Updated: 02-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

At the
presentation of
the Chesney
Gold Medal to
Thatcher, Royal United Services Institute,
1 March 2001

"NATO - The enduring Mission"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be able to be among the first to congratulate Lady Thatcher on receiving the Chesney Gold Medal of the RUSI.

Despite the political exile to which she banished me and the rest of the Labour Party for so long, I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity to address this distinguished audience on the night RUSI honours Baroness Thatcher. In receiving the Gold Medal tonight, she follows in truly illustrious footsteps, and I am pleased to be able to add my own commendation to those of all the people gathered here tonight.

Within a few days of my appointment as NATO's 10th Secretary General in the Summer of '99, Lady Thatcher sent me a warm and welcome letter of congratulations. On that same day Lady Thatcher's letter arrived, I received another letter of warm congratulation, from her predecessor and former Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan. I was, of course, delighted and flattered to receive both. But I was also enormously gratified to get the same message from the two sides of British politics, because it reinforced what has, in my view, been one of the strongest and most enduring trends in postwar Britain - a bipartisan view of defence, and in particular a bipartisan commitment to NATO.

Of course there have been exceptions, but the rule has been that when it comes to the crunch this country is one country, whether it was on the Falklands, the Gulf or the Balkans. Nowhere is this unity of defence purpose more true than on the role NATO has played over its 52 years.
Indeed, from the very beginnings of the Alliance, when Ernest Bevin, a Labour Foreign Secretary initiated and signed the Washington Treaty, there has been a robust and lasting belief, across the political spectrum, that NATO is the essential foundation of the security of this country, and of Europe more broadly. From Churchill to Jim Callaghan, from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair -- one of the very few areas in which cross-party consensus has held firm, and stayed consistent, is on the crucial importance of transatlantic cooperation to our security.

Now, I am the first to admit that in my own teenage years, I wasn't the President of the Scottish branch of the NATO fan club, but I did grow up and then could see what collective security through NATO had meant for my generation. A rare British generation in hundreds not forced to wear a uniform, or fight for a cause.

Does that mean that Labour always took the most reasonable stance on defence issues? Of course not. Too often, my party took positions that simply didn't reflect reality. Sometimes Labour chose the slick slogan instead of the serious substance. On occasion we chose opposition for the sake of opposing.

Indeed, Labour did sometimes fall prey to the temptation to play politics with defence. And when we did the British people saw right through it, and they did what reasonable voters do when somebody behaves irresponsibly -- they voted for the other party. And that, I am convinced was one of the key reasons why Labour had to spend almost twenty years in the political wilderness.

But even in its daftest days, my party did not abandon its conviction that NATO was our security, and our only real guarantee of safety in a dangerous world.

This is now the message that I take with me to every country I visit - to the 19 NATO countries; the nine countries that are applying to join the Alliance; and the other eighteen countries in the Partnership for Peace as well, including former Warsaw Pact countries, ex-Soviet States and neutrals. The message is simple: don't play politics with defence - it doesn't pay.

It's bad for the country, because it impedes progress on important defence issues. And it's bad for your party, because voters know very well where their security interests lie, and how to protect them. Believe me, I tell them my message and I say it with passion and with the voice of experience -- because after a decade, opposition benches start to feel very cold and hard indeed. After eighteen years the ice is nearly in your soul. I have watched grown men and women politicians go white at the prospect of such a fate.

But in the end, my party got it right. It stopped developing defence policy by ideology and slogans, and started basing its positions on a sound assessment of the requirements. The result? Defence policy which makes sense, that is affordable, and which addresses the challenges we actually face. Defence policy -- not defence politics.

All of this does raise the question, what does sound defence policy mean today? I suggest it means recognising two things. First, that NATO's credibility rests on its defence capability -- and if we want the Alliance to continue to preserve our safety, we have to maintain and improve the capacities of our armed forces. And second, it means recognising that Europe must improve its security capabilities, if the transatlantic relationship is to prosper.

The importance of defence capability to NATO should go almost without saying. Unfortunately it doesn't. But the lessons of history on this subject are clear. Effective military capability is what makes NATO credible: as a crisis manager; as an interlocutor with Russia; as a security partner for new democracies; and as the final guarantor of security for its own members. There is no credibility without capability. Capability in forces, in equipment, in training and in technique.

And when I say capable forces, I mean the forces of all NATO's members -- not just one or two. Capability must be balanced, if NATO is to work as it should. The Alliance is the most effective security organisation in history because all of its members work together.

Security is shared, and burdens are shared too. This is the essential foundation for healthy and sustainable partnership on tough security issues.

That is the principle -- but we all know the reality: that while all the NATO countries contribute, one member of NATO makes a disproportionate contribution. This might have been palatable during the Cold War, for reasons of sheer necessity -- but this imbalance is no longer acceptable today. The continued health of the transatlantic relationship depends on burdens being balanced more evenly, and more fairly, to prevent resentment from building up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Happily, after years of frustrated demands from the US, and an equal number of years of empty promises from Europe, we are finally making progress. Europe is at last making a serious defence effort to shoulder a greater share of the burden. NATO has put in place measures to support that effort, and to encourage the development of stronger and more relevant European capabilities. And both NATO and the EU are working together to build the links between the two organisations at all levels, to ensure the greatest possible cooperation and complementarily in security. In other words, there has been more progress on this European capability building project in the past 2 years than in the previous 20.

So why is Europe finally getting serious about contributing more to defence -- and why is NATO supporting this process?

