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Towards the Prague Summit

Towards the Prague Summit

Speech delivered by Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, speech at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Istanbul, Turkey. November 15 2002. Source: NATO.

President Sezer,

President Estrella,

Excellencies, Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel very fortunate to speak to the NATO-Parliamentary Assembly again, just a few days before NATOs Prague Summit. And I am very grateful to our Turkish hosts to have invited us to Istanbul, this highly symbolic city on the Bosphorus, to hold this session. It confirms yet again, Mr President, Turkeys strong commitment to Euro-Atlantic security. I am confident that the recent elections here will maintain and strengthen this commitment.

Just 6 days from today, NATO will hold our Summit meeting in Prague. Prague will be NATO's 16th Meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government. There is nothing remarkable about that number.

What is remarkable, though, is the timing of our Summits. In the forty years of the Cold War we had only 10 such meetings. In the decade since then, we already had five. So compared to the Cold War, the frequency of our Summits has doubled.

In a way, this is hardly surprising. After all, the stately management of the Cold War did not require that much top-level guidance. The threat was static, and, hence, the Alliance was largely on "autopilot".

After the Cold War, this changed. Summits had to give specific guidance, often in response to a rapidly evolving strategic environment. And our Summits delivered: London 1990, Rome 1991, Brussels 1994, Madrid 1997, and Washington 1999 all managed to move this Alliance forward. From a static Cold War Alliance, NATO turned into a dynamic agent of change.

The Prague Summit will confirm this, yet again. However, in one important respect it will differ from its predecessors:. The past NATO Summits were about incremental change. Prague is about NATO's comprehensive transformation.

  • Why do we need to aim so high for Prague?

Because 11 September 2001 caught the world unprepared. Until then, we had thought about terrorism largely as a domestic issue. After 11 September, we had to realise that terrorism has become an international security challenge. And that we had no real recipe to deal with it.

And that was not the only shock we were dealt. The fact that Al Qaida operated from Afghanistan demonstrated the connection between terrorism and failed states. The fact that some of these terrorists were trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction raised yet another danger: the spectre of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in the hands of people too irrational to be deterred by the logic of orthodox deterrence.

In short, 11 September has fundamentally altered our strategic environment. And it forces us to act. If we don't want future generations to label this era the "age of insecurity" or even "the age of terrorism", we must take the right decisions now. We must demonstrate that these new threats can be countered. And NATO will play a major role in helping us to counter them.

Much has already been achieved. One key achievement was the invocation of Article 5. It offered solidarity to an Ally in need. It triggered a number of immediate, concrete measures. It created a powerful legitimiser for our countries to act decisively against Al Qaida and their Taliban hosts.

But the invocation of Article 5 did much more. It extended our collective defence commitment to the scenario of a terrorist attack by a non-state actor. It turned combating terrorism into a new mission for this Alliance. And forced all of us to accelerate its political and military transformation.

Another achievement of NATO since 11 September was to overcome the Alliance's long-standing "out-of-area syndrome". True, NATO as such did not play a direct role in "Enduring Freedom". But the immediate support given to the U.S., and the unquestioned deployment of European troops to Afghanistan sent a pretty clear signal: the idea of imposing geographical limitations on NATO's reach is, in effect, dead.

To paraphrase one NATO Ambassador, when the World Trade Center collapsed, the notion of "in" and "out-of-area" collapsed with it. We can no longer look at threats only geographically. We must look at them functionally. Look at the Foreign Ministers communiqué from Reykjavik last summer if you want confirmation of that.

Our third major achievement after September 11 was the breakthrough in the NATO-Russia relationship. NATO and Russia suddenly faced the same enemy. And Article 5, which Russia for decades had been looking upon with so much suspicion, was invoked in a way that had no anti-Russian connotation whatsoever.

Both NATO and Russia seized the opportunity provided by this new strategic context. And you all know the result: A new spirit of cooperation, epitomised by the new NATO-Russia Council that we set up last May in Rome.

So NATO began to change right after September 11. But much of that initial change was based on improvisation. We had to "paint a moving train", and that train was moving pretty fast indeed. And let's be frank: as much as we can be proud of our achievements to date, there have also been obvious shortcomings, particularly regarding our military capabilities.

Many NATO members sent troops to Afghanistan, but for some Allies getting there and staying there proved to be embarrassingly difficult. We were simply not prepared for this kind of contingency.

That is why next week's Prague Summit is so important. It will give us the opportunity to make sure that, in future, we will be prepared. At Prague, the individual parts of NATO's transformation will come together to form a coherent whole. Prague will give us the chance to demonstrate that not only our security environment has changed, but that NATO has changed with it. Our Summit will deliver a forceful message: this Alliance remains as crucial to our safety and security today as it used to be in the past.

With this audience, I don't need to get into the details of the Prague agenda. You know them as well as I do. Rather, I would like to offer you some reflections on the bigger picture: What do the Prague decisions mean in strategic terms for our way ahead?

First, a few words on terrorism. At Prague, NATO will unveil a major package of measures to combat terrorism. The individual parts of this package, like a new military concept, may not exactly set the pulse racing. But the strategic significance of this move can hardly be underestimated.

It confirms that tackling terrorism is a core mission for NATO, not a one-off after September 11. It confirms that NATO is becoming a focal point for coordinating and planning the multinational military contribution to our defence against terrorism and other asymmetric threats. And it reinforces the message to the terrorists and to the regimes that host them: we do not bow to terror. We fight back.

  • Second, weapons of mass destruction.

