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Speech delivered by the Secretary of State for Defence at Wilton Park on 15 January 2009.
This is, to state the obvious, an extremely timely opportunity
for us all to be considering the question of NATO's contribution to
UK, European and global security. A new US administration is but 5
days away, with all the expectation and uncertainty that precedes
most incoming Presidents.
The efficacy of collective security institutions to tackle common security challenges is back in vogue in some diplomatic and military circles.
This at a time when the world faces its most challenging
security environment since the end of the Second World War. In just
the last 3 or 4 months we have witnessed the reality of modern 21st
century security threats.
Well planned, indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Mumbai designed in part to raise the political temperature between the nuclear powers of India and Pakistan, an energy dispute with Russia that exposed EU member states' unhealthy energy dependency on Ukraine infrastructure and Russian gas, failed states in Africa creating a haven for piracy that threatens key trade routes and in recent weeks the appalling escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza.
And all this against the backdrop of the worst economic climate the world has seen since the economic depression of the 1930s.
So, the question confronting NATO as it celebrates its 60th birthday, is whether this transatlantic collective security institution can continue to make itself politically and militarily relevant in face of these and other threats that directly impact on the security of its various member states.
Central to that challenge will not be the Obama administration's commitment to security through multilateralism - that was never in doubt. It will be European commitment to the hard task of resourcing its fair share of the security burden if it wants in return a fair stake in the NATO of the future.
As NATO turns 60, we will rightly look back and celebrate the achievements of this extraordinary institution, which President-elect Obama described as the "greatest alliance ever to defend our common security".
But all significant anniversaries are also a time to look to the
future as well as the past. And when the celebrations are over,
when the last candles have been blown out, there are going to be
real questions about how to make the best use of NATO in the modern
world in the face of rapidly changing security challenges.
And however proud we are of NATO's achievements during these past 60 years, there is little doubt that much more needs to be done if our children and grandchildren are likely to be celebrating its contribution to their security in the middle part of the century.
The Washington Treaty is a remarkably enduring agreement. Its core values have served NATO well, and ring just as true today as they did in 1949.
Faith in the principles of the United Nations. A desire to live in peace with all peoples and governments. The will to work collectively for peace and security in the transatlantic area - and now more widely - based on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.
And above all, the recognition that the security of the peoples of North America and Europe is one and the same and that each will invest accordingly in the other.
NATO has come a long way in 60 years. The strategic environment has changed beyond anyone's imagination. The map of Europe has changed beyond recognition - and changed for the better. And the Alliance itself has had a leading role in shaping these changes.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has undergone a process of almost continual reinvention.
From Cold War to Partnerships, static territorial defence to expeditionary capabilities, and from building peace within Europe to supporting stability beyond the transatlantic area, NATO has shown itself to be capable of adapting to an ever changing security background.
My sense is of an increasingly dynamic Alliance.
The 1991 Strategic Concept seized the unique opportunity of the collapsing Warsaw Pact to reach out the hand of partnership and co-operation to our former adversaries. To nourish the shoots of democracy emerging across Central and Eastern Europe.
A far-sighted approach by the Alliance that, almost more than anything else, helped the peaceful transition to a new order in Europe that we all now take for granted.
A move that directly laid the foundations of an expanded Alliance and of Partnership for Peace - one of NATO's greatest, and too often overlooked, success stories.
The 90s also saw this changing Alliance actively engaged on military operations for the first time.
NATO air strikes in 1995 were instrumental in bringing an end to a bloody, three-year conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and paved the way for the Alliance's first ever peacekeeping mission. Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina continues to develop and prosper as it looks to take its place in the Euro-Atlantic community through the Partnership for Peace framework.
Another air campaign in 1999 brought to a halt the human catastrophe unfolding in Kosovo. Since that time, NATO has been leading a peacekeeping mission, working closely with the UN, the EU and Kosovo itself to build lasting peace and stability for this, Europe's newest nation.
The 1999 Strategic Concept learned from these experiences and recognised that if NATO was to remain relevant it would have to become actively engaged in conflict prevention, crisis management, and crisis response operations. In short, it faced a choice - either go out of area or go out of business.
The 1999 Strategic Concept did not, however, foresee the real nature of the threat about to be unleashed by international terrorism. It could not predict 9/11. But it did provide the conceptual thinking for the Alliance to respond to the strategic shock of the attack on New York and Washington.
Article 5 was invoked for the first time in the history of the Alliance, and is still in operation in Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean. NATO took on the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, helping reclaim that country from the grip of extremism. Confronting challenges to its members' security at their source no matter how far away from our frontiers.
And, at Prague in 2002, NATO embarked on nothing short of a revolution. In response to the security challenges it faced, it agreed a transformation programme that touched every aspect of the Alliance.
Its tasks. Its membership. Its relations with its partner countries and other international organisations. Its decision-making practices and internal structures. And its ability to conduct modern military operations successfully across the full spectrum of the Alliance's missions.
So it is a myth that NATO is incapable of change.
It has proven its ability to address new challenges as they arise.
And to prepare itself to deal with the challenges of tomorrow.
