Strasbourg - 19 Oct. 1999

Speech by Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, to the Atlantic Treaty Association

Monsieur le Président,
Mesdames et Messieurs,

Merci pour votre accueil très chaleureux. Il me montre votre bienveillance à mon égard. Il me montre aussi que vous ne m'avez pas encore entendu parler français. Permettez-moi donc de commencer par m'excuser pour mon français hésitant. Je vous promets de faire mieux la prochaine fois.

C'est aujourd'hui un moment spécial pour moi. En effet, c'est mon premier discours en tant que Secrétaire général de l'OTAN. Et je suis très heureux de pouvoir le prononcer ici, entre amis. L'Association du traité atlantique a fourni un soutien essentiel à l'Alliance tout au long de son histoire. Voici à peine quelques jours, j'étais encore Ministre de la défense et je crois que je sais mieux que quiconque combien votre association est un lien important entre l'OTAN et le grand public. Ce rôle a été encore réaffirmé pendant la crise du Kosovo. L'ATA joue un rôle clé au sein de la communauté atlantique. C'est pourquoi je suis si heureux de pouvoir faire mon discours dans mes nouvelles fonctions devant vous.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to have been named Secretary General, but it is also a great responsibility. A responsibility to help guide the Alliance into the 21st Century. And my vision of my own role as Secretary General is summed up by a simple military expression -- to "reinforce success".

What do I mean by "reinforce success"? I mean that we must continue to build on NATO's achievements over the past decade in preserving peace and security right across the Euro-Atlantic area. And there have been real achievements. The Alliance has evolved, in ten years, from a passive, reactive defence organisation into one which is actively building security right across Europe. And NATO's agenda over this past decade has been so successful that the Alliance itself is more relevant, and more indispensable than it has ever been. NATO's foundations as a 21st century Alliance are rock solid.

My job is to help build on those foundations, to reinforce that success. To do that, I believe we must examine the experiences of the Alliance to see what has been done right, and what could be done better in future. As the saying goes, history only repeats itself when nobody was listening the first time.

Let me, if I may, use the Kosovo operation as an illustration. This operation has truly been a crucible for the Alliance -- and like all such tests, it has been very revealing. It has shown us some of the things NATO does right, which we need to identify and preserve for the future. But Kosovo also revealed some very clear areas where the Alliance can make progress, to be more effective at building peace and security in future.

What did NATO get right? Let me mention just three fundamentals.

First and foremost -- we chose to act. It is true, as so many critics have pointed out, that massive violations of human rights are committed all over the world, and sometimes too little is done to stop it. But in Kosovo, we had the power to do something, and we took action.

NATO acted when no other international organisation or individual nation could, and brought an end to massive, state-sponsored acts of brutality, murder and ethnic cleansing against an entire population. That is a fact -- a fact of which I am very proud. And I intend to ensure that NATO retains that will to act, when it must, in support of the will of the international community.

The second thing we got right: we acted in defence of our values. There is no oil in Kosovo, no great resource wealth, no vital strategic territory. And yet, the Allies put their military personnel at risk, spent millions of dollars and Euros, and endured sometimes wrenching domestic political debates. Why? Because we believe that human rights don't just apply to us -- they apply to everyone. And if necessary we are ready to take difficult, dangerous action to preserve human rights.

Of course, in defending our values, we also defended our strategic interests. Even a year before the air campaign, the ongoing oppression in Kosovo was causing a threat to peace and security in the Balkan region, including massive floods of refugees in neighbouring countries and even artillery exchanges across borders. Thus, our strategic interest in preventing the conflict from spreading coincides with our humanitarian interest in stopping ethnic cleansing. Together, these interests required action -- and after diplomacy failed, we took action.

The Kosovo campaign is clear warning that the international community simply will not stand aside and allow ethnic cleansing to take place -- and that our response can be very robust indeed. This should serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone harbouring such plans. They have seen that we mean what we say, and we have the means to act on our promises.

Third: NATO stood together. It is true that, during this campaign, the Alliance deployed a dazzling array of aircraft, missiles and high-tech weapons -- but our strongest weapon by far was our solidarity. President Milosevic finally gave in because he realised, far too late, that NATO's solidarity was unbreakable, from the beginning to the end -- wherever that end might have taken us. The importance of Alliance solidarity is a clear lesson of Kosovo, and one which I have taken very much to heart.

These were the fundamentals, and we got them right. But the Kosovo operation also shone a spotlight on important aspects of NATO's agenda where we must continue to make progress, if the Alliance is to remain effective in future. Let me mention four which will be priorities for me.

First: Alliance forces must remain effective and interoperable. During this crisis, NATO's military forces have carried out a very wide range of missions -- from providing humanitarian support to refugees, to complex air operations, to the ground operation now fully deployed in Kosovo. This merely illustrates the variety of unpredictable security challenges we face in the post -Cold War world -- and NATO's forces must be trained and equipped to meet them.

These are also not challenges that one nation can face alone. Indeed, the strength of the Alliance is teamwork. And during the air campaign, we saw that one Ally was using technology that was qualitatively different than most of the other Allies -- and as a result, bore a disproportionate share of the burden. There were even simple problems, for example that not all pilots could talk to each other on secure radios. We must work hard to ensure that all the Allies have the technology necessary to operate effectively, and to operate effectively together.

