Updated: 04-Feb-2002 NATO Speeches

NATO Defence College, Rome
4 February 2002

"NATO-Russia Cooperation
in Combating Terrorism:
A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come"

Key note address
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the NATO-Russia Conference
on the Military Role in Combating Terrorism

Minister Martino, Minister Ivanov, Admiral Venturoni,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

If just a few years ago someone had predicted that NATO and Russia would together explore the role of the military in combating terrorism, I would have recommended that they needed a vacation. But times change. Now it would be far harder to justify why NATO and Russia should not cooperate than to explain why we have come together today in Rome.

Last September's attacks on the United States took thousands of innocent lives -- from NATO nations and from Russia alike. But the terrorists did more than just kill. This was also an attack on our way of life. On our sense of safety. On our freedom to travel. On our economies.

We must therefore turn our sights to this new challenge of terrorism. And we must defeat it. That is the challenge that we face together. And we must prevail -- because it is a strategic challenge.

The terrorist threat is not new. Our Russian colleagues, who have seen the tragic loss of countless military and civilian lives at the hands of terrorists over the past decade, can bear witness to that.

But until recently, terrorism was seen chiefly as a regional phenomenon. Terrorists may have been driven by motives that took them out of the political mainstream, but they generally used limited resources to achieve what were -- in essence -- limited ends. And they were motivated largely by political ideology, not religious extremism.

All this has changed. Three trends, in particular, stand out:

First, terrorists have increasingly organised themselves in trans-national networks rather than in small, hierarchical structures. Some of these networks have become global in reach, with both support structures and targets that span several regions.

In some cases, terrorism has become so closely intertwined with the political system and social fabric of a country that it has become difficult to tell where the state structure ends and the terrorism network begins. Until recently, Afghanistan was precisely such a dark labyrinth. Elsewhere, in so-called "failed states", the decay or collapse of state authority itself has provided terrorist networks with fertile breeding grounds.

Second, the secular, political motivation of what one could call "traditional" terrorism has given way to a much more fanatical variant, often with extremist religious overtones. This new form of terrorism is both indiscriminate and bloodthirsty. Al-Qaida is a case in point. It doesn't ask for political concessions. It wants to annihilate all those who stand in its way -- the more, the better. Indeed, more and more terrorists appear to be fascinated by the sheer number of deaths they can inflict.

Let me stress that we should not characterise our enemy by his religious beliefs, nor should we ignore those who continue to use terrorist tactics to pursue "political" ends. We must, however, acknowledge the growing trend towards the perversion of religious traditions by those who want to justify mass murder.

A third and very disturbing trend is that acts of terrorism are becoming increasingly lethal. The explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma, and of large apartment blocks in Moscow, are all examples of this trend. And let us not forget: had the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1993, proceeded as planned, the number of casualties probably would have exceeded even that of last year's attack!

Moreover, what long seemed unthinkable can no longer be ruled out: terrorists resorting to the use of weapons of mass destruction. The Japanese "Aum" cult, which several years ago used self-made chemical weapons in the Tokyo subway, reportedly possessed enough nerve gas to kill four million people. And yet that cult apparently also spent millions of dollars to purchase a nuclear device.

Today, attacks on our critical infrastructure, such as the power grid or the water supply, can be carried out from across the world, with a lap-top computer. As one author recently said, Bin Laden may have his finger on the trigger of an AK-47 -- but his nephew could have his finger on a computer mouse button.

The conclusions are clear. Terrorism will be the first major security challenge in the 21st century -- probably a growing challenge, and quite possibly a much more lethal one. Second, as terrorism is becoming an increasingly global phenomenon, so our response must be global as well. And finally, NATO and its members must expand it´s responsibility as an essential platform for defence cooperation to become the primary means for developing the role of armed forces in helping to defeat the terrorist threat. NATO's association with Russia makes this role all the wider and more effective.

What, then, can the military role be in meeting this deadly challenge?

Let me make two caveats. In the struggle against terrorism, the military can only be part of the solution. Terrorism does not come out of the blue. It has political and economic roots, and these must be tackled first and foremost by political and economic measures -- measures that are carefully calibrated and coordinated among nations and international organisations. The military victory in Afghanistan would not have been possible had it not gone hand in hand with efforts for a comprehensive, inclusive political solution and humanitarian assistance to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.

Equally important, the use of force must be regulated by the fundamental standards of decency and respect for human rights that we share. In fighting terrorists who are motivated precisely by their contempt for such standards and rights, it would be wrong and counter productive not to respect these rights, however great the provocation. If the terrorists force us to abandon the principles for which we stand, they will have won.

I stressed earlier that military means alone are not sufficient to address the terrorist threat. But neither should their importance be underestimated. Indeed, the military is a potent and necessary part of the equation. I do not want to prejudge today's expert discussions. I will, however, suggest some of the directions in which I believe these discussions could take.

First, our military organisations should be able to help in identifying and detecting terrorist threats. Terrorists blur the line between criminal and combatant. They act in a "grey area", which we must deny them. The military has unique technical capabilities to detect potential terrorist threats. Employing these instruments effectively requires close interaction and intelligence sharing between our military and civilian security agencies. This is one area where we can and should do better. The question is: how?

