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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Releases > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks > 2003 > October

The New NATO and the Greater Middle East

R. Nicholas Burns, Permanent Representative to the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Remarks at Conference on NATO and the Greater Middle East
Prague, Czech Republic
October 19, 2003

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

It's a great pleasure for me to be here and see so many friends and familiar faces. I want to thank Michael Zantovsky and Sasha Vondra for having invited me and for having sponsored this conference. It is a great pleasure. I have been convinced to come, really convinced to come, by my very good friend Craig Stapleton, who I think has been an outstanding American ambassador to the Czech Republic in every way. I have great respect for the job that he has done here.

Let me also say that I very much welcome the presence of Karel Kovanda, the Czech Republic's Ambassador to NATO. Karel is our dean; he is the longest-serving ambassador at NATO, and the dean has quite substantial powers over all of the rest of us. I would very much like to thank Karel for being here today. And finally, Onur Oymen, member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, formerly Turkish ambassador to NATO, one of my best friends and colleagues, and one of the most effective ambassadors and spokesmen for Turkey in every job he has had, and particularly in the NATO job. So it's great to be among friends.

I don't have a prepared speech, but I do have some things that I want to say briefly, and then I would like to encourage a discussion and any observations you want to make; any questions you want to ask me, I am game, I would like to respond to them.

I am sorry I missed the rest of this conference, because I understand just from talking here that it was a very fine conference with very fine speakers, and I think it's an aptly named conference, "NATO and the Greater Middle East", because it is towards the Greater Middle East that we in the Bush administration believe NATO has now to focus its efforts. And I would put it this way: NATO has been in existence for 54 years. For the great majority of those 54 years, NATO had one threat -- you all know what it was -- and our military and diplomatic strategy was singularly focused on containing and meeting that threat.

The Prague summit, that was organized so brilliantly by Sasha, and led so brilliantly by President Havel, was the fundamental turning point, I think, in NATO's 54-year history, because it gave us a new mission. It gave us an entirely new mission. It gave us the sense that we have to restructure ourselves militarily; it gave us seven new members, who are going to change the Alliance for the better; and it gave us a strong appreciation that as threats had changed, we had to change with those threats.

So, everything that we have done in the Bush administration, led by President Bush and Secretary [of State] Powell and Secretary [of Defense] Rumsfeld since that time, has been to try to implement the Prague agenda. And I think we will be implementing the Prague agenda for a decade: that is how substantial the change was. All of our 19 NATO leaders met at the Prague summit -- President Havel, President Bush, President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder -- all came together conceptually and operationally, and it's useful to remember that, on a common transatlantic agenda.

The new mission is the most important mission. And it speaks directly to what you have been talking about here for the last couple of days. And that is that, obviously during the Cold War, we amassed a huge continental army in Western Europe to defend Western Europe. NATO's mandate is still to defend Europe and North America. But we don't believe we can do that by sitting in Western Europe, or Central Europe, or North America. We have to deploy our conceptual attention and our military forces east and south. NATO's future, we believe, is east, and is south. It's in the Greater Middle East.

NATO's future is to deter crises and to respond to crises -- whether it's a combat mission or a hostage rescue mission or a peacekeeping operation in that arc of countries where we assume and believe the great majority of threats to France, and Spain, and the Czech Republic, and the United States will come from -- in Central and South Asia, in the Middle East itself, and in North Africa. And the threat is, as we all know, this juxtaposition of terrorism -- global terrorism -- with weapons of mass destruction, which President Bush has said, since September 11, 2001, is the greatest threat affecting the American people, but we believe also, all the people of the 19, soon to be 26, countries that embody this alliance.

This is a fundamental change. I don't think there's much of a partisan difference in my own country, in the United States. If I can just use Ron Asmus, my good friend, as an example -- who is a Democrat -- has just written an article in Foreign Affairs, which I think everyone should read. If you take out the first couple of pages, with which I profoundly disagree, where he criticized the Bush administration's policies, and take out his conclusion, with which I also disagree, criticizing my administration's policies, in the middle, the great core of Ron's argument is an argument that NATO needs this changed mission. It has to be in the Greater Middle East. I think there's a lot of resonance in our country that Democrats and Republicans can come together on.

