Security and Defence Challenges in the Euro-Atlantic Area"
by the Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson,
Secretary General of NATO
Centro Caixa - Barcelona, 10 May 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This conference is focusing on "New Security and
Defence Challenges in the Euro-Atlantic Area". This
is a good time for us to have such a discussion, because
I believe that today, at the beginning of this new century,
Europe is going through a truly formative period. It is
in many ways as formative as the years which shaped the
Atlantic Community in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Like then, we now have a rare opportunity to seriously
influence the shape and direction of European security
for years to come.
Of course, history does not repeat itself. But the parallels
between then and now remain striking. Now, just as in
the immediate post-war years, Europe is unfinished business:
with a gap between a prosperous, self-confident West and
a less prosperous, less confident East, and with an unstable
Now, as in the post-war years, the difficult question
poses itself as to how a major power -- then Germany,
now Russia -- will settle herself in the newly emerging
system. And now, as in the post-war years, we must develop
the combination of political, economic and security tools
which are required to cope with the new challenges at
This 21st century will offer no shortage of tough challenges.
Globalisation, for example, offers our societies the opportunity
to become more creative and prosperous; but it also makes
them more vulnerable. The rapid dissemination of technology
and information offers entirely new ways of production
- but it also can bring the spectre of more states developing
weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering
Regional conflicts will confront us with a cruel choice
between costly indifference and costly engagement. The
scarcity of natural resources may have major economic,
political, and perhaps even military ramifications. And
an economic downswing, an environmental disaster, or a
regional conflict could give migration an entirely new
The breadth and diversity of these challenges can only
be addressed properly once we adopt a broad concept of
security, a concept that moves beyond military matters
alone and includes political, economic, and social elements.
Only such a broader approach enables us to move beyond
dealing only with symptoms, rather than addressing the
root causes of security challenges.
NATO has taken this logic to heart. Over the last decade,
we have developed out of a purely military defence Alliance,
a truly comprehensive approach to security. It ranges
from enlargement to Partnership for Peace, from the Euro-Atlantic
Partnership Council to the Mediterranean Dialogue, from
NATO-Ukraine relations to non-proliferation.
We have developed a new relationship with Russia. We
are preparing for a stronger European role in the Alliance
- to create a more equitable, more mature transatlantic
link. And we have embarked on the daunting challenge of
crisis management in the Balkans. Each of these initiatives
is a tangible contribution to a safer and more stable
Europe in the 21st century.
But let us be clear: to implement such a broader approach
to security does not diminish the relevance of military
instruments. Indeed, we have seen in Bosnia that the use
of economic sanctions or moral condemnation availed us
little without the credible backing of military power.
In Kosovo, our military competence was essential in preventing
a humanitarian tragedy.
There can be no doubt, then, that effective military
means will remain a precondition for security in the 21st
century. As one famous military strategist --Ronald Reagan
-- put it: "I once had to play a sheriff without
a gun. I was dead 27 minutes into the show".
So the need for military competence has not changed.
What is changing dramatically, however, is the definition
of what "military competence" means. Today,
regional conflicts have replaced the global scenarios
of the Cold War -- and our old understanding of security
clearly is no longer viable.
Today, the military will also have to play a pivotal
role in providing a secure environment for the long-term
reconstruction of war-torn societies. In areas such as
Kosovo and Bosnia --or indeed Sierra Leone, or East Timor
-- entire societies have to be rebuilt. 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.
Trust must be restored.
In those circumstances, militaries and civilians have
no choice but to work together, intimately, every day,
if either is to succeed. Consequently, new tasks, such
as cooperation with local authorities and civilian agencies,
will enter the job description of our military.
The new security environment, therefore, will put entirely
new demands on our military men and women. In addition
to a high level of military competence, we will require
keen political instincts and considerable diplomatic skills.
More than ever, we will require a military gifted with
the talent of improvisation, able to communicate in several
languages, able to adapt to rapidly shifting situations.
And more than ever, we will require a military geared
to cooperation with soldiers from many countries, NATO
members and Partner countries. Because today, our operations
will include many countries from all over the continent,
and indeed even from outside of Europe.
In short, to manage the challenge of the next century
we do not only require military-technical interoperability.
We also require "human interoperability" --
officers and soldiers who think alike, officers who share
the same ideas, who can devise new approaches to new problems
-- and who can start working with each other very quickly.
