Updated: 19-Jun-2001 NATO Speeches

At the Chicago Council on
19 June 2001

NATO's Challenges: Illusions and Realities

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening at the Chicago Council. There is no place like Chicago for taking the measure of the real America - outside the Washington Beltway, and away from the worlds of New York and Los Angeles, which are "unique" to say the least.

But it also a sad occasion, because it is the last day when I will see my friend, John Rielly, safely ensconced at the helm of this great institution, which he has built up so effectively over the years. For thirty years, he has been the Secretary of State for Middle America - a record even Henry Kissinger would envy. The only thing that exceeds the sense of loss I feel at seeing John retire, is the sense of sympathy I have for his successor, who is going to need awfully big feet to fill these shoes. John, we will miss you.

The sub-title for my talk this evening - which the Council proposed and I accepted - is "illusions and realities." I thought this would be an easy one. What the press says about NATO is the illusion, and what I'm going to tell you this evening is the reality. You may think that's a joke - but I'm not kidding.

Discussing such gaps in perception is indeed a fitting subject here in Chicago. Because in conveying the reality of Chicago as a vibrant centre of culture and the arts, this city is sometimes still engaged in an uphill struggle against false images, some of them more than half a century old. Al Capone and tommy guns, for example.

Just recently, a European colleague told me that when he visited Chicago he asked to see the famous slaughterhouses that he had known from gangster movies. Only upon his arrival did he learn that they had been dismantled almost 30 years ago. Another example of the persistence of outdated images. The good news: my colleague plans to return to Chicago -- because he was so impressed with the many cultural events on offer. As so often, it pays to have a closer look.

NATO faces a similar challenge of perceptions, and recent events have underscored this fact once again. Last week, we had the first meeting of NATO Presidents and Prime Ministers since the 1999 Washington Summit. It was the first chance for the European leaders to meet together with President George W. Bush. This followed on NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers' meetings during the previous two weeks.

I believe the NATO leaders came away from these meetings more committed to a common approach, and with a greater sense of NATO solidarity, than at any time in the past several months. And yet if you read the papers, you would think anything but this was the case. The image portrayed in large parts of the press is one of an Alliance split over missile defence, over EU defence plans, over our engagement in the Balkans, over NATO enlargement -- to name just a few issues.

What explains such a divergence between public image and reality? Is the media to blame for making up bad stories, simply because bad news sells better? Or do we ourselves have a "tunnel vision" that makes us see progress even when there isn't any?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that many observers simply haven't come to grips with the role of NATO in today's security environment. Sub-consciously, at least, they still judge NATO by the yardsticks of the Cold War: a passive Alliance, engaging in the stately management of East-West antagonism; an Alliance united in its single purpose of deterring a major conflict.

Those days are gone. They ended with the Cold War. Instead of building massive, unused systems to defend against a Soviet ground invasion, NATO today is actively engaged in shaping the new strategic environment - in crisis management in the Balkans, in building partnerships with nations to the East, and preparing for the emerging challenges of a new century. Simply put, NATO has moved from simply being into doing. And "doing" is by definition more difficult -- and more controversial.

Well, as I said, the press spin is the illusion, and the reality is quite different. I won't touch on all the issues, but I wanted to share with you this evening some of my thoughts on the state of the Alliance in these key areas.

Let me start with a few words on the discussions we had at NATO about U.S. thinking on new concepts of deterrence; on new mixes of offensive and defensive forces; and, indeed, on missile defence.

According to many observers in the media, the die has been cast: missile defence will split the Alliance. The image portrayed is one of a United States that takes missile defence almost as a religion and is hell-bent on spending billions of dollars on a system that may not work, but will certainly shatter global security.

And the image of the Europeans is no more favourable, sneering at the U.S., while they themselves are stuck looking at threats of a by-gone era, instead of the emerging challenges of the new century. The result, so the stories go, is sharp disagreement between Europe and America.

The reality is far more complex -- and far less dramatic. President Bush and his senior advisors have come to Europe not to seek support for a specific missile defence system, but to share their thinking about the challenges we face and the best means of dealing with them together as an Alliance. And NATO leaders from Europe and Canada have listened and discussed these ideas with an open mind. Some are more inclined toward missile defence. Some put more priority on non-proliferation regimes. All are engaged in a serious dialogue, without pressure or acrimony.

The U.S. thinking is clear: The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is gone. Russia is not an enemy. And meanwhile, many states are developing their ability to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We need to think through whether we need massive U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals pointed at each other. We need to think through whether continued vulnerability to any and all missile threats is the sensible policy. And we need to think through how to meet today's challenges more broadly, instead of clinging reflexively to the structures of the past.

And so NATO is now engaged in a thinking process - true consultations about the threats we face, and the means of dealing with them. And this is all taking place before any concrete decisions have been made. The US has acted in this spirit, and the Allies have responded in this spirit. This is exactly what NATO was designed for, and it is working.

