NATO At 60 Symposium: Remarks by Former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This session was part of the CFR Symposium on NATO at 60, which was made possible through the generous support of the European Commission, CFR's Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, and the Robina Foundation.

This session was part of the CFR Symposium on NATO at 60, which was made possible through the generous support of the European Commission, CFR's Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, and the Robina Foundation.


MODERATOR:  The speaker to conclude today's portion of the symposium is Lord Robertson, who was the secretary general of NATO from 1999 to 2003.  Before moving to NATO, he was the defense secretary of the United Kingdom from '97 to '99, and that followed a long career in British politics.  Lord Robertson was elected to Parliament first in 1978, re-elected five times, and then elevated to the House of Lords at the time of his appointment to NATO.

Lord Robertson currently is affiliated with several different private-sector firms, including serving as deputy chairman of TNK-BP, which is a joint venture between BP and several Russian enterprises.

Thank you very much, Lord Robertson, for taking the time to join us this evening.  The floor is yours.

ROBERTSON:  Thank you very much, Charlie, for the invitation and for the opportunity of expressing a few views.  I've restrained myself from doing this for the last five years.  I'm not really sure, having sat through the earlier sessions, why I gave up the boycott.  (Laughter.)  But I thought I would offer a few views tonight on the 60th anniversary of the organization that I had the great privilege and, in many ways, pleasure of leading.

Now I've just become an ordinary citizen, looking from the outside but holding some strong views that I don't usually share with the press.  And I met Condoleezza Rice on Monday night at the Hoover Institution dinner and we, both of us, had the view that we are now people who say, "Do you know who I used to be?"  (Laughter.)

I'm still occasionally recognized in my own country -- in Scotland, that is.  (Laughter.)  In England, I disappeared into obscurity.  Most of the NATO countries seem to still recognize me, but a guy in Glasgow came up one day when I was in a pub and said, "Do you know," he said, "you're the spitting image of that bastard Robertson?"  (Laughter.)  I said, "Yes, it's a nightmare," and walked away smartly.  (Laughter.)  Running the greatest military alliance in the world tells you one thing, that if you're surrounded by tanks or guys who are bigger than you, just walk away.  That's the way to do it.

In four weeks' time, it will be the 10th anniversary of the start of the Kosovo air campaign.  So four years ago at this time we were agonizing about what to do about what Slobodan Milosevic was doing in Kosovo.  We knew what he was doing, but the general public didn't have a notion of that.  They saw the television pictures and they were saying, "Are you going to do something about it?"

But the defense ministers of the alliance, the foreign ministers, the prime ministers and presidents all had to make a decision.  And it was a momentous decision.  My good friend, Sergei Kislyak, was then the Russian ambassador to NATO, and he disagreed.  But remarkably, 19 governments found a legal mandate.  And on the 24th of March, 10 years ago, we took action against a sovereign nation-state without having a Security Council resolution.

A year later, exactly a year later, I went with General Wesley Clark and General Reinhardt, then the commander of KFOR, to a village called Poklet, about half an hour away from Pristina, and we visited there the school in that village that had been razed to the ground by Serb paramilitaries.  They had rounded up in that village something like 40 of the people of the village, including 12 children from the school, and had thrown in grenades and set the building on fire.

So I don't really sort of strike in with academic scholarly views about what NATO's doing.  We did what we had to do then, and nobody else could have done it.  And we stopped something horrible and evil that was going on right in the heart of this continent of Europe, just a couple of hours' flight from London or Paris.

So about every four years, people come out and say NATO has a crisis of identity, and what relevance is usually kicked around.  And every four years or so, something happens that proves that NATO is necessary.  And it proves that it is still relevant and is still going to be necessary.  And that isn't an accident.

NATO was forged in an atmosphere where Stalin seemed to be knocking down all the European dominance; was reinforced again and again to struggle with an alien dogma and constant military threat.  It was recommitted again and again for a Europe that was whole and free.  It was reinvented to deal with a post-Cold War world, more fragile and unpredictable than we care to remember, as all the old familiar certainties vaporized in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

And NATO was re-engaged to stop hideous medieval violence taking place in Bosnia, to stop the ethnic cleansing and return the refugees in Kosovo, and to prevent a near-inevitable civil war in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and then to go on to build peace in Afghanistan.  So we dare say that on its 60th birthday that NATO has served its purpose and -- (inaudible).

But, of course, when NATO was created and formed, we knew then what our vulnerabilities were -- Stalin, communism, proxy wars, European factionalism and the potential rise of nationalism.  There was the constant threat of conventional war, economic weakness, and the danger of a separation of the United States from Europe that we'd seen at the beginning of the Second World War.

So we knew as well at that time -- they knew, the leaders of the western countries, knew what they had to do about it, and they created the European Union, the United Nations, NATO with collective defense at its core, EU with economic strength and political integration.  And we stood together during all of that time.  We created economic institutions like the World Bank and the IMF in order to rescue the whole world economic system at that time from collapse.  And we knew what our vulnerabilities were.

And then, 40 years later, there was no Soviet Union, no Warsaw Pact, no threat of mutual assured destruction, strong economies, vigorous democracies, and friendly and cooperative neighbors -- 40 years of the alliance and the other institutions created by visionary people who saw what happened during that Second World War and were determined that it wasn't going to happen again.

And we now face new vulnerabilities in the world today, all of us, not just the countries that are in the NATO umbrella, but outside of that.  And no more visibly do we see it than in the sudden and dramatic events that have taken place over the last six months in the world's financial system.  And that goes on, and we don't know when it's going to end.  We don't know how deep it's going to be, and we don't know what the world is going to look like at the end.  Somebody made that point in the panel.

