Updated: 10-Sep-2001 NATO Speeches

7 September

"Building a Vision: NATO's Future Transformation"

Speech by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the hosts of this meeting, and by saying what a great pleasure it is to be here today. Quite apart from the fact that Norway is always a pleasant country to be in, I am also pleased to see so many familiar faces in the audience -- senior Alliance political and military officials, as well as many other friends and supporters of the Alliance. I know that, like me, many of you have had a summer break that has not been as calm and restful as it should have been, so I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here today.

The topic of this symposium, which I would paraphrase as "How to guide NATO's ongoing transformation", is a very pertinent one. I commend the organisers for putting together a very attractive programme, which duly highlights the technological and defence industrial dimensions that will be crucial to the continuing success of this process.

I used the terms "ongoing transformation" and "continuing success", and I have done so quite deliberately. Perhaps not so much for us "NATO aficionados", but certainly for the public at large, it is all too easy to overlook just how much the Alliance has transformed already. Over the course of the last decade, NATO has ceased to be a single-issue institution, geared exclusively to collective defence. It has broadened both its political vision and the instruments at its disposal. And by doing so, it has turned into a force that promotes and manages change in a variety of ways. As a result, at the beginning of the 21st century, NATO is defining the security agenda in ways the founding fathers of this Alliance could never have imagined.

Take, for example, NATO's policy of partnership and cooperation. This may seem, at first glance, a rather technical military cooperation effort. But closer inspection reveals it to be a major instrument to shape the strategic environment: a means of creating a continent-wide pool of trained and inter-operable forces for crisis management; a transmission belt for conveying Western experiences of defence reform to the new democracies; and an opportunity for all European nations -- irrespective of their institutional affiliation or security tradition -- to have a stake in European security.

NATO's enlargement policy is another major tool to shape the strategic environment. By keeping the door to NATO membership open, the Alliance offers a constant incentive for aspiring members to get their house in order, helps to erase dividing lines, and to foster Euro-Atlantic integration. The joining by Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1999 has had a very positive effect on the overall security situation in Europe. So should further admissions, on which Alliance leaders have pledged to decide next year.

NATO's involvement in the Balkans, as well, has a wider strategic significance that is all too easily ignored. We are not simply talking about NATO nations undertaking military operations in three theatres in the Balkans. Our engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and most recently the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia , represents a unique political project : an attempt to consolidate Europe as a zone not only of prosperity but also of shared values; an attempt to involve a wide range of nations -- including, importantly, Russia -- in a fundamental commitment to the stability of South-East Europe, and the firm integration of this region into the European mainstream.

This is obviously a longer term project, but one to which NATO is fully committed, together with the rest of the international community. And while a number of serious difficulties remain, the general picture is unmistakably positive -- and getting better every day.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a government in which ethnic nationalists are no longer represented, and which is working hard against all odds towards reconciliation and integration.

Kosovo is preparing for general elections later this year, to be followed by the establishment of self-governing institutions.

Meanwhile, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, operation Essential Harvest, NATO's ongoing mission to collect and destroy weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels, is proceeding according to plan notwithstanding the usual ups and downs of the political process in this country. And while this mission is well defined in mandate and duration, the people of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also know that they can count on the Alliance to remain engaged in encouraging peace and stability in their country and the entire Balkan region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the past decade -- by successfully adapting its political vision and military strategy to new circumstances and requirements -- by reaching out to Partners, by opening its door to new members, and engaging itself in South-East Europe -- NATO has had a profound and very positive impact on the security dynamics in Europe. There is no doubt in my mind that the main reason for this success has been the Alliance's ability to maintain a solid foundation of military competence to underpin its political creativity.

In sum, without military clout, we would have very much been driven by events, rather than being able to influence them in a positive direction. I see it as my job as Secretary General to make sure that NATO maintains this military clout -- for military, as well as political reasons.

Maintaining NATO's military clout, and hence its serious political influence, requires a determined effort at three different, but closely related, levels:

First, we need real, and in some cases substantial, increases in our defence capabilities. To carry out all of the Alliance's missions -- from crisis management, to peacekeeping, to partnership and cooperation, and ultimately collective defence -- NATO's forces -- the forces of all the Allies -- must be well equipped, and able to work together effectively.

We have many challenges to face in this area. One of the widely recognised lessons we have learned from our operations in the Balkans is that we face capability gaps between our military forces that make "coalition operations" difficult to mount -- particularly when many different national forces are involved.

Interoperability means that we need a reasonable degree of technological equivalence among the units involved in any given operation. I do not need to remind this audience that state of the art communication systems find it difficult to talk to older systems built years ago.

This is one important reason why the Defence Capabilities Initiative was launched two and a half years ago: to identify the essential capabilities all Allies must have for modern operations. To ensure that correcting these shortfalls would be a focus of our force planning process. And to make sure that this would be an Alliance-wide effort, in which all the Allies were fully engaged.

In my frequent contacts with NATO member governments I continue to stress that this is not purely a matter of finding new money for defence. It is, first and foremost, about getting a good return on their investment -- through innovative management techniques, a better identification of priorities, and defence industrial consolidation, an issue on which I will say more in just a few minutes.

But if all that does not free up more resources, than, yes, governments will have to find new money for defence, and also go the extra mile in gaining the support of their publics for such a decision.

