Updated: 11-Sep-2002 NATO Speeches

11 Sep. 2002


by Ambassador Nicholas Burns
NATO Commemoration of September 11

Secretary General Robertson, my fellow members of the North Atlantic Council, members of the NATO staff, and guests. Thank you all for joining us here today. I wish to thank the Secretary General for his words of remembrance and for his strong leadership of NATO on September 11 and12, 2001, and throughout his tenure.

We are here today to remember. We remember the horrific events of one year ago in my country. We remember first and foremost the victims at the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon in Virginia, and in a field in Pennsylvania - 3,011 men and women, young and old from every part of America, and from 86 nations, including 15 NATO and 10 Partner countries. We remember them today.

We remember those who gave their lives to save others - the firefighters, and police officers, and rescue personnel who raced to the scene and threw themselves into the cauldron. The airplane passengers who fought back against the hijackers. We remember them all as heroes who reminded us anew that day of all that is best in humanity - courage, dedication, selflessness.

As President Bush said in his proclamation to Americans today, "Those whom we lost last September 11 will forever hold a cherished place in our hearts and in the history of our nation. As we mark the first anniversary of that tragic day, we remember their sacrifice; and we commit ourselves to honoring their memory by pursuing peace and justice in the world and security at home."

We remember something else from September 11, 2001: the evil that was so evident that day - the murderous and criminal work of fanatics who in their hatred flew commercial airliners as missiles into crowded office buildings and who, in their intolerance and depravity, would have killed many thousands more, had they been able to.

September 11 was an American tragedy, unique in the history of our country, whose imprint can still be seen and felt in every town in America. For a people who had always felt protected by two great oceans, the attacks were a profound shock to our national consciousness. But the strength and will and patriotism of Americans were soon evident for all to see.

The attacks were carried out on American soil but their impact has reverberated to the farthest corners of the earth. And those attacks have, in important ways, changed our world forever.

We Americans understand very well that the September 11 atrocities were aimed -- not just at us -- but at all of us all over the world who believe in a liberal, tolerant, and democratic future. Al-Qaeda attacked the symbols of American commercial and military power, but their ultimate aim was to destroy what all of us as Europeans and North Americans cherish.

After a tortured night, as the twin towers burned and the Pentagon was still in flames, the very first good news for Americans came from this headquarters, early in the morning of September 12, the news that the NATO allies had invoked Article 5 of the Washington treaty for the very first time in Alliance history. NATO's message to America was that you were with us -- the attacks of the previous day were an attack on all 19 of the Allies.

Do not underestimate the importance of that first, great act of solidarity and alliance to the American people. Europeans and Canadians shared our pain and loss. You flew your flags at half staff across the continent; you queued in long lines to sign condolence books in Berlin and Madrid, in Leuven and in Warsaw, and in Vancouver. You held candlelit vigils. You filled churches, synagogues, and mosques with mourners.

No American will ever forget the messages of solidarity and comfort uttered by our Allies in those bleak hours following the attacks. "We stand with you, shoulder to shoulder," said Prime Minster Tony Blair. "We are all Americans, " said President Jacques Chirac.

As I remember September 11, I will never forget the stunned silence of 19 NATO Ambassadors around our lunch table when we heard the news. I will never forget the heartfelt condolences offered by Lord Robertson and every member of the NATO family. Nor will I forget our emergency meeting late into the night of September 11 to resolve together that we must act; and then the historic decision we took together the next morning that gave unprecedented substance and meaning to Alliance solidarity.

Our NATO Allies then turned to action. You helped us forge a mighty coalition to defend our democracies. You opened your ports and your airfields, you deployed Special Forces, flew combat missions, sent your doctors and de-mining teams into Afghanistan. You flew NATO AWACS missions over our cities from west to east for many long winter months. In sum, every NATO Ally and 17 Partner countries participated in our defeat of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and in the restoration of civil in order in Afghanistan. Europe was instrumental in Afghanistan and remains truly indispensable in the global fight against terrorism.

With Europe's contributions in mind, we Americans remember something else today: that despite our awesome power, we cannot go it alone in the world. America needs our friends and, especially, our NATO Allies. Neither isolationism nor unilateralism can ever be America's course.

Finally, as we faced the challenge of responding to September 11 together last autumn, we must now face the future in the same way - united and resolved to win the war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. In the post- September 11 world, we NATO Allies will be threatened not so much by hostile states but by failed ones. We will be threatened not by huge armies here in Europe but by the toxic mix of terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction far from NATO's borders. The world changed on September 11. This is now the defining threat to our civilization and way of life.

To deal with these new threats, NATO needs modern combat capabilities that can get to the fight and carry out their missions with efficiency and precision. This must be a central accomplishment of our summit at Prague.

As we move forward, we Europeans and North Americans should remember that although we come from different parts of the world, that we have differing histories and traditions and may not always agree on important issues - we must remain united on one essential point: there can be no justification for terrorism. It is, in many ways, a question of right and wrong, good and evil. Our democracies, and our common civilization, are worth defending. There is no other way forward for NATO and our future.

Thank you all for being here today, and for remembering the victims of September 11.

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