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The Alliance Should Play a Political Role Commensurate with its Military Importance

The Alliance Should Play a Political Role Commensurate with its Military Importance

Berlin Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the NATO Review conference. Berlin, Germany, October 6, 2004. Source: NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Once again, Christoph Bertram has drafted an excellent paper on the problems and challenges facing NATO. As always, it raises some existential questions – as always, therefore, it contains a good deal of gloom. But Christoph is not a Cassandra. He may come across as such on occasion, for example when he predicted ten years ago that NATO might not even reach the end of the decade. Now that was clearly too gloomy!

On balance, however, I get the impression that he uses gloomy predictions not as an end in themselves, but as a tool – a tool to sharpen our focus, a tool to help us make up our own minds about what kind of Alliance we want, a tool to assist us in making the right decisions. In short, he uses his thoughts to provoke us into coming up with our own. And he succeeds.

Tonight, in my brief remarks, I want to address some of the issues that are raised in the paper. There is certainly a lot of relevance in the central premise – the premise that some nations or governments currently do not view NATO as being as central to their security as it used to be, and that it was not just the Iraq controversy that created this situation. There is more to it, so let’s have a closer look. But before doing so, let’s first put things into perspective by highlighting some of our recent achievements.

So what have we achieved? I would highlight just three points:

  • First, we have a new consensus that NATO operations are no longer confined to Europe.

Everyone here in this room who remembers the debates on the 1999 Strategic Concept will also remember the discussion on NATO’s geographical reach. At the time, we dodged this question by referring to the “Euro-Atlantic region”. Today, NATO troops are in Afghanistan and we are preparing our training mission in Iraq. Not so long ago the UN approached us with the question whether NATO could be of assistance to a possible African Union-mission in Darfur. All of this is a sea change in the way we think about – and potentially use – this Alliance. NATO is no longer seen as a purely “euro-centric” instrument. And this holds tremendous potential for the future of this Alliance.

  • Second, we have accepted the need for new capabilities in order to be able to conduct our new missions.

Of course, we have to accelerate that transformation, but the key point here is that all our nations have understood that maintaining forces only for national, territorial defence is a waste of time, effort and resources. And that, in itself, is major progress already.

  • The third achievement that I would highlight is the acceptance of an EU security role as a legitimate part of a new transatlantic security consensus.

In his paper, Christoph casts doubt on that very point, by arguing that NATO should not try to constrain the EU. I don’t think that NATO is guilty of that sin in the first place. In my view, the institutional haggling Christoph refers to does not reflect a fundamental doubt about the legitimacy of the EU as a security actor. We are working on a strategic and pragmatic partnership – not as fast as I would like, but steadily.

All these achievements are tangible and real. They should give ample reason to be optimistic about NATO’s future. Why, then, do some argue that something is amiss? I’ll try to give the answer in one sentence: there is not enough political debate in NATO. Not on the major challenges to our security and not on the operations we decide to undertake.

Now, one might say that acting, after all, is more important than talking. Fair enough. But it is the talking, the political consensus, the consultations, that underpin our political stance and, if appropriate, subsequent operational decisions with the weight, the credibility, and the cohesion they need to have.

What I have in mind is that the Alliance should as matter of course and by its very nature be the place where Allies discuss fundamental security matters, not just or only in view of reaching a consensus or making a decision, but in order to exchange their views and to create understanding for the various points of view even if the result is sometimes to agree to disagree. In other words, to be the natural forum for the transatlantic security dialogue.

We definitely under-used NATO in this respect last year with regard to Iraq before the things came to a climax. The agenda of the weekly NAC meetings only featured routine items. It was a bit like the famous diary entry of Louis XVI on the day the Bastille was stormed. It read: ’Aujourd’hui rien’. If Iraq was discussed at all it was under ‘Any Other Business’.

The members of the Alliance share the same values and agree on the need to project stability and to address the challenges to our security wherever and whenever they arise. But there are, quite understandably, often differing views on how to achieve our objectives. Therefore there is never an automaticity, an Article 5-like reflex, when it comes to undertaking new operations. The case for each and every operation has to be made – and convincingly – if we are to engage with the full political weight and corresponding capabilities of the Alliance.

