Updated: 29-Nov-2004 NATO Speeches

At the “Welt am
Sonntag Forum”

8 Nov. 2004

The future of the transatlantic security partnership

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Mrs Springer, Mr Döpfner

Ladies and gentlemen

As an introduction to this conference you have asked me to give my thoughts on the future of the transatlantic security partnership. It seems to me that this partnership is going through a phase of upheaval which can only be described as “historic”. Both North America and Europe face the challenge of adapting to a radically altered security environment.

The salient factors characterizing this new security environment – terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and “failed” states – have nothing in common with the threats of the past. By the same token we have to invest great expectations in this adaptation process.

Will the transatlantic partners come up to these high expectations? Will they succeed in adapting to the new security environment in harmony?

Of course the professional Cassandras already know the answers to these questions. For them the Iraq controversy of the past year leads to just one conclusion: America and Europe are unavoidably drifting apart. America is “Mars”, while Europe is “Venus” – that is one of the handy current expressions to describe the state of the transatlantic security community. Atlanticism is supposed to have lost its central attraction – quite independently of who is governing in the White House.

This criticism remains well received by many people. There is only one catch: it does not correspond to the reality of things. America and Europe are not irreversibly drifting apart, nor has Atlanticism become obsolete. What has become obsolete is merely the traditional transatlantic worldview, focused on Europe and de facto still guided by the conception of the Cold War. This view of the transatlantic relationship has indeed been overtaken by the age of globalization. But we need weep no tears over it.

For something new is taking its place: an Atlanticism which does not nostalgically appeal to the past. An Atlanticism which is not focused on yesterday, but on today and tomorrow.

This new – "enlightened" – Atlanticism is already taking form. And it is doing so in just the place where the shared transatlantic values and the will to defend these values are associated as nowhere else – in our Atlantic Alliance. For the agenda of NATO is nothing less than the agenda of a new, forward-looking transatlantic security partnership for the early 21st century. It is an agenda which soberly and fearlessly faces the realities which will decisively mark transatlantic cooperation in the coming years.

What realities am I talking about? Let me make the most important of them clear.

Reality number one: A new security environment requires new thinking. Today transatlantic security provision means projection of stability – moreover and precisely in regions lying outside Europe. A security policy which is limited to the European continent is no longer sufficient in the age of global threats. Either we meet those problems where they arise, or they will sooner or later come to us. The time when we could make a difference between "near" and "far" threats is inescapably past.

NATO has drawn the conclusions of this new reality. With our deployment in Afghanistan – and the training mission in Iraq – we have made clear that this Alliance is no longer just a "Eurocentric" alliance, but an instrument that we can use wherever our common security interests require.

That still doesn't make NATO anything like a "world policeman". In any case I can’t picture the "global NATO" which many already see coming. But no more do I see a future in a purely regional and reactive security approach. A policy of "waiting for Godot" will not serve our security interests.

But let's give ourselves no illusions: these new missions outside Europe are even more difficult and dangerous than what we have already seen in the Balkans. So it doesn't surprise me if our public still have difficulty with the thought that deployments like that in Afghanistan might in future not be the exception, but rather the rule.

This is firstly a question for the political sphere. It must convince people by clear and concrete arguments. It must make clear that the stabilization of Afghanistan or Iraq represents an investment in the direct personal security of each individual.

It is precisely the history of the Federal Republic of Germany which has constantly shown that by clear political leadership even initially controversial decisions of security policy are ultimately accepted and carried forward by a broad majority of the people. This is also true today. Only just now the successful elections in Afghanistan have shown what the international community of states is capable of when it makes use of effective multilateral instruments like NATO. So we must continue along this road.

Reality number two: A new security policy requires new military capabilities.

Today no state can still allow itself to maintain armed forces which only serve for territorial defence. We now need forces which can react fast and be deployed over great distances. We need soldiers who are trained and equipped for the new tasks. And we need force structures which are so designed that more soldiers can be made available for missions abroad.

Here again NATO has drawn the right conclusions. We have set up the NATO Response Force. We are acting to improve strategic transport capabilities. We are reforming our forces planning to make sure that our political decisions can also be supported militarily. And we have set up a strategic command which is exclusively concerned with the transformation of our forces. For in our eyes "transformation" is not an empty word, but a basic condition for this Alliance to be able to continue functioning in a radically changed security environment.

