Updated: 17-Apr-2002 NATO Speeches

At the Economist
17 April 2002

"A New Security Network for the 21st Century"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the Greek Government for its generosity in hosting this very important conference. Throughout its five decades in NATO, this country has always helped to bring fresh ideas and innovative thinking on the many new challenges we have faced together. This conference continues that long tradition.

I must also congratulate the Economist for organizing this event. In the tradition of the magazine itself, these conferences have quickly acquired the reputation of providing insightful analysis and provocative thinking.

To my mind, the need for analysis and provocative thinking is particularly urgent today. Ever since the Cold War ended, the international community has been struggling with the changes underway in international security. Simply to define what was changing has been hard enough. To figure what to do in response has been even harder. As a simple illustration, it has been almost 13 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and we still refer to the period since then simply as the "post-Cold War era" - defining the present by what it is not, rather than what it is.

But we no longer have the luxury of ambiguity or indecision. A famous line by Samuel Johnson has been much quoted in recent weeks: "the prospect of hanging in a fortnight concentrates the mind". September 11th showed us the gallows. The new security threats are not abstract any longer. They are here. They are real. And they are lethal.

The challenge before us, as an international community, is clear. We must define, clearly and concretely, the security threats of the 21st. We must determine the steps necessary to combat these threats. And we must take action. We simply have no other choice.

The first step - defining the threats - seems the most difficult. But I do not believe that it is. To my mind, the rapid and unexpected changes of the 1990s are settling into an ever-clearer pattern. A pattern which is deeply disturbing in its implications, and daunting in terms of response.

To understand where we are today, I think it is worthwhile looking back at the challenges we faced during the Cold War era itself, and how they inter-related - or more to the point, how they did not interrelate. During the Cold War, security threats, and the responses to them, were largely separated from one another.

War was seen in the context of East-West conflict. It would be massive, perhaps total, and certainly take place between militaries. Deterring that threat was the job of our armed forces.

Proliferation of both weapons of mass destruction and small arms, did occur. But it was limited, and threatened very little the day-to-day security of our populations. The response lay with diplomats and arms-control negotiators in endless conferences on Lake Geneva.

Terrorism was then, by and large, a national threat, requiring a domestic response. Defeating it was largely the responsibility of law-enforcement and intelligence personnel.

Organized crime, too, was a threat without real international security implications - a challenge for police officers and crusading judges.

All of these threats were limited in scope or reach, and discrete from one another, in a pre-globalised world -- where borders were more controlled; where information had to move through telephones or the mail; where money had physically to change hands, and could be tracked; where travel was slow and expensive.

That world is history. Recent history, but history nonetheless. Borders are more and more open - or in the case of the European Union, disappearing altogether. Travel is affordable for more and more people. The sheer volume of international trade makes it impossible for authorities to check even a tiny fraction of the containers that enter each country every day. 50 million containers are currently at sea or parked in shipyards. They account for 90% of world trade cargo, yet only 2% of the ships are ever physically inspected.

The Internet allows for the free flow of information anywhere in the world at the touch of a button - from a university library in Hamburg, to a laptop in an Afghani cave. Money flows unimpeded through and around borders more easily than anything else - at the flicker on a screen, often untraceable and often illegal.

This is a networked world. Networked financial systems, networked information systems, networked trade and travel. All of which brings enormous benefits, in terms of freedom and prosperity. But like all good things it has a dark side.

The dark side to globalization is that security threats, too, are networking. They are going global. They are linking up to each other. And as a result, they pose a qualitative new menace to the international community.

Al-Qaida offers the most obvious illustration. First, it proved conclusively that terrorism has gone global. Al-Qaida was based in Central Asia, led by a Saudi, trained personnel in Europe, and carried out operations from Africa to the United States. It used the Internet, and powerful new encryption software, to communicate freely, anywhere in the world.

To add to the danger, global terrorism is linked up to proliferation. Laxer border controls and increasing travel make it easier for terrorists and terrorist states to get their hands on weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. Access to the Internet gives them the information they need to make what they can't buy or steal. The information found by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan leaves no doubt of that.

As we saw on September 11th, the new global terrorist wants blood - as much as possible. Which means that the nexus between global terrorism and proliferation has taken on a new, much more deadly nature.

To compound the agony, terrorism is getting new funding from organized crime. Just as an illustration, of the 24 terrorist organizations identified by the US State Department, 12 have links to international drug trafficking. That is no coincidence. Furthermore, international criminal cartels are themselves increasingly engaging in trafficking weapons, and selling them to very nasty people.

This international power grid of terrorism, proliferation and organized crime is nourished by another characteristic of today's world: the plethora of regional conflicts. These conflict zones, from the Balkans, to the Caucasus and Central Asia to Africa, have become centres where terrorists find recruits. Where organized crime traffics drugs and weapons. Where loss of state control can mean loss of control over lethal weapons themselves.

And behind it all is money. Globalization has made illegal money the lifeblood of the new network of security threats. Over and over, throughout the past decade, regional conflicts, narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling, civil war and terrorism have been facilitated and sustained by illicit financial networked embedded in the world's legal financial system.

