From the event


8 Nov 2007

NATO today and tomorrow

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at a seminar on “NATO today and tomorrow”,
organised by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Mr. Väyrynen,
Dr. Penttilä,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I realise I am visiting a nation in shock and I want to convey my sincere condolences also on behalf of my wife and of my entire delegation.

Let me thank the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and the Finnish Foreign Ministry for the opportunity to complement my official meetings in Helsinki today with a public meeting.  I know that NATO has been the subject of an increasingly lively political and public debate here in Finland.  And I hope that my visit today, and this seminar, will help to inform that debate.

As you are discussing Finland’s relationship with the Atlantic Alliance, there is, of course, one fundamental question that we need to answer: what is NATO today? 

What is NATO?  If you ask three people, you are likely to get four different opinions.  Is NATO a military organisation or a political one?  Is it about collective defence or about collective security?  Is it an exclusive club or an open community?  Is it about defending interests or values?  And where are these interests or values to be defended: within Europe, or much further afield, for example in Afghanistan?

Perhaps the NATO Handbook gives us the answer.  It tells us that NATO is “... an inter-governmental organisation in which member countries retain their full sovereignty and independence.  The Organisation provides the forum in which they consult together ... and take decisions on political and military matters affecting their security.”

Factually, all of this is correct – I would never dare to disagree with our own Handbook!  But you will agree with me that this definition doesn’t really explain what NATO is about.  For example, it doesn’t explain why this Alliance has lasted so long, almost six decades.  Nor does it tell you why NATO has survived the disappearance of the threat that once brought it into being.  And it doesn’t tell you why this Alliance is likely to remain in business for many more years to come.

No, if we want to know what NATO is, why it is still around, and why it is more busy today than ever before, we need to look somewhere else: we need to look at the security challenges that we face, and at how best to respond to them.  Then it will become quite clear what NATO is, and why it retains such a central role today:  NATO is a unique instrument for safeguarding our security in a rapidly changing world.

You all know that NATO came into being under very different circumstances than today’s.  In 1949, when 10 European nations, Canada and the United States signed the Washington Treaty, the world was bipolar.  The Cold War was just beginning to get real cold.  And so NATO’s job was to defend Europe’s democratic Western half against military pressure and political intimidation from the Eastern part of the continent.

But the Alliance always did much more than that as well.  It acted as a security umbrella for the European integration process.  And NATO helped to shape a strong transatlantic community of shared democratic values – freedom, pluralism, tolerance – whose viability was independent of the Cold War standoff on this continent. 

At the end of the Cold War, some pundits argued that NATO had fulfilled its original purpose and could now safely be disbanded.  That view turned out to be rather short-sighted.  In this new era, NATO was needed just as much as before – not as a means of deterring an imminent attack, however, but as a framework for helping to manage Europe’s transition after the end of the Cold War. 

NATO had to embrace the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, who were craving for their share of Europe, including its Atlantic dimension; we had to find ways to “associate” a Russia that, in a sense, was both an old empire and a new state, and still unsure of its European vocation; and we had to address the conflicts in the Balkans, which were making mockery of the very idea of Europe as an undivided continent of peace and shared values.

The French actor/singer Maurice Chevalier, very old and very ill, went to a party in Hollywood, and someone asked him how he was doing.  Chevalier replied:  “If you consider the alternative, I’m actually doing pretty well!”

Chevalier's quip fits perfectly to describe what happened in Europe after 1990. There were serious convulsions, notably in the Balkans.  But the alternative could have been much worse.  In previous centuries, a transformation of such magnitude would not have been possible without major bloodshed.  This time around, it turned out much better. 

Why?  Because, through NATO, the transatlantic community stayed engaged.  And because we could count on Partner countries, such as Finland, who recognised early on that by associating themselves with NATO, they could play a key role in shaping the new Europe in line with their own security interests.  Indeed, Partnership with NATO has allowed Finland to punch above its weight internationally – and to play a major part in creating a true Euro-Atlantic culture of cooperative security.

But then, just as we felt that we had managed a soft landing from the Cold War, “9/11” happened.  The attacks on New York and Washington marked the dawn of a new era: the era of “globalised insecurity”.  These attacks were committed by Saudi nationals who had trained in Africa, enjoyed a safe haven in Afghanistan, planned in Germany, took flight lessons in the US, used simple box-cutters to hi-jack civilian airliners, and finally turned these planes into Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Can there be any more vivid example of the darker side of globalisation?  Can there be any more vivid reminder that our security is more and more affected by what is happening elsewhere on this globe?

In the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, the main challenges for European security had come from within Europe.  Today, our main concerns lie increasingly with regions outside our continent.  Globalisation has once and for all eliminated the notion of achieving safety by geographical distance.  Terrorism, failed states, and the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction are threats that don’t respect borders.  Against such challenges, geography no longer serves as a shield.

In light of these challenges, our traditional approaches need revisiting.  What we need is a policy that can be summed up in one word: engagement.  We need to tackle the challenges where they emerge – or they will end up on our doorstep. 

