on Democratic Civil-Military Relations and Reform"
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the Centre for European Security Studies Conference
"Taking Stock on Civil-Military Relations"
Minister de Grave,
Dames en Heren,
It is a great pleasure to be here today. Indeed, as a
Scot, I feel very much at home here, as Scotland is directly
-- or at least indirectly -- responsible for the foundation
of this beautiful city.
Some of you may be surprised to learn this, but it is
true. In the 13th Century, Floris V was the Count of Holland.
When he was a teenager, Floris sold his inherited rights
to the Scottish Crown, and with the money he built the
Castle around which this city was formed -- the Ridderzaal,
as it is called today. An early example of the legendary
Of course, I am also happy to be here today because I
feel that this is a very important, and very timely conference.
I would like to congratulate the Centre for European Security
Studies and their co-hosts from Canada and Switzerland
for organising this conference. Civil-military relations
have evolved, over the past decade, at dizzying speed.
It is certainly worth taking a moment to pause, see how
far we have come, and look forward to how these relations
should evolve in future.
And let me stress that I have a very personal interest
in making sure we get this evolution right. As NATO Secretary
General, and before that as UK Secretary of Defence, I
have spent much of my professional life at the sharp,
pointy end of civil-military relations. I know, from experience,
that we have made progress -- but we have a lot of improvements
still to make, if civil-military relations are to deliver
on their potential.
Two areas of civil-military relations, in particular,
have evolved dramatically over the past decade. The long-term,
political evolution is the ongoing transformation taking
place in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to
adopt new structures, practices and culture in civil-military
relations. The short term, operational transformation
is the dramatic change in civil-military relations taking
place in peacekeeping operations, including of course
in the Balkans. Both of these processes must succeed,
if we are to have lasting peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic
Let me, if I may, offer you some of my thoughts on both
of these major evolutions -- on how far we've come, and
on the progress still to be made.
The transformation in civil-military relations in Central
and Eastern Europe over the past decade has been nothing
short of remarkable. Indeed, it is easy these days to
forget how these relations were during the Cold War.
When there was a tight relationship -- even a symbiosis
-- between the ruling party and the military. When there
were no truly democratic Parliaments with the power to
exercise any control over defence policy, or military
spending. When Generals were put in charge of defence
ministries as a matter of course. And when the military
was too often used as a instrument of external or internal
oppression, rather than being recognised as an essential
and trusted element of a healthy civil society.
But almost the day after the Warsaw Pact collapsed, the
countries of Central and Eastern Europe began to transform
their civil-military relations -- to ensure that there
would be proper democratic control over the military,
and also to ensure that the military found a new, sustainable
and respected role within the new democracies.
And from the same moment, NATO began to offer assistance
to these countries in their reform efforts.
Why would NATO encourage this transition? The logic
is, of course, very clear. First and foremost, a democratically
controlled military is an essential element of any democracy,
and we believe in democracy. Furthermore, as history has
shown, a military that is fully part of a true democracy
is less likely to be radicalized, less likely to be detached
from the people, and less likely to be used for aggressive
purposes. Strong motivations indeed to enhance democratic
control, for all concerned.
Reform has advantages for the military as well. Indeed,
far from tying its hands, democratic control of defence
is useful for the military. Just like any organization,
the military benefits from external scrutiny and oversight,
because oversight helps prevent waste, and outside suggestions
can spark innovation and improvements.
A transparent military is more efficient and more effective,
over the long term, than one which operates in social
seclusion and above the law. And it is in the interest
of all of us that Partner countries have effective, professional
and legitimate armed forces to contribute to meeting the
security challenges we all face in the post-Cold War world.
It is for all of these reasons that NATO has worked so
closely with its Partners to assist them in enhancing
democratic control. That is why NATO's Partnership for
Peace placed democratic control over the military as a
high priority from the very beginning, and why it has
remained a focus in our Partnership Work Programs.
Does that mean that the Alliance is offering some kind
of uniform model, to be followed rigidly by Partner countries?
Of course not. Indeed, NATO itself cannot provide a model,
simply because each Ally follows its own unique cultural,
political and military traditions.
However, NATO countries do have long experience in building
and maintaining democratic societies, with the military
as a full, legitimate and trusted part therein. And that
experience has made it clear that while there is no single
model, there are common denominators which are essential
for proper civil-military relations in a democracy. Let
me mention just a few.
There must be a constitutional and legislative structure
which clearly defines responsibilities and checks and
balances among state institutions. Accountable civilians
must have key roles in preparing the defence budget, strategic
planning, force structure development, arms acquisition,
deployments, and military promotions. Parliament must
have real, substantive oversight over security policy
and defence spending.
There must be sufficient transparency of defence decision-making
to allow for effective public scrutiny.
In all of these areas, Partner countries have made serious
efforts to reform -- and NATO has provided its assistance,
wherever possible. The results, in general, are very good.
Central and Eastern European countries have made enormous
progress in building new, more democratic civil-military
relations. Constitutions and laws have been changed.
Parliaments have been given the power to oversee defence
spending. Generals have been replaced as Defence Ministers
by civilians. And slowly but surely, civilian confidence
in the military is being restored, as citizens understand
that the military is under democratic control -- that
the army is accountable to the Government, and the government
is accountable to the people.
These are major changes -- and they are changes for the
better. They help promote peaceful relations within, and
between Central and Eastern European countries. And they
help all the countries of the Euro-Atlantic area move
closer together, as modern, democratic countries sharing
common values, and with effective armed forces to accomplish
our common goals.
