Updated: 03-Oct-2002 NATO Speeches

At the

3 October 2002

"NATO: A Vision for 2012"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson:
"Prague 2002: Challenge and Change for NATO"

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

Some months ago, in the daily flood of articles about September 11, I came across a story that really struck me. It was the story of Warren Buffett, the famed international investor. Long before September 11 it had occurred to him that losses caused by large-scale terrorism could become a major problem for insurance companies. But he did not convert thought into action. In his annual shareholder's letter, Buffett admitted his mistake: "I violated the Noah rule: predicting rain doesn't count, building arks does."

In my remarks this morning, let me stick closely to the Noah rule. I want to try to predict the kind of bad weather the international community is likely to face, and then suggest what kind of a security ark we must build to deal with it.

So what kind of storms do we need to prepare for?:

My first prediction: more instability in the years ahead. The Caucasus, Central Asia, Northern Africa and the Middle East all offer a rich current and potential cocktail of instability. All of these regions are going through political and economic transitions of historic dimensions. Ultimately, I am confident that these changes will lead them in the right direction. But only the most blinkered optimist would argue that this process of change will happen without major convulsions.

My second prediction: more spillover. Instability will not be confined to the areas in which it originates. There will be spillover into Europe and North America. Spillover through migration, rising numbers of people seeking asylum, a booming industry in people smuggling, and all that goes it with it: violence, drugs - you name it. In short, geography will no longer act as our shield.

My third prediction: more terrorism. On September 11, 2001, a threshold was crossed. Until then, most of us shared the view expressed by a well-known terrorism expert: "terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead". Since September 11, that rule no longer applies. A special breed of terrorism has come to the fore - driven not by achievable political aims, but by fanatical extremism and the urge to kill. It is difficult to imagine how one could return this cruel genie to its pre 9/11 bottle.

My fourth prediction: more failed states. September 11 reminded us that even in an age of globalisation the state remains the central organising principle of modern civilisation. But not every state is sustainable. In the past decade or so, we have seen states collapse, fragment into numerous small regions, run by warlords, who finance themselves by drug smuggling and other criminal activities. As Afghanistan has demonstrated, such failed states are a safe haven for terrorists.

Of course, we can address this problem. We can deal with failed states. In Bosnia, we intervened, and we stopped the slaughter. But if you applied the Bosnia template to Afghanistan, you would need to deploy some 700,000 soldiers. This is not a practical option.

My next prediction: more proliferation. Despite the best efforts of our diplomats and counter proliferation experts, the spread weapons of mass destruction will be a defining security challenge of this new century. It will lead to more fingers on more triggers. Not all of these fingers will belong to rational leaders. In such a situation, deterrents may not always deter.

Keep in mind also that the problem of proliferation is not confined to nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Transfers of conventional arms are a problem, too. We already have ample proof that conventional weapons can fan the flames of regional conflict.

What does all of this add up to? Bluntly put, it adds up to a guaranteed supply chain of instability. It adds up to an uncomfortable security environment that will pose difficult - and probably unforeseeable - challenges. A security environment that does not afford us the luxury of fighting theoretical battles about what is "in" and what is "out-of-area". We will have to look at threats functionally, not geographically. We will have to be able to act wherever our security and the safety of our people demand action.

This is a bleak picture and it neither surprising nor novel - you know it, I know it, many people fear it. And yet, I remain optimistic that none of these challenges will overwhelm us.

Why? Because we have the capacity to shape events, not be their victims. Figuratively speaking, we do not have to fear that the rain will drown us. Because, like Noah, we know how to build an ark, to stay afloat, and weather the storm. Let me give you my rough sketch of the kind of ark we must build.

The first plank is military capability. Military capability is the crucial underpinning of our safety and security. It directly translates into political credibility. As Kofi Annan once said, you can do a lot with diplomacy, but you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by the threat of force. Indeed, in the real world, the more military capabilities you have, the less you may need to use them.

But we need capabilities for the future, not for the past. We need more wide-bodied aircraft, and fewer heavy tanks. More precision guided weapons, deployable logistic support troops, ground surveillance systems, and protection against chemical and biological weapons. We need forces that are slimmer, tougher, and faster; forces that reach further, and can stay in the field longer.

Reshaping our military capabilities is a key investment in our future safety. We defence anoraks know this. But we must also make sure that our populations also understand it.

