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NATO and the New Security Challenges

NATO and the New Security Challenges

Speech by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, at IRIS, Paris, 12 March 2002.

Mesdames, Messieurs,

C'est déjà la deuxième fois que je viens à l'IRIS depuis que je suis Secrétaire général de l'OTAN et c'est toujours avec autant de plaisir. C'est aussi la première fois que je viens en France depuis les attentats du 11 septembre qui ont changé la face du monde. Dans ce nouveau contexte, je crois qu'il est tout à fait opportun de réfléchir ensemble aux nouveaux défis de sécurité auxquels nous sommes confrontés aujourd'hui.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your conference is addressing some of the most difficult challenges faced by the international community as we enter the 21stcentury: how to prevent or counter terrorism; how to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and how to prevent or manage regional crises, and the human rights abuses and turbulence they create.

Each of these new challenges is daunting. But regardless of what coalitions are built to tackle them, success still depends critically on effective security cooperation between Europe and North America.

You would not expect NATO’s Secretary General to say anything different. Irecognise, however, that not everyone agrees. In some circles, lessons are being drawn from the international response to September 11 that imply a bleak future for transatlantic security cooperation. My view is much more optimistic.

Tension over transatlantic security cooperation is nothing new. For five decades, there have been fears that the two sides of the Atlantic were drifting apart or were on a collision course.

I picked up a book last week-end called NATO at 40, published in 1989. The preface was written by Joseph Luns, NATO’s fifth Secretary General, and this is what he said 13 years ago: "When in the second half of 1971 I took up my duties as Secretary General of the North Atlantic Organization (NATO), various reporters asked me what I was going to do about the decline of the Alliance. When I relinquished my position in the summer of 1984, they were still asking the same question. In fact, throughout the whole existence of NATO, prominent academics and members of the press have predicted the imminent collapse and dissolution of the Western Alliance.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we now hear, with as much conviction as ever, the same voices of impending doom."

Now, as someone whose job it is to straddle the Atlantic, I pay close attention to the direction of continental drift. And I know that, despite all the rhetoric, and some very real disagreements over the details of security policy, the transatlantic relationship is as strong today as it has been over the last 50years.

The US, often accused of being isolationist, has actually been fully committed to Europe -- because Washington knows that in Europe, it has trusted friends and enduring Allies. Europe, long accused of being anti-American, has actually been a staunch partner to North America: because in the US and Canada, Europe knows it has brothers in arms, not fair-weather friends.

Today that transatlantic cooperation is as vital as it has ever been. In the wake of September 11th, the transatlantic community faces new and deadly threats. Threats that are transnational, that respect no border. Threats that cannot be defeated without international cooperation.

Terrorism is not new. But by and large, it has until now been a domestic issue, a question of law enforcement and a limited threat. Now, however, terrorism is a question of national security, and international stability.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has also taken on a new and more deadly character. The world crossed an unhappy threshold on September11. Had BinLaden had access to biological, chemical or radiological weapons, can anyone doubt that he would have used them? That means we must do better at stopping and preventing proliferation.

Even regional conflicts look different today. Instability is a rich breeding ground for terrorism, drug and weapons trafficking, and extremism of many kinds -- all of which directly affect our countries. Afghanistan is a perfect example of such a breeding ground. The Balkans, too, would have been much more fertile soil for instability had the international community not stepped in to end the wars there in the 1990s.

These challenges require a response that goes well beyond military and security tools, yet these tools have a vitally important part to play. And NATO is still the key player in the international security field.

NATO is already an essential part of the campaign against terrorism. Regardless of what revisionists might say, the declaration of Article 5, the declaration that the attack on the US was an attack on all 18nations, was a powerful statement of transatlantic unity, and the basis for vital practical assistance.

No-one should undervalue the role played in defence of American cities by the NATO AWACS fleet. NATO’s role in smashing Al Qaida cells in the Balkan. Or NATO’s logistic and other support to coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Without NATO’s partnership relations with countries in Central Asia, the coalition would have been much harder to build and sustain. The International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, in addition, operates efficiently only because the European forces have decades of experience working together in NATO.

But on the subject of Afghanistan, let me dispel the false impression which has taken hold in some circles, that this campaign is some text-book example of super-power unilateralism. I say look again -- because Afghanistan proves just the opposite.

The US Administration knows that no large modern military operation can be undertaken without allies, partners and coalitions. That is why it worked so hard to build the right coalition, in NATO, with individual Allies, and with important countries in the region and around the world. Far from going it alone, the US has relied on traditional allies, deepened ties with newer friends such as Russia, and developed links with new partners as well. Not exactly anybody’s definition of unilateralism!

