NATO : A Transforming Alliance
NATO : A Transforming Alliance
Speech given by Jaap de Hoop
Secretary General, to the Cambridge Union Society. Cambridge, February
2, 2005. Source: NATO.
Mr President. Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for those kind words of introduction, and thank you for the invitation
to speak to you this evening. It is a tremendous privilege to be following in
the footsteps of so many eminent politicians, diplomats, businessmen, and
celebrities, who have spoken here in this wonderful and historic setting. I had
thought that my own University, Leiden, might be older than Cambridge, so was a
little disappointed to be told the University here at Cambridge was started back
in 1231, some three hundred years before Leiden, by Oxford scholars fleeing
persecution from townsfolk back in Oxford. I only hope you do not persecute me
in the Q&A later this evening.
It is also a real pleasure for me to have the opportunity to meet and discuss
with the cream of the world’s young talent. Statistics indicate that this
evening’s gathering will bring together a considerable number of different
nationalities, with the corresponding variety of religions and cultures. And
amongst you this evening, sit future prime ministers, cabinet ministers,
religious leaders, chief executives in the business sector, academics and
undoubtedly also a convict or two!
When I was a student - longer ago than I wish to remember, and certainly before
Robinson College here at Cambridge was founded - I was actively involved in
organising debates and discussions like this evening’s on the foreign policy
issues of the day. These events were not only hugely informative, but they also
whetted my appetite for a career in politics. Indeed, as I look around, I notice
that this chamber is laid out in the same manner as those in the House of Lords
and the House of Commons with two sides facing each other in an adversarial
setting. I only hope that you don’t adopt an adversarial stance when it comes to
the questions later, and that you bear in mind that I come here from an
organisation which prides itself on the consensual approach to doing business.
Anyway, I wish to reassure you that it is not my intention this evening to
convert you all to a future life in politics, but I should like to take this
opportunity to explain my perception of today’s security environment, and NATO’s
role within it. I shall briefly describe how NATO has transformed itself in
three key areas its way of thinking about security, its capabilities, and its
During my student days, the Cold War was at its height, and people viewed NATO’s
purpose at that time as keeping the Soviet Union at bay. It was the British Lord
Ismay, one of my predecessors as Secretary General of NATO who said NATO was
designed to ‘Keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out’. I
don’t subscribe to this view because for me, it was always much more than that.
I believe NATO’s role was, and is, to defend essential values the freedom to
speak your mind, the freedom to travel, the freedom to elect your own government,
and the freedom to practise the religion of your choice. Indeed, you could
fairly describe NATO as a value-driven organisation, and that is why, over the
years, we have welcomed new members into the Alliance because they share our
values. But these values I have just mentioned need to be worked for, they must
be nourished, and they must be encouraged. But most of all, those values must be
protected. And, as I have just said, the protection of those values is a role
that continues for NATO today.
But today’s threat to those values no longer comes from the Soviet Pact with its
aggressive ideology supported by a massive nuclear and conventional military
machine. Today’s threat comes from failed states, from terrorism, and from the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
These new threats are global in nature they could arise anywhere - but their
implications affect us all even here in beautiful Cambridge. And because the
threats are different, the response must be different. An Alliance sitting back
waiting to be attacked, with huge numbers of forces dedicated to territorial
defence, and working in total isolation from other international organisations
and institutions, would rapidly lose relevance in this new threat environment.
That is why NATO developed a new approach to security after the end of the Cold
War and this new approach can be summed up in the expression “transformation”.
When I use the word transformation in the UK, amongst students who maybe watched
too much television in their youth, I am told that some of you may start
thinking of Japanese cartoons and plastic toys. But this is not what I mean: let
me explain transformation in the NATO context.
I have just described the differences between the security
environment of my student days, and the threats we face today which are global
in nature. A clear geographic delineation of these threats is simply no longer
possible. If we wish to continue safeguarding our values, then we cannot
continue to view the North-Atlantic area in isolation from the rest of the
world. And a regional and reactive approach to these new threats would be
completely ineffective. So, at NATO, we have agreed that we must tackle these
threats when and where they arise, otherwise they will end up on our doorstep,
and it will be too late to deal with them effectively.
This transformation of thinking is reflected in how we use the Alliance. And
that is why NATO decided to deploy naval forces into the Mediterranean. In the
Mediterranean, our naval forces monitor shipping and provide a potent deterrent
to terrorism at sea, as well as to those who seek to move illegal cargoes. In
Afghanistan we are taking a leading role, under a United Nations’ mandate, in
assisting the Afghan authorities to bring security and stability back to their
country so that democracy can take root. We retain a strong presence in Kosovo,
where we continue to provide the essential security to permit discussions about
the province’s future status. Although NATO no longer has responsibility for
peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that country’s new found security,
stability and reconstruction were made possible by NATO implementation of the
Dayton Peace Agreement. And in Iraq, again under a United Nations’ mandate, we
are assisting the Iraqi forces with their training in preparation for them to
take full responsibility for their own security following the successful
elections earlier this week. These commitments are a clear demonstration of the
transformed way NATO is thinking about security and the way it is being employed.
the operations I have just mentioned, such as in the Balkans and in Afghanistan,
NATO identified that it needed access to different capabilities from those it
developed for keeping the peace during the Cold War. At this point, it is worth
remembering that NATO does not own any combat forces itself. It is not a
transnational army. It has to rely on the sovereign nations that make up the
Alliance voluntarily placing their forces under NATO command. So NATO needed to
encourage Allies to realise that static forces dedicated to national territorial
defence are obsolete against the threats we face today. “Tanks in Tunbridge are
no use to man against Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan”. Allies now need forces
that can react quickly, that can operate in a wide variety of environments, that
can be deployed over strategic distances, and that can be sustained a long way
from their homeland for considerable periods.
