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Speech by HRH The Duke of York

HRH The Duke of York

On: 60th Anniversary NATO

9th November 2009

“Deja Vu!  I am sure I was here 10 years ago!  This is something that I had not previously considered as a Member of the Royal Family being asked to give a speech 10 years later to the same group; it’s rather like being asked to resit an examination!  Whatever It is a great honour to be asked to speak to you in this 60th Anniversary year of the foundation of NATO.

Surprise, surprise I looked up and reread what I said on that occasion 10 years ago, in preparation for tonight’s dinner, and the issues I highlighted during that speech, at the time we only had 19 members of NATO, as opposed to the 28 today.  The issues were the new Strategic Concept which recognised the importance of conflict resolution in non-Article 5 operations; the Defence Capabilities Initiative with its theme of readily deployable forces and I also spoke about the further development of ESDI (The European Security Defence Identity) to support the military capabilities of a developing European Union defence competence stemming from the NATO structure and experience, to avoid wasteful duplication.  I believe all these issues are still relevant today.

 And the role I played as an Officer in the Royal Navy within the wider context of NATO is now literally from a different Century – which is a rather sobering thought.

The Alliance has, since the end of the Cold War, changed its roles and responsibilities to adapt to the changing and challenging geopolitical World of the 21st Century.

But, I have to ask have we, throughout the two decades since the end of the Cold War, taken the Alliance for granted?  Have we just assumed that it will always be there, offering reassurance and providing security to both its old and new members?

I think we should look back with pride and affection.  We should look at the present with some interest and concern.  And if we look forward with a crystal ball perhaps we should be more concerned and alarmed.


Let me look first at the past, NATO is entitled to congratulate itself on a good job well done. Peace within Alliance territory has been secured in the last 60 years.

Thus, it is safe to say that NATO has been one of the most successful military alliances in history.  It has helped to prevent war while reinforcing democracy and security across Western Europe, when the destructive power available to the potential protagonists could have annihilated most of the world.  It has also kept North America engaged in the defense of Europe.  It has developed a political and military consultative architecture that has ensured effective planning and realistic force goals for the Allies such that the ‘totality’ of this Alliance has been, and will be, very much greater than the sum of its parts.

There were frissons on the way, perhaps the biggest being when France left the integrated military structure in 1966.  France has always been a key ally in NATO but its absence from NATO’s military structures was deeply felt in planning and integration.  So, President Sarkozy’s decision to reintegrate France fully at the April Summit was excellent news.  I won’t say it solves at a stroke the vexed question of the European Security and Defence Identity but it does give a boost to the EU and NATO working more closely together; reducing the potential for competition and allowing more complementary activity.

All the doubts, issues and problems over these years, of which there were many, were not sufficient to break NATO.  It was assisted greatly by having a clear, identifiable, close and present threat, which when times looked difficult, focussed the mind wonderfully.

 It was helped by populations which fully understood what this threat was, and which broadly backed their governments in maintaining a rock solid NATO.  In retrospect, that clear threat rendered decision making, especially in terms of costs, political and actual and in numbers in armed forces, so much simpler to explain to the electorate and therefore execute.

But, that is clearly the past.  We should note that those enlisted into some of NATO’s national armies this year were born after the end of the Cold War.  For them – and for many in our electorates – communism and the Warsaw Pact are historic subjects, rather than existing dangers.  The enduring relevance of NATO cannot be assumed; it must be refashioned and reasserted for the generation of today, for the men and women in our Armed Forces, and for the benefit of our taxpayers who shoulder the burden.  The new members of the Alliance remain enthusiastic about their contributions, largely because they cannot forget that NATO represented their ultimate liberation.  But the older members of our Alliance may be less enthusiastic, and a constant effort of education is required.  So the Past should be remembered with pride and NATO should be congratulated for its steadfastness and seeing us through those dark days of the Cold War.  However I contend the relevance of NATO cannot now be assumed.


What of the present and the immediate past?  There are two distinct periods of time in NATO in the recent past that have driven the Alliance to be where it is today.  The first period was after the Berlin Wall came down (20 years ago today) when NATO became involved in peacekeeping in Bosnia Herzegovina (1995), Kosovo in 1999 and Macedonia in 2001.  There was then a second period, initiated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, which have directly resulted in the medium intensity offensive operations in Afghanistan, through the UN mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which NATO has led since 2003.

There has also been the enlargement of NATO during this period, where NATO has added 9 new countries as full members and 5as aspirant members awaiting entry (Macedonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Montenegro and Bosnia).  Most recently Croatia and Albania joined at the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit in April of this year.

In addition, NATO has been able to move from confrontation with the Soviet Union to developing an evolving partnership with Russia. It was always going to be difficult to include or persuade our former old Cold War adversary that NATO’s purpose has a continuing life after the end of the Cold War, especially as the Warsaw Pact alliance fell with such abruptness.  But we must continue and in 2002 the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established for consultation and co-operation in order to enhance our respective security.

NATO has some remarkable success to point to that have nothing to do with defence but to do with military cooperation and integration.  These are attributes that whatever the security situation should not be lost or to gather dust.  The ability for nations using differing equipment and systems to be able to work together across a broad spectrum of operations is vital in this multipolar and multidimensional world we now live in.  We have no idea who we will be operating alongside next but the lessons and experience NATO has developed is one way to help integrate these disparate parts into a force that can have military or naval effect and one example is the Anti-Piracy activities being carried out currently by 5 Navies  in the Arabian Sea off Somalia.


Now comes the Crystal ball.  The future is a hidden book, but perhaps we can look at various key issues which will be areas for discussion and action in the next 10 years.

First is the principle of collected defence which is the fundamental purpose of the Alliance.   Attending to legitimate Article 5 concerns of individual members must underpin any future challenges for NATO.

Second is the relationship with the United States.  The transatlantic link is fundamental to NATO: it is the union of common values and destiny which gives this Alliance its remarkable hallmark.  One reason for the Alliance’s creation was to keep the United States engaged in the security of Europe and this role is as important now as it has always been.  But, European members must recognise that we must all work to make sure that the United States understands and recognises the commitment from Europe and the continuing importance of this Alliance.  Like any marriage, both sides need to work on the relationship constantly, to keep it working.  But it is important to note that the United States does still continue to value NATO not only as a security alliance but also as a forum where it can talk to many allies and EU members about global security issues.

The third challenge is that of additional tasking.  NATO needs to decide what are the tasks best matched to the organisation and resources, and the relevance of those tasks to NATO’s remit.  I don’t think anyone believes that NATO can perform the job of a universal policemen – with or without a UN mandate.  In Afghanistan NATO is in the lead, but NATO will also need to work in support of other international organisations.  Counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden are a good example.  There the EU has the lead through its Operation Atalanta but NATO and others contribute in support.  In Darfur and Somalia NATO has provided airlift support to the African Union’s operations.  It is through a Comprehensive Approach to conflict resolution, involving a host of international actors drawing on both the civil and military resources that NATO can best contribute to our security.

Enlargement.  There are now 28 members of the Alliance.  Many members of the former Warsaw Pact are now members of NATO and prospering under the NATO banner.  It is right that NATO maintains its open-door policy on enlargement, standing ready to welcome new members who meet the necessary criteria.  As our political leaders agreed at the Bucharest Summit last year, that rightly includes Georgia and Ukraine. We must accept that, as an organisation of democracies in Europe, we cannot simply ignore the aspirations of two European nations.  When they join is a matter to be decided only by the sovereign governments of these countries and by the Alliance as a whole.  Nevertheless, we must also be clear about what this enlargement process actually entails: a security guarantee to new nations which must be able and capable to defend their own territory, and that of other member states.  Such a guarantee cannot be given thoughtlessly, the world is changing as are the threats we face.  We expect candidates for membership to demonstrate that they can adapt, adjust, and reform in order to keep in step with the member states.

