The Netherlands

3 Sep. 2007

"NATO and Missile Defence"

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the AIAA Multinational BMD Conference and Exhibition

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying that it is a real pleasure to be here with you today.  Missile defence is a subject that few Secretaries General of NATO have ever had to address.  I have a certain feeling that this is about to change – because in the 21st century, the importance of missile defence, and its relevance to the NATO Alliance, is bound to grow.

In the Cold War, when huge nuclear arsenals were facing each other, missile defence was, quite literally, on the defensive:  the sheer number of offensive forces could overwhelm any defence system, no matter how sophisticated.  Undoubtedly, the superpowers made considerable efforts in missile defence research and development – the Soviet Union as you might remember even deployed a system around Moscow.  And even after the ABM Treaty was signed, there was a need to keep abreast of relevant technologies, in order to avoid nasty surprises.  But then the odds were not in favour of missile defence.  That concept remained in the shadow of the East-West military competition. 

Today, the strategic landscape has changed, and so has the context for missile defence.  Clearly, scenarios of mutually assured destruction need no longer concern us – and we should all be thankful for that.  Yet the new security environment confronts us with a number of quite different challenges that have led to a reappraisal of missile defence. 

So what are the challenges that account for this reappraisal?

First, the evolution of the threat.  I am not going to make a detailed threat analysis – this is an exercise that NATO Allies are currently engaged in.  All I want to say here is that North Korea’s nuclear test last year, there were some shades of positive news this morning and Iran’s ongoing nuclear programme send a clear message about the ambitions of these countries.  So do their increasingly ambitious ballistic missile development and testing programmes, not to speak about 3000 centrifuges.  North Korea may be far away from NATO’s European perimeter, but it is not that far away from our two North American Allies.  Iran, on the other hand, is much closer.  And it is situated in a place from where it can challenge many Allied interests.

Second, there is also a serious concern that the nuclear ambitions of certain countries could lead to a “domino effect” in their respective regions.  Again, Iran and North Korea are two critical cases.  If they become fully-fledged nuclear powers, other nations in the Middle East and Asia might feel compelled to follow.  As a result, nuclear proliferation might accelerate substantially.  We could find ourselves in a situation with more fingers on more triggers – and not all of them may belong to rational individuals.

This brings me to my third point:  the limits of deterrence.  The attacks of “9/11” have reminded us of the emergence of a new breed of terrorism, bent on inflicting mass casualties.  True, these attacks were not carried out by a state, but by what we call non-state actors.  They did not fire any missiles, but used hijacked civilian airliners as weapons of mass destruction.  Nevertheless, these and other attacks demonstrated that our traditional concepts of rationality, self-restraint, and mutual deterrence may not always work the way we want them to.  Perhaps states are less prone to suicidal behaviour than the likes of Al Qaeda, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it.  In a nutshell, we increasingly realise that deterrence alone is insufficient: it needs to be augmented by defence.

Another factor that has contributed to the reappraisal of missile defence is the emergence of a private market for WMD components and know how.  The smuggling network of A. Q. Khan, who supplied several nations with blueprints and components for nuclear weapons and missiles, has dealt a heavy blow to international non-proliferation.  This “WMD black market” has further eroded the logic that proliferation and non-proliferation are essentially matters between states and governments.  It is now also a matter of “private entrepreneurs”. 

Finally, many of these new developments are exacerbated by the proliferation of ballistic missile technology.  Here, too, patterns are changing.  In the past, a customer would buy a fully-fledged missile system from the seller.  Today, however, several nations are cooperating on the development, production and testing of missiles.  This reduces testing needs, international visibility, and costs.  As a result, the spread of WMD is accompanied by a parallel spread of delivery means.  In 1972, when the ABM Treaty was signed, 9 countries possessed ballistic missiles.  Today, that number has almost tripled.

What does this all mean for the NATO Alliance?  Clearly, if the transatlantic community wants to prevail in this new strategic landscape, we must rethink the fundamentals of our political and military strategies.  And this rethinking is indeed well under way.  NATO has moved beyond the Cold War paradigm of “I exist, therefore I deter”.  Over the past few years, the Alliance has adopted a much more active approach to security.  Today, NATO is engaged in operations and missions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and, of course, Central Asia.  We are engaged in combat, peacekeeping, training and education, logistics support, and humanitarian relief.  For all these operations and missions, the Cold War no longer serves as a point of reference.  They are impressive demonstrations of an Alliance adapting to a radically new security environment. 

I firmly believe that this ongoing adaptation of our Alliance would remain incomplete if it did not also include a fresh look at missile defence.  And I am happy to say, we have made some headway here as well.  For quite some time now, Allies have been discussing how best to protect deployed forces, population centres and territory of NATO member states from ballistic missiles, including those that could carry chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.  At the NATO Prague Summit in 2002 we launched the Missile Defence Feasibility Study, in order to examine defence options against the full range of missile threats.  And we have launched a programme for the development, by 2010, of a capability to protect our deployed troops against short and medium range ballistic missiles.  In other words, NATO has been moving and is moving in the right direction.

