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NATO: Ready to Meet the Challenges Ahead

Speaker: Javier Solana, Secretary-General, NATO
Presider: Robert F. Ellsworth, President, Robert Ellsworth & Company, Inc.
March 15, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Over the past 50 years, this Council has been at the forefront of America’s support for NATO and of this nation’s continued engagement in European security.

It is therefore fitting that we are commemorating together the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty.

This anniversary takes place in circumstances not even remotely similar to those of NATO’s anxious birth half a century ago. The Soviet threat has gone. Europe’s division is over. Democracy and the market economy are being embraced across all of Europe. European Monetary Union has just been achieved. In short, the situation today is better, and dramatically better, than what the Alliance’s founding fathers could have hoped for.

As a result of these and other reassuring developments over the past decade, some have inevitably asked whether there is still a need for NATO. After all, the threats which inspired NATO’s creation have largely disappeared. The risk of large-scale aggression against the Western democracies is gone.

My answer is, emphatically, yes. First, because NATO’s raison d’etre was never based solely on any single threat. It was based on a recognition that North America and Europe share common values, interests and principles—and that they best preserve these by sticking together, not going it alone. These principles are well-described in the preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty: to contribute to peace and security by safeguarding freedom, the rule of law and our democratic way of life. Such values endure. As does our duty to defend and uphold them—if we are to keep them.

There is still a need for NATO, secondly, because the members of the Alliance continue to face serious challenges to their security. The end of the ideological confrontation in Europe has meant the end of a direct military threat to Allied territories. But history has not come to an end. The far-reaching political changes across Central and Eastern Europe have not, unfortunately, been universally peaceful and benign. Indeed scenes of cruelty and human suffering which we thought had disappeared with the forties have made an unwelcome comeback in the nineties. So the future of Europe cannot be placed on automatic pilot.

Imagine if NATO had been disbanded in 1991, following the end of the Cold War, as some had suggested. Imagine confronting the war in Bosnia, uncertainty and instability in Central and Eastern Europe, the emergence of Ukraine as an independent country, the difficult road that democratic Russia is travelling—without NATO. Or constraining the ethnic violence in Kosovo—without NATO.

Without NATO, there would be no peace in Bosnia today.

Without NATO, there would not have been the incentive for the emergent democracies of Central and Eastern Europe to reform their armed forces, bring them under civilian control, and settle border and minority differences with their neighbours.

Without NATO, we would not have had a means whereby democratic Russia could re-define its relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and of the Alliance. We would not have had the NATO-Russia Founding Act—a key instrument for ensuring that Russia is anchored firmly in the new Europe and that Russia can play a constructive role in Europe’s security. Nor would we have had Russia joining the Allies in our first major military operation—the Implementation Force in Bosnia. In short: if NATO had been disbanded in 1991, we would have had to re-invent it to deal with the issues I have mentioned. Instead, our task today is to strengthen the Alliance and continue adapting it to meet the new challenges ahead.

That is why the leaders of the NATO countries will be meeting in this city for a NATO Summit in just five weeks’ time. At the Summit we will adopt a new, revised Strategic Concept which will define NATO’s future roles and missions. It will strike a balance between these new missions and Article 5 commitments to collective defense, which is still the core of NATO.

Also at our meeting in Washington we will welcome the three new members of NATO, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

In bringing these three countries into NATO, we have demonstrated that NATO is an Alliance bringing security to the whole of Europe, and that our door is open to all those countries that are willing and able to shoulder the responsibilities as well as the benefits of membership. Our ceremony in Brussels tomorrow represents the triumph of justice over history. It demonstrates that in tomorrow’s Europe a country’s geographical location or size will no longer prevent it from enjoying security, a voice at the table or integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions. But this giant step will not be the last. NATO’s door will remain open. At the Washington Summit we will launch a plan designed to help aspiring members meet NATO standards in a much more intensive and interactive way.

An enlarging Alliance can most effectively contribute to security if it is surrounded by friends and partners. The NATO of tomorrow will have to complete the task begun earlier this decade of bringing all the democracies in the Euro-Atlantic region into a new cooperative security system. That is why we are going to develop further our Partnership for Peace—one of the most successful and imaginative ideas for building trust and confidence that has ever been invented. The practical benefits are enormous. We have learned in Bosnia that when NATO works together with 20 Partner and other countries, we can have a more effective coalition for peace. We can share burdens more broadly and combine our experience as well as ressources. At the Summit we will establish a new arrangement for wider Partner participation in NATO-led crisis response and peace support operations. Interoperability between Allies and Partners—a key means of making joint operations work effectively—will increase.

And in our wider consultative forum—the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council—we will expand the range of security issues on which we work together with our 24 EAPC Partners.

At the same time, we will not have a secure Europe if we cannot successfully integrate Russia into our future security system. Russia will probably remain a country of contradictions for some time to come. But Russia is too important to ignore and its cooperation can make the solution of problems so much easier for us—whether in Europe or beyond. So we have to build on all of the possibilities of cooperation that exist and try to prevent our disagreements from turning into crises. Our objective has to be a mature and pragmatic relationship where disagreement in one area does not prevent us from achieving progress in other areas, particularly where our interests coincide.

