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NATO : A Transforming Alliance

NATO : A Transforming Alliance

Speech given by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO 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 relationships.

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.

  • First of all, transformation of how we think about our security, and how we use the Alliance.

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 second area of transformation concerns our military capabilities.

To conduct 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 their lives.

  • Next, I wish to highlight the transformation in our relationships with others both other institutions, and other states.

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 command.

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.

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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).