Updated: 18-Nov-2004 NATO Speeches

At the Economic
Rotterdam (EFR)

17 Nov. 2004

The Future of the Transatlantic Security Community

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Ladies and Gentlemen,

[Today I would like to speak to you about the Transatlantic Security Community and set forth what I see as five new realities that characterise this Community.]

The transatlantic relationship is currently going through a period as formative as the immediate post-war years, when the seeds of our transatlantic community were sown. At that time, the issue for Europe and North America was to construct a political and military framework in which to tackle a new strategic environment – to build a framework that would offer both protection for our territory and for our common transatlantic values and interests.

Today, we face a similar challenge. We are confronted with a new, radically altered, strategic environment. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and "failed states" all confront us with challenges that are very different from anything we have witnessed in the past. Indeed, in many ways, these new threats are far more daunting, not least because our enemies may believe they can attack us without fear of an overwhelming military response of the sort that deterred the Soviet Union during the Cold War. At this time therefore, we have to find a security framework that not only offers protection, but also provides us with instruments for shaping the strategic environment in ways conducive to our long-term interests.

Can we master this challenge? Will the transatlantic community be able to manage this adaptation together?

The professional Cassandras, of course, already know the answer to these questions. For them, last year’s controversy over Iraq only meant one thing: America and Europe are growing further and further apart. America is “Mars”, Europe is “Venus” – this image has become quite popular to describe the state of affairs in transatlantic relations. According to these critics, Atlanticism has lost its erstwhile attraction – irrespective of who occupies the White House in Washington.

Such criticism is catchy, and it resonates. There’s just one small problem: it does not correspond to reality. America and Europe are not drifting apart. Nor has Atlanticism run its course. What has become obsolete is just the traditional, Euro-centric Atlanticism –
the kind of Atlanticism that was still very much grounded in the Cold War when NATO was simply about defending Europe from attack by its neighbours. In an era of globalisation, threats to NATO affect all NATO Allies and so this nostalgic Atlanticism has run its course.

But we should not lose much sleep over it. Because something new is being put in its place: an Atlanticism that does not bask in the glory of past achievements, but instead looks forward to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

This new – “enlightened” – Atlanticism is already coming together. And it is coming together at a place where common transatlantic values and the will to defend these values meet in a unique way: in our Atlantic Alliance. Indeed, the agenda of NATO is nothing else but the agenda of a new, forward-looking transatlantic security partnership for the early 21st century. It is an agenda that takes into account the fundamental realities that will shape our cooperation in the years ahead.

What are these realities? Let me focus on the ones I deem most important.

Reality Number One: A new security environment demands new security thinking. Today, providing security means projecting stability – including to regions outside Europe. In an age of globalised threats, a security policy focused exclusively on Europe simply will not do. Either we tackle problems when and where they emerge, or they will end up on our doorstep. The era when we could conveniently distinguish between “near” and “faraway” threats is over for good.

NATO has drawn the right conclusion from this new reality. With our operation in Afghanistan – and also with our training mission in Iraq – we have demonstrated that this Alliance is no longer a “eurocentric” Alliance. Instead, it is an instrument we can use wherever our common security interests demand it.

This does not turn NATO into a “global policeman”. I don’t see NATO becoming “globocop”. But neither can I imagine a successful and modern security policy based solely on a regional and reactive posture. The policy of “waiting for Godot” is no longer sufficient to protect our security interests.

Reality Number Two: A new security approach requires new capabilities. Today, no country can afford to maintain forces simply for national territorial defence; that is no defence at all against a terrorist threat originating in a far off land. 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. We have streamlined our military structure and created a strategic command specifically devoted to transformation. The new NATO Response Force shall, if the political will exists, enable us to react to new challenges more quickly than ever before. And we are taking a hard look at our force planning and force generation procedures, to make sure that future missions can be better planned, manned and paid for.

Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do. But the steps we have already taken demonstrate that, for us, “transformation” is not an empty slogan. It is a precondition for keeping this Alliance effective even in a radically different security environment.

Reality Number Three: “Enlightened Atlanticism” in security must include a strategic partnership between NATO and the European Union.