And, you know, that in itself is a vulnerability.  It's an imponderable.  But what we do know is that the pieces will not be in the same places when this eventually stops as well.  And it's shown us, in an integrated, globalized world, that nobody can afford to stand alone.  And what we need to do -- what is it we want to create?  Never mind about NATO, but all of the institutions.  NATO is at the heart of it, but we know that we want robust global financial institutions which make sure that in the world they don't disintegrate with the flap of a butterfly wing and -- (inaudible).

We want the continuation of peace and prosperity and stability in this whole Euro-Atlantic space.  We want a world of strong democratic states to eliminate the failed, ungovernable and fragile states which act as magnets for terrorism, for crime.  We want the capacity to deal with these threats, threats now far away from our shores but which, due to globalization, can be in our front yard in just minutes.  We want peace between Israel and her neighbors in the Middle East, and we want democratic stability in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We want to control the inexorable rise of organized crime before it controls us with the rich pickings of trade and narcotics and guns and people.  And we want to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their spread throughout the world into dangerous hands.  And, of course, we want decisive global action on climate change which will, if it continues unchecked, endanger the planet, drive huge population flows and start wars over scarce resources like water.

We want all that because they represent tomorrow's threats, the threats to the peace and the safety of the people in the world as a whole, and they threaten our taken-for-granted way of life, just as communism and fascism and imperial Japan threatened the world and the way of life of our fathers and grandsons.

So we know what they did in order to make sure that our future was safe.  So the question is, what are we going to do now, at this point, to make our children as safe as we have been?  So there are a number of choices available in this great debate about whether NATO -- is NATO useful?  Has NATO run out of steam?  What is the alternative?

NATO is there.  It exists.  Even the ambassador of the Russian Federation is disappointed that the dialogue that we started between NATO and the Russia, the ancient enemies -- (inaudible) -- has been broken off because of what happened last summer.

There are alternatives, of course.  We could go it alone.  Individual nation-states, the bigger ones all the better, can go it alone.  We could leave it to the United States of America, the one global superpower, to lead and to deal with all of these issues that affect all of us.  We could do nothing and wait until a 9/11 or a tsunami or a financial crisis like we're facing just now wakens us up and forces us to do something, and then we'd have to rely and cobble together coalitions of the willing, but incapable in some cases, coming from the intestines of the Department of Defense.  But I know there are new people going to be there, and it will change.

But these are some of the choices that are there if we don't rely on reinvigorated institutions that exist at the moment and work.  I read an article on the plane coming out in The New York Times on Sunday by Frank Rich, and I just -- I've never heard of him before.  (Laughter.)  If he's in the audience, well, I hope he enjoys the plug.  (Laughter.)  But just one sentence struck me.  He said, "We are constantly shocked by the foreseeable."

And how true that is.  We know what the threats are there, where people speculated about giving $700,000 mortgages to guys who were earning $13,000 a year.  They said, "Well, but the guys at the top know what they're doing."  Well, I've been at the bottom of politics and the very top of politics, and I don't believe in that concept.  (Laughter.)  And we would be wary and wise in the future not to do so.  (Scattered applause.)  They didn't know any more than anybody else.

So we're in the sort of Oscars ceremony of self-delusion at the moment, with the golden statuette going, I think, to Mr. Enver Hoxha, the late dictator of Albania, who once said, "Do not forget that together with China, Albanians make up one-quarter of the world's population."  (Laughter.)

So the man who created more pill boxes and gave out more Kalashnikovs without ammunition than anybody else in human history was actually simply -- (inaudible) -- an attitude that seems to apply in all too many parts of the world today:  Leave it to somebody else; add it on to somebody else and some other great power, as we do at the moment now wait for the American economy and the Chinese economy to rescue us all from the perils of the financial crisis.

So we need to move forward.  And this great alliance that I had the chance to lead taught me a lot about what it was.  And I'll just make a couple of comments.  First of all, NATO is not some monolithic abstract concept.  It is talked about as if it was the European Union, as if it was the United Nations.

The central bureaucracy of NATO is tiny, absolutely tiny.  The international staff of NATO, the civil service in NATO, is about 300 strong, of whom about 100 essentially are the key staff in NATO.  And it stays that way because the nations won't give the central bureaucracy any money.  So it is 26 nation-states and it is as weak as the 26 nation-states want to make it or as strong as they want to make it.

So when we talk about NATO being flexible, modernized, and NATO fighting wars, NATO doing this, NATO doing that, we're talking about 26 nation-states who -- (inaudible) -- practically nothing to the center and make all of the decisions by unanimity, and practically every decision that had to be made had to be taken around the table of the North Atlantic Council.

When I went to NATO as the chief executive of the organization, I could decide to go to Moscow and negotiate with President Putin.  I could go to the White House and negotiate with President Bush.  But I couldn't upgrade a gardener or a security guard, and I couldn't move a single Euro from one of the budget heads to the other.

So it is an organism that is created for the nation-states.  A lot of people worked at NATO, a lot of people on the campus of NATO, practically all of them supplied by the nation-states.  Joseph Luns, the great secretary general of NATO, was there for 13 years -- and we found it very difficult to get rid of him -- was once asked at a press conference, "Mr. Secretary General," they said, "how many people work at NATO?"  And he said, "About half."  (Laughter.)  It wasn't true then; it certainly isn't true now.  And that's one point.

The other thing is, what does NATO actually do?  A lot of it is visible.  A lot of it gets attention.  But a lot of it is still hidden in the obscurity.  And I used to go around saying, you know, "NATO is not the world's policeman."  I come from a police family, so I was able to say that.  Actually, at one of the meetings that Ambassador Kislyak was at in the Kremlin, I was picked up on that by -- I said I was the aberration in the family; my grandfather, my father, my brother, my son, my nephew all in the police service, and I said I was the aberration.  And President Putin, with all his background as a -- (inaudible) -- in the KGB, said, "No, Mr. Secretary General," he said, "you're not an aberration.  You are now the super-policeman."  I'm not sure what to make of that, and make of it what you want.

