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The Transatlantic Link: "Our Overall Aims Are The Same"

The Transatlantic Link: "Our Overall Aims Are The Same"

Speech by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson at the Annual Conference of the Defence and Society, Salen, Sweden, January 21, 2002.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

People in Brussels have asked me: "Why come to Sweden to talk about the Transatlantic link?"

First, I replied, because I was asked by my good friend Björn von Sydow, and because I always value the opportunity to talk with Swedish audiences.

Second, because the relationship between Europe and North America is as important to the security of northern Sweden as it is to metropolitan Paris, Berlin, or London. We are all subject to the same risks, threats and uncertainties. Our institutional response to some of these challenges may be different. But our overall aims are the same.

Sadly, it is easier to make this case today than it was on 10 September 2001. In that very different world, it was increasingly commonplace for experts to argue that the transatlantic relationship was in gradual but terminal decline.

Genetically modified foods and Kyoto were portrayed as irreconcilable differences. Opposing views on the death penalty were portrayed as grounds for separation. And the list goes on and on, from bananas to Hollywood to accusations of US "hegemony".

Because of this bickering, some pundits made the mistake of thinking that the transatlantic relationship was coming to an end. In their view, the transatlantic link was simply a marriage of convenience -- or more accurately, a shotgun wedding imposed by the Soviet Union. And that now, Europe and North America were ready to file for divorce.

11 September 2001 shattered that myth. Indeed, one of the clearest results of those tragic events has been a total affirmation that Europe and North America remain what they have been for over five decades: a rock-solid community of shared values.

The day after the attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline that read: "We are all Americans now". Coming from Le Monde, that was a powerful message indeed -- and it was spot on.

The most obvious manifestation of that solidarity was NATO's decision, on 12 September 2001, to invoke Article V, and declare that this attack was an attack against all 19 members. This decision demonstrated that the mutual trust and commitments on which the Alliance has been based for 52 years remain tangible, real and reciprocal. The fundamental link between two continents and among 19 nations is as strong as ever. As far as I am concerned, this should put the myth of transatlantic divorce to rest, once and for all.

Indeed, Article V is not just a statement of solidarity. It is also a commitment by Allies to offer practical support. And the response by America's Allies reveals a basic truth about the transatlantic relationship: that as we enter the 21st century, NATO remains the pre-eminent forum for preserving the security of all its members.

At the outset of the crisis, the United States asked for a range of specific measures, such as enhanced intelligence support; blanket overflight rights for US and other Allied aircraft; and access to ports and airfields. This was quickly granted.

Elements of NATO's Standing Naval Forces were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean. And some US assets in the Balkans were replaced by European capabilities.

Most significant was the move of seven NATO AWACS airborne early warning aircraft from their base in Europe across the Atlantic to replace US aircraft now being transferred to Asia. These NATO aircraft are now patrolling US airspace. They were immediately backfilled in the Balkans by French and UK AWACS planes.

As President Bush said in his joint press conference with me in the White House Rrose Garden on 10 October: "This has never happened before, that NATO has come to help defend our country, but it happened in this time of need and for that we are grateful". The old world coming to support the new, to misquote Winston Churchill.

Of course, NATO is not acting alone in support of the United States. Within hours of the North Atlantic Council's historic decision, the 46 member countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council -- from North America, Europe and Central Asia -- issued a statement in which they agreed that these acts were an attack not only on the US, but on our common values. And they pledged to undertake all efforts needed to combat terrorism.

I was not surprised that Sweden was a strong supporter of this statement. Nor that Sweden has taken a leadership role, since then, in proposing ways that NATO's Partners can enhance our cooperation in combating terrorism. Considering that many of these non-NATO countries are crucial partners in this fight, that is an important contribution indeed.

This has been an extraordinary story of solidarity and success. But, like the takes of Valhalla, some myths are difficult to kill. In recent weeks, the merchants of transatlantic gloom have re-emerged to announce that the success of the coalition campaign in Afghanistan has permanently marginalised NATO.

The same thing was said in the early 1990s after Desert Storm. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.

NATO did not lead the campaign against the Taleban and Al-Qaeda because, as in Desert Storm, a larger more diverse coalition was needed. But NATO’s European members have again played a key role and are leading the international stability force now deploying to Kabul. Their ability to work effectively with each other and with the Americans is the result of decades of cooperation in NATO. And those who believe that Afghanistan is now the sole model for future military operations are as misguided as those who said the same thing after Desert Storm and Kosovo.

No modern military operation can be undertaken by a single country. Even superpowers need allies and coalitions. NATO and its EAPC partners are the world’s largest permanent coalition. And NATO is the world’s most effective military organisation. It will not be in the lead in every crisis. But it has a vital role in my view the vital role to play in multinational crisis prevention and crisis management.

I recognise of course, that myths aside, 11 September has raised legitimate and important questions about the future direction of the transatlantic relationship.

