NATO in the 21st Century

By Robertson, George | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, March 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

NATO in the 21st Century


Robertson, George, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


[LORD ROBERTSON OF PORT ELLEN is Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Previously he served as United Kingdom Defence Secretary (1997-1999) and as a member of Parliament (1978- 1999). Lord Robertson holds an MA in Economics from the University of Dundee.]

(Originally presented as a speech at the Charles University, Prague, 21 March 2001.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, In its long and proud history, Prague, the "golden city", has come to symbolise many things that have made Europe great. Being, quite literally, at the centre of Europe, Prague has symbolised religious and political tolerance, enlightenment, trade, and great cultural and scientific achievements.

And this place of learning, Charles University, was in many ways the epitome of all these virtues and achievements. Even in the darker days of the 20th century, when your city - and your country - were a victim of the ill winds that swept our continent, Prague remained a symbol of hope -- a demonstration that the flame of freedom may sometimes flicker low, but can never be extinguished.

But now the Czech Republic has seized the historic opportunity to find a new, peaceful and prosperous future among friends, NATO Allies and Partner nations. The division of Europe has been overcome, and the Czech Republic is now a staunch member of the NATO Alliance. Prague has, once again, become the centre of Europe, and it is therefore fitting that we hold our next Summit in this city in November of this year.

During the Cold War, there were few Summits. Presidents and Prime Ministers rarely met in a NATO context. And why should they? After all, the Cold War seemed permanent and NATO was very much on "automatic pilot".

This has now changed fundamentally. In the decade or so since the end of the Cold War we had almost as many Summits as we had in the forty years of the Cold War. The reason being because NATO is evolving so quickly and we need top political guidance on a much more regular basis. More than ever before, we have to take stock of our achievements, adjust our course, and set new goals for ourselves.

The leaders of NATO member countries - my bosses - may not like this comparison I am about to make, but since we are at a university, let me draw it anyway: NATO Summits are for Presidents and Prime Ministers what term papers are for students. They represent a crucially important deadline - a deadline you simply cannot move. You have to deliver. No excuses, like: "my dog ate my homework". A Summit, like a term paper, is the moment of truth.

That is where the comparison ends, however. For while most students dread the thought of having to do a term paper, we are in fact looking forward to the Summit. Of course, we still have homework to do to ensure success. But we know what we want to achieve: We want "Prague 2002" to be another major milestone in NATO's adaptation.

When NATO's leaders meet here in this city in November, more than a year will have passed since the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. So this will be their key opportunity to demonstrate that we have learned the lessons of September 11 -- and acted on them.

The Prague Summit, in short, will be a Summit of NATO's re- definition - of its comprehensive external and internal adaptation. In my remarks today, I would like to sketch some of the elements this adaptation needs to address.

The first element is the enlargement of NATO itself. If Europe is to grow together, if it is to overcome fully its Cold War division, our key institutions cannot remain geared to the past -- neither in their policies, nor in their memberships. We cannot say we are simply full up.

The nations of Central and Eastern Europe have a legitimate claim to get their fair share of "Europe" -- in all its aspects, including its transatlantic security dimension. …

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