Updated: 04-Nov-2002 NATO Speeches

At the "Welt am
Sonntag Forum",


4 Nov. 2002

The Summit Ahead: Accession, Transformation, Capabilities

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The British author Samuel Johnson once said that the thought of being hanged concentrates the mind. September 11 showed us the gallows. And it concentrated our minds. The talk about a transatlantic crisis, about Kyoto, about steel tariffs, stopped. We invoked Article 5. We went to Afghanistan. We ousted the Taliban and gave that torn country a new lease of life. We dealt a major blow to Al Qaida. And in doing so, we sent a strong message: we do not bow to terror. We do fight back.

Given the enormous complexity of the task, the Afghanistan campaign can be labeled a real success. But it is only one chapter in the struggle against terrorism. The need to concentrate our minds has not diminished. Djerba, Bali, and most recently Moscow have shown that this is going to be a long struggle - a struggle against an elusive enemy, an enemy without a face, indeed an enemy without a territory.

Not surprisingly, therefore, views will differ about the proper strategy. What is the right mix of military and political instruments in our struggle against terrorism? Which means are legitimate, which are not? How can we remain faithful to international law and yet move it forward to better take account of the new threats?

These and many more questions are currently being asked within our transatlantic community. We haven't found all the answers yet. Indeed, on some issues we may disagree. Yet I am not concerned about such disagreements, as long as we do not lose sight of the broader issues at stake. My "rule No. 1" on transatlantic relations is that we can afford to disagree on tactics, as long as we agree on strategy. We can afford to argue about specifics, as long as we agree on the fundamentals.

What are these fundamentals? Let me state three:

First, terrorism has changed from a domestic law enforcement issue to a top issue of international security. We used to think that "terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead". But that clearly no longer applies. A new breed of terrorists has come to the fore - a breed that wants to kill, and to kill in large numbers. To them, the body count is what matters.

Now, we can argue about the roots of terrorism until we are exhausted. We can ponder the question whether terrorism is largely a social phenomenon, an ideology, or just plain evil. But amidst this pondering we shouldn't forget the fundamentals: for our people and our societies terrorism poses a mortal danger - a danger we must protect ourselves against here and now.

The second fundamental, which we should all agree on, is the danger posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction. North Korea's recent admission to having a nuclear programme was a chilling reminder that proliferation is a key security challenge of the 21st century.

Again, we can vigorously argue about details: How fast does proliferation happen? Can it be reversed? Should we put our faith in diplomatic or in military solutions? But, again, the fundamentals should not be obscured: we need to find ways to protect ourselves against this emerging threat, right here and right now.

This brings me to my third fundamental point: when it comes to safeguarding our security against these new threats, there is no alternative to the transatlantic relationship. There is no alternative to Europe and North America working together. Yet again, we can endlessly argue about the specifics of this relationship. Is the transatlantic security bargain still a fair bargain? How can Europe exert more influence on the world's only superpower? Is Washington committed to genuine multilateralism? But here too, the urge to find answers to these questions must not distract us from the fundamental issue: the transatlantic relationship remains indispensable for our safety and security.

That is a bold statement, I know. And it may seem predictable, coming from the Secretary General of NATO. But in less than three weeks' time, at our Prague Summit, the Alliance will recognise these fundamental truths, and take major decisions in accordance with them. The transformed NATO that will emerge from this Summit will bring home to even the most ardent sceptics that when it comes to managing security, there is no alternative to Europe and North America acting together.

So what kind of major decisions can we expect from the Prague Summit?

First, on terrorism, NATO is not set to transform into the world's counter-terrorist organisation. The challenge is too complex for any single body to tackle, and there are other tasks which NATO still needs to do.

But at Prague we will unveil a major enhancement in the Alliance's capacity to contribute to the defeat of terror. Some measures may not appear glamorous: operational concepts and collective planning rarely set the pulse racing. But they are as essential as increased intelligence-sharing, defence against cyber attacks, or our Partnership Action Plan on defence against terrorism. And there is agreement, at last, that there is no geographic limitation on Alliance action: NATO must be able to field forces wherever they are needed. In short, Prague will demonstrate clearly that NATO is becoming a focal point for coordinating and planning the multinational military contribution to our defence against terrorism and other asymmetric threats.

Second, on weapons of mass destruction, September 11 brought home with brutal clarity that deterrence may not always work. We will not always be dealing with rational people calculating risks in terms we can understand. These enemies of peace may judge that the best way to inflict casualties in large numbers is to use chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological weapons. And the harsh truth is that we cannot guarantee that weapons of that kind are not, or will not be put, in their hands.

So if we take our job seriously, we have to prepare for this contingency. Our soldiers will therefore be better equipped and trained to deal with attacks by weapons of mass destruction when they deploy on missions. They will also be better able to support civilian authorities if such attacks were ever to take place on home soil. And NATO will develop collective capacities, including mobile detection teams, mobile expert response teams, and vaccine stockpiles.