So NATO's Prague capabilities commitment, and the EU's headline goal, are essential components for our collective ark.

The second plank of our ark is consultation. In today's world, no country can ensure its security entirely on its own. You need Allies. You need Partners. You must stand together against terror, consult on threats, coordinate responses, share risks and burdens. NATO is the key consultation forum that brings together North America and Europe. We must use this forum to its fullest extent -- and not shy away from putting even the most controversial topics on our agenda. For if an issue does not belong here, in the centre of our community of like-minded nations, where else does it belong?

Our third plank: NATO-Russia relations. Once upon a time, most people in the West looked at Russia as part of the problem. No more. Today, Russia is very much part of the solution. We still have differences. And there may be some security challenges that could be resolved without Russia. But there many more security challenges that can be resolved with her: terrorism, proliferation, ballistic missiles, crisis management, to name just the most obvious.

That is why cooperation between NATO and Russia holds such great potential. The new NATO-Russia Council is the key to unlock this potential. I believe it has been under noticed and under estimated but the NATO-Russia Council has got off to a good start. Now we must build on this momentum.

Our fourth plank: broader cooperation. The attacks of September 11 were masterminded by a Saudi who lived in Central Asia. They were planned by people who came from the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean, who lived in Western Europe, and who finally carried out their attacks on the North American continent. Nothing illustrates better the need to for security cooperation beyond Europe. If we want to prevent such tragedies from occurring again, we have to build mechanisms of cooperation that extend to Central Asia as well as to the Mediterranean.

These mechanisms already exist, even if they don't feature prominently in the headlines. The Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, the Partnership for Peace, and the Mediterranean Dialogue, all under NATO's umbrella, make a vital contribution to a new quality of security within and beyond Europe. That's why we need to nurture these mechanisms. And why we need to make them even more attractive to our Partners.

The final plank in our ark: institutional cooperation. NATO has never been a solo-player in security. In today's strategic environment, military, political and economic challenges have become too intertwined to be met by a single institution. You need the UN to provide political legitimacy and civil administration. You need the OSCE to organise elections after a conflict. You need NGO's to help mend the torn fabric of a society that has been at war. And you need the EU to yield its enormous political and economic leverage.

Most observers have yet to grasp the enormous potential that institutional cooperation offers. NATO-EU relations are the best example. Last year, when trouble was brewing in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, NATO and the EU went in -- before CNN told us to go in. We averted a civil war. Sounds simple; it was not, but it was the outcome. So the practice works. Once we have managed to sort out the remaining theory of the NATO-EU interface, we will be able to achieve even more.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

That is my blueprint for tomorrow's security ark. You may have other planks to add. I hope so. This conference is an opportunity for NATO to listen, to take a final rain-check on our Prague agenda.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of our Prague Summit. It will invite new members to join, ending Europe's Cold War division for good, and setting the stage for a wider NATO. It will deepen NATO's Partnerships with our neighbours to our East and South.

It will give NATO a clearer profile in combating terrorism, and in responding to the challenges posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And it will meet the challenge of improving NATO's defence capabilities, with new commitments, new targets, and concrete new improvements.

All these decisions will reaffirm the transatlantic relationship as a central pillar of international security -- indeed, of international order. They will reaffirm NATO as the embodiment of meaningful transatlantic defence cooperation. And they will reaffirm NATO's undiminished relevance for our safety and security.

There is no prize for predicting rain. There is only a prize for building an ark. At Prague, the contours of this ark will become visible.
Thank You.

Questions & Answers

Moderator: Thank you very much Lord Robertson for that fascinating and insightful tour of the horizon that faces NATO over the next decade and even longer. I think there is no question that there is indeed a guaranteed supply chain of instability that really shows that there is no question of guaranteeing security in North America and Europe without dealing with the global challenges that Lord Robertson so correctly outlined.

We have time for a couple of questions and comments from the audience before we introduce our next speaker, so I would like to entertain any questions. If you do have them, please identify yourself. You will find underneath your armrests microphones with a green button that will enable everybody to hear you speak.

Q (Diplomacy and Defence Institute, Paris)
I would like to ask you what kind of answer can bring NATO to those, and I must say I am not one of those, but the question is very frequent. Assuming that NATO will engage in war on terrorism, what is now the relevance of NATO's nuclear weapons, and should NATO continue to engage in missile defence building?

