Updated: 14-Oct-2002 NATO Speeches

At the Defence

14 Oct. 2002

"The World in 2015 - Predicting the Unpredictable"

Keynote Speech
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have asked me to engage in the kind of activity shrewd politicians should try to avoid: making predictions about the future. Predictions are a hazardous undertaking.

The Old Criminal Code of New York even considered prediction a criminal offence: “Persons who pretend to predict the future shall be considered disorderly and will be liable to a fine of $300 or 3 months in jail.”

Predictions are difficult. Think of the 1950s scientists who argued that we would all be using nuclear powered vacuum-cleaners in the 1960s. But we need to make them occasionally. Because the very exercise of prediction concentrates our minds. And clear thinking is something we will surely need in the years ahead.

So what kind of strategic environment will be face in 2015? Let me draw a balance sheet, starting with the bad news, and then moving on to the good.

My first prediction: more instability in the years ahead. The Caucasus, Central Asia, Northern Africa and the Middle East all offer a rich menu of instability. These regions are going through political and economic transitions of historic dimensions. Ultimately, these transitions will lead them in the right direction. But only the greatest optimist would argue that this process of change will be happening without major convulsions. The unequal distribution of wealth will remain a major source of instability in 2015. And tensions over key resources, such as water, will become a regular pattern as well.

My second prediction: more spillover. The instability I just described will not remained confined to the areas where it originates. There will be spillover into Europe. Spillover by way of migration, rising numbers of people seeking asylum, a booming industry in people smuggling, and all the rest that goes it with it: violence, drugs, diseases - you name it. In the world of 2015, with a population of over 7 billion, geography will no longer act as a 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 "911", that rule no longer applies. A special breed of terrorism has come to the fore - a breed driven not only by unachievable political aspirations, but also by the urge to kill. It is difficult to imagine how we could return this cruel genie to its pre 9/11 bottle. In short, in 2015, the major threats could be those we term "asymmetric" -- threats in which adversaries avoid direct engagement with us, but exploit the vulnerabilities of our open societies.

My fourth prediction: more failed states. September 11 has reminded us that even in an age of globalisation the state remains the central organising principle of modern civilisation. This will not change, even in 2015. But not every state is sustainable. In the past decade or so, we have seen too many states collapse, sometimes fragmenting into warlordism, financed by drug smuggling and other criminal activities. As Afghanistan has demonstrated, such failed states are a safe haven for terrorists. Once again, a reminder that what goes on in a country seemingly far away can affect us very quickly -- and fatally.

My next prediction: more proliferation. The spread of weapons of mass destruction will be a defining security challenge of this new century. It will lead to more fingers on more triggers. And not all of these fingers may be operated by rational minds. In such a situation, deterrence may not always deter. And the problem of proliferation is not confined to nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Transfers of conventional arms are a problem, too. And as far as this kind of proliferation is concerned, we already have ample proof that it can fan the flames of regional conflict.

All this adds up to a guaranteed supply chain of instability. But there is good news as well. Because I believe that despite the challenges we may face, the opportunities ultimately outweigh the risks.

The first piece of good news is that democracy will be the winner. The democratic model, in which each citizen participates and thus becomes a stakeholder, will continue to exert a tremendous attraction world-wide. The appeal of democracy is not just a moral one. It is also a pragmatic one: Democracies feature the best survival instincts in an increasingly globalised world: a penchant for problem solving, an ability to make compromises, and not least a built-in generosity towards less fortunate neighbours. All other systems will fall short of these requirements.

All this is not to say that every country will now suddenly turn into a textbook democracy, Westminster style. Speeds will differ, and models will differ as well, according to culture and historical experiences. And, as I alluded to earlier, some states may not make it at all. But I predict that large parts of the world without conventional democratic structures will follow the powerful trend towards more openness, and more participation by the individual. Because in the end, everyone will want his or her share of the globalisation cake.