But a Finn from a think tank in Finland, Ristl Tintala (sp), picked up that phrase of mine and threw it back and he said, "It does not stand up to closer scrutiny.  NATO provides law and order to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It patrols sea lanes in the Mediterranean.  It provides assistance to victims of earthquakes and hurricanes.  It escorts children to school in Afghanistan.  It educates officers in post-socialist states on the virtues of democracy.  It provides logistic support for the African Union.  It fights terrorism.  These are not war-fighting operations.  They can't even be classified as hard-core crisis management."  And he concluded, "NATO is the only show in town."

And I think the critics of NATO and those who sort of postulate about it -- (inaudible).  I know that the question is asked, "Would you recreate NATO if it wasn't there?"  And we'd try, and probably fail, to do so.  But it is there.  It has a role.  It has a utility.  It is doing all of these things.  Maybe some of them shouldn't be done.  Maybe some of them will be done eventually by the European Union, and so it should do much more of that.  Maybe some super-structure in the future will do it as well.  But in the meantime, maybe regrettably, NATO is the only show in town, and it does show up.

So four challenges.  The first, the major, the immediate challenge, is Afghanistan.  The 19 nations of NATO, as it was then, unanimously agreed, with some resistance from some of them initially -- and not the usual suspects -- agreed to take on the International Security and Assistance Force, because as we stumbled from one coalition of the willing to the next, we were doomed to failure.  It took it on, and it took on the obligations.  And people need to be reminded of that time after time after time.

I think the mistake that is being made is that we are not getting over the message of why it is we're there.  We went there, we are there, to stop Afghanistan being the safe haven for the terrorists who reach out across borders, across continents, and hit us now.  That is the new enemy -- for us, for Russia, for Central Asia and for the rest, the failed state of Afghanistan.  And that's why we send brave young people, professionals, to go out there and to fight and to die, like -- (inaudible) -- soldiers did this week, is to protect us -- (inaudible).

We'll do that by settling and stabilizing Afghanistan.  We'll do that by allowing them the democratic opportunity, for the first time ever in their history, to have a say in their nation's affairs.  We'll do it, among other things, by allowing women to be educated, for their schools to reopen, for their hospitals to work and for stopping the trade in narcotics.

But don't make any mistake about it.  We are there to protect ourselves primarily.  And unless we get that message over, and the message that needs to be promulgated not just by ministers of defense, not just by foreign ministers, but the ministers in every cabinet and every country of the alliance as a whole -- (inaudible) -- where we'll be in danger of missing the connection.  It's about the protection of the security and safety of our people in this country and in the other countries.  It's not about social engineering, as if Afghanistan was some colony that had to be tamed.

We need to win.  The credibility of the alliance is of no consequence whatsoever.  The effectiveness of NATO, if it is defeated, is (more ?).  Twenty-six nations will be defeated if Afghanistan is a failure.  And if we retreat from Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda will follow the departing troops on their heels, and we will know when they hit us.

A second challenge is going to be over enlargement.  That panel which speculated about some grander structure, some bigger structure, whether we should respond to President Medvedev -- well, a process is underway that is going to lead to something that is going to be very different to the current NATO.

Croatia and Albania will be invited into membership in a few weeks' time at the summit meeting.  Disgracefully, Macedonia will not be invited due to an arcane and indefensible and shocking blockage by a NATO country on a democratic neighbor.  But it will eventually join.  And it will be followed by Montenegro, by Kosovo, by Moldova, I believe by Serbia, yes, by Ukraine and Georgia at some point in the future, by Sweden and Finland, I guess, as well, because they contribute, in many ways, more to NATO's operations than some of the NATO nations themselves.

If you take that -- and I'm not saying what the time scale is; it could be 10, it could be 15 years -- you're up to 37 members.  And you can't operate NATO in the way we operate NATO today with 37 such disparate states.  And at that point there is no sense, in my view, at all for excluding Russia being part of this new kind of organization, committed to collective security, committed to addressing the new threats and the new vulnerabilities.

And therefore, talking about new structures at the present moment is preempting something that is going to come inevitably.  At no point will you be able to put up a sign in the air and say, "We are full," as countries like Bosnia and Montenegro and even Serbia say, "We are willing to adapt our countries, our militaries and our way of life and our way of thinking and our values in order to be accommodated with inside this broad alliance."  Are we going to say no?  Are we going to say to them, "No, sorry, we're full up; the membership is complete"?  Of course we're not.  We can't.  We won't.  And there's no way that it would be feasible to do so.

So we need to start planning now for that kind of NATO in the future, because if we wait until it hits us in the back of the head, are we going to have anything that is going to be worth joining?  But as part of all of that, it reminds you of the Groucho Marx saying about "I wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member."  But I was telling the seven nations that we invited in (in Prague ?) in 2002 to join, I said, "If you want to join, you've got to come up to the standards, because there's no point in you wanting to come into an organization which, by your membership, you will change the character of."

So the argument about caveats is not simply about soldiers who are (kept at base ?) at night.  It's also about the caveats of nation-states who stop things happening.  That hasn't received much attention.  But recently one nation, one single nation out of 26, stopped the deployment of the NATO AWACS from going to Afghanistan, the AWACS plane that flies in the skies above every European -- (inaudible) -- stopped from going there because of a narrow argument about finance.  I don't know; maybe one of the permanents will tell me, relieve me and tell me that it was changed.  But I see no -- (inaudible).