How have we proceeded since Prague? In the middle of the Iraq crisis, when France, Germany and the United States had the most difficult crisis in our relationships, well, in memory, we agreed -- France, Germany, the United States, the Czech Republic and all the other NATO allies -- that NATO should go into Afghanistan, and take over the UN mandate for the peacekeeping force: which we did on August 11. We now have nearly 6,000 soldiers there, and we are now debating an expansion of that force from Kabul -- where it's been for two years -- out to the provinces where everyone believes we must be. There's no chance for a long-term peace in Afghanistan without an international peacekeeping force, which encompasses a region larger than greater Kabul. The German government took the lead in this debate, which is also significant. It wanted to lead NATO in this great change, and Germany is prepared within 30 days to put troops in Konduz to establish a small provincial reconstruction team, which we believe should be the model for how we act in Afghanistan in the future.

So, Afghanistan was the first example: not just that we were ending the transatlantic crisis -- or beginning to repair it, I should say to be more accurate -- caused by the Iraq war, but that we had a common conceptual strategy for how we had to act in the world.

Second [example] was in Iraq. Eighteen of the 26 NATO countries, if you include the seven countries invited to become members next year, have soldiers on the ground in Iraq. More will come. I think we'll be over 20 countries in a couple of months. NATO also agreed, collectively, to support Poland and Spain, as they set up their new division at the end of August. We've given them logistical support, intelligence support, communications support, and we generated the force for this mission. If you look at all the divisions in Iraq, they're all led by NATO countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Spain, and Turkey has just decided, very importantly, that it will contribute a division of troops to Iraq, as well. We're very pleased, and we congratulate the Turkish government, and National Assembly on that decision.

I think that these are true concrete expressions that NATO has recognized that, in addition to dealing with the problems of Europe and the remaining problems of security in Bosnia and in Kosovo and Macedonia, we have to be out on the front lines where the problems are. I don't think this is a momentary tactical decision on NATO's part. It's a long-term strategic decision, which is being forced on us because of the change in security, but which we gladly accept and embrace. All of us are together on this.

The other dimension of this strategy in the Greater Middle East is the following: NATO has had a program called "The Mediterranean Dialogue" since 1995, where we engage Israel and six Arab countries, from North Africa as well as Egypt and Jordan. There's a lot of talk that we ought to expand that program; that we ought to have a greater concentration to seek political dialogue with the Arab countries, and with Israel. We certainly want to strengthen the Mediterranean dialogue, and perhaps to make more of the military content, in terms of training and exercises, with those countries. I know there's been some discussion of that just at this conference. We haven't made any decisions at NATO as to whether or not we should do this, but it's a very live issue. I think we'll have a lot of debate on it in the next couple of months, as well, as we focus on the Istanbul summit, NATO's next summit, which will be held in the spring in Turkey.

Now, if we have a new mission, then we have to have a new military doctrine, and we have to have a different set of military capabilities to be successful in this new mission. We were successful in the Cold War because France and Germany and the United States and Britain, and all the other members of the old Alliance, were willing to pay the political price to keep several hundred thousand soldiers in Western Europe. But that was a heavy, tank-based, conventional force, backed up by the nuclear umbrella of NATO itself.

If we're going to be successful in peacekeeping in Afghanistan, or war fighting in a potential crisis somewhere in this arc of countries, or in a hostage rescue mission somewhere in the future, we have to have an entirely different set of military capabilities. At the Prague summit we agreed on what they are. We need strategic lift, because the possible deployments are thousands of kilometers from Germany and from France, and from the heart of Europe. By and large, while the United States has this ability, the great majority of our European allies do not. At Prague we decided that we must go out and achieve that capability.

Second, we said that we've got to have air-to-air refueling, in order to allow missions of the type we've seen over Afghanistan and Iraq during the last two years. One example of this: I talked to a Norwegian F-16 pilot -- female pilot -- who flew air missions from Kyrgyzstan down into Afghanistan and back during the war in her F-16. She told me she was refueled five times on that round trip in combat missions. If we don't have the air-to-air refueling capacities that the United States and some other countries have, we cannot be successful as an alliance across the board in waging, in vast expeditionary missions, long-term strategic military missions for the future.

We said that we had to have secure communications, which we lacked during the Kosovo war, when the Serb army listened in to ground-to-air communications in NATO aircraft. We've said that we have to have precision-guided munitions -- more of them, because that made the difference in limiting civilian casualties during the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. We've said that we have to have more and better special forces, because of the type of fighting, and peacekeeping, which we are likely to embrace in the future.

All this costs money. It means that European countries especially have to think through transformation, defense spending, and spending more wisely to be effective in the future. So, we have a new mission; we are going to have new military capabilities, led by countries like France, the UK, and the U.S., which, I would argue, are the countries that have done the most to transform their militaries and to achieve this kind of expeditionary capability.