Lord Robertson: Just because there are new challenges, it doesn't mean to say that we have to forget about some of the old challenges as well, and indeed it is perfectly true that some of the capabilities that we will need in order to play a part in dealing with terrorism, and the military aspects of terrorism are only one part of a much broader picture than that. Those capabilities are also capabilities that are required for the other areas of instability that we may be required to deal with in the future.

So I don't think that the concept of deterrence which is at the heart of NATO's philosophy whether it be from the nuclear deterrence side right down to the whole concept of collective security as a deterrent against multiple threats to the safety and security of populations. That is not going away, and so long as there are nuclear weapons in the world there is a role for NATO's nuclear posture.

That may change over time, and of course there are commitments by the nuclear nation states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty which are taken very seriously indeed, but in the meantime, there is still a case, and that case remains valid despite the fact that there are now more unconventional and asymmetric threats around to add to the uncertainties that we face as well.

Missile defence was a controversial issue 12 months ago, 24 months ago. It is remarkably uncontroversial today. It may come back, but we have moved I think quite dramatically. I would say to those who have apprehensions about this from the days when mutually assured destruction and conventional deterrence was the way in which we kept the peace, to a very different world where, as I said in my speech, the conventional idea of deterrence has got to be looked at in relation to new states - rogue states if you want to call them that, as I have heard them described in both the White House and in the Kremlin - and non-state actors who don't fall into the old categories of those who are deterred.

And I think there has to be a sensible mix between offence and defence in a new world where these asymmetric threats grow larger and where proliferation has changed the equation. So that is why the United States is consulting its allies with its views on missile defence, including strategic missile defence, why NATO is continuing its work on short-range theatre missile defence which we believe is an essential part of the armoury of defending our forces and our populations, and why one of the areas of fruitful co-operation we are working on with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council is also missile defence.

And in many ways they see themselves in Russia closer to some of the perceived threats, than some on the other side of the Atlantic so that debate has become much more sensible and more rational as a consequence of that deep co-operation that is going on, and the debate I am sure will be joined again when more definite proposals are being floated.

Q (Cindy Williams, MIT)
I thought that was a really excellent discussion and I really appreciated it, but it raised a question for me that goes back to something that in the United States we used to say about NATO, with a certain pride that NATO was a different kind of institution than any other in the world. We used to say that NATO acts while other institutions talk. And that was by way of distinguishing NATO from OSCE, for example. In your discussion of the ark I heard a lot about talk, consultation, co-operation, and I wasn't sure by the end of your talk whether you meant consultation to an end which would be that NATO would act in a unified way in military operations. My senses were against Afghanistan for example didn't work as unified body but rather the United States worked bilaterally with several countries from NATO, and I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on whether you think the future of NATO holds real military action as a NATO body, or whether the war in Afghanistan is a sign of the future?

Lord Robertson
Well, the war in Afghanistan involved a wider coalition than NATO anyway, and had to. And just as the Vietnam War did not prove that NATO had no utility because NATO wasn't involved there, and because the Gulf War required a bigger coalition than NATO, didn't mean to say that the relevance of NATO was seriously questioned at that time as well. NATO will act when it is appropriate for NATO to act, and NATO will act when its 19 member states decide that they will act, and act collectively.

And that is why it acted in Bosnia in 1995, and it was the only instrument that the world had available at that time in order to deliver the force and to do it quickly and effectively and in order to stop the killing when the political process had finally got round to saying that was the only solution. It acted, and it acted together, with tremendous unity in Kosovo when again Milosevic was threatening not just the lives of people there, but stability in the whole of Central Europe, and it acted with much less publicity last year when in association with the European Union and the OSCE we acted to avert a civil war there and delivered a force package designed to gather the weapons from an insurgent force that was affecting that country at that time.

So the answer is we must maintain our military effectiveness because our credibility as a political organisation, which in many ways we have also added to, depends on the military credibility that we have. That is what we can do and how we can produce an identity for ourselves that makes us very different from any other organisation and effective and efficient both in hard security and self-security terms.

Q (French Ambassador)
[Question in French about the weaknesses of Noah's ark!]

Lord Robertson:
When matters of life and death are at stake I usually like to rely not on my own knowledge of French but on the translator's accurate transmission of that which wasn’t coming through as well. But it is interesting to get a question from a member of the North Atlantic Council nonetheless. So, what was it? Sorry, I was trying to manipulate the interpretation equipment.