The logic is clear. First, because all 19 NATO members agree that the transatlantic relationship will suffer enormously if Europe doesn't begin to pull more if its weight within NATO. The distribution of labour has to change: from US 80%, everyone else 20%, to something approaching 50-50. That is a fairer and more sustainable balance. And it is the only way forward, if we are to ensure the continued commitment of the United States to work with its European partners within the Alliance.

And let's be clear: we are talking about crisis management in Europe's own back yard. Bosnia and Kosovo are very close to here -- and very far away from North America. It is the Europeans who suffer most from the effects of these crises -- from the instability, the flows of refugees, the smuggling of people, weapons and drugs. Of course, the entire Euro-Atlantic community feels these effects - - but they hit Europe first. It is therefore Europe's responsibility to do its part in managing crises in its own neighbourhood.

The Kosovo air campaign starkly showed us that, as we enter the new Century, Europe is not yet really playing its part. The United States had to fly almost four-fifths of the missions during the air campaign, because European forces simply couldn't. The US had to provide the intelligence, and the transport, and the command and control, and the radar jamming - and more. Only Britain in Europe had the cruise missiles which created such precise and devastating damage to Milosevic's war machine. Only a handful of NATO nations had all-weather, day and night, precision guided weapons.

You get the point: that Europe couldn't make anything close to a fair contribution to a NATO operation one hour away from Rome. The time has long since come to rectify this unsustainable imbalance.

19 NATO members, and the 15 members of the European Union, 11 of them the same countries, have also agreed that the time has also come to improve Europe's capacity to act where NATO as a whole is not engaged. The logic here is also clear: with the Cold War over, we need more options for crisis management than just "NATO or nothing". In the next crisis, that is a dangerous, high risk and very limited choice.

So, is this some secret code for sidelining NATO, or the United States? On the contrary. Every European country recognises the vital role the United States plays in Europe. As an essential crisis manager, as we have seen in the Balkans. As a political stabiliser in Europe, and a unifier on tough political issues, such as German unification. And, in the final resort, as the ultimate guarantor, through the Alliance, of our security. No one wants that to change.

But that cannot mean that the US must always take lead for the rest of time. Why should the United States still have to manage every crisis in or around Europe, no matter how small or far away, simply because the European countries are unwilling, or plain unable, to take the lead? How long will the United States put up with that -- and why should it? Total dependence on US leadership for crisis management forever, is not fair burden sharing. It is security on the cheap, and an abdication of responsibility.

That is why a more effective European capability is not only good for the transatlantic relationship -- it is absolutely necessary for its continued survival. It demonstrates that Europe is serious about doing its fair share.

This is exactly what North America wants from Europe in the 21st century. Which is why successive American administrations have supported this project, not only rhetorically, but also by offering the use of their military assets inside NATO in support of EU-led operations. 19 Heads of Government and Heads of State agreed in Washington two years ago to put it in NATO's new Strategic Concept.

I was very gratified to see President George W. Bush reiterate that support when he met with Prime Minister Blair at Camp David last weekend -- and I am sure I will receive the same message when I meet with the US President myself, next in the White House.

And nobody could put it more clearly and elegantly than the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell when he addressed the North Atlantic Council Foreign Ministers this Tuesday: "The United States supports the development of a European Security and Defense policy that strengthens the Alliance and adds to European capabilities. We welcome Europe's determination to acquire the means for becoming a stronger, more capable partner in preventing conflict and managing crises."

That voice of support from the new US Administration demonstrates clearly that ESDI is not a lever pulling the two sides of the Atlantic apart -- it is another link binding them together, into a more flexible and effective crisis management community.

And the Europeans are indeed collectively getting more effective. The EU is setting itself ambitious, but realistic, targets to improve its capability. Many countries are setting new priorities in terms of defence planning, to have the right kinds of forces to take on modern missions: more mobile, more sustainable in the field, and more effective when they are there. And more and more of NATO's members have halted the fall in their defence budgets. Taken together, these are major steps towards developing the improved European capabilities needed for effective crisis management, and a healthy transatlantic relationship.

Could all this talk of "improved European capabilities" be a code for "European Army"? Are we secretly talking about creating a separate force which will dilute or duplicate NATO? No chance, is my reply.

Let us be very clear on this issue. There is, and will be, no single European army. There will be no standing European force. National armed forces will remain just that: national forces, under the command of national governments. Any decision to deploy national forces, on any mission, will remain exclusively the decision of the state concerned: for national, UN or NATO operations. What is being created is a fourth option: EU-led operations, where NATO as a whole is not engaged. It will add another tool to our toolbox of crisis management. A win-win situation for Europe, for NATO and for the transatlantic relationship we all value so highly.

And, I say to you bluntly, if the European defence project was in any way to subvert or to rival NATO, as its 10th Secretary General I'd not just oppose it, I'd denounce it. But it won't.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Throughout her remarkable career, tonight's recipient of the Chesney Gold Medal consistently and rightly, called for the strengthening and reinforcing of Europe's contribution to Euro-Atlantic security. Today, it is happening -- and it is happening in exactly the right way.

Europe is preparing itself to contribute more to NATO, and to share more of the burdens of leadership in NATO. This is exactly what the United States wants, and what the transatlantic relationship needs, as we enter the 21st century.

And that is why developing stronger European capabilities isn't just good policy -- it is also good politics.

May I ask you to stand, and drink a toast to our hosts tonight the Royal United Services Institute.

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