Updated: 25-Jun-2002 NATO Speeches

At the American
New Atlantic Initiative

Washington, DC
20 June 2002

"Tackling Terror: NATO'S New Mission"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

It is a great pleasure to be here. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has always been a wellspring of ideas for change, on a whole range of issues. Many of those ideas are now becoming US policy. That makes AEI the right place to discuss the idea of transformation.

With this audience, in this city, I don't need to explain the need for change. We all know the threats we face. Terrorism has mutated from a nation-specific problem of law enforcement into a lethal threat to national security and international stability.

The willingness of today's terrorists, and their backers in rogue regimes, to kill indiscriminately has transformed terrorism into the greatest security challenge of the new century. Al Qaida planned to kill tens of thousands on September 11th by turning airliners into deadly missiles. There can be no doubt that if they gain access to other, even more potent weapons of mass destruction, they will use them without a second thought.

This puts an immense burden on the governments of the free world. Not least because today's enemies are unlike past antagonists. They are not rational and predictable. They are not prepared to balance interests and risks. No, they are extremist fanatics, driven by hatred, and operating beyond rationality and predictability.

At the same time, however, we must not suggest that the terrorists are winning. The September 11th attacks were horrific. But the terrorists have suffered a series of massive set-backs since then, from Afghanistan through the Balkans, where NATO has smashed key Al Qaida cells, to recent arrests in North America, Europe and North Africa. They can hurt us. But we can defeat them.

That is not complacency. Our ideals, our societies, our peoples have been tempered in the victories over fascism and communism. They are too strong for the new barbarians of terrorism.

But our victory will be easier, quicker and more assured if we remember the lessons of the great struggles of the 20th century.

First, national governments must act promptly and effectively to mount their own defenses. That is what the United States is doing now in perhaps the most profound period of change in the past 50 years.

However, national solutions have never been enough on their own. The history of my own country shows that the mirage of 'splendid isolation' leads inevitably to bloody engagement. Far better to work with friends to avert a crisis than to find yourself alone with the crisis on your doorstep and your friends all looking the other way.

So the second priority for all free countries is to build and maintain the friendships that are critical to winning our common war against terror. As President Bush said on June 1st at West Point, "America needs partners to preserve the peace".

You may already know what America's NATO Allies have done and are doing to crush terrorism. But if you don't know, or have forgotten, let me remind you of the Article 5 declaration that September 11th was an attack against all 19 NATO Allies. The rapid deployment of NATO AWACS aircraft to help defend American cities. The crackdown across Europe against Al Qaida and its backers. The commitment by 14 NATO Allies of combat troops and aircraft, support services and specialist skills to fight Al Qaida and the Taleban in the mountains of Afghanistan, and bring stability to the streets of Kabul.

For generations, NATO and its members have been America's staunchest allies. It is no different in this time of crisis. As Secretary Rumsfeld said in Brussels earlier this month, the war on terrorism would not be possible without NATO.

But the old NATO will not be enough to meet today's risks and challenges. The Alliance is therefore mirroring the profound change being wrought by the Bush Administration in its most fundamental process of transformation since the end of the Cold War.

I would not normally set out publicly what is still work in progress. But I believe that it is essential in the current climate of concern here in the United States for people to know and understand how NATO is changing and how this will benefit the American people, and the people in all Alliance countries.

Most fundamental, perhaps, is a simple policy decision. NATO has decided that the Alliance must play a prominent role in defending its own populations and forces against terrorist attacks.

Defense against terrorism was already one of the new tasks highlighted in our 1999 Strategic Concept. Now it's front and center - a main focus of our activities.

To this end, we have now defined "defense against terrorism" broadly to include activities by our forces, "as and where required". They must also be able to deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist attack, or threats of attacks directed from abroad, and to act against such terrorists and those who harbor them. So much for the sterile "out of area" debate that, as many of you will remember, hamstrung NATO throughout much of the early 1990s.

So NATO can now take a lead in fighting terrorism. Sometimes that will be the right approach. Sometimes other coalitions will be more appropriate.

A permanent coalition is better than a temporary one. An interoperable coalition is better than an incapable one. A value sharing coalition is better than a coalition of convenience. And a NATO coalition is better than anything else.

Allies therefore agreed last week that, on a case-by-case basis, the Alliance would be prepared to provide its formidable assets and capabilities to support operations, including operations against terrorism, undertaken by other international organizations or by coalitions involving Allies. In other words, where it is appropriate, NATO will be able to support a non-NATO operation.

This could include something as simple as doing the complex planning that modern operations require, and in which NATO has over five decades of experience. But it could also include much more substantial military support.

Perhaps the most striking scenario would be future operations involving NATO, its Partners including Russia, and other members of a grand coalition.

These decisions are immensely significant. They show that NATO is prepared to act as a focus of the international community's military preparations for defense against terrorism. They also underscore the need to develop global deployment capabilities. NATO may even be in a position to take on a wide-ranging facilitating role for UN-mandated operations, not just against terrorism.

Taken together, these are substantial new commitments. To meet them, NATO will need substantial new capabilities. And on that front too, major transformations are underway.

Earlier this month, NATO ministers agreed on the need for a new, more focused effort to develop Allied essential capacities. And they adopted a methodical, effective roadmap to ensure that this effort delivers.

First, they agreed that, to carry out the full range of its missions, including defense against terrorism, NATO should focus on four critical military capabilities: secure, modern communications and information systems; the ability to move forces quickly to where they are needed, and to stay there as long as necessary; the means to work together seamlessly, and to win in combat; and last but certainly not least, defenses against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

To American ears, this may sound an obvious shopping list. But you have decades of experience in deploying and maintaining your forces away from home. For many European countries, this is a quantum leap in the way that they think about armed forces.