Q (French Ambassador)
(Repeating his question in English) Going into the ark is a very passive way to deal with the problem of the rest of the world, because the rest of the world in your comparison, is slaughtered. You have said that the weak states are one of the challenges. Do we rest quietly in the ark until the dove brings the olive branch?

Lord Robertson
Sorry, I thought that was what you said but with cameras at the back it is just as well to be precise in case you are answering precisely the wrong question. No, I am arguing that prevention is better than cure. I am arguing that building the ark that is built on those different planks, integral planks, is the way in which we can pre-empt the problems that will come having predicted the rain.

So it is by no means passive, as you know my views on this matter. We have to be able to look at where the areas of instability are, where the failed states are and might be in the future and put in place the institutions that will allow us in a rational way to prevent a lot of the problems that are coming, but at the same time we have still got to have the military capabilities that will allow us to deal with the unexpected or with the failure of deterrence, or with the implications of those actions coming about even when we have predicted that they might happen.

Question (John Palmer, Director European Policy Centre)
I was very struck by Lord Robertson's emphasis and insistence at a number of points in his remarks about the necessity of a broader international institutional co-operation. He referred to the European Union, to the OSCE and specifically, and importantly, to the United Nations and I wonder if I could invite him to give us a little hint about how radical he would like to be in seeing that become a reality.

What I'm really asking you is, does the existing architecture of all these organisations with their own identities, their long histories, permit the degree of effectiveness that you are seeking in such a co-operation. Hasn't the time come when one looks at the incredible penumbra of NATO out into large parts of the former Soviet Union, a degree of co-terminus with the membership of the OSCE, to at least ask the question, what should be the future structured relationship between these two bodies? Do we, or will we always continue to need them as totally separate bodies?

Secondly, does he have any specific ideas for how the relationship with the European Union could be structurally advanced to achieve the goals he wants and finally, and in my personal view critically importantly, has the time come to look more generally at a structured relationship between the United Nations and regional security organisations such as NATO, not least to leave absolutely no scintilla of doubt that such organisations will operate within the international rule of law represented by the United Nations and many of us would argue represented also by the International Criminal Court. I would like to know how far Lord Robertson would like to go in pursuing the idea of this intra-institutional alliance or coalition that he would like to see develop.

Lord Robertson
I remember when I was at school there used to be great activity at the back of classrooms where you drew up the best Scottish international football team ever and schoolboys slotted names in from the dim and distant past in order to get your ideal picture. I don't know whether we managed it theoretically. We haven’t yet managed it in current days. But it was a substitute for actually watching the real football game.

And I think sometimes there's a little bit of that where when in doubt try and rearrange the structures as if you could send a wiring diagram to a crisis and hope that it was going to solve it. It won't. And that is why I have specifically mentioned what happened in Macedonia last year. The structures between NATO and the EU which are structures that I think have enormous potential in ESDI have not yet been completed. They are sort of log-jammed at the moment, I think much to everybody's regret. But we simply got down to the job in hand.

And Javier Solana, myself and Mircea Geoana who was the Foreign Minister of Romania and Chairman in the office of the OSCE repeatedly went to that country to help to cajole, to persuade, to build a peace process, to try and avoid it escalating into what we had seen in so many other parts of the Balkans. So we didn't need to have a wiring diagram or some new structure to tell us what to do and where to write the letters and which meeting had to take place at what time. We just went ahead and we did it.

And I think that is a much better way of going about things than trying to say well let's have another great debate about structures. If that debate is important, there is a debate going on in the European Union about how it will cope with enlargement, there is a debate going on inside NATO about how we can remain effective and efficient and retain consensus for decision-making while we take in a lot of new members, and that will have to be concluded, as indeed the European Union's debate will have to be concluded if we are going to do it.

But let people dream dreams and think of structures, but there's a job of work to be done at the moment and I think by taking the strength of the OSCE, living within the framework of the United Nations as we do and NATO's founding Charter is based on that, taking the huge strengths of the European Union especially on the economic side and what NATO can deliver, then we can deal with some of the very small problems and some of the huge problems that are about but going back to institutional navel gazing is as productive as trying to work out whether a football player who was very good in 1897 would actually be very relevant to the football team of today is entertaining, but it's not terribly helpful.

Thank you very much Lord Robertson, we will now move on to our next guest speaker.

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