And then the other capability is called AGS, Alliance Ground Surveillance, said by each of the supreme allied commanders over the years, the last 10, almost 15 years, to be the key priority military capability that they wanted, which is the global -- it's now Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle in the sky, giving (a pattern ?) on the ground, absolutely critically important to the safety of all of the people who serve in any battle space, any battle -- (inaudible) -- again being stopped in its tracks by some nations who want some prize to come out of the process.

A NATO at 26 can't operate like that.  A NATO of 37 will be impossible to run if people put national interests before the interests of the alliance as a whole.  And that's why capabilities are going to be so important, not just the military capabilities.  And people have heard me and they've heard Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; they've heard so many other people saying that we were two and a half million men and women in uniform in Europe and we can deploy 2 percent of that total.

The taxpayers of Europe are paying for two and a half million troops, and a handful of them to actually go to where the threat is to the way of life that we enjoy there, the lack of precision air cover, the lack of engineers, of medics, of communications people.  These are all critical components.  And they can, as the foreign minister of Poland said, be spent out of this huge budget that the taxpayers of Europe have actually given, and that needs to happen.

But I'll tell you, the other thing that is frustrating even after five years out of NATO is the fact that we do a lessons-learned exercise after every conflict.  We did it after Bosnia.  We did it after Kosovo.  We did it after Macedonia.  And there'll be guys writing the one about Afghanistan even (at this stage ?).  We write the lessons learned and we don't implement it.

What we've learned in each of these conflicts is this, that the military battle is the easy bit.  It is the reconstruction afterwards.  And unless a capability is built in Europe, in the United States, wherever, that joins the military to the civilian and to the economy, and is there and ready and deployable, then we will find ourselves eternally in a mess when it comes to dealing with the problems that will face us in the future as well.

And finally, I'll just say this.  None of this is going to be of any consequence whatsoever unless there's political will, unless the 26 nations, the 28 nations eventually, maybe the 37 nations, want NATO to work, want NATO to be a force of stability and for peace in the world, want to join up with the neighborhood and to make it something attractive that will do the job of what will be required to confront the vulnerabilities and the threats, then nothing is going to happen and nothing will be there to take us in the future.

Last Monday I went with my grandson to see the cabinet war rooms in London.  Some of you may have been there.  These were the tunnels underneath the treasury in White Hall, where the Second World War was run by Churchill.  And somebody closed the door after the end of the war, and it was opened up about 10 years ago, with the cob webs hanging, and it's virtually as it was in 1940 when Churchill was down there.  The chair is still there, the cabinet table still in place.

We'd lost the Second World War.  Dunkirk had happened.  The expeditionary force had fled.  The Nazis had come right through the low countries and right down and occupied half of France.  On paper, we were defeated.  And the only reason that the Nazis did not prevail was, one, the political will and the stamina and the leadership of Churchill during these days, and the catastrophic decision by the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor.  But up until 1940, when defeat was (facing us ?) and the United States was still not willing to come in, it was political will and political will alone that turned the tide.  That means that today we live in peace and freedom.

The fact is that in a distant land, a continent and a half away from most European capitals and on the other side of the world from America today, we are fighting a war, and it's a war for survival as well.  Without the political will, we will lose it, and future generations will rue that lack of leadership at this time.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Lord Robertson, for a very rich and moving address.

The floor is open.  Please wait for the microphone.  The first question to Andy Murowchick (sp).

QUESTIONER:  Andy Murowchick (sp) from Princeton.

I'm wondering what lesson you draw from the fact that individual countries are blocking certain initiatives that we might like to see NATO pursue?  One lesson you could draw is that there ought to be stronger, more centralized institutions that compel them or encourage them to go along in some way, like majority voting.  Another lesson you might draw -- and I think, actually, on balance, the EU's experience, which has been pretty good at getting 27 nations to do the same thing, has been to permit countries to go at their own pace.  So actually most of the recent policies that Europe has pursued in the last 10 or 15 years, like the single currency, haven't been pursued by all their members, and nonetheless have been successful for those who wanted to pursue it.

Which one of those do you think is the right way of dealing with countries that are outlyers on a given policy, and why?

ROBERTSON:  The issue of peace and war is not the single currency.  And I can't really see the circumstances where individual nation-states are going to say that they will be outvoted.  Yes, we know already that there are countries that want to participate and want to do more, and other people will let them go and do it.  That's what happened when Iraq happened.  NATO was divided, but some countries said they were going to help and others stood back and didn't veto, as they could have done, what was going on.

But it is a voluntary alliance of nation-states.  You know, it's not made up of individuals.  It's not sort of made up in an abstract sense.  So you've got to recognize that.  But I think some of the debates need to be a bit more public.  Your caveats and red cards are quite important, not just for the small countries who want to opt out from their soldiers getting into trouble at night.  It's important sometimes from the big countries who can find themselves in trouble.

I used a red card when I was secretary of state for defense in the United Kingdom that famous night when General Wesley Clark ordered General Jackson to take his helicopters up to Pristina Airport, and they came back to London.  And I used our red card and said, "No, don't do that."  And other countries have done it and will do it.  But I think it's -- peer pressure is going to be there.  It's imperfect, but that's the way the organization operates.  And I think that peer pressure has got to be open.

I don't know how many people in the room know that there was a blockage on the AWACS fleet being used in Afghanistan or knew that Alliance Ground Surveillance, the key priority of the military commanders, is still being blocked by a handful of nations.  But if people didn't know about it and they didn't know about the problems and the troubles that have been created in the -- (inaudible) -- relationship with the EU in blocking even discussions between the EU and NATO about taking over in Kosovo, if they knew and it was there in the newspapers and part of a public debate that Greece is stopping Macedonia, a country that managed to save itself from a civil war and us from a lot of cost and misery, has been stopped and vetoed by Greece simply over the name of the country, then I think, in these circumstances, things could well be different than if they're hidden away and they become only the language of diplomats and of the (techies ?), then people will get away with it.