But success is never final. Transformation is a continuous process, and as we approach the 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg/Kehl, there are still significant changes emerging in the global landscape to which NATO needs to respond and for which it provides significant opportunities.
In the United States, the election of a new President signals the beginning of a new chapter in transatlantic relations.
The transatlantic relationship is part of the bedrock of NATO. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty has been fundamental to the success of the Alliance over the last 60 years - during the long dark years of the Cold War and the period of uncertainty and change that came after it. NATO is, and should remain, the primary forum for transatlantic security discussions.
But the relationship has sometimes been strained, particularly in recent years - there have been differences of opinion within the Alliance over issues such as enlargement, and tensions over burdensharing.
This is the Alliance's opportunity to re-affirm our commitment to Article 5 - through actions as well as words. To reaffirm that at the same time operations are central to NATO's purpose. All Allies have the responsibility to share the burden and the risks that come with them. It is not right to take the benefit of the insurance cover on offer, if you aren't prepared to pay the premium that goes with it.
Article Five remains at the core of the Alliance's purpose. The notion that providing security outside NATO's boundaries somehow competes with or detracts from our responsibilities in this respect is misguided.
Our mission in Afghanistan has demonstrated this. It is a mission to preserve our security. It is also a mission that is delivered with the same capabilities we would need to face threats on our borders.
Through this NATO operation, we are reinforcing our collective security at home and giving Afghanistan the chance to build a secure and hopeful future for its people. We should recognise the importance of strategic patience in dealing with such a complex and demanding situation, but also the importance of contributing fully to eventual success.
President-elect Obama has already indicated that he believes significant increases in force levels are going to be necessary. Every NATO member will need to think carefully about how these can best be provided, and how we can work with partners and with other international organisations to deliver meaningful outcomes - for our security aims and for the Afghan state - across the span of the Comprehensive Approach.
Turning to this side of the Atlantic, there is a growing anticipation that Allies will be welcoming France back into the full military structure of NATO before the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit.
I certainly hope that this is the case. As a founding member of
the Alliance and a key contributor of forces in Afghanistan and
Kosovo, the full participation of France in NATO can only
strengthen the Alliance and its relationship with Europe.
But re-integration should not just mean business as usual. Far from it. President Sarkozy shares, I believe, many of the same views on NATO transformation as we do in the UK. We should not have to ask France to fill posts in a non-deployable command structure that is no longer optimised for the type of operations demanded of NATO.
And I know, from our joint efforts to increase the number of helicopters available to operations in Afghanistan, that France is also concerned to ensure that our forces on the ground have the right capabilities for the tasks that we are asking them to do.
We need to grasp this opportunity to give further momentum to reforming NATO and its ability to deliver operational capability.
Beyond these - very welcome - events, there are also wider strategic questions that the Alliance needs to address over the coming months.
France's reintegration into the command structure is important in one other respect.
It will shine a spotlight on Europe's appetite for the hard business of resourcing its share of NATO commitments and the equity stake it wishes to have in its future.
The campaign in Afghanistan - every bit as important to European member state's security as it is to the security of United States - has exposed three things. A legacy of underinvestment by some European member states in their armed forces, significant variance in political commitment to the campaign and underneath it all a continued over-reliance on the US to do the heavy lifting. A hangover from the Cold War that is very much out of place.
The capability and capacity gap between two sides of the Atlantic has always been very significant. But today, the difference in absolute levels of spending between the US and European member states in NATO has never been larger. And it is European member states that lose from this. Contributing less doesn't reduce the risks we face. It only makes us weaker.
The campaign in Afghanistan is evidence of the limited appetite
amongst some European member states for supporting the most
important active operation NATO has ever been tasked with. It isn't
good enough to always look to the US for political, financial and
And this imbalance will not be addressed by parcelling up NATO tasks - the 'hard' military ones for the US and a few notable exceptions and the 'soft' diplomatic ones to the majority of Europeans. Freeloading on the back of US military security is not an option if we wish to be equal partners in this transatlantic alliance. Anyone who wants to benefit from collective security must be prepared to share the ultimate price.
The challenges we face in places like Afghanistan and our past experience in the Balkans have taught us that success in achieving lasting peace and security is best achieved by working with other organisations. Organisations that have a range of tools that complement, not duplicate, those that NATO can offer. Yet we still struggle to do so effectively.
That NATO cannot work properly with the European Union - particularly in Kosovo and Afghanistan - is incomprehensible to me. I do not disregard national concerns about the lack of formal agreements for contact between EU and NATO missions. But I do not accept that our armed forces should suffer the consequences. Nor that we should be hampered in addressing shared security concerns.
If we share a commitment to success on operations, Allies must address this issue now. I welcomed France's efforts to address this issue during their EU Presidency. Whilst 21 Allies share membership of these organisations, I hope that all Allies will contribute fully to finding practical ways to make them work better together.
And we must look to work better with other nations who share common security concerns with NATO. Some we are already working closely with - our partners in ISAF, for example.
Others we need to work harder with - Russia, for example.
There will be those that remain sceptical as to how successful any engagement of NATO with Russia will be. But it's important to keep in mind that we share similar concerns about terrorism, about border security, about nuclear threats.
Our mutual security interests must surely be better served by seeking ways in which we can work together to address these concerns. NATO has never shied away from dealing with challenging issues, and should not do so now in developing a way forward in our relations with Russia.
It is timely to capture NATO's response to these changes in the global political landscape. But we must do so within the context of the progress that we have already made in identifying and meeting our changing strategic environment.
We have come a long way in recognising the importance of expeditionary capabilities in dealing with the broad range of threats the Alliance is likely to face. Since the endorsement of the Comprehensive Political Guidance at the 2006 Riga Summit, the Alliance's commitment to expeditionary capabilities is a key part of the framework already in place for this work.
When we look at the commissioning of a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, the commitment to expeditionary capability is a key part of the framework already in place for this work.
As is the commitment to transformation in NATO.
There is much work already underway here. Transformation was given fresh impetus at the London Ministerial. Defence Ministers review progress on a number of strands of this work when we meet in Krakow next month. And when doing so, we need to remember that this is not a theoretical exercise. We need to keep up the momentum for change if we are to continue to be effective on the ground, whether in Afghanistan or Kosovo .
We have developed the NATO Response Force as a means of deploying expeditionary capabilities. But there remains far too big a mismatch between our aspirations and what we need to deliver. The NRF is not getting the forces or capabilities that it needs to carry out the full range of missions that we ask of it. More imagination is needed.
And we are still too focussed on developing infrastructure rather than capabilities. The lack of progress in developing a command structure to support our expeditionary aims demonstrates that we have not yet fully caught up with a strategic environment that requires flexible and rapidly deployable expeditionary forces to provide credible defence and deterrence - whether operating inside or outside of NATO's territorial boundaries.
All of this reinforces my sense that the time is right for NATO to commission work on a new Strategic Concept. The 1999 Strategic Concept has served NATO well, but the security environment has changed significantly and NATO has changed with it. We need to capture our progress, and define our future direction.
We will need to address the new challenges that have emerged. Our traditional notions of national security and national sovereignty have been transformed. So have our ideas of what constitutes attack and defence.
The twin forces of technological change and global liberalisation have had a bulldozer-like effect on national boundaries. Increasingly, we live in a world in which borders are harder to define and where traditional military means are not always sufficient to defend them.
In the past, you needed to send planes or missiles to destroy a country's infrastructure. Today, institutions can be attacked with a click of the mouse.
In the past, a threat against a civilian population generally involved a territorial excursion. Today, our people can be captured, kidnapped and murdered anywhere in the world - as we have seen in Bali and Mumbai.
Today, conflicts are more likely to be about extremism, energy or ethnicity. And our enemies are less clearly defined, lurking in the shadows, hiding in failed states.
And as our increased worldwide connectivity and interdependence - while bringing enormous social and economic gains - also brings threats. Our energy, our water, our natural resources are all now tools in international security relationships.
And in an interdependent world, an attack on any one of us can become a challenge to all of us. The cyber threat knows no national boundaries. Nor do the security ramifications of climate change or health pandemics.
The Strategic Concept will need to examine these threats. And how we deal with them, using the tools and relationships that we already have, and making them work better.
We should re-affirm the centrality of the Comprehensive Approach in the Alliance's approach to addressing security challenges. The Strategic Concept should reflect the lessons that we have learned in Afghanistan. Yes - we need to deliver military effect, but longer term security for the Alliance is also delivered through conflict prevention.
As I have already discussed in relation to the EU, we need to restate NATO's openness to relationships with countries and organisations, where this can benefit the security aims of the Alliance. A clearer vision of the relationship between the EU and NATO, and their relative roles in this relationship should be a priority.
The same applies to the UN where NATO has important capabilities
to offer - notably in the area of Security Sector Reform - which
could greatly help the United Nations' global mission. We need to
re-affirm the determination of the Alliance to work internally and
with others to address the challenges to our security wherever they
Our expeditionary capability is essential to give credence to our Article 5 commitment. It gives Allies our ability to provide both defence and credible deterrence, in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond.
And as part of our approach to deterrence, the Strategic Concept needs to recognise the ongoing relevance of nuclear deterrence as one of its fundamental security tasks.
I am a strong believer in NATO. The Washington Treaty gives the foundations for a political and military alliance that is unique in its ability to provide security and stability for the Euro-Atlantic area.
It has the strategic patience and institutional depth in managing operations that should not be underestimated. It has no equal as an organisation to bring our Armed Forces together, to promote interoperability, and to deliver military effect. And in developing a more comprehensive approach with partners, NATO is well placed to harness defence into a broader international approach to security.
But the world changes quickly, and we need to maintain our sense of urgency in equipping NATO to deal with these changes. A new Strategic Concept is a key part of this work and I would like to see any new or revised Strategic Concept ready for the in 2010. We need to maintain the initiative in the debate on what structures we need to address these challenges, and continue to place NATO at the forefront of our national security strategies.
Source: UK Ministry of Defence, www.mod.uk.
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