Updated: 12-Dec-2002 NATO Speeches


12 Dec 2002

“NATO after the Prague Summit”

by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here this evening and grateful to the Kondrad Adenauer Stiftung to organise this dinner event. It has only been a few weeks since the Prague Summit, and this is one of my first speeches reflecting on the Summit and what it actually means.

Before September 11th, 2001, Prague was foreseen by all to be an “enlargement Summit”. And to a great extent, it still was. A Wall Street Journal article a few days ago said that, by inviting seven countries to start accession talks, “NATO has achieved the greatest victory in the five decades of its existence, by finally erasing the effects of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and the Yalta Agreement, which had shackled Europe for half a century.”

Strong words. But it is certainly true that for the 19 current members of the Alliance, and for the seven countries invited to join, the Summit was another historic step in the true and voluntary unification of Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The prospect of NATO membership has helped to encourage, and to guide, the democratic reform process in all the aspirant countries, and to help settle outstanding disputes. Those achievements will be locked in when the seven invitees actually join our Alliance in Spring 2004.

As Timothy Garton-Ash said after the Prague Summit, Europe is rapidly becoming a place from which wars cannot start. NATO enlargement is helping to make that come true, in parallel with the EU’s enlargement process. As you know, the EU is holding a Summit meeting in Copenhagen in the next two days, where, among many other important decisions, invitations will be issued to 10 countries to join the European Union.

This is another major step in creating a Europe whole and free. We should never underestimate that dual NATO-EU achievement – an achievement that simply reinforces the importance of strong relations between the two organisations. We all hope very much that Copenhagen unlocks some solid progress in that regard.

Now, had September 11th never happened, my speech would have stopped here, which would have left rather of lot of time for questions. But it did happen. And it posed profound new challenges to the transatlantic community.

September 11th forced Europe and North America to address three fundamental questions head-on. The first question was simple: a decade after the Cold War, and in the face of new threats, do Europe and North America still want to work together? Or, put less diplomatically – was the US about to walk away from Europe, and from NATO?

The second question was equally simple: if Europe and North America still want to work together, what do they want to do together? And the third, to round it off: do they have, or can they develop, the capacities they need to work together and get the job done?

These three questions were festering under the surface of the transatlantic relationship even before September 11th. The terrorist attacks ripped the lid off of the debate, and made it unavoidable. As we headed towards Prague, we were all aware that we needed the right answers to those questions, if the transatlantic security relationship was to remain healthy.

In Prague, we got the answers we needed. First and foremost, the United States reconfirmed, in the clearest possible way, its commitment to Europe, to NATO, and to real transatlantic cooperation.

In the months leading up to the Summit, there was a flurry of newspaper editorials suggesting that the United States had lost interest in NATO. Some pundits were certain that Europe was of no more security interest to the US. Others were sure that Washington no longer saw NATO as an effective fighting machine. Still others suggested that the US was promoting a robust round of enlargement simply to “complete” Europe politically, as a prelude to moving on and engaging in security relationships further afield.

All of these so-called experts should take a close look at what happened in Prague. No Ally pushed harder for NATO reform than the United States. No country brought more ambitious ideas to the table. And no country laid out more concrete, realistic plans for how the Alliance, as a body, could improve its capabilities to take on new threats and challenges.

Through this Summit, the United States put to rest any notion that it is walking away from NATO, or from Europe. Indeed, Prague demonstrated just the opposite – that Washington sees transatlantic security cooperation within NATO as a crucial element of American foreign policy.

So Prague answered the first question facing the Alliance with a firm “yes”. Yes, the US is still engaged in NATO – indeed, more so than ever.

Prague also answered the second question this Alliance faced before the Summit: defining what Europe and North America wish to do together, in this new security environment.

Prior to the Summit, the US focus on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was seen by some in Europe as excessive, and to the detriment of other pressing needs. While in Washington, Europe seemed not to understand the gravity, and the immediacy, of the threat. In the months leading up to the Summit, the press was full of articles suggesting that Europe and North America simply had divergent strategic perspectives. Different, and potentially irreconcilable.

Prague put an end to that debate as well. As Chairman of the North Atlantic Council, I guided the discussions which led to the Statement agreed by NATO’s 19 Heads of State and Government. And I can tell you that when it came to defining the threats and challenges this Alliance faces, and the missions NATO should take on, there was no disagreement whatsoever.

NATO’s members all agreed completely that NATO must address head-on the threat posed by terrorism. Europe knows as well as North America that the new breed of terrorist considers all of our countries a potential target. The attacks in Bali, in Djerba, in Moscow, and now in Kenya only reinforce the fundamental truth that we are all at risk.

In the past, we could assume that even terrorists were rational, political actors, susceptible to deterrence and with a strong interest in keeping their violence within some limits if they were to achieve their political ends. But the key feature of this new terrorism is the mass murder of civilians – which is why the NATO countries also agreed to cooperate on defence against weapons of mass destruction. Al-Qaida left behind in Afghanistan documents, which proved their interest not only in acquiring “classic” WMD agents, but also in the “weaponisation” of diseases harvested from nature. That kind of threat only helped to unify transatlantic determination to take on this menace as well.

