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

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.

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