Updated: 17-Aug-2001 NATO Speeches

At the SACLANT Symposium,
5 July 2001

"Ukraine and NATO: Making the Right Choices for the 21st Century"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of this NATO-PFP Symposium is "The World in the 21st Century". This is an ambitious theme. Because it requires us to think ahead -- far ahead. After all, the 21st century has only just begun, we still have 99 years to go.

Predicting the future is, however, a hazardous exercise. An American newspaper once informed its readers that the horoscope section had to be cancelled today "due to unforeseen circumstances". In the realm of politics, too, predictions are fraught with risk.

If fifteen years ago someone had predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a sovereign and independent Ukraine, what would have been our reaction? We would probably have dismissed such a prediction as totally unrealistic, as outright folly.

And yet, these developments did occur, and they were a big step towards a more stable and secure Europe.

So even if predictions are a difficult thing, we should not shy away from making them every once in a while. Because they can help to sharpen our focus on what needs to be done today to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.

What are tomorrow's challenges? Very different ones from the ones we faced in the recent past. In the 21st century, globalisation is the name of the game. People and ideas will not be confined by a geographic border, quite to the contrary. Globalisation will encourage the free flow of people and ideas across borders and continents. And while globalisation certainly offers our societies the opportunity to become more prosperous, it also makes them more vulnerable.

The rapid dissemination of technology and information offers entirely new ways of production -- and hence prosperity -- but it can also 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 will become an ever more serious concern -- it may have major economic, political, and perhaps even military ramifications.

And an economic downswing, an environmental disaster, or a regional conflict could turn migration into an entirely new nightmare.

So are we prepared to cope with these challenges? Have we made the right decisions to be fit for the 21st century?

I believe that many right choices have indeed been made. The principles of democracy and market economy have been embraced almost all across Europe.

Our major institutions have opted for a policy of cooperation and engagement, reaching out to their neighbours in various ways, by offering different forms of association and opening the prospect of membership. And all nations, Allies and Partners alike, display a similar sense of direction: towards ever-more cooperation and integration.

We all realise that the challenges of the 21st century are far too complex to be faced by any single country in isolation.

The evidence of this strong cooperative momentum is there for everyone to see: in the Balkans. NATO and Partner countries, including Ukraine, are engaged in an effort that is without any precedent in history.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, soldiers from more than 40 nations are putting their lives on the line, day by day, to lay the groundwork for a self-sustaining peace in this region. In making the future of the Balkans our direct and immediate concern, we have taken on a great burden and a great responsibility. We can cope with this challenge because we cope with it together.

I believe that the same logic of engagement will also prevail in the current crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). Our position is clear: NATO stands ready to help with disarming the rebels, provided certain conditions are met. We will not leave a Partner country alone in an emergency. That, after all, is the essence of Partnership.

Together, we can muster the political will and the military resources to do the job. We are slowly moving the region towards a true peace. We chose engagement over indifference. And now that Slobodan Milosevic is awaiting his trial in The Hague we realise, once again, that we made the right choice.

Today's Symposium is another example of making the right choices. It is one of twelve initiatives developed within the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defence Reform. Together with next week's Seminar it will explore how to make our cooperation even more operational, and what lessons we have learned from our cooperation in PfP so far.

The fact that this Seminar features [19] PfP and [17] NATO nations is remarkable in itself. It is a vivid demonstration of the new, cooperative Europe at work.

However, to conclude that we are now fit for the 21st century would be self-deceiving. Because coping with tomorrow's challenges requires more than forward-looking foreign and security policies.

Progress on the foreign policy front does not eliminate the requirement for similar progress domestically, for two reasons. First, because a stable domestic political environment and a strong economy are the necessary foundations of any healthy country and for any successful foreign policy.

Second, because in an increasingly interdependent community of nations, standards such as democracy and human rights are as important as arms control treaties and border agreements. Political, economic, or social stagnation will inevitably lead to isolation, or even worse.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia are two examples that are simply too powerful to be ignored. In both countries, the unwillingness to tackle domestic reform lead to their undoing.

In the Soviet Union, leaders understood the need for reform, but believed that it could be limited to some areas only. In Yugoslavia, the leaders denied the need for reform altogether, and sought instead to revert to the recipes of the past: nationalism and ethnic hatred.

In both cases, the miscalculation by the leadership spelled the end of what they had set out to preserve. In both cases, the unwillingness to face painful reforms led to results that were even more painful in the end: political sclerosis, economic hardship, dissolution, and, in the case of Yugoslavia, violent conflict.

So the conclusion should be clear: in domestic affairs, like in foreign affairs, there is a need to make the right choices.

Of course, these choices are for each country to make on its own, according to its own unique circumstances. But this should not mean that other countries must stand idly by.

