Updated: 10-Mar-2004 NATO Speeches


9 Mar. 2004

How global can NATO go?

Video lecture by Jamie Shea,
Deputy Assistant Secretary General for External Relations

Questions and answers following the video lecture
Video interview
Audio file .MP3/14243Kb

Jamie Shea: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. This is Jamie Shea once again from NATO Headquarters here in Brussels. And I'm also very pleased to welcome again to this lecture on NATO friends and colleagues at the Marshall Center at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. You were with me at the beginning for the first lecture, and therefore it's very appropriate that you are here also at the end. So greetings to you, and thank you once again for participating.

Well, today's lecture is the last in the series of five that it has been my honour to present to you over the last few weeks. But given the speed with which NATO is changing, I hope that obviously there can be another lecture series at some time in the future.

But as we come at least to the end of the present cycle, the big question of course is if NATO has a future, then what is it. And when I started to think about this question a few days ago, I remembered the phrase of a former Supreme Allied Commander, General Joulwan, who was the SACEUR when NATO launched its first ever big peace support operation in Bosnia in 1995. And every time that General Jalwin addressed the NATO ambassadors, he would always end his briefing with his classic phrase, 'One team, one mission,' which became a little bit of a mantra for the Alliance in those days.

And it's true that if there is still one team, nonetheless there are… there is no longer one mission. In fact, there are several missions, as we found out over the last few weeks in these lectures. In addition to Bosnia we now have Kosovo; we've had Macedonia; we have Afghanistan, which is being expanded shortly; no doubt a greater role in Iraq. NATO is being tipped also to help implement a Middle East peace process if one could ever be arrived at. Rather like Star Trek, in which there are always new horizons and new galaxies to be explored when one finishes, so the horizons for NATO now seem to be almost infinite.

And if it's true that there is one team, in terms of one NATO organization here, if we look at it a little bit more closely, we have to acknowledge that the team also is always evolving. In just a few day's time we will have a ceremony here in Brussels, on April the second in fact, to welcome seven new members into the Alliance. We have relations with 27 partner countries around the globe, and we have also a dialogue with seven countries in the Mediterranean. And there is talk now not only of reinforcing those partnerships but expanding them too, of working more closely with countries in the greater Middle East.

In fact, the other day I went along to the normal weekly meeting of the North Atlantic Council, and on the agenda we had China, Afghanistan, Iraq, and international terrorism. It really did seem, based on that agenda alone, that the age of the global NATO had arrived. In fact, in addition to our standard partnerships, we're now also talking about triple-nons, which is NATO jargon for those countries who are not NATO members and not EU members and not yet, at least, in the Partnership for Peace. And those triple-nons, in addition to China, now include Japan, with which NATO conducts an annual high-level security dialogue, and Australia, which is coming here next week for its annual strategic session with the Alliance. We've had a NATO seminar also in Argentina.

So the definition of the team, in the sense of those countries willing to work with NATO and participate in NATO missions, seems to be also going increasingly global.
Now, the French have a proverb which says, 'Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint,' which, very loosely translated by me, means that who tries to grasp everything doesn't really hold onto anything. Is that the inevitable destiny of the Atlantic Alliance, to become more diffused, less focused, to exchange one big mission, one big identity, holding the balance of power in Europe during the Cold War, for a mass of smaller missions, and even competing identities? Will NATO become like the United Nations has been at some of its weaker moments, or like the League of Nations was before World War II, an organization simply unable to shoulder the massive increase in security burdens and responsibilities placed up on it?

Now, when the Cold War came to an end, it was often said that NATO was the victim of its own success, that we had, if you like, brought about conditions of peace in Europe in which the existence of the Alliance was no longer necessary, that we'd done ourselves out of a job. Now this judgement, that NATO is the victim of its own success, could apply in a different way. It's because NATO has so successfully transformed since the end of the Cold War, because it's been able to get to grips with the change in the security environment and handle new missions like peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan, new forms of partnership, face up since September the eleventh to the challenges of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction… because of this, NATO has created problems for itself because it's increasingly seen not as the instrument of last resort but the instrument of first resort whenever anyone is seeking any kind of response to those security challenges.

