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NATO and the Challenge of Terrorism: Reflections on the Way Forward

NATO and the Challenge of Terrorism: Reflections on the Way Forward

Speech by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, at the Dutch Group of Liberal International. The Hague, The Netherlands, March 7, 2002.

Mr van Baalen, Minister van Aartsen

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The World Trade Center collapsed six months ago next Monday. Its destruction was more than a human tragedy and a political crisis. It struck at the very heart of our society and attacked our fundamental values.

Whenever something throws us off-balance, or we are confronted with a new situation, we try to define it. By labelling a problem, we imply that we know the solution. Not surprisingly then, there is no shortage of labels for the world post-September 11. "The age of terrorism" is one, "World War Three" is another.

But these labels do not solve the problem. Nor do they even point to what we should do next. So I will not offer you new catch-phrases. Instead, I will try to draw some lessons for the future from another struggle that the Western democracies fought not so long ago, and in which they eventually prevailed: the Cold War.

I do not believe that history repeats itself. Nor am I in any way nostalgic for the days of East-West confrontation. But it is instructive to look back. Because some of the factors that enabled us to prevail in the Cold War continue to apply today, as we are engaged in a new, very different kind of struggle.

The first lesson of the Cold War is not military, but political: the power of open societies. The Cold War was not won by superior military force. It was won by superior values -- freedom, democracy, tolerance, free speech, competing ideas, and market economics. All values that have long been cherished in this country.

This lesson is not simply a matter of hindsight. As early as 1946, George Kennan, the intellectual father of containment, argued that Soviet power would eventually break up or mellow. Of course, neither Kennan nor anyone else could predict exactly when Soviet power would collapse. And there were heated arguments in NATO countries as to whether and how we should stimulate the process.

Some of these debates were divisive within our societies. The nuclear debates of the early 1980s were perhaps even more disruptive here than in my own country. But beneath these sometimes bitter arguments remained the common conviction that the political and economic system in the Soviet Union and its "cordon sanitaire" was ultimately unsustainable; and that the democratic model of society would prevail in due course.

Today, in our efforts to re-build Europe, we are heeding this lesson. It is reflected in the enlargement of the EU, which is helping to stabilise Europe politically and economically. And it is reflected in the enlargement of NATO, which is extending a unique zone of security and Euro-Atlantic identity throughout our continent.

Both enlargement processes provide our eastern neighbours with new confidence in their own future. And in so doing, they help "lock in" reforms in aspirant countries.

This lesson is equally applicable in the struggle against terrorism. The principle that democracy is the key to prosperity and peace does not apply only to the Euro-Atlantic area. It applies around the world.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a time of rapid and fundamental change. And the evidence of the past decade is that only open societies can cope with this process. Closed, undemocratic states have fallen further and further behind in providing their people with even the basic needs of modern life.

So despite the claims of Bin Laden, his supporters and other rogue leaders, the challenge these societies face is not the US, not "the West", not the World Bank or any other convenient bogeyman. It is the lack of democratic and economic reform. It is the lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights that condemns large segments of the population to the fringes.

The second lesson of the Cold War is about the importance of military power. As I said before, military power did not "win" the Cold War. Yet NATO's successful deterrent posture ensured that the East West competition stopped short of direct, open conflict, even in the deepest international crises. As a result, the West retained its natural advantage, the potential for continuing political, social and economic innovation. In this sense, military power was a precondition for the West's ultimate political victory in the Cold War.

That lesson still applies today. Military power was crucial to reverse aggression in the Gulf War, to stabilise Bosnia and to defeat Milosevic in the Kosovo campaign. Indeed, our engagement in the Balkans has demonstrated again and again that values are no more than platitudes unless they can be defended.

The need for military power has become equally obvious in the struggle against terrorism. Military power alone cannot eradicate terrorism. US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld made that point eloquently at the beginning of the campaign in Afghanistan by arguing that in this war, bankers pinstripes and programmers grunge would be more important than desert camouflage.

