Updated: 23-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

European Trust Lecture

23 March 2001

"Promoting Peace through Partnership"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the Trustees for their kind invitation, and by saying what a great pleasure and an honour it is for me to be here today. It is a great pleasure and a great honour, because as your lecturer today I will be following in the footsteps of so many eminent politicians, diplomats and businessmen who have spoken here over the years. Being here today is therefore also a challenge -- to maintain the superb standard of the Cambridge European Trust Lecture Series. I will do my very best to meet that challenge.

As you know, the basic objective of this Lecture Series is to contribute to the debate on the future of European integration. What I wish to do this afternoon is to sketch the distinct contribution the NATO Alliance is making to European integration -- the way in which NATO promotes peace and stability across the European continent through its active policy of partnership and co-operation.

I think today is an appropriate day to talk about partnership, because it is the anniversary of a significant date in recent history. Exactly two years ago today, on 23 March 1999, Javier Solana, my predecessor as NATO Secretary General, gave the formal approval for NATO airstrikes against Serbia. Now, this might seem like something of an odd link. After all, most people's enduring memories of the Kosovo campaign would be the sight of NATO aircraft taking off from Aviano airbase in Italy, or perhaps Jamie Shea giving his daily press briefing at NATO HQ. Wasn't NATO acting on its own?

And wasn't that precisely why the credibility of the air campaign was put into question by a number of observers? What might Kosovo have to do with partnership? And what on earth could Kosovo have to do with the integration of Europe?

My answer is: everything. Because when NATO launched Operation "Allied Force", to reverse Milosevic's campaign to rid Kosovo of most of its citizens, it did not act in isolation. It had the support of virtually the entire Euro-Atlantic community. Nations from all over Europe, including those neighbouring the crisis area, supported our actions, allowing NATO forces passage through their territories and airspace; working with NATO to facilitate humanitarian assistance; and later - following the end of the air campaign - contributing troops and other assets to the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

For some nations, that was an enormous sacrifice. Some faced domestic divisions. Some were forced to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees that were expelled by Serbian security forces. Some faced real military risks. And some were hit hard by the economic impact of the Kosovo campaign. And yet they all stood firm.

What we saw two years ago was a Europe that can say: "enough". We saw a Europe that can stand up against barbarity. We saw the entire family of European nations unite in the quest to stop the violence and reverse ethnic cleansing. We saw a Europe that not only talked about common values, but defended these values. In short, we saw a Europe that is growing together.

This overwhelming display of solidarity in the Kosovo crisis did not come about by accident. Rather, it was the payoff of a sound investment that NATO had been making since the end of the Cold War: an investment in Partnership and Cooperation.

During the Cold War, partnership wasn't exactly the guiding principle at NATO. Our security agenda was defined for us, and it was, in some ways, a negative agenda. It was about preventing the "worst case". In other words, security in the Cold War was essentially about things we didn't want to happen.

When the Cold War ended, we stood at a crossroads. We now had to choose between two security approaches. On the one hand, we could declare victory, and simply continue with business as usual, focusing on our own issues at home. Of course, this was a narrow and exclusive, perhaps even selfish approach -- but at least we knew it had worked until then.
The alternative - essentially untested -- approach was inclusive, co-operative, outward-looking. To reach out to the rest of Europe. To offer the hand of assistance, and guidance. And, yes, at the same time, to become more engaged in resolving to the challenges that the newly democratic states of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe were facing. In a word, to choose partnership.

NATO went for the co-operative option. Not out of idealism, nor altruism. But out of realism. Because it was in our security interests to engage. In truth, there was simply no alternative to co-operation, if we were to continue to maintain our own security.

So NATO reached out to the wider Europe. We developed the Partnership for Peace Programme, to foster military co-operation with more than two dozen non-NATO countries. We established the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, as a forum for political consultation with our Partners. We engaged in a Dialogue with nations from the Southern shores of the Mediterranean. And, last but not least, we developed distinct relations with Russia and Ukraine.

When the Kosovo crisis erupted, our Partnership mechanisms were already firmly in place. In the most critical moment of NATO's history, we were glad to find our Partners at our side. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council allowed us to foster understanding and support for NATO's thinking and policies. And the Partnership for Peace helped us in mounting a sizeable peacekeeping force, including troops from 20 non-NATO countries geared towards working with Alliance forces.

So we were vindicated in the strategic choice we had made as an Alliance of reaching out to our former adversaries and trying to shape European security together with them. Indeed, Kosovo made us realise just how valuable our partnerships had become, and how important it would be to continue to bind our Partners to the Alliance and to further deepen and broaden our relations with them.

Clearly, Partnership is not static. It is a dynamic process of moving closer to one another politically and militarily. All of our currently twenty-seven Partners understand that they are the ones who decide how far and how deep co-operation can and should go. And the Allies realise that it is up to them to respond to the commitment shown by the Partners, to recognise the momentum generated by our common engagement in Kosovo, and to make a qualitative step forward in NATO's partnership relations.

So, as we look towards further enhancing our partnership relations, I see a number of priorities.

First of all, to continue to involve our Partners in the single greatest security challenge that we face -- bringing stability and prosperity to South East Europe. The region is plagued by deep-rooted difficulties that obviously cannot be overcome within just a couple of years. Outbursts of violence will inevitably continue to capture the headlines, as is the case right now. But none of this can disguise the fact that the patient engagement of the international community is showing positive results. In Bosnia as well as in Kosovo, refugees are returning, communities are being rebuilt, common democratic institutions are getting off the ground.

And let me be clear: neither NATO members nor Partner countries will allow these achievements to be undermined by a small bunch of extremists in the hills around Tetovo. NATO will continue -- together with our Partners -- to find a solution to this crisis. Together, we will assist the Skopje Government in meeting the challenges. And together, we will send a strong message to the extremists: You won't succeed -- because we won't let you.

