Updated: 30-Sep-2003 NATO Speeches

At the Winston


29 Sep. 2003


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Winston Churchill’s vision spanned Europe and the Atlantic. He was a passionate advocate of American engagement in the Old World. An early supporter of European cooperation. Even the proponent, briefly and in extremis, of union between Britain and France.

Churchill would have recognised today’s arguments for transatlantic separation or divorce. I am certain that he would have railed against them, as he did against the equally artificial divisions of the Cold War.

Those who believe that Europe and North America have separate destinies, conflicting interests or incompatible world views are taking a blinkered, short term approach to the transatlantic relationship.

This unique partnership was born in common philosophies of freedom and democracy. It was forged in half a century’s fight against tyranny. Now it stands as a beacon in a world faced by extremism and instability. A beacon of democracy, toleration, plurality, openness and order.

Yes, there are differences between us. Differences across the Atlantic. Differences within Europe and within North America. I rejoice in those differences. They are the reason why I abhorred the Soviet system. They are the reason why I became a democratic politician.

A strong partnership will overcome differences. In the Atlantic Alliance, in NATO, we have such a partnership.

We were able, at the height of last Spring’s deep and genuine disagreements over how to deal with Saddam Hussein to reach consensus on providing NATO military support to Turkey. Critics said Turkey’s request for help would break NATO. Instead it began to bind our wounds.

Within months, NATO had not only conducted a successful reinforcement of Turkey. It had taken over the international stabilisation force in Afghanistan, the Alliance’s first operation outside Europe, and begun to support Poland in setting up a multinational division in – of all places – Iraq. Based, believe it or not, at Camp Babylon.

Differences remain. They did when Allies disagreed over Vietnam. Or Cold War nuclear deployments in Europe. Or Star Wars. But these differences were not and are not deep enough to destroy NATO or the transatlantic partnership which it embodies.

Our critics forget that there is a powerful consensus underpinning this partnership. Not the consensus which saw us through the Cold War. Our world has changed utterly and that consensus is no longer enough.

Nor is it the consensus which guided the Alliance through the extraordinary decade of the 1990s, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Kosovo. In that time, NATO helped build a new Europe and became the vehicle for stabilising the Balkans.

These are still vital tasks. But in the 21st century, a still broader vision is needed to bind us together.

That vision was enshrined, less than a year ago, at NATO’s Prague Summit. I commend it to you.

It is a transatlantic blueprint for post 9/11 security. Not a lowest common denominator recipe for rhetoric or in action but a bold summary of the fundamentals which unite Europe and North America, and a blueprint for how we can act together to ensure our safety and security.

The Prague consensus starts from our common values and our common commitment to uniting the new Europe.

That means next year’s enlargement of both NATO and the EU. It means NATO’s groundbreaking working partnership with Russia, practical cooperation from the fight against terrorism through missile defence to reforming armed forces.

And it means the web of other partnerships across the whole of Europe and into the Caucasus and Central Asia, political and practical relationships which spread our values eastward and bring soldiers from Azerbaijan to help NATO keep the peace in Kosovo.

You do not often hear the chant “Yanks go home” from the peoples in Central and Eastern Europe who owe today’s freedom to the United States’ long-standing commitment to a Europe whole and free.

The second pillar of consensus is a shared assessment of the threats and challenges faced by the international community in today’s very new strategic landscape.

A shared assessment of the broad nature of the Soviet threat underpinned Alliance cohesion during the Cold War. Not everyone agreed on everything – think of Vietnam. The same applies to the new generation of risks.

No-one should mistake a disagreement about the tactics of implementing United Nations Resolutions against Iraq for a wider disunity on the dangers to us all from mass terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the chronic instability caused by failed states.

Compare NATO’s Prague Summit Declaration with the EU’s recent strategy document. They agree completely on both fundamentals and details.

Nor is there a divergence on the vital need to confront these threats where they arise. In the Cold War, our armies could sit on the north German plain waiting for an enemy who did not come. Deterrence worked. Now, however, we no longer have that luxury.

If we sit at home and wait for the terrorist, the dictator with WMD, or overspill from failed states to come to us – be assured that they will. Consider what would have happened in Europe if NATO had not acted in Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Or if a coalition had not responded to September 11 by destroying the world’s worst safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan.

How would Europe be dealing with endemic civil war in the Balkans? Or the diasporas caused by ethnic cleansing? Or the second, third or fourth wave of unhindered apocalyptic terrorism?

Confronted by the irrefutable evidence of a stark new strategic challenge, the 19 NATO countries again demonstrated the Atlantic Alliance’s inherent flexibility by explicitly agreeing that today’s security challenges must be confronted at their source.

Traditional arguments about whether NATO could or should operate outside Europe were confined to the dustbin of history. Critics who had challenged us to go out of area or out of business, implicitly expecting the latter, found suddenly that NATO was hard at work in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Not only NATO. This NATO Secretary General was also in Kabul only three days ago. It was my first visit, to a new NATO mission. But I was delighted to find that the lessons of multinational stabilisation operations in the Balkans have translated seamlessly across the continents.