In addition, it is clear that NATO is a valuable insurance policy to its members, and countries must be persuaded to pay a reasonable premium in terms of forces and financial resources to support the Alliance’s current and long term objectives.  An a la carte approach to involvement which has been allowed to take root – different rules of engagement, what national forces will do and will not do in specific theatres, and which areas they will not operate in – can and will provide a source of future tension between members.

Russia.  NATO is a defensive alliance and is not aimed at any single state.  A constructive NATO relationship with Russia can contribute to the successful pursuit of many of NATO’s top priorities, including in Afghanistan.  Things have certainly improved since the Cold War but it must be an important goal to continue to build up further trust between NATO and Russia in order to enhance their and therefore all our security.  Part of that will be to continue to underline that NATO does not pose a  threat to Russian security.  And Russia will need to accept that every state has the right to freely choose its security alignment, and we must continue to forcefully make the point.  We have not been as successful as we would wish to be in forging a new relationship with Russia.  But we must continue to try, within the NATO-Russia Council, to identify areas where NATO and Russia face common challenges and ways in which we can overcome those challenges through constructive dialogue and practical cooperation.

Another challenge facing us is the need for reform and transformation within the Alliance.  It is clear that the role and position of NATO has evolved since the fall of the Berlin Wall, to meet new and developing challenges.  From static defence to expeditionary operations: NATO has evolved in ways hardly imaginable before the end of the Cold War.  That brings with it internal challenges of ensuring that NATO runs itself effectively and efficiently.  But, with an expanded membership and each member carrying an equal vote, there are changing imperatives, and in particular relating to the speed of decision making and the command and control structure, where progress needs to be made.

Alongside this is Interoperability.  NATO has made great strides over the years in physical interoperability.  STANAGs will be familiar to everyone, and have driven interoperability.

The digitisation of the battlespace is the new area of interoperability that is testing everyone as the tactical interoperability of different digital systems is a long way off in terms of each individual system being able to be compatible with another in another armed force as well as training, costs and timelines.  There is a great deal to be done in this area of interoperability but probably the one area that needs the greatest immediate work is in relevant training to make those systems that are compatible workable by the people who are going to use them.

Afghanistan.  However unfair, Afghanistan is a test bed for NATO’s ability to confront serious crises well beyond its own borders: crises that, in today’s interdependent world, all too often impact on security of Allies at home.  The clear message which we are being given from all sides, is that NATO has to do more in Afghanistan now, if we want to be able to do less later, and the more has to be from the European nations as well as the United States.  There is no doubt that those already in Afghanistan have achieved a great deal in very difficult conditions, and I salute those NATO countries and their military – as well as the military of nations outside the Alliance – who are striving to assist the Afghan people to have their own country, under their own control. Their good deeds now have to be reinforced.

The enduring challenge is that of Globalisation.  NATO will need to change as globalisation increasingly defines our own security.  Terrorism on a large scale is now a global franchise.  Weapons of mass destruction will be available to more nations in the 21st Century.  Energy security and natural resources more widely will jump up the importance ladder.  Water, or more importantly the lack of water, will definitely become one of the biggest global threats, possibly triggering mass migration on a scale no one will have experienced.  Food and it scarcity will also affect the security of nations, these and many others will be key issues in the years ahead and only exacerbated by global warming.

NATO will need to address all these challenges, and work has already begun, under the Secretary General, on a new Strategic Concept.  The new Concept should underline the importance NATO attaches both to defending the territory of its members and to tackling the new and evolving threats we face.  I hope it will set out a clear vision of NATO’s future that will help explain to those younger generations I mentioned earlier why NATO remains so vital.

And finally realism must be applied to the future.  In terms of what is militarily possible, but also in respect of NATO’s core responsibility, the defence of our territory and populations.  Populations will need to understand how this is being achieved by actions probably more often on other continents, and fully support their politicians and military in doing so.

This Alliance proved so successful in facing down the mortal dangers of the Cold War.  It is surely not beyond our capabilities, with the experiences of the past 60 years, to tackle the future challenges which face us today.”