In addition, we need to have a better mix of capabilities across the full range
of possible military tasks. At the same time as we are fighting to keep peace,
we will be busy rebuilding the infrastructure and encouraging a society to
develop that will also share our values. It is absolutely pointless providing
enhanced security if the people do not see any improvement in other aspects of
When the threats are global, we have
to ensure that the responses are coordinated globally. And of course, we need to
integrate any NATO military response into a wider overall framework that will
include political, as well as perhaps financial and judicial measures. We
already enjoy a good relationship with the United Nations, and this relationship
will have to grow even closer. The United Nations’ recent High Level Panel
Report on Threats, Challenges and Change calls on other institutions and
organisations to support the United Nations. As the United Nations looks at how
to implement the panel’s recommendations, I am convinced that NATO, with its
unparalleled experience and expertise, will feature high up on the United
Nations’ list of preferred suppliers.
But arguably the most significant relationship for NATO, is the one with the
European Union. The UK, despite the best efforts of some parts of your tabloid
press, is just as much a part of the EU as it is of NATO. As the European Union
further develops its own security and defence policy, it will be necessary to
increase the cooperation between us. Our current relationship is focussed
primarily on crisis management in the Balkans, and on planning modernisation of
our forces. But now is the time to broaden this agenda. There are, for example,
certain areas where we do similar things such as combating terrorism. So we
ought to work closely together on this, while at the same time acknowledging
that the two organisations have different strengths and responsibilities. In
this way, we can ensure that those relative strengths are applied in a
coordinated and synergistic manner. When I look at Afghanistan, I see NATO
playing the principal role in security assistance, and the European Union
playing a major role in financial assistance. Yet, at the moment, we are not
coordinating these efforts. But I feel that we should. These are just two
examples that convince me that the time is right to further develop the
relationship between us into a true strategic partnership.
And then there are links with states that are not Allies. NATO has formal
partnership arrangements with 20 countries stretching from the tip of North
Europe down to the Balkans, out to the strategically important regions of the
Caucasus and Central Asia. These partner countries include Russia and Ukraine,
with whom we have special relationships.
But perhaps there is no region that will have a greater impact on our security
than the region of the Middle East. It is therefore vital that NATO be engaged
in this region. We already have our “Mediterranean Dialogue”. This provides
established links with seven countries, stretching from western North Africa
around the southern Mediterranean rim to the Middle East. And we recently
launched our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Through this initiative, we are
discussing possibilities for cooperation with interested countries in the Gulf
region. And of course, in Iraq, where we have a training mission.
Our training mission in Iraq stands alongside of, but is not part of the
coalition effort. It is not a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And the UK
soldiers and airmen who died so tragically on Sunday were not under NATO
But on the subject of Iraq, I am delighted to say that the differences in NATO
which were so comprehensively reported upon 2 years ago, are now well and truly
behind us. All Allies agreed to provide planning support to Poland when it took
a leading role in south-central Iraq. All Allies agreed to train and equip Iraqi
security forces. All Allies are giving this mission their full political and
financial support. And most importantly, nearly all Allies are actively
participating in the mission, whether it be in Iraq itself, or elsewhere.
But to go back to NATO and its relationships, it would be very remiss of me not
to mention all the other countries with which we have informal contacts, such as
China and Japan, Australia and New Zealand, India and Pakistan, South Korea and
countries in South America.
These transformed relationships, with other institutions, with partner
countries, and with our contact countries, offer opportunities to develop common
approaches to the new challenges, as well as to share experiences and “best
practice”. But most importantly, they permit NATO and its Allies to play a vital
role in shaping the security environment in line with our strategic interests
and shared values, and they promote NATO as a forum for political consultation
and discussion. This is a facet of NATO that I would like to see further
expanded. Whatever career path you take from Cambridge, be sure in the knowledge
that you will not necessarily have to wear a uniform to work at NATO HQ.
The Iraq crisis caused significant tension within the Alliance. This
demonstrated, to me at least, that our new security environment holds
considerable potential for debate, and division. Whereas debate is healthy,
division certainly isn’t. And what better way to prevent division, than by early,
informed, and constructive debate. I do sometimes have the impression that NATO
suffers from unfair double standards. Whereas debate in the United Nations or
the European Union is the accepted way to address key issues and search for
agreement, debate within NATO is immediately represented as failure. NATO has
been pronounced dead so many times in the media over the last few years that I
sometimes refer to it as the Lazarus of International Organisations.
But in face of the unpredictable and complex environment in which we now live, I
feel that Allies need to put their ideas to the test of constructive debate. And
this applies at NATO too. If we had adopted such an approach a few years ago,
then perhaps we could have avoided some of the serious difficulties caused by
the Iraq controversy. And I am sure that the value of debate would be supported
in this particular chamber.
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude, and then we can open up the floor for your questions. If I were
to leave you with only one message this evening, it would be this - NATO has
transformed. Its transformed its way of thinking, its capabilities, and its
relationships. But NATO’s fundamental purpose endures and that is as the unique
transatlantic political-military framework through which North America and
Europe can pursue their shared security interests, shape the environment in line
with their common values, and provide mutual protection. Later this week, NATO
Defence Ministers will meet in Nice. And at the end of the month, NATO Heads of
State and Government will meet in Brussels. You will see on both these
occasions, an unambiguous commitment by all Allies to the transformed NATO that
I have just described for you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, NATO, like myself, is 56 years old. But just like me, and
just like your 800 year old University and this 190 year old society, it is
continually changing and still going strong.
I said at the start of my speech that statistics suggest there will be at least
a couple of future convicts present in the room tonight. I truly hope that I
myself am not guilty of speaking too long this evening and that we still have
plenty of time for questions and answers.