And we have new members: going back to 1999, ten new members, led by the Czech Republic, and Hungary and Poland; and now seven to add to those three. We in the United States government look upon these new members, as President Bush said here in Prague, during the summit, we believe they will refresh the spirit of the alliance. We think the center of gravity of our efforts is moving eastward, because of these ten countries. And when the seven countries come in at Istanbul, 40% of our members will be formerly Communist countries. That's going to change us. Their history, their shared perception of the world and how to confront security challenges is going to change us, and is going to change us for the better.

We believe very profoundly in my government in Washington that these countries must also be part of the European Union, and that we should not ask them to choose between those two institutions. We should not ask for loyalty tests between NATO and the EU. They ought to be part of both. They will strengthen both. Together, that twin enlargement will make a critical historic difference in solidifying democracy in all of Europe.

In addition to new members, we have new partners. If the strategic objective that Chancellor Kohl, President Mitterand, President George H.W. Bush and Prime Minister Thatcher articulated back in 1989, 1990 and 1991 is to be achieved -- one Europe, whole, free, at peace, stable and united -- then we have to have Russia, Ukraine, and the states of the Central Asia region and the Caucasus as part of that strategic whole. These countries are not likely to be members of NATO any time soon. But, you can't construct a durable peace in Europe that will last without them. And so, in addition to the Prague summit, we made another strategic decision to embrace Russia in our creation of the NATO-Russia Council; and to embrace Ukraine, which has been, frankly, a more gradual, and sometimes fitful, process. Russia has been much more open to a long-term engagement on a constructive basis with NATO.

In my government, we believe we need to take a step further, and this year, as we look toward Istanbul -- and Istanbul is an apt place for our summit -- we need to think about not only an extension of NATO influence with the Mediterranean Dialogue, but in the Caucasus region, and in Central Asia. These countries have been very important for the efforts in Afghanistan. They don't share all the democratic values that we share -- we in the Atlantic Alliance -- but they share a strategic perspective that they want to be part of peacekeeping, and they want to be part of conflict prevention. And so, they're our partners, and we ought to work to build that up.

So, if you put all this together -- new partners, new members, new military capabilities, and a new strategic mission -- we have a new NATO. At least figuratively, we've retired the old NATO, in honored glory, with thanks for the job it did during the Cold War, but we're constructing a new NATO for a very different time, with very different threats.

I'd just like to conclude my remarks by posing some challenges for all of us as Europeans and Americans, as we construct this new NATO. What I just reviewed were the accomplishments of the Prague summit and accomplishments since the Prague summit -- this vast transformation that we've undertaken. But, I think there are three great challenges that remain for us, in order to complete the vision of the Prague summit leaders. I would take them as follows:

First, we have got to complete the military transformation of the alliance. We've done a lot. Just last Wednesday, we launched the NATO Response Force that was created less than a year ago, on November 21, here in Prague. We launched it in Brunssum, in the Netherlands. It does not have a full capability, but if General Jones is asked by the NATO Council to deploy it tomorrow, he will be able to. That is a dramatic expansion of NATO's military capabilities, one we've never had in 54 years -- the ability to react very quickly, within a matter of days, with substantial force in a crisis.

We created a new Transformation Command in Norfolk, Virginia, to plug the European countries into the transformation process in the United States military. We've taken a number of steps to strengthen ourselves with new capabilities.

But what hasn't happened are two things militarily. There hasn't been, I think, a strategic decision by the European allies to either increase spending on defense, or, if that is not possible, to spend differently, and to spend more wisely, so that Europe can have a greater capacity to act, whether it's in NATO or whether it's through the European Union -- a process which we very much support.

Let me give you two figures. President Bush has received $376 billion from the U.S. Congress for our defense budget in 2003. Our 18 allies combined this year will spend $140 billion. Now, that huge capabilities gap in spending has existed in the Alliance since 1949. It's not new. But what's new is that the premium in military capability is now with advanced technology. It costs more. So, the actual gap in capabilities is expanding greater than the defense-spending gap. That's a true crisis in the alliance. It has to be closed.

And here, Marc de Brichambaut is here -- I should have recognized him at the beginning -- France has been a leader. Britain has been a leader. Norway has been a leader, and Turkey has been a leader, along with the United States, in making a national commitment to greater defense spending. It's a difficult choice, if you're a member of parliament, to make that decision between domestic and foreign priorities. President Chirac has made it, and we thank him for that. Prime Minister Blair has made it. But a great number of other allies have not made it. In fact, Germany and the Netherlands have their defense budgets capped until 2007. I think that's an issue that, with respect, our European allies need to look at it.

