Updated: 22-Sep-2005 NATO Speeches

At Columbia
New York

20 Sep. 2005

NATO: Safeguarding Transatlantic Security

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening. Let me begin by thanking Columbia for hosting me here tonight.

I have come to New York, from NATO headquarters in Brussels, principally for meetings at the United Nations.

I met with Kofi Annan yesterday to establish a more structural relationship between NATO and the UN, and to discuss some of the key issues on our mutual agenda, such as Afghanistan. I’ve also had a series of meetings with many of the Foreign Ministers that are here all week, in the UN building.

But this speech, and the discussion we will have here tonight, is an equally important part of my agenda on this trip.

This university has an international reputation as a place where some of the best thinking, the best debate, the best discussion takes place on international affairs and international security.

And that is what I would like to do with you here tonight: after I make a few remarks, to have a real discussion on the international security challenges that we all face, and that affect us all.

My first thought is this: for those of you who are planning a career in international security – good luck. Because it’s tougher than it used to be. And it won’t get easier.

The international security environment is more complex now than it has ever been at any point in my career – and I have been in politics a little while now. Which means decision-makers – like me today, and many of you tomorrow – have to make critical choices in situations that are often unclear.

At the beginning of the 21 st century, we face a range of threats to our security: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to states of concern, or even terrorists; failed states, like Afghanistan was so recently, which threaten not only their own regions but far beyond; and last but not least, terrorism.

Terrorism, in particular, demonstrates vividly the challenge we face in preserving our security – and some of the difficult choices we have to make, as an international community.

There is no doubt that terrorism is an international threat. Four years ago, this city was struck in the most terrible way. But the record of attacks around the world is grim proof that this menace is very wide-spread indeed.

And Al-Qaida is itself an international actor. The September 11th attacks were led by Saudis, based in Asia, with a foothold in Germany, who trained in Africa before striking in the US. Terror networks, like everything else, have globalised.

For all these reasons, tackling terrorism effectively - and indeed, all the threats I mentioned -- requires international cooperation. On that, everyone can agree. But the devil is in the details – in agreeing on how exactly to go forward together. And that is where it can get complicated.

If we do too little to take on the terrorist threat, we risk being attacked. If we do too much, we risk harming innocent people.

And while it is not directly a NATO issue, there is clearly a tension between the need to take measures within our countries to fight terrorism effectively, and the fundamental importance of preserving our political liberties.

These are real dilemmas. And the point I want to leave you with is that we have to choose – whether to act, and how to act, with the understanding that there will be costs no matter what we decide.

Let me give you another example: choosing what kind of military forces we will need, today and tomorrow.

Should we be designing our forces for counter-terror operations – light, mobile, centred on special operations forces? Or should we focus on stabilisation operations, with larger, slower armies, designed to stay in the field for extended periods of time without doing too much heavy fighting? Or do we need large, high-end fighting armies, to deal with multiple large scale wars at the same time?

These are not abstract questions. For most countries, they simply cannot afford to have it all. They do not have the budgets to have full spectrum forces.

So they have to choose, which brings two real risks. One is that soldiers might be called upon to take on missions for which they are not prepared and not capable. And that lives will be put at risk as a result.

The second risk is of a division between countries that can fight at the high end, and those that are constrained to lower-end missions like peacekeeping. That would undermine the political solidarity that comes from working together – and we cannot afford to undermine our solidarity.

Challenge number three: to figure out how to engage effectively with new partners, in parts of the world where we have less experience; and where the political realities can be very complex indeed.

Darfur is a good example. You all know the terrible humanitarian disaster that continues to take place there. There is every reason for the world to help the people there, who have suffered so much.

Some academics and journalists have called on the West to take robust action, to deploy a brigade, or to establish a no-fly zone, to end the hostilities. And I understand why. But whether we like it or not, the political realities have required a different approach.

The Sudanese Government has made it clear that they will accept only African troops, not forces from the West. The UN Security Council has not approved a mandate for any kind of intervention force. And the African Union believes that there should be African solutions to African problems. With which, by the way, I fundamentally agree.

With these realities in mind, NATO is taking on a different role – helping the African Union to keep the peace.

NATO is airlifting African troops into Darfur from around the continent, at the request of the African Union. And we are helping to develop the AU’s own capacity to manage larger crises.

The African Union is doing its very best, and it is making a difference. Over the long-term, this operation will help to build African capability to solve African problems, which makes sense for everyone.

There are, of course, still calls for the West to do more. And I understand those calls.

Nobody can be satisfied with the humanitarian situation in Darfur. But until now at least, this has been the only realistic way to help.

It shows again that, no matter what path we choose, as an international community, there will be choices to be made, and costs associated with each choice. That is simply the way it is.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have set out for you some of the challenges, and the choices, that we all face today, as we try to preserve international peace and security. And I hope I have given you a taste of the complexities and the difficulties involved.

But I am an optimist by nature. And I believe that the answer to complexity is simplicity. Clear guiding principles which we can and should follow, to help ensure our common security.

