Updated: 23-Jun-2005 NATO Speeches


23 June 2005


by Secretary General at the WEU Assembly

Members of the Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address this distinguished Assembly – and even more so as this year marks the 50 th anniversary of its first plenary session.

I was a member of the Dutch delegation to the WEU Assembly from 1987 to 1994, and I always very much enjoyed our work here. Indeed, some of my colleagues from those days are still here today. I am happy to see familiar faces. I want to salute them, and to let them know that I am glad to be with them today. And I would like to especially mention Colin Cameron with whom I have closely worked together and travelled as rapporteur on several reports for the WEU Assembly. I am happy to see after all these years, that we both made it to Secretary General.

Earlier today, in my speech to the Council of Europe, I said that security policy must be first and foremost a policy of fostering democracy. Because democracies don’t fight each other.

But as a member of parliament, as a Minister, and now as Secretary General of NATO, I have always been keenly aware that democracy is also a constant challenge – not least when it comes to security policy. Even “9/11” has not changed the fact that most people are only mildly interested in security issues, let alone in military issues. Keeping our publics informed – and engaged – in security matters is a very difficult job.

But it is a task we cannot shed. If the recent “nos” to the European Constitutional Treaty teach us anything, it is that we must never underestimate the need to generate sufficient public awareness of the issues at stake. You, as Parliamentarians, can and must play a crucial role as the linchpin between policy and publics in this effort.

Basically, I see two major security policy challenges where we must engage our publics. The first, and perhaps most fundamental challenge, is to understand the nature of our military operations in the new strategic environment. It is easy to claim that after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and “9/11”, we are living in a radically different security environment. In fact, we live in an era not only of the globalisation of the economy, but also of security policy.

However, it is my impression that some are still only in the process of gradually absorbing the implications of these changes. I recently took a look at some of our WEU reports from the early 1990s. Some were on the Gulf crisis, others on the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In both cases, some segments of our publics needed some time to see the immediate implications for their own safety. Conditioned by the Cold War, they adhered to a largely “territorial” view of security, where faraway developments appeared to have little relevance to their own personal safety.

Today, this has changed, as the implications of the globalisation of security policy are slowly sinking in. But I still encounter many people who fail to see a connection between, say, NATO’s presence at the Hindukush in Afghanistan and their own, personal safety.

Tous ces éléments me donnent à penser que nous devons faire beaucoup plus pour recueillir le soutien du public - en expliquant clairement les raisons qui motivent nos actions, sans prétendre qu'il existe de solutions faciles. Nous devons démontrer - avec conviction et cohérence - que nos nouvelles missions sont aussi essentielles à la sécurité de nos citoyens que le rôle dissuasif que nos forces jouaient pendant la guerre froide. Nos publics sont tout à fait capables de faire la différence entre un argument solide et un argument superficiel. Ce dont ils ont besoin - et ce qu'ils méritent - c'est d'entendre la vérité sur la difficulté de ces nouveaux engagements opérationnels.

En tant que parlementaires et en tant que membres de cette Assemblée de l'UEO, vous avez une responsabilité particulière à cet égard. Parce que vous êtes les parlementaires les mieux informés en matière de défense et de sécurité. Voilà pourquoi votre voix est tellement importante. Je vous encourage vivement à la faire entendre. À expliquer à nos publics pourquoi la projection de la stabilité est devenue une condition préalable de notre sécurité, pourquoi nous devons attaquer les nouveaux défis de sécurité à la source, pourquoi la coopération entre l'Europe et l'Amérique du Nord est essentielle si nous voulons relever ces défis, et pourquoi cette tâche nécessite des moyens sensiblement différents de ceux que nous avons employés dans le passé.

Voilà qui m'amène au deuxième grand défi sur lequel je souhaite appeler votre attention : faire comprendre que de nouvelles capacités militaires sont nécessaires.

Les nouvelles missions que nous confions à nos forces nécessitent des capacités militaires modernes. Aujourd'hui, les forces qui restent conçues essentiellement pour assurer la défense du territoire sont inappropriées et gaspillent des ressources déjà limitées. En revanche, nous avons besoin de forces qui sont capables de réagir rapidement, qui peuvent être déployées sur de longues distances et qui peuvent ensuite être soutenues sur une longue période. Et nous avons besoin d'une combinaison de forces capables à la fois de mener des missions de combat de forte intensité et d'effectuer des travaux de reconstruction après un conflit, parfois simultanément.

Une fois encore, soyons honnêtes. Ces forces coûtent cher et nécessitent des investissements. Nous savons tous qu'il est beaucoup plus facile de plaider publiquement en faveur d'investissements pour des écoles ou des hôpitaux. Préconiser une augmentation des dépenses de défense ne va pas vous rendre beaucoup plus populaires. Et pourtant, je pense que cela peut et doit être fait.

As Parliamentarians, you can do much to help. You can help to make sure that defence and security are allocated the right amount of spending. 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 forces. And you can convince governments of the need to make available critical assets for specific missions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Governments must do their fair share in shaping security and defence policy, but so must Parliamentarians. You remind our publics, and our governments, of the security issues that we are facing. You help to explain how we must respond to challenges, and why. And you are important advocates at budget time, to ensure that the interests of defence are not drowned out in the clamour of so many other pressing needs. The complexity of the risks and threats we face is increasing all the time. And the pressure on government budgets is not diminishing. For all of these reasons, you in your Parliaments, and we in NATO, all have very important work to do. I wish you the very best in meeting that challenge.

Thank you.
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