I saw French and German airbridges flying in troops and supplies across the Hindu Kush from airbases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. I arrived at Kabul airport, which is run by Germans and guarded by Belgians. I met the German force commander, his British boss and his Canadian deputy in a Headquarters guarded by Italians.

I could go on but the list is a long one. 14 NATO nations, including Luxembourg, and 17 other countries provide soldiers to the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. It is of course early days yet I was told, and I could see, that they are doing a professional and effective job.

However, no-one should be under any illusion that Afghanistan will be an easy task or that our soldiers will be home by Christmas. The NATO nations have taken on an extremely difficult challenge, which I am afraid will cost us all in what is crudely called blood and treasure.

But this is a consensus decision from which there is no going back. Because if we abandon the people of Afghanistan, the international credibility of every NATO nation, and of the Alliance itself, will lie in tatters. The risk from mass terrorism will increase exponentially. And the prospect of ending the scourge of Afghan opiates on European streets will vanish.

I told the Afghans that NATO does not fail. It is the collective responsibility of all of us in the international community to ensure that I am proved right.

The next area of consensus covers the military tools needed to do tasks such as ISAF. At Prague, NATO’s Presidents and Prime Ministers signed up to a radical transformation of our national and collective military capabilities. This ranges from a streamlined new command structure through the cutting edge high capability NATO Response Force to individual enhancements under the Prague Capabilities Commitment.

Here too there is a synergy between what NATO is doing and the parallel modernisation of EU capabilities. NATO and the EU are acting in concert – as we do every day on the ground in the Balkans.

No-one should be surprised at that. There is only one pool of forces in Europe. The requirements of today’s mission, whether with NATO in Kosovo and Kabul, with the EU in Macedonia or the Congo, or the coalition in Iraq, are the same. And the arcane but vital Berlin Plus agreement reached earlier this year provides a blueprint for practical NATO/EU cooperation without unnecessary duplication or destructive competition.

We do, however, face an issue about which there is not yet consensus.

For although the NATO and EU countries are hard at work building up their capabilities, they have not yet faced up to a parallel problem which risks undermining that investment. In a nutshell, although we have 1,200,000 regular soldiers under arms in Europe and Canada, the vast majority are at present useless for the kind of missions we are now mounting.

The reasons are many and various. Some countries have outdated legal or constitutional constraints on where they are able to deploy their forces, especially if they are conscripts. Other countries do not have the capabilities required to deploy them abroad and supply them when they are there. Others still say they cannot afford to do so. Or their governments do not have the political will to argue the case for doing so with Parliaments and publics.

The result is that out of the 1.2 million soldiers available in theory in our standing armies, only some 250,000 are actually ready and able to be deployed. And today, with 80,000 European and Canadian soldiers on the ground the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, many governments argue that their armies are overstretched and cannot do any more.

There are honourable exceptions. France, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK and Canada are bearing a high proportion of the stability burden, not only in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq but in Africa and elsewhere.

The harsh truth is, however, that if our Governments are to continue to take on political commitments to do more militarily, whether in Afghanistan or Africa, or conceivably the Middle East, then they must improve the usability of their armed forces. If they do not, our political ambitions – whether in the UN, NATO, the EU or coalitions – will prove unachievable. And that, in my submission, would be a terrible setback for the multilateralism to which we all pay lip service.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have, I hope, demonstrated that there is a wide consensus underpinning the 21st century Atlantic Alliance. A consensus which is robust and relevant, and will prove stronger than yesterday’s tactical differences.

But I have also been frank about some of the challenges which we all face to ensure that this consensus is translated successfully from principle into practice.

I have done so in the spirit which I am sure Churchill would have brought to today’s debates – although without anything like his unique oratory.

I am a convinced and passionate Atlanticist, and at the same time a convinced and passionate European. Churchill’s time was a very different one and he would have understood these concepts in different ways. But he would, I am certain, have agreed fully that there is no contradiction between them.

From the Franco-British initiative at St Malo, through the prolonged negotiations to complete Berlin Plus, to the subsequent handover to the EU of NATO’s operation in Macedonia, I have welcomed the deepening of NATO’s strategic partnership with the EU.

It is my conviction that these two great organisations must work with each other in order to thrive. I have therefore been muted in my comments about the so-called Tervuren initiative, and the response it has provoked on both sides of the Atlantic.

I do not intend to stir the pot unduly today. But since Luxembourg is one of the originators of this initiative, let me end with this point.

You cannot create a stronger EU by weakening NATO. Nor, of course, can you sustain a vibrant transatlantic relationship if Europe and the EU remain militarily weak. We need both organisations to be healthy and strong, and genuinely willing to work together, if Europe and North America are to confront and overcome the risks and threats of today and tomorrow as we did their predecessors from the Berlin airlift to Kosovo.

Theology and rhetoric are no substitute for modern military capacity, and the structures and political will to use it effectively when circumstances demand. That is why NATO should endure, must endure and will endure.

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