Updated: 11-Oct-2001 NATO Speeches

At the Atlantic
of the United
National Press
10 October 2001

An Attack on Us All:
NATO's Response to Terrorism

Remarks by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The events of September 11 have changed the world. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago, they have seared deeply and unforgettably into our consciousness.

Let me at the outset pay tribute to those who died or were injured in the three attacks that took place one month ago tomorrow; to the rescue workers in New York and Washington; and to the service men and women who have already started to take the fight back to Osama Bin Laden and his Taleban backers.

But unlike Pearl Harbor, it was not just America that suffered. On September 11, the entire civilised word was transformed.

In Paris, the headlines read, "We are all Americans now." In Oslo, Brussels and Rome, our hearts now miss a beat when a passenger jet passes overhead. In Berlin, London and Madrid, we see in our mind's eye the terrible images of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center whenever we enter a tall building.

And on both sides of the Atlantic, pundits are writing epitaphs for the "post-Cold-War era" and birth notices for "the age of terrorism."

Horrifying as September 11 undoubtedly was, it does not in my view warrant this bleak analysis. We do those who lost their lives no service at all by adopting a victim mentality.

Yes, we have suffered a great blow. But we have not lost our ability - or our will - to shape events. If this is indeed to become the "age of terrorism", then we will be as much at fault as Osama Bin Laden.

I say this because I have been enormously heartened by events since September 11, in NATO and beyond. And because it is already possible to identify a strategy not only to defeat Bin Laden, but to ensure that any terrorist successors remain confined to the margins of history.

Let me deal with NATO first. The Alliance's historic decision on September 12 to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty underscored the profound link between two continents and among 19 nations. And it underlined our collective determination not to stand idly by, but to act.

When the Washington Treaty was written in 1949, the drafters wanted clear and simple language. As one of them put it, a "milkman in Omaha" should be able to understand the Treaty.

They succeeded. Article 5 states clearly that "an armed attack against one … shall be considered an attack against them all". This is the strongest commitment sovereign nations can give to each other.

Of course, in 1949 that commitment appeared one-sided: a unilateral security guarantee given by the United States to a Europe devastated and demoralised by war. And, like some US lawmakers, the milkman from Omaha may have wondered whether Article 5 was simply a means to drag a reluctant US into another conflict in Europe. Would his son have to fight again "over there"? He could have never guessed that this commitment would actually be invoked only 52 years later, after an attack on US soil.

Our milkman would, I hope, be gratified by this reciprocity. He might also have been surprised by the speed of NATO's response.

There was no equivocation or delay. This extraordinary decision, without historic precedent, took not weeks or days, but six hours.

Not bad as the Omaha milkman would undoubtedly say.

And we did not leave it at that. NATO's 27 Partner countries, ranging from Europe to Central Asia, quickly joined the 19 Allies in a statement condemning the events and offering their solidarity with the United States.

Similar statements were issued jointly by NATO and Russia and Ukraine. Determination and purpose, not fatalism, have been the order of the day.

Since then, the US has kept its allies fully abreast of the political and military picture, and confirmed that the attack did indeed come from abroad. And in the past few days, it has moved to operationalise the Article 5 commitment.

The United States has asked for, and the Allies have agreed, to provide enhanced intelligence support, air transit for military aircraft, and access to ports and airfields. Elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces are to be deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean. And some US assets in the Balkans will be replaced by European capabilities.

Most significant - and symbolic - is the move of NATO AWACS airborne early warning aircraft from their base in Europe to replace US aircraft now being transferred to Asia. This is NATO's first operational deployment in the United States: the old world coming to the aid of the new, to reverse the words of Winston Churchill.

In all of this, the US government is setting a strong example by its measured determination. No retreat. No knee-jerk quick fixes. No revenge attacks.

Instead, there is a deep awareness that this is going to be a long struggle, a struggle in which patience and persistence will be key. Those who expected US unilateralism have witnessed instead a masterpiece of multilateralism - rallying the world behind a common purpose in a way only the US can.

This has been coalition-building at its very best.

NATO will of course be one of the key pillars of that coalition.

No one I know would expect the Alliance to lead the military action against bin Laden and the Taleban. But NATO is the world's largest and most effective permanent coalition. We will be central to the collective response of the international community to terrorism, both now and in the longer-term.

Some in Europe are asking whether NATO can cope with this new challenge.

