Updated: 19-Feb-2001 NATO Speeches

University of
17 Feb. 2001


by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson
Saturday Evening Public Lecture

"NATO and the Challenges of the New Millennium"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is sometimes said that most speakers in fact have four speeches:

  • what they have prepared;
  • what they actually say;
  • what they wish afterwards they had said;
  • and what they are quoted as saying.

I hope I have only one speech for you today, not four, but this saying does illustrate the challenge of communication -- a challenge we at NATO know only too well. After all, NATO remains frequently misunderstood -- its character as well as its policies. Too many observers still tend to judge NATO by the outdated yardsticks of the Cold War.

And outdated they are. I would like to illustrate this point with a true story. In the early 1980s, a prominent peace researcher published an assessment of Europe's most secure states. Switzerland was the front-runner -- hardly a surprise to anyone. Yet his choice of second and third seemed peculiar even at the time: Yugoslavia and Albania. But there was a distinct logic to this. In the view of this analyst, the military alliances NATO and Warsaw Pact were clearly the most dangerous places, as these two would almost certainly go to war with one another. Consequently, those countries farthest removed from the so-called "blocs" would fare best.

Today, Yugoslavia has disintegrated in a series of wars -- Europe's bloodiest conflicts since World War Two. A NATO-led coalition is picking up the pieces, trying to create a framework for long-term stability and reconciliation. Albania was the first country to formally ask for NATO membership after the Cold War ended. And, to complete the irony, Switzerland -- Europe's most secure country by any standards -- is now actively cooperating with NATO in the framework of the Partnership for Peace initiative, and even cooperates with us in Kosovo.

This story illustrates how far off one can be if one remains stuck in Cold War imagery. No, if you really want to understand NATO today -- why it still around, and why it is still so relevant to everyone's safety -- you have to look at NATO in a different way. Not only as a military Alliance, created to counter a specific threat, but as a community of nations. As 19 countries interlinked and interlocked by history and habit. As an Alliance bound together by a profound belief in democratic values, and ready and able to protect them. As a family of free countries, which for four decades preserved the safety of its members against the Soviet threat. As an Alliance which is now shaping the peace for future generations.

During the Cold War, the yardstick we applied to NATO was how well it maintained the status quo. Today, the measure is how good NATO is at managing change. Rather than focus on preventing the "worst case", we should look at how to create the "best case" -- a Euro-Atlantic area where security cooperation is the norm rather than the exception; a Euro-Atlantic area where regional crises are challenges that are to be tackled together, rather than challenges that pull us apart; a Russia that sees itself as part of the team, not as a humiliated outsider; and a transatlantic relationship in which the Europeans finally shoulder their fair share of the common burden.

Is such a "best case" achievable? Absolutely. Because we have the right instruments that help us get there, including a dynamic NATO.

Let me give you a few examples of NATO's new agenda -- because each element of that agenda shows how the Alliance is making a direct contribution to our safety, on a daily basis, and shaping tomorrow's safer world.

Let me begin by discussing Russia, because the relationship between Russia and the West remains absolutely central to our security. But whereas, for forty years NATO was focused on "keeping Russia out", today we are working to manage Russia's entry in -- into Europe, into cooperative relationships, into agreement with the rest of the Euro-Atlantic community on common values.

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 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 means encouraging change and reform in Russia. We are doing that as well, by helping Russia get rid of its nuclear material, and by encouraging defence reform. It means working together with Russia today on tomorrow 's threat to safety: arms proliferation, ethnic violence, fragmented states, economic turbulence, chemical and biological warfare. We are doing that too.

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 underlines the importance of me going to Moscow in a just a few days from now, to 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.

Similarly, NATO now has an important relationship with Ukraine. Ukraine may seem very far away from here, sometimes, and not nearly the challenge that Russia can be. But it is important to remember where Ukraine sits: at a vital strategic point in Europe. On the one side, two NATO members - Poland and Hungary, and two countries working hard to join Slovakia and Romania. On the other side, Russia. Obviously, Ukraine's stability is important to us all.

That is why NATO is working so closely with Ukraine, on a range of issues designed to preclude any breakdown in stability that might compromise wider strategic security in Europe. The Alliance is assisting Ukraine in an area of vital importance: defence reform. NATO is helping Ukraine to develop and maintain the kind of versatile and affordable armed forces that every modern European country needs. From our perspective, this is an investment in the future of Ukraine itself -- and therefore, in the safety of future generations of all Europeans.

These are the two most prominent of NATO's Partnerships. But there are many more -- and they are all vitally important. Indeed, I believe that NATO's Partnerships are one of the most important contributions to European stability today -- and as such, deserve 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, nasty 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 own doorstep, if it spreads too far.

It was to prevent this scenario happening 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 -- all the NATO members, even the former Warsaw Pact countries and all the ex-Soviet states, and even neutrals, -- now train together, talk about security issues together and even carry out peacekeeping operations together. And even Switzerland -- the European security champion that is not even in the United Nations -- is part of this endeavour.

What do we do together? Practical, realistic things -- with clear deliverables. We work together on defence reform, to help all countries in Europe to have the kind of modern military they need, and can afford. We train together, so that when multinational peacekeeping missions take place, Partner and NATO countries can work together seamlessly. We cooperate on scientific and environmental issues, to address some of the security challenges our Partner countries face sometimes a little more acutely than NATO countries do.

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 unilateral solutions are required. Through PfP and EAPC, security across Europe has been structured towards inclusion and cooperation. Step by step, we are creating an area of peaceful cooperation in a part of the world that had every chance to be unstable, violent and dangerous. 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. As free and independent nations, they want membership in NATO -- the most successful defence Alliance in history. 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.

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. It is erasing ancient dividing lines, resolving old conflicts, and driving reform.

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. NATO's willingness to enlarge has brought Europe closer together -- in spirit and in practice.

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 testament to the stabilizing power of integration and cooperation.

Unfortunately, several European countries have chosen the other path. They have rejected cooperation and common values, and instead chosen ethnic violence and expulsion - the dark manifestations of a Europe we have come closer to putting behind us for good. I am referring, of course, to the Balkan wars of the past decade.

As NATO Secretary General, it would be almost impossible for me 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 damaging effect on both our security interests, and in the 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 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 -- 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 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 waiting to roll in. We saw the Yugoslav Government training the army, police and paramilitary thugs to work together to organise the expulsion of the Kosovar Albanians.

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 militarily. The alternative would have been bloody chaos

The results vindicate that decision. NATO's 19 nations, together with 19 Partners - including Russia -- have been keeping the peace in Kosovo for close to two years now. 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 being felt not only in Kosovo but also 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. We need forces that can face the security challenges of the future and not the enemies of the past. And it is obvious that the forces we built up in the Cold War don't fit that description.

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 released a budget that foresees the first real increase in defence investment 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.

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 and will face tomorrow.

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 is only common 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 hormones 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,

I think this overview over NATO's agenda makes it abundantly clear why NATO remains at the centre of Euro-Atlantic security. NATO remains at the centre because we have realised that in today's security environment, it is no longer enough to focus on preventing the "worst case", but that one must try to achieve the "best case" -- a stable, cooperative Euro-Atlantic area. That is why the Alliance has adopted its broad range of security-building tasks, and why the Alliance makes such a significant contribution to the security of its members. As we enter the 21st century, NATO is your best-ever investment in a safer world tomorrow, and a stable international order for your grandkids.

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