Prague also put an end to transatlantic debate on the “out-of-area” question. Allies agreed that in facing new threats, artificial geographic limitations make no sense. They agreed that NATO should deter, disrupt, defend and protect against threats from wherever they come. And that our forces must be able to go wherever they are required to carry out their mission.

In sum, at Prague, Europe and North America set out a common vision – of the threats we face, on how we should respond, and on where we might have to respond. It is a realistic and pragmatic vision, not of the past, but of our future. And in so doing, they answered any concerns about diverging strategic cultures.

But of course, vision needs substance to back it up. And the third question we faced, going into Prague, related to precisely that: capabilities. Even if we agreed to continue to work together; and even if we agreed on a common vision of what we wished to do together – could the Alliance transform its capabilities to actually deliver on the full spectrum of Alliance missions?

The Summit offered a very positive answer – but still only a partial one.

It has been clear for years that NATO’s military capabilities need to be radically restructured. Too many countries have heavy metal, Cold War forces that are unable to move quickly to where they are needed, and stay as long as necessary. Not enough have the high-tech capacities necessary to prevail quickly, and with minimum casualties. And one country – the US - is developing its capacities so quickly that a capability gap and a thinking gap threaten to make future transatlantic operations increasingly difficult to manage.

September 11th made these problems impossible to avoid. Many NATO members had enormous difficulty even getting to Afghanistan in a timely way, and had to hitchhike with other countries -- or even think of taking the train. Others found they couldn’t stay in Afghanistan for longer than six months, because they simply didn’t have the sustainment capacity. And all recognised that only the United States had sufficient high-tech capabilities to achieve victory over the Taliban and Al-Qaida so effectively.

It is unacceptable that our countries spend hundreds of billions of Euros on defence every year, but cannot deliver the military capabilities we need, when we need them. Over the years, various efforts to make improvements have been made, including within NATO. And they have delivered some results. But in the end, each initiative foundered on one of three shoals. Either the plan was unclear; or it did not have political support from the top; or it was deemed unaffordable.

At Prague, we demonstrated that we had learned our lessons. NATO’s 19 Heads of State and Government undertook to make major changes to Alliance capabilities. They approved a comprehensive package of measures at the Summit, all with one central aim – to ensure that NATO and especially its non-US Allies, can play an effective role in meeting new threats and challenges. And they took a dramatically different approach to making sure these improvements actually deliver.

First, they made clear and precise commitments. Through what we call the Prague Capabilities Commitment, each and every NATO nation pledged to make specific improvements to the key military capabilities we need today, such as strategic air and sea lift, air refueling, and precision guided munitions. And these pledges came with specific timelines for development. Already, a first.

Germany is playing a critical role in marshalling a multinational approach to our critical strategic airlift requirement.

Heads of State and Government also approved the creation of a NATO Response Force. The NRF, as we call it, will bring together the best forces in the Alliance. It will give NATO the ability to move very quickly, to wherever needed, and hit hard, to prevent or respond to an attack. The NRF will also be a focal point for modernising NATO’s interoperability. Which means that, when it’s up and running in two years, it will fill a huge hole in equipping the Alliance to deal with new threats, whenever and wherever required.

And like all improvements to NATO capabilities, it will complement the improvements taking place in the EU, including, of course, the EU’s Headline Goal.

NATO’s leaders also gave their blessing to a military concept for defence against terrorism. The concept will give guidance to NATO’s military planners on their preparations for deterring, disrupting, defending and protecting against terrorist attack. Heads of State and Government also endorsed the implementation of five nuclear, biological and chemical weapons defence initiatives, including the creation of vaccine stockpiles and mobile detection laboratories. All of which means that NATO will now bring its unique assets to bear in tackling terrorism, as part of the comprehensive international response to this threat.

At Prague, we also agreed to streamline NATO’s military command arrangements to make them more flexible, and more useable for 21st century missions. And we have begun to radically streamline the way we do business inside NATO headquarters, so that we can arrive at decisions quickly, even as the Alliance enlarges.

Taken together, these initiatives comprise a substantial, and substantive transformation of NATO’s military capabilities. Prague set out a blueprint for improvements to the full range of NATO’s capabilities. And this blueprint has a unique feature: it is both realistic and affordable.

The initiatives agreed at Prague won’t require vast new sums of money. Instead, they require that the vast sums of money already being spent on defence be better spent. NATO’s nations are looking at innovative new ways of getting more bang for the defence Euro – role specialisation; pooling of assets; joint procurement. All sensible ideas. All practical. All doable.

This is the great promise of the commitments made in Prague. But it is also a crucial challenge – and to be blunt, a challenge principally for Europe. If the European, and Canadian, Allies meet the commitments laid out in Prague, it will be a vivid demonstration of their determination to carry their fair share of the security burden.

If they do not, it will be very difficult indeed to argue with those in Washington who continue to see their Allies as free-loaders in security. Which is why I intend to do my best to ensure that, when it comes to capabilities, the promise of Prague is met, and met fully.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If September 11th ripped open a debate on NATO’s future, Prague closed it. The Summit demonstrated clearly that transatlantic unity is as strong as ever. And it sealed in stone a fundamental transformation of the Alliance, which will endow NATO with the policies, the structures and the capabilities we need to tackle the new threats and challenges of the 21st century. In Prague, we got the right answers. Which is why, to my mind, the Summit will go down in the history books as one of the most important in NATO’s history.

Thank you.

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