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NATO in the 21st Century

NATO in the 21st Century

Speech by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, Charles University, Prague, March 21, 2002. Source: NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In its long and proud history, Prague, the "golden city", has come to symbolise many things that have made Europe great. Being, quite literally, at the centre of Europe, Prague has symbolised religious and political tolerance, enlightenment, trade, and great cultural and scientific achievements.

And this place of learning, Charles University, was in many ways the epitome of all these virtues and achievements. Even in the darker days of the 20th century, when your city - and your country - were a victim of the ill winds that swept our continent, Prague remained a symbol of hope -- a demonstration that the flame of freedom may sometimes flicker low, but can never be extinguished.

But now the Czech Republic has seized the historic opportunity to find a new, peaceful and prosperous future among friends, NATO Allies and Partner nations. The division of Europe has been overcome, and the Czech Republic is now a staunch member of the NATO Alliance. Prague has, once again, become the centre of Europe, and it is therefore fitting that we hold our next Summit in this city in November of this year.

During the Cold War, there were few Summits. Presidents and Prime Ministers rarely met in a NATO context. And why should they? After all, the Cold War seemed permanent and NATO was very much on "automatic pilot".

This has now changed fundamentally. In the decade or so since the end of the Cold War we had almost as many Summits as we had in the forty years of the Cold War. The reason being because NATO is evolving so quickly and we need top political guidance on a much more regular basis. More than ever before, we have to take stock of our achievements, adjust our course, and set new goals for ourselves.

The leaders of NATO member countries my bosses - may not like this comparison I am about to make, but since we are at a university, let me draw it anyway: NATO Summits are for Presidents and Prime Ministers what term papers are for students. They represent a crucially important deadline - a deadline you simply cannot move. You have to deliver. No excuses, like: "my dog ate my homework". A Summit, like a term paper, is the moment of truth.

That is where the comparison ends, however. For while most students dread the thought of having to do a term paper, we are in fact looking forward to the Summit. Of course, we still have homework to do to ensure success. But we know what we want to achieve: We want "Prague 2002" to be another major milestone in NATO's adaptation.

When NATO’s leaders meet here in this city in November, more than a year will have passed since the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. So this will be their key opportunity to demonstrate that we have learned the lessons of September 11 -- and acted on them.

The Prague Summit, in short, will be a Summit of NATO's re-definition of its comprehensive external and internal adaptation. In my remarks today, I would like to sketch some of the elements this adaptation needs to address.

The first element is the enlargement of NATO itself. If Europe is to grow together, if it is to overcome fully its Cold War division, our key institutions cannot remain geared to the past -- neither in their policies, nor in their memberships. We cannot say we are simply full up.

The nations of Central and Eastern Europe have a legitimate claim to get their fair share of "Europe" -- in all its aspects, including its transatlantic security dimension. To permanently frustrate these ambitions would only perpetuate a division between a prosperous, secure and self-confident West and an insecure, uncertain East. Without enlargement, Europe would remain unfinished business.

That is why NATO -- very much like the European Union -- must face up to this challenge. And that is why the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to NATO-- almost exactly three years ago to the day has only been the beginning of the enlargement process.

Some have been asking: will the new member States pull their weight? Will they play by NATO’s rules? I believe they will. The example set by the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland speaks for itself. NATO has grown stronger through enlargement. And as a result, Europe has become safer and more secure.

This logic will continue with the next round. The nations we will invite at Prague know full well what it means to be in an Alliance that works. Each of them will have had years of experience working with the Alliance, as Partners, especially in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans. Moreover, each of them will have benefited from several years of NATO-assisted defence reform. This will make them net security contributors rather than mere security consumers.

Of course, the successful management of the enlargement process will mean more than selecting and inviting a certain number of countries. Managing enlargement also entails the need to keep the door open for future members. And it means continued engagement with all our Partner nations in the Partnership for Peace, whether they aspire to NATO membership or not.

This leads me to the second element of NATO's adaptation, namely NATO's Partnership initiatives. The Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council have changed the face of European security.

They have become political and military instruments for serious crisis management, as we can see every day in our operations in the Balkans. And they have sowed the seeds of a true Euro-Atlantic security culture - a genuine predisposition to work together to tackle common challenges.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the 46 countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council acted decisively as the world's largest permanent coalition, staunch in their condemnation of criminal violence and robust in their defence against its perpetrators.

Some people fear that this unique cooperative momentum of NATO's remarkable Partnership initiatives will fizzle out after NATO enlargement.

I believe that they are wrong. Whatever the size of NATO’s enlargement, we will still need a robust mechanism that links the larger NATO with the rest of Europe, with the Caucasus, and with Central Asia. All 46 countries, NATO members and Partner countries alike, are now working on how to put this principle into practice. Their challenge is to ensure together that their Partnership remains as attractive after Prague as it is at the moment.

A third element of NATO's adaptation is our relationship with Russia. Throughout the 1990s, we danced nervously around each other, sometimes warmer sometimes cooler. During this time, NATO enlargement was a major bone of contention. Nowhere did perceptions between NATO and Russia differ more widely. What we saw as a natural part of Europe's growing together, Russia perceived as a sinister geopolitical plot -- the encroachment of a powerful and dangerous military alliance toward its borders. This overshadowed our entire relationship.

