Updated: 19-Feb-2001 NATO Speeches

16 Feb. 2001


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
Earl Grey Memorial Lecture

"NATO: what have you done for me lately?"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here this evening. I have a particular soft spot for Earl Grey, after whom these lectures are named. This is a man who once described Scotland as a place "no less famed for its genuine love of liberty than for its general intelligence, for the cultivation of the arts of peace, for its distinction in literature and science, and above all of its sober, calm and reflective sense." A very perceptive man indeed, Earl Grey - and I am pleased to speak at a lecture named in his honour.

It is a fine British tradition to remember the past, and to honour it. And I suspect that, ten years ago, a lot of experts would have predicted that there would soon be a "NATO memorial lecture". Because when the Cold War ended, many analysts believed NATO would soon be dissolved as well.

From their perspective, NATO had existed for one basic purpose: to "keep the Russians out". But by the early 1990s, when it had become clear that the Russians weren't coming, many people were wondering how NATO still helped them. Basically, they were saying: "Sure, you won the Cold War -- but what have you done for me lately?"

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 completely different way. NATO has moved beyond preventing the worst possible threat to our citizens. Instead, as we enter the 21st Century, the Alliance is engaged in a much broader range of activities, all designed with one fundamental goal -- to build security. To go out and address proactively the security challenges which could, or already do, affect the safety or the interests of its members and their populations. And the Alliance is as vital to Euro-Atlantic security today as it is because of its success in accomplishing that mission.

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.

I will begin by discussing perhaps the least known element of NATO's agenda: Partnership. And I begin with Partnership because I believe that it is one of the most important contributions to European stability today -- and as such, it deserves a little more time in the sun.

NATO has spent the majority 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 countries feel alone, and nervous. In an unpredictable environment, they 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 always 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 can itself also make a visit to our doorstep, if it spreads too far.

It was to preclude this scenario that NATO set up our Partnership for Peace Program, and created the little-known, but historic, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Today the Alliance is the dynamo at the hub of a profound new set of defence relationships across the continent. Forty six countries -- NATO members, former Warsaw Pact countries and even neutrals, including Switzerland which is not even in the United Nations -- now train together, talk about 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. That alone is, in my opinion, a massive change from the past, and a major contribution to the stability of the continent.

Some of NATO's Partners, however, are not satisfied with Partnership. They want more. They want membership in NATO. And NATO is keeping its door to membership open, because the Alliance feels strongly that the enlargement process is making a direct contribution, today, to the safety and security of our citizens.

Now, some of you might be thinking that I'm exaggerating. After all, 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 mere prospect of NATO membership is serving as an incentive for aspirants to get their house 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 border disputes. It has also encouraged many serious attempts 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 indeed 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. NATO's willingness to enlarge 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 modernisation. NATO membership helps "lock in reform". This, from my perspective, is a direct contribution to security in Europe -- and another reason why NATO remains so healthy today.

One country that is watching the enlargement process carefully is, of course, Russia. But while NATO's enlargement remains a certain source of concern for the Russians, what is new is that our discussions over enlargement take place in the context of a broad cooperative NATO-Russia relationship.

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. The days of "zero-sum" diplomacy - what's good for you is bad for us.

When the Cold War ended, NATO was determined that this pattern, too, should be consigned to the dustbin of history. 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 important 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 musings about the day when Russia itself might join NATO. A far cry from the hostility of the past, and a major contribution to European security.

We do not yet have the NATO-Russia relationship we want. There is still too much residual Cold War mistrust, and too many out-of-date stereotypes. That is why I am going to Moscow in a just a few days, to officially open a NATO Information Office which will provide accurate information about NATO to all interested Russians. I believe this is another important step in the process of putting the past behind us, and moving towards a future where Russia takes her place as a modern European country -- sharing common values, and working in cooperation with the rest of the Euro-Atlantic community.

The importance of this project to the security of all NATO members goes without saying, and the Alliance is playing a key role in making it happen, through dialogue and cooperation.

Another major element on NATO's agenda are our peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. It would, of course, be impossible to make a speech without mentioning Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, I think most people's mental image of NATO consists largely of news footage of fighter planes taking off, or of NATO peacekeepers controlling riots in Kosovo.

Many people ask me why we got involved in these operations. After all, the Balkans are far away, aren't they? How could it possibly help the security of NATO's citizens to get involved in areas which Bismarck said were "Not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier"?

Of course, the answer is that these conflicts do affect our security. Before they were stopped, the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were having a clear and very negative effect on both our security interests, and represented a major challenge to our values.

