Updated: 09-Dec-2002 NATO Speeches

At the NATO-

9 Dec. 2002

“The Role of the Military in Combating Terrorism”

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Minister Ivanov, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the second NATO-Russia conference focusing on the role of the military in combating terrorism. The first took place last February, just five months after the September 11th attacks in the United States. The grim memories of that terrible day gave urgency to our work.

Today’s conference also takes place in the shadow of further terrorist attacks, last week in Mombassa and before that the hostage-taking in the theatre on Dubrovka Street. The horror and the tragedy of that incident is still very fresh in our minds. The entire international community stood in solidarity with the Russian people, and in outrage against the terrorists. I expressed this solidarity and outrage on NATO’s behalf at the time. We still feel it today.

The hostage-taking in October was a terrible act. But it was more than that. It was also the latest symptom of a disease that is spreading through the international system. From Kenya and Tanzania, to New York and Washington, to Bali, to Djerba and again Kenya, and of course to Moscow and other Russian cities.

All of these terrorist attacks were intended to cause maximum civilian casualties. They all struck at the international community as much as at the immediate victims. And all illustrate a grim fact of the post-Cold War era – that terrorism has been transformed. It has mutated, like a virus, into the primary security threat of the 21st Century. If we are to counter this threat effectively, we must also transform our response.

Much has been said and written over the past year on how best to counter the threat of terrorism. Many analysts have stressed the importance of non-military tools – freezing terrorist financing; coordinating police work; tighter border controls; better inspection of shipping containers; and improved intelligence sharing. Let there be no doubt – these analysts are right. Non-military tools are crucial to winning this struggle, and to ignore them is to fail in our common endeavour.

But the military, too, must play its part. First, because the clear distinction between terrorism and warfare is fading. Today’s terrorists aim to inflict mass casualties, and weapons of mass destruction are increasingly likely to fall into their hands. As a result, terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida are operating at a higher level in the spectrum of violence, causing large numbers of casualties and greater economic damage.

The second reason for an important military role is that the distinction between internal and external security is fading. We used to be able to ensure external security by lining up tanks at the border, leaving internal security to our police forces. We can no longer rely exclusively on that division of labour. Terrorists can slip into our societies, and exploit our openness to inflict massive attacks – attacks that can require the expertise of the military to counter, or that have consequences that only the military can manage. It would be politically absurd not to use every capability at our disposal to deal with this new threat.

Thirdly, there is a military role because it will sometimes be impossible to protect our populations against terrorist attacks using defensive measures only. To prevent a clearly impending attack, or to respond to a successful attack, it may be necessary to deploy military assets offensively against terrorist networks, as in the case of Afghanistan.

For all these reasons, the military has a vital part to play in the comprehensive international campaign to defeat terrorism. The mission of the last century – territorial defence – is out-of-date and out of place. We must radically redefine what the military is to do if we are to meet today’s new challenges effectively.

In essence, the military have three main roles in combating terrorism. First, anti-terrorism: defensive measures to reduce the vulnerability to attack of our populations, territory, infrastructure, and information and communications systems. Second, counter-terrorism: offensive measures to track down, prevent, deter and interdict terrorist activities. And third, consequence management: measures to limit the consequences of terrorist attacks, and to stabilize the situation in the aftermath of such attacks, in support of civilian authorities.

But to deliver security, we need more than brilliant plans, and more than reporting diagrams. We need capabilities. The right capabilities.

What does that mean? It means being able to move quickly to deter, disrupt, defend or protect against terrorist attacks. With light, mobile forces. With sufficient strategic air and sea lift. With modern command, control, communications and intelligence. And with modern strike capabilities, such as precision guided munitions.

It also means having the equipment to detect any use of weapons of mass destruction. And the protection necessary to operate in an environment where such weapons might be used.

Above all, it means ensuring that our military forces receive the proper training to carry out these new missions. They must learn to interact with civilian law-enforcement authorities, to respect the rights and secure the trust of civilian populations, to serve as constables and peacekeepers as well as combatants. As we have seen all too clearly in many places in the world, even if the goal of stamping out terrorism is the right one, the use of disproportinate or inappropriate force in the absence of such specialised training can prove ineffective or even counterproductive.

Our military forces also cannot work in a political vacuum. There must be a political strategy to accompany any military counter-terrorist offensive if there is to be a lasting victory against extremists.

The military forces of yesterday – huge arsenals of battle tanks, static headquarters and inflexible soldiers -- are not only useless in meeting these new threats. They also divert scarce defence resources away from urgent and pressing modernisation. That is simply inexcusable in today’s security environment.

NATO is transforming to meet these new threats. The Alliance is fundamentally modernizing its policies, its structures and its capabilities to contribute to the international campaign against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Two weeks ago, NATO’s Presidents and Prime Ministers met in Prague. One element of their meeting was to offer invitations to seven European democracies that wish to join the Alliance. But they also gave approval to, and direction on, NATO’s military transformation to meet the new threats of terrorism and WMD.

