Updated: 30-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

29 March 2001

"European Security in the 21st Century - Completing Europe's Unfinished Business"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all say how pleased I am to be here -- and how pleased I am to have such a distinguished audience in front of me.

It is impossible to come to Warsaw and not start a speech without historical references. Because Poland has suffered from the ill-winds of history more than most other European countries. And yet, for well over two centuries, Poland never stopped keeping the flame of freedom and national identity alive. It is that same flame NATO has always sought to nurture and protect.

Indeed, when NATO was founded in 1949, the drafters of the Washington Treaty had in mind much more than a mutual defence Pact between Western Europe and North America. Their vision was one of shared values, not just shared threats. Still under the spell a devastating World War, they made a bold attempt at learning -- and assimilating -- the fundamental lessons of the tragedy of the first half of the 20th century.

Their lessons were clear: For Europe's creative energies to prevail over its destructive ones, two major changes were required: European unity and North American engagement. Without unity, our continent cannot break the fateful cycle of mistrust and rivalry that haunted it for centuries. And without a North America which is both outward-looking and involved, Europe cannot find the equilibrium it needs to complete its grand project of unity.

In the Atlantic Alliance these lessons became firmly entrenched. Through NATO, Europe and North America tied their security together. Based on these strong bonds, a wider Atlantic community of shared values and interests could emerge. Europe could embark on the project of ever-closer integration. Within this community, war was effectively abolished.

Yet as long as our continent remained divided, our wider aspirations remained unfulfilled. With great European nations such as Poland forced to remain outside, our Atlantic community remained incomplete: its dynamics constrained by the need to devote vast resources to its defence; its democratic ideals confined to flourishing in Europe's luckier Western half only. There was never any doubt that these ideals were also shared by the peoples on the other side of the Iron Curtain -- and the Czechs, the Hungarians and the Poles, NATO's newest members, gave ample proof of this. Yet as long as the division of Europe persisted, their ambitions could not be realised. Poland, that pivotal nation, was in Europe, but it could not be of it. Europe was still "unfinished business".

Poland's accession to the Atlantic Alliance two years ago was therefore a truly historic event. It marked the definitive end of Poland as an object of other nations' ambitions. And, most importantly, it marked the return of Poland to the Europe from which it had been forcefully separated. It marked Poland's entry into a unique zone of security and into a unique framework: multinational, democratic, transatlantic.

With that, a tragic chapter in Europe's history was finally closed. But our task is far from over. Europe is still unfinished business. There is still a division -- a division into a stable, self-confident and prosperous West and a less stable, less self-confident, less prosperous East. And there is still an unstable Balkan region.

So the task ahead is clear: We must continue to work towards overcoming Europe's divisions. In short, we must complete Europe's unfinished business.

What does that mean? It means, first and foremost, to keep NATO's door open. If Europe is to grow together, if it is to fully overcome its division, our key institutions cannot remain geared to the past -- neither in their policies, nor in their memberships. The nations to our East and South-East have a legitimate claim to get their fair share of "Europe" -- in all its dimensions, including its Atlantic one. To permanently frustrate these ambitions, to permanently keep them at arms' length, would only perpetuate instability. This is why NATO -- and the European Union -- must face the challenge of enlargement.

NATO's door must remain open -- and I believe that our Membership Action Plan is sending this message loud and clear. Through the MAP, the Alliance is working directly and closely with the Governments and the military of nine aspirant countries, to improve their ability to take care of their own defence, and to improve their ability to work with NATO forces on joint missions. Our goal is to ensure that if and when they are invited, aspirant countries can be net contributors, not simply consumers, of security.

Clearly, Poland and the other two newest members are playing a special role in this process. After all, they are the ones who can speak from recent experience. It is thus crucially important that they disseminate their unique national experiences of accession to the nine aspirants. I am heartened by the fact that these exchanges of experience are well underway.

However, the special responsibility of our three newest Allies does not end there. As you all know, in the autumn of next year NATO Heads of State and Government will meet in Prague to review the progress made by the aspirant countries, and to consider the way ahead on enlargement. This means that the debate about the "who" and "when" of the next enlargement round will soon intensify. And there can be no doubt that many observers, including the parliaments of our 19 Allies, will look first and foremost at the performance of the three most recent members. Have they met the expectations? Have they fulfilled the commitments they themselves have made?

I have no doubt that the answer to these questions will be an unequivocal "yes". But this requires that the reforms continue as planned, and not be derailed or slowed down by short term budgetary or other considerations. I have no doubt that the three newest members are aware of the special responsibility they carry in this context. NATO enlargement is simply too precious to leave it to chance.

