Updated: 12-Dec-2001 NATO Speeches

At the 2001
Evian, France
17 May 2001

"Change and Security: Responding to the New Challenges"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you this evening. This conference brings together some of the most knowledgeable and imaginative people in the Euro-Atlantic area. It aims to facilitate a discussion that gets away from our respective day-to-day activities and examines longer term trends and their implications for our societies and our values. It is certainly an honour -- and a challenge -- to be the one who introduces this look into the future, which you will embark on in the coming days.

I have a very strong interest in the theme of this conference. I have always been a passionate believer that individuals have a responsibility to their societies - a responsibility to question, to think, to challenge and to plan for the safety, the well-being, and the values and ethical integrity of their societies. As times change, we have an obligation to think through the implications of these changes - and to change the way we respond to the evolving challenges to our societies.

I have tried to do my share, in line with my honest beliefs at the time - as a teenager protesting against U.S. nuclear weapons in Scotland and, after further deep reflection, as a Member of Parliament and then Minister of Defence responsible for one of the major nuclear weapon arsenals on earth. I am now Secretary General of the largest military Alliance in the world, which two years ago engaged in its first major use of military power in its history - and did so not to destroy, but to save lives and restore stability to a conflict-torn region.

One of the reasons NATO had to act in Kosovo was because, increasingly, throughout Europe and North America, we feel as though we are all one society. What happens in one part affects all - and we genuinely feel it. We could not stand by and watch ethnic cleansing. And we could not pretend that the problems that go along with strife in the Balkans - the refugee flows, the organised crime, the economic dislocation - would leave us unaffected. And so our responsibility as individuals to our society extends not just to our own nation, but to the larger international community in which we live.

Now this conference is about change. And that is a very good topic indeed. Increasingly, we feel we are subject to rapid fire change in nearly all areas - political, economic, technological. This rapid change can be somewhat daunting, if not exhausting.
But somehow, it is also oddly comforting. In our developed societies, we tend to assume that change and progress are synonymous. As technology becomes more sophisticated, we unconsciously assume that it will benefit all of us. It will enhance the quality of our lives and strengthen our safety and the stability in which we are accustomed to living.

And often it does. Look at the United States and Europe today. They are among the most prosperous, the most dynamic, and the most free and open societies on earth. Largely because of the changes of the past few decades - revolutions, in fact, in information technology, communication, health care and global politics - individuals and private companies have unprecedented opportunities.

With a click of the button, you can check out photographs and descriptions of accommodations for your next holiday, a half-a-world away. You can buy and sell the latest stocks, anywhere in the world - something that just a few years ago was the preserve of the ultra-wealthy through a cartel of over-paid brokers. You can travel from Vienna to Brussels and beyond without showing a passport. You can send flowers to your mother in Kansas or Karlsrühe at the very last minute, and still have them arrive on time. The flowers, by the way, were picked days earlier in Jersey, before you even thought of sending them.

And as individuals and private organisations exploit new opportunities, they also amass much greater power - particularly in comparison with the traditional power of states and national governments. Global financial markets dwarf the capabilities of national treasuries to influence currency and trade markets. Email and the internet have nearly eliminated the ability of national governments to control information. The communications and organisational potential of the internet has made grassroots political association a serious force to be reckoned with, as seen in the anti-globalisation protests and the successful campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines.

This explosion of new technologies and new opportunities, which empower the individual, has taken place simultaneously with fundamental changes in the global political order. The Soviet Union is gone - and with it went the imposition of closed economies and closed societies in half of the European continent. Gone is the imminent threat of war that could wipe out European and American civilisation. Gone are the proxy wars of the superpowers in the developing world.

The Cold War has of course been replaced with serious regional conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. But even here, we tend to believe that our superior technology enables us to cope.