Reality number three: Enlightened Atlanticism in security policy also means closer relations between NATO and the European Union.

Many a diehard Atlanticist may wonder why the very Secretary General of NATO is giving the relationship with another organisation such a prominent position – particularly an organisation which is regularly seen as a competitor for NATO.

But my reason for raising the EU is quite simple: the potential of a real strategic partnership between NATO and the EU is just too great to leave it unused. For together NATO and the EU dispose of a broad spectrum of instruments, both civil and military. And it is just this combination which we need to successfully tackle the new challenges. Thus a partnership between NATO and the EU which avoids duplication but works for complementarity is in all our interests.

The planned takeover of the peace mission in Bosnia by the EU is an important element of this new partnership. But we need more – much more. We need a coordinated policy to deal with terrorism. We need a coordinated approach to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And we need a coordinated policy regarding the key geopolitical regions of the world.

Concerted strategic action by NATO and the EU must in turn find its place in general cooperation between all the important international organizations. Here the United Nations, which I am also going to visit this week, play a key role. Different international organizations have different relative strengths, and they must work hand-in-hand to ensure peace and stability. Take the presidential elections in Afghanistan as an example: the United Nations organized them, NATO gave them military security. Without very close cooperation between NATO and the UN they might not have been so successful.

And this brings me to reality number four: Enlightened Atlanticism also means viewing the future of the so-called "Broader Middle East " as a creative transatlantic mission. Developments in no other region will shape our security more decisively in the coming years than those in the "Broader Middle East ". What this region perhaps most urgently needs are new shared ideas and initiatives. What it does not need is intellectual trench warfare. We should put these debates behind us in short order.

Here again NATO has taken on its responsibilities. We will intensify our dialogue with the countries of North Africa and the Near East. And we are holding discussions with some states in the Gulf region about concrete cooperation.

But above all: we have begun to train Iraqi security forces – both in Iraq and outside the country. Many did not find this decision easy. But whatever our position on the Iraq war may have been, a stable and democratic Iraq can only be the common goal for all of us. The earlier the Iraqis can take charge of their own security, the better. Thus we have met the express wish of the Iraqi transitional government and taken on this mission. Because we look forwards and not backwards.

The Balkans, Afghanistan, and now Iraq too – that the transatlantic community is a community of action has been sufficiently proven. But can we also talk to each other? So let me close with a further reality, without which enlightened Atlanticism is not really conceivable: the need for a "culture of argument" in the Alliance.

To be honest, controversies within the EU or the UN are often seen as normal. But NATO is quite different: here arguments are still seen as signs of an imminent demise. This is an instinctive reaction developed in the Cold War. At that time NATO had to demonstrate unity at any price.

But can it still be our ultimate goal to avoid arguments? For me at least this standpoint is outdated. In a time of great security upheavals there are no patent solutions. We must constantly struggle to find the right path.

But above all: only an Alliance which does not avoid critical questions can also play a greater political role. And I am expressly calling for such a greater political role. NATO cannot be satisfied with the function of troop provider. When this Alliance shows a military presence in a crisis region, then it provides the conditions for a political process. We have an interest in the success of this political process. For it will ultimately determine whether and when we can end our presence in the region.

Thus we should clearly formulate and aggressively promote our political interests. For if we don't do that, then in the end the Alliance will be restricted to providing a military service. It will become the executive organ for decisions which are taken elsewhere. And that cannot be the logic of a comprehensive transatlantic security community. Thus we must seize the ability to argue as a chance – as a chance for a more political NATO, and at the same time as a chance for a new, enlightened Atlanticism.

Respected ladies and gentlemen, the partnership between Europe and America still has a particular quality in the 21st century. Never before has there been such a close tissue of political, economic and military relations between two continents. And nowhere else in the world are there partners which share similar values in the way that North America and Europe do.

But let's not fool ourselves: the parameters of this cooperation are changing. In a time of global challenges the well-established rituals of the past have no future. We need a new understanding of security, new military capabilities, and new approaches to cooperation with other regions and organizations. And we need more courage to argue. For me these are the preconditions for a new enlightened Atlanticism in security policy. And they are already widely reflected today in the agenda of the Alliance.

I am convinced that the Cassandras will be proved wrong again. The transatlantic divorce is cancelled. And that's a good thing.

Thank you very much.


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