Nato needs new forces for new challenges

From the Lord Mayor's lecture given by George Robertson, the Secretary General of Nato at the Mansion House, in London

Share

I am not the first, but in fact the third lord to be Secretary General of Nato. The first Secretary General of the alliance was Lord Ismay, from 1952 to 1957. It was he who coined the most famous phrase ever uttered about the organisation, when he said that the purpose of the alliance was to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down".

I am not the first, but in fact the third lord to be Secretary General of Nato. The first Secretary General of the alliance was Lord Ismay, from 1952 to 1957. It was he who coined the most famous phrase ever uttered about the organisation, when he said that the purpose of the alliance was to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down".

This little phrase captured perfectly Nato's political role during the Cold War. But when the Cold War came to an end, that understanding of "what Nato does" was called into question.

By the early Nineties, the threat of a massive attack on Nato territory was gone, to the great relief of all. In those circumstances, however, some voices called Nato's continuing purpose into question. They were saying: "Sure, you won the Cold War, but what have you done for me lately?"

Let me give you a few examples of Nato's new agenda.

First and foremost: we have built a very different relationship between the West and Russia. Despite the occasional very real disagreement, the proof of how far we've come is President Putin's recent musings about the day when Russia itself might join Nato. A far cry from the hostility and zero-sum games of the past.

Another major contribution to the stability of the continent is Nato's enlargement. Our enlargement process helps to preclude major conflicts in Europe, because the very prospect of membership serves as an incentive for aspirants to get their houses in order.

Nato has spent the major part of the last decade developing security relationships with, and between, almost all the new democracies of central, eastern and southern Europe.

Unfortunately, however, conflicts cannot always be prevented or avoided, despite our best efforts. In Bosnia, and again in Kosovo, the best diplomats in the world tried to head off the violence. Sanctions were employed - but had little effect. Lightly armed monitors weren't enough.

Only Nato had the robust military capability necessary to bring such conflicts to an end, and enforce the peace afterwards. Before they were stopped, the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were having a direct effect both on our security interests and on our values.

Let me use Kosovo as an example. Kosovo sits at the crossroads of Europe, a volatile powder keg that could easily have ignited the whole region. The repression of Kosovar Albanians was causing hundreds of thousands to flee to safety in neighbouring countries. And let us be blunt - those refugees were not going to stop in Albania, or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They would inevitably have ended up travelling further, including to our countries.

In Kosovo, we knew a humanitarian disaster was already starting. We saw the Serbian troops massing in Kosovo, and the heavy armour rolling in. We saw the Yugoslav government training thugs to organise the expulsion of the majority Kosovar Albanians. We knew that Milosevic had moved the most barbaric paramilitaries, including the notorious Arkan, into Kosovo. Where Arkan went, the worst depredations were bound to follow. Nato had to act.

One year later, all we know vindicates that decision. Despite some continuing tensions, Kosovo is a success story, not only because most Kosovars no longer fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but because the international community has delivered a message: that where we can be decisive, massive violations of human rights will not go unopposed.

Diplomatic credibility requires military capability. To manage 21st-century crises, Nato needs 21st-century forces. We need forces that can move quickly to a conflict area, and that can arrive in enough force to have an immediate effect.

The forces we built up in the Cold War don't always fit that description. In today's environment, Cold War forces are a waste of money. There is no credibility without capability.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future