So more and more business is coming our way. Can the organization transform fast enough to tackle all of those challenges simultaneously, or will the result be inevitably that we have to give up some to better do the others, or that we will buckle under the weight of all of those tasks?

Indeed, it's the very absence of alternatives that's put NATO centre stage. Frederick the Great of Prussia used to say back in the eighteenth century that diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments. And NATO isn't unique in that it combines the diplomatic machinery with the military capabilities that gives it both capability and, increasingly, legitimacy.

I recall during the Kosovo air campaign that we suffered on the one hand from not having a specific UN Security Council resolution endorsing NATO's action against Yugoslavia to stop the ethnic cleansing. But on the other hand, I also remember that, for many commentators and for a vast chunk of our public opinion, the fact that 19 NATO Allies had deliberated and had judged independently, in full sovereignty, to go ahead with that mission, that many NATO Allies like Germany had had that mission endorsed by their Parliaments, that 19 democracies would never launch an aggressive operation not justified in international law. That was also a very powerful sense of legitimacy in its own right.

Indeed, as NATO becomes increasingly solicited, it may be an interest of the Alliance, and a future task of this Alliance, to encourage the development of many mini-NATOs in other regions around the globe based on the same principles of democratic decision making and integrated military structures so that the will be able to handle in their regions the type of tasks that NATO has handled in the Euro-Atlantic area, and therefore avoid the need for a globalized NATO being pushed increasingly into vacuums because of an absence of similar type of organizations. At least it's the first point that I would invite you to reflect upon in my lecture today.

Now, Ernest Hemingway used to advise his readers not to confuse activism with activity. And much of what you see today in NATO, I hope at least I've convinced you of this over the last four lectures, is indeed the real thing: activity dealing pragmatically, concretely with the issues of the day, and not simply a mindless activism to give NATO a role and a raison d'être which may otherwise be lacking. So if I've convinced you of this and you agree with me that NATO does have a future, then the question of course today in this final lecture is what will that future most likely be.

Now, speculating, ladies and gentlemen, is always a perilous exercise. Napoleon used to say that no plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy, and therefore no scenario that I could outline would probably survive the first contact with reality. The British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked what kept him awake at night, and he replied, 'Events, dear boy, events.' And therefore it will undoubtedly remain true that NATO's future, NATO's transformation, will be in response to upheavals, events, predicted or unpredicted, like September the eleventh, more than follow grand designs or grand visions of the day.

That is not to say that NATO doesn't need a strategic concept or is occasionally to put down on paper its thoughts about where it is going. We had a Harmel exercise to do this back in the 1960s. We formulated a strategic concept in 1991. But already we had to totally rewrite that strategic concept in 1997. So of course there is the danger that, were we to spend a great deal of time on a similar exercise today, either it may be out of date before the ink was dry on the paper, and therefore lose some of its value, or it could turn out to be a straitjacket, pushing NATO in certain directions at a time when the security environment is going in a different direction, and thereby limiting our flexibility and our options to adapt.

The beauty of NATO's founding treaty, the Washington Treaty of 1949, with its 12 articles, is it practically puts no limit at all on what the allies may do voluntarily together, provided of course that they agree on the basis of unanimity. Best, therefore, to keep that treaty rather than try to revise it. We could end up not with more but with considerably less.

Indeed, I well remember that when NATO conducted its first ever out-of-area operation, which was to fulfil the UN-mandated arms embargo against Yugoslavia in 1994 in the Adriatic, we did that in response to a request by the UN at a time when our theoretical exercise in a NATO committee to define NATO's role in peace support operations was totally bogged down in theological and doctrinal discussions, prompting one NATO diplomat to remark a year or so later, 'I know it works in practice, but would it work in theory?' My reaction to that: Let's not worry too much. It's best to do the practice first and let the theory write itself later.