Let me use Kosovo as an example. First, Kosovo sits at a vital strategic point in Europe, a volatile powderkeg that could have easily ignited the whole region. The ongoing repression of Kosovar Albanians was causing hundreds of thousands of them to flee to safety in neighbouring countries - new, democracies that did not have the capacity to cope with them. Had this process continued, the fragile democracies of the region could never have withstood the strain. And the floods of refugees fleeing the violence would have washed ashore all over Europe.

For all these reasons, it was in our own clear security interest to stop the repression of the Kosovar Albanians. But more than that -- we had to take action to uphold our values. To have done nothing, in the face of clear evidence of what was happening, would have been to do everything we had promised never to repeat.

In Kosovo, we knew a disaster was coming. We saw the troops massing in Kosovo, and the heavy armour beginning to roll in. We saw the Yugoslav Government training the army, police and paramilitary thugs to work together to organize the expulsion of the Kosovar Albanians. We knew that Milosevic had moved the most barbaric paramilitaries, including the notorious Arkan, into Northern Kosovo -- and where Arkan and his like went, the worst depredations were always soon to follow.

We gave peace every chance. But despite our best efforts, 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.

The results vindicate that decision. The hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned, schools and homes have been rebuilt, multiethnic institutions are slowly getting off the ground, and free and fair elections have been held. 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 message: that where we can be decisive, massive violations of human rights will not go unopposed.

And the effects of this victory are not only being felt in Kosovo -- they have been felt in Belgrade. I remember very clearly how many so-called experts suggested that the Kosovo operation would only strengthen support for Milosevic; that the people of Yugoslavia would rally around him as a hero. Instead, they saw Milosevic for what he is: a man who has led them progressively, over ten years, to four lost wars, political isolation, and economic ruin.

With great courage, they made a change. They voted for a new direction -- towards peace, greater prosperity and the assumption of their rightful place in Europe. The challenge the international community faces now is to help turn that hope into reality, through economic and political assistance. That work has already begun. And I am very pleased indeed that Yugoslavia has taken that vital first step in a new direction -- towards the Europe of the 21st Century.

Bosnia and Kosovo taught us that determined action can make a difference. But these operations have also reinforced a lesson we have always known: that diplomatic credibility requires military capability. If diplomacy is to be successful in preventing tensions from degenerating into 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, which inevitably comes to London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. And before the idea of violence as a tool of ethnic hatred becomes accepted as common currency in Europe -- something which we know too well can 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 heavy armoured forces designed for a massive tank battle in Germany. Kosovo made that very clear. Basically, today, these forces are waste of money. If we can't use them for the crises we actually face today, then they basically exist only on paper -- and paper armies don't prevent trouble.

When I took up my post as Secretary General, I said that I had three priorities: capabilities, capabilities, capabilities. And our Heads of State and Government agree. They have 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 period of time.

This direction to improve our capabilities was a recognition by NATO countries that there is still not complete and solid peace across Europe -- 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 investment, 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 am very pleased to see that the British Government has recently published a budget that foresees the first real increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War. This is a welcome step in the right direction. Many other members are taking similar steps, to increase their defence budgets, and improve the way they spend them.

We have finally turned the corner on defence spending. The Kosovo alarm bell has woken up NATO's members that they have to do more, if they want to be able to deal with the security challenges we face today.

But the imbalance within NATO is not just military. It is also political. Kosovo made it very clear to everyone that Europe might be an economic giant, but when it comes to peace and security, Europe still isn't pulling its weight. When push comes to shove, the US still has to carry a disproportionate share of the burden.

That is why the European Union and NATO are now working together to enhance European capabilities. As Europe becomes more capable, the burden on North America will ease, for two reasons: first, because Europe will be able to contribute more to NATO operations; and second, because Europe will be able to take the lead in crisis management operations when NATO does not wish to.

Will this help enhance Euro-Atlantic security? Definitely. Is it good for the transatlantic relationship? Definitely. It only makes sense: if Europe is more capable, it will be a better partner for North America. The relationship between North America and Europe will remain balanced, and therefore more healthy, over the long term, on the most fundamental issue of all: peace and security. We can have all the transatlantic arguments we want over bananas and hormone implants in beef-- but we have to get the security relationship right. The development of European capabilities is the right way - indeed, the only way -- to make sure we do.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today's world, there is no credibility without capability. And NATO goes into the 21st century as the most credible security organization in the Euro-Atlantic area 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 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 significant contribution to the security of its members, and the safety of future generations.

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