I very much appreciate, in this context, SACLANT's continuing efforts to implement the Concept Development and Experimentation initiative which is centrestage at this symposium. It clearly makes sense to have a forward-looking process for developing and evaluating new concepts before extensive resources are committed. When, finally, procurement requirements are identified and then costed, these projects could move forward on a much stronger and sounder basis. CDE has great potential.

It is an ambitious initiative -- one that will need to be complementary to other ongoing efforts at NATO, well resourced, and therefore supported by nations. I know that, in your capable hands, General Kernan, it has a very good chance of success.

A second requirement -- if we want to bolster NATO's military clout, and hence its political strength -- is to give further substance to the European Security and Defence Identity. Now I realise that this still sounds suspicious, especially to many Anglo-American ears -- and to quite a few Norwegian ears as well, for that matter. But this Scotsman, for one, is both a firm believer in ESDI, and a strong advocate of its benefits -- to all of Europe, and to North America.

First of all, the process of European integration has clearly advanced to the point where the development of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, and of the defence assets to underpin it, has become a logical next step. Without these assets, the European Union would simply remain incomplete. So the push by EU member countries towards a European Security and Defence Identity is understandable and irreversible, and NATO must accommodate it.

But it is not just the dynamic of European integration that leads towards ESDI. There is also a clear expectation on the part of the United States that its European Allies should shoulder a fairer share of the security burden, allowing America itself greater flexibility in meeting its global responsibilities.

For the past several decades, the US was almost forced to take the lead in any European contingency, even if it preferred the Europeans to do the job, simply because it possessed military capabilities which its Allies did not have. The Kosovo air campaign of 1999 made everyone realise, in no uncertain terms, that this was an unacceptable division of labour, and that European nations had to shore up their own capabilities.

EU nations are now doing exactly that. They are in the process of developing a European capacity to take on lower end humanitarian, peacekeeping or crisis management missions, together with non-EU countries if these should be interested, and in a way that is linked into and draws on NATO. The plan is not -- I repeat not -- to create a European mini-NATO. All the European nations concerned want to keep the US involved in Europe. And they all realise that the collective defence of Europe is and remains NATO's job, along with all its other current missions.

But the upshot is clear. ESDI will benefit the transatlantic relationship, militarily as well as politically. Because a stronger Europe will make a better partner for North America, whether through NATO-led operations, or by taking on some of the burden of leadership when NATO as a whole is not engaged.

European nations still have work to do in developing the desired capabilities, and so do NATO and the EU in developing an effective working relationship between them. But in the last 3 years more progress has been made on ESDI than in the 30 years that went before. And the potential of European leadership is clear for everyone to see -- in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at this very moment.

Of course, "Essential Harvest" is a NATO operation, and a logical outcome of the role that NATO, together with the EU, played in the preceding negotiation process. But it is also an operation in which the US has been happy to assume only a limited role, and to let European troops take the lead. And this is what they have done, with British troops at the forefront.

A third and final requirement for bolstering the military clout of the Alliance in its totality, and hence also its political vitality, is to improve the way in which we go about defence procurement, and in which we incorporate technology into defence systems.

Enhanced transatlantic cooperation is essential in this regard. First of all, because it will enhance interoperability. Cooperative development, production and procurement of military equipment are fruitful ways of standardising the equipment our forces need, so they can work together more effectively.

Transatlantic cooperation, taking place in an environment of healthy defence industrial competition, will also enhance technological innovation -- because technological expertise will be nurtured in a wider pool of experts, and more resources will be generated to fund research and development.

But most of all, enhanced industrial cooperation will mean better, more affordable equipment for all our nations. All are faced by skyrocketing development costs and tight defence budgets. By spreading the risks of technology development and offering economies of scale in production, cooperation will allow governments to develop and acquire systems they would not be able to afford on their own.

The defence industry is a peculiar sector, in which governments -- as the chief customers -- will always have a major role to play. The time has clearly come for governments to exercise that influence more strongly, and more pro-actively. There is still a lot of work to do in removing obstacles to effective transatlantic defence trade, both in terms of suppressing protectionist legislation and in terms of calibrating merger and acquisition practices, technology transfer regulations, etc.

But governments on both sides of the Atlantic also face a series of important procurement decisions over the next months and years -- decisions that will either benefit the transatlantic defence industrial partnership or reinforce the notion of a "Fortress Europe" battling it out with a "Fortress America".

Again, it is mainly up to our governments to prevent such an unwelcome development. But NATO, as an organisation, can and should be more than an interested observer. It offers our governments an ideal venue for an open and frank transatlantic dialogue on technology sharing. A dialogue that will make it clear to everyone concerned that, quite apart from the interests of particular countries or industries, the continued military and political viability of the Alliance is at stake as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO's transformation is well underway. The Alliance of the 21st century is no longer just a single-purpose, collective defence organisation -- It exercises decisive influence on security developments throughout the Euro-Atlantic area. At this point in time, no other organisation is able to create such a powerful, positive momentum.

In order to preserve the Alliance's positive influence, Europe and America need to maintain and add to their military strength, and their ability to work together effectively. The requirements are clear.

We must achieve significant increases in capabilities across the Alliance. We have to give further substance to the European Security and Defence Identity.

And we need to make the defence industrial marketplace truly open and competitive, supported by a defence industrial base that is innovative and robust. That way, NATO will continue to act as force for positive change.

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

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