But nonetheless, although I reveal my true colours as a pragmatist, still, it's legitimate to ask what would the future of NATO be? I personally think that there are three alternative scenarios. Scenario number one for NATO is the traditional Alliance focusing essentially on the traditional area in Europe. Under this scenario, membership would remain limited, particularly to European countries. Operations outside the area, like in Afghanistan, would be the exception rather than the rule. NATO's mission would be fundamentally the traditional Article 5 concentration on territorial defence and tidying up the loose ends of the end of the Cold War, particularly of course integrating the Balkans into Euro-Atlantic structures so that Europe is essentially a zone of peace. And then NATO would concentrate on maintaining that zone of peace through Partnership for Peace activities, through dialogue, but not look really beyond. It would therefore be a Euro-centric, regionally-based organization.

Some people may find that vision attractive, but it's wholly unrealistic. The reality is that what has happened over the last few years, the events that I've described in my lectures, have pushed NATO far too far beyond that vision for it to be recuperable once again. Even Article 5, as we've seen in the wake of September the eleventh, now comes more in the form of a terrorist attack potentially using weapons of mass destruction from outside Europe than from a land invasion of the territory of an Allied member state through a conventional military force.

Indeed, if Afghanistan is in… or NATO… if Afghanistan is on NATO's agenda and NATO is in Afghanistan today, it is linked to Article 5. It's a reaction to the September eleven attacks and NATO's implication of Article 5 more than a standard out-of-area, peace-keeping type of activity. So let's remember that.

Now, indeed, a NATO with limited aspirations, a NATO which conservatively focused only on its old core business, would be a NATO which rapidly would sink from the public gaze, sink far down the agenda of our political leaders, a NATO starved of resources, and essentially a NATO which ultimately would disappear into an empty shell organization, a name without a function. So I see that it is neither desirable nor feasible.

Scenario two is NATO as the toolbox. Some of you who've followed these lectures may have read the numerous articles of think tankers and strategic commentators saying that essentially NATO will find it difficult to achieve consensus on the big issues of the day such as Iraq, even Afghanistan or the war against terrorism, because of cultural differences between Europe and the United States, the Mars versus Venus syndrome, and that our differences last year over Iraq were a manifestation of that transatlantic disconnect.

In this scenario, so these commentators say, the future of NATO is to be a toolbox, in other words essentially a military planning organization providing interoperability among the forces of its member states, providing assets that can be raided at will, rather like a supermarket, and packaged according to need, and sent off on missions, but not done by the Alliance, because of the absence of consensus, but by ad hoc coalitions of the willing, smaller groups of nations, with the benign tolerance of the others who don't participate. In other words, that NATO's role would be essentially a kind of military planning organization with selective assets but the politics being decided elsewhere.

I personally don't buy this scenario, that NATO could be only a peacekeeper, intervening after others have managed a crisis, or that NATO would in fact survive at all under that scenario. It won't work. The Alliance would progressively break up. Countries that didn't feel that they had a political stake in the discussions would not want to keep expensive assets locked up inside the NATO planning organization for very long. Just like the Boston Tea Partiers back in 1774 declared that there was no taxation without representation, so countries feeling excluded from the toolbox would not want to participate in it for very long. To suggest that you can disconnect the political aspect of NATO from the military aspect is essentially saying that you can eat and not drink, and yet still hope to survive.

Scenario number three is the Euro-Atlantic Alliance of democracies, which would be the core and the driving force of a new global security system. For me this is not only the most attractive, but ultimately, and even paradoxically, the most realistic vision, which proves that sometimes the most ambitious is also the most realistic. Under this vision, NATO would essentially be the core element linking the world's major powers together: the US, the European Union, Russia and China, into a security dialogue and a form of security partnership, which would not exclude, obviously, difference between them and among them on the small questions, but would keep them working together on the big questions like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting terrorism, where their common interests truly lie.

This vision of a more global Alliance would draw in the peripheral regions, the Middle East, now the greater Middle East, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, central Asia, Africa tomorrow, into a system of security and co-operation based on the success of NATO's Partnership for Peace activities. It would be fundamental to the United Nations in carrying out and conducting demanding peace support operations where the interests of all of the major powers came together, particularly to stop some of those countries turning into rogue states or becoming black holes where terrorist organizations would infiltrate, as they did yesterday in Afghanistan. It would be at the forefront of international efforts to curb terrorism and proliferation, and it would be the driving force in an effort to bring the great democracies of the world and the major powers together to strengthen the UN and other international security regimes like the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, establishing a set of rules of regulations regarding normal and unacceptable security activity. And it would work as a partner with other major international organizations.

