Updated: 29-Nov-2006 NATO Speeches

Rīga, Latvia

28 Nov. 2006

Keynote speech

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the Rīga Conference

28-29 Nov. 2006 - NATO
NATO Riga Summit
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  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

    This is the second time that Craig Kennedy and Ron Asmus have organised with their partners a GMF conference to overlap with a NATO Summit.  This gives all of you here present not only a sneak preview of the Summit’s topics and a ringside seat, but also the chance to debate all of the issues that no doubt you think should be on our agenda. 

    So I wouldn’t be surprised – given how quickly traditions are created these days – that very soon this gathering will be known as the “alternative Summit”.  An invitation to GMF is fast becoming almost as sought after and coveted as an invitation to the real thing!

    As I said at dinner yesterday evening, I for one am not afraid of a little intellectual competition.  We live in an increasingly fast-moving and complex world.  We have to tackle more and more inter-connected challenges simultaneously. 

    It is increasingly difficult in the 21st century to be “Renaissance Man” – if ever such an individual existed.  So NATO needs your ideas, your policy proposals and yes – from time to time – your constructive criticism to keep us on our toes and help us to better understand the world around us.  And if we cannot clearly take on board all of your ideas here in Riga, do not worry.  There will be other NATO Summits in the very near future; and what you discuss here today and tomorrow will already help us to set the agenda for 2008 and 2009.  And please do not hesitate to be bold. 
    As George Bernard Shaw once said:  “all great truths begin as blasphemies”.

    But before we plan the future, we need to take care of the present.  That means making sure that NATO is fit for purpose for the missions it is carrying out today.  The better the job we do in mastering the present, the less we will have to fear from the future.  That will be my objective at this Riga Summit: to have a 21st century NATO fit for 21st century conditions.

    But what does this mean?

    First and foremost, it is not enough to agree on our analysis of this new 21st century world.  We all know that it is a world of globalised threats that require a globalised response.  We know that we have to anticipate threats emerging from anywhere: events in the world’s poorest and most under-developed societies can threaten the security of the world’s wealthiest.  We know that we have to confront not single, easily identifiable threats but flows: that is to say terrorism allied to drug profits or cyber space ; or small arms allied to militias and to illicit diamond trading; or organised crime networks allied to nuclear proliferation. The new conventional wisdom is that we need to operate without self-imposed geographical restrictions; that we need armed forces able to create and maintain stability as much as to win wars; and that we will not succeed unless we have an integrated approach where military, diplomatic and economic means combine to produce maximum effect.

    But if we know all this intellectually, it does not mean that we draw the consequences in practice. 

    Some are still surprised that far away Afghanistan has become NATO’s primary theatre of operations.  Others still see transformation as a luxury rather than a necessity if we are to protect our forces and carry out effective operations.  Others too believe that we can protect our populations and project stability beyond our shores with ever declining defence budgets and shrinking infantry battalions.  In short we need to generate the political will and military capabilities that are consistent with our intellectual understanding of the important challenges we are facing.

    Second we need to be clear where NATO’s strengths lie.  In the age of globalisation, virtually any societal problem can quickly escalate into a security challenge.  So it is hardly surprising that pundits are constantly calling on NATO to go global, and add every new emerging challenge to its already crowded agenda.  In some cases they are right.  I am thinking of energy security, for example.  But NATO cannot take on every problem thrown up by globalisation.  Otherwise we would be a Jack of all trades, but master of none.  We need to apply benchmarks.  Where does NATO add value?

    Where are we in real demand? Where can NATO’s particular political and military assets be used to best effect?

    The answer is clearly stabilisation operations.  We have a range of invaluable assets.  Integrated forces.  A well-established and tried and tested political-military decision making structure and a network of partners and other troop contributors from across the globe – 18 at present have forces under NATO command. 

    Moreover, we have shown the political will to apply these assets not just out of area but thousands of miles beyond Europe – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Darfur.

    At the same time, we have seen how challenging 21st century operations can be, even with NATO’s inherent strengths and experience.  They take place not only farther from our shores but in much more demanding and dangerous environments. 

    Reconstruction has to begin from scratch, a whole new political process has to be created, fighting and nation building have to be carried out side by side, and regional neighbours have to be brought in.  So if we are to meet the demands upon us, we need to learn on the job, and do our operations even better.

    First we need to prevail wherever we are engaged.  Afghanistan is the obvious case in point.  We need to prevail even when the going gets rough, or when newspaper editorialists start calling for exit strategies.  We either confront the threats where they emerge, or they will end up on our doorstep.