We all have a stake in each others' stability and well-being. The Chernobyl catastrophe is a vivid reminder that events in one country can affect many others. As integration and globalisation continue, this interdependence between us will only increase.

It is particularly poignant that we are discussing the challenge of integration, globalisation and interdependence in Kyiv, today the capital of an independent Ukraine, but just a mere 100 kilometres from the Chernobyl catastrophe.

To prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the new era we all have to make the right choices. This is not always easy and it requires courage and commitment to the future. Like others, Ukraine has made many right choices, and certainly in its foreign and security policy.

Despite formidable obstacles, Ukraine succeeded in resolving the thorny Black Sea Fleet issue with Russia. Ukraine's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty was another step in demonstrating Ukraine's new role as a responsible security actor.

Its cooperation with the European Union, its close relationship with NATO, and not least its participation in the Balkan peacekeeping efforts are further signs of Ukraine's determination to play a role commensurate with its size and geostrategic importance.

Ukraine has also demonstrated that a policy of gradual integration into European structures and good relations with Russia are not mutually exclusive.

Its size and pivotal geostrategic role make Ukraine a key to ensuring Europe's long-term stability. That is why NATO has consistently sought to assist Ukraine, as it charts its way into the future.

In particular, our Distinctive Partnership enables NATO to assist Ukraine in tackling some of its most challenging reform projects.

One crucial domestic challenge is defence reform. It concerns us all. In the new security environment, Cold War forces are simply a waste of money.

Every one of our nations, Allied and Partner alike, are undergoing fundamental defence and military reform to meet new challenges and changing requirements. NATO itself is reforming as well in order to be able to meet both our collective defence and new mission requirements.

We have a new NATO Command Structure in place, and our Force Structure is now under review. And we have Partnership for Peace, which places increased emphasis on new missions and multinational operations involving Allies and Partner forces.

This is why defence reform, as I said before, concerns us all. However, it is fair to say that mastering the challenge of defence reform is of particular urgency for Ukraine.

Oversized and ill-structured forces not only fail to fulfil the military tasks we demand of them; they are also a burden on the economy and, hence, on other areas of domestic reform. That is why NATO and Ukraine have created the Working Group on Defence Reform.

The Group provides a forum for the exchange of views and expertise with a broad range of Ukrainian ministries and agencies on such issues as revising national security concepts, military doctrine, budgeting, force planning, and the transition of personnel from the military to the civilian sectors.

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 Secretary 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 seriously constrained budget.

I then had to deal with the consequences of our action: the need to take care of surplus service personnel, for example.

This was no easy task -- and I know that the challenges faced by Ukraine and other Partners are far greater. But my experience tells me that delaying painful choices is no solution.

Eventually, these choices will have to be made anyway, and making them later will only make them more expensive -- and even more painful. Delay just adds to the cost.

These and other cooperative ventures of Ukraine and NATO are intended to complement Ukraine's wider process of reform. They are a clear expression of the Alliance's determination not to leave Ukraine alone as it charts its course into the future.

But let me be very clear: In no way can foreign assistance be a substitute for a nation's own reform efforts. How fast and how close Ukraine will move towards its European partners will be determined by the seriousness with which Ukraine tackles the double challenge it faces: embarking on international cooperation and moving ahead with genuine domestic reform.

Both are necessary. Neither on its own is sufficient.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the beginning of the 21st century, Europe is going through a truly formative period. It is in many ways as formative as the immediate post-war years. Like then, we now have a rare opportunity to influence the shape and direction of European security.

This means that the choices we now make will have a profound impact on the direction of this continent for years to come.

We have made many of the right choices. We have opted for international rather than purely national solutions. We have opted for cooperation rather than isolation.

And we have opted for engagement over indifference regarding our less fortunate neighbours. All these choices were the right choices. The challenge now is to see them through and stay the course.

As this is a NATO-PFP Symposium, let me end with another maritime reference. In the early days of navigation, the maps featured many blind spots. But the mapmakers were too embarrassed to admit their ignorance.

So they simply wrote "Here Be Monsters", suggesting that there was no need for the seamen to travel to these spots in the first place.

In some respects, the early cartographers were behaving like some of us when we face tough choices. Our first instinct may be to avoid these tough decisions, and to simply choose a less painful alternative. Like the mapmakers, we tend to be afraid of the unknown.

Eventually, however, we are forced to make the tough decisions. And then we usually find that they were the right decisions. We find out that there were no monsters waiting. That we were able to make progress.

As we are making our countries fit for the 21st century, we must not allow for any blind spots on our mental map, but we must seize the opportunities for cooperation, partnership and dialogue.

Thank You.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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