Now, you may think this is a new vision. But when I thought about this, I remembered also Franklin Roosevelt's call at the end of World War II for the four policemen at the time… Russia, the United States, China and the United Kingdom… became the five policemen with France later… to essentially handle the major security business and to stop a relapse back into war and anarchy. Because of the circumstances of the time, the Cold War, communism of course versus western liberalism, that vision of the five policemen was never achieved. Could NATO now be at the core of an attempt to revitalize it, but in a way that gives a voice to smaller countries participating in that as well?

Well, what is to be done to achieve the vision of an active future NATO? There are two aspects here, as I come to the end of today's lecture. The first thing of course is to realize NATO's immediate agenda. And if we can't deal with the problems on our plate today successfully, then it is idle to speculate on a more successful NATO tomorrow. Take care of today, my mother used to say to me, and the future will take care of itself. She was largely right.

So the immediate agenda of course has to be to make a success of stabilization in Afghanistan, to find those forces needed to expand ISAF beyond Kabul; to get NATO involved in Iraq, but in a way which is commensurate with our capabilities and which helps the overall attempt also there to stabilize and democratize that country; to have a new partnership with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries, and perhaps with them a bridge to the greater Middle East, and therefore to construct a security dialogue between Islam and the NATO democracies, which would help them to address their security problems, but without in any way imposing our model on them, but recognizing that, nonetheless, much of our experience in overcoming Cold War tensions in Europe and building partnerships could be applicable to those Islamic countries in the greater Middle East too in working out a better way of handling security in that area; to develop our partnerships with the Caucasus and Central Asia, which are now very much on the front line in fighting proliferation and terrorism; and of course to address those issues which I've addressed over the last few weeks of improving NATO's capabilities, particularly through the deployment of the NATO response force and the achievement of the priorities in NATO's Prague capabilities commitment.

But, as I end this series, I'm also aware that the future of NATO is going to hinge on tackling some more fundamental things as well, issues which have come to light in some of the crises that we've faced in recent years and in some of the challenges which are difficult to address because they are fundamental, but which also, if this alliance is going to be successful, can't be brushed under the carpet or simply left to fester indefinitely. And there are three which I would like to mark at the end.

The first one is NATO membership has to be re-evaluated. NATO membership used to be much about benefits and not much about responsibilities, except for the countries that were on the front line during the Cold War in providing much of the military backbone of western defence. But for many Allies it was a wonderful insurance policy which actually, given that a clash between the Soviet Union and the west was unlikely, didn't actually mean having to do anything for vast stretches of time.

The end of the Cold War has meant that NATO membership today has to really mean something. It has to mean developing those capabilities that make all the differences in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. It must mean the political will to explain to our electorates why going to Afghanistan, although it doesn't seem to pose any threat to us, is fundamental to our security. It has to mean more public diplomacy by Allied leaders and also by NATO Headquarters, because sometimes I have the impression that we have left our publics behind us, and what seems to us normal, NATO in Afghanistan, is for them surreal.

And certainly, if we want the defence budgets and the capabilities of the future, if we want our governments to find it easier to explain why they have to send troops to faraway places around the world, knowing that these issues resonate positively with our publics rather than negatively is going to be a key challenge. And it must mean giving NATO Headquarters the resources, the budgets, to run the programs and to do the job. The budget of NATO is still infinitesimal by the standards of other equivalent international organizations.

So the first challenge of NATO will be a challenge that John F. Kennedy put to his countrymen way back in the 1960s, when he said, 'Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask instead what you can do for your country.' NATO membership has to be a far more challenging concept and a far greater responsibility, a much more active form of participation in world events for all of its members, than it was in the old NATO.

