Prospect for Prague – The future of an enlarged NATO

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Prospect for Prague – The future of an enlarged NATO

Lord (George) Robertson of Port Ellen, Secretary-General of NATO, addressed a breakfast briefing jointly organised by The European Policy Centre and the EastWest Institute on “Prospects for Prague – The Future of an Enlarged NATO”. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

In his introduction, Lord Robertson said the Prague summit would deliver specific new commitments from NATO leaders to improve capabilities and enlargement would make the Alliance part of a broader political community. Between one and nine countries would be invited at Prague to join NATO, but Lord Robertson said no final decisions had been taken as to the countries. NATO members were still completing their consultation processes and the broad picture would only emerge a couple of days before the Prague meeting.

New security threats

Lord Robertson said “grave new threats” to security had emerged since September 11 last year. Terrorism was the most obvious, and the attacks on America had been a dramatic wake-up call. Terrorism had mutated like a virus spreading its threat across the globe. But terrorists were not ten feet tall: “They can be defeated but we have to face the fact that the genie has escaped from the bottle and will not be put back.”

The second new threat was the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. North Korea’s announcement that it was developing nuclear weapons was just the latest example, and Iraq was continuing its endless attempt to develop a nuclear capability.

These were “chilling” developments. No longer was the debate about weapons of mass destruction a theoretical one, but “there are people fanatical and homicidal enough to use these weapons.” No one could be confident that such weapons were not already in the wrong hands.

The third new threat derived from the collapse of “failed states.” This was a problem in all conflict zones, from the Balkans to southern Africa. Wherever there was a loss of state control, there was the risk of a loss of control over lethal weapons. That could trigger the destabilisation of entire regions – and destabilised regions were the breeding ground for terrorism.

Lord Robertson said it seemed a “dark picture”, but an enhanced and coherent NATO could meet the threats, and he expected “clear and specific” commitments from NATO heads of State and government meeting at the Prague summit on November 21 and 22 – the first such summit since 1999.

NATO must adapt

What was needed was a “profound adaptation” of the way the Alliance did business, to ensure that NATO remains a solid foundation on which to build security policy in an increasingly uncertain world. Improved detection of and defence against weapons of mass destruction in particular, required better intelligence sharing, more support for civil authorities, the development of vaccines and close cooperation with countries reaching into Central Asia.

More generally, NATO needed modernised forces able to go wherever they were needed, whenever they were needed, and able to stay for as long as required. Better long-range aircraft, precision-guided weapons, secure communications, and improved defence against weapons of mass destruction would all help NATO face the 21st-century threats with the most modern and efficient means available.

NATO enlargement, to embrace a broader political community, was part of the adaptation and coupled with EU enlargement, this dual expansion would reinforce democracy. It would shape Euro-Atlantic security for the better and ensure it grew and deepened, “increasing the family of democracies able and willing to defend common values.”

Anoth er cause for optimism was the “huge step forward” in NATO-Russia relations, particularly through the new Cooperation Council, which dealt with a range of issues, from terrorism and missile defence to proliferation and peacekeeping. Lord Robertson said: “Dealing with Russia will become less of an effort and more of a habit.”

He said the Prague summit was the “final ingredient” in the new NATO mix of enhanced political and military roles.

Transatlantic relations

He acknowledged that the allies would not always agree on everything, but in Prague, they would agree to a military focus on the fight against terrorism, including use of the Rapid Response Force to tackle this common threat.

Meanwhile, NATO spending had to give better value for money and strike a better balance with the American contribution in terms of effectiveness: “We must make sure that Europe’s 150-billion euro defence budget delivers 150 billion euros-worth of capability and 150 billion euros-worth of political influence.” This, said Lord Robertson, was crucial to achieving fairer cooperation with the Americans.

It all amounted to a “dramatic overhaul” of the transatlantic relationship, ensuring a NATO fit to meet common threats using the most effective, modern and relevant forces. Lord Robertson said he was “prudently optimistic.” Courage was required to tackle the security threats and it required an investment in 21st-century capabilities.”


Answering questions, Lord Robertson said there was no conflict between NATO’s Rapid Response Force and the EU’s Rapid Reaction Force. They were complementary, with precise and distinct roles. The NATO grouping was designed for the “sharp end” of conflict, with very rapid deployment into crisis situations. The EU group was working at the other end of the spectrum, tackling the Petersburg Tasks of peacekeeping, civilian backup and crisis management. Therefore the respective roles were different, complementary and not at all incompatible.

The key thing, said Lord Robertson, was to ensure that the large sums spent on defence were used well. “At the moment the public is not getting value for money. There are two million troops in uniform in Europe, half a million more than the Americans, but only a fraction is deployable. That is a waste of money.”

“There are 2,800 EU attack aircraft compared to half this number in the US armed forces. Each of the US planes can fly day and night and in all conditions. Only 10% of the huge European fleet can match this performance. This is waste of money as well.”

“The US has 250 wide-bodied extra-large planes which can transport troops to wherever there is a crisis. In the whole of Europe we have only 11 planes that can do the same.”

In response to another question about the means to tackle terrorism, Lord Robertson insisted that the Alliance was more than just a military body, although reshaping armed forces was a big part of its business. It had established the Partnership for Peace and was deeply involved in the wider picture. He added: “If you don’t have the military part, you don’t have anything – economic prosperity is not the only guarantee of our safety.”

Asked about the prospects for NATO developing links to China, Lord Robertson said that both had an interest in preventing terrorism and promoting global security.

Pressed about the number of applicant States that will be invited to join NATO, Lord Robertson insisted that final decisions had not been reached. The 19 governments involved were still considering their positions and Lord Robertson would be consulting each of the NATO ambassadors next week. Even the US has not made its position clear yet, he said.

Asked if NATO membership for the chosen ones would be conditional on fulfilling pledges made on military capabilities, Lord Rob ertson said enlargement negotiations had been based on the Membership Action Plan which involved detailed work taking place not just on the military side but on the civil side as well. As an “Alliance of values” and not just a military Alliance, NATO was insistent that the new Member States should have properly-functioning democratic institutions, and would have to demonstrate basic rights, such as the proper treatment of minorities – “but of course they must be able to contribute militarily.”

He rejected a suggestion that the Partnership for Peace had become an “embarrassment”. On the contrary, said Lord Robertson, the initiative had created one of the most successful organisations of its kind ever seen, with 46 countries including many from some of the most troubled parts of the Euro-Atlantic area. Not all would “come up to standard” he acknowledged, but “we can live through that and build a relationship of trust.” In response to another question as to whether PFP would evolve and maybe merge with OSCE, Lord Robertson said that “nothing was set in stone”. Institutions only had a life if they were relevant to tackling problems.

On the future for Turkey’s relations with NATO following the election, Lord Robertson said the Islamic nature of the new regime was not an issue: the new government had to govern for the whole people and had already renewed the nation’s commitment to NATO and EU membership.

Asked about the proliferation of security and political organisations Lord Robertson agreed that sometimes there were too many institutions, many of which did not stand the test of time. The Western European Union for instance had been formed in 1948 but had “run out of road”. The WEU’s failure had been a failure of political will: “It was perfect on paper – but you cannot send a piece of paper to a crisis.” In the NATO context, political will was evident in the ESDP, which locked the EU not just into NATO capabilities but also into the NATO planning process.” “Without political will”, cooperation was just “so much hot air”. Cooperation had to be based on what was “valuable and practical”, and the organisations involved in international cooperation had to play to their own strengths. Institutional rivalry was destructive, he warned, but interlocking institutions can be good.

For more analyses from The European Policy Centre, visit the

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