Updated: 24-Jan-2002 NATO Speeches

At the First
Magazine Dinner

Claridge's Hotel, London
24 January 2002


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Cast your mind back to 10 September 2001. In that very different world, it was increasingly commonplace for experts to argue that the transatlantic relationship was in gradual but terminal decline.

Genetically modified foods and Kyoto were portrayed as irreconcilable differences. Opposing views on the death penalty were portrayed as grounds for separation. And the list goes on and on, from bananas to Hollywood to accusations of US "hegemony".

Because of this bickering, some pundits made the mistake of thinking that the transatlantic relationship was coming to an end. They argued that the transatlantic link was simply a marriage of convenience -- or more accurately, a shotgun wedding imposed by the Soviet Union. And that now, Europe and North America were ready to file for divorce.

11 September 2001 shattered that myth. Indeed, one of the clearest results of those tragic events has been the re-affirmation that Europe and North America remain what they have been for over five decades: a rock-solid community of shared values.

The day after the attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline that read: "We are all Americans". Coming from Le Monde, that was a powerful message indeed -- and it was spot on.

The most obvious manifestation of that solidarity was NATO's decision, on 12 September 2001, to invoke Article V, and declare that this attack was an attack against all 19 members. This decision demonstrated that the mutual trust and commitments on which the Alliance has been based for 52 years remain tangible, real and reciprocal. The fundamental link between two continents and 19 nations is as strong as ever. As far as I am concerned, this should have put the myth of transatlantic divorce to rest, once and for all.

Declaration of Article V was not just a statement of solidarity. It was also a voluntary and unavoidable commitment by Allies to offer practical support.

At the outset of the crisis, the United States asked 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. This was quickly granted.

Elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean. And some US assets in the Balkans were replaced by European capabilities.

Most significant was the move of seven NATO AWACS airborne early warning aircraft from their base in Europe across the Atlantic to replace US aircraft now being transferred to Asia. These NATO aircraft are now patrolling US airspace. They were immediately backfilled in the Balkans by French and UK AWACS planes.

As President Bush said in his joint press conference with me in the White House Rose Garden on 10 October: "This has never happened before, that NATO has come to help defend our country, but it happened in this time of need and for that we are grateful". The old world coming to support the new, to misquote Winston Churchill.

This has been an extraordinary story of solidarity and success. But some myths are difficult to kill. In recent weeks, the merchants of transatlantic gloom have re-emerged to announce that the success of the coalition campaign in Afghanistan has permanently marginalised NATO.

The same thing was said in the early 1990s after Desert Storm. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.

NATO did not lead the campaign against the Taleban and Al-Qaeda because, as in Desert Storm, a larger more diverse coalition was needed. But NATO's European members have again played a key role and are leading the international stability force now deploying to Kabul.

Their ability to work effectively with each other and with the Americans is the result of decades of cooperation in NATO. 12 of the 18 nations contributing to the British-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul are NATO members. The other 6 have worked alongside NATO in the Balkans.

By the same token, those who believe that the US campaign in Afghanistan is now the sole model for future military operations are as misguided as those who said the same thing after Desert Storm and Kosovo.

No modern military operation can be undertaken by a single country. That is a simple unassailable fact. Even superpowers need allies and coalitions. NATO and its 27 Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council partners are the world's largest permanent coalition. And NATO is the world's most effective military organisation. It will not be in the lead in every crisis.

But NATO has a vital role - in my view the vital role - to play in multinational crisis prevention and crisis management.

I recognise of course that, myths aside, 11 September has raised legitimate and important questions about the future direction of the transatlantic relationship. Most real crisis do.

Some in Europe are already arguing that the United Sates is becoming too unilateralist. The time and effort taken by Washington to build and sustain the coalition against terrorism is a robust short-term counter to that view. But we need to keep it in mind for the longer term.

Others in the US will say that 11 September 2001 was the result of their country being involved abroad too widely and too deeply. These 21st century isolationists will seek a reduction in America's foreign obligations, commitments and military presence. They will not, in my view, win the argument. But here too we in Europe must consider what we can do to reinforce multilateralism and an active transatlantic and modern partnership.

All Europeans need to consider how we can build on the emotional and practical strengthening of transatlantic bonds caused by the terrible attacks last year.

A key element is the question of greater burdensharing and the Balkans show the way ahead.

At the political level, there is already deep and effective practical cooperation between the organisations, civil and military, working to ensure security in Bosnia, Kosovo and FYROM . Paradoxically, the EU and NATO cooperate together better in practice on the ground in Macedonia than they do in theory in Brussels. Continuing US involvement is essential to avoid repeating the mistakes of the UNPROFOR era. But we must encourage the NATO-EU relationship so that the Europeans can take a greater share of the political burden in building peace throughout the Balkan region.

Militarily, the current picture on the ground is equally positive. The Americans are fully engaged. But the bulk of forces in SFOR, KFOR and Task Force Fox in Macedonia are European. Civil assistance and financial support is also overwhelmingly European.

But the longer term picture is much less optimistic. For all the political energy expended in NATO to implement the Defence Capabilities Initiative, and in the EU to push ahead with the complementary Headline Goal process, the truth is that mighty Europe remains a military pygmy.

Orders of battle and headquarters wiring diagrams read impressively. Overall numbers of soldiers, tanks and aircraft give a similar impression of military power. But the reality is that we are hard pressed to maintain about 50,000 European troops in the Balkans.