QUESTIONER:  Steve Sestanovich at the Council.

Lord Robertson, thank you for your remarks.  What you've said about the prospect of NATO at 37 reminded me of some of the other comments we've heard this evening about how NATO will operate in the future.  Charlie, for example, said the EU has to get its act together in order to be able to make decisions or else the U.S. will lose interest in Europe, and that's what will make NATO more workable.

I wonder whether that's true.  The counter-argument one could make to it is that actually a crucial ingredient of NATO's workable existence is that the U.S. provides a kind of impetus and leadership and strategic value-added to a group of states that otherwise can't make a lot of decisions themselves.  And I think there has been -- that has -- over much of NATO's history, that's actually been true, that the confidence of European powers and their ability to solve their own problems has been kind of limited.

Can you talk a little bit about this question of American leadership in the alliance?  Because it's a controversial one, particularly after the past few years, where some American actions tended to give American leadership a bad name.

Can you say a bit about what -- how you see -- you know, I think we're on the record, but pretend we're not -- (laughter) -- about how you see that ingredient of NATO's success?

MODERATOR:  Let me take a couple of questions at a time, because there are a lot of people who'd like in.


QUESTIONER:  (Off mike) -- from the German -- (inaudible) -- Institute.

Lord Robertson, I have two questions.  First, you listed the countries that may become NATO members.  You did not mention Austria.  Do you think Austria might possibly become a NATO member?  My second question will betray my Scots heritage.  May we hope that one day Scotland will become a member of NATO?  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  Let's take one more from Judith Kipper.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you very much, Lord Robertson.  Thank you for your candid and passionate remarks, something we don't hear often in this town or even in this country.

You spoke about the need for political will and that the military part is easy compared to the reconstruction.  If you were advising President Barack Obama at this moment, do you believe that he can provide that political will with some forceful American or different type of American leadership for NATO?  And how do we make that transition from the military to the reconstruction?  Because you can't bomb an idea, and much of what's going on in Afghanistan is an idea.

ROBERTSON:  Well, there's a rich selection there for me to spend an hour on.

What should the American leadership be?  Well, very early on in my NATO career, like the first meeting of the North Atlantic Council, I acted as if I was still the secretary of state for defense of the United Kingdom.  You listen to all the arguments, you sum them up, and you basically make the decision.  This was an error of the first magnitude.  (Laughter.)  The North Atlantic Council does not operate like people around the conference room in the Ministry of Defense.  So that was a salutary lesson.

So as I had bright ideas, or I thought the alliance should be doing something, then what I tried to do was to persuade one ambassadors, maybe two ambassadors, that this was a good idea in the private discussions that go on, and get them to put it forward.  You have to get rid of your ego completely.  You might have the idea.  You've asked, after all, what the scope, the vision, the landscape.  But you've got to make sure that people, as part of a (collegial ?) body, are doing.  And I have found there are some -- I see Victoria Nuland out there smiling, as she always did -- who may disagree with me.  But we got things done, because that was the way it was done.

Now, a lesson from that.  In the previous session we had a lot of plugging of books.  I'm going to plug somebody else's book.  Carla Schacky (sp) has got a book coming out in the next couple of weeks, and one of the ideas in her book, which I thought was excellent, was that the United States really needs to contract out some of its ideas, get other nations to take a bit of the lead, share the responsibility, and in the course of that, achieve what they want to achieve by sort of saying, "It's your responsibility."

After all, the land mine ban, a real landmark in conventional arms control, was done by Canada, the Ottawa treaty, and they took -- (inaudible) -- and they drove the process and drove the ratification.  Now we've got a (global ?) from a couple of countries, the U.S. and the Russian Federation among them.  We've got a land mine -- a ban on anti-personnel land mines.  So, you know, that would be my advice to the president.  You know, you've got good ideas; you want to show leadership.  Work out ways in which he can share that, good ideas as well as some of the bad ones.

And Judith says -- (inaudible) -- the political will.  You know, reading the American newspapers this week, you know, four weeks was all we gave him before the glitter started to come off the new president.  But outside of the United States, he is still a hero.  The expectations are far, far too high.  But at the same time, he's got enormous good will.

Now, we know the separation of powers; I know it only too well.  But his massive victory in the presidential election simply gave him the opportunity to go and negotiate with senators and members of Congress, and not much more than that.  But at the same time, in the outside world, and I think generally in America, he's got that huge good will, and he's got use it with calculation, calibrated, in order to make sure that the objectives of the broader transatlantic community are carried out.

And I think he seems to have the skill and the touch to be able to do it and get that responsibility out to other people; make sure that people will say, "Right, this is what we want you to do," as he's already done.  "We'll close Guantanamo Bay.  Are you guys going to take the prisoners?"  Suddenly the shifting of chairs as the alibi has been removed, along with President Bush's (function ?).

But people are facing up to the fact that there's a new guy and we've got to do something about it.  So I think that's the way he's got to play it.  And I'm glad that Jim Jones, who was one of my supreme allied commanders, is in there helping in on the National Security Council.  I think Mrs. Clinton as well will be formidable in that.  But they need to do it cleverly, play it cleverly, and I think they will have an effect.

Well, this is on the record, but since nobody cares, really, what I think anymore -- (laughter) -- I'm being unusually candid, but I am not going to say anything about Scotland.  (Laughter.)  Wherever you are and however remote the destination is, if you say anything about Scotland being in NATO as a separate country, it'll get back.  I'm a unionist.  I believe that Scotland should be part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom should be part of NATO.  And I also found that in the German-speaking world, any remark I made, like my relentless and regular condemnation of conscript forces, was always massively reported.  Now I'm somebody who used to be something; I don't know (what it will mean ?).

