Updated: 30-Aug-2002 NATO Speeches

Annual Dinner, Hilton Hotel,
30 Aug. 2002

"NATO: Still Indispensable"

Speech by the Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen,
Secretary General of Nato
to the Scottish Confederation of British Industry

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here.

In just three months, NATO's Heads of State and Government, nineteen Presidents and Prime Ministers, will meet in Prague under my Chairmanship, where they will approve a broad range of profound adaptations to the way NATO does its business.

These adaptations will mean that NATO enters 2003 even busier, even more engaged, even more central to Euro-Atlantic security.

I know that to some ears, this sounds a little anachronistic. After all, NATO was born and developed to defend the West against the Soviet threat. For many people, the end of the Cold War suggested that NATO had grown up, finished work, and should logically enter a graceful retirement.

That apparent logic hasn't proven true. And the reasons are clear and simple.

First: because history didn't end with the Cold War. For too many people, the fall of the Berlin Wall triggered some kind of waking dream, in which the security we had fought so hard to win, over so many decades, was somehow now a birthright, requiring no more effort and no more cost.

The bloody conflicts in the Balkan not long after the Iron Curtain crashed, were a grim reminder that any dreams of eternal peace were, at the very best, premature. To this day there are refugees from these bloodbaths in this and other Scottish cities.

But it was the catastrophe of September 11th last year, almost exactly a year ago, which shattered all optimistic illusions. When the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we knew what we remembered what we should never have forgotten in the first place: security and national safety are not natural states of affairs. They have to be earned and defended.

Of course, the menace of total global war between superpower blocs is now history - and praise be for that. But we face new threats - less cataclysmic they may be, but no less lethal to their victims.

Last year's attacks in New York and Washington proved that terrorism has mutated from a national problem of law enforcement into a threat to international security. The attacks caused thousands of deaths, crippled economies, triggered a war and fundamentally altered the global strategic landscape.

So, there can be no denial that global-reach terrorism must be defeated, if it is not to undermine and ultimately destroy the peace and security we all enjoy.

We must also face up to the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Before September 11th, the use of these kinds of weapons appeared remote, because it seemed almost unimaginable that anyone would be homicidal enough to employ them. Osama Bin Laden shattered that illusion as well.

Now we know that there are individuals out there who seek, and revel in, mass casualties. So we must now prepare ourselves much, much better to prevent the spread of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. And we must be prepared to defend ourselves should they get in the wrong hands.

It would be a wilfully reckless and profoundly dangerous tactic to go around hoping for the best, without preparing for the worst, especially when 11 September last year gave us a taste of what the worst might be.

Regional conflict and instability is another challenge we must tackle. Al-Qaida flourished in Afghanistan because that country was chaotic - cut off diplomatically from the world, without democracy, openness, normal human rights or stability.

As a result, Afghanistan became the world's number one exporter of instability. Under the Taliban and Al-Qaida, Afghanistan cornered a market on exporting religious extremism, violence and drugs, while savaging the elementary human rights of its own citizens at the same time.

And let us never forget that distant regional wars can also hit us closer to home.

Bosnia and then Kosovo resulted in horrifying bloodshed, suffering and atrocious abuses of their own. Refugees flooded into neighbouring and eventually distant countries.

Then like parasites, organised crime networks exploited the instability to set up shop, including thriving export markets for guns, people and drugs - much of which ended up in our countries.

These are all threats - and they are real threats which we face today, and will face tomorrow. Security still counts, and must be defended. That then is the first reason why NATO is still around, essential and thriving.

The second reason is that, in defending security, military tools still matter. Diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions are important and effective, as is development assistance. But we must recognise that in some cases, these "soft power" tools are simply not enough.

In Bosnia, and then in Kosovo, it took NATO's military power to end the ethnic conflict and massive human rights abuses.

Afghanistan suffered years of political and economic hardship before the US-led operations toppled the Taliban and opened the way for that country's return to the international mainstream. Now the armed forces of NATO countries provide the core of the International Security Assistance Force that is bringing stability to Kabul.

Today, as much as ever, the judicious use of effective military force is sometimes the only way to defend what we stand for and our collective interests. And NATO remains the most powerful military alliance in history. That is a crucial second reason why the Atlantic Alliance is still indispensable today.

The third reason NATO is thriving is because Europe and North America still need, and want, to work together in security.

I know that there has been a lot of talk in the press recently that the US and Europe are pulling apart. There has scarcely been a moment in NATO's fifty three year history when these have not been the headlines.

But when it comes to security, it's my job to straddle the Atlantic, so I am very sensitive indeed to continental drift.