Some in Europe are already arguing that the United Sates is becoming too unilateralist. The time and effort taken by Washington to build and sustain the coalition against terrorism is a robust short-term counter to that view. But we need to keep it in mind for the longer term.

Others in the US will say that 11 September 2001 was the result of their country being involved abroad too widely and too deeply. These 21st century isolationists will seek a reduction in America’s foreign obligations, commitments and military presence. They will not, in my view, win the argument. But here too we in Europe must consider what we can do to reinforce multilateralism and an active transatlantic partnership.

This is not a veiled hint that Sweden should join NATO. It is a call to all Europeans, no matter what their place in our institution architecture, to consider how we can build on the emotional and practical strengthening of transatlantic bonds caused by the terrible attacks last year.

A key element is the question of greater burdensharing. The Balkans show the way ahead.

At the political level, there is already deep and effective practical cooperation between the organisations, civil and military, working to ensure security in Bosnia, Kosovo and FYROM. Paradoxically, the EU and NATO cooperate together better in practice on the ground in Macedonia than they do in theory in Brussels. Continuing US involvement is essential to avoid repeating the mistakes of the UNPROFOR era. But we must encourage the NATO-EU relationship so that the Europeans can take a greater share of the political burden in building peace throughout the Balkan region.

Militarily, the current picture on the ground is equally positive. The Americans are fully engaged. But the bulk of forces in SFOR, KFOR and Task Force Fox in Macedonia are European. Civil assistance and financial support is also overwhelmingly European.

The longer term picture is much less optimistic. For all the political energy expended in NATO to implement the Defence Capabilities Initiative, and in the EU to push ahead with the complementary Headline Goal process, the truth is that Europe remains a military pygmy.

Orders of battle and headquarters wiring diagrams read impressively. Overall numbers of soldiers, tanks and aircraft give a similar impression of military power. But the reality is that we are hard pressed to maintain about 50,000 European troops in the Balkans. And that a new operation would oblige most European countries to slash their contingents in Bosnia, Kosovo and FYROM to produce usable forces in any numbers.

American critics of Europe’s military incapability are right. If we are to ensure that the US moves neither towards unilateralism nor isolationism, all European countries must show a new willingness to develop effective crisis management capabilities.

Many of us have the right skills.

Sweden’s expertise in peace support operations is a case in point. But hardly any European countries can deploy usable and effective forces in significant numbers outside their borders, and sustain them for months or even years as we all need to do in today’s complex international environment.

Too many governments spend too little on defence. And too many governments waste what they do spend on capabilities that contribute nothing to their own security, the security of Europe or our wider collective interests.

Smart investment is the only way to share the transatlantic burden, and deal effectively with our common risks and challenges. Investment on soldiers that have the right training and can be used to maintain peace in the Balkans, bring stability to Afghanistan, or fight terrorism at home and abroad.

Investment on modern precision weapons that can bring conflicts quickly to a successful conclusion, with the minimum loss of life. Investment on strategic transport, ships as well as aircraft, civil as well as military. Investment in the unglamorous logistic capabilities that underpin all successful military operations. And investment in the essential central nervous system of such operations, modern, interoperable command and control arrangements.

Smart investment goes beyond defence budgets. To deal with today’s crises, we need better homeland defence, better intelligence, more deployable civil police, and more effective monitoring of money laundering. The list goes on and on. But there are savings to be made as well. In today’s world, we need fewer unusable conscripts. Smaller heavy metal armies. Fewer static bases. And fewer static headquarters.

This is an ambitious agenda. It requires political foresight and perseverance to implement. But if we fail, can we expect our transatlantic partners to continue the close cooperation and consultation on which Europe’s security has been based for over 50 years? And what will our public say when terrorists strike or instability threatens and Europe’s response is limited to hand-wringing communiqués?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If one wants to know how much security has changed over the past ten years, this country's evolution is an excellent illustration.

In joining the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Sweden joined over 40 countries of North America, Europe and Central Asia in a body which discusses how to tackle the challenges we all face together: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms control, regional tensions. And by participating in the UN-mandated, NATO-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, Sweden has demonstrated that it is willing to contribute actively to peace in the post-Cold War era, without compromising its traditional political inclinations. Significant changes, indeed, in the way security challenges are viewed, and met.

The events of 11 September have, if anything, made the evolution of Euro-Atlantic security even more clear. And once again, Sweden has played an important role. The strong and immediate message of solidarity with the United States, made both by Prime Minister Persson and by Foreign Minister Lindh, demonstrated that the transatlantic link, which NATO has embodied for half a century, does not include only NATO countries. On the contrary. Today, the transatlantic community is not limited by formal affiliation, or name-plates at a conference table. What binds us together is our values. As Deputy Foreign Minister Dahlgren said, Sweden "is certainly not neutral in the war against terrorism. We are participating in this struggle like any other friend of the United States".

A decade ago, this might have seemed a ridiculous fantasy. Today, it all makes eminent sense. But as the Swedish proverb says, "the afternoon knows what the morning never dreamed."

Thank you.

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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