I didn't include Austria quite deliberately because I don't think the public opinion there is ready for it.  In Finland and in Sweden, they make massive contributions.  And there is a debate ongoing in there.  And if these other countries that I mentioned come in, and most of them will, they will probably want to be part of the club as well.

MODERATOR:  We'll take a few more questions.

Sir, you're next.

ROBERTSON:  Maybe I should have plugged my own book, but --

QUESTIONER:  Lord Robertson, Arnaud de Borchgrave, CSIS.

Could I take you back to Afghanistan?  Those of us who've been going in and out of that country for over 30 years are a little puzzled as to what the end result is that you would expect, because only three of the nations there allow their soldiers to get into harm's way.  The Dutch and the Canadians, two of the three, want to be home by 2011.

The Pakistanis -- and there are a lot of them in town this week; we've been talking to them off the record -- they are saying off the record that the only way to look at the future is to make a deal with moderate Talibanis, wherever you can find them, because otherwise we're going to be spinning our wheels.  FATA -- as you know, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- where the sanctuaries are, the Paks have tried to do something and failed.  Now we see even the Swat Valley being turned over to the extremists.  And 67 percent of Pakistan today is under the age of 25, who have absolutely no respect for the two parties that are running things in the country today.

So perhaps you could spin it out and tell me where you see this and how long it's going to take.

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Stefano Baldi, the Italian perm rep.

I'd like to go back to something you said at the beginning that doesn't diminish at all all the rest you told us, because in a way, to me you gave me sort of definition of NATO and why this makes all the debate we'll be having tomorrow and then, you know, for 12 months or more on the strategic concept; not irrelevant about some sort of -- (inaudible).

You said, if I'm correct, every three or four years, all of a sudden the world discovers that there is a need for NATO.  There's a Kosovo.  There's an Afghanistan.  Tomorrow there is a peace deal in the Middle East and, you know, you look at who can take care of that.  And NATO becomes the only game in town.

Then NATO is basically the fire squad, the fire squad when there is a fire, the only one who can put it out.  And when it's practiced, it is annoying sometimes.  But when the event happens, you need NATO.  And let me add, because I have some good news and bad news regarding two programs you mentioned before, the AWACS and the AGS.  Nothing has changed about the AWACS, but the AGS is being signed.  The memorandum -- and actually Italy put the first signature last week.  So something -- (inaudible) -- is moving.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Stuart Alden(sp).

QUESTIONER:  Lord Robertson, thanks.  And sorry about the diplomats, but please don't reveal too many of the trade secrets.  And like Stefano, I very much regret that there's no progress to report on AWACS yet.

But earlier on, Charlie asked the perm reps to talk about decision-taking.  You partly did.  And I want to take up Charlie's offer to provide at least one perm rep-ly perspective.  And I think, as you said, there is no way, really, that nation-states are going to allow decisions about national blood and treasure to be taken by a majority voting.

But against that, I do think the alliance needs a -- (inaudible) -- process overhaul.  We have to find ways of taking decisions faster, of stopping endless debates in four different layers of committees, of giving the secretary general more freedom to manage, but without doing violence, I think, to that fundamental principle of consensus that is embodied in the treaty.

And I just want to ask, if you had a free hand, what process improvements would you want to see?

MODERATOR:  Over to you.

ROBERTSON:  Okay.  Well, to the Italian ambassador, thank you for the good news, but it isn't good news.  I had a meeting with Minister Sikorski.  I don't know if he's here; he said he was going to be here -- (inaudible).  And Poland has pulled out of the AGS.  So you cited it, yes, and others have cited it.  But he told me today Poland has pulled out.

This is the alliance -- (inaudible) -- Global Hawk, unmanned airplanes that fly so high they can't be hit, to take a picture of the battlefield on the ground -- absolutely critical and essential if we're going to keep the troops on the ground safe.  And I find it, I must say, today astounding and breath-taking, as well as emotional, that at this late stage before the summit they've actually pulled out of the -- (inaudible).

And I think, again, the AWACS, for those who don't know the NATO axioms of late, the big, huge airplane, the advanced aerial warning airplane, they have a huge signature.  They can spot threats when they're coming.  And NATO has got its own capacity, collectively owned, collectively deployed.  We sent them after Article V was declared to the United States.  United States AWACS were all occupied chasing the Taliban, and the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City were protected by NATO AWACS.

They would be an invaluable assistance.  At the moment, they're available now.  AGS will be available down the road.  The AWACS are there.  They fly.  They're hugely (impressive ?) when they give the picture on the ground.  And they are not in Afghanistan because one single nation out of 26 refuses to allow the consensus to be established.  And I just find that amazing and incredible.

MODERATOR:  Why did Poland say no to this?  Do you know the rationale?

ROBERTSON:  Well, I know, but I don't think I'm at liberty to say it.  And anyway, if I told you, I don't think you would believe me.  So that's a job -- (inaudible) -- for the perm reps who are here, and -- (inaudible).

Stuart Alden (sp) asked about what would I do to -- (inaudible) -- overhaul.  Well, you know, since I left NATO, I've been asked a few times, you know, "What did you do?  What were the achievements in your list of things that were done during that period?"  And it was a fairly exciting and important period.

What did I not do?  What I didn't do was to confront the chiefs of defense.  In NATO in recent years, there has been the North Atlantic Council and it has a military committee, the military committee of generals, lieutenant generals, who are there representing the chiefs of defense.

Remember, chiefs of defense in NATO are great people -- marvelous, well-trained, highly motivated, top officers.  But unfortunately, they are there when they join the army or the air force or the navy until they retire.  Ministers of defense have got an average tenure of 18 months, so the minister has just got up to speed with what these guys are talking about when suddenly they are either sacked or they become foreign ministers -- (inaudible).