The way I see it, these concerns miss the point entirely - because they ignore the fact that on virtually every major issue of international security, Europe and North America share exactly the same goals.

Both want to defeat terrorism, and stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Both want to bring the new democracies of Europe into the mainstream. Both want to help Russia become a trusting and trustworthy country. And both want to build peace and democracy in the Balkans.

Of course, there are sometimes issues on which the Allies disagree, either on what should be done, or how it should be done. These divergences are not only normal, they are inevitable, and they have been around since the day NATO was founded.

But it is precisely over these differences that NATO's value becomes even more clear. No country can afford to go it alone in security. None. As we have seen from the Cold War through Desert Storm, the Balkans and now Afghanistan, that is as true today as it ever was.

NATO is a key element in the world's multilateral architecture. It provides a forum where all of its members discuss, and where appropriate, act upon the security issues on their agenda. It is a forum where differences of opinions are shared, and debated -- sometimes with real passion.

The value of this structured, daily consultation within NATO cannot be overstated. It ensures that all members of NATO have a clear idea of what their Allies believe to be the best way forward, on all issues. It promotes common approaches. It facilitates coordination.

And it works. For over five decades, the Alliance has helped the many nations of Europe and North America to maintain a solid security community that thinks alike, and works together, on almost every major security challenge we face.

Despite occasional disagreements over individual issues or actions, decades of shared values and shared security have fostered a common transatlantic culture that remains as strong today as ever. And since NATO is the only institution which formally, and permanently links North America and Europe together, the Alliance still has plenty of work to do.

These then are the fundamental reasons why NATO is still in business, and still indispensable.

Because we still have to defend our security and our values. Because military tools are still sometimes the key to success. And because Europe and North America are still destined to work together.

The real challenge we face is ensuring that we can work together. The Alliance, as a whole, must be orientated to meet modern challenges.

Our militaries must be structured and equipped to prevail in the missions they are assigned today, and will be assigned in the future. And Europe must make the investments necessary to keep up with its American partner, if genuine teamwork is to be possible.

Bosnia, then Kosovo, operations in East Timor, Sierra Leone and most recently the operations in Afghanistan have all made it crystal clear that to face the challenges of today, the forces of the past simply won't do.

Without sufficient large, long-range aircraft, our forces can't get to where they are needed. Without modern, secure communications, they can't work together effectively. Without high-tech capabilities such as precision-guided munitions, they will not be able to prevail with the minimum number of casualties.

Without protection against weapons of mass destruction, they and civil populations might be held hostage to the whim of a madman with chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear weapons. In essence the blunt choice for NATO is modernisation, or marginalisation - no matter how badly it is needed.

The Prague Summit will go a long way to addressing these issues addressing the upgrading of Alliance capabilities. At the Summit, NATO's Heads of State and Government will approve an initiative which will guide improvements to the capabilities essential to the full range of Alliance missions.

Four areas will receive particular attention. Rapid deployment and support will be enhanced. Interoperability between NATO forces will be improved, as will key aspects of combat effectiveness such as precision-guided munitions. Command, control and information systems will be enhanced. And NATO's ability to defend against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack will be upgraded.

The greater focus of this new capabilities initiative will be complemented by a more pragmatic approach to getting results. Specific commitments will be made by specific nations, with target dates attached. The greatest possible effort will be made to ensure that commitments made by defence ministers are backed by finance ministers with sufficient, dedicated funding.

And I am very gratified indeed by the substantial new funding that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have made available for defence. This shows that the British Government continues to take seriously its commitments to security investment, and to the effectiveness of its armed forces. In recent weeks I have also welcomed other countries defence investment commitments, including from Norway and Portugal.

Defence industrial cooperation, both within Europe and across the Atlantic, is another important ingredient. That is the only way to get economies of scale and the best technology. And I am pleased to see that this is accelerating.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The NATO Summit in Prague will ensure that our Atlantic Alliance will enter 2003 more capable than ever to meet the challenges of the future.

New members, New relationships, New capabilities - that will be the message from Prague. Up to nine new Alliance members. New and vibrant relationships with Russia, Ukraine, and the countries of the Caucuses and Central Asia. These will be the hallmark of the new, revitalised NATO for the 21st century.

Whether the issue is combating terrorism; better ways of deterring, and protecting against, weapons of mass destruction; or more effective crisis management: we will make sure that the transatlantic cooperation enshrined in NATO continues to deliver the peace and security it has guaranteed for over fifty years.

Nothing less that the safety and security of the next generations is our mission. Nothing less will do.

Thank you.

Go to Homepage Go to Index