The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Secretary General of NATO
On: NATO: Shaping Security in the 21st Century
23 March 2001
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you this evening. Indeed, as Secretary General of NATO, I could hardly feel more at home than at a meeting of the European- Atlantic Group. Since 1954, this Group has followed a principle which guides my own organization as well—the fundamental requirement for strong cooperation between Europe and North America on the full range of economic, political and military issues. And through your efforts, you have helped forge that relationship into the strongest, most effective partnership possible. So let me begin by congratulating you on the work you have done, and continue to do, to further transatlantic cooperation.
Now, if one reads the headlines today, one might get the feeling that that cooperation is under threat. The news is full of disagreements over airplane subsidies, or beef hormones, or genetically modified corn flakes. Editorials suggest that new developments, such as improving European defence capabilities or US missile defence plans, are undermining the common perspective on security that has kept the transatlantic community together for over five decades. And as a result, there are more than a few doom Sayers predicting that the sky will soon fall on the Euro-Atlantic area.
My message to them is simple: relax. Over the past five decades, the transatlantic relationship has seen more supposedly disastrous moments than a Hollywood thriller—over Suez, over Euro-missiles, over Bosnia and countless other disagreements. Each time, some observers predicted NATO’s demise. And each time, NATO not only survived—but emerged stronger, more cohesive, and more relevant.
This pattern has not changed. Indeed, two recent issues serve to prove once again that our ability to agree, and to do the right thing, has not diminished. I am speaking, of course, of missile defence and the European Security and Defence Identity.
When these two issues entered our transatlantic agenda in earnest some time ago, they both seemed to carry the potential for major transatlantic controversy. Both projects implied the notion of “distance”. For some observers, missile defence seemed to imply a US desire to look after its own security, regardless of Allied concerns. For others, ESDI seemed to suggest an exercise in European self-assertion – -ganging up on “the only remaining superpower”, the United States.
To be sure, much of this controversy was the result of oversimplifications of which parts of our media are so fond. Still, for a while, NATO seemed to be stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place—between an American siege mentality and a European ego-trip. And mutual recriminations were flying back and forth across the Atlantic.
As I have said on other occasions, as someone who straddles the Atlantic, if Europe and America were moving apart, no one would feel the pain more acutely than I would. But, luckily, I didn’t have to be !22 flexible. Because, as is customary in the long history of our transatlantic community, whenever we seem to be at loggerheads, a unique mechanism kicks in—a mechanism called “common sense”. This common sense has gotten us out of trouble more than once. And it has enabled us to surmount seemingly insurmountable challenges.
In the specific case of missile defence and ESDI, transatlantic common sense has led us to realise three fundamental points:
First, ESDI is as inevitable as is missile defence. The United States cannot impose permanent military abstinence on the EU, just as Europeans cannot impose a policy of permanent vulnerability on the US. Both issues are thus going to remain on our transatlantic agenda, and, hence, we need to deal with them in a pragmatic way.
Second, those willing to take a closer look will realise that both issues can be made fully compatible with Alliance interests. Once we deprive these issues of their novelty value and of their surrounding hype, we will find that a large part of the alleged “controversy” is more about process than it is about substance. This means that there is much room for skilful management—and for political leadership.
And this brings us to the third and most important fundamental: when it comes to skilful management and political leadership on transatlantic issues, NA TO is key. Yes, missile defence may seem like an issue largely driven by Washington. And, yes, ESDI—or ESDP—is in large part an EU-driven project.
But the key to the success of these projects lies with NA TO. Because NA TO is the crucial “transmission belt” for transatlantic defence cooperation, and policy coordination. It is the framework that more than any other enjoys the trust and confidence of Europeans and North Americans alike. This gives NA TO a unique opportunity to coordinate, harmonise, and shape events. And we are determined to make full use of these opportunities.
I indeed, the last few weeks offered some very instructive examples for NATO’s tremendous ability to push things in the right direction. As you know, I have recently visited Russia and the US. In the discussions we have had in both the White House and the Kremlin, I could see that things are moving—and in the right direction.
On missile defence, my recent meetings in Washington made pretty clear that our transatlantic discussions in NATO have had a very beneficial effect. The US Administration not only displayed understanding for legitimate European concerns, but it also highlighted the need for including the Allies in this endeavour. The fact that the word “National” has been dropped from “National Missile Defence” is thus more than a mere shift in rhetoric. It indicates a desire to make this an Atlantic project.
This new common ground on missile defence is not confined to NA TO Allies. Indeed, in my meetings in Russia I could also detect some movement. Of course, the Russians are still sceptical about US plans, but they, too, admitted their serious concern about proliferation. They spoke about “rogue states” and about the dangerous leakage of missile technology and the threat to countries close to the “rogue states”. What’s more they proposed a military response, in the form of a shield against such missile attacks. So there was a joint diagnosis of the disease, and even a developing common ground as a possible prescription.
Quite obviously, the efforts by the US and its NATO Allies to work towards a new consensus on missile defence did not go unnoticed in Russia. At worst, this signalled to Russia that wedge-driving would be futile. At best, this suggested that the time might have come for doing serious business together on a commonly perceived threat.
