Updated: 10-May-2001 NATO Speeches

Centro Caixa
10 May 2001

"New Security and Defence Challenges in the Euro-Atlantic Area"

Speech 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 Balkan region.

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 hand.

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 them.

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 dimension.

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 through.

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 sustainable.

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 of NATO.

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 the future.

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.

Thank You.

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