Can an Alliance that is already involved in three simultaneous crisis management operations in the Balkans focus more strongly on terrorism?

Can an Alliance that faces a long queue of membership applicants, that has to invest so much energy into its relations with Russia, and into its many other partnerships - can such an Alliance tackle yet another challenge?

Will the NATO Allies, who are already struggling with defence modernisation, find the extra money required to improve our means of protection - and indeed our means of response?

The answer to these questions can only be an unequivocal "Yes". NATO has the experience, the procedures and the people to do all of these things, and to do them exceptionally well.

And that is a very good thing, because for the moment, NATO is the best - indeed the only - game in town. Europe's Security and Defence Identity is still in its early stages. And the structures and functions of the UN and OSCE are different and certainly do not mirror the unique composition, strength, cohesion and speed of delivery of NATO.

Take for example, the interoperability, joint training, compatible communications and logistics that flow from NATO's military structure.

They were crucial building blocks that helped an earlier coalition win the Gulf War. They have underpinned NATO success in Bosnia and Kosovo. Now they will be a major asset in the fight against terrorism.

Of course NATO has always been much more than just a military alliance. President Putin of Russia recognised that when I met him last week in Brussels.

Some, however, are arguing that the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania have somehow invalidated NATO's established agenda. Most significantly, there is the occasional whisper that NATO enlargement might now be off the agenda, either because we need to focus on more urgent issues or because that will be the price of Russian co-operation on Afghanistan.

That is, of course, classic zero sum thinking. But entirely wrong. NATO may need to prioritise activities if some Allies become involved in major military operations. But the events of September 11 have, if anything, reinforced the logic of our pre-existing agenda.

They have reinforced the logic of keeping peace in the Balkans, because stable, multi-ethnic states are our best insurance against terrorism emerging in the first place.

Afghanistan is a safe haven for terrorists precisely because it does not have viable state structures. It is a "black hole".

We are in the Balkans to prevent such "black holes" from emerging right at our doorstep. And nothing will deflect us from completing our tasks in this region.

This was the reason why we set up and deployed - in two weeks - Task Force Harvest to collect the weapons of the so-called National Liberation Army in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). Task Force Harvest did its job, collecting almost 4000 weapons, and now - as promised - it is being withdrawn. And this is why we are now deploying a new German-led mission to contribute to the security of OSCE and EU monitors in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The events of September 11 have also reinforced the logic of NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative, which is designed to equip our forces precisely for today's diverse and unpredictable threats.

They have increased the value of our Partnerships - because the ties we have built to stabilise Europe and its periphery and, in the case of Central Asia, can turn out to be crucially important in an emergency.

Finally, September 11 has reinforced the logic of NATO enlargement. The broad coalition that we need to respond to the scourge of terrorism makes the notion of "ins" and "outs" less and less relevant.

In this crisis, the applicant countries have been as steadfast as any full member of the Alliance. They have demonstrated that they share our values and our determination to uphold them.

Maybe not all of them may yet meet other benchmarks for membership. But it is clear to me that the Prague Summit in November of next year will unequivocally move the enlargement process forward, to the very real benefit of the Alliance.

We will not let the terrorist attacks of last month derail our agenda. We will indeed have to broaden and adapt this agenda. But we will not jettison the fundamentals. Because the core of what we do made sense on September 10, and continues to make sense after September 11.

We are, nonetheless, faced by a world transformed by terror. How many NATO planners, generals and defence ministers are focusing today with the same single-mindedness on the threats and risks that preoccupied them a month ago? How many foreign, finance and interior ministers are able to concentrate on their traditional agendas?

And how many of them have started properly to think through the longer-term implications?

I can only guess at the answer to these questions, but can say that NATO has started, albeit tentatively. I will therefore use this opportunity to float some very personal ideas on where we need to do better if we are to prevent the age of terrorism from shifting from the op-ed pages to our towns and cities.

First, we should make better use of the political tools that we have available in NATO to cope with terrorism.

NATO is a permanent coalition, a unique network with 19 nations at its core and a further 27 in a partnership relationship. We have the habit and the mechanisms for co-operation, and strong experience in working together in Brussels and on the ground.

The 46 nation Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council is key. It enables us to mobilise a coalition for the long haul, tying in countries from Vancouver to Bishkek to make a difference on real issues such as effective border control in Central Asia. We are using the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council as a practical vehicle for co-operation and this will make life for terrorists far more difficult.