Take Germany for example. Throughout the Cold War, the United States and Germany's other NATO Allies demanded that German soldiers concentrate solely on defending Western Europe against the Warsaw Pact. German operations outside Germany were unthinkable. Now, however, we have changed our tune completely. And Germany is not only prepared to listen. It already has over 10,000 troops deployed abroad, including in Afghanistan. And it is leading NATO's vital military deployment in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Second, we agreed on how to develop these capacities - to ensure that promises made in Brussels are delivered by national capitals. We decided that the new initiative on capabilities should be based on firm, nation-specific commitments. The NATO countries also agreed to pursue further multinational cooperation in defense, to create synergies and maximize their defense dollars or Euros.

Endorsing the principles of nation-specific commitments, role specialization and common acquisition and funding of key assets - these represent radical breaks with the past.

To ensure a flexible, agile Alliance able to act rapidly, we have also initiated military and internal reforms to streamline NATO's command structure and decision-making.

Our challenge, from now until our Prague Summit meeting in November and beyond, is to ensure that we do, indeed, deliver. The blueprint however has been laid out, and we are now getting on with it.

That blueprint includes improving NATO's ability to assist national authorities in protecting both civilian populations and critical infrastructure against the consequences of terrorist attacks, and particularly attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.

I hope that terrorists will never get their hands on these weapons. Or if they do, that we can prevent them from being used. But if we were to be unsuccessful in preventing an attack, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences. NATO's forces will therefore be better trained, and better equipped, to work with civilian authorities to do just that.

My message to NATO leaders has been consistent: we must be ambitious or we risk being negligent. Fine words. But let me show that NATO is translating these words into action. We now have five concrete initiatives underway: a prototype Deployable Nuclear, Chemical and Biological (NBC) Analytical Laboratory; a prototype NBC Event Response Team; a Virtual Center of Excellence for NBC Weapons Defense; a NATO Biological and Chemical Defense Stockpile; and a Disease Surveillance System.

These are substantive, substantial measures on our agenda. And they are set to begin delivering results in a very short time. But I still view this as a downpayment and intend to press for further, more robust steps.

I am dwelling on specifics because I want to demonstrate with concrete examples that NATO gets it. NATO gets the big picture. That's why we are moving forward with a sense of urgency to retool the Alliance to tackle terrorism.

Countering terrorism is at the heart of NATO's new relationship with Russia. Much has been said about this relationship. To my mind, the essence is this. September 11th confirmed what we already knew. That the Cold War alignment of adversaries is dead and buried. We need Russia to face new and common threats, just as much as Russia needs us. Russia is now willing to play an honest, cooperative role in working with us.

The new NATO-Russia Council allows just that. It in no way replaces the North Atlantic Council. We have safeguarded our ability to act as an Alliance. There can be no such thing as a Russian veto of NATO action, or indeed a NATO veto of Russian interests.

But on a range of vital issues such as terrorism, missile defense and proliferation, the new Council gives Russia an equal seat at the table - and that has two real benefits. First, our cooperation will take an immediate and concrete step forward in meeting urgent challenges. That, alone, is significant. But the longer-term benefit to Euro-Atlantic security is just as important.

If in the coming years, Russia comes to see NATO as an organization to which it can turn - regularly and with confidence - for cooperation in solving Euro-Atlantic problems, then we will have brought Russia into Europe as a trusting and trustworthy member. That would truly be an historic contribution to our common security, and a major contribution to the success of our long-term fight against the new threats we all face.

At Prague in November, we will also take a decisive step forward in our relations with countries across Europe and into Central Asia. The logic is clear. Meeting challenges such as terrorism and proliferation requires the broadest and deepest possible cooperation. And even small countries, far away from Washington or Brussels, can play a decisive role.

For almost a decade, NATO has had increasingly close and practical relations with 27 non-NATO countries, including the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Ask yourself whether the countries of Central Asia would have been so ready, willing and able to offer the critical assistance that helped bring down the Taleban without 10 years of cooperation with the United States and its allies in NATO's Partnership for Peace. These relations were critical. Now they are about to get an upgrade.

We will develop better intelligence sharing. We will share knowledge on how to deal, together, with the consequences of a terrorist attack, including the use of weapons of mass destruction. We will train more together, so that when the time comes for joint operations, our coalition is as strong and as broad as possible.

Let me offer a brief word on enlargement. All of the nations aspiring to membership are busily focused on reforms before we even consider any decisions - which is how I want it. But just because enlargement is not a headline story at the moment, we cannot forget how dramatically the decisions at Prague will reshape Europe. The democratic unification of Europe is something easy to take for granted as we focus increasingly on the so-called new agenda beyond Europe. But the uniting of that continent so bloodied by war for centuries is far from complete. Prague will ensure that that process is inevitable.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is an interesting day in American history. On June 20, 1782, two hundred and twenty years ago the American Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States. It featured the legend "e pluribus unum" - "one from many."

In a very real sense, that sentiment applies not only to the United States, but also to NATO.

For over 50 years, the Atlantic Alliance has brought its members together - to arrive at common perceptions of the challenges they face; to develop common means to deal with them; and to act together, when they must, in defense of their shared interests and values. Many countries formed one strong, effective security community - a community that will only grow as more countries come to share our values, and can share the burdens of security with us.

Today, NATO is once again in a process of rapid, substantive transformation. By Prague, that transformation will deliver results. It will enable NATO's members, and its Partners, to work together to defend against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and it will spark and guide substantial improvements in our collective capability to win this fight.

Taking all elements together, the transformation of NATO will make a key, indeed essential, contribution to US security, to the security of all NATO nations, and in turn to the safety of future generations.

Thank you.

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


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