That has now changed. September 11 has created an entirely new context for NATO-Russia relations. It has highlighted that NATO and Russia share common concerns -- and that they need to address these concerns together. Hence our determination to go beyond consultation and to work constructively together on all the issues where we have what President Putin described to me as "the logic of common interest".

The details are arcane but important. Until now, our relationship with Russia has been conducted at "19 plus one". In other words, NATO’s 19 members have worked with Russia as if they were a single entity, precooking their policies on all issues before they were discussed with the Russian side. Now, however, on a range of key issues, Russia will sit alongside the 19 Allies as an equal partner. This new forum for cooperation "at 20" should be ready well before Prague.

People often ask me about the real difference between "19+1" and "20". My answer is: chemistry rather than arithmetic, as even the best format and seating arrangement can be no substitute for genuine political will and open mind on both sides.

All this does not mean that I harbour romantic expectations about NATO's relationship with Russia. We will not always agree. I do not expect Moscow to enthusiastically welcome NATO enlargement. NATO countries will continue to be robust critics if we disapprove of Russia's policies and their implementation, including in Chechnya.

And we will ensure that cooperation does not undermine either NATO's cohesion and autonomy of action, or the interest of third countries. But this initiative gives us the chance to transform the strategic landscape -- to finally get the kind of practical, pragmatic NATO-Russia relationship we should have achieved a long time ago. President Putin said to me in Moscow last year that if this works, it will change the world. That is a real goal for a transformation Summit.

Terrorism is, of course, another area of adaptation and re-definition. Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone, but there is a vitally important role for the military. And because NATO is the world's most effective defence organisation, it has a vital part to play in multinational crisis prevention and crisis management, including in dealing with asymmetric threats.

NATO's indispensable role in the anti-terrorist struggle has already been visible since September 11. By invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance’s collective defence clause, within hours after the attacks, NATO sent the strongest possible message that an attack against one is an attack against all. Since then, NATO has taken a series of important military measures, from the deployment of AWACS early warning aircraft to protect American cities to smashing Al Qaida cells in the Balkans. And individual NATO countries have participated in the US-led Afghanistan campaign, and are playing a key role in the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

The Czech Republic has made a valuable contribution to our common efforts. It has, for example, sent its first-class chemical detection capabilities to Kuwait, and it is getting a field hospital ready for Afghanistan. These are tangible and very welcome contributions to the campaign against terrorism.

At our Summit, we will consolidate NATO's position as the primary means for developing our armed forces to defeat terrorism and contribute to meeting other asymmetric challenges. The European troops on the ground in Kabul are able to cooperate effectively only because of decades of experience working together in NATO.

NATO is now hard at work examining ways to further improve military capabilities to defend and strike against terrorists, and to develop our forces' ability to protect themselves against chemical, biological and radiological weapons. In parallel, we are looking at how best to use unique military skills and capabilities more effectively to protect our populations, and to assist in civil emergencies.

This new work is part of a wider effort to modernise our armed forces. And this brings me to my last point for "Prague 2002": military capabilities.

This is a subject where I make myself unpopular with Ministries of Finance by my bluntness. So let me be blunt again. Too many NATO 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.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about United States unilateralism and European weakness. Much of it is wrong. But it is absolutely right that unless Europe does more militarily, we will not be able to operate alongside America’s rapidly modernising armed forces. As a committed Atlanticist and as a committed European, I believe that would be a disaster for the United States and for Europe. So if Europe wants to punch its economic weight when it comes to crises on its doorstep or more widely, we must modernise our militaries. And do so quickly.

The answer to this predicament does not lie in institutional quick fixes. Neither NATO nor the EU can deliver if nations continue to peg down or ever cut their defence budgets. The answer can only lie in higher defence budgets and in smarter investment, using these budgets more effectively. Smart investment is the only way to share the transatlantic burden, and deal effectively with our common challenges. Only smart investment will give us forces that are capable of maintaining peace in the Balkans, bringing stability to Afghanistan, fighting terrorism at home and abroad, and -- ultimately -- providing for our collective defence.

But 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.

These are stark choices with serious political and economic implications -- especially for newer Alliance member countries such as your own. But they are choices that cannot be put off. Because they are fundamental to our common security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO’s agenda at Prague runs from spreading stability through our continent, building new bridges with Russia, helping to beat the terrorist and giving military European countries the ability to play a bigger military role in the transatlantic partnership.

Remember also that today we have 60,000 NATO troops keeping the peace in three Balkan countries, including 50,000 of your young European counterparts. NATO’s AWACS aircraft are flying over the United States to prevent a repeat of September 11. And in Brussels, a lot of grey middle-aged men and rather fewer middle-aged women are boring each other to tears in long, tedious but important meetings that prove that jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.

Our Summit will help to keep NATO relevant to all its members, as the main provider of security and stability throughout our Euro-Atlantic area. Our agenda is one which no other institution can address. Prague, the "Golden City" will be a "golden opportunity" to demonstrate that NATO remains the bedrock of our security -- and of that of future generations.

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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