Today: May 25, 2024
November 20, 2002

A future for NATO Part 1

Allies can fight terrorism

Can NATO play a role in the struggle against international terrorism? Will the Atlantic alliance be able to defend our safety and security in a radically altered strategic environment? Can the old dog learn new tricks? This week, NATO heads of state and government will answer these questions with an unequivocal “yes.”

The months since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., have been characterized by intense transatlantic debate. No holds were barred. Some Americans argued that the United States no longer needed allies. Some Europeans argued that the United States was irreversibly bent on unilateralism. Both views are wrong, and the Prague NATO summit will demonstrate why. The summit will bring home to even the greatest skeptics that when it comes to managing our long-term security, there is no alternative to Europe and North America acting together.

Tackling Terrorism

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, clearly invalidated the conventional wisdom that terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead. Once a largely domestic concern, terrorism has become a major threat to international security.

This is why NATO will help tackle terrorism. The invocation of NATO’s collective self-defense obligation on Sept. 12, 2001, was only the beginning. A new NATO military concept for defense against terrorism will now follow, supported by the development of specific counter-terrorism capabilities. We will further increase our cooperation in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and in dealing with the consequences should prevention fail. In short, NATO will become the focus for coordinating and planning the multinational military contribution to our defense against terrorism and other new threats.

Enhancing Military Capabilities

Military capability is the crucial underpinning of our safety and security. It translates directly into political credibility. But we need capabilities that are different from those needed during the Cold War. We need forces that react more quickly, reach further and can remain in the field longer.

A new NATO Response Force will bring together the most advanced forces within the alliance for taking ultra-quick action against new security threats. We will address shortfalls in our military posture through specific national commitments. Re-prioritization, less duplication and better armaments cooperation are further steps that will ensure that the alliance retains its military edge. We will also see to it that our efforts tie in with steps by the European Union to bolster its military capabilities.

Inviting New Members

The venue of the Prague summit — the capital of one of NATO’s most recent member states — is a powerful symbol of the alliance’s success in advancing Europe’s unification. But this job is not yet complete. That is why, at Prague, we will invite additional countries to join. This will end Europe’s Cold War division for good and foreclose any return to the darker chapters of the continent’s past.

Admission of new members will repeat the positive experience of the last enlargement round. Countries that will receive invitations to join NATO during the Prague summit will have had years of experience working with the alliance as partners, notably in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans and southeast Europe. Moreover, each will have benefited from several years of NATO-assisted defense reform. They will thus be net security contributors rather than mere consumers, making our alliance even stronger.

Deepening Partnerships

The attacks of 9/11 were masterminded by a Saudi who lived in Central Asia, planned by people from the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean living in Western Europe, and carried out in North America. These facts illustrate better than anything the need for security partnerships that extend to Central Asia and across the Mediterranean. These partnership mechanisms already exist. At Prague, we will make them even more effective.

We will focus much more on combating terrorism together. We will intensify our cooperation on security-sector reform. By enabling meetings in more flexible formats, we will make our partnership mechanisms even more responsive to the interests and concerns of each individual partner country.

Enhancing NATO-Russia Relations

Once upon a time, most people in the West looked at Russia as part of the security problem. No longer. Today, in a strategic environment marked by terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Russia is very much part of the solution. If the Prague summit will not showcase any grand new initiative, it is simply because we already launched a new NATO-Russia relationship last May at our special summit in Rome.

The new NATO-Russia Council created in Rome offers us an effective and flexible mechanism for joint analysis, joint decisions and even joint action. Much has already been achieved over the past six months to transform the political message of Rome into practical cooperation.

It was Henry Kissinger who argued after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of 2001 that tragedy could be turned into opportunity. NATO has been heeding this insight. With stronger capabilities, new members, and deepened partnerships, the alliance will demonstrate that it remains the premier instrument to address current and future security challenges. At Prague, this message will ring out loud and clear.

By George Robertson
The Prague Post
(November 20, 2002)
The writer is Secretary General of NATO.

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