First and foremost: we must stay engaged. We need to reach out: to project stability. Hunkering down and staying quiet will not preserve our security. It will certainly not preserve our freedoms and our ways of life. We must reach out, to build stability, security and prosperity where it is needed.

Now, let me be clear: I am not referring to the military tool alone. Yes, I believe that the military can be an essential tool for peace. Look at Afghanistan. We have about twelve thousand troops there now, helping to keep the peace.

We have nine Provincial Reconstruction Teams: part military, part civilian. And Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led coalition, is playing its essential part by fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaida.

The military provides the secure environment for the civilians to work; the civilians help create the conditions for long-term, self-sustaining peace. One needs the other.

And NATO remains the gold standard when it comes to military capability – with 16,000 troops in Kosovo, 12,000 in Afghanistan, a major anti-terror naval operation in the Mediterranean, a training mission in Iraq, an airlift operation for Darfur, and an HQ in Bosnia to help capture those indicted for war crimes committed during the disastrous Balkan wars of the 1990s.

But we need more than the military. We also need Partnership. We need to build trust and understanding.

That is why NATO is reaching out to Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Israel. Not to impose anything at all. But to offer our cooperation, and our expertise, for countries that want themselves to reform their armies and their security services to be more modern, more under democratic control, more transparent, better able to do peacekeeping.

And we offer political dialogue, to understand each other better. Clear away misconceptions. And build trust.

That is also why NATO is reaching out to the United Nations. Our peace operations and missions have UN backing, in Kosovo and Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur. And we have really excellent cooperation with the UN in the field.

But we can, and should do much more together. We should, for example, talk about terrorism, and how to fight it most effectively. And we should have strategic discussions, on a regular basis, on the future of our shared missions, such as in Afghanistan, where the UN role will be essential to help Afghanistan find its feet.

As I mentioned at the beginning, that was one of the main purposes of my visit here to New York. And I think we are off to a good start.

NATO should also have a stronger relationship with the European Union. The truth is that this relationship is, at present, rather tied up in political Gordian knots. But we need more cooperation between the two organisations on a whole host of issues, from combating terrorism, to reaching out to the Middle East, to our enlargement processes.

We have just had today a lunch, hosted by Secretary Rice, which brought together the foreign ministers of the two organisation, for a wide-ranging discussion. It was exactly the kind of dialogue we need to keep having, between our two organisations.

So my first principle is: we need to engage. To project stability. Which brings me to my second principle: if we are to project stability and build peace effectively, Europe and North America must do it together.

You will not be surprised to hear me say this. I am, after all, the NATO Secretary General. My job is to straddle the Atlantic, and I am very sensitive to any continental drift that pulls the two continents apart.

But there is a reason that, for fifty years, Europe and North America have been each other’s best friend and best partner. Because we share the same values of democracy and human rights.

We share broadly the same goals, when it comes to international peace and security – though we argue sometimes, not on the aim but on the methods, I admit. We also share the best militaries in the world, who use the same standards and who are best able to work with each other.

It is, however, not always easy to come to shared views of the best way forward. This is only normal. As I said, the choices we face are much less clear then they used to be. And NATO is an organisation with 26 democracies as members – all with their own views and their own opinions.

Which means to me that today, we need a stronger transatlantic security dialogue than ever. To get a shared view of the threats that we face. Of how we want to tackle them. And of the tools we should develop, together, to do it.

That is why I have made it one of my priorities, as NATO Secretary General, to encourage NATO members to use the Alliance more for what it can and should be: the best place for a continuing political dialogue between North America and Europe. To clear away misunderstandings. To share assessments. And to develop common approaches.

I can tell you that we are making progress. That political dialogue is growing in NATO. We had, just last week, an excellent discussion amongst defence ministers in Berlin about the future security environment, 10-15 years from now, and how we should prepare for it. That is the kind of discussion our governments need to have, and they are starting to have, in NATO.

I believe that this political dialogue is important for another reason as well: to help our publics and Parliaments understand what we are doing, and why.

I am sure that all of you can find Afghanistan on a map. But to most people, Afghanistan is very far away. It can be hard to understand what it is we are doing there. And as time goes on, it gets harder to explain why we are still there. The same is true for our operation in Kosovo. It will be just as true for any new mission we take on.

But we do need the public to understand what we are doing, and why, if they are to support these operations, over the long term. And we need their support just as much to keep up spending on defence, to have the money we need to modernise our armed forces and pay for our operations – more, I admit, a challenge in Europe than here.

And I think regular, healthy and open debate at NATO is an important way to show to our publics and our Parliaments what it is we are doing, what we are planning to do, and why.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I told you that I wanted a discussion with you, and I meant it. So let me conclude, and open the floor to your questions and comments.

I know that it can be unsatisfying to look at the world in shades of grey, and to talk about choices and compromises. But I believe that the foundation of our shared security - the transatlantic relationship – remains the best way for us to chart a path together.

And we are modernising the Atlantic Alliance, every day, to continue to be effective at building security, and projecting stability, in the 21 st century.

To those of you who are planning a career in international relations, I said, at the beginning of my speech, “good luck”. Let me also wish you the best of luck, because it is a wonderful profession, and I can only encourage you to make it yours as well.

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