Updated: 18-Jun-2001 NATO Speeches

At the Royal
Institute of International
Chatham House
11 June 2001

"European Defence: Challenges and Prospects"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today. I must admit that it gave me some pangs, over the past few days, to witness the first general election to take place in the UK in more than two decades in which I did not take part. Indeed I did not even have a vote.

That being said, I am very gratified to see so many people here today including some who have clearly been celebrating rather diligently, or drowning their sorrows, since the election. Indeed after the surfeit of politics I am grateful at the turnout. But there again, Chatham House has a well-deserved reputation for attracting very distinguished audiences, to discuss the topical security issues of the day.

Today's discussion is on the challenges and prospects for European defence. You won't be surprised to hear that I believe this subject to be of primary importance. I have spent sizeable chunk of my adult life engaged on questions of security and defence, first as a private citizen, then as a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, and now as Secretary General of NATO.

And yet I am not surprised that defence issues did not exactly dominate the national debate in the lead-up to polling day.

Elections are rarely won or lost on questions of defence policy, security or military capability. These are complex and sometimes dry issues, which can be hard to package in a sound-bite. Believe me, I know. Considering the number of acronyms we use to describe Euro-Atlantic security issues -- ESDI, ESDP, BMD, MAP, and CJTF are only a very few examples -- it's no wonder politicians generally choose not to campaign on defence.

But once elections are past, the importance of sound-bites fades, and Governments have once again to look at all the issues, including the very long term ones, which affect the interests and well-being of their citizens, from the very popular to the very prosaic. As Mario Cuomo, legendary Governor of New York State, once said, "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose".

Which brings us right back to European security. To some observers it is a blood boiling matter but to the majority of UK or even European populations it scarcely gets the pulse going faster. But it remains vitally important. We still face challenges to the safety and security of our citizens, in the UK and across the Euro-Atlantic area and some are new and deadly. Elections don't change that. And we still have to take the measures necessary to ensure that we continue to maintain that safety and security, today and for future generations.

What are these challenges we face? Very different ones from the recent past. In the 21st Century, globalisation is the name of the game -- and while globalisation certainly offers our societies the opportunity to become more creative and prosperous, 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.

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. Kosovo gave us a glimpse of that.

Is the military the only answer to these challenges? Of course not. These are multi-faceted, multidimensional challenges, and they need complex, multi-faceted solutions. We need effective diplomacy, to promote peaceful relations. We need international development assistance, to assist the poorest of the poor to make their homes and their lives better. We need open trade to promote prosperity, such the EU's "Anything but Arms" initiative -- which, by the way, Eurocrats have taken to calling the "Venus de Milo" initiative. In essence, we have to reach out and build peace and security in the broadest possible way.

NATO has taken this logic to heart. Over the last decade, we have developed a truly comprehensive approach to security. It ranges from the enlargement process 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. 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.

This is a modern, comprehensive approach to building security. But it is very important that this comprehensive approach doesn't become a fig leaf behind which we hide when looking at another essential pillar of security -- retaining and improving military capability.

As we saw in Bosnia, and as we saw in Kosovo again, sanctions and diplomacy can sometimes simply not be enough to avert a disaster. Sometimes, military tools are the only way to make a difference -- to stop violence, to protect our interests, and to uphold our values. Effective military means 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 -- which means we need different forces than in the past. 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 force. So today, we need forces that 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 forces that are mobile, flexible, effective at engagement, and sustainable in theatre.

All of this may seem somewhat abstract to some of you. But let me give you a non-NATO region example: Sierra Leone. The value of effective, modern forces couldn't be clearer when we look at that troubled country. The rapid deployment of UK forces to Sierra Leone prevented the brutal rebel forces from gaining the upper hand and the conflict spreading to the wider region. The effective engagement of UK troops to destroy one of the leading rebel groups sent a strong, clear message that those opposing peace would not prevail. And the ability to supply and support their presence in theatre has allowed the UK forces to remain as long as necessary to ensure that their limited mission succeeds.

This was exactly the kind of capabilities we had in mind when we conducted our Strategic Defence Review (SDR), back in the mists of time when I was Defence Secretary. The purpose was to create precisely the kind of forces we need today, to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The SDR was an important step in the right direction, because it set out a clear path for reform. It is a pattern which has been widely followed by NATO countries and more generally.

These same kinds of changes are now taking place right across NATO. NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) has focused the attention of all NATO Allies on making the necessary improvements in deployability, mobility, effective engagement, and sustainability in the field. And I am pleased that the DCI reflects much of the thinking that took place here in the UK.

The second major initiative we undertook when I was Defence Secretary, alongside the SDR, was the decision to engage the UK in a serious effort to improve the European ability to contribute to peace and security. And here too, I believe, much of our thinking has been taken on board right across Europe.

The logic of enhancing Europe's role as a security actor is clear. First, we need to demonstrate to the United States that Europe is willing to shoulder its fair share of the burden, commensurate with its economic weight. This is only natural. If the perception that Europe refuses to contribute its fair share were to take hold in the United States, America would become a much more reluctant security partner indeed, and we would all suffer the consequences. Of course, this fairer burden-sharing must go along with a rebalancing of roles and responsibilities between Europe and North America.

