Updated: 05-May-2003 NATO Speeches

Washington D.C.

5 May 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the Atlantic Councils Salute to the New NATO

I am honored and delighted to be here tonight at what is first and foremost a celebration of the most important international relationship on the planet – the transatlantic partnership between North America and Europe.

Together, our two continents are the biggest force for good in global history, the core of the free, democratic and prosperous world.

This is a true partnership. But its abiding value is not just in its existence, but because it is the best instrument to tackle the challenges which confront us all today.

Ours is not a disciplined homogenous bloc, with identical policies and a strict party line. We are the international equivalent of the United States – diverse, energetic, idealistic, democratic, stubborn and sometimes quarrelsome but uniquely effective when we harness our collective abilities.

In times such as this, it is tempting to accentuate the negative. To focus on differences over Iraq or European defense. To consign the Atlantic Alliance to an honorable place in the history of the 20th century and look for other ways to deal with 21st century challenges.

How wrong that would be.

For America and for Europe, there is no credible substitute for close and active cooperation with each other if we are to preserve the peace and security built in the last century into our new millennium.

And I am here to tell you that the vehicle for this cooperation not only exists, but is hard at work addressing – successfully – the common challenges we all face in this post-9/11 world of globalized insecurity.

The Atlantic Alliance – NATO – is neither broken nor marginalized. But neither is it the NATO of the 20th century.

Since 9/11, the governments of North America and Europe have – with a little help from Joe Ralston and myself – undertaken a profound transformation of the Alliance. The success of that transformation was widely recognized at last November’s Prague Summit – and then, it seems from the media, promptly forgotten.

Had we declared victory after Prague and sat on our collective laurels, that loss of memory and the current skepticism about NATO’s future might have been justified. But the fact is that having passed our theory test with flying colors in 2002, we are putting the reinvented NATO into practice in 2003.

Some of you who have taken your eyes momentarily off the transatlantic ball since Prague may be thinking that this Secretary General has taken one too many happy pills.

Not so.

I know very well the trendy argument that the United States no longer shares the same perspective as its NATO Allies. Power against paradise. Mars against Venus.

It is true that there are genuine and substantive disagreements about how to deal with some of today’s threats. All Allies could sign up to Resolution 1441. Not all believed it was right at this stage to implement the Resolution by force.

This is not new. You did not have to question the Communist threat in Asia to refuse to join the United States in the jungles of Vietnam. Or to disbelieve the Soviet threat in Europe to query the wisdom of INF deployments and Star Wars.

My predecessor, Lord Carrington, described the Cold War Alliance as singing in harmony, not unison. The same applies today.

And for those who argue that the difference now is that the Allies no longer share a common vision of the threat, let me summarize the risk analysis which underpinned our transformation decisions at Prague.

This is an era of greater and globalized instability, which affects us wherever we live. Afghanistan under the Taliban exported instability to its neighbors, drugs to Europe, terrorism and refugees throughout the world. Other failed states pose similar threats.

The scale of these threats has also increased. Today, terrorism is more international, more apocalyptic in its vision, and far more lethal than before. And the spread of bio-chemical and nuclear weapons is already a defining challenge of this new century.

All this adds up to a guaranteed supply chain of instability and trouble. A security environment in which threats can strike at any time, without warning, from anywhere and using any means.

I see no deep fundamental division here between the perceptions of Allies on either side of the Atlantic, or between old and new Europe.

Most importantly, this common analysis has produced results. During the course of 2002, it led to two of the most profound changes in post-war security: the building of a genuine working partnership of equals between NATO and Russia; and the agreement that NATO should step above its traditional theological squabbles and be prepared to go out of area instead of out of business.

Generations of NATO wonks represented here tonight should need no reminder of the fundamental and long lasting importance of these decisions.

So let us move on to a second major criticism. That NATO is doomed because Europe is militarily puny, without the will to invest in the capabilities at the heart of today’s armed forces.

Until recently, I was the last person to defend the European performance on capabilities. Since the end of the Cold War, it was, with some honorable exceptions, lamentable.

