Updated: 10-Dec-2004 NATO Speeches

Paris, France

22 Nov. 2004


by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI)

Ladies and gentlemen,

I should like to begin by telling you how pleased I am to be here today at the French Institute of International Relations, speaking to such a distinguished audience. In a way it is a baptism of fire, since it is the first opportunity I have been given to speak publicly in Paris since taking up my duties at the beginning of the year. Indeed, France is decidedly the theme of the day – this morning I started my week with breakfast in Brussels with my friend and colleague Michel Barnier.

That morning meeting, and a discussion in parallel with a luncheon with Michelle Alliot-Marie, have allowed me to make an exception to the rule that a speech by the NATO Secretary General in an Allied nation must begin with a tribute to its loyalty and generosity! And yet such a tribute would be entirely appropriate in France, at a time when it is leading NATO’s two major operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, making a significant contribution to the political and military reform of the Alliance and to the new rapid response force in particular, and, to top it off, is among the top nations for its defence efforts. I told Michel Barnier once again how much I appreciate the prominent role his country plays in the Atlantic Alliance.

But above all, we both noted the importance of a true transatlantic discussion, and the importance of renewing the pact that has linked the European and North American continents for so many years – a fundamental topic that was recently the subject of a remarkable “letter to an American friend” by the Minister in Le Monde. A necessity too, which puts NATO at the heart of the reform of the transatlantic link we earnestly wish for.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I agreed to become Secretary General, I was driven by a two-part conviction that might initially appear paradoxical: first, that the Atlantic Alliance’s raison d’être as the incarnation of European and North American values and security interests was more valid than ever before, and second, that it was imperative for NATO to continue its process of political and military transformation.

Nearly a year later, these postulates continue to guide my daily work leading NATO.

The Alliance was founded more than half a century ago on the basis of a pact between Europe and North America. That pact linked the destinies of these two continents as they faced an easy-to-read but deeply hostile strategic environment. With it the Berlin wall fell, the Soviet bloc crumbled, the economic and political landscape changed, and new threats and new challenges emerged. But the Allies’ shared values – democracy, the rule of law, the market economy – and shared interest in peace and stability remained. The strength of these fundamentals, beyond the events of history, is what cements the Alliance together.

The Allies have had many differences of opinion, of course, including the French withdrawal from the integrated military structure in the 1960s, the stationing of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the 1980s, the delicate management of the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s, and more recently Iraq. But so far, what unites the Allies – this basic need for solidarity and cohesion, this willingness to contribute to world affairs – has always been stronger than what divides them.

And it must be said that they have made NATO’s continuous adaptation a priority in their foreign policy. With some success, if you will allow me to summarize briefly.

Successive enlargements, the Partnership for Peace, and the policy of outreach toward Russia and Ukraine have played a decisive role in stabilizing the European continent and beyond. Likewise, the first “out-of-area” operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 have progressively brought the Balkans back into Europe’s fold.

A painful consequence of the events of 11 September was the realization that security no longer necessarily goes hand in hand with territorial defence. Now it requires a steadfast fight against terrorism and proliferation, in which military action is only the last resort. Sometimes this involves projecting our forces far beyond our borders. Hence our involvement in Afghanistan in support of a lengthy reconstruction process. Hence our anti-terrorism naval action in the Mediterranean. And hence our capability effort and the reform of our planning system to bring our defence tools in line with our political ambitions.

NATO has also started moving beyond past disputes over Iraq. We have reached agreement on the main point – the importance of restoring a sovereign, democratic Iraq to which we are contributing by providing assistance with the training and equipping of Iraqi armed forces both inside and outside the country.

In parallel with those developments, the Alliance has opened itself to new strategic partners. To the European Union, of course, which is proving itself to be a key player in security and defence. To other institutions, such as the United Nations and the OSCE, with which we work side by side in the field. To our Mediterranean neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East, with which we share so many links and challenges. And finally, to the strategic Caucasus and Central Asia regions.

So it is a renewed Alliance, rooted in modern reality, that I am leading today.

But these accomplishments did not come easily. American and European conceptions of what ensuring their security entails have changed considerably, in particular since the events of 11 September. The scale of the tragedy, and its brutal and symbolic nature, have given the United States an enduring sense of vulnerability. The temptation to be isolationist is a thing of the past. In the eyes of many Americans, now only resolute commitment can prevent another catastrophe. Europeans have also sized up what is at stake today. They understand that a world order without the United States would not make sense. They also know that European integration cannot be defined in opposition to the United States; otherwise there will be divisions.

In my opinion it would be futile to deny that there are differences of perception and different sensitivities within NATO. The fundamentals – our values and interests – are unchangeable, but their practical expression in a transatlantic commitment is not. That is why we must manage this transatlantic relationship with pragmatism. We have to stop talking about divorce or splitting up as soon as a difference of opinion, even a major one, arises. The foundations of the Atlantic Alliance are sound.

Above all we need to work on establishing a true culture of debate. To be sure, NATO, in its role of collective defence or crisis management, is by nature mainly action-oriented. But now more than ever before, that action must also be based on political discussion and dialogue.

Because the time of certainties and automatic responses is definitively over. Our environment, both near and far, is complicated and interdependent. Our security is no longer dependent only on military parameters but is directly affected by global political, economic and religious phenomena. Crises, whether imposed on us our not, have deep forces behind them and an impact that often goes beyond their initial framework. The new threats themselves are polymorphous and diffuse. Under these circumstances, action – so long as it does not fall into the highly specific, immediate and fortunately rare framework of individual or collective self-defence – is part of a broader issue.

