in Combating Terrorism:
A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come"
Minister Martino, Minister Ivanov, Admiral Venturoni,
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the NATO-Russia Conference
on the Military Role in Combating Terrorism
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.