Updated: 28-Sep-2001 NATO Speeches

28 Sept. 2001


by the Secretary General of NATO Lord Robertson
on the 50th Anniversary of the NATO Defence College

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We gather here for a happy occasion -- but in a somber time. The 50th anniversary of the NATO Defense College is a moment for congratulations for a vision implemented and job well done. But we do so in a much broader context: of a grave shock to our Atlantic community, and a changing perspective on security.

Let me begin with the congratulations, because they are well deserved indeed. Since the day it was founded, five decades ago, this College has been a centre of academic excellence. For almost as long the Alliance has existed, the NATO Defense College has helped to shape generations of officers for the highest levels of service. Indeed, I suspect that many of the people in uniform here today have passed through the academic halls of the College, either in this new building or its predecessor.

When the Cold War ended, security changed. NATO changed. And as an essential part of that adaptation, the Defense College changed too, illustrating that the College didn't just teach flexibility and vision -- it practiced what it preached. Let me give you just two examples.

First, in the post-Cold War environment, security grew to mean much more than just military security, to include diplomatic and economic tools as well. NATO's Strategic Concept, in 1991, reflected that change. And the Defense College reacted swiftly, by greatly expanding its student base to include civilians as well as military personnel.

Today, many of the civilians who have passed through these halls are now also occupying senior positions in governments across the Euro-Atlantic area -- with a much greater understanding of strategic thinking and their military colleagues. We see the benefits in our capitals, and we see them even more clearly where it counts most -- on the ground, in our operations. The College calls this new relationship "human interoperability", and cultivating human interoperability has been one of the singular achievements of the school during this past decade.

Second, after the end of the Cold War, the Alliance moved quickly to reach out the hand of partnership and cooperation to the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. The logic was clear: by helping them through their difficult transition, the Alliance could help minimise instability across Europe. And by opening our structures and organizations up to former adversaries, we could demonstrate that we truly wanted to build a broader community, not just rhetorically, but in practice.

For all these reasons, NATO put in place first the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Partnership for Peace Programme and then the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. We have opened up the organization to new members. And we have entered into focused relationships with Russia and Ukraine, two countries crucial to the long-term peace and stability of the continent.

In this effort, too, the NATO Defense College has been an important participant. Indeed, I would suggest that the College has become a flagship of NATO's cooperation and outreach policy. This institution hosts PfP and even OSCE participants, and is also playing a leading role in the Mediterranean Dialogue.

The College's efforts to provide common education to NATO and non-NATO participants are laying the seeds of ever stronger understanding and cooperation across, and even beyond, the Euro-Atlantic area. That, too, is a major accomplishment, and a testament to the vital role the Defense College continues to play in the overall agenda of the Alliance. For this achievement too, I say: congratulations.

But even though this praise is well-earned, the leaders of the College know that they cannot rest on their laurels. They must also look to the future. And after the tragedy in the United States, they have been reminded, as we have all, that we must learn to deal with a security environment that continues to change very quickly indeed.

Before the 11th of September, 2001, who could have foreseen such a catastrophic terrorist attack? Not even Tom Clancy. But the best intelligence the world can buy -- not only US intelligence, but everyone's -- failed to predict that it would happen; or indeed, even that it could happen.

Our initial response to this attack is clear. First and foremost, we stand with our American friends in total solidarity. Throughout the past century, the United States has supported Europe in its times of need. Now the United States has been dealt a brutal blow. Today, America's Allies are with her, in her time of need. The US can count on its 18 NATO Allies for assistance and support, to deal with the immediate effects of this crisis. NATO members have already offered emergency assistance to US authorities, wherever they can help.

Even as we express our profound sympathy, and try to help the many, many victims of this tragedy, we must also assist the United States in finding and punishing the culprits. That is why NATO's members agreed that, if it is determined that this attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one or more Allies shall be considered an attack against them all.

NATO's essential foundation -- its bedrock -- has always been Article 5, the commitment to collective defence. Of course, this commitment was first entered into in 1949, in very different circumstances. But it remains as valid and essential today, in the face of this new threat. With the decision to invoke Article 5, NATO's members demonstrated, once again, that the Alliance is no simple talking shop -- it is a community of nations, united by its values and interests, and utterly determined to act together to defend them. Today, the United States' NATO allies stand ready to provide the assistance that may be required as a consequence of these acts of barbarism.

Now, I know you are wondering what exactly that means, in terms of concrete action. The answer is, it is still too soon to tell. Traditional critics of US policy predicted a knee-jerk reaction, military force used prematurely, incoherently and without effect. They were wrong. Washington's response has been measured, and military capabilities have been placed securely in the wider context of a multifaceted campaign against terrorism.