The Defence Capabilities Initiative, which we launched at the Washington Summit, is a big step in the right direction. This project will help to ensure that all of NATO's Allies will have certain kinds of essential capabilities. It will also take steps to improve interoperability between Allied forces. And it will promote interoperability with NATO's Partners, who have demonstrated in Bosnia and Kosovo how important they have become to peace support operations in Europe. One of my priorities is to make sure the Defence Capabilities Initiative delivers.

A second priority for the future: to help build a new, maturer transatlantic security relationship. The division of labour we saw in the Kosovo air campaign was militarily necessary, but it is politically unsustainable in the longer term. The European Allies have realised they must take the steps which will enable them to take on a greater share of the effort. After having just successfully introduced a common currency, vowed to have a Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European Union must now be a more visible actor in the security field and become a more viable partner to North America in managing security challenges together.

This is eminently possible. But let me be clear: the Euro-Atlantic balance is not a "zero-sum game. "More Europe" does not mean "less US". Strengthening Europe's role in security is not about European self-assertion, but about re-balancing the transatlantic relationship in line with European and North American interests. That will be a second priority for me, and I very much look forward to working on it with Dr. Solana, in his new post as "Mr PESC".

A third priority will be building a stronger relationship with Russia. The Kosovo operation put an enormous strain on that relationship. Russia suspended contacts with NATO during the air campaign, and even though they have returned, they do not wish, at present, to talk about anything but Kosovo.

And yet, the Kosovo operation demonstrates clearly the potential of a strong relationship. Russia played a key role in the diplomatic process that was supported by NATO's air campaign -- and that ended on terms acceptable to both NATO and Russia. And now Russian forces are working alongside NATO troops in KFOR, and are making an important contribution there.

We must also not lose sight of the forest for the trees. Russia is, quite simply, the most important security variable in Europe. Furthermore, Russia and NATO have many common interests -- from peacekeeping to nuclear safety to arms control. Clearly, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area are inconceivable without NATO and Russia working together, and trusting one another. I will work very hard to build this kind of strong and durable working relationship.

Kosovo not only illustrates, but is at the heart of my fourth priority -- to help build lasting peace and stability in the Balkans. For too long, this region has suffered from political instability, ethnic conflict and economic weakness. And for too long -- indeed, throughout this century -- the international community has ignored Balkan sparks until they became fires that burned us all.

That has changed. The international community is now fully engaged in building stability in South Eastern Europe -- and NATO is playing a central role in that project, in two main ways.

First, about 80,000 troops, led by the Alliance, are keeping the peace in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and supporting civil reconstruction efforts. We are already seeing very positive results. In Kosovo, a secure environment is slowly being restored. The UN has established its presence, and is already training local police officers. The UCK has been disbanded, and replaced with a civilian emergency organisation. And preparations are underway for elections sometime next year. This is real progress, when one remembers the chaos and violence the Kosovars suffered just a few months ago.

There is still work to be done. The returning Albanian majority must control its understandable anger, and refrain from attacking the minorities that remain. The former UCK members must accept that their war is over, and that KFOR will provide for security in Kosovo. The immediate goal of the international community, including NATO, is to help every citizen of Kosovo begin to experience what we all enjoy -- peace, security and freedom.

Bosnia gets far less attention now from the media than Kosovo, but here too, there has been real progress since NATO deployed in 1995. There are more and more moderates elected to government, because Bosnians want peace. In fact, the security situation has improved to the point that the Alliance is looking at ways to reduce the numbers of troops in Bosnia. Our long-term goal is getting closer -- a Bosnia which enjoys self-sustaining peace.

But to reinforce our success in these two trouble spots, we must look beyond them, to SouthEastern Europe as a whole. Throughout the Kosovo campaign, our Partners from SouthEastern Europe have shown their remarkable solidarity with NATO's actions. Yugoslavia's neighbours supported NATO despite facing economic hardships and domestic troubles. They should be able to expect our support now.

In that regard, the EU's Stability Pact is a major step forward. It is an acknowledgement of the need for a more comprehensive approach for all of SouthEastern Europe. The Stability Pact focuses on three areas :

· democratisation and human rights;
· economic reconstruction, development and cooperation; and
· security issues.

There is no doubt that NATO can and will play a key role in supporting the Pact, most actively in the security field. Our SouthEastern European Initiative, launched at the Washington Summit, is the key. This Initiative will bring together the Allies and seven countries of the region, to develop practical cooperation. We will work with our Partners to encourage regional cooperation. And we will help aspirant countries from SouthEastern Europe to prepare their candidacies for NATO membership, through the Membership Action Plan.

These are just some examples of what NATO can do, and is doing, to help foster new security relationships across the region. And this too, will be one of my priorities during my tenure as Secretary General.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I look to the future of this great Alliance, I am very confident -- because at the age of 50, NATO remains at the centre of European security, with new missions, new members, and ever-deepening Partnerships. I am confident because we know what must be done to ensure that NATO remains capable of making its unique and vital contribution to Euro-Atlantic security well into the next century.

Mesdames et messieurs,

Je suis confiant parce que l'Alliance a le soutien de nos opinions publiques et de nos gouvernements. Je sais que l'Association du traité atlantique continuera de jouer un rôle clé pour garder ce soutien. Je conclurai par un mot : merci!