But it certainly helps to have military power available. As Kofi Annan once said about Iraq, "You can do a lot with diplomacy, but …. you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up with firmness and force".

There are, I suggest, four components to the contribution that the military can make to the defeat of terrorism and other asymmetric threats.

First, we need to help identify and understand the risks, and if possible prevent them from becoming threats. That means good and reliable intelligence, including to support non-proliferation activity. It means better cooperation between civilian and military intelligence agencies. And more sharing of information among allies. Everyone recognises that the terrorists struck first in this campaign and that we must do better to prevent there being a next time.

Second, we need to deter the terrorists and rogue regime with terrorist ambitions. Deterrence worked for forty years of Cold War. It failed on September 11. Of course, you cannot deter potential suicide bombers with the threat of death. But you can deter them with the threat of failure, both political and military.

And you can deter the terrorists' backer or the terrorist regime with the promise of effective reaction. Al Qaida paid the price for underestimating our resolve and our capabilities in Afghanistan. So did their Taleban hosts. A measure of deterrence has been restored as a result.

But unlike the Cold War, we cannot be fully confident that deterrence will always work. So our armed forces must be better able to undertake offensive action to strike at terrorists and their backers if necessary to prevent further attacks on our people. And once that goal has been achieved, our militaries must be able to mount stabilisation operations of the kind NATO has undertaken successfully in the Balkans and the International Security Assistance Force is conducting in Kabul.

In other words, we must be able to project military power, direct it effectively and precisely, and sustain it for months or even years.

Finally, we must be prepared should deterrence fail and pre-emptive action prove impossible. Our forces need themselves to be protected against terrorist attacks and against chemical, biological and radiological weapons. They must be trained and prepared to use their skills and equipment to protect our civil populations, operating across national boundaries in support of Allies as we have done since NATO's inception. And we must redouble our efforts to provide better protection against asymmetric threats in areas such as missile defence.

This sounds a demanding agenda, especially when taken in parallel with our continuing responsibilities to counter instability in the Balkans and to complete the post-Cold War transformation of our armed forces. And so it is. But not when compared to what we achieved in the Cold War.

True, today the European Allies have 50,000 troops on duty in Balkan peacekeeping operations. But during the Cold War, four European Allies alone - the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK - maintained over 150,000 troops in Germany at 48 hours notice to fight the Third World War.

Today, we need more transport aircraft and ships, more precision weapons systems, new generation communications and surveillance equipment, and deployable logistics. But this is a much less comprehensive - and less expensive - shopping list than ministers of defence and finance faced in dealing with the Soviet threat.

Perhaps it is because today's risks are less obvious and comprehensible than the Warsaw Pact's tank armies that we are having so much trouble in convincing most NATO governments of the need to modernise. I suspect, however, that it is also in part because the capabilities we need now appear less glamorous than the main battle tanks, agile jet fighters and attack submarines over which governments agonised in the Cold War.

I know because as a defence minister I had to argue the case - successfully - for fewer tanks, fighters and submarines and more transports, logisticians, and chemical and biological defence troops. Today I am putting the same arguments for such critical but unglamorous capabilities as the Alliance Ground Surveillance system and NATO's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre.

Let me be blunt. We cannot afford to get these investment decisions wrong. If there are more asymmetric attacks against the people of Europe and North America, and we are seen to be squabbling about small victories in resources or the political aspects of key programmes our people will not forgive us. And as Europeans, please remember that the vast majority of the equipment orders that we should be placing now will go to European industry.

This brings me to my third lesson of the Cold War: the need for a healthy transatlantic link. The Cold War was won by Europe and North America together. It was won by a transatlantic community that shared not only common interests, but also common values.

With memories of the Cold War fading, one may be tempted to view the transatlantic relationship during this period as rock-solid, and the NATO Allies as a band of fearless musketeers -- "One for all, and all for one". But in reality the Allies were constantly bickering and arguing: over defence spending, military strategy, détente and arms control -- over Suez, Vietnam, burdensharing or the "Euro-missiles".

