Updated: 11-Oct-2002 NATO Speeches

At the
Conference on
"The UN, the EU,
NATO and other
regional actors:
Partners in


11 October 2002

"Meeting today's security challenges:
working together, learning lessons, being bold"

Keynote address by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Appearances can be deceiving, especially in international affairs. Ten years ago, when the Cold War had come to an end, and our institutions started to grapple with the realities of the post-Cold War period, some predicted, and quite a few believed, that we were entering an era of institutional rivalry. Today, we see much more clearly. Our institutions are not rivals. They have become partners - "partners in peace", to quote the title of this conference.

Over the past decade, we have seen a convergence in our approaches to problem solving. We have seen pragmatic cooperation in response to pressing problems, notably in the Balkans. And at least partly as a result of this practical cooperation, we have also made considerable progress in developing closer links between our institutions.

So the general picture is a positive one. But this does not mean that we can sit back and wait for our institutions grow closer together through some sort of organic process. On the contrary, there is still much work for each of our organisations to do, in order to further develop our common potential for continued effective cooperation in the future.

Because one thing is crystal clear: closer institutional cooperation will be needed. It will be needed to deal with regional crises - which have been the focus of the project that culminates at this conference. But cooperation will also be crucial if we want to deal effectively with new threats to our security and stability, in particular terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Let me draw a few lessons from NATO's experience in responding to regional crises - from Bosnia, through Kosovo and Southern Serbia, to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(1) . And rather than to give you a historical overview and risk putting you to sleep at this early stage of the proceedings, let me focus on some of the key lessons we have learned, and that I hope will also stimulate your debate here today and tomorrow.

The first lesson is that, in today's Europe, even seemingly local conflicts can quickly become a major international headache. Regional conflicts do not affect only the warring parties themselves. They also threaten stability far beyond their point of origin. They threaten to draw in other countries. They cause large, potentially destabilising, floods of people. And they result in violations of human rights that we simply cannot ignore.

Think what the Balkans would be like today if the civil war of the 90's had been left to rage unchecked. Think too of the waves of refugees that would have swamped the rest of Europe. And of the likelihood of escalation and overspill.

This does not mean that we have to get involved in each and every regional conflict. Nor does it suggest that defence of our own national territories is no longer relevant. It does mean that there will be cases where indifference towards a regional conflict will be more costly, over the long term, than timely engagement.

This leads me to my second lesson, which is that it pays to engage early. To tackle a problem before it gets out of hand. We learned this lesson in Bosnia and Kosovo. And we applied it last year in Southern Serbia, where we took an active role in preventing a war. We engaged the Belgrade Government in a longer-term solution with appropriate confidence and security building provisions and we worked hard to facilitate discussions between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian armed groups in the area.

And just a few months later, we engaged early again in FYROM, where we took a strong stance against ethnic Albanian extremism. We urged the Skopje Government to show restraint in the interest of national unity, and we finally managed to convince both parties of the need for a political agreement.

A third lesson is that, when we see a need to engage in an emerging regional crisis, we should do so in a coordinated fashion. When I just spoke of what we had achieved in Southern Serbia and FYROM, the "we" referred not just to the NATO Allies, but to the entire international community. Because in both cases, close cooperation between our countries, and our institutions, was instrumental to our success.

In Southern Serbia, for example, after receiving NATO support, the European Union enhanced its monitoring presence, and the OSCE was able to set up a multi-ethnic police training programme. And in FYROM, while NATO was able to stem the fighting between the two parties in the conflict, the European Union and the United States were able to broker a political agreement between them. Another clear demonstration of the success of our institutions in complementing each other, and reinforcing each other's efforts.

A fourth lesson is that - provided we coordinate well and act promptly -- a relatively small number of highly professional people can make a real difference, and avoid a subsequent commitment of much more extensive resources in the form of a traditional peacekeeping operation.

Both in the case of Southern Serbia and that of FYROM, we swiftly despatched small teams of diplomats and military experts to stem emerging crises. When the peace process in FYROM required foreign assistance for a weapons collection operation, a relatively small NATO force was able to perform that task, swiftly and professionally. In both these regional crisis situations, we were successful because we despatched the right people, at the right moment, with the right mandate -- whether it was to bring protagonists to the negotiating table, to monitor cease-fire agreements, or to collect weapons.

This leads me to my fifth lesson, which is about military capabilities. Our Balkans experience clearly shows the need for military forces that are ready and able to conduct a wide array of operations - ranging from weapons collection to precision airstrikes. NATO Allies have made considerable progress in adapting their forces and procedures to such a multitude of challenges, working closely with the EU's Headline Goal process. But then came 11 September 2001 -- and we all had to shift gears. We had to adjust capabilities in order to be able to deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, on top of the requirements which peacekeeping and crisis management already imposed.

This has been an extremely difficult adjustment process for all the NATO Allies, and especially the European ones. But as Secretary General of NATO, I will not stop reminding the Allies of the need for new capabilities. We need lighter, rapidly deployable forces, with modern, secure command and control, so that they can work together effectively. We need high-tech capabilities such as precision-guided munitions, to prevail quickly with the minimum number of casualties. We need heavy transport aircraft to get the troops to the crisis and logistic support to keep them there. The message is getting across. At our NATO Summit, in Prague next month, will see real progress on developing these capabilities.

A sixth lesson I would draw is that effective crisis management requires the broadest possible coalition of nations, with a stable and coherent core -- both for political and for practical reasons. European security is, by definition, a concern to all the nations of the Euro-Atlantic Area. All have to pitch in, to the best of their abilities.