Does that mean that nothing remains to be done? Of course
not. The pace and extent of reform is certainly not even
across all the new democracies. Some countries could certainly
make further improvements to their legislative frameworks;
others to their procedures for defence policy development
and procurement. Still others must make more efforts to
promote trust and understanding of the military in their
Let me mention one area where more effort must be made
virtually across Central and Eastern Europe. That is the
development of more civilian expertise in defence. Government
ministers and Parliamentarians must understand the legitimate
requirements of the military, if they are to give them
the tools and support they need.
The military must, in turn, trust that their leadership
understands their concerns. And there must also be a healthy
expertise outside Government, in the media, in think tanks
and universities, to give an impartial outside perspective
on defence matters. Simply put, a healthy democracy requires
a healthy, informed debate on defence, just as much as
it needs an informed debate on education or health care,
or any other issue of public policy.
The Alliance and its member countries run a large number
of activities to develop civilian expertise in security.
NATO offers a range of seminars and conferences, visit
programmes, and fellowships. Students from Partner countries
are studying not only defence issues, but also financial
control and public administration. And NATO countries
are working with Partners to support think tanks and research
institutes across Central and Eastern Europe, to help
expand the international civil-military community of defence
There too, we are seeing concrete progress. And I believe
that the enhancement of civilian expertise represents
another vital step forward in the development of new civil-military
relations within Central and Eastern European countries.
Relations that are quickly becoming, not a hindrance to
democracy, but an essential element of democracy. That
will truly be a vital contribution to the long-term peace
and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.
But even as we work to build long-term stability, we
must also address immediate crises. Bosnia and Kosovo
have brought that lesson home very clearly indeed. And
our efforts to bring peace to the Balkans have also showed
us that in actual operations too, civil-military relations
are changing quickly.
We all remember the way it was during the Cold War,
and indeed before. Wars were expected to be between states.
The job of armies was to fight and win wars. The job of
the politicans was to tell the army when to fight, and
when to stop. NGOs didn't know or trust the military --
and the feeling was mutual. That, in a nutshell, was pretty
much the extent of civil-military relations in crisis
In the post-Cold War context, of course, that relationship
has changed fundamentally. Today, peace support operations
very often take place in shattered countries, where there
is no secure environment, and no self-sustaining society.
In those circumstances, militaries and civilians have
no choice but to work together, intimately, every day,
if either is to succeed.
The relationship is very simple. In areas such as Kosovo
and Bosnia -- or indeed Sierra Leone, or East Timor --
entire societies must be recreated. Schools and roads
and hospitals must be remade. War crimes must be investigated.
Governments must be recreated. Police forces and judges
and lawyers must be trained. Economies must be restarted.
All of these efforts require civilian expertise. They
are not principally jobs for soldiers. But the civilians
need a secure environment in which to do their work, and
they depend on the militaries to provide that secure environment.
For its part, the military depends on the civilians just
The military cannot go home until there is a self-sustaining
peace -- and there can be no self-sustaining peace until
the civilians have created the necessary political and
economic conditions. In other words, in today's peacekeeping
operations, military and civilians need each other --
whether they like it or not.
Increasingly, of course, they do like it. In the early
days of the international community's involvement in Bosnia,
there was plenty of mutual suspicion and misunderstanding
between the military and civilian sides of the efforts
to help Bosnia stand on its own two feet.
But if one looks at SFOR or KFOR today, daily civil-military
cooperation is business as usual. The military commander
and the Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo meet regularly,
coordinate all activities, and liaise with all the NGOs
on the ground for good measure. All in all, a sea change.
And the relationship is not just perfunctory, or rhetorical.
On the contrary: military personnel provide regular, direct
assistance to civilian authorities, where possible and
appropriate -- be it for the return of refugees and displaced
persons, the restoration of law and order, rebuilding
infrastructure, or organising elections.
Of course, Civil-Military Cooperation or CIMIC, as the
military calls it, does not replace civil implementation
-- rather, it supports civil efforts. But CIMIC has quickly
become absolutely essential. As Admiral Leighton Smith,
Commander IFOR said in April 1996, "Five months
ago, we had never heard of CIMIC, we had no idea what
you did. Now, we can't live without you".
But if we have made improvements, that doesn't mean that
that there is not more progress to be made here too. Operational
CIMIC must be further enhanced and improved. We must ensure
that CIMIC doctrine is as standardized as possible, across
the Euro-Atlantic area, to ensure that we have the smoothest
possible cooperation in multi-national operations. We
must ensure that civilians and military work together,
and train together, in peacetime, to be better prepared
to meet the next crisis.
And we must work as hard as possible to break down residual
cultural barriers and misunderstandings between militaries
and civilian groups in operations -- because more than
ever, we are all on the same team, and the team cannot
win unless we all work together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
That is a statement that bears repeating: "we
are all on the same team, and the team cannot win unless
we all work together". That principle is what
lies behind the dramatic transformation that we have seen
in civil-military relations over the past decade.
Today, all of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic area
are on the same team -- sharing a common vision of how
a democracy should work, and the role that the military
should play within that democracy. At the same time, we
are all working together, in the field, to uphold that
vision where it has been challenged most directly -- and
true civil-military cooperation is the key to our success
in these missions as well.
Is there still progress to be made? Of course. These
are complex relationships, requiring constant attention
and constant improvements. But we are light years ahead
of where we were even a decade ago -- and we are moving
in the right direction. And this conference is another
important step forward.