These debates were at the time both distracting and unnerving. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that these very debates helped the Alliance to retain its dynamism. For these debates generated an awareness of the need for change within the transatlantic community -- and, eventually, they also helped generate the political will to implement that change.

Today, we are in the midst of yet another transatlantic debate, and once again, it may appear distracting, unnerving, and even unfair. And yet it is one that we cannot dodge. Because the questions it has raised are legitimate ones: Can the transatlantic relationship be sustained if Europe cannot pull its weight militarily? Can Europe and America stay united in security if the transatlantic gap in defence spending and military capabilities grows ever wider? And, last but not least, will NATO -- the embodiment of the transatlantic relationship -- be relegated to the sidelines in the struggle against terrorism?

I have spoken out repeatedly on these issues, on both sides of the Atlantic. I have stressed that Europe cannot match the US in raw military power, but that it should spend more and more wisely to produce "more bang for the Euro". I have stressed that Europe cannot bridge the transatlantic technology gap, but that it can generate sufficient military capabilities to make it a more credible partner to the United States. But I have also stressed that the US should help that process by sharing more technology with its Allies.

I have also stressed -- and do so again this evening -- that NATO has a vital role to play in the struggle against terrorism. NATO is not in the lead in Afghanistan because a much broader, more diverse coalition was needed for an operation of this kind far outside NATO territory.

But let there be no mistake, no-one I have spoken to in the United States undervalues the role played in defence of American cities by the NATO AWACS fleet. Or NATO's logistic support to operations in Afghanistan. Without NATO's partnership relations with countries in Central Asia, this coalition would have been much harder to build and to sustain. And the ISAF forces that are currently on the ground in Afghanistan operate together effectively only because of extensive experience in working together in the NATO context.

Moreover, Afghanistan is not a model for each and every future crisis. There is no doubt in my mind that, in future crises affecting the Euro-Atlantic area, NATO will again be the multinational crisis management instrument of choice for all Allies. Because the Alliance is the world's largest permanent coalition. Because NATO is pre-eminently the world's most effective military organisation. And because NATO's machinery will be even more effective in the future.

We are currently working on a package of measures that will demonstrate our determination to adapt and transform NATO. We are increasing intelligence sharing among Allies. We are reviewing our defence capabilities, including tailoring them more specifically to the requirements of combating terrorism. We are focusing more systematically on the dangers of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

And we are looking for ways to work more closely with our Partners in preventing terrorism, and mitigating its consequences. The NATO Summit in Prague in November will tie these and various other elements together to a coherent whole.

In closing, let me point to yet another lesson, not from the Cold War but from World War Two. Winston Churchill famously argued "In victory, magnanimity". We applied this lesson to Germany and Japan after World War Two, and turned enemies into Allies. We applied it again after the Cold War, by embracing Russia. So today, NATO and Russia are working on a new mechanism for deciding and acting together -- because the commonality of our interests became simply too obvious to ignore.

The logic of magnanimity has also been applied in the Balkans. Relations between NATO and Yugoslavia have improved significantly over the past eighteen months, especially after Milosevic was obliged to take up residence here in the Netherlands. As a result, Yugoslav Ministers are regular visitors to NATO HQ dealing with a host of common problems.

This lesson of magnanimity also applies to our battle against terrorism. Once terrorists have been defeated and their networks destroyed, we must bring the countries from which they operated back into the international community as responsible members. We have started to do this with Afghanistan. There will be further such challenges, as our struggle against terrorism continues.

We must embrace these countries, not stigmatise them. This will pull the rug from under the advocates of terror. It will lead to a new relationship between the West and the Muslim world. And it will put to rest any lingering notion of a "clash of civilisations".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Cold War is dead and gone. But the lessons it offers should not be forgotten: to remain united, to stick to our values, and to maintain the military means to defend these values -- these lessons are timeless.

Since its inception NATO has been a key part of our political order: of Europe and of the wider world. This has not changed. There simply is no sustainable world order without Europe and North America acting in common.

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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