We have grown accustomed to the CNN-televised "clean" war. With stealth penetration and precision-guided weapons, it not only looks safer for our pilots and soldiers to back up our principled foreign policy stands - it is also safer for the population in the nations whose armies we are defeating. Belgrade must be the first city in history to be relentlessly bombarded from a foreign country where the inhabitants did not flee their homes.
And so we are more inclined to stand on principle in foreign policy. And, as a related effect, our standards of humanitarian conduct during a conflict have experienced a kind of virtuous hyper-inflation. The civilian casualties that we accepted during the World Wars - think of Dresden, or Tokyo - or in Korea would be utterly unacceptable today. In Kosovo, planners were so careful to avoid civilian casualties that they at times modelled the effects of flying shards of glass and sonic booms to see whether there was a way to further minimise the risk of civilian injury. The vast majority of those civilians who were killed during the air campaign died in four particular incidents of accidents or weapon malfunctions - not due to some calculation that such casualties were tolerable.

The net result of all this - the political, economic, and technological changes of the past several years -- is that we believe that we as individuals and, collectively, we as a society, are better than before. We are more modern. More civilised. More free. More wealthy. More advanced. More capable. More humanitarian.

And more safe. Now let me focus on safety for a moment. It is something that as individuals, we focus on with razor-sharp intensity. No parent can ever resist the advertising campaign that says one product is safer for his child than another. As a society, we clamour on about food safety, environmental protection, data security and so forth. So safety counts - and we spend enormous sums to be as safe as possible. And we stay current on assessing new risks - whether it is genetically modified foods or the latest medical studies on cholesterol.

In the world of transnational threats, however, we still tend to think in terms of the old world - not the changing world in which we actually live. If we think about a major nuclear confrontation, or World War III, or the enormous threat of ground invasion that had been posed by the Soviet Union, of course we are more safe. But we had better wake up to the fact that these are the threats of yesterday, not the challenges of today and tomorrow.

What we have to recognise is that the same technologies that make us feel better and more secure, and that empower small actors, can work against us just as easily as they can work for us. And instead of reserving our deepest levels of concern for old threats that will never again materialise, we must recognise that new threats, of very different kinds, have already crossed a threshold that should make them the focus of serious concern indeed.

In Sunday's New York Times, there was an article that described the "First World Hacker War." In the wake of the recent spy-plane incident, private computer hackers in China and the United States, acting out of misplaced patriotism and the rogue impulses of hackers everywhere, defaced dozens of web sites in each others countries, and then moved on to the sending of computer viruses on a massive scale.

This is a case of private individuals acting for private motives in ways that affect entire publics. Not the traditional kind of security threat one thinks of, but a potentially serious threat nonetheless.
Terrorists are able to communicate with each other with unprecedented communications security - both because of the availability of sophisticated encryption technology and fact that their messages are buried in the overwhelming volume of electronic communication in the world today.

The Internet provides all the information one needs to build nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And missile technology, too, is becoming ever more widespread -- and as a result, ballistic missiles are posing an ever-increasing danger to our societies.

Indeed, criminals of all sorts can use the Internet to share information and arrange actions anywhere in the world, as Osama bin Laden continues to do. The attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi a few years ago were major attacks against a nations' interests - conducted by what is, in effect, an NGO. It is not inconceivable that with the spread of technology, we could be facing mass destruction threats not just from so-called rogue states, but from other actors as well.

Not that many years ago, there were five nuclear powers in the world. The UK, France, and China maintained moderate national capabilities, and the U.S. and Soviet Union built huge arsenals and successfully deterred each other through the aptly named policy of MAD, or mutual assured destruction.

MAD was never desirable. The whole idea of having a deliberate policy of threatening the nuclear extinction of millions of people is intolerable. But in a structured nuclear world, it was the only effective means of ensuring that nuclear weapons stayed in their silos, unused.

That world is now gone. It is no wonder that the U.S. Administration is thinking about whether the remaining nuclear weapons stockpiles in the U.S. and Russia are really necessary to deter each other. And whether they can be effective at all in deterring the kind of asymetric threats that technology has now made possible.

