Attack on Us All:
NATO's Response to Terrorism
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional