NATO’s Vision of Becoming a Transformed, Multifaceted, Expeditionary Force
NATO’s Vision of Becoming a Transformed, Multifaceted,
Munich Conference on Security Policy
(Munich, Germany). As Delivered by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M.
Gates, Munich, Germany, Sunday, February 10, 2008. Sources
U.S. Department of Defense,
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Munich Conference on Security Policy.
Dr. Robert Michael Gates (left), and
Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik.
Photograph by Kai Mörk
Thank you, Horst. I would also like to thank the people of
Munich for once again allowing us to gather in this beautiful city.
I am glad to see many of my colleagues here, as well as many
of the delegations that were with us in Vilnius for the NATO ministerial. As I
said in Vilnius – three weeks ago I accomplished a key goal I have been pursuing
for the past year: through the good offices of the Los Angeles Times, I finally
brought unity to NATO – though not as I wished.
It is an honor to be invited to speak here for a second, and
last, year as U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Vilnius was my fourth NATO ministerial since taking this
post, but my first in a nation that had been part of the former Soviet Union.
Lithuania was one of the first nations to be swallowed by the Soviets, and the
first republic to declare its independence as Baltic push came to Soviet shove.
It is now a proud member of NATO, and the leader of a Provincial Reconstruction
Team in Afghanistan.
For the transatlantic alliance, the period in which Lithuania
and other captive nations gained their independence was a time of reflection.
Not only were we pondering enlargement to secure the wave of democracy sweeping
across Eastern Europe, but NATO was also pondering the very concept of
collective self-defense in a post-Cold War world.
We saw this in 1991, when NATO issued its first Strategic
Concept. This document recognized that a “single massive and global threat ha[d]
given way to diverse and multi-directional risks” – challenges such as weapons
proliferation; disruption of the flow of vital resources; ethnic conflict; and
terrorism. Overcoming these threats, the document stated, would require a “broad
approach to security,” with political, economic, and social elements.
From the perspective of one who played a role in that effort
to redirect NATO 17 years ago, today I would like to discuss a subject that
embodies the security challenges that have emerged since that time, and
correspondingly, the capabilities we need, in this new era.
US Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert
Photograph by Harald Dettenborn
That subject is, not surprisingly, Afghanistan. After six
years of war, at a time when many sense frustration, impatience, or even
exhaustion with this mission, I believe it is valuable to step back and take
stock of Afghanistan:
· First, within the context of the long-standing purpose of the Alliance, and
how it relates to the threats of a post Cold War world;
· Second, with regard to NATO’s vision of becoming a transformed, multifaceted,
expeditionary force – and how we have evolved in accordance with that vision;
· Finally, to recapitulate to the people of Europe the importance of the
Afghanistan mission and its relationship to the wider terrorist threat.
There is little doubt that the mission in Afghanistan is unprecedented. It is,
in fact, NATO’s first ground war and it is dramatically different than anything
NATO has done before. However, on a conceptual level, I believe it falls
squarely within the traditional bounds of the Alliance’s core purpose: to defend
the security interests and values of the transatlantic community.
During the 1990s, even as we tried to predict what form the threats of the 21st
century would take, Afghanistan was, in reality becoming exactly what we were
discussing in theory. Subsequent events during the ensuing years have shown that:
· Instability and conflict abroad have the potential to spread and strike
directly at the hearts of our nations;
· New technology and communications connect criminal and terrorist networks far
and wide, and allow local problems to become regional and even global;
· Economic, social, and humanitarian problems caused by massive immigration
flows radiate outward with little regard for national borders;
· A nexus between narcotics and terrorists increases the resources available to
extremists in the region, while increasing the drug flow to European streets;
· The presence of safe havens, combined with a lack of development and
governance, allow Islamic extremists to turn a poisonous ideology into a global
More than five years ago in Prague, in the wake of the September 11th attacks,
our nations set out to transform NATO into an expeditionary force capable of
dealing with threats of this type – capable of helping other nations help
themselves to avoid Afghanistan’s fate. At the time, I imagine many were unsure
of what, exactly, this would look like – what new structures, training, funding,
mindsets, and manpower would be needed. Since then, however, we have applied our
vision on the ground in Afghanistan.