But it is not only the human factor that requires constant
attention. Having effective forces in the new security
environment also means structuring and equipping our forces
for modern operations. The days of planning for massive
armoured clashes are behind us, but that does not diminish
the need for military capabilities. Let there be no mistake:
we may speak of "crisis management" or "peace
support", but these operations will still require
advanced military capabilities and sometimes, as Kosovo
demonstrated, the use of technologically advanced force.
So today, we need armed forces who can move fast, adjust
quickly to changing requirements, hit hard, and then stay
in theatre for as long as it takes to get the job done.
This means that NATO's military forces must be mobile,
flexible, effective at engagement, and capable of being
supported in theatre.
And when I say "NATO's forces", I mean the forces
of all the Allies. We must avoid any division of labour
within NATO, whereby the high-tech Allies provide the
logistics, the smart bombs and the intelligence, and the
lower-tech Allies provide the soldiers -- what a NATO
official once called "a two-class NATO, with a precision
class and a bleeding class". This would be politically
unsustainable. We must ensure that the burdens, the costs
and the risks are shared equally.
So the need for improvements to our defence capabilities
should be clear to all of us, and Kosovo was merely another,
but brutal, reminder. Military capability is the heart
and soul of the Alliance. To carry out all of NATO's missions
-- from crisis management, to peacekeeping, to Partnership
and cooperation, to collective defence -- our forces must
be militarily effective, and able to work together effectively.
The purpose of the Defence Capabilities Initiative is
to address these challenges. We have already made progress
since the Initiative was put in place. We have already
identified the areas of NATO's military capabilities that
need improvement and the gaps which need to be filled.
Of course, changing defence structures takes many years,
especially for those countries with force structures constructed
for Cold War-style territorial defence. But this makes
it all the more important to take the necessary decisions
as soon as possible.
This is not purely an issue of finding new money for
defence. It is about getting a good return on investment
-- literally "getting more bang for your buck".
Today, the European Allies spend about 60% of what the
United States spends on defence, but nobody would suggest
that the European Allies have 60% of the capability. We
need to improve that return on investment, through innovative
management, defence industrial consolidation, setting
of priorities, and courageous decisions.
We must spend more wisely and if that doesn't free up
enough resources, there is nothing for it but to call
for more resources. But let me be clear -- I am committed
to ensuring that DCI delivers -- that the capability shortfalls
will be addressed.
To the extent that European Allies are prepared to support
DCI, and make faster progress in improving their capabilities,
they will also fare better in fulfilling the EU's Headline
Goal. Even at the relatively modest level of 60,000 rapid
reaction troops set at Helsinki, it is clear that European
nations have some serious gaps in capabilities, such as
strategic lift, air-to-air refuelling and strategic intelligence.
Hence, if Europe is not delivering as promised, we will
have two gaps: a transatlantic capability gap, and a European
credibility gap. This is hardly a recipe for a healthy
21st century Alliance. We must avoid such an outcome,
and we must act now to avoid it.
I know that all of this is easier said than done. I understand
that we are talking about serious, structural changes
to very large, and very expensive organisations. And I
realise that defence reform carries with it both political
and social implications. Indeed, as the UK Minister of
Defence, I led an exhaustive review of defence requirements.
When we figured out what we needed, I had to find the
people, the equipment and the money to meet those requirements,
within a defined budget. And I had to deal with the consequences
of our action: the need to take care of surplus service
members, for example.
This was no easy task -- and I know that for many countries
the challenges are even greater. We all work under resource
constraints, and there are many competing demands on our
state budgets. However, you have to spend to make real
savings. Delay just adds to the cost. And so, I might
add, does playing politics with defence.
NATO is certainly not calling for any member country
to break the bank, or to sacrifice essential domestic
programs for defence spending. Defence planning should
be realistic and affordable, taking full account of national
priorities. No one would expect anything different --
not least because public support is vital if defence reform
is to succeed, and the public will only support defence
expenditure if it is seen to be reasonable and well thought
This brings me to the next requirement for enhancing
our military competence: public support. NATO is a democratic
Alliance, and public support is crucial to its success.
By public support I don't mean universal acceptance of
each and every aspect of NATO's policy. But NATO is an
intergovernmental institution, and it must be -- and be
seen to be -- accountable to the publics who pay for it.
No matter how convincing your strategic rationale for
a given policy may be, it must, above all, be understood
by a broader public, or else it may not be politically
In the Cold War, explaining the need for maintaining
armed forces was easy. In a way, the Soviet Union did
that for us. All a NATO Secretary General - or any Defence
Minister - needed to do was list the latest Soviet arms
procurements, and no further elaborate explanation was
required. The case for self-defence was self-evident.
