Updated: 01-Feb-2002 NATO Speeches

New York
31 Jan. 2002

"NATO After September 11"

by Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO,
to the Pilgrims of the United States

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you. As a member of the Pilgrims, I have championed the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom throughout my political career. I have a few political scars to show for it.

And of course, I now head the institution that embodies the transatlantic link as its very foundation. So I could hardly feel more at home than I do here this evening, in a group which focuses on, and supports, those important relationships.

This is a particularly good time to be here. On the one hand, NATO's response to September 11th and the war against terrorism reaffirmed the importance of the transatlantic partnership. Tragedy in this city and Washington reinforces the bonds between us. As Le Monde uncharacteristically put it on 12 September, "We are all Americans."

But in recent weeks the tone of some commentators has changed. Merchants of transatlantic gloom have re-emerged to warn that NATO has been marginalised and that its future is in doubt.

A good story. Is it true?

I am here to tell you that the answer is an emphatic "No."

You will, of course, remember that this is not the first time that predictions of this kind have been made. A dozen years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell, some critics suggested that NATO had completed its mission, and could pack it in. Then, after the success of the Gulf War coalition, they suggested that all future operations would be exactly like Desert Storm - and that, as a result, NATO wasn't appropriate to meet modern challenges.

The critics were wrong. During the 1990s, NATO's members transformed the Alliance to deal with instability in Southeast Europe, to provide security across the European continent and to spearhead the modernisation of their armed forces.

NATO prospered, expanded and even won its first military campaign, in Kosovo. Ignore the revisionists. Kosovo was a huge success. We won in 78 days, without casualties, without a legacy of bitterness or terror, and with all our objectives met.

Every time I visit Kosovo, I meet people who would not be alive today but for NATO's planes and soldiers. You don't hear them bleating about "war by committee."

Today, NATO is keeping the peace in trouble spots in Southeast Europe; and cooperating more and more deeply with Russia, Ukraine, and 25 other countries in Europe and Central Asia. And as a sign of NATO's popularity among people who know, nine countries are queuing to be admitted to join this year.

So NATO entered the 21st century as healthy, as relevant and as busy as ever before.

But September 11th changed the world. As a result, critics argue that NATO has no role in dealing with the new threats that confront us all. Or that it could have a role but lacks the political will to seize it.

I totally disagree. The critics were wrong after the Cold War and the Gulf War. They are wrong now. NATO is not only a part of the campaign against terrorism - it is an essential part.

Start with the declaration of Article 5. We must not let revisionists cast doubt on the fundamental importance of that decision, within hours of the horrific attacks. By declaring that this attack was an attack against them all, NATO's 19 members triggered the same collective defence arrangements for the United States which Europeans had counted on during the Cold War.

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 among 19 nations is as strong as ever.

But Article 5 is not just a statement of solidarity. It is also a commitment by Allies to offer practical support. And the response by America's Allies reveals a basic truth about the transatlantic relationship: that as we enter the 21st century, NATO remains the pre-eminent and unrivalled forum for preserving the security of all its members.

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, and NATO - primarily European - forces were rapidly deployed to the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.

Most significant, of course, was the move of seven NATO AWACS airborne early warning aircraft from their base in Europe across the Atlantic to replace US aircraft. These NATO aircraft are now patrolling US airspace.

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. And a high point indeed in the transatlantic relationship.

Ah, say the critics, but what about Afghanistan? It is true that NATO did not lead the campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaida because, as in the case of Desert Storm in the Gulf, a larger, more diverse coalition was needed. But NATO's political, military and logistical support has been crucial.

Furthermore, European members are leading the international stability force now deploying to Kabul. As in Desert Storm, their ability to work effectively with each other and with the United States is the result of decades of cooperation in NATO.

It is a striking fact that because of NATO's emphasis on multinational interoperability, British tanker aircraft over Afghanistan can refuel US Navy fighters, but US Air Force tankers cannot.

And NATO's contribution stretches even further - because it has made a vital contribution to building the coalition that the United States needs to win this campaign. For years, NATO has been building partnerships and trust with Central Asian partners, including for example Uzbekistan.

Now these same countries are providing airspace and bases without which effective operations in Afghanistan would have been impossible. Would that have been feasible without those years of cooperation with NATO? I doubt it.

Afghanistan reinforces the fact that no modern military operation can be undertaken by a single country. Even superpowers need allies and coalitions to provide bases, fuel, airspace and forces.

NATO and its partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council are the world's largest permanent coalition. And NATO is preeminently the world's most effective military organisation. It will not be in the lead in every crisis. But it has a vital role - in my view the vital role - to play in multinational crisis prevention and crisis management.