Secondly, we need to revitalize the transatlantic partnership. We cannot simply not discuss the crucial issues of the day simply because they're difficult or because they may, initially at least, show that NATO Allies are not on the same wavelength. If we want to be in Iraq or Afghanistan, if we want to deal with proliferation, then we have to be discussing these issues, getting to grips with them. What I've learned from my NATO experience is leaving them off the NATO agenda does not prevent them coming back on, and sometimes in an even more divisive way, later on. Lesson: Better to discuss them at the beginning.

NATO has to be the place where the United States brings its concerns to Europe, and where Europe expresses its views to the United States, and not outside. And therefore big issues, like dealing with the subject of proliferation, developing new rules and regulations for that, should be discussed first and foremost inside the Alliance. And that will certainly do a great deal to revitalize the transatlantic partnership in the strategic sense.

Third, and finally, developing the NATO-EU relationship. As the EU, as I said in my last lecture, becomes a more significant strategic actor, we have to move beyond discussion institutions and prerogatives, and increasingly getting down to working together. This is not a zero-sum gain, as I hope I convinced you last time round, where what is a plus for the EU is automatically a minus or a loss for NATO as the EU also goes global in its remit.

Look at foreign aid alone in its nation building exercises. The notion of NATO in the EU increasingly is twin organizations like the World Bank and the IMF working together, putting their capabilities on the table, but each with something different that the other doesn't have to offer. That notion is not only attractive but, I think, increasingly going to be essential. If the two organizations do not really work in synch on the major issues of the day, the ability of the US and the Europeans to influence events will diminish. So those are the three fundamental things that it's not going to be easy to tackle but where ultimately the nettle has to be grasped.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, a few years ago there was a Soviet specialist who used to go around proclaiming that the Soviet Union had done something terrible to NATO. 'We have taken away your threat,' he said, 'and that is the most terrible thing that we can ever do to you. His name was Georgy Arbatov. And he tried to link up with what Dean Acheson once said about Britain in the 1950s, that Britain had lost an empire but hadn't found a role.

Well, Arbartov was totally wrong. And I say that with all due respect to him. The end of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union instead of ruining NATO liberated NATO. The shackles of having to deal with... coping with the division of Europe and an urgent threat suddenly allowed NATO to discover all kinds of interesting possibilities and new directions that were always there insipiently but which had been overshadowed by the priority of the Cold War.

And if Paul Valéry, the French poet once said that 'l'homme ne réalise qu'une partie de son possible'... "man only achieves a fraction of what he's capable of", it's true that also institutions can be judged by how much of that potential they are able to effectively realize. In that respect NATO's record over the last ten years looks an extremely good one.

In fact I often joke with some of my colleagues that I've spent the second part of my NATO career earning the salary that I dismally failed to earn in the first part of my NATO career. In short, NATO has always confounded its critics.

The first book proclaiming the end of the Alliance was written by an American called Ronald Still, it was published in 1962. That has been followed by innumerable books, articles, commentaries, analyses, predicting the imminent end of the NATO Alliance. The mistake that these people have always made is to confuse debate with decline.

I know from my experiences of marriages that those that are the most argumentative tend to last, those that seem okay on the surface because of a code of silence, always those that eventually land in a divorce court.

Indeed many crises for the Alliance have in fact become the conditions of its renewal: the withdrawal of France from the integrated structure in 1966 led to the Harmel Report and NATO's engagement in détente. The crisis over Cruise and Pershing missiles led to arms controls success and a new relationship with the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall got NATO peacekeeping in the Balkans and the Iraq crisis a year ago led to NATO being in Afghanistan.

So whether NATO achieves that vision that I laid out or not, one thing is certain, that like the heroine of the movie The Titanic "it will go on".

Individual leaders and NATO officials like myself will come and go, hopefully before we go having at least made our contribution to the current stage of NATO's transformation but the NATO enterprise will go on in one shape or another and I would hazard a guess as (inaudible) intuitively as (inaudible) that no matter how many things NATO has been through, how many crises overcome, how many debates carried out, in the previous 55 years of its existence, paradoxically for such a long standing organization NATO's best years and most glorious moments are undoubtedly still before it.

Thank you.

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