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Europe's Transformatio

Europe's Transformation

NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson's Speech at the Conference of the Aspen Institute Berlin and the NATO Host Committee for the Prague Summit. Prague, 20 November 2002. Source: NATO.

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind words of welcome and many thanks to the Aspen Institute, Berlin and the Prague Summit NATO Host Committee for their initiative in hosting this conference just before our NATO Summit in this beautiful city.

The theme of this Session is "The Transformation of Europe since 1989". When you asked me to introduce this theme, you were I hope not hoping for a historical treatise. So let me give you instead a few examples that highlight the changes we have witnessed during these last thirteen years. And I am sure that you will forgive me if these examples are heavily centred on NATO. After all, NATO has not only been at the centre of change, it has also promoted and shaped this change, and will do so again during these summit meetings.

  • First, NATO enlargement

In 1989, a NATO Secretary General could not receive diplomats from Central and Eastern European countries in his office. Since these countries belonged to the Warsaw Pact, their envoys were not allowed to enter the NATO compound. They had to leave their messages at the gate.

Then the walls came down across Europe, and things improved so quickly that by 1990 NATO had established diplomatic liaison with all its former adversaries from Central and Eastern Europe. Partnership was the next step, one of the most remarkable success stories of the post Cold War period.

But even then, hardly anyone believed that NATO could ever offer full membership to these countries. The obstacles seemed too great. Could they really reform themselves? If they did, could Russia accept it? What about the frustration of those not invited? And was there not a risk that the Alliance itself, by enlarging, would lose cohesion?

So much for received wisdom. Today, three of those countries are already in NATO. Nine more are waiting to hear whether their application to join has been successful. Dozens of Partner countries, from Ireland to Uzbekistan, have missions at NATO Headquarters. No one has to leave messages at the gate any more.

Even more extraordinary, the NATO Secretary General is Chairman of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and Chairman of the new NATO-Russia Council. NATO enlargement and good relations with Russia did not turn out to be mutually exclusive. And NATO is as cohesive as ever. Look at Kosovo, the Article 5 declaration last year, and our transformation agenda tomorrow.

In short, all the dire predictions about enlargement did not come true. And I predict confidentially that the same will apply again after our decision on this round of enlargement.

  • Second, crisis management

When Yugoslavia collapsed, a military role for NATO was widely seen as impossible. NATO, so the conventional wisdom held, could not act "out-of-area". At best, it could be a sub-contractor of the UN, with no distinct role of its own. And many experts doubted whether a collective defence organisation could really handle the challenge of crisis management.

Once again, the experts turned out to be wrong. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO ended a war and implemented a peace agreement. In Kosovo, NATO reversed the greatest ethnic cleansing Europe has seen since 1945 and started the process that led Mr Milosevic to The Hague. And in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [1], NATO, together with the EU, prevented a civil war -- by becoming engaged long before the crisis became a CNN headline.

Today, NATO has established itself as a crisis manager par excellence. And, as a result, Southeastern Europe is now on its way back into the European mainstream.

  • Third and finally, new threats

Last year, terror struck the United States and changed our security environment overnight. A new threat has emerged, a threat totally different than those of the past: without a face, without armies, even without a territory. But a threat with a clear goal: to inflict mass casualties, including potentially with weapons of mass destruction.

Once again, some said NATO could not cope. They argued that the Alliance possessed neither the political cohesion nor the military capabilities to do so. And once again they were wrong.

For the first time in its history, NATO invoked its Article 5 commitment. NATO aircraft crossed the Atlantic to patrol American skies. With NATO in support, many NATO and Partner nations sent forces to Afghanistan, to help unseat the Taleban and deal a major blow to Al Qaida. Now we are about to provide more direct assistance to the next lead nation of the Stabilisation Force in Kabul.

The "out-of-area" debate has been resolved once and for all. Look at the language in last summers Reykjavik communiqué if you do not believe me. It said in unmistakable, unambiguous terms: To carry out the full range of its missions, NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives.

Tomorrow, NATO's role in countering the new threats of the 21st century will be fleshed out still further. A new military concept for defence against terrorism will give guidance to our military planners. A NATO Response Force will bring together the best military capabilities of Europe and North America -- to fight together against common threats. The Prague Capabilities Commitment will make a real improvement in our overall military capacity for modern warfare. And new initiatives to detect and defend against attacks with weapons of mass destruction will demonstrate that this Alliance remains as essential as ever for our safety and security.

My conclusion is that the past 13 years have shown, time after time, that NATO has the strength and flexibility to defy its critics and to change, to undertake the tasks we all need in a complex and dangerous security environment. The Alliance has proved that if nations give it the tools, we can do the job. And the sceptics should keep in mind the old saying: "Those who say 'it cannot be done', should not disturb those who are just doing it!"

Let me now turn to our two eminent speakers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Klaus Naumann, to give their unique perspective on where we have come from, and where we are going.

Neither speaker needs a lengthy introduction. You know them both. Zbigniew Brzezinski was one of the fathers of NATO's enlargement. He advocated opening NATO's doors at a time when it was seen by many as an impossible task. And he was one of the first to argue that NATO enlargement and good relations with Russia were not contradictory goals, and that they could both be achieved. Events have proven him right. So will all look forward to what he has to say today.

The other speaker of this session, General Klaus Naumann, was Chairman of NATO's Military Committee during a crucial period of NATO's evolution. He has been at the epicentre of change in our Alliance. He is both a conceptual thinker and a military "hands-on" man. That's why he enjoys a unique credibility, and why NATO always sought his advice. I am glad, Klaus, that even now, after your retirement, we can still count on your wise counsel.

I now give the floor to Professor Brzezinski.

[1] Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.


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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).