Second, we need to move forward the NATO-Russia relationship. There is a window of opportunity here that we should not miss.

In Russian eyes, Article 5 has been the quintessential demonstration of NATO's Cold War orientation. Now we have invoked Article 5 in an entirely different context, one to which Russia can relate.

I had a long, personal meeting with President Putin last week and was deeply impressed by his positive attitude and his frankness.

He is disappointed by, what he views, as the lack of progress in developing our relationship. He knows that a better relationship will make it easier for him to sell NATO enlargement at home. He wants to work more closely with the Alliance, and not just in the fight against terrorism.

I am keen to build on this momentum and I have already presented him with a package of proposals for more detailed and substantive co-operation.

This does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to unacceptable Russian behaviour, in Chechnya or elsewhere. But it does mean that we should be able to transform a nervous partnership of former enemies into a practical friendship that benefits both sides.

Third, we need to focus even more strongly on non-proliferation and missile defence.

Those who say that both initiatives have been invalidated by the terrorists' use of hijacked airliners miss the point. One of the reasons the terrorists resorted to such unconventional tactics on 11 September was that non-proliferation activities have frustrated their efforts, and those of rogue states, to acquire and use more familiar weapons of mass destruction.

But we can never be certain of 100% success. That is why defence against ballistic missiles is here to stay. And why we need to continue consultations among Allies, strengthen NATO's WMD Centre, develop our co-operation on missile defences and capitalise on Russia's interest in TMD co-operation.

Fourth, we need to develop a more comprehensive approach to internal and external security.

Terrorists blur the line between criminal and combatant. They act in a "grey area", which we must deny them.

That is why we need much closer interaction and intelligence-sharing between our military and civilian security agencies. This must not undermine the primacy of civilian law enforcement agencies. We must not respond to terrorism by militarising our societies. That would be a price too high to pay.

But we can, and must, do better to break down artificial barriers between agencies and "join up" our overall response. NATO's habits and mechanisms of co-operation - including its unique collective defence planning arrangements - can be put to good use in that regard.

Fifth, we need to move ahead with a European Security and Defence Policy. Following September 11, there will inevitably be a new discussion about the global role of the United States. American isolationists may use the events to argue their case for a reduction of the United States' world-wide commitments.

Their arguments will not carry the day. In an age of globalisation, isolationism is simply not an option. But Europeans can surely expect a tougher US stance on transatlantic burden sharing.

America's Allies should not fear this reaction in Washington. It is in all of our interests to maximise individual and collective military capabilities.

But for the Europeans, a tougher US approach to burden sharing vindicates the logic of the European security and defence initiative. The United States needs capable and effective European forces with which to co-operate, or on which to rely in peace support missions where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged.

This is not a cry of "Yanks, go home". Quite the reverse. It is a recognition that unless we do better, we may wake up one day to find that you have already gone.

For Americans, however, the test remains whether the result of this initiative is a new European willingness to develop serious crisis management capabilities, with new military hardware. Which in turn means new money, wisely spent.

So my sixth and final point is that we must look at the financial implications which arise from these new challenges and tasks. If we want to do a proper job in the fight against terrorism, we need the right tools.

It is simply impossible to have security and defence on the cheap and at the same time request more measures, more protection, against new threats. For NATO, the zero real growth "mantra", which many apply in security and defence, completely ignores the security needs of the 21st century.

I put these ideas on the table as a first basis for discussion. I hope that others will soon join them. Debate is the lifeblood of democracy. Our response to the terrorists must show that this lifeblood still flows unchecked

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We know that the struggle against terrorism will be difficult and prolonged. We accept that our political determination will be tested. And we realise that we need a wide variety of tools if we are to persevere.

We must catch and punish the perpetrators; we must choke off their funding; we must deny them safe havens anywhere in the world.

This will be a long haul. But we have not seen such a coalition since the struggle against slavery and the defeat of fascism. NATO will be a vital component of this new coalition. As a provider of capabilities. As a vehicle for coalition cohesion. And as a forum for the new ideas without which, we will not stay the course.

I started today with a reference to Pearl Harbor. Let me finish with a lesson from that earlier, bloody day. We must all beware of turning our enemies into giants. Bin Laden and his associates are not ten feet tall. We are. We have suffered a defeat. But we will win the war. And we will do so without damaging the values and principles which we represent and defend.

Bin Laden has had his Pearl Harbor. We will have our Tokyo Bay. Make no mistake about it.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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

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