    We have had a difficult summer in Afghanistan.  Not surprising in view of ISAF’s expansion to the south and east where the Taliban were able to recover and regroup.  Taking control has meant casualties and has inevitably focused media and public attention on body counts rather than development accounts.  But the reality is that we have made enormous progress.  In democracy: there is now a constitution that protects fundamental human rights, an elected President and Parliament; in equality: 87 women, 25 per cent of the total number of MPs,  sit in the National Assembly; in health care: 80 per cent of the population now has access to health care – up to ten times from 2001; in education: almost six million Afghans are in school, up six times from 2001; and in the economy: GDP has tripled in the past five years and per capita income has doubled.  And, last but by no means least, let us not forget the four million Afghan refugees who, after twenty years of constant internal conflict, have been able to return to their homes.

    It is the duty of everyone who cares for Afghanistan to get this more positive message across.  Afghanistan is “mission possible”.  While we have to be frank about the risks, we also need to avoid over-dramatising our difficulties in ways that feed self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.  Above all, we need to remind our publics – and ourselves too occasionally – of the reasons why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.

    NATO has been in Afghanistan for three years already.  Time enough to know what it takes to succeed.

    We must resource ISAF properly.  It is not acceptable that our mission in the south still lacks 20 per cent of its combined joint status of requirements.  I have spoken out repeatedly about national caveats that take away a commander’s flexibility and undermine our operational effectiveness.  Just as we need combat forces that can also handle reconstruction, we can ill afford reconstruction armies that cannot handle combat.  A modest but critical number of quick reaction companies and enablers can make an immense difference.

    Next we must improve our coordination with the civilian actors – not only in theatre but at the strategic headquarters level too.  Security and development must go hand in hand.  But they cannot be improvised ad hoc.  We have to plan better together and the other major institutions such as the UN, EU and World Bank, need to engage more.  NATO is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success.  That is why I have called on the EU in particular to contribute its expertise in police training and I am happy that a mission to this end will visit Afghanistan soon.

    Our exit strategy will depend on Afghanistan having its own security forces.  That is why this Summit here in Riga will launch a NATO training and equipment programme for the Afghan National Army.

    Finally we need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan.  We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.  As we have seen in the Balkans, if the politics do not move, nothing moves.  So we need a body like the Peace Implementation Council in Bosnia or the Contact Group in Kosovo that brings the key international actors together on a regular basis and coordinates overall strategy. 

    In the first instance this is to support the Afghan government – which must have ownership of the process; but it is also needed vis-à-vis the international community and key neighbouring states, such as Pakistan.

    Afghanistan is NATO’s first mission outside Europe. But it will not be the last.  So we have no time to waste in pushing forward with NATO’s military transformation.  It is not just about acquiring new capabilities and increasing our defence budgets, although sooner or later we will have to do both. 

    We also need to increase the usability of our forces.  We need more adaptive planning, and more equitable funding.  We need to take a fresh look at those areas that offer new synergies – from multinational logistics to intelligence sharing.   

    The initiatives that you will see here in Riga demonstrate that NATO can devise cost-effective solutions that make sense for our nations: a NATO Response Force that can manage crises as well as promote state of the art experimentation; a C17 consortium that is efficient as well as affordable; a common funding arrangement that will encourage nations to commit forces. 

    Transformation is a never ending process so we need to maintain the momentum generated by this Summit.  For instance, in developing new common capabilities, such as AGS or missile defence, in pushing ahead with our programmes to defend against terrorism and to protect our forces against WMD.  We need better interaction with the EU’s capability developments to ensure coherence and to reduce duplication. 

    And I will be looking to reform NATO’s own methods of delivering capabilities, for instance by reviewing our force planning, making sure that all our capabilities planning activities are better integrated and bringing Allied Command Transformation closer to NATO’s everyday work.  Success in these endeavours will require more reform of NATO Headquarters itself.  There are still too many vestiges of the Cold War in the way in which the NATO structure is organised even today. 

    I have started essential reforms in financial management, capabilities planning and better coordination between the civilian and military staffs: reforms which I intend to pursue vigorously.

    The second area where NATO has something important to offer is partnership.  The evolution of partnership is among NATO’ greatest success stories.  In a fragmenting world, partnership has built new bridges.  But we can achieve a lot more. 

    If we sustain the momentum of our partnership policy, it can be a major strategic tool for coping with 21st century challenges.  What do we need to do?  First, make the toolbox of our partnership activities more widely available to all of our partners; then bring our regular NATO business closer to our Partners so they feel more involved in our discussions; and then reach out to those countries who share our goals and want to work with us. Partnership can help us in our operations – by enabling contributors from all parts of the globe to use NATO as a flexible, efficient framework for making their contribution.

    But partnership can also help others to help themselves.  Exploiting NATO’s potential as a trainer, for example, could have a positive impact on the dynamics in the Middle East.  I also believe that our training support could help the African Union realise its own ambition to become a more effective regional peacekeeper.  In short, the potential of our partnership is far greater than some might believe.  The decisions I expect from our Summit here at Riga should help us unlock this potential.

    A third area where I believe NATO is indispensable is in finishing the unfinished business of Europe.  The more our own continent is an integrated whole, the more we will be able to direct our energies and resources to solving the problems of the world beyond Europe – and they are big enough. NATO has played a key role in overcoming Europe’s division, but that job is not over yet.  There are still countries that are knocking on NATO’s door – some want to become members, others want to become Partners.  Tomorrow, at the Summit, all these countries will receive a strong signal of encouragement.