Bosnia and Kosovo demonstrate how effectively broad coalitions can bring results. Multinational forces were able to deploy quickly into those two theatres because NATO Allies and Partners had gained valuable experience working together in Partnership for Peace. NATO is keen to reinforce this potential. Hence our Prague Summit will endorse measures to enhance PfP, and to bring NATO's Partners even closer to the Alliance.

One NATO Partner that has already moved much closer to the Alliance this past year is Russia. That is very good news, not just for NATO and Russia. As a consequence, my lesson number seven is that Russia has to be engaged in peacekeeping and crisis management in Europe.

Together with Russia we are able to bring enormous resources to solve crises. And by working together, both at the conceptual level and in joint operations, we minimise the risk of divergence in the international response to a crisis. This may be difficult at times, even now that we have a new NATO-Russia Council in place. We must not shy away from this challenge, because Russia's constructive engagement will contribute to a coherent, Europe-wide approach to peacekeeping and crisis management, and thereby greater stability and security in the wider Euro-Atlantic region.

Lesson number eight is that Europe must be able to play a more concrete role in maintaining stability on its own continent. Other demands, including the global fight against terrorism, mean that the United States may no longer be willing or able to always take the lead in every future crisis on the European continent. Europe itself, of course, also needs to play a security role more in line with its political and economic stature.

FYROM last year was a good example of the European Union playing such a stronger security role -- assertively, visibly, and effectively, alongside NATO and the OSCE. We want, as a NATO Alliance, not only to beef up the potential of our European members, but also to open up the possibility for EU-led operations to benefit from NATO assets and capabilities, as well as planning support. We look forward to, and will support, the deployment of a EU police mission in Bosnia next year as a further step for the European Union.

My ninth lesson comes in the form of a plea to everyone involved in all of the institutions here today: to put aside political theology and look at problem solving from a practical not a dogmatic perspective. Ensuring peace, security and stability is not a zero-sum game. A role for the EU need not be at the expense of NATO interests, and vice versa. We have learned this at every stage in our Balkans engagement. Throughout the Balkans, our two organisations are working together efficiently and effectively towards a common goal. However, as one of the godfathers of the St-Malo agreement which launched the European Security and Defence Policy, I truly believe that there is potential for more. We must make an additional effort to build solid arrangements for NATO-EU cooperation on crisis management.

There are those who have been arguing that there is unnecessary competition between the EU's Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's new Response Force. To them let me simply say that as someone involved in dealing with real crises where real people can die, I would rather have both forces available than either on its own - or neither of them.

A final lesson I would draw from NATO's experience with regional crises is that it pays to be imaginative, to "think out of the box". These last few, very eventful, years, the NATO Council has displayed considerable flexibility and pragmatism. Still, I remember well how several NATO Ambassadors frowned when I announced my intention to charge a Special Representative with the Southern Serbia problem. But when I charged this same person to deal with the crisis in FYROM several months later this seemed the most normal thing in the world. It had become clear just how effective this person was, working together with a dedicated EU counterpart, and a small team of civilian and military experts from our organisations.

By the way, the person who was my Special Representative last year has turned from a NATO asset into an EU asset. Ambassador Pieter Feith now works with the EU Council Secretariat, and he will speak to you later today. An excellent case of cross-fertilisation between our institutions.

Another innovation, perhaps worth repeating in future crisis situations, were the frequent visits that I paid to Skopje last year, together with the EU's High Representative Javier Solana and the OSCE's Chairman in Office. We were able to decide on those visits quickly because of the informal working relationships that have developed between our organisations over the last few years, and because of my regular contacts with my counterparts at the EU, the OSCE and the UN.

I am a strong advocate of such a direct, hands-on approach. In coping with future regional crises, whether in Europe or elsewhere, we simply cannot use any pre-scripted scenarios or wiring diagrams. We have to be pragmatic, and we have to be innovative. Or we could be in deep trouble.

Indeed, I was struck by some of the ideas that are outlined in the papers for this conference. I noted with interest, for example, the suggestions for a more regional approach to peacekeeping, and for greater cross-fertilisation between regional organisations and initiatives. And I also read with interest the suggestions for enhancing police capabilities and to promote security sector reform - both areas in which NATO has in fact developed considerable expertise, working on the ground in the various Balkan theatres, and cooperating with our Partner countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is high time for us all -- all our countries, and all our institutions -- to take a bold approach -- not just in tackling regional crises, but also in dealing with the threat of terrorism. The NATO Allies, for their part, have shifted gear. They are working hard to enable the Alliance to deal with the full spectre of 21st century security challenges. Our Prague Summit next month will show that the Alliance is up to that task.

It is clear, though, that terrorism requires a response that goes well beyond military and security tools. Political, diplomatic, economic and law-enforcement measures are equally important in our struggle against terrorism. That struggle will be long and hard, testing our resolve as well as our imagination.

This past decade, our countries and our institutions have shown a remarkable common sense of purpose in dealing with a wide variety of regional crises. We have shown open-mindedness and flexibility, in recognising each other's strengths, and learning from past experiences. And we have shown a growing willingness and ability to complement and to reinforce each other's efforts.

We need that same approach now. To work together constructively towards a common goal. To present a united front against the threat of terrorism. Because if we want to remain partners in peace, and to strengthen our partnership, we must be prepared to address all the different threats to that peace, now and in the future. Together.

Thank you.

1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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