Updated: 22-Nov-2001 NATO Speeches

22 Nov. 2001

NATO and Russia: A Special Relationship

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson,
at the Volgograd Technical University

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be here in this historic city, at this historic time.

It has been nearly six decades since the great battle took place here -- the battle that turned the tide of the Second World War. But our memories have not faded. Today, every student in Europe knows the name Stalingrad. We all remember the heroic stand the Russian people, and the Red Army took here. We know what horrors occurred on this soil. The total destruction of the city. The terrible suffering. The hundreds of thousands of young lives, on both sides, that would end here.

Let me then, for a moment, speak not as the Secretary General of NATO, but simply as George Robertson, a human being. I look back at that 200-day struggle and I am profoundly saddened by the tragic loss of so many innocent lives. I am humbled by the courage of those who stood against fascism. And I am profoundly grateful for their victory -- because it was a victory for us all.

Let me assure you that their sacrifice and their heroism is remembered today, not only here in Volgograd, but all the way to my home country and beyond. As the great poet Anna Ahkmatova, who also endured the Great Patriotic War, wrote, we are "marching forward in formation, the living with the dead".

In those dark days, the people of my country and other Western Allies stood with the people of Stalingrad. Queen Elizabeth, today the Queen Mother, sent them food, clothing and moral support -- efforts that were recognised when Volgograd made her an honourary citizen of this city, in recognition of the bond between the U.K. and the Soviet Union in those dark days.

That bond was felt between Soviet Russia and all her Western Allies. It was a bond of struggle against a common challenge. It brought Russia and her Western partners into a concert of nations, working towards a common goal -- and achieving it.

The success of that coalition led people across the world to hope that a new order would be fashioned when the war ended. Where Russia and the West would stand together, not as a temporary alliance against a single challenge, but as a community. A community that shared broad values, common visions, and the burdens of meeting them. A coalition that would permanently unite all of Europe and North America.

We all know that those hopes were soon dashed. Stalin drew an Iron Curtain across the centre of Europe. And instead of entering into warm cooperation, we entered the Cold War. We were divided by politics. By values. By walls and fences. And by armies.

After forty bitter years, the walls which divided us came down, thanks in great degree to the courage of the Russian people. Once again, we had a chance for a new beginning. A chance to build relationship on trust and cooperation, rather than suspicion and fear. An opportunity to build the community whose promise had been there, and cast away, four decades before.

Today, Russia and her Western partners are once again engaged in a joint struggle against a common challenge. Like fascism 60 years ago, international terrorism can only be defeated by a coalition of like-minded countries working together. And that is exactly what is happening.

I must congratulate President Putin on the leadership and vision he has shown during this crisis. He understood that the terrorists threaten not only the United States, but the entire civilised world. Indeed, with more than 100 Russian citizens killed, the attacks on New York represented one of the worst terrorist attacks in Russian history. President Putin knew, as did we in NATO, that Russia's support is crucial, if this campaign is to be successful. And he did not hesitate to take on the responsibility, and the risks, when it was most needed by the international community.

Politically, Russia's support for the campaign against the Al Qaida network has been crucial, in Central Asia, across Europe and in the UN Security Council. NATO and Russia are cooperating practically as well, to eradicate this terror network, and to punish those who committed these crimes.

Overall, this is a remarkable coalition. For the first time in 60 years, Russia and the West are strongly united, and cooperating closely, in a common cause. Without hidden agendas. Without residual suspicions. And without competing interests.

But we must ask ourselves: will it last? Will this new spirit of trust and cooperation survive the defeat of the Al-Qaida network? Or will we fall back -- on old habits, outdated suspicions and reluctant, ad-hoc cooperation?

My answer is clear and firm. This coalition will survive and it will thrive. I believe the moment has come for the relationship between NATO and Russia to move to a new level and intensity.

The foundations of such a relationship have already been laid over the past decade. They are strong.