· Nearly 50,000 troops from some 40 allies and partner nations serve under NATO
command, thousands of miles from the Alliance’s traditional borders;
· Growing numbers of reconstruction and security training teams are making a
real difference in the lives of the Afghan people; and
· NATO’s offensive and counterinsurgency operations in the South have dislodged
the Taliban from their strongholds and reduced their ability to launch large
scale or coordinated attacks.
Due to NATO’s efforts, as Minister Jung pointed out yesterday, Afghanistan has
made substantial progress in health care, education, and the economy – bettering
the lives of millions of its citizens.
Through the Afghan mission, we have developed a much more
sophisticated understanding of what capabilities we need as an Alliance and what
shortcomings must be addressed.
Since the Riga summit, there has been much focus on whether all allies are
meeting their commitments and carrying their share of the burden. I have had a
few things to say about that myself. In truth, virtually all allies are
fulfilling the individual commitments they have made. The problem is that the
Alliance as a whole has not fulfilled its broader commitment from Riga to meet
the force requirements of the commander in the field.
As we think about how to satisfy those requirements, we
should look more creatively at other ways to ensure that all allies can
contribute more to this mission – and share this burden. But we must not – we
cannot – become a two-tiered Alliance of those who are willing to fight and
those who are not. Such a development, with all its implications for collective
security, would effectively destroy the Alliance.
As many of you know, a Strategic Vision document is being
drafted that will assess NATO’s and our partners’ achievements in Afghanistan,
and will produce a set of realistic goals and a roadmap to meet them over the
next three to five years. We continue urgently to need a senior civilian – a
European in my view – to coordinate all non-military international assistance to
the Afghan government and people. The lack of such coordination is seriously
hampering our efforts to help the Afghans build a free and secure country.
Dr. Robert Michael Gates during his
Photograph by Sebastian Zwez
The really hard question the Alliance faces is whether the whole of our effort
is adding up to less than the sum of its parts, and, if that is the case, what
we should do to reverse that equation.
As an Alliance, we must be willing to discard some of the bureaucratic hurdles
that have accumulated over the years and hinder our progress in Afghanistan.
This means more willingness to think and act differently – and quickly. To pass
initiatives such as the NATO Commander’s Emergency Response Fund. This tool has
proven itself elsewhere, but will, for NATO, require a more flexible approach to
budgeting and funding.
Additionally, it is clear that we need a common set of
training standards for every one going to Afghanistan – whether they are combat
troops conducting counterinsurgency operations; civilians working in Provincial
Reconstruction Teams; or members of operational mentoring and liaison training
teams. Unless we are all on the same page – unless our efforts are tied together
and unified by similar tactics, training, and goals – then the whole of our
efforts will indeed be less than the sum of the parts.
I also worry that there is a developing theology about a clear-cut division of
labor between civilian and military matters – one that sometimes plays out in
debates over the respective roles of the European Union and NATO, and even among
the NATO allies. In many respects, this conversation echoes one that has taken
place – and still is – in the United States within the civilian and military
agencies of the U.S. government as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq
For the United States, the lessons we have learned these past
six years – and in many cases re-learned – have not been easy ones. We have
stumbled along the way, and we are still learning. Now, in Iraq, we are applying
a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes the security of the local population –
those who will ultimately take control of their own security – and brings to
bear in the same place and very often at the same time civilian resources for
economic and political development.
We have learned that war in the 21st century does not have
stark divisions between civilian and military components. It is a continuous
scale that slides from combat operations to economic development, governance and
reconstruction – frequently all at the same time.
The Alliance must put aside any theology that attempts
clearly to divide civilian and military operations. It is unrealistic. We must
live in the real world. As we noted as far back as 1991, in the real world,
security has economic, political, and social dimensions. And vice versa. The
E.U. and NATO need to find ways to work together better, to share certain roles
– neither excluding NATO from civilian operations nor barring the E.U. from
military missions. In short, I agree entirely with Secretary General de Hoop
Scheffer and Minister Morin’s comments yesterday that there must be a
“complimentarity” between the E.U. and NATO.
At the same time, in NATO, some allies ought not to have the
luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, thus forcing other
Allies to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and the dying.
Overall, the last few years have seen a dramatic evolution in
NATO’s thinking and in its posture. With all the new capabilities we have forged
in the heat of battle – and with new attitudes – we are seeing what it means to
be expeditionary. What is required to spread stability beyond our borders. We
must now commit ourselves to institutionalize what we have learned and to
complete our transformation.
Just as we must be realistic about the nature and complexity
of the struggle in Afghanistan, so too must we be realistic about politics in
our various countries. NATO, after all, is an alliance whose constituent
governments all answer to their citizens.
My colleagues in Vilnius and those in this room certainly
understand the serious threat we face in Afghanistan. But I am concerned that
many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct
threat to European security. For the United States, September 11th was a
galvanizing event – one that opened the American public’s eyes to dangers from
distant lands. It was especially poignant since our government had been heavily
involved in Afghanistan in the 1980s, only to make the grievous error – of which
I was at least partly responsible – of abandoning a destitute and war-torn
nation after the last Soviet soldier crossed the Termez bridge.
While nearly all the Alliance governments appreciate the
importance of the Afghanistan mission, European public support for it is weak.
Many Europeans question the relevance of our actions and doubt whether the
mission is worth the lives of their sons and daughters. As a result, many want
to remove their troops. The reality of fragile coalition governments makes it
difficult to take risks. And communicating the seriousness of the threat posed
by Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and globally
remains a steep challenge.
As opinion leaders and government officials, we are the ones who must make the
case publicly and persistently.
So now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied
leaders on the continent and speak directly to the people of Europe: The threat
posed by violent Islamic extremism is real – and it is not going away. You know
all too well about the attacks in Madrid and London. But there have also been
multiple smaller attacks in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, and Glasgow, among
others. Numerous cells and plots have been disrupted in recent years as well –
many of them seeking large-scale death and destruction, such as:
· A complex plot to down multiple airliners over the Atlantic that could have
killed hundreds or thousands;
· A plot to use ricin and release cyanide in the London Underground;
· A separate plan for a chemical attack in the Paris metro;
· Plots in Belgium, England, and Germany involving car bombs that could have
· Homemade bombs targeting commuter and high-speed trains in Spain and Germany;
· Individuals arrested in Bosnia with explosives, a suicide belt, and an
instructional propaganda video;
· Two plots in Denmark involving explosives, fertilizer, and a bomb-making video;
· Just in the last few weeks, Spanish authorities arrested 14 Islamic extremists
in Barcelona suspected of planning suicide attacks against public transport
systems in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Britain.
Imagine, for a moment, if some or all of these attacks had come to pass. Imagine
if Islamic terrorists had managed to strike your capitals on the same scale as
they struck in New York. Imagine if they had laid their hands on weapons and
materials with even greater destructive capability – weapons of the sort all too
easily accessible in the world today. We forget at our peril that the ambition
of Islamic extremists is limited only by opportunity.
We should also remember that terrorist cells in Europe are
not purely homegrown or unconnected to events far away – or simply a matter of
domestic law and order. Some are funded from abroad. Some hate all western
democracies, not just the United States. Many who have been arrested have had
direct connections to Al Qaeda. Some have met with top leaders or attended
training camps abroad. Some are connected to Al Qaeda in Iraq. In the most
recent case, the Barcelona cell appears to have ties to a terrorist training
network run by Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistan-based extremist commander affiliated
with the Taliban and Al Qaeda – who we believe was responsible for the
assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Dr. Robert Michael Gates, during his
Photograph by Kai Mörk
What unites them is that they are all followers of the same
movement – a movement that is no longer tethered to any strict hierarchy but one
that has become an independent force of its own. Capable of animating a corps of
devoted followers without direct contact. And capable of inspiring violence
without direct orders.
