George Robertson: An armed attack on one is an attack on all

From a speech by the Nato Secretary-General to the US Atlantic Council, at the National Press Club, Washington DC
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The Independent Online

The events of 11 September have changed the world. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago, they have seared deeply and unforgettably into our consciousness. In Paris, the headlines read, "We are all Americans now." In Oslo, Brussels and Rome, our hearts now miss a beat when a passenger jet passes overhead. In Berlin, London and Madrid, we see in our mind's eye the terrible images of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre whenever we enter a tall building.

And on both sides of the Atlantic, pundits are writing epitaphs for the "post-Cold-War era" and birth notices for "the age of terrorism." Horrifying as 11 September undoubtedly was, it does not in my view warrant this bleak analysis. We do those who lost their lives no service at all by adopting a victim mentality.

Yes, we have suffered a great blow. But we have not lost our ability – or our will – to shape events. If this is indeed to become the "age of terrorism", then we will be as much at fault as Osama bin Laden. I say this because I have been enormously heartened by events since 11 September, in Nato and beyond. And because it is already possible to identify a strategy not only to defeat bin Laden, but to ensure that any terrorist successors remain confined to the margins of history.

The Alliance's historic decision on 12 September to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty underscored the profound link between two continents and among 19 nations, and underlined our collective determination to act. When the Treaty was written in 1949, the drafters wanted clear, simple language. As one of them put it, a "milkman in Omaha" should be able to understand it. They succeeded. Article 5 states clearly that "an armed attack against one... shall be considered an attack against them all." This is the strongest commitment sovereign nations can give to each other.

Since then, the United States has kept its allies fully abreast of the political and military picture, and confirmed that the attack did indeed come from abroad. And in the past few days, it has moved to operationalise the Article 5 commitment.

The US has asked for, and the Allies have agreed to provide, enhanced intelligence support, air transit for military aircraft, and access to ports and airfields. Most significant – and symbolic – is the move of Nato early-warning aircraft from their base in Europe to replace US aircraft transferred to Asia. This is Nato's first operational deployment in the US: the old world coming to the aid of the new, to reverse the words of Winston Churchill.

This will be a long haul. But we have not seen such a coalition since the struggle against slavery and the defeat of fascism. Nato will be a vital component of this new coalition. As a provider of capabilities. As a vehicle for coalition cohesion. And as a forum for the new ideas without which we will not stay the course.

I started today with a reference to Pearl Harbor. Let me finish with a lesson from that earlier, bloody day. We must all beware of turning our enemies into giants. Bin Laden and his associates are not 10 feet tall. We are.

Bin Laden has had his Pearl Harbor. We will have our Tokyo Bay. Make no mistake about it.