Updated: 26-Oct-2001 NATO Speeches

24 October 2001

"The Future of the Transatlantic Link"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Six weeks ago, on September 11, the entire civilised word was dealt a heavy blow. As Le Monde put it, "We are all Americans now". Not surprisingly, some pundits were quick to argue that this ended the "post-Cold War Era". They saw the dawn of a dramatically new era: "the age of terrorism".

The horrifying events of September 11 have been burnt into our minds forever. How long will it be before we can hear an airliner overhead, or walk into a tower block without, at the back of our minds, recalling the horrific images of the World Trade Centre?

But, as much as we have been shocked by what happened, we have to rise to the challenge of fighting back and defeating terrorism. Our enemies are not giants. And our countries have the will and the ability 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.

The signs are positive. I have been enormously heartened by the reaction since September 11, in NATO and beyond. That reaction can best be summarised in a word -- solidarity.

The most obvious manifestation of that solidarity has been NATO's decision to invoke Article V, and declare that the attack against the United States was an attack against all 19 members. This decision demonstrates that the mutual trust and commitments on which the Alliance has been based for 52 years remain tangible, real and reciprocal. That the fundamental link between two continents and among 19 nations is as strong as ever, if not stronger than before.

Only a few months ago, respected experts were claiming that Europe and North America were drifting inexorably apart. Even the most cursory scan of the press of the past few years reveals how deeply that illusion had taken hold. Genetically modified foods and Kyoto were irreconcilable differences. Differing views on the death penalty were grounds for separation. The list could go on and on.

It took only some six hours, on Wednesday, 12 September, for the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article V and put an end to these debates. The transatlantic relationship is alive and well. We know how to argue with each other, certainly. But we also know when the arguing has to stop, and when we need to take action. To me, the clearest message from these tragic events has been the re-affirmation that Europe and North America remain what they have been for over five decades: a solid community of shared values.

And that community is widening. Within hours of the North Atlantic Council's historic decision, the 46 member countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council issued a statement in which they agreed that these acts were an attack not only against the US, but on our common values. And they pledged to undertake all efforts needed to combat the scourge of terrorism. That is an important commitment indeed, not least because many of these non-NATO countries are crucial partners in the campaign against terrorism. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council quickly made a similarly robust response.

The invocation of Article V was much more than a statement of solidarity. It is also a commitment by Allies to offer practical support. No-one expects NATO to lead the campaign against Bin Laden. That requires a wider coalition than even NATO and our Partners. But NATO Allies are playing a central role, and NATO itself is providing essential support.

Several NATO countries are already contributing forces alongside those of the United States. Others have stated their willingness to do the same. They will all benefit from the unique cooperation among NATO's armed forces that underpinned coalition success against Iraq and NATO success in the Balkans.

Three weeks ago, the United States asked all of the NATO Allies for a range of specific measures, such as enhanced intelligence support; blanket overflight rights for US and other Allied aircraft; and access to ports and airfields. These requests were met within a day.

As part of the same package of measures, elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces are being deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean, and some US assets in the Balkans may be replaced by European capabilities. Most significant is the move of five NATO AWACS airborne early warning aircraft from their base in Europe across the Atlantic 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 support the new, to reverse Winston Churchill's famous phrase.

What next?

First, let us put the threat in perspective. Terrorism is not new, and neither is the threat of biological and chemical weapons. What is new is that callous criminals have shown that there are no limits to what they will do to achieve their selfish objectives. The threshold of terror has been lowered. By how far, we do not yet know. But we must respond.

That response does not have a single aim. Of course, we must bring Bin Laden, his associates and backers to justice. More widely, however, we must also ensure that the threshold against terrorism is once again raised so that terrorists are confined to the margins of our global society.

Can NATO play a meaningful role in this struggle? Can an Alliance which is involved in three simultaneous crisis management operations in the Balkans focus more strongly on terrorism? Can an Alliance which features a long list of membership applicants, which 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?

The answer to these questions can only be an unequivocal "Yes". You may know the saying that "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks". But NATO has the experience, the processes and procedures, and the people to do all of these things, and do them well. The Alliance is perfectly able to learn a few new tricks. And it still can bite, too.

What follows are my very provisional personal ideas about the way ahead. I should warn you that some of them may stray well beyond official NATO policy at the moment. But part of my job is to help keep NATO focused on the hurdles ahead, not the ones we have already cleared. And some are not for NATO at all but for other international organisations.