I would add that this open-minded reflection on existing and emerging threats is not confined to NATO Allies alone. We all saw the pictures of Presidents Bush and Putin in Slovenia. When I met with President Putin in February, he admitted to scepticism about U.S. thinking, but also admitted to serious concern about proliferation, about "rogue states" - which he mentioned by name - and about and the leakage of missile technology. And he proposed a military response - a theatre missile defence system - for dealing with these threats. So there is a common diagnosis of the disease, and even some developing common ground as to a possible prescription.

You will forgive me, therefore, when I do not share the view of missile defence as an alliance-splitter. It's just another step in adapting our transatlantic security relationship to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Another major step in this adaptation process is the development of the European Security and Defence Identity. The press - particularly in the UK and the U.S. - and also some Congressional staff like to portray this issue as a NATO-buster. "Europe, anxious to go it alone and counter the U.S. 'hyper-power,' builds up its defence capabilities and does its business outside NATO" - so goes the story. But again, this is the illusion, not the reality.

The reality is that both Europe and America have come to recognise that at present, we are faced with a choice of "NATO or nothing" when it comes to managing crises in Europe. Either the U.S. is in for the whole thing through NATO, ground troops and all if required - or we do nothing. This is clearly not good enough.

Now, let me be very blunt here. I don't have a problem seeing the U.S. getting involved even in the smallest crises in Europe. The option that the U.S. leads and the others follow - the classical NATO option - is clearly the favourite of some. It is certainly the cheapest for Europe. Who wouldn't like an arrangement where security is guaranteed and somebody else picks up a big part of the bill?

But is this America's preferred option? I don't think so. I simply cannot imagine that this division of labour would find many adherents in the U.S., particularly given the fact that there are other regions in this world where the U.S. is actively engaged. A rich Europe can and should be able to do more. And, in truth, it is not the division Europe wants either. We are mature partners, and we must share roles and responsibilities - and burdens - more evenly.

Creating such a strong European defence option does not diminish the role of the U.S. in European security. NATO will retain its core collective defence mission - the EU is focusing only on crisis management. Of course, if the U.S. wants to engage itself in managing a crises, it can. And if it wants to lead, it probably will. Where we decide to go together, as with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, we should finish the job together.

European defence is thus not meant to be something that relieves the U.S. of all security responsibility in Europe. Quite the contrary, it is simply meant to relieve the U.S. of some of the disproportional burden it has been shouldering since the end of the Cold War - to the benefit of Europeans and Americans alike. And it is meant to give us a new option, beyond "NATO or nothing."

Solid progress has already been made - in theory, but also in practice. The work that the EU's High Representative, Javier Solana, and I have already undertaken are clear evidence of this. It may have attracted little notice, but in southern Serbia, NATO and the EU cooperated successfully in ensuring the dismantling of a heavily armed guerilla movement without firing a shot. And in former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia we are engaged in an effort to support the government there and bring an end to the current crisis. So the benefits of closer NATO-EU relations are already bearing fruit.

But on the structural questions there are still thorny issues to get through. How to ensure coherent defence planning for both the EU and NATO, without unnecessary duplication. How to ensure that all European NATO Allies that are not EU members - such as Poland, Turkey or Norway - can participate in EU-led operations. I am confident we will find solutions satisfactory to both NATO and the EU. But clearly, these outstanding issues do not outweigh the need for a better balance of roles and responsibilities between the European and North American Allies, which is precisely what ESDI is about.

So instead of "NATO or nothing," there will now be a European option for handling crises where NATO as a whole is not engaged. The U.S. will be spared a situation where it is dragged into engagement simply for lack of alternatives.

This is why European defence is fundamentally in America's interest - and thus why both the previous and the current U.S. Administrations have supported it. There is no trans-Atlantic rift here - despite the media portrayals to the contrary. Indeed, there is now a strong convergence of views between Europe and North America.

On the Balkans, the media has again put forward an illusion - one which portrays the Europeans expressing outrage as the U.S. tries to walk away from the NATO peacekeeping operations. This, too, is fiction. President Bush said it himself at NATO last week - "we went in together, and we will come out together."

Despite all the media hype over a few off-hand comments at the end of an interview by one cabinet officer, there has been no U.S. policy, no decision, no effort by the current U.S. Administration to withdraw U.S. troops unilaterally. Instead, we have had the usual process of consultation and adjustment within NATO.

And the decisions taken are collective decisions, in which all of NATO is engaged. We are indeed in a position to take some small reductions in our presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we are not yet in a position to do so in Kosovo. And this is agreed and supported by all Allies - in North America and in Europe.

Finally, let me say a few words about the further enlargement of NATO, a subject which I know is dear to the hearts to many of you in this city of immigrants. It has not yet reached the headlines to the same extent as missile defence and ESDI. After all, our Prague Summit, where we will decide on the way ahead, is still well over a year away. And to the extent there is media coverage of this issue, it is about differing American and European views on which candidate countries are more suitable for membership than others. As far as the media is concerned, the beauty contest is the issue.

Let me say that, on this issue as well, there is more agreement among the Allies than disagreement. First and foremost, we have a long-standing NATO policy that the door to membership remains open. This is because we all share the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. A Europe where all nations enjoy the same benefits of freedom, human rights, market economies, and iron-clad security that the NATO Allies have long secured for themselves.

But even beyond this, at our Heads of State meeting last week - little-noticed as it may have been - NATO agreed on a common policy on further enlargement. And this policy is as follows: "NATO hopes and expects, based on current and anticipated progress by the aspiring members, to launch the next round of enlargement at the Prague Summit in 2002."

What does this bureaucratic mouthful mean? It means that, provided the candidate countries continue to put their houses in order, NATO will move ahead with enlargement in November next year. The zero option, the "no-invitations-this-time" option, is off the table. But I emphasise that word "provided." There are no guarantees to any one country or group of countries. No beauty contests. No favourites. No done deals. No cooked books. No backroom promises. What lies ahead is hard work. And only on the basis of the work already done, and the work yet to be done, can we evaluate - some time late next year - the question of "who" will be invited to join NATO.

But until that time, the question of "who" is off-limits. As Secretary General, I will brook no discussion of this issue before its time. Too much work lies ahead. We have completed two yearly cycles of detailed work with candidate countries on their preparations for membership. We have a full third year ahead of us before any discussion of "who" can take place.

Now, NATO has some experience with enlargement, having just gone through this from 1997 to 1999. And there are some other, long-standing elements in NATO's perspective that bear repeating.

First, NATO enlargement is not about accumulating military capabilities against "the other side". There is no "other side" at the moment. The context of NATO enlargement today is about community-building: about overcoming the divisions that still exist in Europe. It is about improving the security and stability of Europe as a whole.

Europe can never be truly stable if there are divisions between a prosperous, self-confident West and a less prosperous, less confident East. One half of Europe simply cannot be kept at arms' length forever. And let me be very clear: this applies to every democratic country in Europe. In the new Europe of the 21st century, geography can no longer be destiny.

The prospect of NATO membership serves as an incentive for aspirants to get their houses in order. Just look at Central and Eastern Europe today. NATO's decision to take in new members has sparked a wave of bilateral treaties, and supported the resolution of border disputes. It has also encouraged many serious attempts to resolve minority issues, and to establish proper democratic control over militaries. Why? Because all aspirants know that if they want to join NATO they need to do their homework. In short, NATO's willingness to open its doors has brought Europe closer together -- in spirit and in practice.

Now, what about Russia? Just a few months ago, President Putin acknowledged the substantial improvement of Russian-Polish relations. He even pointed it out as a model. Contrast this with Russia's dire warnings about Polish NATO membership only a few years ago.

Russia has already stated its opposition to further NATO enlargement. We need to listen to Russia's concerns. But we must also explain that NATO is not a threat. We should remind Russia that there was no NATO-Russia rift, and no increased threat to Russia, after the last round of enlargement. We need to point out that with an enlarged NATO will come greater stability and prosperity for a much larger part of Europe.

We need to point out that every democratic nation has the right to decide its own security orientation, to chart its own destiny. It is cynical to suggest that whole peoples should be held in some kind of buffer zone between Russia and the west, based on an outdated concept of a Cold War division.

And finally, we need to state, softly but firmly, that no nation which is not a member of NATO will have veto or droit de regard over the future enlargement of the Alliance.

We may not convince Russia fully. But I am optimistic that if a realistic attitude in Russia prevails, Moscow will see that NATO is not "moving East", but that Central and Eastern Europe - and Russia itself - are gradually moving West.

But before I leave this subject, let me stress again the importance of the work that the candidate countries themselves must still perform. The enlargement train has been in the station for some time. Now it is starting to move, and the candidate countries have one year and a half to get on board. And they can only do so through continued progress on political, economic, and defence reforms, civil control of the military, interoperability with NATO, and good neighbourly relations. Otherwise, they may well be left waving at the station until the next train comes along.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In reflecting about our transatlantic community, I sometimes feel that it resembles a self-regulating currency market. There's frantic activity, euphoria, gloom and doom, and then euphoria again. Yet, at the end of the day, after all the ups and downs, trans-atlantic relations always find a natural balance.

Let me be clear: I do not want to suggest that NATO can be left on "autopilot", because things will always set themselves right by default. It takes work. But what brings us back to balance - and what the media fails to see when it takes snapshots of issues day to day - is the underlying strength of our trans-Atlantic values. Values that unite us in outlook and orientation. And values that ultimately guide us to a common approach, no matter how challenging the issue.

That is the reality of NATO today. The reality after the meetings of NATO Presidents and Prime Ministers last week. The reality of how NATO will manage the challenges of missile defence, European defence, the Balkans, and enlargement in the years ahead. And the reality of doing things together, the hallmark of the first 52 years of this great and enduring Alliance.

Thank You.

Go to Homepage Go to Index