And, you know, if we're going to actually get away from the Cold War forces that we've got and Russia has got -- far too many people who can't be used in the modern world -- then I think we've got to take on what are called the -- (inaudible) -- the chiefs of defense.  And I think that's one of the process things -- (nudge ?) the military staff and the international staff and start getting rationality to the money we spend on defense so that it's spent on the threats of today and tomorrow and not on the enemies of the past.

How long are we going to be in Afghanistan?  I believe we should be there until it stops being a threat.  And, yes, there are countries who are not there.  There are countries who have got -- (inaudible).  And there are countries who have given deadlines for coming out.

How are they going to explain to their electorate if the forces come out and the Taliban come back and al Qaeda is given a safe haven and the capitals of Europe are being attacked and they're back in the malls of Minnesota or San Francisco?  What's going to be the excuse by the political leadership to the people when that has happened, when we could have stopped it?

So we're not at the point where the troops are coming out.  At that point, I think people have got to confront their politicians.  Why were we there?  Why were lives lost?  Why is it so expensive?  And what will be the consequences if our troops come home?  We'll save the lives of hundreds of our troops but imperil populations as a whole.

MODERATOR:  Gale Mattox is next.

QUESTIONER:  Gale Mattox, U.S. Naval Academy.

Thank you very much.  This has been a really interesting session.

I'd like to go back to the last session, where the topic was does NATO go global, and where and how and what should be its mission from a wider sense?  Do you agree with some of the discussions that are going on?  And what would your advice be?

MODERATOR:  Robert Hunter.

QUESTIONER:  Lord Robertson, your lordship, listening to you tonight, I'm delighted there's nothing in the North Atlantic Treaty that says a former secretary general of NATO can't be recalled to the colors for another tour.  So come this summer, it would be very nice if we could get you back here again.  You're very inspiring.  I know you're going to say thank you to me afterwards.  (Laughter.)

This is a kind of a critical moment for the United States, looking at NATO.  There are people in the Pentagon on the uniformed side who are engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan everyday who look at NATO with utter contempt.  We have a president of the United States who has now said that we need to be more engaged in Afghanistan.  He's called for 17,000 more troops.  He's going to go to Strasbourg and (Cal ?) in April.

At the Munich conference two weeks ago, the vice president and Jim Jones were both very careful in public not to say anything critical of the allies.  But I rather suspect the honeymoon that the United States has with the Europeans in the new administration will come to an end on the 4th of April if there's no response from the allies in terms of Afghanistan, whether it's more troops or caveats or more money out of the various countries for the non-military side.

And I was wondering how you see the capacity to get some leadership in Europe between now and what has to happen four weeks from now so we don't have a situation where the president comes back and people in the Congress said, "What's the point of this alliance if, except for a few countries like yours, the Canadians and a few others, these folks won't stand up and stand with the Americans in Afghanistan?"

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTIONER:  I am -- (inaudible) -- from the Brookings Institution.  Thank you for a very inspiring speech.

I have a quick question.  Will you go back?  Will you do it again?  I mean, would you still support NATO involvement in Afghanistan?  If I remember correctly, you even suggested that we could use Article V.  And this is especially if, in the end, the outcome that we will get, you say, if we lose in Afghanistan, we'll be 27 countries.  But if the final outcome is effective government (instead of ?) a democratic government and the -- (inaudible) -- I think you pronounce that -- type of agreement, where basically the Sharia has been introduced in (exchange of ?) a peace agreement, is that a victory for us or is it a big defeat?

MODERATOR:  Let me add one final question; then we'll give it to you to wrap up.  Do I interpret correctly your remarks about Russia to mean that you think that, in principle, Russia should be a candidate for membership and that NATO's policy should be similar to its policy towards Georgia and Ukraine?  That is to say that we make a principled commitment to Russian membership -- we don't put a timetable on it, we use the same conditions, but that we start heading down that road?

ROBERTSON:  Okay.  Should NATO go global?  The answer is no.  I think, Charlie, you were the one who said, you know, NATO needs to be an example.  You know, it cannot, it will not be able to take on all of the roles that are (important ?).  Apart from anything else, its budget wouldn't allow it to do it.

There are two countries, including my own, in NATO who prevent the budget of NATO being increased by more than the rate of inflation, which may well be negative by next year.  (Laughter.)  And, you know, the United States of America, under the Bush administration, even under John Bolton's ambassadorship at the U.N., was in favor of increasing the budget of NATO, the only multinational organization it was willing to do, but it couldn't do it because it is prevented by the unanimity rule from actually doing it.

So we're imposing upon, you know, NATO the structure that it has, relations with Russia, relations with Ukraine, with Georgia.  You've got a Mediterranean dialogue with the Maghreb countries.  They're now in the dialogue with the Gulf nations.  There are discussions that go on with Australia.  I hosted a group of Palestinians and Israelis who were looking at ways in which they might stabilize after some agreement.  So we have all these tentacles of (arrangements ?) and this tiny, tiny bureaucracy that is actually the NATO organization.

So it can't do it and it shouldn't do it, but it should be an exemplar.  The key function of NATO, the key sort of secret of NATO's effectiveness, is called the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, known as SHAPE, so that it is completely obscure to anybody who tries to understand it.  So that is where the effectiveness is.  SHAPE can put together, within days, multinational forces that can be deployed and on the ground.

When civil war was looming in Macedonia, we put 4,600 troops from, I think, 12 nations on the ground in five days from the political decision, that they had to go in and collect the weapons that were being offered by the insurgents at that time.  There's no other organization in the world that can do it.  The U.N. is miles away from doing it, but why can't others do it?

That's why the help that SHAPE has been giving to the African Union is temporary logistical help from (its means ?), but it's to try and say, "You've got to do this, and you need to have some planning organism."  The European Union will have to do it.  (Inaudible) -- broke the dam of hostility to European defense in a famous speech, which I wish I had with me, to say, you know, that the United States welcomes the European Union taking on responsibility for security in Europe, because two is better than one or better than none, and that's two constituencies arguing for the right capability.