    But they all want more.  And we must help them achieve what they want – because, ultimately, their goals are also NATO’s goals.  If Europe is to become truly whole and free, we must ensure that each country can chose its own security alignments, and that each country finds the institutional home that it seeks.

    But what about Russia?  Does Russia have such a home?  Maybe not as a full member of NATO or the EU.  But certainly as an important and privileged partner. 

    That is why rejuvenating NATO-Russia relations is another major step in finishing Europe’s unfinished business.  From operations to cooperation in areas of common interest – such as terrorism or missile defence – the NATO-Russia relationship also has much unexploited potential.

    In all of these areas, our Summit in Riga will give a decisive impulse.  It will be a true transformation Summit.  But we must have a clear vision of where we want to go after Riga.  The next Summit most probably in the spring of 2008 is only little over a year away. 

    Of course, one might argue that all that we need to do in this short time span is to implement the Riga decisions.  After all that will be work enough as we step up our engagement in Afghanistan, intensify our partnerships, start our training programmes and push ahead with our military transformation.  To my mind, however, this won’t be enough.  Just as Riga is more than a mere reaffirmation of the Prague or Istanbul decisions, a possible 2008 Summit must do more than proclaim that the implementation of the Riga decisions has been completed. 

    Such a minimalist approach is not sufficient for an Alliance that is engaged as much as ours. 

    What are my expectations for a 2008 Summit? 

    First, I would hope that by 2008 we will have made visible progress in our operations.  For example, I would hope that by 2008 our presence in Kosovo has been reduced and restructured, and the Western Balkans moved closer to NATO.

    In other words, by 2008 we will have less NATO in the Balkans, but more of the Balkans in NATO.  I would not dare to predict that a similar downsizing could take place in Afghanistan.  But here, too, it would hope that by 2008 we will have made considerable progress – with a more stable political architecture in place, and with a strong interface between NATO and the civilian agencies and effective, trusted Afghan security forces gradually taking control.

    I also expect a further enhancement of our political dialogue – both among Allies as well as with Partners.  In recent years, we have made great strides in broadening our dialogue.  But there is still a palpable tendency to regard certain subjects as off-limits to our discussions.  We must overcome such hesitations.  André Maurois once said that “the difficult part in an argument is not to defend one‘s opinion, but rather to know it”.  This should also be our motto. 

    We must air our thoughts on such issues as proliferation or missile defence, or about NATO’s potential role in energy security, even if our initial positions may differ.  And, as I said earlier, NATO is not just a force provider. Where our troops are engaged in an operation, we must be part of the process leading to a political solution.  But this also means that we need to debate our strategic policy intensively: among Allies, with our partners, and with other organisations and key regional players. 

    In short, we must debate all aspects of defence and security in the new security environment if we are to fully understand the complex world in which we now have to operate..  Such a dialogue is a key prerequisite for keeping NATO vibrant.

    I will be seeking also more progress in NATO-EU relations.  Given the well-known difficulties in this relationship, I may appear like a hopeless optimist.  I am not.  I am simply a realist. 

    And realism leads me to suggest that the pressure of operational challenges – in post-status Kosovo as well as in Afghanistan – will force NATO and the EU to coordinate more and better.  That is why, by 2008, we might have finally managed to break the logjam in NATO-EU relations, and developed a pragmatic level of cooperation without the notion of a beauty contest.

    Finally, I also expect the post-Riga period to lead to a more general reassessment of NATO’s purpose and roles. 

    Clearly, NATO has become a multi-faceted institution, and any notion of explaining NATO with one simple bumper-sticker slogan is no longer possible.  But with NATO’s operational spectrum ranging from combat to training to humanitarian relief, and with our ever closer cooperation with partner countries and other institutions, it is becoming ever more difficult for our publics to understand why NATO is unique.

    To my mind, getting this message across to our publics is going to be a key public diplomacy challenge in the coming years. 

    So looking to 2008 – and even beyond to our 60th anniversary in 2009 – I predict that the idea will gather momentum to draft a new, basic document outlining NATO’s grand strategy.  Such a document would offer the opportunity to lay out why NATO is unique; where it is transforming; and how it is tackling the core security challenges that will confront our transatlantic community of democracies for many years to come.  Such a document – a new Strategic Concept – will not only make clear to our publics where NATO’s future roles and missions lie. 

    We also need it for ourselves – for once we know our priorities and our limits better, so we can better generate the political will and resources to be successful.

    But before we start any drafting, rest assured that we’ll have another Think Tank Conference like this one.  We wouldn’t want to leave you behind, like Cinderella kept away from the ball.  And I am confident that you will have plenty of stimulating ideas and proposals to keep our grey cells in perpetual motion.

    Thank you.


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