But that doesn't mean we can be complacent. If we in the Euro-Atlantic community want the US to consult with us, cooperate with us, treat us as partners, then all of our countries have to have the capabilities, both political and military, necessary to be able to make a contribution to our common efforts. It is a case of contribute or be cut out. It is as simple as that.

What does that mean? I believe that there are four components to the military contribution to the defeat of terrorism and other asymmetric threats.

First, we need to help identify and understand the general risks, and thereby prevent them becoming specific threats. That means getting better intelligence, and sharing it more effectively among allies. The best solution to terrorism is prevention, and good intelligence is a key to that.

Second, we must deter the terrorists by making it clear they won't succeed -- and deterring the regimes that host terrorists by making it clear they won't survive.

That means having the armed forces necessary to strike at terrorist and their backers if necessary to prevent attacks on our people. And to mount stabilisation operations after our forces have won the war. In other words, we must be able to project effective military power, and be able to sustain it for months or even years.

Finally, we must be prepared should deterrence fail and pre-emptive action prove impossible. Our troops must be able to protect themselves, and to help protect our populations, against terrorist attacks and any use of weapons of mass destruction.

A daunting set of challenges - but NATO has never ducked away from challenges. The Alliance is already at work, examining ways to improve our military capability to defend and strike against terrorists, and to develop our forces' ability to protect themselves against weapons of mass destruction. In parallel, we are looking at how we can best use our skills and capabilities more effectively to protect our populations, and to assist in civil emergencies. Our progress on all of these fronts is on going and will be a centrepiece of our Summit meeting this November in Prague.

These efforts in NATO complement continuing efforts to improve Europe's capacities as a security actor. Now, I know I have ruffled some European feathers in recent weeks and months by pointing out Europe's relative military weakness, as compared to the US. I take back not a single word, but let no one doubt my motivation for doing so.

MyEuropean credentials are second to none and they go back a lot longer than many others.

The St Malo agreement, which has led quickly to the development of Europe's capacities as a serious security player, was in no small part the brainchild of my Ministry in London. For years, I have been stressing that to stay healthy, European security, NATO and the transatlantic relationship all needed Europe to become stronger. And in my current post as Secretary General, I have tirelessly promoted cooperation between NATO and the European Union, not least in the Balkans, where the European Union is now preparing to spread its security wings for the very first time.

So let there be no doubt of my intentions when I say Europe must do more. I know that Europe is already contributing the vast majority of peacekeeping forces to the NATO-led operations in the Balkans. That is only appropriate -- after all, this is our back yard.

But sustaining these 50,000 troops in the field is stretching European forces very thin in spite of the fact that the Europeans have over 2 million troops in uniform. And when it comes to intensive combat, Europe still has to rely critically on the United States.

The basic fact is that when it comes to defence, Europe has the ambition but not the ability. France has made great strides to improve its capabilities, as have a few other European countries. But overall progress is still too slow and frankly inadequate.

I know that when I say progress is too slow, many people hear "spending is too low". And in some cases it is. But I realise that Europe can never realistically catch up to US defence spending.

Europe can, however spend better -- focusing on key technologies, on affordable force multipliers, on interoperability with the US and with each other. Smarter spending is absolutely possible, and absolutely necessary.

All European countries must show a new willingness to develop effective crisis management capabilities. Very simply, the choice for the Europeans is modernisation or marginalisation.

It is true that US military power cannot, and must not, be used as a justification for unilateralism. But US unilateralism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because of Europe's weakness -- and no amount of rhetoric will change that basic fact. You cannot send a communiqué to solve a conflict.

And to those who argue that the US defence build-up will be good only for the US defence industry, I say that there is no reason why European industry should not be the primary beneficiary from a drive to restore European capability. Most of the important shortages could be met today by European companies.

In addition, by easing unnecessary restrictions on technology transfer and industrial cooperation, and by liberalising its export policies, Washington can improve the quality of the capabilities available, and reduce any problems our forces have in working together.

If we can accomplish that goal -- to develop high quality, interoperable forces on both sides of the Atlantic --, we go a long way to overcoming the portfolio of new security challenges we face. And we will overcome them in the only way possible: through transatlantic cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The founding father of the European Community, Jean Monnet, said that the lessons of history only stay learned when they are embedded in institutions. TheEU embodies that wisdom. So does NATO.

NATO's success for the past five decades has been based on having learned three simple lessons. Our security is best assured through transatlantic cooperation. Cooperation builds stability. And preserving peace means maintaining capable, well-equipped military forces.

As we face the new security challenges of an uncertain new era, those lessons are as important as ever. And as always, it is no use talking about them or writing about them, we need to implement them -- and soon.

Je vous remercie de votre attention et je suis prêt à répondre à vos questions.


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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).