the ownership of their own future in a peaceful, democratic country.

A third NATO priority for 2001 will be to further improve the NATO-Russia relationship.

All of us here are familiar with the ups and down of this relationship over the past decade. Kosovo was the most obvious low point. Relations are, however, once again back on track. Russian forces are working very well with NATO forces in the Balkans. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council is meeting regularly, and discussing cooperation on a wide range of the most serious security issues. And just last month, Foreign Minister Ivanov met with his NATO counterparts at NATO Headquarters, to discuss deepening our relations further.

One of the most important ways in which we can deepen our relations is, very simply, through better communication. NATO needs to be more effective at conveying to Russians what the Alliance is, what it does and why -- because Russians need to understand more clearly that NATO is not, nor does it want to be, any threat to their security. That is why I will be travelling to Moscow on 19-12 February to open a NATO Information Office in Russia. This office will provide accurate and timely information to anyone interested in NATO and NATO issues, and therefore help to eliminate some of the myths and illusions that sometimes get in the way of practical cooperation. Today NATO and Russia are indeed partners - and no longer combative opponents.

That principle -- eliminating myths and illusions, to get on with practical cooperation -- is what is driving the final priority I wish to address today. I am referring of course, to the development of the European Security and Defence Identity.

Now, anyone following the news over the past few months would have had difficulty avoiding the many stories on this issue. But if I may say so, much of the recent coverage on ESDI has missed the point (-- and particularly in the UK). It has missed the point on why it is happening; and it has missed the point on what is happening.

First: why is Europe developing a stronger capability?

First, because Europe is changing. What was a loose collection of states has become a Union of unprecedented economic and political strength. Indeed, the GDP of the European Union today is roughly equivalent of that of the United States. It is only logical that such a Union also has a credible defence dimension. The Europe of the 21st century is ready and willing to take on a more robust role in security - and that makes eminent common sense.

ESDI is also necessary because in this new Century, Europe must make a greater contribution within NATO. For many years, the United States has been calling on Europe to develop its capabilities in the defence field, to "balance burdens" more fairly. The Kosovo air campaign made it crystal clear that there is still enormous progress to be made in this regard. The United States had to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, the cost, and the risk, notably because European forces were simply not appropriately structured and equipped for the operation. This imbalance of capabilities between the United States and Europe is neither fair, nor politically sustainable over the long term. Both North America and Europe want to see a strong European pillar within the Alliance, to balance burdens and responsibilities more equitably. This rebalancing will help strengthen and reinforce our transatlantic link, and not in any way weaken it.

Finally, ESDI is also necessary because in the 21st century, there will be times when Europe needs to be able, or will be forced, to take the lead in handling some security challenges. During most of NATO's first 50 years, the existential threat posed by the Soviet Union necessitated constant US engagement in almost all aspects of European security. Today, however, Europe faces different challenges, such as smaller regional conflicts and civil wars within small countries. These challenges will not necessarily always engage North American security interests, and Europe must develop the capability to handle them when North America does not wish to be engaged.

Nothing could be worse for the transatlantic linkage for there to be only two options for any crisis in Europe; NATO or nothing.

As a result of these fundamental changes, both the EU and North America have agreed that now is the time for Europe to take on a stronger role in defence.

That is why ESDI is happening. Let me now set the record straight on what is happening.

Contrary to what many pundits believe or would like us to believe, Europe is actually getting more capable. Indeed, in the last 18 months Europe has made more progress on ESDI than in 18 years before. Europe has defined its essential requirements, and made initial military contributions to meet them. It has also set up political and military staffs to give direction on security matters. And NATO, for its part, has defined how it will provide support to EU-led operations, and has begun to work with the EU in defining its requirements more precisely. And we have established an interim security agreement between the two organisations.

We have also made progress towards setting up permanent institutional relations between NATO and the EU. A month ago, at the Nice Summit, the European Union set out its vision of how these relations should develop. Just a few days later, and taking due account of the Nice meeting, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed on the Alliance's proposed way ahead -- and the proposals from both organizations show they are both singing from the same song sheet when it comes to permanent relations between them.

Both organizations believe that NATO's Council and its counterpart in the EU should meet regularly, not only when there are crises. Both NATO and the EU believe that EU and NATO ministers should meet once per EU-Presidency. And of course, both organizations believe that, in times of crisis, contacts and meeting should be stepped up. This commonality of the approach between NATO and the EU should soon lead to the establishment of broad, effective working relations at all levels.

This is all substantial progress - but of course, it is still early days. And as our work progresses towards developing a stronger European capability, we must follow three main principles if this project is to deliver on all its potential.