First, and foremost, many of the doubts we had about each other when the Cold War ended are now gone. We in the West are now sure that Russia is firmly democratic. And that she wants to be a contributing part of the European family, rather than living in hostility or isolation.

More and more Russians, for their part, understand that NATO is not a threat to Russia. The Alliance outlived the Cold War because it has an important role to play today: in managing crises; in responding to emerging threats; and in contributing to pan-European security. Russians also understand that NATO places enormous value in having a good, strong relationship with Russia -- a relationship based on cooperation and trust.

We also now know that cooperation between NATO and Russia makes sense. Indeed, the record of the past few years provides ample proof. Over and over again, we have seen that where NATO and Russia choose to withdraw, or to work at cross purposes, we are often unsuccessful. But each and every time we choose to work together, we get results.

In 1997, NATO and Russia signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. In its first paragraph, NATO and Russia committed to work together to build a lasting and enduring peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security. And I believe that we have made real progress in meeting those mutual commitments.

We have regular consultations on issues we could never have addressed together in the past. The situation in the Balkans, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, missile defence, peacekeeping, and the meaning behind each other's strategic doctrines: these are security issues of vital concern to both NATO and Russia.

We are tackling them effectively -- together. Look at the Balkans, where NATO troops are working alongside Russian soldiers in Bosnia and Kosovo. And we have worked together politically to ensure that the horrors of previous Balkan wars are not repeated in FYROM . Yes, we have had disagreements about how these missions should go forward -- but disagreements are normal, and they take place even between NATO members. The important fact is that together, our forces are working to bring lasting peace to an important area of Europe.

We are also cooperating in other important areas -- such as, for example, search and rescue at sea. The tragedy of the Russian fleet submarine Kursk touched hearts not only in Russia, but throughout Europe and North America as well. At NATO, our first thought was for the lives of the 118 crew members on board the ship. We immediately offered to do everything we could to help.

This tragedy makes is clear that we must develop a reflex of trust and cooperation in times of crisis. And we have already started. NATO and Russia are already developing ways to respond cooperatively to similar crises in future, to ensure that the fate of the crew of the Kursk is not repeated.

These are only a few examples. There are many others -- from deepening discussions on non-strategic missile defence cooperation, to improving our collective capacity to react to emergencies such as earthquakes or floods. The overall record is clear: despite the pitfalls we have had, we know that NATO-Russia cooperation works to enhance our common security. That understanding alone will sustain our cooperation into the future.

But I believe that we must aim for more. Now is the time to move to a qualitatively new level in our relationship. Where the kind of deep, trusting cooperation we are seeing today in the battle against terrorism is the norm, not the exception.

Why? Because international terrorism is not the only new challenge we face. On the contrary: when the Cold War ended, so did Cold War security challenges. Today, we face new threats to our security -- and we have to meet these new threats with new solutions, and in a new spirit.

Like our economies, like the Internet, the security challenges we face today respect no boundaries. They flow unimpeded past customs controls and border checkpoints. And they threaten us all, directly or indirectly.

The terrorist attacks on the United States two months ago brought this message home to the entire world. Now, no one can escape the reality that international terrorism has become a cancer in the international system. A cancer that has spread, silently but deadly, into every country, every society in the world.

But it is not only terrorism that has globalised. The spread of weapons of mass destruction is a real and growing. Just last week, President Putin expressed his concern about this threat. I share this concern. We cannot afford to wait until a rogue state or terrorist group turns these weapons against New York - or Moscow - before we act to counter it. And the list goes on: ethnic tensions, religious and political extremism, cyber-attacks, organised crime, drug trafficking, people smuggling. These are the grave security challenges of the 21st century.

This is a fundamental transformation of the world's agenda. Today, geography is no longer security. Building a wall won't keep out terrorists. No buffer zone will stop proliferation. And no tank will stop organised crime. Simply put, national solutions are no solutions. Our common struggle against terrorism makes that blatantly clear.