A second priority for our partnerships is to continue to make them more operational and geared towards present-day contingencies. Kosovo has clearly demonstrated NATO's dependence on its Partners when it comes to crisis management and peacekeeping tasks. Under virtually any scenario, future NATO-led crisis response operations will be conducted together with our Partners.

This means that we must continue to prepare them, and ourselves, to be able to work together as effectively as possible. It also means that we must permit Partners that are willing to share the risks and costs of an operation to participate appropriately in the political control and military command of such an operation. We are working hard to operationalise and also to balance our partnerships in this sense.

Third, we have to continue assisting our Partners with defence reform. The reason is clear. A military that is transparent, democratically controlled and fully accountable is part and parcel of any mature democracy. And a military operated with modern management techniques is more cost-effective and less of a burden on the overall economy.

For these reasons, defence reform is a vital national interest for our Partners. But it is also a means to a stronger partnership. Because Partners with a well-run, efficient military structure will be able to make even stronger contributions to our common missions. That is why the Allies will continue to emphasise defence reform in their assistance efforts, and why the Partners should take full advantage of this assistance.

A fourth priority for our partnership relations is to keep open the prospect of NATO membership. At the moment, nine of our twenty-seven Partners aspire to more than partnership, and want to actually join the Alliance. The Alliance has always had its door open to new members; it admitted the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland just two years ago; and it remains committed to further enlargement. Indeed, with our Membership Action Plan we are assisting the nine aspirants with their efforts to prepare for possible future membership.

We cannot and will not give the current nine aspirants a timetable for accession, nor indeed guarantee them membership. But neither can we keep one half of Europe at arm's length forever. That is why keeping NATO's door open remains a strategic imperative for the Alliance. Why some Partner countries will become members. And why NATO is helping them to better prepare themselves for eventual membership.

A fifth priority for our partnerships is to advance the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. In the four years of its existence, the EAPC has already demonstrated immense value as a forum for consultation and co-operation in many areas critically important to European security - issues such as regional security, arms control, peacekeeping, and civil emergency planning.

The great strength of the EAPC is its open-ended, transparent and relatively informal character. Participating nations are free to raise any issues and are actually encouraged to propose new areas for consultation and co-operation. All nations are free, but not obliged, to take part in working groups tackling particular security issues. All this means that there is still considerable untapped potential in the EAPC that NATO, for its part, is keen to explore.

The last but by no means least important issue on my list of partnership priorities is to further NATO's relationship with Russia. In sharp contrast to our other Partners, Russia actually turned away from the Alliance when it was faced with an emerging crisis in Kosovo. We regretted this.

We had hoped that the special relationship that had existed between NATO and Russia since 1997 would have at least allowed Russia to remain on speaking terms. Instead, Russia froze its relations with the Alliance.

Luckily, this episode is behind us now. The NATO-Russia relationship is once again back on track. Russian forces work together effectively with NATO forces in the Balkans. Our Joint Council is again meeting regularly to discuss common security concerns and to steer practical cooperation on a wide array of issues. And there is a general feeling on both sides that we should deepen our relations further.

Thus far, I have spoken about partnership as a means of connecting NATO to the wider world around it. But there is, of course, yet another partnership -- a partnership within NATO, as it were: the transatlantic partnership. Indeed, this unique partnership is the core of it all. Let me therefore close my remarks with a few words on the "Mother of all Partnerships", the transatlantic one.

The partnership between Europe and North America remains the foundation of global stability, the engine of the world's economy, and the nexus of technological innovation. North America and Europe represent the world's strongest community of like minded nations: not only successful democracies, but also outward-looking nations with a culture of pragmatic problem-solving. In short, the transatlantic partnership is unique. And that won't change.

What will change, however, is the way in which we manage our security. Ten years after the end of the Cold War, and with the EU an economic equal to the United States, it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain why Europe is barely visible a security actor. Hence the need to expand European integration to the security field as well.

By supporting the EU's evolution into a crisis manager, and by building a trustful relationship between NATO and the EU, the Alliance catches two birds with one stone: we move European integration forward in a crucially important area, and we are at the same time re-balancing the transatlantic link in line with a fairer sharing of burdens and responsibilities.

Only a transatlantic partnership that is perceived as fair by both sides will last. Only in a fair partnership will North America and Europe be able to tackle an ever-growing transatlantic agenda: bringing long-term stability to Southeastern Europe, managing regional crises, enlarging NATO and the EU, supporting Russia's democratic transformation, stabilising the newly independent nations, encouraging open markets world-wide, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and much more as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1994, after observing one of the first Partnership for Peace military exercises, a British journalist heavily criticized PfP as being a showpiece. In his view, the entire set-up was unrealistic: American and Central European soldiers working together as peacekeepers in Europe -- what could be more absurd? Less than two years later, IFOR deployed into Bosnia -- with many American soldiers, and with soldiers from many Partner nations. Less than two years after Partnership for Peace had been created, its strategic value had already been vindicated.

So the fact of the matter is that NATO's partnerships are a huge success. Ten years of reaching out to the new democracies to our east has resulted in a web of profound security relationships across the continent. Thanks to NATO's policy of promoting partnership and co-operation, forty six countries - NATO members, former Warsaw Pact countries, ex-Soviet Republics, as well as neutrals, including Switzerland which is not even in the United Nations - now regularly discuss security issues together, train and exercise together, and even carry out peacekeeping operations together.

This represents a massive change from the past, and a major contribution to the security, the stability and, yes, the integration of the European continent.

Thank you very much.

Go to Homepage Go to Index