This is not just important for the political support of the mission itself, but also for a successful force generation process thereafter. Nations will only commit forces if they know that burden-sharing will be fair and that all Allies will shoulder their part of the burden.

At the same time, the Alliance’s role as a political actor in those very regions that we deploy to is not commensurate with its position as a key-enabler in these regions and in the overall political process. In the Balkans, and even more in Afghanistan, we provide the basis for all other efforts. But we don’t seem to be very much involved in the political processes in these regions, helping to bring about the conditions for longer-term stability. That we leave up to others. To my mind, this is not a healthy division of labour. Something is not quite right if for example a discussion in the NATO Council about the future of Kosovo has to be triggered by a UN report thereon. It should be a regular item on our agenda. The Alliance should play a political role commensurate with its military importance, and this role should be based upon more profound, and more sustained political dialogue among the Allies. After all, when taking decisions on our presence in these regions, or continued presence, we need as much clarity as we can get on the duration, size and risks of missions if we are to convince Allies of the need to contribute over an extended period of time.

So far, so bad, you might say. But I remain optimistic. I believe that there are several factors that will lead NATO to assume its role as a forum for political debate:

  • The first reason is the security environment itself.

Terrorism, failed states and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are threats of an unprecedented nature. To respond to them effectively requires transatlantic cooperation. True, the superglue of the Soviet threat that bound us together during the Cold War is becoming unstuck. Today, Allies may not always perceive threats in exactly the same way. But I am convinced that the more all Allies absorb the full implications of the new security environment, the closer their security outlook will again become. And the more they will realise that the need for consultation and coordination among them is actually not diminishing, but increasing – including within a dynamic NATO. Without the U.S. there will be no world order – and it is in NATO where the U.S. and its Allies meet in a structured relationship.

  • The second reason why things will change is NATO’s ever-closer coordination with other institutions, notably the EU and the United Nations.

I already referred to the need for strong NATO-EU relations. Right now, NATO-EU relations are still in a straitjacket. Our cooperation is essentially limited to the Western Balkans. Consequently, our NAC-PSC agenda looks pretty weak at times. But as I indicated earlier, this situation cannot last. A true 21st century agenda will require NATO and the EU to broaden their cooperation across the full spectrum of challenges: terrorism, proliferation, failed states. Complementarity is the key word. And the broader this relationship becomes, the more NATO will be forced to come up with coherent views of its own. This will help stimulate political debate.

The same holds true for our cooperation with the UN. We are working together in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and I already mentioned Darfur. Clearly, the UN approaches NATO primarily because of our unique ability for launching multinational military operations. So they see us as a provider of military services. But even if they may look at us functionally rather than politically, there can be no doubt that closer cooperation with the UN will be a really positive move. If we want to exploit this new momentum, however, we will not only need a new level of political coordination with the UN. We will also need a debate within NATO itself – about the ambitions of this Alliance, and about its reach. Will it be an Alliance “tous azimuts”? Will it be the “gendarme du monde”? In short, the need for debate has never been greater.

  • And there is a third factor that will help to end the era of under-using NATO as a political framework.

That factor lies within NATO itself. I believe that the current unease with the political status quo will have an impact on our nations. And I am determined to exploit this feeling of unease by pushing forward with some practical proposals of my own, assuring more frequently high-level political input into our discussions.

Can all this be done? Why not! Is it worth the effort? Absolutely! When I took on the job as Secretary General of NATO nine months ago, the press often referred to me as a bridgebuilder. Indeed, strengthening the transatlantic relationship – and keeping it together – is one of my key objectives. But you have to push things forward even if you encounter resistance. Either you keep moving or you fall over.

And it has become very clear to me during my time in office that this Alliance can be pushed forward. That it can adapt to changes. And that one must not judge this Alliance against the outdated yardsticks of the Cold War.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it can act. I believe that the time has now come to bring the acting and the talking into a sound and sustainable balance. I believe that our debate here at the NATO Review Conference can help us move into that direction. And I will do whatever I can as the Alliance’s Secretary General to encourage such progress.

Thank you very much.

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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).