It is an ideological movement that has, over the years, been
methodically built on the illusion of success. After all, about the only thing
they have accomplished recently is the death of thousands of innocent Muslims
while trying to create discord across the Middle East. So far they have failed.
But they have twisted this reality into an aura of success in many parts of the
world. It raises the question: What would happen if the false success they
proclaim became real success? If they triumphed in Iraq or Afghanistan, or
managed to topple the government of Pakistan? Or a major Middle Eastern
Aside from the chaos that would instantly be sown in the
region, success there would beget success on many other fronts as the cancer
metastasized further and more rapidly than it already has. Many more followers
could join their ranks, both in the region and in susceptible populations across
the globe. With safe havens in the Middle East, and new tactics honed on the
battlefield and transmitted via the Internet, violence and terrorism worldwide
I am not indulging in scare tactics. Nor am I exaggerating
either the threat or inflating the consequences of a victory for the extremists.
Nor am I saying that the extremists are ten feet tall. The task before us is to
fracture and destroy this movement in its infancy – to permanently reduce its
ability to strike globally and catastrophically, while deflating its ideology.
Our best opportunity as an alliance to do this is in Afghanistan. Just as the
hollowness of Communism was laid bare with the collapse of the Soviet Union, so
too would success in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, strike a decisive blow
against what some commentators have called Al Qaeda-ism.
This is a steep challenge. But the events of the last year
have proven one thing above all else: If we are willing to stand together, we
can prevail. It will not be quick, and it will not be easy – but it can be done.
In the years ahead, the credibility of NATO, and indeed the
viability of the Euro-Atlantic security project itself, will depend on how we
perform now. Other actors in the global arena – Hezbollah, Iran and others – are
watching what we say and what we do, and making choices about their future
Everyone knows that in 2009 the United States will have a new
administration. And this time, next year, you will be hearing from a new
Secretary of Defense.
But regardless of which party is in power, regardless who
stands at this podium, the threats we face now and in the future are real. They
will not go away. Overcoming them will require unity between opposition parties
and across various governments, and uncommon purpose within the Alliance and
with other friends and partners.
From our present-day vantage point, victory in the Cold War
now seems almost preordained. But as we prepare to celebrate NATO’s 60th
anniversary next year, it is useful to recall that 60 years ago this year, in
1948, the year of the Berlin airlift, few people would have been all that
optimistic about the future of Europe, or the prospect of a Western alliance.
The Continent was devastated, its economy in shambles. The United States was
debating the European recovery program – known as the Marshall Plan – and faced
a resurgent isolationism. Europe was under siege – with pressure from communism
being felt in Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and
In January of that year, Ernest Bevin, the British foreign
secretary, went before parliament to discuss the Soviet Union and other threats
to the United Kingdom. Between all the “kindred souls of the West,” he said,
“there should be an effective understanding bound together by common ideals for
which the Western Powers have twice in one generation shed their blood.”
Less than two months later, President Harry Truman stood in
the United States Congress and echoed that sentiment. He said: “The time has
come when the free men and women of the world must face the threat to their
liberty squarely and courageously ... Unity of purpose, unity of effort, and
unity of spirit are essential to accomplish the task before us.”
That unity held for decades through ups and downs. It held
despite divisions and discord, stresses and strains, and through several crises
where another war in Europe loomed. Alexis de Tocqueville once warned that
democracies, when it comes to foreign affairs, were ill-suited to pursue a
“great undertaking” and “follow it [through] with determination.” But the
democracies of the West did just that – for more than 40 years. And they can do
so once more today.
So that, many years from now, our children and their children will
look back on this period as a time when we recommitted ourselves to the common
ideals that bind us together. A time when we again faced a threat to peace and
to our liberty squarely and courageously. A time when we again shed blood and
helped war devastated people nourish the seeds of freedom and create peaceful,
productive societies. That mission drew us together in 1948 and keeps us
Many years from now, perhaps future generations will look back on this period
and say, “victory seemed almost preordained.”