First, we must make sure the culprits pay the highest possible price. By definition, suicide terrorists cannot be deterred. But others can. Because behind the terrorist foot soldiers there are the terrorist colonels and generals -- and they have no inclination to die. They have spent years to build up elaborate networks. And it is these networks the international community must go after. That is why President Bush's quick decision to freeze bank accounts made eminent sense, and why the EU followed suit.

Second, we must continue to develop international law. The Hague casts an increasingly long shadow for those who flout international law. A year ago, hardly anyone believed that Milosevic would end up in the dock. But he did. Equally important, he was indicted when he was still President of Yugoslavia. This indictment destabilised him at a key moment in the military campaign. With hindsight, it has changed much more that we thought at the time. We hold an instrument in our hands that is far more valuable than it may sometimes appear.

Third, we need to tie more systematically together some of the things we are already doing. NATO may not be the lead organisation in combating global terrorism. But we have not yet exhausted the potential for cooperation with our Partners against this menace. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has much to offer in this respect. The EAPC might focus more specifically on issues that relate to combating terrorism. Effective border control, for example, is a problem particularly for some of our Central Asian Partners. If we could use the EAPC to address such issues more thoroughly, we would make life for terrorists far more difficult.

Fourth, we need to move the NATO-Russia relationship forward. Three weeks ago, I had a long meeting with President Putin. I was deeply impressed by his positive attitude and his frankness. He is disappointed by what he views is a lack of previous 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. That is why I presented him with several suggestions for more detailed and substantive co-operation. There is a window of opportunity here that we cannot afford to miss.

Fifth, we need to maintain our focus 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. That is why we must continue our non--proliferation efforts.

But we can never be certain of 100% success. That is why we need to continue consultations among Allies, strengthen NATO's WMD Centre, develop our co-operation on missile defence, and capitalise on Russia's interest in cooperating on Theatre Missile Defence.

Sixth, we should develop a more holistic approach to internal and external security. Terrorists blur the line between criminal and combatant. We need much closer interaction between our military and civilian security agencies. NATO's practices and mechanisms of co-operation - including its unique collective defence planning arrangements - can be put to good use in this regard.

Next, we need to move ahead with a European Security and Defence Policy. The events of September 11th will inevitably lead to a new discussion about the United States' global role. Isolationists will dust off their case for a reduction of the United States' world-wide commitments. They will argue that attacks of this kind are the result of being too deeply involved in too many parts of the world. I am not suggesting that their arguments will carry the day. They won't. But it does not seem unreasonable to expect an even tougher US stance on burden sharing.

If that happens America's allies must be ready to give a robust answer. Political solidarity is part of the answer. The strong European military presence in the Balkans is another. Ultimately, however, the response must be far more comprehensive. It must include a new European willingness to develop serious crisis management capabilities, with new military hardware, which will come with a price-tag attached, that is a rebalancing of responsibilities between Europe and North America.

This brings me to my last point. We must continue to invest. The safety and security that we took for granted for so many years did not come about by accident. In the Cold War, we spent hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure our safety and that of future generations. We must approach the new security challenges with the same vigour, the same commitment, and the same preparedness to spend money on the right things.

If we have learned anything over the past few weeks, it is that we must prepare not only for what we can predict, but also for what we cannot. Our transatlantic toolbox must have the full spectrum of tools we might need to preserve our security and safety in this new age of uncertainty.

Indeed, that toolbox should allow us to cope not only with terrorism, but with the full range of challenges we face in building peace and security in the 21st century. We must be able to handle our peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. We must continue to build stronger relations with all the countries in Europe, and help them with their evolution into modern, democratic and prosperous states. And we must continue NATO's enlargement, to further bolster the security of the new democracies, and that of Europe at large.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a daunting agenda, on top of the immediate requirements of the fight against terrorism. But we can look to the future with confidence. Because we have a most precious asset our disposal: the transatlantic partnership.

This partnership between Europe and North America remains the largest community of likeminded democratic nations. It is a community based on tangible and intangible interests. But above all, it is a community of values -- values that are not negotiable, values that will be protected whenever they are under threat. This unique solidarity has steered us safely through the Cold War. It has enabled us to wind down that Cold War peacefully. It has enabled us to resolve seemingly irresolvable challenges in the Balkans. This transatlantic solidarity will also help us prevail in the struggle against terrorism.

Thank You.

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