How easy it was for Al-Qaida's bankers to have five hundred thousand dollars wired from a bank in Dubai for anonymous use in automatic teller machines in Florida and Maine. How difficult it has been, even with the backing of United Nations resolutions and 150 nations, to find out who raised or sent those dollars.

And when it comes to money, the knife cuts both ways. Because illegal money doesn't just feed other security threats - it also causes them.

Illicit finance has made possible the trade in diamonds that fuelled civil wars in Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone. It allows countries surrounding Congo to engage in relentless asset stripping under the cover of war. A fraudulent pyramid scheme caused a financial collapse in Albania that led directly to civil chaos, and the proliferation of small arms throughout the Balkans. We still see the effects today, in increased tension and the occasional explosion of armed conflict.

This is a complex set of interrelationships - but the overall pattern is clear. Today's security threats have taken advantage of the infrastructure of globalization - to support each other, to feed each other, to build on each other. They have networked. The result is a is a clear and present danger to our citizens, and to the stability of the international system.

Our challenge, as an international community, is to dismantle this network. To prevent, or stop, regional conflicts. To stop the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. To defeat terrorism. To control organized crime. And to ensure that the international financial system is used for the good of the international community, not exploited to undermine it.

To accomplish this, we need an international security network. Diplomats, militaries, international security organizations, financial institutions, law enforcement officials, and arms control experts must move beyond narrow definitions of their mandates. They must adapt to take on new challenges. And more and more, they must identify common challenges, and work together to solve them.

Addressing terrorism, for example, can no longer be a job only for law enforcement officials. Now, our militaries must also be prepared to tackle this challenge, both to protect themselves and to help protect our populations. Financial institutions must track, and freeze, terrorist money. Arms control experts must stop proliferation into the hands of terrorists, and alert our militaries when it does occur.

Similarly, stopping regional conflicts must be a job for more than just the military. Law enforcement officials must also be deployed into conflict zones, to prevent organized crime from taking hold. Financial experts must also be available to stop corruption. Civilian institutions in post-conflict areas must be supported, to preclude the instability that is the hothouse for so many other threats.

All of these changes require new thinking, new ways of doing business. Outdated Cold War habits and capacities do us no good against 21st century threats unless we adapt them to meet these new challenges. We need a global, integrated response, with deep cooperation between states, international organizations, international financial institutions, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations - all working together, in new ways, to meet this new network of security threats.

NATO is already playing its part in this new global response - because NATO is a unique organization, with enormous influence to effect positive change. Over the past decade, the Alliance has continued to adapt to meet new challenges effectively, and in cooperation with new partners. Our Summit meeting in Prague this November will be another major step forward.

We will, for example, continue to adapt our military forces to take on these new threats. They will have improved capacities to protect our populations, and themselves, against terrorist attack, and against the use of weapons of mass destruction. We will improve our cooperation within NATO to counter proliferation. We will also take steps to improve the overall capabilities of NATO forces to manage crises, and prevent the instability they cause.

NATO's enlargement process will also take a step forward at Prague - because enlargement has a major stabilizing influence in Europe. That has been true since Greece and Turkey joined the Alliance fifty years ago, and it remains true today - although in a very different context.

By encouraging today's aspirants to meet our political and military standards, the Alliance helps to promote democratic reform, the resolution of border disputes and minority issues. A net benefit for the countries involved, and Euro-Atlantic security more broadly. Which is why the Alliance will continue to issue invitations to aspirant countries.

NATO has also developed, and deepened its relations with other international organizations. Cooperation between organizations is no longer just a good idea - it's the only way forward. We can see that on the ground in the Balkans, where NATO, the United Nations, the OSCE and the European Union are working in close cooperation to make, and keep the peace.

NATO-EU cooperation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a perfect illustration of the potential of cooperation. By coordinating the political, military and economic influence of the two organizations, we have been able to prevent a civil war from breaking out in a vital strategic area. Which makes it all the more obvious, and urgent, that the last barriers to full NATO-EU cooperation must be removed as soon as possible - before or by Prague.

These are just some of the major adaptations that will, or should take place by our November Summit. There will be others - including, not least, a deeper and more substantive relationship between NATO and Russia. But the overall direction of NATO's agenda, and NATO's adaptation, are clear: to broaden the way the Alliance looks at the security threats we face today, and to develop the new capacities, and the new relationships we need to tackle them effectively. All of which will make the Alliance an even more effective, and essential, partner in the global security network of the 21st century.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are many distinguished speakers on the podium, and you have fruitful discussions ahead of you here at this conference. So let me offer just a few concluding thoughts.

To my mind, the fog of the immediate post-Cold War era is clearing. We know that we face a network of threats. We know that, to face them effectively, we need to work in new ways, and we need to work together.

But identifying the challenge, and designing the response, are the easy parts. The real challenge is implementation. We need to develop the military capacities we need to manage conflict, and prevent terrorism - and that means spending money. We need to establish relations where none existed before - which means taking difficult, but necessary political decisions.

The time has passed for delay or excuses. Neither history, nor our populations, will judge us kindly if we fail to meet this challenge, or live up to our responsibility.

Thank you.

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