Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: Nato is a 21st-century alliance with a 20th-century mindset

When I took over in January 2004, the Atlantic Alliance was badly bruised from the political fallout of the Iraq war. There was also considerable uncertainty about Nato's future as a viable transatlantic framework.

Many pundits spoke of Nato becoming a mere "toolbox", and future missions being driven by "coalitions of the willing". There were predictions of a new era of selective American multilateralism, with Nato being sidelined by shifting country groupings. And in several quarters on this side of the Atlantic, there was equally radical talk about Europe needing to be a "counterweight" to the United States.

Today, such loose talk has disappeared. There is no serious political force on either side of the Atlantic that favours Nato's dissolution. After an interval of nearly half a century, France has returned to the Alliance's integrated military structure.

We have just taken in two new members – Albania and Croatia – and several more countries are knocking on our door. We increasingly work with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world increasingly wants to work with us.

In short, Nato is widely accepted as an essential element of the European and indeed, international security order.

Nato today – 60 years after its creation – is busier than ever. We are being called upon to undertake more and more missions and operations, and to turn our attention not just to immediate threats but also to longer-term challenges such as cyber attacks, disruptions in our energy supply and vital lines of communication, piracy and the inevitable security implications of climate change.

If this would be the whole story, I could end my speech right here – which would significantly increase my chances of getting nice applause from this audience for successful management of Nato. But of course, the story doesn't end here.

For it is precisely the growing demands that are being made of Nato that are causing a dangerous mismatch: we are trying to develop a 21st-century alliance, but we do so with a 20th-century mindset.

This is an edited extract from a speech given by the outgoing Secretary General of Nato, to Chatham House on Monday night. It was his final speech in the position