Second, protection. Our soldiers must be able to safeguard themselves, as well as the military infrastructure they employ. But there is considerable scope as well for our military to better support civilian authorities in the protection of populations and civilian infrastructure against possible terrorist attacks. Are our armed forces prepared to take on this task?

Third, helping to manage the consequences of terrorist attacks if they should still materialise. This too is primarily a matter of complementing the actions of civil organisations, particularly in the area of civil emergency planning, and of being prepared to provide military capabilities in response to terrorist caused disasters. There are issues here of warning time and of the mechanisms needed to provide assistance on a multinational basis.

Fourth, we also have to, in the final analysis, be prepared to employ military assets to strike at terrorists, their infrastructure, and their facilitators. Those who set out to die in support of their ill-conceived causes are unlikely to be deterred through traditional means. Military strikes against terrorists and their networks are often the only effective option to prevent further damage. This is what the US did in Afghanistan, and it succeeded. Al-Qaida has been uprooted, and a democratic Afghanistan has been given a new lease of life. Without determined military action, this would not have been possible.

There is no doubt in my mind that robust military action also has an important deterrent effect. The political and public support for terrorists will diminish if it is clear that there is a price to pay -- not just for conducting terrorist activities, but also for condoning them. The signs are clear for everyone to see. Osama bin Laden has lost support, as the consequences of his actions -- and the resolve of those who sought to punish them -- have become clear. A swift response has sent a strong message to those regimes that harbour terrorists to rethink their policy.

What you need now to consider is whether this role requires additional capabilities to those we have developed for defence and crisis management.

All these potential roles for our military in the fight against terrorism have one thing in common: they require a broad base of support, political as well as practical. No single country -- not even the United States -- can successfully apply military force all by itself. The recent operations against Al-Qaida would not have been possible without the political and logistical support offered by a unique coalition -- a coalition including Russia, many Central Asian countries, Pakistan and in the Gulf Region.

This need to cooperate is not a short-term commitment. Over the long haul, efforts to sustain the engagement of the broader international community in this struggle -- in the first instance in the United Nations, where Russia has taken a leading role in this effort -- will play a decisive role in defeating this menace.

Intensified NATO-Russia cooperation is a central pillar of the global struggle against terrorism. Without close cooperation between Europe's two major security players, no anti-terrorism strategy can work.

When the Foreign Ministers of NATO and Russia gathered in Brussels in December, they "condemned terrorism in all its manifestations" and agreed "to spare no efforts in bringing to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of such acts and in defeating the scourge of terrorism". And a week ago today, high-level Allied and Russian terrorism experts, including Deputy Foreign Minister Safonov, gathered to take stock of our common efforts in this area.

Our common political strategy encompasses several elements. First and foremost, regular and frank exchanges on the entire spectrum of the terrorist threat, including the risks of proliferation: nuclear, biological and chemical. The urgent need to increase the scope and depth of our consultations has already allowed us to make progress on the political level: NATO and Russia have agreed to work toward the creation of a new council, to identify and pursue opportunities for joint action at 20.

This is an ambitious goal that will require a lot of work. But it holds the potential to raise NATO-Russia relations to a qualitatively new level -- and not just in the fight against terrorism. It could generate a new political momentum across the entire range of our cooperation.

Our reinvigorated spirit of partnership must not be limited to the political level. We also have to continue down the path of practical cooperation. One case in point would be enhanced cooperation on civil emergency planning, such as joint exercises to deal with the consequences for the civilian population of a large-scale terrorist attack. We also need to increase NATO-Russia scientific and technological cooperation, such as the development of more scientific knowledge on the detection of and protection against NBC attacks. This is an area where Russia has important knowledge and experience to contribute.

As we enhance cooperation between NATO countries and Russia, we also need to involve other countries. The terrorists have gone global -- we must do the same.

We must have broader cooperation with fellow partners in the EAPC. We must intensify efforts to cooperate on issues such as air defence, air traffic management and flight safety, including with regard to terrorist threats to commercial aviation. We must exchange information on the relationships between armed forces and other elements of the security sector, with a view to breaking down counterproductive barriers to information sharing and cooperation. And, last but certainly not least, we must ensure that the development of the necessary military capabilities to combat terrorism and other emerging threats becomes an organic part of each of our defence reform efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I realise that I have merely touched upon a variety of issues, and that there are many more that are relevant and worth exploring. That is precisely the purpose of this conference, and I am sure that it will live up to the challenge.

I am equally convinced that our nations will live up to the challenge of fighting and defeating terrorism, together. 200 years ago, the British author Samuel Johnson wrote that the thought of being hanged in a fortnight concentrated the mind wonderfully. The events of September 11 have rudely alerted us all to the challenge of terrorism. Yes, we have been reminded of our vulnerability. But since September 11 we have also been reminded of our interdependence, and of the enormous potential that our cooperation holds.

This conference is another step towards turning a tragedy into an opportunity: a strong relationship befitting NATO and Russia, and benefiting the entire Euro-Atlantic community.

Thank You.

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