Our first collective priority is helping to deal with the immediate crisis. At the same time, our intelligence services are working together to help provide the United States with the information it needs to determine culpability and to find the culprits. Then we will consider our collective response, what form that response should take, and who will participate in what way. But through Article 5, NATO's members have made a commitment that they will be part of that response -- and that solidarity alone is a powerful symbol indeed that this Atlantic community is as solid as it has every been.

We must all stand together in the face of this scourge, to defeat it. NATO's members are unanimous: in this struggle too, we are united with the United States -- along, I am sure, with Russia and a growing coalition of countries around the world. And I am confident that we will win this battle.

But we must also look beyond this immediate crisis. Our jobs, as government officials and military personnel, is not only to deal with the challenges of today, but also to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. And if the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania make anything clear, it is that tomorrow is unclear.

We must recognise that new threats, of very different kinds, have already crossed a threshold that should make them the focus of serious concern. For example, terrorists are able to communicate with each other with unprecedented communications security - both because of the availability of sophisticated encryption technology and the fact that their messages are buried in the overwhelming volume of electronic communication in the world today.

We can also see that attacks with military-style effectiveness can be made by a different kind of assailant. The attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen, the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, and now the coordinated hijack attacks in the US itself were direct hits against a nation's interests - conducted by a new kind of enemy. In the past, we might have expected attacks of this intensity from other States. Yet with the spread of technology, it is painfully clear that we are facing major threats not just from so-called rogue states, but from non-state actors as well.

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

The list goes on. Globalisation offers our societies the opportunity to become more creative and prosperous; but it also makes them more vulnerable. 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.

The principle is clear. The 21st century will offer no shortage of tough challenges, and the international community is only beginning to figure out how to address them. I believe that three tracks need to be followed, if we are to continue to preserve our security in an uncertain future.

First, we must take active steps now to meet these new challenges from within existing resources and capabilities. NATO is already doing so. I have already mentioned the steps that the Alliance is taking in immediate response to the attacks on the US. We are also doing more. 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 across the board.

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 working to develop theater 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.

International organisations such as NATO, the EU and the OSCE - as well as private NGOs - are also working much more closely together. These different organisations all have unique strengths. By working together, we are better able to tackle the full range of challenges we face. We are seeing the product of that cooperation today in the Balkans, and there is room for much more.

That is the first track: to respond more effectively to the challenges we can see today. The second track is equally important: to invest in our capabilities to respond.

Safety and security are taken for granted by so many of our citizens, but these 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 commitment, and the 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 periods 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, and we must all make the case for taking the steps now to preserve our safety and security well into the future. And I am referring not only to armed forces, but also to a wide spectrum of capacities which could prove essential to face effectively the new challenges to our societies. Better early warning. More deployable civilian police. More effective monitoring of illegal monetary transactions, and more effective ways to stop them. The list goes on and on, and much thinking needs to go into finding the best way forward.

Which brings me to the third track I believe we need to follow: more forward-looking thinking and education in security issues.

There is a term used by security experts to describe dramatic changes in military doctrine and operations resulting from new uses of new technology. Everyone who has attended the NATO Defence College will be familiar with it: "the Revolution in Military Affairs". I believe that we also need a "Revolution in Strategic Education" -- and I believe that, as the NATO Defence College enters its second half-century, this organisation is well placed indeed to lead that revolution.

By a "revolution in strategic education", I mean simply that the academic community needs to focus its attention on these new, complex and sometimes amorphous challenges. It is the academic community that has the time, and the long-term perspective, to look into the future and assess the new environment. And it is the academic community that has the mandate to pass on that assessment to its students, so that practitioners, be they military or civilian, are better prepared to meet the challenges we are likely to face.

General Dwight Eisenhower, NATO's first Supreme Allied Commander, put it best. In 1951, at the outset of the Cold War, he wrote: "the venture upon which we are now embarked is so new to all of us, and the problems which it raises are of such a different scale from those which have hitherto confronted the member nation, that we are continually faced with a necessity for exploring new approaches and broadening our points of view".

Those words inspired the creation of the Defence College, in a very different context. They are equally relevant today, on the College's 50th anniversary. The NATO Defence College will be at the forefront of this effort. Of that, I have no doubt. This College has always been at the leading edge of change in the Alliance -- both anticipating change, and helping to foster it, to the benefit of all participants. As we enter this new era of uncertainty, I am certain that that tradition will continue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the terrible attacks in the United States, we must not forget how much success we have had, over the past decade, in building peace and security in the post-Cold War world. We have been successful because we had the foresight to see challenges coming, the capabilities to respond, and the determination to act together when necessary. Those are the essential ingredients for success -- and as long as we maintain our vision, our capabilities and our solidarity, the Alliance will continue to preserve the safety of future generations, in an uncertain future.

Thank you.

Additional information:
  • The website of the NATO Defence College in Rome, Italy
  • The webmodule "NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism" on the NATO web site offering all information related to NATO's reaction to the terrorist attacks on the United States

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