NATO enlargement, together with the enlargement of the European Union, will go a long way to heal the wounds of our continent's erstwhile divisions. But enlargement cannot accomplish this objective all by itself. Only in a broader context can enlargement unfold its stabilising effect to the full.

Our Partnership for Peace and our Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council have created this broader context. These mechanisms include all interested nations in the Euro-Atlantic area -- nations from all corners of our continent, nations with many different security traditions. By enabling all of them to make a contribution to European security and stability, PfP and EAPC have planted the seeds of a Euro-Atlantic security culture -- a security culture that offers the chance for Europe to leave its tragic past behind for good.

Will Russia be part of this new security culture? Will Russia, that huge Eurasian power, eventually come around to define herself as a true European power? Will it use its vast resources and influence in order to create -- or will it remain content with her power to deny?

It may be too soon to answer these questions in the affirmative. In the end, they are for Russia to answer, not for us. But one thing is clear. As long as Russia remains half in, half out of Europe, as long as Russia defines herself as a country different from the rest, Europe will still remain unfinished.

Yet even if Russia's future is for the country itself to determine, we cannot afford to stand idly by. We can help Russia make the right choices about its future. We can create the kind of framework that brings home to Russia that its future lies in the West, a framework that makes co-operation the only real option for Russia.

We are building such a framework, and Poland is a very crucial player in this endeavour. Poland has played a very active role in normalising the Alliance's relations with Russia after the Kosovo campaign. It has gone at great length to ensure that its accession to NATO took place in a transparent way, respecting legitimate Russian concerns. These efforts proved all those wrong who once argued that Poland in NATO would inevitably complicate her relations with Russia. The opposite is the case. A self-confident and secure Poland is now in a much better position to pursue a policy of engaging Russia constructively. NATO membership has created more opportunities for Polish-Russian rapprochement, not less.

That same constructive attitude has also been visible in NATO's relations with that other major country, Ukraine. Poland's accession to NATO has made Ukraine a direct neighbour of our Alliance. Good neighbours are supposed to help each other, especially in times of trouble. And so, as Ukraine still struggles with the daunting challenges of her transition, we must not reduce our efforts to support this pivotal country. We must continue our efforts to help Ukraine find its rightful place in this emerging new Europe. We must help, assist, encourage.

This is particularly true for the challenge of defence reform. Modern, efficiently organised forces are a lesser burden on the economy. That is why NATO, through our Joint Working Group of Defence Reform, offers its unique expertise on this complex subject. Because Ukraine, like all our neighbours, should be stable, prosperous, and confident. Ukraine is undergoing a difficult and, at times, painful transition to a democratic and free market system. We will continue to support it in this difficult process and, at the same time, continue to urge them to support the values and principles we all believe in. Poland can play a very helpful role here - and has done so repeatedly. The recent meeting of President Kwasniewski with President Kuchma was very important in this respect.

Finishing Europe's unfinished business means more than assisting the countries to our East with help and advice. It also means addressing those parts of Europe which have not yet managed their full transition to democracy and ethnic pluralism -- in other words, it means addressing the Balkans.

It has been said that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. That was certainly true for the 1990s. Throughout this decade, when the rest of Europe moved forwards, the Balkans seemed to go backwards. The proverbial "Balkan powder keg" had exploded once again.

And yet it did not set fire to all of Europe, as it had done in the early 20th century. This time, we did not allow a Balkan crisis to drag us into a major war. On the contrary, the entire Euro-Atlantic community was on the same side: the side of peace, the side of democracy, and the side of ethnic tolerance. This solidarity brought the Bosnian war to an end. And the same solidarity made us prevail in the Kosovo crisis.

The Kosovo crisis was a particular challenge for Poland, as it was for the Czech Republic and Hungary. Barely two weeks after her accession to NATO, Poland found herself involved in what amounted to the greatest challenge in the history of this Alliance. Clearly, we all would have wished for a more peaceful welcome, not this kind of "baptism of fire". Yet all three of our new members stood firm. And so it was an Alliance of 19 that said "enough". Enough mindless nationalism and xenophobia, enough deportation trains. We had seen it all before. And we did not want so see it again. So we took the decision to act. We prevailed. And more than one million people were able to return to their homes.

