Updated: 16-Nov-2004 NATO Speeches

At the
between the
and the NAC

Venice, Italy

13 Nov. 2004


by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the Italian Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for inviting the North Atlantic Council to this extraordinary meeting in this wonderful location.

This is the NPA’s 50th annual session, and it marks the beginning of the 50th Anniversary year of that body. And, as befits such major occasions, we have a true historic “first”: this the first time that the North Atlantic Council participates in an Assembly Session.

I am aware that the relationship between NATO and the NATO PA is only an “informal” one. And that leads me to ask whether a “formal” relationship could improve anything. But I doubt it. Because when I look at this meeting here today, I can see that this relationship is in good shape.

But we are not just here to celebrate. I see this meeting here today as a very welcome opportunity to have a discussion with you on some of the most pressing issues facing our Alliance.

As you know, I am a firm believer in the value of discussion and debate – between us here today, but also in the North Atlantic Council. Indeed, I am continuously making the case for having more debate. Because, to my mind, debate is the precondition for achieving our objectives in a radically different strategic landscape.

But discussion is not just needed to get a firm grip on the new challenges and our responses to them. It is also needed to allow NATO to play a political role commensurate with its operational contribution. In the Balkans, and even more in Afghanistan, we provide the basis for all other efforts. But the political process in these regions is largely carried forward by other actors. To my mind, this is not a healthy division of labour. NATO needs to be involved in the political process leading up to a preferred “end state”. Because that, more than anything else, will determine both the make-up and the duration of our military involvement.

Such a stronger political role for NATO, however, requires a “culture of debate”. It requires a culture in which discussions on the future of Kosovo, of Afghanistan, and even Iraq are not exceptions, but the rule. And it requires a culture in which Allies discuss fundamental security matters not just to reach consensus or take a decision, but in order to exchange views – even if the result may be to “agree to disagree”. We have to get away from the notion that a NAC discussion must always lead to consensus on a military operation.

But we should not only get more involved in debates amongst ourselves. We also have to put more emphasis on the debate with our publics. It is them we are ultimately accountable to. The NATO PA has always been a crucial linchpin between the Alliance, the Parliaments, and publics. So, in the remainder of my remarks, let me focus on three areas where we have to do more to bring public opinion along, and where I believe the NATO PA can make a major contribution.

The first, and perhaps most fundamental challenge, is to understand the nature of our operations in the new strategic environment.

Today everyone talks about the new security environment. But I submit that large parts of our publics have not yet absorbed the full implications of these changes. They still adhere to a rather “territorial” view of security, where faraway developments appear to have little relevance to their own personal safety. Consequently, many people fail to see a connection between, say, NATO’s presence at the Hindukush in Afghanistan and their own, personal safety.

This view is too narrow. Clearly, territorial defence will always remain a core function of NATO. But we simply can no longer protect our security without addressing the potential risks and threats that arise far from our homes. Either we tackle these problems when and where they emerge, or they will end up on our doorstep.

That, in essence, is why we are taking action – in the Balkans, Afghanistan and now also Iraq – and why we have to see through those difficult missions.

But we won’t be able to do so successfully unless we have the understanding, and the backing, of our publics. We have to make the point – cogently and consistently – that NATO’s new missions are as essential to the personal security of our citizens as the deterrence role that NATO played during the Cold War.

As members of parliament, you bear a special responsibility in this regard. Because you are the parliamentarians who are most knowledgeable on defence and security. That is why your voice really matters. I urge you to raise that voice. To explain why projecting stability has become a precondition for our security. Why we need to tackle the new security challenges at their source. Why NATO should be at the forefront. And why this job requires rather different means than those that we employed in the past.

Which brings me to the second major challenge that I wish to highlight, which is understanding the need for new military capabilities.

The new types of missions on which we send our forces require modern military capabilities. Today, forces that are geared mainly to territorial defence are inappropriate and a waste of scarce resources. What we need instead are forces that can react quickly, that can be deployed over distance, and then sustained over a long period of time. And we need a mix of forces that are capable of performing both high intensity combat tasks and post-conflict reconstruction work.

Within NATO, we have made reasonably good progress in developing such capabilities. It is clear, at the same time, that we still have a lot of work to do. And again, as parliamentarians, you can do much to help. You play a crucial role in dispelling the still widely held belief that we can have security on the cheap. In explaining why NATO’s new missions require new, and different, capabilities. And in convincing governments of the need to make available critical assets for specific missions, as President Bereuter did so effectively in the case of our Afghanistan mission earlier this year.

As parliamentarians, you can also help to make sure that defence and security are allocated enough resources. And you can urge that this money is spent in the right way – on capabilities that we actually need and use, rather than on Cold War-type armies.

Finally, the third critical challenge that I would like to highlight is the strong need for close, multilateral cooperation – both among nations and between institutions. We absolutely need that cooperation in dealing with the new threats to our security – precisely because these threats themselves know no borders.

NATO is an important platform for that kind of cooperation. In addition to uniting 26 Allies countries, we have also given fresh impetus to our Partnership relations with 20 countries all over Europe, through the Caucasus, and into Central Asia. We are helping those Partners who are going through a difficult period of transition. We have made the new security challenges a major focus of our Partnership relations, including those with our special Partners Russia and Ukraine. We are in the process of developing our Dialogue with countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East. And we are responding to the interest of several countries in the broader Middle East region to have closer contacts with NATO.

As an Alliance, we are also working to enhance our cooperation with other international organisations. I have just returned from New York where I discussed closer NATO-UN cooperation with Kofi Annan. We also want to work more closely with the OSCE and, in particular, with the European Union. There is now a growing awareness, widely shared on both sides of the Atlantic, that a strong EU and a strong NATO are not contradictory, but complementary goals. At the same time, it is increasingly accepted here in Europe that such a strong EU should not amount to an unnecessary duplication of what is already available through NATO.

Those are good signs. They are reflected in the impending transition of most of the Alliance’s security responsibilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union. And they inspire optimism that NATO and the European Union will be able to broaden their cooperation to other areas where they can complement each other, and reinforce each other’s efforts. This applies to cooperation in functional areas – such as the fight against terrorism and the development of modern military capabilities. And it applies to cooperation in new geographic areas – such as the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the broader Middle East region. In all these areas, I genuinely believe we can only gain by working more closely together.

Once again, parliamentarians like you have a crucial role to play. The NATO PA is particularly well suited to make the case for greater cooperation both among nations and institutions. After all, you yourself represent a successful network of cooperation that now reaches far beyond the NATO member states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was a Member of Parliament myself not that long ago. I fully appreciate your important role in helping to advance the Alliance’s adaptation to the new security environment – both through your work back home and in the context of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. And I am sure that my colleagues on the North Atlantic Council share that appreciation.

A lot has been achieved in NATO’s transformation process, but there is still a lot to do. We need to get a firm grip on the new security environment. We need to embrace military transformation. We need to enhance our cooperation with other nations and institutions. And, above all, we need to give NATO a more political role. I have no doubt that, with your help, we can meet these challenges, and move our Alliance further forward into this century. Many thanks for your continuing support.

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