And what of deterring small actors? Can we be sure they would be deterred? Would they believe we would use nuclear weapons against them - especially given the hyper-inflation in our humanitarian approach to conflict? And if a crazed dictator launched a nuclear or major biological attack, would we want to respond with nuclear weapons - annihilating a government, but also potentially millions of poor people who have only suffered at the hands of the same dictator? And what if there was an attack - say a bomb in a suitcase - and we simply did not know who attacked us?

There are no clear answers to these questions, so don't fire them back at me in the Q and A. I raise them only to stress that we must think differently about our safety and security in the world we live in today.

NATO has been quietly engaged in a number of activities. NATO members are cooperating more closely together to deal with the effects of proliferation. We are fostering a vigorous and structured debate to strengthen our common understanding of the risks posed by weapons of mass destruction. We are improving the quality and quantity of intelligence and information-sharing among Allies.

We are also working to ensure that our deployed soldiers have protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons - so they will not be deterred by an aggressor who might use such weapons against them. The Alliance is developing missile defence systems to protect our troops in action from the kind of missile attacks Iraq launched at Israel and coalition forces during the Gulf War. This will raise the threshold for any potential aggressor, who will know his weapons have less of a chance of getting through.

But the truth is that even these efforts - though essential - are still just playing catch-up. We must think further ahead about the world we will live in tomorrow.

Something that is reportedly being studied in the U.S. strategic defence review at the moment is what happens when potential adversaries acquire the same weapons that NATO used to such great effect in the Kosovo air campaign. If our opponents have precision-guided cruise missiles, doesn't that make so many of our big military items sitting ducks?

Militaries are now having to rethink their whole approach to how to deliver force from a distance. The point is that we must constantly think ahead.

There are no spray-on solutions. No off-the-shelf answers. But neither will we find any answers to the new security challenges if we ignore them. That is the point of the current discussion within NATO about new concepts of deterrence and U.S. thinking on missile defence. It is also the point behind our extraordinary engagement in the Balkans over the past several years, and our efforts to expand our partnerships with all the countries in the Euro-Atlantic area.

And it must not only be governments and militaries and Alliances like NATO that think about these things. In a world where individuals and organisations carry at least as much power in many areas as national governments, they must also carry new responsibilities.

International organisations such as NATO, the EU and the OSCE - as well as private NGO's - must work much more closely together. We are experimenting with this in the Balkans already. As individuals and nations, we have invested differently in different organisations - giving them unique strengths and weaknesses. They must work together better to tackle the full range of challenges we face. Given the complex dimensions of most problems, no single organisation is capable of addressing all aspects - certainly not most effectively.

But one bottom line conclusion - which I have said many times at NATO, and I say to you again this evening - is that we must invest in our security for the future. Safety and security are taken for granted but they do not come about by accident. In the Cold War, we spent hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring the safety of ourselves and our future generations. We must approach the new security challenges with the same vigour, the same commitment, and the same willingness to spend money on the right things.

When I took up my post as Secretary General, I said that I had three priorities: capabilities, capabilities, capabilities. At the 1999 Summit in Washington, NATO's Heads of State and Government said much the same thing. They directed that the Alliance take steps to make our forces more mobile, more effective in the field, and better able to stay in the field for extended period of time. I am determined to hold the NATO Allies to this commitment - and to stretch their thinking even beyond this into the future.

But doing so will take money - so I depend in part on you to think through these issues and make the case yourselves for taking the steps now to preserve our safety and security well into the future. And I say this not thinking only about military capabilities, but a wide spectrum areas where the efforts of individuals, organisations, and governments can make a difference in shaping the environment in which we must face the new challenges to our societies.

The Post-Cold War Euro-Atlantic area is changing very quickly -- politically, economically and militarily. When referring to change, the famous business guru, Peter Drucker, once wrote that the key question to ask ourselves is this: what must we do today to prepare for an uncertain tomorrow?

My question is: What must we do today, to handle the challenges to our societies will face in the future? I have no one answer to give you this evening. All I can do is tell you what our organisaiton, our Alliance which did ensure the safety of two generations last century, is doing to face the challenges - even the nightmares - of the future. It cannot do it alone - and that's where you all come in.

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