They approved a military concept for defence against terrorism which will guide NATO’s planners. The concept lays down that NATO should be ready to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist attacks directed from abroad against our populations, territory, infrastructure and forces, including by acting against terrorists and those who harbour them.

NATO should also be ready to act in support of the international community’s efforts against terrorism. The Alliance should, if requested, provide assistance to national authorities in dealing with the consequences of military attack, particularly where these involve chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.

And NATO should be able to deploy its forces as and where required to carry out these missions.

NATO is not on its way to becoming the world’s policeman. No single organisation could do that, even if it wanted to. But NATO is on its way to becoming a much more effective partner in the international community’s response to 21st Century threats.

To meet these demanding requirements, NATO is taking concrete and immediate steps to modernise our military forces. At Prague, all 19 Governments made clear and specific commitments to develop a spectrum of military capabilities which make a genuine difference in today’s operations: heavy air and sea lift, air tankers, precision-guided weapons, chemical and biological defences, ground surveillance radars and so on.

We are also developing a NATO Response Force, which can go very quickly to where it is needed, either to forestall an attack or to respond to one. And we have started a radical streamlining of NATO’s command structure, to make it smaller, more flexible, and better suited for running and supporting missions in this new security environment.

These are only some of the concrete changes underway within the Alliance. They demonstrate that NATO is serious about transformation. And serious about defending our security against these grave new threats.

But NATO cannot go alone. Perhaps the clearest lesson of the past decade is that transnational security threats can only be met with multinational security cooperation. Regional conflicts, proliferation, environmental disasters, even organized crime and trafficking – these can only be solved through the broadest possible cooperation.

The same is true of terrorism. NATO member states, Russia and all the countries in the Partnership for Peace and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council face this same threat. More than that, they all have important contributions to offer to our collective effort.

That is why the Alliance is also stepping up its cooperation with our Partner countries in combating this scourge. NATO’s new Partnership Action Plan on defence against terrorism will focus our efforts, so that they are complementary, cooperative and mutually reinforcing.

But of course, cooperation with some countries is of particular importance if we are to be successful. First among them is Russia.

When, in years to come, historians assess the long-term impact of the recent upsurge in global terrorism, I believe that one of their most important conclusions will be that this is the era when Russia finally found her place as an indispensable part of the Euro-Atlantic community.

This is an era when Russia and the member states of NATO finally set aside their mutual suspicions and outdated stereotypes and became serious about joining forces.

This is an era when they became less concerned with reliving past disagreements, and more concerned with developing strategies to face down common threats together.

Twenty heads of state and government put us on a path toward that goal last May, when they created the NATO-Russia Council. And their representatives at all levels – Foreign and Defence Ministers, Ambassadors and Preparatory Committee representatives, Military Representatives and experts – have worked hard over the past six months to keep us traveling down that path on a whole range of issues.

For example, cooperation “at twenty” against the terrorist threat continues to deepen and grow. NRC intelligence experts exchange information regularly and have developed joint assessments of specific terrorist threats.

NRC Military Representatives continue to examine the terrorist threat to NATO, Russian and Partner forces deployed in the Balkans, and to ensure that this information is taken into account in the development of operational plans.

NRC proliferation experts are examining ways to keep WMD and ballistic missile technology out of the hands of terrorists.

Civil emergency planning experts are working to promote interoperability between Allied and Russian emergency response services. They are also taking steps to improve all our capabilities to manage the consequences of terrorist attacks for civilian populations. And an important early step was the large-scale, and very successful, exercise hosted by Russia in September.

There is also a very active NRC dialogue on defence reform. It is aimed at encouraging all twenty members of the NRC to achieve the kind of transformation of their forces I described earlier. After a very successful seminar on this subject in October, the NRC has decided to create a working group on defence reform, to explore concrete avenues of cooperation.

Here, Russia has the opportunity to share experiences with NATO member states as she gets to grip with the difficult process of reform and modernisation of her own forces.

I know from my own experience as Britain’s Defence Minister the obstacles and the difficult choices that are involved in defence reform and modernisation. But I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of these efforts.

The creation of mobile, well trained, well equipped forces is vital to our common success in confronting terrorism and other contemporary security challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here in Moscow, I don’t need to convince anyone that we face grave new threats to our safety, and to international security. Recent history leaves no doubt of that.

But in facing these unprecedented new threats, the Europe-Atlantic community has at its disposal something unprecedented as well: a true security coalition, with NATO and Russia as essential partners. That was the vision of President Putin – a vision shared by NATO’s Heads of State and Government. It is quickly becoming a reality, through trusting political dialogue and military-to-military cooperation. Our challenge here at this conference and in the future is to complete that vision – to transform the NATO-Russia relationship into a real platform for peace and security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area.

Thank you.

Go to Homepage Go to Index