In the 21st century, the only way to ensure security is in a new way. Through regular, coordinated and fundamental cooperation among trusting countries that share the same goal: to preserve our common security and our common values. Without rivalries over prestige. Without outdated suspicions about non-existent threats. And without archaic concerns about geographic areas of influence which are, in any case, irrelevant to modern security challenges.

Russia and NATO are both essential security players in Europe. Neither can be ignored. Neither can be marginalised -- except where one chooses to stay on the sidelines. And neither of us should stay on the sidelines -- because there can be no lasting solutions to the most serious security challenges we face unless NATO and Russia cooperate. We have seen that in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in arms control, and now in the struggle against terrorism.

Does this mean that we should never have differing opinions on any issue? I don't think anyone expects that - the NATO-Russia dialogue is not the Politburo, and an important part of our shared values is the respect for a diversity of views. Russia has its own interests, priorities and perspectives, as does NATO, and as do each of NATO's members. It could be no other way.

But if we are taking our relationship to a new level, we must talk about our differences in a more constructive spirit. To explain clearly. To listen carefully. And to continue listening, even when we don't like what we hear.

We must continue to talk, as friends, about issues like the conduct of the war in Chechnya. NATO has always stressed that the Alliance respects the territorial integrity of Russia, totally rejects separatism, and supports the right - indeed the duty - of the Russian authorities to protect their citizens from terrorism and criminality.

In recent months, for obvious reasons, we are also much more conscious of the link between Chechen extremists and terrorism, and we have called upon the Chechen side to sever those links. We are listening. But we must also continue to express our deep concern, not about the goals of Russia's operations in Chechnya, but about the means used, and their effects on innocent civilians.

We must also talk about NATO's enlargement. I know that some in Russia are concerned about new countries joining the Alliance. I understand their concern -- but it is based on an outdated vision of security. As I said earlier, in the 21st century, geography is not security. Buffer zones are obsolete and useless concepts. The stability, democracy and prosperity of her neighbours will help to ensure Russia's security, and NATO membership will consolidate those gains in new democracies.

President Putin has said that if NATO and Russia can develop a true partnership, our past disagreements over enlargement "will cease to be a relevant issue." I couldn't agree more. Those who remain skeptical should ask themselves: if the three Baltic republics should join NATO, while Russia's neighbours in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Far East do not, from which region are new threats to Russia's security most likely to emerge?

The answer to that question - an analytical answer, unvarnished by outdated suspicions and ideology - should guide Russia's view of the enlargement process.

Indeed, I dare to say that NATO members today are among Russia's strongest partners and friends. Just days ago, Presidents Putin and Bush in Crawford, Texas jointly noted with satisfaction that "NATO and Russia are increasingly allied against terrorism, regional instability and other contemporary threats."

That trend is only going to deepen. More and more, the outdated stereotypes of the past are giving way -- to a strong, modern and active friendship between NATO and Russia.

This is a significant achievement. But it is not the end of the road -- it is only the first step in the right direction. I am reminded of something Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, sixty years ago this month, when British troops won their first major battle in North Africa and turned the tide in that theatre of the war. He said, "It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it maybe the end of the beginning".

I believe that we have now reached the end of the beginning of the NATO-Russia relationship. It is time to move to a new level. Where we face the new challenges of the 21st century together, as trusting friends, and as brothers in arms. Let the sacrifices of those who fought at Stalingrad and in so many other places two generations ago be finally rewarded.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Not far from here, on Mamaev Hill, the "Motherland" monument stands, where the battle raged 60 years ago. The great figure is facing west, towards Europe, leading her nation forward. I have just been there for a wreath laying ceremony and to see the Monument museum. It was a moving moment and I believe the message of that monument is as powerful today as it ever was.

Russia is part of Europe -- a strong, proud part of Europe. But today, instead of facing invading armies, Russia is being met with an open hand of welcome and partnership. Let us take that partnership into the 21st century together.

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