Today, we face another challenge in the Balkans. A handful of extremists are trying to destabilise the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia , in pursuit of a nationalist illusion. They will not succeed. KFOR is increasing security measures along the border in Kosovo, primarily by working to interdict any rebels or arms from attempting to cross into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This should allow the government in Skopje to handle the crisis largely by its own means with respect to the situation on the ground. At the same time the international community urges the Government in Skopje to seek a political solution to this crisis and to intensify its constructive dialogue with its Albanian community. At my visit to Skopje on Monday, 26 March, together with the EU High Representative Javier Solana, I again put that to the national leadership, but also to the representatives of the major political parties, whom I called upon to increase contacts between all the parties and to continue political dialogue.

All the governments of the region, in the EU, in NATO, and across Europe are determined to see this through.

We now have the opportunity to bring all nations of this region back into the European mainstream, where they belong. The EU's Stability Pact and NATO's Southeast European Initiative are working in tandem to help achieve this -- to create the basis for economic progress and security. Economics and security go together. That was the logic that underpinned the Marshall Plan and NATO back in the late 1940s. The same logic is now applied to South-Eastern Europe.

To bring South-East Europe back into the Euro-Atlantic community would represent a major step towards our vision of a Europe whole and free. But our task of completing Europe's unfinished business requires even more: it also requires that Europe finally shoulders more responsibility in defence.

The project of European integration has always been a transatlantic project. In fact, even before European statesmen were realising the need for integration, wise and forward-looking American planners understood that a united Europe was both feasible and desirable. Today, this united Europe has come much closer than many had ever expected. Eleven nations in Europe have introduced a single currency, and more and more aspects of our economies are being organised in the framework of the European Union. America can be proud: in nourishing and encouraging the integration of Europe, it has acted as a catalyst for one of mankind's true success stories.

Now is the time to show to the United States that this more mature, more prosperous Europe can also play a meaningful role in security. Now is the time to demonstrate to our American Ally that Europe is ready to relieve the United States of some of the burdens of maintaining security in Europe. Clearly, the United States will remain a "European power". It will remain a unique coalition-builder, an honest broker, and, of course, a key military player. The United States and Canada will continue to have huge stakes in the security of this continent. And no one wants that to change.

But that cannot mean that the United States must always have to take the lead for the rest of time. Why should the US still be obliged to manage every crisis in or around Europe, no matter how small, simply because the European countries are unwilling, or 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 is not fair burden sharing. It is security on the cheap, and an abdication of responsibility. In times of crisis, then, we need to have more options than just "NATO or nothing".

This is the reasoning behind the European Union's renewed interest in developing effective defence capabilities. The EU has taken a number of bold decisions to move ahead. But let us be clear. Without support by NATO, the EU ambitions would not carry far. For most crisis scenarios, NATO's support will be essential. Hence our efforts to establish a trustful relationship between NATO and EU. This relationship is about broadening our response options to a crisis. It is not about Europe divorcing from America.

Nor is it about EU nations divorcing from their non-EU neighbours. Because, non-EU NATO members, such as Poland, will have an opportunity to participate in EU-led operations. These countries are an important part of the European security equation, and the EU acknowledges this fact. Non-EU NATO Allies could make a substantial contribution to an EU-led mission - politically and militarily - and thus the EU would be acting against its own strategic interests if it were to ignore such extra capabilities. That is why NATO has been pressing the EU to develop arrangements for consultation and participation with the non-EU Allies. Good progress has been made. Even if we are not there yet, it is clear that the EU understands -- and appreciates -- the great potential the non-EU Allies can bring to the table.

Strengthening the EU does not mean that NATO will lose its central role in European security, nor will the transatlantic security link be weakened. On the contrary -- when the long-sought European Security Identity will come to fruition, Europe and North America will still be working together, only through more flexible arrangements, and with more capability at hand. That way, resentment over burden sharing will not be allowed to materialise. And the project of Europe will have made another major leap towards its completion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Half a century ago, North America and Europe launched an ambitious project: an Atlantic community of nations, a security community that would tie two continents permanently together. It was a bold move, and it was far from uncontested at the time. But, as President Truman put it on the eve of the signing of the Washington Treaty, "great problems call for great decisions".

"Great problems call for great decisions": I believe that no single sentence has ever encapsulated the essence of this Alliance better -- until this very day. We have taken great decisions in bringing peace to the Balkans; we have taken great decisions in engaging with the wider Europe. And we have taken great decisions in opening the doors of this Alliance for those countries who had demonstrated so convincingly that they share the same values.

Today, with Poland at our side as a staunch Ally, we will continue to take great decisions. Because together, we can finally go about completing Europe's unfinished business.

Thank You.

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