A new operation would oblige most non-US NATO countries to slash their contingents in Bosnia, Kosovo and FYROM to produce usable forces in any numbers.

American critics of non American military incapability are right. If Europe is to play its proper part in NATO and more widely, and if we are to ensure that the US moves neither towards unilateralism nor isolationism, all European countries must show a new willingness to develop effective crisis management capabilities.

Many have the right skills. But hardly any European countries can deploy usable and effective forces in significant numbers outside their borders, and sustain them for months or even years as we all need to do in today's complex international environment.
For all Europe's rhetoric and an annual investment in defence of over $ 140 Billion by the European members of NATO, we still need US assistance to move, command and provision a major operation.

This is not an attack on the EU. The same constraints apply to European countries whether they are operating as part of a NATO force, an EU force or a coalition.

The harsh fact is that too many non-US NATO governments spend too little on defence. And, even more importantly, too many governments waste what they do spend on capabilities that contribute nothing to their own security, the security of Europe or our wider collective interests.

There are honourable exceptions, notably the UK and France. But even here the picture is patchy. All European countries should and could do better. But how?

It is easier to criticise than to solve this problem. I know. When I arrived at NATO I said that my priorities were capabilities, capabilities, capabilities. Important progress has been made in NATO and the EU. But Europe's ambitions still outstrip its military capacity.

The answer is not institutional. NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative and the EU's Headline Goal could be improved but they provide a robust enough basis for sensible enhancements.

Nor is the answer a fundamental review of requirements to meet the terrorist threat. We must of course take terrorism into account in our planning, as the British Government is doing with its new chapter of the Strategic Defence Review.

The balance of investments may change as a result. But I have seen no analyses so far that suggest that we need major new capability areas that we had not previously identified. To go back to basics again now would delay unnecessarily the whole process of modernisation in NATO and the EU.

The answer in my view lies with nations' overall approach to modernisation. Governments recognise that change is needed. But most of them do not believe it can be done, at least in a timeframe that is relevant to our current challenges.

They are wrong. But they need a conceptional framework in which to operate. NATO had one in the 1980s to underpin its 3 % annual increase in defence expenditure. That was based on a threat that was perceived to be increasing and undermining our collective security.

We face a similarly demanding international situation today, limited not simply to terrorism but including the risks of instability with which NATO daily contends in the Balkans. It does not necessarily require a 3 % annual increase in defence budgets, although I would not seek to dissuade nations from doing so. It does, however, require a strategy.

Let me suggest one. In the Strategic Defence Review, I championed the concept of Smart Procurement to transform the MOD's equipment acquisition machinery. NATO's European members need a more ambitious concept which you might call Smart Investment.

Smart investment is the only way to share the transatlantic burden, and deal effectively with our common risks and challenges. Investment on soldiers that have the right training and can be used to maintain peace in the Balkans, bring stability to Afghanistan, or fight terrorism at home and abroad.

Smart investment on modern precision weapons that can bring conflicts quickly to a successful conclusion, with the minimum loss of life. Smart investment on strategic transport, ships as well as aircraft, civil as well as military.

Smart investment in the unglamorous logistic capabilities that underpin all successful military operations. And smart investment in the essential central nervous system of such operations, modern, interoperable command and control arrangements.

Smart investment takes advantage of NATO's multinational structures, and the increasingly multinational nature of our defence industries, to produce and field equipment that is genuinely interoperable. It builds on the example of NATO's Airborne Early Force of AWACS aircraft to produce common capabilities that individual European defence budgets simply cannot afford.

And smart investment goes beyond defence budgets. To deal with today's crises, we need better homeland defence, better intelligence, more deployable civil police, and more effective monitoring of money laundering. The list goes on and on. But there are savings to be made as well. In today's world, we need fewer unusable conscripts. Smaller heavy metal armies. Fewer static bases. And fewer static headquarters.

This is an ambitious agenda. It requires political foresight and perseverance to implement. But if we fail, can we really be serious about strengthening Europe's capacity as an international actor? Can we expect our transatlantic partners to continue the close cooperation and consultation on which Europe's security has been based for over 50 years? And what will our public say when terrorists strike or instability threatens and Europe's response is limited to hand-wringing communiqués?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have kept a narrow focus and been deliberately provocative tonight. Some people will misinterpret my critique of Europe's military shortcomings as a criticism of Europe's institutions. It is not. I have invested the past five years in ensuring that first the UK and now Europe can begin to punch militarily its political and economic weight. There is no stronger advocate than I of a successful European Security and Defence Identity.

But we must be honest with ourselves. Unless the Europeans do better militarily in NATO and the EU, their influence in the Euro-Atlantic area and more widely will remain limited.

I do not worry over much about the US commitment to Europe, whether as a result of unilateralism or isolationism. As I said at the outset, September 11 demonstrated the extraordinary strength of our transatlantic ties.

I do worry about the Europeans' commitment to Europe. Not as a concept but at the practical level in terms of the usable military capabilities that we all need to meet today's risks and challenges.

I am committed in my second two years as NATO's Secretary General to addressing this. I can therefore promise the defence ministers here tonight that they will hear the same message of capabilities, capabilities, capabilities over and over again as we move towards and beyond our Prague Summit. I hope that they and their colleagues will take up the refrain and that Presidents, Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers hear it.

Thank you.

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