Regarding ESDI, our very intense discussions within NATO, and between NATO and the EU, have also changed the atmospherics of the debate. In particular, we have reassured the US that the project of ESDI will remain an Atlantic project. The gist of the message I received in Washington is simple and straightforward: As long as NATO is not harmed, ESDI should go ahead. As long as NATO is not harmed—well, I think this is a condition we shouldn’t have trouble meeting. Because no one wants to harm NATO. On the contrary, ESDI will strengthen it.
In a nutshell, these past weeks have revealed that when it comes to solving problems, NATO is indispensable. On missile defence and on ESDI, we have buried any notion of splitting the Alliance. What once was a dispute over theory has now been boiled down to a matter of practical implementation; what once seemed like a fundamental difference over substance has been boiled down to discussions over process. All this has vindicated that wonderful German saying: “The soup won’t be eaten as hot as it is cooked”.
So how will this process now move along? Regarding missile defence, it means that the US will continue to brief Allies on their plans. It means that some European NATO members will continue to explore bilaterally how to co-operate with the US on missile defence technologies. It means that NA TO as a whole will remain engaged in studying proposals for theatre missile defence.
And, it means that we will look at the proliferation challenge in more depth. To this end, our newly created Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre—a mouthful, I admit—will play an important role. By establishing a database on proliferation, it will lay the groundwork for a joint transatlantic approach towards this challenge.
And that is not all. Should Russia’s proposals about co-operation in theatre missile defence become a bit more concrete, we would also have in place the appropriate forum to deal with such prospective cooperation: our NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.
On ESDI, the way ahead is equally clear. Two issues, in particular, must be managed correctly. First, we must ensure that the non-EU members of NATO are not excluded from satisfactory participation in EU-Ied operations. Over the past few months, we have made real progress on this issue, and I am confident we will very soon have an agreement between the EU and NATO that satisfies all concerned. That will let us get on with flushing out the important detail.
Second, we have to ensure that defence planning between the two organizations does not diverge. EU and NA TO forces must be capable of handling the full range of operations they are assigned: NATO and EU, not either-or. That is why the Alliance is preparing to offer access to the EU to NATO’s defence planning. This will prevent any unnecessary duplication, and ensure that we have the most effective pool of forces.
Once again, we are close to a deal. And once the deal is struck, we will have a stronger NATO and a stronger EU. In European crisis management, our option will no longer simply be “NATO or nothing”. Instead, we will have a broad array of options, tailored to the situation.
ESDI and missile defence both are examples of the unique transatlantic culture of pragmatic problem-solving. We have reassured a sometimes sceptical US about the strategic necessity of ESDI. And we have gracefully defused a “national” missile defence question that could have alienated the Europeans. In short, we have defused potential problems, because we relied on the common sense that is so firmly ingrained in our transatlantic community.
Today, our transatlantic community faces another challenge in the Balkans. A handful of extremists are trying to destabilise the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in pursuit of a nationalist pipe dream. They will not succeed. Why? Because we have learned the importance, and the power, of transatlantic unity.
Some years ago, the Balkans were pulling us apart. Some years ago, when the war in Bosnia raged, the US and its Allies did not see eye to eye. As a result, we were unable to have a decisive influence on the situation. But when we finally saw eye to eye, we ended the war. Common sense should have told us much sooner what was so obvious: that there can be no progress in the Balkans without transatlantic unity. We learned our lesson late, but, as the saying goes, better late than never.
And we internalised that lesson. So when the Kosovo crisis heated up, we did not let it divide us. On the contrary: we stood firm, even in the most challenging of circumstances. And, in the end, over a million refugees could return to their homes.
In managing the current crisis, this unique transatlantic solidarity will prevail yet again. We are increasing security measures along the border in Kosovo, primarily by working to interdict any rebels or arms from attempting to cross into the country. This should allow the government in Skopje to handle the crisis largely by its own means. The rebels will not be allowed to destabilise a country that is an example to the region that different ethnic communities can live alongside and amongst each other. All the governments of the region, in the EU, in NATO, and across Europe are determined to see this crisis resolved as it should be—peacefully, and with no further destabilisation in a region that has already suffered too much.
In reflecting about our transatlantic community, I sometimes feel that it resembles a self-regulating currency market. There’s frantic activity, euphoria, gloom and doom, and then euphoria again. Yet, at the end of the day, after all the ups and downs, transatlantic relations always find back to a natural balance.
Let me be clear: I do not want to suggest that NATO can be left on “autopilot”, because things will always set themselves right by default. What I would like to suggest, though, is a little more calm and cool judgement in dealing with the issues at hand. Whether it is missile defence, ESDI, or the perennial issue of the Balkans—we can work things out. We have the political will, we have a deeply ingrained habit of co- operation, and we have a toolbox to help us solve whatever the problem at hand. Most of all, we have NATO—our best-ever investment in a safer world tomorrow, and a stable international order for our grandkids.”