The second issue is this. It's what Lord Robertson is calling a "usability gap." There are 2.4 million Europeans in uniform that belong to NATO countries. 55,000 of them today are deployed outside of Europe and their own countries, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and other parts of the world, where countries have responsibilities. Our European allies are telling us that they are maxed-out: they can't contribute any more forces to expeditionary missions. If that's the case, then about 3% of Europe's soldiers can be deployed overseas. That's a terrific problem to contemplate.

If we have to assume that the threat to all of us will require long-term expeditionary missions in the future, then the Europeans need to increase the percentage of their soldiers who are physically fit, equipped, trained and ready to go to places like West Africa, where the French are, or Afghanistan and Iraq, where many of us are: a true problem to contemplate. That's the first challenge for NATO.

The second is this: to build stronger ties between the European Union and NATO. I don't think any of us are satisfied with the present state of relations between the two organizations. Let me say some positive things about the European Union, because sometimes the Europeans say that we Americans don't say enough that is positive. President Bush and our administration support the European Union. We support its development and strengthening. We support a European security and defense policy. We have supported the European Union taking over the peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, and it's been a great success. We have great respect for the European people and their leaders, and that you want to be more active in a security and defense sense. It makes sense. If you look back at the arguments we had in the early nineties concerning Bosnia, Europe ought to have a greater capacity to act as Europe when NATO is otherwise not engaged, when NATO has decided not to engage.

Europe -- the European Union and NATO -- with its twin enlargement, are going to make the crucial historical difference in the East. We have a common security threat, and Europe has a security paper that Mr. Solana floated at the Thessaloniki summit that is very much in line with what President Bush and our national leadership have decided is our set of threats. All of that unites us.

Furthermore, we came together and agreed on seven specific agreements in March of this year as to how NATO and the EU would act together. Essentially, this agreement, which is called "Berlin Plus," says that the European Union will be helped by NATO in developing its own strength and unity as a defensive and security force. But the deal is, of course, that the European Union will not seek to duplicate what we Europeans and Americans have built over five decades: no new military headquarters to compete with NATO; no new planning authority to compete with SHAPE, for instance. Imagine our surprise, then, when a month later, the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg met in Brussels and said that they want to create a new European Union military headquarters; they want to create a planning authority; a mutual defense clause for the European constitution; an armaments agency, which is not objectionable at all on the surface, as long as it doesn't become a Fortress Europe, vs. a cross-Atlantic defense trade.

This is now the crucial issue in NATO-EU relations that we've got to work through. We have a meeting on it tomorrow in Brussels. We'll continue to discuss it for months on end. I would boil it down to this, and it's awfully simplistic -- my apologies to Marc and others for being simplistic in a short set of remarks. If we can guarantee cooperation between NATO and the EU, and if that is going to be the spirit and fact of our relationship, we'll be fine. But, if some members of the EU want to turn this into a competitive relationship, then we're going to have a great disagreement, because we Americans want to preserve NATO.

We're not members of the European Union, so we don't want to intrude on internal decision-making there. But, we want to preserve NATO as the pre-eminent security institution in Europe, with first right of refusal as to when NATO's engaged. Then, if NATO doesn't want to be engaged in a crisis, we will be the strongest supporter of the European Union, and we'll give the European Union all the NATO resources -- SHAPE and NATO resources -- needed to do the job. This is a terribly important discussion that we're having. I think we can have it without emotion, and we should have it without emotion. I think we can resolve it. Because, I think the great majority of countries in NATO want to preserve a strong and vital NATO.

My last point on this would be to say that there's a corresponding argument made by some Europeans that Europe ought to become a counterweight to the United States at some point in the future. We Americans absolutely reject this. We want to maintain an alliance and partnership in one transatlantic relationship, with the American military physically present on this continent, and with the United States fully engaged, along the lines of the policy that President Bush articulated when he was here in Prague 11 months ago.

We do not see ourselves as rivals with Europe. We see ourselves as partners and allies. If you look at the new threats, we share those threats. We are threatened by them together. So, we have to meet them together, not as rivals, but as one alliance across the Atlantic Ocean.

The third challenge is to rebuild the Transatlantic relationship after the Iraq crisis. We can do it. I think it's already underway: we had a 15-0 vote [on Iraq] in the UN Security Council the other day. If you look at these threats, if you look at the global challenges that we face with environmental degradation, international crime and drugs, and trafficking in women and children, these are threats we can confront together and we should confront together. I hope that as we do, we'll recognize that NATO is vital, and that a strong partnership based in NATO remains vital for Americans, as well as Europeans. I hope that's a contract that we can agree on as we move ahead in the future.

Thank you very much for listening to me, and I'm very happy to take any questions you might have.

Released on October 24, 2003

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