You may wonder why the Secretary General of NATO puts so much emphasis on relations with another institution – in particular an institution which not only has a considerably overlapping membership but is also sometimes viewed as a competitor to NATO. But I have a clear-cut reason for highlighting NATO-EU relations. In my view, the potential of a true strategic partnership between NATO and the EU is too great to be wasted. Together, NATO and the EU have a broad spectrum of means and instruments at their disposal – political, economic, and military. We need to have all these means available to us – and we need to apply them judiciously – if we want to make a difference. That’s why NATO-EU is a promising combination. And why I will do everything in my power to make it a success.

One first success is already being achieved. In just a few day’s time, the EU will take over from NATO the responsibility to keep the peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That handover will be a watershed in the short history of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state. And it is a testament to what NATO and the EU can achieve if they work together. But NATO and the EU should aim for much more than this. We need a partnership that covers all aspects of modern security policy: combating terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, preventing the emergence of failed states and dealing with them where and when they occur. And we need a coordinated policy in dealing with the world’s pivotal regions.

One such region is the so-called “Broader Middle East”. Which brings me to Reality Number Four: Enlightened Atlanticism means looking at the Broader Middle East as a common transatlantic challenge. In the years to come, no other region’s development will affect our security more. What this region therefore needs most are new ideas and initiatives. What it can do without is intellectual turf wars between American idealists and European cynics. These debates are going nowhere. We should leave them quickly behind and focus instead on the real issues.

Recent events provide a rare window of opportunity for tackling these real issues. And NATO is already doing its part. We are enhancing our dialogue with countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East. And we are in discussions with interested countries from the Gulf region about building entirely new ties of cooperation.

Most of all, however, we have started to train Iraqi security forces – both in Iraq and outside the country. For some, this was a difficult decision to take. But whatever the initial position on the war on Iraq, the fact remains that a stable, democratic Iraq is a strategic goal we all share. And the sooner the Iraqis can take care of their own security, the better for all of us both here and in the region. That is why NATO responded positively to the request by the Iraqi Interim Government to assist the country in this important area. Because we are looking forward, not back.

Today, NATO is engaged in demanding operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and now, as I have mentioned, Iraq. This demonstrates that the transatlantic community can act together – and very effectively, too. But can we also talk? Let me therefore conclude with another reality of an enlightened Atlanticism: the need for more debate among us.

Let us be honest. If the members of the EU argue about a certain course of action, or if the United Nations becomes the stage of a major policy debate, people accept this as a sign of the vitality of these institutions. Try the same at NATO, and you’ll get a string of headlines saying NATO is in turmoil or even terminal decline. Somehow, people look at debate in NATO differently. This, of course, is a reflex from the Cold War, when NATO had to demonstrate unity at any cost against the threat of war with an enemy which would result in mutually assured destruction.

In my view, this approach is out of date. In an era where our conventional security thinking is put to the test, there are no easy, automatic solutions. When protecting our security involves taking pro-active measures, nations need to argue their case – forcefully and convincingly. And if this sometimes means controversial debate, so be it.

We need an Alliance that does not dodge difficult questions, but tackles them head-on. Because only such a self-confident Alliance can play the stronger political role we need this Alliance to play. We must never confine ourselves to the role of a mere troop contributor to a process hatched at the EU or UN. When NATO engages in an out of area operation, we must also be part of the political process. Why? Because we have a strong stake in that process: since it is progress in the political process that will, on every occasion, determine if and when we can end our presence in a particular region.

That’s why we must not only define a common military approach to a problem, but also a common political strategy. If we don’t, we would risk relegating NATO to a mere provider of military services. And that simply cannot be in the interest of maintaining a broader Atlantic security community. For these reasons, we have to look at debate in NATO not as a threat, but as an opportunity – an opportunity for a new, enlightened Atlanticism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The partnership between Europe and North America remains unique. Never in history have two continents maintained a tighter network of political, economic and military relations. And nowhere else on this planet will one find partners who share so many of the same values.

But let us be clear: The parameters of this cooperation are changing. In an era of global challenges, past habits and rituals will no longer do. We need a new understanding of security, new military capabilities, and new approaches of cooperation with other regions and other organisations. And we need more courage to face the challenge of debate. These are the conditions for building a new, enlightened Atlanticism. And they are already reflected in the agenda of our Atlantic Alliance.

I believe that, once again, the Cassandras will be proven wrong. There is no prospect of a transatlantic divorce. And that’s a good thing.

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