But you and I know that is not the entire story.  Just look at the current public debate on the US national missile defence system and its so called Third Site in Europe.  To me, that debate shows that much of the current thinking about missile defence is still constrained by ideology and by excessive Cold War baggage.  Whether in our own member countries or in Russia: too many people are still quick to dismiss missile defence as technically infeasible, militarily destabilising, and economically wasteful.  Indeed, I can hardly think of any other issue in modern strategic thinking where Cold War dogmas are as persistent as in the area of missile defence.

I will say a bit more about Russia in a moment.  But it is not just with a view towards Russia when I say that we have to move the debate to a more rational level.  We simply cannot afford to approach our defence requirements of today and tomorrow with the mindset and terminology of yesterday.  After all, missile defence goes to the heart of NATO’s collective defence obligation.  It goes to the heart of  Atlantic solidarity.

For this reason, we need a new approach to missile defence – an approach that combines national views and security needs with those of the Alliance at large; an approach that draws the right political and technical conclusions from the increasing ballistic missile threat – and which sets out a clear, agreed course of action to take.

What are the main elements of such an approach?  Let me highlight what I believe should be the key points.

My first point is one of principle.  In our Alliance, security is indivisible.  And that is why, when it comes to missile defence, there simply cannot be an “A-league” and a “B-league” within NATO.  I am not suggesting that all Allies must now acquire identical military capabilities.  In an Alliance of 26 countries, that is an illusion.  But what the principle of “indivisible security” does suggest is that individual plans or initiatives of one or several Allies should be complementary with the collective security requirements of the entire Alliance.  There is a clear desire among Allies to see the proposed US missile defence system and NATO’s own programme evolve in such a complementary way.  I believe that this is a sensible principle – and that we will follow it as we move ahead.

My second point: we need to continue our discussions and consultations among Allies.  NATO Allies have been discussing missile defence for quite some time, but the proposed US system with its Third Site in Europe is a rather recent development.  So we need to absorb the full implications of this project for NATO.  Put another way, we need to look at which NATO countries would be protected?  Which would not?  What would be our NATO options to provide coverage for those Allies not under the US umbrella?  And, most importantly, how can NATO’s current and planned missile defence system be “bolted on” to the US system? 

We have had a number of detailed discussions at senior political levels, including several meetings of the North Atlantic Council, with senior political and defence advisors from capitals.  General Obering and Assistant Secretary Rood have been regular guests at NATO and they will be, in my opinion, in the future. NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers have also had useful discussions on this issue in recent months.  We need to continue that dialogue among Allies, and to further deepen it.

My third point: we must continue our discussions with Russia.  Let me be blunt.  Russia’s harsh criticism of the US plans has given the debate a NATO-Russia angle that I consider unproductive and unhelpful.  We have been subjected to some very loud Russian rhetoric – including warnings to our Czech and Polish Allies that should have no place in today’s Europe.  All this is distracting us from the key question – how to safeguard our security in an age of missile proliferation. And  this is a question that poses itself for Russia just as urgently as it does for us. 

We are always ready to listen to the concerns that Russia may have over the proposed US Third Site in Europe.  The United States has sought to address these concerns through a number of detailed senior-level briefings to the Russian government.  And it has also made some specific proposals for cooperation with Russia.  And NATO is also doing its share to ensure transparency, by hosting several discussions with detailed briefings in the NATO-Russia Council.

As of today, Russian rhetoric has not abated – we are, after all, in an election period.  However, we are also receiving other, more pragmatic signals, such as President Putin’s offer to jointly operate a radar in Azerbaijan.  It is not for me to judge the specific merits of this proposal, but I believe it indicates three things:  first, that Russia acknowledges the existence of a potential missile threat at its periphery; second, Russia is also looking at cooperative solutions; and third, that a pragmatic compromise on missile defence, based on common perceptions and common interests, can eventually be found.

Another reason for guarded optimism is our practical cooperation with Russia on Theatre Missile Defence.  We have completed the second phase of our work with Russia, which includes an Interoperability Study, and the conduct of a series of military exercises where we looked at how NATO and Russian TMD systems could work together to provide protection from ballistic missile threats to forces that are deployed on operations.  This cooperation continues.  It is solid and it is valuable.

To sum up, given the new momentum that missile defence has acquired, we must take a fresh look at our overall missile defence posture.  In particular, we need to examine the implications of the planned US system in light of the Missile Defence Feasibility Study that I mentioned earlier.  And we will have to examine how our existing programmes and the proposed US system can be made compatible.  So our NATO roadmap on missile defence is clear: to prepare the ground for discussions – and possible decisions – at next February’s NATO Defence Ministers meeting and at our next NATO Summit in Bucharest in April.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO has successfully left the Cold War behind.  On the road to a new Alliance, we jettisoned many outdated dogmas.  For example, no one today speaks of “out-of-area” anymore.  In today’s security landscape, that terminology has clearly and totally lost its meaning.

Now I believe that the same logic should apply to missile defence.  Here, too, we need to get rid of outdated dogmas.  We need to measure the value of theatre and strategic defences against today’s and tomorrow’s security environment, not against the threats of a bygone era.  Missile defence will not be the answer to all our security problems.  But it clearly deserves a more prominent place in our efforts to cope with the challenges of an uncertain 21st century.  So the discussion and debate will continue. I thank you very much for your attention.