The second piece of good news is technology. In some quarters of our Western societies, it may have become an ingrained habit to dismiss technological progress as inherently dangerous. Yes, technological progress does have its disadvantages, especially if it results in advanced weaponry falling into the hands of evil-doers. But let's not miss the forest for the trees. The fact remains that the integration of new technologies - information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and the like - will generate a dramatic increase in innovation. The effects of this innovation will be largely beneficial to us: to our economies as well as to our public health.

The third piece of good news is that in my view by 2015 the EU will have turned into a viable international actor, with a tangible Common Foreign and Security Policy. In 2015, the Union may well be twice its current size. Yet it will nevertheless have managed to develop a coherent foreign policy towards neighbouring regions: Russia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Northern Africa. EU countries will also have made progress towards improving their defence capabilities, by reducing wasteful duplication, pooling key assets, and effecting modest increases in defence spending. In short, by 2015 the EU will have moved beyond the economic powerhouse that it already is. By the middle of the next decade, the Union will also be a political force to be reckoned with.

The final piece of good news is that the transatlantic security partnership will still be alive and kicking in 2015. Because even in 2015, and despite - indeed, in part because of - a more powerful Europe, the U.S. will provide the indispensable core around which most military coalitions will be built. The centrepiece of this link, NATO, will still be around as well. In some ways, the Alliance of 2015 will bear little resemblance to the NATO of today. Like the EU, NATO's membership will have grown to about 30 countries. Russia will not be a member yet, but a close associate. The relationship with our Partner countries will have deepened further. We'll be cooperating with our Partners on all aspects of security sector reform, on combating terrorism, and on crisis management.

But in other ways, the continuities will be striking. NATO will still be a military organisation, the most powerful and effective in the world. Alliance military capabilities will be developing further towards long-range power projection. Because that will be where the military challenge will lie. Specific NATO rapid reaction units will have been created, to address terrorism and other new challenges on short notice. All this will be in line with a security environment that will no longer allow us the time to debate what's "in" and "out-of-area".

Protection against the effects of weapons of mass destruction, including missile defences, will play a much larger role as well. NATO's unique planning capabilities will be drawn upon not only by the Allies, but by other coalitions and institutions. And, very importantly, we will also have a new Headquarters by then!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the beginning of my remarks I argued that the opportunities will outweigh the risks. Now, after I have drawn my brief balance sheet of bad and good news, you can see why I stand by that statement.

There is, however, a condition attached. The condition that we continue to invest in defence. Indeed, sufficient investment in defence is the sine qua non for managing the challenges that the world of 2015 has in store for us.

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 right military capabilities you have, the less you may need to use them.

I said the "right" capabilities because we need capabilities for the future, not for the past. We need more wide-bodied aircraft, and fewer 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.

Where do these capabilities come from? Let us be realistic. Most Allies defence budgets are tightly constrained. Even those who have made the courageous step and increased their budgets have limited flexibility. But that does not mean that we should be idle. We can afford new commitments -- through reprioritisation, through role specialisation, or through multinational cooperation. There are also gains to be made by innovative schemes for procurement and acquisition, such as leasing certain assets, for example.

But the defence industrial side also offers potential. A little while ago, it seemed that we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. In Europe, we had a shrinking defence industrial base, ever dwindling defence budgets, and - within those budgets - less money spend on R&D. In the US, we had a major defence industry consolidation process, paired with enormous budget increases and very restrictive regulations on technology transfer to Allies. All this did not bode well for transatlantic defence industrial cooperation.

Today, we can be more optimistic. Some European countries have decided to increase their defence budgets. Others are using surgery on unneeded, but expensive, capabilities. There are now encouraging signs of defence industry consolidation within Europe. And there is movement on the issue of US export policies.

These steps go in the right direction. But we are not moving fast enough. Accelerating the process of defence industry transformation is a challenge for the experts to ponder. And I can think of no better group of high-calibre experts than those assembled here today. This meeting is in itself testimony to what I referred to earlier as the "survival instincts" of our democracies in an age of globalisation: if there are problems, we'll have to solve them.

So I stand by my statement. The world of 2015 will offer no shortage of challenges, but none of them is insurmountable if we prepare for them now. That way, we can make sure that in the world of 2015, very much like today, the opportunities will outweigh the risks. For the better of future generations.

Thank you.

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