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NATO's Changing Role in the Post-Cold War Period

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  • Ambassador Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo
    April 20, 2007

    Why is a NATO official visiting India today? The answer is simple. It is because we in NATO believe that new security challenges demand new approaches. And my visit here is a demonstration of that strong interest on the part of NATO to explore with India, issues of global importance. Issues which may be happening in your backyard, but have very real implications for the members of the North Atlantic Alliance.

    After all, India is not just among the world's biggest powers. It is also a rising star of the 21st century - a self-confident, pluralist democracy with an economy so dynamic that it is the envy of many in Europe and North America. A country, also, that now faces the challenge of making the most of its growing international weight, and charting the right course in a volatile international environment. Globalisation promises to deliver many benefits - a "flat world" as the journalist Tom Friedman has called it - where every individual can benefit and prosper. But it can also bring a darker influence - while money and information can cross borders easily by cyberspace, so too can terrorists use that medium to spread their malign message.

    At the same time, the centre of world politics is moving towards Asia, with the growth of India and China, not just in population terms but also as I have alluded to, through your economic growth, gives rise to the need for a better understanding of the dynamics of this region.

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses has a long history of providing research and analysis on European and American policy. So NATO is no unknown territory for you. However, for a casual observer, whether here in this country or elsewhere, the terms "India" and "NATO" might not go together easily.

    On the one hand, there's India - a huge country in South Asia, a distinct national actor with a long non-aligned tradition, and with close relations to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. On the other hand, there's NATO - an Alliance of currently 26 countries from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean - a collective actor, if you wish, which once considered the Soviet Union its main adversary.

    Some might conclude from all this that India and NATO are about as different as one can be, and that any idea of closer relations is far-fetched. I believe that such a conclusion would be premature at best - and reckless at worst. NATO and India cannot look back upon a common past, this is certainly true. But I believe that there are many signs that indicate that we may well look towards a future of consultation and co-operation on a range of shared interests.

    Before I talk a little more about that future, however, let me first say a few more words about the past. Since NATO and India had so little interaction in the past, it is useful to explain where NATO comes from, and how it has transformed since it came into being almost six decades ago.

    I believe that it is instructive to look at NATO's 58-year history as an evolution that proceeded in three distinct phases: the Cold War, the decade that followed the end of the Cold War, and the period that began with the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on 11 September 2001. Each of these periods posed very distinct security challenges. Each required a different set of responses. And, accordingly, each of these three phases produced a different NATO.

    NATO's first phase, as you are well aware, was the Cold War. It was the East-West conflict, with a divided Europe as its focal point, that led to the creation of an Alliance between 10 Western European countries and the United States and Canada. On April 4, 1949, these twelve countries signed the Washington Treaty, in which they solemnly committed themselves to regard an attack on one as attack against all. Over time, the Washington Treaty turned into a fully-fledged organization, with a political council, regular meeting of Allied Foreign and Defence Ministers, and integrated multinational military command.

    The Alliance became the centrepiece of an emerging transatlantic community - a community that was based not only on common values or cultural ties, but on a shrewd calculation of interests: for North America as well as for Europe, it paid off to work together - and to stay together. The "transatlantic bargain" at the heart of NATO was simply in everyone's national interest.

    Throughout the Cold War, NATO's military role was essentially static: to prevent an attack against the territory of its member countries. NATO could accomplish this objective by deterrence alone. Putting military force on display, rather than using it, was enough. So NATO achieved what it had set out to achieve: to keep the peace in Europe, and to effectively rule out the use of force as a means to advance political aims.

    The Cold War ended after 40 years. And many observers believed that NATO could now safely be disbanded, just as the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. But NATO was never like the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved because its members wanted to get rid of it. By contrast, no NATO member wanted to get rid of the Alliance. Why? Because the advantages of a permanent transatlantic framework for consultation and co-operation had become far too great to give it up. A framework that allowed all countries - big and small - to make their voice heard, to seek common solutions, and to train their forces together, was too precious an asset to be squandered. On the contrary, many member countries of the former Warsaw Pact now wanted to join NATO!

    Embracing the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, who were craving for their share of Europe, including its Atlantic dimension in NATO, was not the only new role that NATO was suddenly asked to perform. NATO also had to associate a Russia that, in a sense, was both an old empire and a new state, still unsure of its European vocation. And, last but not least, NATO also had to deal with new conflicts in the Balkans, which were making mockery of the very idea of Europe as a zone of peace and shared values.

    Addressing these different tasks was clearly seen as a transatlantic affair. And so the transatlantic community addressed them together. For NATO, a new chapter began, the second chapter of the Alliance; a chapter that could have been entitled "the consolidation of Europe". NATO reached out to Central and Eastern Europe, through its policy of partnership and by opening NATO's doors for new members. The Alliance also played a major role in engaging Russia in the emerging new, undivided Europe. And NATO played a key role in pacifying the Balkans, by applying force, for the first time in its history. In 1995, in Bosnia, in response to a request by the United Nations, NATO first provided military support and, ultimately, became a peacekeeper, acting for the first time beyond the territory of its member countries.