As we have discussed in our NATO/Russia Permanent Joint Council over the past year issues such as ethnic conflicts, terrorism, natural disasters, proliferation and tactical nuclear weapons, we have discovered, more often than not, that our interests actually do coincide. And even when we have had to agree to disagree, our lines of communication have remained healthy, and both sides have respected the right of the others to act independently. Of course, our preference is to act together when possible, as in Bosnia. So I am confident that NATO-Russia relations are going to develop, even if the pace will not always be as rapid as we would wish.

We will also pursue deeper cooperation with Ukraine, a country whose future is critical to security in Europe. We will strengthen our consultation through the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which will meet at the level of Heads of State and Government the day after the NATO Summit.

One lesson that we have learned from Bosnia, and which we are now applying in Kosovo, is that diplomacy can often only succeed when it is backed up with the credible threat of military force. That is why we are ready to act if President Milosevic does not show a more flexible and constructive attitude to the crisis in Kosovo at the Peace Talks which resume in Paris today.

We are ready to provide a NATO-led international military force to ensure that an agreement, once reached, is effectively implemented. The European Allies will provide most of the troops. But US involvement is crucial. It will demonstrate in the most concrete way the essential transatlantic unity of purpose without which we simply cannot solve problems like Bosnia and Kosovo.

As Secretary General of the Alliance would like to express my profound gratitude to the government and people of the United States, including the men and women who are contributing so much so well to the cause of peace in the Balkans.

Only NATO has the combination of diplomatic and military instruments, and the essential transatlantic dimension, to handle these types of challenges successfully. At the Washington Summit, and as we finalize our new Strategic Concept, the Alliance needs to recognize what the US had known for some time: that NATO’s increasing involvement in crisis management and peace support operations is going to require different types of forces than we had in the days when territorial defence was our main, if not, sole mission.

We need to stay abreast of the rapid advances in military technology and avoid a technology gap between the US and other Allies. We are therefore developing a Defence Capabilities Initiative to be launched at the Summit that will build on our traditional planning and coordination procedures.

Similarly, we need to ensure that the Alliance has the flexibility and the right military composition to ensure we can tackle the challenges ahead. That is why we have reformed the NATO command structure to reflect the new contingencies and new demands that our military forces will have to confront in future.

But one of these new contingencies is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. NATO will have to become more closely involved in international efforts to curb proliferation. Naturally our efforts have to be consistent with those of other bodies, and we have to add value rather than duplicate. But we have the security expertise and transatlantic framework to reinforce international non-proliferation efforts. The Washington Summit will announce a NATO initiative to equip the Alliance to cope with this challenge in a more focused way.

The NATO of the future is going to have a great deal more to do than the NATO of the past. And that means that the transatlantic Partnership which is the source of all of NATO’s dynamism will have to be adapted to allow the responsibilities and burdens of NATO’s new roles and missions to be divided more equitably. A stronger role of the European Allies in security and defense is an idea whose time has come. It is no longer realistic to expect the United States to provide the bulk of the leadership or the bulk of the forces for every NATO operation, even if that US leadership and resources will continue to be the decisive factor in dealing with the most important security challenges and crisis situations.

As the global super power, the United States is upholding security on many other continents and these commitments also benefit Europe’s security and prosperity. So it is reasonable for the United States to expect the Europeans to play a larger role within the Euro-Atlantic area itself.

So we are designing a more flexible NATO which will give the Europeans the ability to act and to conduct military operations when the US does not wish to be involved. This European Security and Defence Identity will of course be developed in full transparency and consultation with the United States and Canada. It will be fully compatible with the new NATO and will indeed be anchored in NATO.

A NATO based on a strong Europe and a strong America is our best guarantee that our democratic values will be as prevalent at the end of the 21st century as they are today at the end of the 20th.

Already the Europeans are showing that they have the will and not only the aspiration to play a larger role. Seventy percent of the Implementation Force in Bosnia is now European. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today, a French General is commanding NATO’s Extraction Force, charged with supporting the OSCE verifiers in Kosovo. A British General will command the NATO-led implementation force once we are able to deploy this in Kosovo. But they are also NATO-led and under the overall military command of US General Wesley Clark, the SACEUR.

Let me again emphasize: more Europe does not mean less America. Rather it is a recognition that as we face the multiple challenges of the future, neither continent and not even the global superpower the United States, is going to be able to handle all of the problems alone. Only by pooling our resources are we going to be successful. In the 21st Century the Europeans will be America’s sturdiest, most reliable and most action-capable Partners. But the Europeans are going to continue to need US leadership, expertise and resources to stabilize their continent and keep at a respectable distance the potential risks and dangers that history has never failed to produce.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fifty has often been called the “mid-life crisis”. But for most of us it is a time of calm maturity when we appreciate the solid achievements of the past but still feel we have enough youthful vigour in our bones to explore new opportunities and reach out to new horizons. And so it will be for NATO in just a few weeks time here in Washington. The focus will be on renewal, more than on commemoration. We will toast the NATO of the last 50 years—and why not? We have much to be proud of, even if there were times of tension and conflict we hope never to repeat. But above all we will lay the foundations to ensure NATO’s continued vitality and success in the next 50 years.

Predictions about the future have rarely come true. We do not know what the next half century is going to bring; but it is almost certain that in the age of globalisation and the fastest rate of change that history has ever known, there will be no less turbulence and no fewer surprises than in the last fifty years. The security partnership between Europe and North America is our best guarantee that we will emerge successfully from this experience and able to live our lives in peace and freedom. It is not only the leaders of Europe and America, but all our publics, who bear a common responsibility to keep that partnership in NATO strong. I am confident that we will.

Thank you.

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