But during 2002 the picture changed. I of course would like to take the whole credit, but Prague represented a collective watershed, a convergence of realistic aspirations with a determination to provide the tools to do the job.

Transformation cannot and will not happen overnight. Ask Don Rumsfeld.

But we are making real progress. And the lessons of Iraq demonstrated that the priorities we set at Prague were the right ones: precision weapons, ground surveillance, chem-bio defense, and the means to move forces quickly and supply them effectively once they arrive.

I am determined to keeping up the pressure on Presidents and Prime Ministers to deliver on the commitments they made at Prague. If I think they are not doing so, I can promise that you and they will hear about it.

Meanwhile, we are pressing ahead even more quickly than expected with NATO’s new Response Force, the tip of our high capability 21st century spear. Here too, we will learn the lessons of Iraq to ensure that all NATO Allies can contribute effectively to the most demanding military operations.

Making sure that military transformation is a transatlantic exercise is one reason why we are creating a new NATO Strategic Command – for Transformation – and based in Norfolk. But it is also why I am so committed to NATO’s strategic partnership with the European Union.

There is genuine complimentarity between NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment and the EU’s Headline Goal. They both underpin the arcane but vital Berlin Plus arrangements, formalized this spring, which can turn our two organizations into twin pillars of security cooperation for this new century.

But the Prague Capabilities Commitment, the Headline Goal and other more recent initiatives must all deliver concrete results if they are to be more than rhetorical white elephants.

NATO is producing real improvements to European capabilities. So is the EU. We should judge what others are proposing by the same strict criteria.

The third criticism is that no matter what capabilities the Europeans acquire, they no longer have the political will to use them. NATO is therefore condemned to military irrelevance.

Those who put this argument have not been concentrating on the real world, where NATO and its European members are increasingly playing key roles in dealing with the challenges I set out earlier.

In addition to the Balkans and anti-terrorist operations in the Mediterranean, NATO has just ended its precautionary deployment of AWACS aircraft, anti-missile systems and chem-bio defenses to Turkey.

What began in a blaze of negative publicity turned into a minor success story: NATO doing its job of protecting its members effectively and without fuss.

With hindsight, the eleven days taken to reach the initial deployment decision was more an example of consensus building in difficult circumstances than evidence of transatlantic fragmentation. As I said at the time, the issue really was not whether to deploy but when to take the decision.

The headline: “NATO meets its Treaty commitments” should not raise too many eyebrows. Especially since we invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty within 24 hours of the September 11 attacks. However, “NATO in Afghanistan” would certainly have done so, even a few months ago.

But the decision taken last month that NATO will, from August, take responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul passed by with surprisingly little notice and comment.

Perhaps that is because we have become used to the NATO Allies taking the lion’s share of this important part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, led at the moment by a German-Dutch headquarters.

Whatever the reason, NATO’s decision is undoubtedly another watershed moment, as important as the first NATO involvement in the Balkans.

Only months after Prague, we are putting the new NATO blueprint into practice. And doing so at a time when the received wisdom is that transatlantic differences on Iraq make consensus on other issues impossible.

Indeed, it is now quite natural for NATO Foreign Ministers to look beyond Afghanistan to consider a possible role for the Alliance in post-conflict Iraq. That is also what happened last month. We are not at the stage of taking decisions, but no Ally is ruling out a role in the right circumstances.

This is hard-nosed, pragmatic multilateralism in action by an Alliance that has adapted, and is now demonstrating that it can deliver when the going is at its toughest.

That is why tonight’s theme, “Salute to the New NATO”, is so appropriate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am told that when the Washington Treaty was signed in April 1949, the State Department band played “It ain’t necessarily so” and “I got plenty of nothing“ – proof positive that diplomats are pessimists by nature.

Politicians are more optimistic. I look forward to visiting the first NATO deployment in Kabul later in the year, when I expect the band to be playing “Doing what comes naturally”.

Go to Homepage Go to Index