Today, to be effective, each operational engagement requires consensus on the assets to be committed, the methods used and the objective sought. This prior consensus is also what ensures the continuity of the mission over its duration. And to be legitimate in the eyes of our publics and our partners, each of those commitments must be justified and explained transparently.

It is not easy to reach a domestic and foreign consensus within NATO, as the North Atlantic Council’s discussions on the terms of our engagement in Kosovo, Afghanistan and especially Iraq have proven. Those discussions are frequently, as diplomatic language puts it, open and frank to say the least. And they are not a one-time affair – they continue for the entire duration of the conflict, from its origins through to the exit strategy. Because the policies approved in the Council affect the lives of our soldiers deployed to theatres. Because considerable amounts of money and military equipment are at stake. And finally, because situations evolve and the Allies’ strategy must be adapted accordingly and take the broader political context into account.

And sometimes, short-lived but deep differences in analysis emerge that sorely try the patience of the permanent representatives and the capitals. But that is to be expected when you are dealing with such complicated situations and such high stakes.

My first year of experience at NATO has confirmed for me that the Allies take their responsibilities very seriously. Time spent in discussions does not encroach on the time for action when our interests in the field require it: the transfer of responsibilities from SFOR to the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina is going smoothly; KFOR in Kosovo is remaining alert, conscious of key milestones for the future of that province, and was augmented for the recent elections; similarly, despite force generation problems widely reported in the media, ISAF in Afghanistan contributed on time to the success of the presidential elections that were the first step toward rebuilding the country; and finally in Iraq, the Iraqi officer training mission inside and outside the country has begun and is making an important contribution to the return to a sovereign Iraq.

The questions surrounding NATO’s activities are numerous and highly sensitive for all Allied and troop contributing governments, whether they concern the size of the force deployed to an operation, at a time of growing constraints on national militaries, fair sharing of the burden, the delicate balance to be struck between political control and operational effectiveness, or the precise role of our forces and the nature of their mission. To what extent should they be involved in the war on drugs in Afghanistan, or the war on organized crime in Kosovo? What should be the role of the recently established NATO Response Force, the NRF? What is the smartest way of using this unique tool without turning it into an easy way out of our force generation problems? How can we protect our soldiers in Iraq? And what should be the exact interface between the multinational coalition forces and the NATO training mission?

These are just some of the questions currently before the Council. They are critical to the fulfilment of our mission. At the same time, I do not think they exhaust NATO’s potential as the main forum for transatlantic co-operation. The Alliance was not designed merely to play a troop contributing role without a political identity of its own; it is not just a “decision-making machine”.

I do not think the Allies perceive it as such. The theological debates that the political/military circles have a tendency to indulge in give shape to NATO, if only when one reads between the lines. In both the spheres of power and forums for discussion. Is NATO a damper on the European Union’s ambitions or a good excuse for justifying European passivity on defence? Is NATO the new global policeman or, on the contrary, a decaying Cold War monster? These anathemas seem to indicate, possibly through the absurd, that the Alliance truly exists as the expression of the transatlantic link.

And yet the Allies almost never use NATO to voice their collective opinion as they search for political solutions corresponding to the Alliance’s theatres of engagement. Let’s be frank: without NATO, nothing would be possible in Kosovo or Afghanistan. It is listened to and respected in the field. That being so, why should we do without this extra leverage in support of the international community's other efforts?

Apart from those immediate concerns, there is no shortage of basic issues affecting all the Allies’ security. The evolution of the former Soviet Union, the outlook for co-operation with the Arab Muslim world, and underlying trends in terrorism and WMD proliferation offer plenty of scope for further discussion. Not to mention the impact of the humanitarian crises in Africa on our security. Or what our position on the Middle East might be, if the prospects for a peace settlement materialized and if the parties asked NATO to become involved.

In the background of all those questions, we also need to think how to get our strategic partnership with the European Union really off the ground, with its full involvement. I am disappointed that our excellent co-operation in the Balkans has not yet kick-started it, even as we face more and more common challenges. The conditions are right for a calm discussion about that. We need to seize the opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are issues where our common interests are at stake. And where twenty-six free, democratic States are at liberty to have diverging viewpoints or even strong disagreements. We must take the heat out of the debate and accept it for what it is: not necessarily the first step toward a decision or action, but the sine qua non for a greater transatlantic consensus, or just a better shared understanding of the challenges. In that sense, a larger political role for NATO can only be beneficial to the Allies and their institutional and other partners.

This proposal must be taken for what it is: an honest call for debate to consolidate the transatlantic pact that we all need. It is not a prelude to an Alliance that is engaged all over the place. And NATO as the global policeman is a fantasy. That vision does not correspond to the Allies’ collective will, interests or military capabilities.

And it is not about institutional rivalry either, about robbing Peter to pay Paul. Given the number and magnitude of the challenges facing us, there is plenty of work for all of us. Each of us can and must make a contribution, based on our capabilities and expertise.

In this context, it would be pathetic to argue over turf, as we once did over areas of influence. The Alliance itself does not have a monopoly on transatlantic dialogue, given the abundance and diversity of its partners’ exchanges. No one organization can claim to thoroughly cover a subject on its own.

Each system has its advantages in a particular context, which is why we must always remain pragmatic. Yet none calls into question NATO’s relevance as a proven forum for consultation and co-operation, a privileged meeting point for Europeans and North Americans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now is a time for synergy and complementarity between organizations. A time for debate between institutions and within the Alliance, a requirement for confidence and effectiveness in the conduct of international relations. I know how attached France is to the notions of dialogue, openness and partnership between the United States and Europe. I am sure it will play its full part in the strengthening of NATO's political role that I earnestly hope to see.

Thank you for your attention.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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