The first principle is that there must be a true spirit of mutual cooperation. Of course, both organisations will relate to each other on an equal footing -- but they have to work as closely as possible together, in the fullest possible transparency, and in respect of the autonomy of decision of each organisation.

This principle of close cooperation applies in particular to defence planning. And the second principle which must guide NATO-EU relations is that defence planning by the two organizations must be fully coherent and compatible. Each NATO and EU country has only one set of forces, and only one defence budget. It is absolutely vital, therefore, that these forces are structured, equipped and trained to be able to handle all the tasks we give them: NATO and EU missions, not either/or. Coherent defence planning is the key -- and it will be vital to ensuring that European capabilities actually add to existing NATO capabilities, to everybody's benefit.

The final principle which must guide the further development of NATO-EU involved the issue of participation. Very simply, all of NATO's members, as well as the EU states, must be satisfied with the provisions we put in place for the participation of non-EU NATO members, including Canada, in EU-led operations.

We have already made a lot of progress. In recent months in particular, the EU has been forthcoming in the provisions it envisions for the participation of non-EU NATO members. For example, the EU has committed itself to intensify consultation in times of crisis, which will also enable non-EU European Allies to raise their concerns when they consider their security interests to be involved. In a similar vein, non-EU European Allies can request meetings with the European Union and submit proposals for agenda items.

These proposals, along with new proposals for consultation and cooperation with Canada, demonstrate that the EU addresses the concerns of the non-EU Allies. These are important steps in the right direction. I am very optimistic that this issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of all countries concerned - not only because we have made such good progress, but also because the establishment of satisfactory participation is a precondition of the success of the whole enterprise. If the necessary flexibility and goodwill is there, I am sure we can make the progress we need -- and develop the NATO-EU relationship into a real success. In so doing, we will ensure that the Euro-Atlantic community becomes more capable of addressing effectively whatever security challenges we face in future.

Let me mention two other important topics briefly. First is NATO enlargement. Now, as Secretary General, my job is not to make the decision as to who should join. That is for NATO's member states, and as many of you know, NATO's Heads of State and Government will be gathering at a Summit next year to consider issuing further invitations for NATO membership. Between now and then, my job is to ensure that the enlargement process proceeds as it should. This means ensuring that all the issues are debated fully, by all the interested parties. It means giving the nine applicant countries as much feedback as possible, through our Membership Action Plan. It means reminding those aspirants that they will have to make difficult decisions, and tough decisions, if they are to meet NATO's standards, in particular on defence reform. Needless to say that the final decision on enlargement remains fundamentally political as well.

The second challenge we will face, as we go deeper into the year 2001, is ensuring that the discussion on National Missile Defence proceeds sensibly and maturely. The new US administration has made it clear that they intend to deploy an NMD system as soon as it is feasible. This, of course, has implications for the other Allies, for Russia, and for the arms control regime itself.

That being said, I am very pleased with the way the transatlantic discussion on NMD has gone until now. NATO has proved its value as a forum for consultation among Allies on security issues. The US has been very forthcoming in sharing its thoughts on NMD with the Allies, as well as the state of play in negotiations with Russia on the ABM Treaty. Similarly, the other Allies have made their views and concerns known to the United States through regular meetings in NATO. I am confident that this issue will be handled with equal openness, transparency and good will as we look to the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In October 1999, fifteen months ago, I took up my post as Secretary General. And as I walked through the doors of NATO on my first day, I thought of the advice that Lord Carrington, the NATO Secretary General from 1984 to 1988 gave his successor, Manfred Woerner. As Woerner arrived, Carrington said to him, "Now it's up to you to bore yourself for the next four years, Manfred".

Well, soon after Woerner took up his position, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, and NATO had to intervene in the war in Bosnia. And a few years later, Woerner reminded Lord Carrington of his remark, noting that he was still waiting for boredom to set in. Carrington answered that if he had known what was going to happen so soon after he left, he would have kept the job!

Perhaps ironically, it is certainly true that, since the Cold War ended, the position of NATO Secretary General has become a lot more active than it was previously. And my relatively early tenure has been no exception. Indeed, barely a week has gone by since I took up my post in which NATO has not been in the news for one reason or another!

While this has meant some rather long days for me, the broad reason for all this attention is very positive. Very simply, NATO today is engaged actively from one end of the Euro-Atlantic area to the other. Building security through partnerships. Encouraging and assisting defence reform in newly democratic countries. Backing up diplomacy with robust military force. Where necessary, managing crises. And maintaining the peace in volatile environments.

This is a challenging agenda, by any definition. But we are having real success in making it work. And as we enter the year 2001, I am confident that the Alliance will build on that success, and continue to enhance security right across the Euro-Atlantic area.

Thank you for your attention!

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