The third set of decisions relate to capabilities more broadly. If someone had told me two years ago that soldiers from Germany and other NATO nations would soon be on duty in a country that has a common border with China, I guess I would have been as incredulous as anyone else. Today, this implausible scenario has become reality. You can hardly make a better case for the need to be prepared for the unexpected.

What does this mean for NATO's future as a military organisation? It means that we have to move from threat-based planning to capabilities-based planning. And it means that we have to accelerate the transition from Cold War, heavy metal forces, to lighter, more flexible, and more mobile forces.

At Prague, we will demonstrate that this transition is indeed accelerating. First, NATO nations will commit themselves to acquiring a spectrum of those capabilities which make a genuine difference in today's operations: heavy lift, air tankers, precision guided weapons, chemical and biological defences, ground surveillance radars and so on. Second, we will develop the US proposal for a NATO Response Force from a national idea into multinational reality. And thirdly, we will initiate a radical streamlining of NATO's command structure to make it better suited for running and supporting missions in the post 9/11 security environment.

Sounds good, you may say, but who pays? After all, 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. Germany's leading role in strategic airlift is a good example of how to achieve more synergy within a constrained budget - of how to achieve "more bang for the Euro".

Let us be clear: Some of these measures will take a long time to bear fruit. Many of them will be painful financially. And some of them will be painful politically. Hence, I sometimes encounter the view that it cannot be done - indeed, that it should not even be tried. And Germany is sometimes singled out as a case in point. A country simply too cash-strapped to accelerate the transformation of its forces.

But I believe that the pessimists are wrong. Germany has demonstrated on many occasions that determined and skilful political leadership can achieve progress even if the odds may look unfavourable.

This was the case in the 1950s, when the controversial issue of German rearmament and NATO membership was pursued against a groundswell of public opinion. It turned out to be the right decision, and the German population quickly embraced both the Bundeswehr and NATO. The same dynamics emerged in the dual-track decision in the 1980s. The government stayed the course amidst widespread public opposition - and it prevailed.

In the early 1990's, German soldiers went "out-of-area", both in the Balkans and in UN-operations outside of Europe. Many in Germany had hesitations. But these disappeared once it became clear that entire international community applauded this move. And it is only a little over three years ago, during NATO's Kosovo campaign, that the German Government again stayed the course - and in doing so, helped to stop and reverse the largest deportations in Europe since 1945. Today, German Special Forces are involved in cave-clearing operations in Afghanistan. Next year, Germany and the Netherlands may take over the command of the International Stabilisation Force in Kabul. The only surprising thing about this development would have been had the Germans not shown up.

I am recalling these examples because they contain a valuable lesson for all of us: Don't be afraid to do the right thing, even if it appears unpopular. Stay the course. Public opinion is important, but it can never be an alibi for inaction.

Our populations expect us to protect them. They want us to take care of their safety and security. It is our job to live up to their expectations. But it is also our job to remind our populations that security comes with a price tag. If this case is made honestly and forcefully, our publics will not just accept what we are doing, but support it wholeheartedly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Time does not permit me to dwell on all the different aspects of the Prague agenda. Yet there can be no mentioning of Prague without noting at least one more key item of NATO's transformation: the invitation between one and nine countries to join the Alliance. We will not decide who will be invited until the Prague Summit itself. However, it is already clear that what will happen at Prague will both mark an end and a beginning. It will mark the end of Europe's division, as it will consolidate Europe from the Baltics to the Balkans. And it will mark the beginning of a new, bigger, outward looking Euro-Atlantic community, a community that is able and willing to engage wherever our security interests demand it.

This larger community will also include a new Russia. A Russia that no longer looks at NATO and NATO enlargement with fear or resentment, but a Russia that has realised - just as we have - that the new challenges of security require us to work together. For Germany, which has played a key role both in the enlargement process of NATO and in the search for a closer relationship with Russia, this should be seen as a crowning achievement. Because this country is now truly "surrounded by friends", as the saying goes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ten years ago, a Polish politician was asked by a NATO-diplomat why his country was so keen on joining NATO. His answer was clear and simple: "We want to get into NATO for the same reason you don't want to get out". This is a statement worth recalling. Because it really puts our transatlantic squabbles in perspective.

We may sometimes think that the transatlantic relationship is in disarray. But there are those outside NATO who would only be too willing to join that "disarray". Indeed, those who are on the outside looking in may sometimes have a better appreciation for the fundamental truth that we ourselves, on the inside, seem to miss occasionally: that this Alliance is a most precious achievement, a strategic asset of tremendous value. The Prague Summit will demonstrate why the Alliance will retain its value. It will ensure that NATO's transformation will make a quantum leap forward. Thank You.

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