So, you know, that's the way in which things have got to go.  We'll kill NATO as an organization if we try to allow it to go global.  But let others take an example from that as well.

Bob Hunter says there are some military who are in contempt of NATO.  There are always (militarists ?) in contempt, you know.  Some of them will retire, and shortly will be -- (inaudible) -- airwaves saying it more publicly (than we do ?) as well.  But that's what we've got.  But if President Obama wants to change it, then, as I said, let him read Carla Schacky's (sp) book which develops this idea of devolving responsibility, forcing other countries in the alliance to take much more responsibility than at the moment they're willing to do, all of them taking the -- (inaudible) -- that, along with the United States, we make up half the world's population.

So, you know, he is going to do things.  He is going to make an offer, I think, at the new summit meeting of a much more multilateral, a much more involved, a much more inclusive United States.  And in return, he's going to expect things from the other allies.  He's going to do it with the Russians as well and break that logjam.  But there will be conditions attached as well, conditions which I think the Russians and other countries would want to do.

So be clever is the first rule of politics, but it's not necessarily the one that people follow.  I remember Donald Rumsfeld's pearls of wisdom.  One was there are two things that the United States government does really well.  One is nothing and the other is overreact.  (Laughter.)  The words of Donald Rumsfeld, let it be said.  He also said, "Washington, D.C. is 52 square miles surrounded by reality" -- (laughter) -- a man who was chief of staff in the White House.

You asked would I do it again.  If I was doing it -- I don't want to do it again, no.  But let me be absolutely clear.  Most of the things I would do again, and especially Afghanistan.  We are the only show in town.  We were the only ones to do it.  And before we were in, I consulted with President Putin.  I consulted with the Central Asian presidents.  I consulted with the Chinese.  I spoke to General Musharraf on the phone in Pakistan.  I wasn't allowed, because of then American foreign policy, to speak to Iran, although they wanted to speak to us about Afghanistan.  And I hope regional solutions will start being the model here as well.

So we did it properly, carefully, and we (planned it ?).  And it was the right thing to do.  It's proved to be difficult, but then other things are proved to be difficult as well.

Article V was a night to remember.  I broke a solemn rule, the Solana rule, which is he told me when I went to NATO, "Never go to the Council unless you already know the answer is yes or maybe."  And we didn't know the answer, but the nations of NATO rose to the occasion, and we declared for the first time in NATO's history that an attack on the United States was an attack on all countries.  So it was a bit of a nervous moment Victoria Newland (sp) remembers only too well, I'm sure.  But the right decision came out.

Russia.  When I had my second meeting, it was with President Putin in Brussels.  He said, "Why don't you invite us to join NATO?"  And I said, "We don't invite countries to join NATO; they apply to join NATO.  And when they have complied with all of the standards that we lay down for NATO membership, then they get invited to be full members."  And President Putin said, "Well, I am not standing in any queue with a lot of countries that don't matter."  So I said, "Fine.  Let's stop the diplomatic -- (inaudible) -- and build a proper functioning relationship and see where it leads."

And we did, and it was (viewed ?) and we got on well and we built a constructive relationship that -- (inaudible) -- air base that Sergei Kislyak, I mentioned, who signed the NATO-Russia -- (inaudible) -- charter.  Every one of the 19 prime ministers made very brief speeches -- (inaudible) -- I got them published so I could remind them later on what they said -- and committed themselves to cooperation in this Council.

It was the 20 countries around the table and the secretary general -- (inaudible) -- all equal countries.  And it was designed to speak about cooperation.  It had a program of non-proliferation.  We were going to talk about terrorism.  We were going to talk about a whole series of things where there was a genuine common interest about it.  And we said,  "This is a forum for discussing in good times and bad, good decisions and bad decisions.  We're going to talk instead of shouting."

Well, it went astray.  I don't know why.  And there are other people here who will know the reasons for it.  But we need to (replay ?) it and we need to (replay ?) it now, if Russian wants, aspires to that.  And President Putin has been muttering about it recently again.  Well, we know the conditions.

I did not agree with what happened at Bucharest.  We've always been highly conditioned.  I remember going to Bratislava and saying to the people there behind closed doors, "If you would like -- (inaudible) -- as your prime minister, you will not be in NATO."  We -- (inaudible).  We forced democratic change.  We forced the modernization of armed forces.  You know, through the attraction of NATO and the heavy hand of saying no, we did that.  And I think that should have been the -- (inaudible) -- there as well.

And if Russia wants to be part of it, and these other countries (undoubtedly ?) are going to want to be that, then, you know, it will create an organism.  It will create a community of neighbors committed to dealing with the kind of threats that we all face now, and increasingly will face in the future.

And, you know, I work in Russia now with TNK-BP, and, you know, a lot of young Russians.  I spoke at St. Petersburg State University last year to about 300 young people there.  That's Prime Minister Putin's alma mater.  They're no different, you know, to my kids and the young people at our universities today.  They can read any newspaper in the world on the Internet.  They have access to the music, to the culture, to the standards -- (inaudible) -- and they were living in a prosperous era.

But like so many countries in the alliance, the United States and in Russia, that prosperity is grinding to a standstill, and a lot of things are going to change.  And I think in Russia it will change as well.  They are no different, that rising generation, with their expectations as well.

And I think that they may well have been inspired by the election of a young Barack Obama.  And that in itself is going to create the ingredients of a process of change, so that when the kaleidoscope stops moving and the pieces are in their new places, part of that is going to be Russia is very much part of what we now like to call the West, but it certainly includes them.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  It's been a very rich and stimulating evening.  (Applause.)






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