    Then came the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. They made clear that the major threats to NATO Allies no longer emanated from Europe, as was the case during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, but from regions outside of the "old continent". In the face of international terrorism, failing states and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, NATO's traditional self-image as a "eurocentric" Alliance was becoming obsolete.

    Clearly, Europe's continued consolidation into a unified democratic space would continue to rank high on NATO's agenda - and it still does to this very day. However, if NATO was to continue to provide for the security of its member states in a world of "globalised insecurity", we had to leave behind the traditional geographical approach to security. And we had to be prepared to tackle problems at their source.

    In short, "911" marked the beginning of the third phase of NATO's evolution. In August 2003, NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. Later the operation has been extended to cover the whole of Afghanistan. And by taking action not only out-of-area, but out-of-continent, the Alliance clearly demonstrated that it was prepared to adopt a functional, rather than a geographical, approach to security.

    This third phase of NATO's evolution is clearly the most demanding. Taking the logic of active engagement seriously means that the Alliance now has to cope with an ever-broader spectrum of missions, ranging from combat operations to humanitarian relief.

    Today, with more than 50,000 troops under NATO command, the Alliance is keeping the peace in Kosovo; assisting defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina; patrolling the Mediterranean Sea in a naval anti-terrorist mission; engaged in combat as well as peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan; and airlifting African Union troops to the Sudanese crisis region of Darfur. In addition, NATO provided humanitarian relief to Pakistan after the October 2005 earthquake. And NATO is training Iraqi security forces, both inside and outside of the country.

    Sustaining this broad agenda poses a range of political, military and financial challenges. Not only are most of NATO's missions and operations today long-term in nature; their ultimate success depends on political and economic development rather than military preponderance. The long-term nature of NATO's engagements also raises questions of how to finance these operations in a way that all Allies perceive as fair and equitable. As shown by the fierce fighting in the South of Afghanistan, some of NATO's assignments have become extremely demanding militarily. NATO's nations now face the spectre of suffering casualties in missions very far away from home. All this is a far cry from the static Cold War Alliance that was able to meet its objectives without any fighting at all.

    However, if we have learned one lesson in these 58 years of NATO, it is that this Alliance is remarkably capable of adapting to changing circumstances, and influencing them in a positive direction. And I believe that we now have a clear picture in NATO of the challenges before us, and what it takes to ensure success in the third phase of the Alliance's evolution.

    So what are our priorities? Let me briefly list them for you.

    First, we need to broaden and intensify political consultation among the Allies. The fact that NATO is now engaged on several continents, dealing with diverse countries and cultures, requires that we better understand the overall environment in which we operate. At a time when new security players, such as the European Union, are finding their role, and where other parts of the world are growing in relevance, the transatlantic community can only make real progress if contending ideas are put to the test through informed and frank debate. Moreover, where NATO troops are engaged in an operation, the Alliance should also be engaged in the process leading to a political solution. In short, more than ever before, we need a "culture of debate".

    Second, we need to push ahead with defence transformation. If the major threats to our security are now outside of Europe, and if we agree on the need to address these problems when and where they emerge, we need military capabilities that are quite different from those we used to have in the Cold War. We need forces that are far more flexible, forces that can react quickly; forces that can be deployed over considerable distance, and then sustained over a long period of time. And we need forces that are capable of performing both combat operations tasks and post-conflict reconstruction work.

    Within NATO, we have made good progress in developing modern military capabilities. Among the most important developments in this respect is the NATO Response Force, which gives NATO an entirely new rapid reaction capability. We are also increasing our pool of strategic transport aircraft, so that we can get our forces quickly to where they are needed. And we are taking a hard look at the way we prepare our operations, to ensure that they can be better planned, equipped, and paid for.

    Political and military transformation are two challenges that are essentially for the Allies themselves to meet. But the ultimate challenge lies beyond the Alliance. If we really want to get a grip on the new risks and threats to our security, NATO will increasingly have to work with other actors - with other governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as with other nations.

    Nowhere is this clearer than in Afghanistan. Clearly, NATO's active engagement has led to enormous progress in Afghanistan. Today, less than four years after the Alliance took control of ISAF, Afghanistan is an emerging democracy and an increasingly pluralistic society. There have been free elections, and there is a functioning government and parliament as well as several other new institutions. Well over 4 million refugees have returned home; 80 per cent of the population has access to health care; and 6 million children are in school. A quarter of the parliamentarians are women, and about a third of teachers are women. There has been significant reconstruction and development, and Afghanistan's Gross National Product has tripled over the past few years.

    By any standard, this is significant progress. For Afghanistan, of course. For the United Nations, which continue to carry a major responsibility in helping that country. But also for NATO, as a security provider. And for the many other organisations and non-NATO countries that are engaged in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

    India is one of these countries. It has already donated more than 700 million US Dollars, and its generosity is widely appreciated, including by the NATO Allies. We are also aware of the lingering dangers that are associated with civil reconstruction in a country such as Afghanistan, and this makes the scope of India's contribution all the more impressive.