At Prague, we will take decisions to broaden our range of tools to cope with this threat. Again, developing vaccine stockpiles or mobile detection labs are not the stuff of the headline news. But the strategic importance of these developments is beyond doubt.

They signal that Allies are fostering a common transatlantic approach to deal with this challenge. There will be no divergence among Allies, no artificial separation of "soft" versus "hard" approaches, or whatever the notions some pundits have been tossing around. When it comes to coping with weapons of mass destruction, there will be just one approach -- a NATO approach.

  • Third, capabilities more broadly.

You are all well aware that a centrepiece of the Prague Summit will be the clear-cut commitments of Allies to improve their military capabilities.

What is the strategic importance of these commitments? First, and foremost, they will give NATO the right capabilities to tackle the challenges ahead: strategic airlift, air tankers, ground surveillance, precision guided weapons, protection against weapons of mass destruction; support for deployed operations and so on. All of this will help us to be prepared for the unexpected.

But there is more. By beefing up our capabilities, we will also debunk the myth that has crept into the transatlantic relationship after "911" -- the myth that the US and its Allies are no longer able or willing to cooperate as a military team. Prague will set the record straight.

It will demonstrate that Europe and America are on the same wavelength -- both mentally and militarily. The new NATO Response Force and modernisation of our command arrangements, including a new emphasis on transformation, will strongly reinforce this message.

  • Fourth, enlargement.

The NPA has contributed so much to this project that talking to you on the details would not just be boring, but outright insulting. So, once again, let us focus on the strategic significance of inviting new members. What does it mean?

It means Europe's consolidation as a common security space, from the Baltics to the Balkans. It means that Europe is finally coming to grips with its own history, discharging much of its old excess baggage. It means that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe no longer need to look nervously over their shoulders. They can look forward, to the challenges ahead. And it means, quite selfishly, that we can spread the burden of security on more shoulders.

  • Five, Partnership.

What is the strategic value of Partnership, and of the enhancements we are going to make to these mechanisms at Prague?

First, a true Euro-Atlantic security culture. A security culture based on concrete cooperation. A security culture that gives every country a stake in maintaining this continent's stability -- with mechanisms that enable each to make its own, specific contribution.

Whether the issue is combating terrorism, joint crisis management, or security sector reform -- our Summit will demonstrate that the idea of a common security culture from Vancouver to Vladivostok is no longer a pipe dream, but a goal that lies within our grasp. And this security culture will not only extend along an East-West line. It will also grow to include our neighbours in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean.

Next, Russia. You all know that there will be no grandiose NATO-Russia showcase initiative at the Summit. We don't need one. NATO-Russia relations were put on a new basis well before Prague. And I am glad to say that the efforts of the NPA and its President have helped tremendously to create the atmosphere of trust which made all of this possible.

The strategic importance of sound NATO-Russia relations are clear. They mark the definitive end of a long era of confrontation and division. They mark Russia's transition from a disgruntled, resentful outsider into a real team player in the Euro-Atlantic community -- trusting and trustworthy.

But, above all, sound NATO-Russia relations enable us to deal far more effectively with the new challenges of today and tomorrow. If we are able to put Russia's enormous potential at the service of our common security interests, it would mean a quantum leap for the security of Europe, and indeed for global security.

Six, the Balkans. At Prague, we will reaffirm our unflinching commitment to the stability of Southeast Europe. NATO's Balkan engagement has always had a strategic significance that went far beyond the humanitarian angle. Not only did we stop bloodshed and ethnic cleansing, we rallied the entire Euro-Atlantic community behind a common project: "de-Balkanising" the Balkans.

We broke the fateful logic of great powers supporting their traditional client states in the Balkans. And we set this region on an irreversible course towards re-joining the European mainstream.

This process, to which the NPA contributes through its unique parliamentary contacts, is far from complete. But it has made great strides. At Prague, we can note this progress with a sense of real achievement.

Finally, a word on NATO-EU relations. You all know that, in a technical sense, this issue is not an agenda item at Prague. But it will be on our mental map nevertheless. Because NATO-EU relations are the missing piece in the puzzle of NATO's transformation.

We all know the tremendous strategic value inherent in this relationship. We got a glimpse of it last year, when NATO and EU together prevented a civil war in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia[1]. There clearly could be much more cooperation of this kind. More coherence in the policies of our institutions, and thus a broader set of instruments to deal with future challenges.

And a better division of labour between our institutions, and thus fairer burden-sharing across the Atlantic. These strategic benefits are too important to be left in limbo. At or after Prague, and hopefully soon after Prague, we need to unlock the full potential of this relationship.

President Estrella,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my remarks today, I have tried to spare you the details and look at the bigger picture instead. But that picture would be incomplete without a word on the crucial role of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

It goes without saying that the NPA's involvement is of particular importance in the upcoming ratification process of NATO enlargement. You have played a major role throughout the history of the enlargement process, and I have no doubt you will do so again this time.

But it is not just enlargement where we will continue to rely on your staunch support. We have entered a new security environment that raises many complex questions. You, the NPA, can help us finding the answers to these questions.

By generating solid parliamentary and public support, and by making your own conceptual inputs to NATO's development, you play your part in ensuring that the transformation of our Alliance is understood -- and appreciated -- by our constituencies. This is the importance, the strategic importance, of the NPA.

President Estrella, Raphael, you can be proud of your achievements. The success of Prague will also be your success. It is a crowning achievement of your tenure as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. You can confidently say: "Mission accomplished". I thank you on behalf of the Alliance, and I wish you and your successor all the best.

[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).