Today, however, the situation is totally different. Our
territories are not directly under threat. And yet we
have been using force for the first time in NATO's history.
For us "defence aficionados" all this may be
completely natural. But we should not take for granted
that a wider public sees it the same way. Kosovo sparked
major public controversies in all our countries. So did
NATO enlargement. In short, for every major policy issue
we will have to build new coalitions of support.
Ensuring public support is a difficult challenge, but
it is not insurmountable. Indeed, our host country, Spain,
can serve as a most telling example of how convincing
arguments and skilful politics can win the day. One example
is NATO membership. Initially, it was a highly controversial
issue in Spain. Today, it is a symbol of Spain's central
role in the management of European security. Joining NATO's
reformed military structure four years ago, in a sense,
marked the crowning achievement of this policy.
Another example is the Spanish participation in UNPROFOR
in 1992. At a time when other nations were still debating
the wisdom of getting involved in the Balkans, Spain chose
engagement over indifference -- and in so doing, made
a major step towards reconciling the Spanish armed forces
with Spanish society at large. At present, there are over
3,500 Spanish soldiers serving in peacekeeping operations
world-wide. They embody Spain's determination to be a
net contributor to international security -- a determination
that is also reflected in Spain's contributions to the
peace process in Latin America and the Middle East.
Another example of successful Spanish engagement is the
Mediterranean. Spain has consistently sought to give the
EU and NATO a stronger Mediterranean focus. And its efforts
have yielded concrete results. The EU's Barcelona process
and NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue both acknowledge the
need for Europe to look not only eastwards, but also to
its neighbours in the South.
Another very public example was the leadership of the
Eurocorps by a Spanish General, Juan Ortuño, just
at the point when the Eurocorps took command of NATO's,
and the UN's, biggest peacekeeping operation, KFOR in
Kosovo. General Ortuño's calm professionalism in
one of the world's most difficult military jobs put the
Spanish military on a whole new level of prominence.
A final example is Spain's contribution to the European
Security and Defence Policy, including to the EU's Headline
Goal. Again, the logic is clear and compelling: a healthy
transatlantic partnership requires a fundamental change
in the way we do business. More than a decade after the
Cold War, it is becoming increasingly less clear why the
US should 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. In times of crisis, we need to have more options
than just "NATO or nothing".
This logic of rebalancing the transatlantic partnership
is reflected not only in the emerging relationship between
NATO and the EU. It is also visible in the 1995 EU-US
Action Plan, in which Spain took a leading role. The Action
Plan gave the EU a stronger Atlantic dimension, just as
our Atlantic Alliance is now developing a stronger European
dimension. The partnership with North America will remain,
but it will be a fairer - and therefore stronger - partnership.
And Spain has made an important contribution to that.
Spain even volunteered a Spaniard to embody the transatlantic
relationship as a highly successful Secretary General
In sum, Spain has done a remarkable job on several fronts:
it has returned to Europe while at the same time building
a high profile as an international player. And it has
demonstrated that maintaining a strong and capable military
does not hinder rapid economic growth. As a result, Spain
has come off the sidelines of international relations
to become a central player in Euro-Atlantic security --
with strong public support. That is quite an achievement.
One reason for Spain's success is that it has not been
content with being just an effective political player.
Nor has it been content with simply being a respected
moral voice. The real reason for Spain's high international
standing lies elsewhere. It lies in the willingness to
act. In the willingness to uphold its values, and to preserve
its interests whenever and wherever necessary. In other
words, Spain's success is so tangible because it is not
based merely on rhetoric, but on hard work and real resources.
As the post-Cold War world changes ever more quickly,
Spain is more than ever an important player on our team.
Indeed, it is simply inconceivable to imagine NATO today
without Spain. But Spain's unique potential can only be
achieved by maintaining the same level of commitment this
country has shown so far.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To emphasise the need to reform our militaries does not
reflect an obsession with military gimmickry, or a mistrust
in political solutions. On the contrary. Military competence
is an eminently political requirement. If there is now
hope for a peaceful future for the Balkans, it is because
NATO demonstrated military competence at a critical historical
juncture. As the 21st century unfolds, we may be faced
with new, different challenges that again may require
the use -- or the threat -- of force. We cannot predict
But what we can do is to prepare for it -- and, even
better, shape it: to be as peaceful and secure as possible
-- for us, and for future generations.