    At the same time, we all know that the progress achieved so far in Afghanistan is fragile - that it must be sustained and reinforced, or it could begin to unravel. The most important actor to ensure a positive development is the Afghans themselves. The Afghan government must be in the lead. But the international community should continue to assist. Most importantly, to achieve lasting progress in Afghanistan, security improvements must be accompanied by improvements in other fields, such as job opportunities, power supply, transport infrastructure, medical facilities and education services. Although the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction teams can provide some limited help in this regard, it really does require a broader, concerted international effort by the international community, including civilian reconstruction agencies and NGOs, and international aid money.

    NATO has been a strong promoter of such a comprehensive approach. In addition to bolstering our security presence in Afghanistan, and stepping up our efforts to train and equip the Afghan National Army, we have been working hard to further engage other international actors, and to better co-ordinate our work with them.

    We have been keen, in particular, to establish closer, more effective relationships with other key institutions, notably with the United Nations and the European Union. And we have established closer contacts with NGOs, to benefit from their unique perspectives - and to explain our approach to them. To be sure, developing such a culture of co-operation among international actors is not easy. We all have our own perspectives and we are all attached to our own ways. But we must arrive at an honest appraisal of the particular strengths and limitations of each of our organisations, and how we can best complement each other's efforts. And that will require pragmatism, vision, and political will.

    NATO has also worked hard to engage more closely with non-member nations. During the Cold War, NATO did not really need other countries to fulfil its essential security mission of self-defence. Allied solidarity was enough. But today, as we send our forces to Afghanistan and on other complex missions well away from our traditional area of operations, we realize full well just how much the success of these missions depends on the contribution by other nations, and notably our partners. Some partners help us with military bases, airfields and transit rights. Some provide forces to our missions, and some provide us with intelligence and expertise.

    Let me stress that this is never a one-way relationship that only benefits the Alliance. Because our partners benefit too. The wide variety of NATO partnership programmes provide partner countries with material help and expertise in taking care of their own security problems, reforming their military forces, and increasing their interoperability with those of the Alliance.

    Over the past few years, we have already successfully broadened our partnership policy beyond Europe, by reaching out to countries across the Mediterranean and into the Gulf region. And we are now opening a new chapter by deepening our ties with countries in the Asia Pacific region. This is a most timely development. Australia and New Zealand are already involved with us in Afghanistan, and Japan and the Republic of Korea have also shown a willingness to shoulder a greater share of the international security burden. Prime Minister Abe of Japan made that very clear when he met with the NATO Council in January. And just last month, Japan agreed to work more closely together with NATO in providing aid to the civilian population of Afghanistan.

    Finally, NATO also wants to reach out to other major players. With Afghanistan our No. 1 priority, it is obvious that we need to engage with major players in the region and that country's direct neighbours. Few would doubt that India has everything it takes to end up as a winner of globalisation. At the same time, I think it is fair to say that, in security terms, India is facing certain challenges. You are living in a difficult neighbourhood, you have suffered major terrorist attacks, and you recognise the challenges posed by "failing states". At this moment, Afghanistan is the place where India and NATO both seek to provide stability; but there may very well be other areas where India and NATO share similar concerns.

    Pakistan is a direct neighbour of Afghanistan, and one that will play a crucial role in any long-term solution for that country. We already have a military-to-military relationship, but we want to engage with Pakistan in a political dialogue as well. China, another direct neighbour of Afghanistan, has also shown a growing interest in dialogue with NATO, and we are open to that as well.

    But our dialogue with major players cannot and must not be confined to Afghanistan's most immediate neighbours. It should encompass all likeminded countries that share the same security concerns. And this is where India comes into play - clearly a rising star, as I said earlier, but a country that faces great challenges, including how to position itself in the globalisation age.

    Future NATO-India dialogue does not follow any master plan. But I am certain that, as we learn more about each other, you will find that NATO's almost six decades of experience in multinational security co-operation can offer India many useful insights, ranging from force planning to training to questions of military interoperability. And we in NATO hope to learn more about India's strategic thinking, to benefit from your regional expertise, but also from your military experience in counter-insurgency and in other areas of common interest.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Not that long ago, we could afford to be complacent about developments that happened far away. Geography was our shield. Oceans, deserts and mountains offered us protection. But today? Today, globalisation has once and for all eliminated the notion of achieving safety by geographical distance. Globalisation offers us tremendous opportunities, but it also exposes us to chaos and instability farther afield. In other words, more and more, the security of all our nations will be affected by what is happening elsewhere on the globe.

    How should we respond? By thinking and organising ourselves differently than we did in the past. By saying goodbye to the outdated security paradigms of yesterday. And, above all, by exploring new approaches of security co-operation - reaching out beyond geographical, cultural or religious boundaries.

    My visit to India should be seen against that background of new security challenges demanding new, common approaches. And I sincerely hope that it will help to foster better understanding, and encourage greater dialogue and co-operation between us.

    Thank You.