Nonetheless, to maintain that role - to remain the central core of Euro-Atlantic security - NATO must continue to evolve. The context for our security is changing, and everybody in the security business has to adapt. What NATO's critics do not seem to know is that we are already on the job.

For instance, the Alliance is becoming the primary means for developing the role of armed forces to defeat the terrorist threat. NATO forces have, for example, already destroyed dangerous Al-Qaida cells in the Balkans.

All our nations are examining ways to improve our forces' abilities to protect themselves against the use of weapons of mass destruction. And we are looking at using the military's unique skills and capabilities more effectively to protect our populations, and to assist in civil emergencies.

We are engaging non-NATO countries, including Russia, in the process. Next week, I will host, along with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov, a major meeting to jointly look at how our militaries can do more, and do more together.

This is an important symbol of NATO's deepening relationship with Russia, built on more issues than terrorism. We intend to work together as equal partners, in new ways which benefit both sides but still safeguard NATO's cohesion and autonomy of action. If we are able to bind Russia closely to the Alliance, and to what it stands for, the strategic picture will be transformed as fundamentally for the good as it was for evil on September 11th.

We are also redoubling our efforts to complete the modernisation of European and Canadian forces. They must be able to take on a greater share of the burden of maintaining our common security - including dealing quickly with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The United States must have partners who can contribute their fair share to operations which benefit the entire Euro-Atlantic community. This is the best possible way to build on the emotional and practical strengthening of transatlantic bonds caused by the terrible attacks last year.

The willingness to share the burdens and risks of taking on terrorism of a global reach was clearly evidenced in the offers made to the United States for its military campaign in Afghanistan.

The picture on burden sharing, however, is frankly a mixed one. In practical terms, America's Allies are pulling their weight. In the Balkans, for example, more than 85% of the peacekeeping troops are European. The European Union is paying the lion's share in reconstruction and development. Javier Solana and I have a polished political EU-NATO double-act to keep the peace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). And in the coming months, we will see increasing efforts by the Europeans to reduce the burden on American shoulders in some of these Balkan operations.

Unfortunately, the longer term picture is less optimistic. For all the political energy expended in NATO and in the EU, the truth is that Europe remains militarily undersized.

American critics of Europe's military incapability are right. If we are to ensure that the United States moves neither towards unilateralism nor isolationism, all European countries must show a new willingness to develop effective crisis management capabilities.

I am confidant that this will happen. September 11th was a wake-up call for us all.

My clarion call in this job has been the importance of "capabilities, capabilities, capabilities." But keep in mind that this is not simply a task for NATO. The European Union has an equally important role to play. Its Headline Goal process runs in parallel with and complements NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative. Another example of European Defence at work in practice.

Yet the United States must also do much more too. Not in terms of soldiers on the ground or aircraft in the air. But in facilitating the process of European defence modernisation. By easing unnecessary restrictions on technology transfer and industrial cooperation, Washington can improve the quality of the capabilities available, and diminish any problems our forces have in working together.

Finally, we are beginning the modernisation of NATO's decision-making processes. NATO has an unique ability to take and implement quick decisions. We showed it last summer, when within five days of the political decision we had deployed 4,000 troops to Macedonia. This force supervised a crucial disarmament process, and it certainly helped to avoid a civil war.

That kind of quick action will be necessary in future - including, potentially, to respond to terrorism. We must therefore ensure that it can still be done after any NATO enlargement in November.

We have a demanding new agenda through to the Prague Summit in November. But in adapting and updating the Alliance, we must not discard the essentials which underpinned its value in the 90s.

Perhaps I do not need to say so to this audience, but there is simply no credible alternative forum for transatlantic security coordination. Nor is there any credible alternative for ensuring the military and political interoperability on which all coalition operations depend.

There is no other means than NATO to ensure that European Defence strengthens our collective capacity. And there is no other organisation which can provide stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area and prevent the re-nationalisation of defence in Europe.

As the Wall Street Journal wrote last week, if security were a marketable product, it would be harder to find a better brand name than NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

September 11th was an enormous tragedy. But it has revealed many truths. That the bond between the United States and Europe is as strong as ever. That NATO remains the essential platform for defence cooperation and coalition operations. That NATO is and will continue to be the essential pillar of Euro-Atlantic security, and cooperation between the two sides of the Atlantic.

So ignore the merchants of doom. September 11th was not a blow to NATO. It was further proof of its enduring value. And it has stimulated another round of modernisation. In an uncertain world, the transatlantic link is not an optional extra. That is why NATO has emerged from each crisis more vibrant and more relevant than ever.

Thank you.

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

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