Both NATO Allies and Partners are taking the logic of engagement very seriously.  At the moment, well over 50,000 troops are deployed under the Alliance’s command in a range of United Nations-mandated operations on three different continents.  More than 40,000 soldiers from all 26 Allies and 11 partner nations, including Finland, are engaged in NATO’s most challenging mission ever – to assist Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic and properly governed nation that no longer exports terrorism, instability and crime to its neighbours, our nations and the rest of the world.

NATO-led forces, including Finnish forces, also continue to keep the peace in Kosovo, as talks continue on its future.  We assist defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina; patrol the Mediterranean Sea in a naval anti-terrorist operation; and airlift African Union troops to the Sudanese crisis region of Darfur.  We are also training Iraqi security forces.  And we have been involved in some major disaster response and humanitarian relief operations, especially after the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan two years ago.

This is a very demanding operational agenda.  It requires closer cooperation among Allies than ever before.  But it also requires closer cooperation with our Partners than ever before.  Why?  Because the challenges of safeguarding and promoting security in a globalised world are far too great to be met by any single nation.  In other words, security cooperation is no longer just an option that one can either choose to pursue or ignore.  In our post-9/11 world, security cooperation has become a strategic imperative. 

Indeed, it is my impression that the interests and policies of NATO Allies and some of our major Partner countries, such as Finland, are increasingly converging.  This convergence has become visible in several areas:

The first area is, evidently, operations.  Like the NATO Allies, Finland has never lost sight of the continuing need for territorial defence.  Yet, like the Allies, Finland has also understood the need for moving beyond a narrow geographical understanding of security.  Accordingly, as I pointed out earlier, Finland is a key contributor to NATO-led UN-mandated operations, both inside and outside of Europe.  And there is little to suggest that this will change.

The second area of convergence is our common interest in a so-called comprehensive approach to crisis management.  We have seen very clearly in Afghanistan that security has to go hand in hand with development – neither can survive without the other.  That is why we seek to foster closer, more effective coordination among NATO and the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and other institutions.  Achieving such a comprehensive approach will be difficult, since all institutions are attached to their own ways.  But our efforts will be more successful if we have strong, credible Partners, such as Finland, at our side.

The third area of convergence is our common interest in building a true partnership between NATO and the EU.  Closer cooperation between these two major institutions is vital to our longer-term security interests.  I will continue to do my part in arguing for a breakthrough in the NATO-EU relationship.  And I salute Finland for its work in the EU to that same end.

The fourth area of convergence is military transformation.  Whether our countries are members of NATO, of the EU, or of both, we all need to transform our military forces in line with the evolving security environment.  Transformation is a demanding journey – a journey that we best embark on together.  We therefore welcome Finland’s interest in a possible contribution to the NATO Response Force.  We have a Framework for Partner Involvement in place which allows for a gradual involvement, starting perhaps with training and exercises, without any commitment to contribute to a particular operation.  So the stage is set for a fruitful discussion with Finland on what form our cooperation in the NRF might take.

The final area where our interests converge is in moving our Partnership forward.  Finland is one of NATO’s oldest Partner countries, and one of the most active.  Over the years, Finland has shown strong engagement at the political level, especially in our Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, where it has often brought interesting new insights and suggestions to the table.  And Finland is also helping other Partners in very practical ways, including through generous contributions to several Partnership for Peace Trust Funds.

As a major troop contributor to NATO-led operations, Finland is naturally concerned about being fully involved in information sharing and in having an appropriate role in the relevant command and control aspects.  We understand these concerns.  Clearly, there can be “no taxation without representation”.  That is why we are exploring with your country – as well as with Sweden, which is an equally engaged Partner – how we can improve our information sharing and your participation in the chain-of-command during NATO-led operations.

This list of common interests could easily be extended.  For example, I could mention the Northern Dimension, which sees Finland, Sweden and Norway, increasingly working together also on security aspects.  And when I recently was in Iceland I noticed that there was also considerable interest in this issue there. This is of course of interest to NATO, and the Norwegian Foreign Minister will address the NATO Council on the Nordic Dimension next week.  I could mention the need to constructively engage Russia.  I could also mention the need to strengthen the OSCE, which will be a key objective of Finland’s OSCE chairmanship next year.  In any case, my point is clear and simple: advancing our common interests requires the closest possible relationship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope that I have been able to answer the question “what is NATO?”  It is an Alliance that safeguards our security in new ways and in new places.  And it does so increasingly by working with other likeminded countries, such as Finland.  Indeed, when you look at NATO’s entire network of partnerships, which ranges all the way to Central Asia and across the Mediterranean, you will see that the Alliance now represents the core of a coalition of almost 60 nations.  It is therefore no surprise that Finland is taking a fresh look at its relationship with the Alliance.

We in NATO follow with interest the elaboration of the White Paper on Finland’s Security and Defence Policy, and the work by my good friend Antti Sierla, Finland’s former Ambassador in Brussels, on the possible pros and cons of eventual Finnish closer relation with NATO.  Those are important endeavours, with significant political and public dimensions, which NATO would not wish to influence in any way.  These are decisions to be taken by Finland, and by Finland alone. But let me just say that, whatever the outcome of these endeavours may be, I am convinced that our relations will continue to flourish.  The unique value of NATO’s network of security partnerships is that it allows likeminded countries that have a shared responsibility for international peace and stability to join forces and pull their resources together.  And we will continue to strengthen that network.

Thank you.