Second, we need options other than "NATO or nothing". In the post-Cold War world, there is simply no guarantee that the US, or NATO as an organization, will wish to get involved in each and every security crisis in or around Europe. We cannot stick our heads in the sand on this issue, all the more as it is completely understandable and legitimate for the US not to be involved in each and every regional conflict arising in the world. The fact is that Europe needs to be able to react when the US, or NATO, doesn't.

That is why the UK signed up to build a European Security and Defence Identity, or ESDI. Because the logic of a stronger European capability was clear and inescapable. And because we understood that, by being part of the process, we could shape it in the right direction, so that it enhances Europe, and enhances NATO at the same time.

We have come a long way since that logic was agreed by all EU and NATO countries. The EU is building the institutional structures to take on a greater role in security. NATO is adapting its own structures to give support to the EU, in the event that the EU takes the lead in responding to a crisis where NATO as a whole is not engaged. And we are establishing the full range of institutional relations between the two organizations to ensure the most effective cooperation possible.

Of course there are questions raised by this ambitious, if common sense, project. Can it deliver? Can Europe become more effective, and still benefit NATO? To listen to some over exited commentators, you would think that, by now, NATO would be packing its bags and folding its tents -- or, at the very least, that NATO and the EU would barely be on speaking terms.

The simple facts, however, demonstrate that the opposite is true. Relations between NATO and the EU are improving on a daily basis. Not only in theory which has always in the past been the playground for European Security cooperation.

The practical outcomes can already be seen where it matters -- on the ground. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and I have coordinated our efforts in responding to a variety of security challenges in the Balkans, both in Southern Serbia and in former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(1).

The result? More effective diplomacy. More effective crisis prevention. And a more stable South East Europe, although there is a lot more work to be done. Does that benefit NATO? Of course. Thanks to this close cooperation between NATO and the EU, we show how synergies can be developed to manage crises more effectively. This move from theory to practice in NATO-EU relations bodes well for the future.

So on both of these projects -- reforming reshaping and updating our armed forces, and in enhancing Europe as a security actor -- we know what we need to do. All but the most extreme, or anachronistic, observers understand that we need more effective armed forces, and that Europe must take greater responsibilities in the field of security. In both endeavours we can see the first benefits of change. To use an automotive analogy, we have finished the design phase, and the first road tests are promising.

Which brings us to a new, and equally important phase: financing. Simply put, neither of these projects will deliver unless sufficient funds are invested, and invested in the right way.

The importance of proper resourcing is clear. If we do not provide the funds now to develop the capable, modern forces we know we need, they will not be there when our security is challenged. That is a risk we simply cannot run.

Similarly, we must ensure that Europe meets its goals, in becoming more effective. It is clear that European nations have some serious gaps in capabilities, such as strategic lift, air-to-air refuelling and precision munitions. 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. We simply cannot afford to undermine the transatlantic security relationship by dragging our feet on defence investment. To do so would be a betrayal of those who one day will call on us.

It will not be easy to make the case for this life or death investment. I understand as well as anyone, how difficult it can be to find the resources for defence. Any Government has to balance hundreds of priorities, all championed by Cabinet Ministers and by a public focused on today not years to come. All of it will be ruthlessly scrutinised by Parliament and the press.

I think it's safe to say that when it comes to spending, it can sometimes be easier for the public to see the immediate benefits of spending on other issues, such as education or the NHS. As a result, it is tempting for governments to under-resource defence.

Let me be very clear: this temptation must be resisted. All government programmes are important -- and defence is one of them. Proper investments in defence are investments in an insurance policy. They insure our security today. They insure the security of our children, and future generations. They are absolutely essential and, one day, lives, all our lives, may depend on them.

In defence terms, what does that mean? It means that sufficient funds must be found, here in the UK and in all European countries, to ensure that the Defence Capability Initiative and European Security Defence Identity deliver. It means spending defence resources in the most cost-effective way -- by pooling resources where appropriate; by procuring only the essential equipment, but ensuring that essential equipment is procured; by disposing of excess buildings and land and equipment; and where necessary, by coming up with new money.

We are already observing some positive trends in the defence spending of some Allies which stopped decreasing, even in several cases started to increase again. These trends must be confirmed and generalised to all NATO nations if we are to succeed.

I recognise that this bullet is hard to bite. It will require, in all European countries, tough discussions in Cabinet, in the wider Government, in the press and in the public, on how to balance society's priorities in the most effective way. It is time for those with vision to make the case. But the key message, from my point of view, is this: the one thing no society can afford is a loss of security. Proper investment in defence is a small, and reasonable price to pay to insure the freedom and the safety that we enjoy today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Emphasising the need to improve our militaries does not reflect an obsession with military gimmickry, or a mistrust in political solutions. On the contrary. NATO's primary interest is to preserve peace and security -- through cooperation, through partnership, and through effective crisis prevention.

But military competence remains a requirement, because it contributes to political solutions. 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 will be faced with challenges that again may require the threat -- or the use -- 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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