"We cannot become a two-tiered Alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not" / "Wir können nicht ein Zwei-Klassen-Bündnis werden mit Mitgliedern, die kämpfen und solchen, die nicht kämpfen"
By Secretary of Defense Robert Michael Gates / Rede von US-Verteidigungsminister Robert Michael Gates
Thank you for that introduction. I would also like to thank the people of Munich for once again allowing us to gather in this beautiful city.
I am glad to see many of my colleagues here, as well as many of the delegations that were with us in Vilnius for the NATO ministerial. As I said in Vilnius – three weeks ago I accomplished a key goal I have been pursuing for the last year: through the good offices of the Los Angeles Times, I finally brought unity to NATO – though not as I wished.
It is an honor to be invited to speak here for a second, and last, year as U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Vilnius was my fourth NATO ministerial since taking this post, but my first in a nation that had been part of the former Soviet Union. Lithuania was one of the first nations to be swallowed by the Soviets, and the first republic to declare its independence as Baltic push came to Soviet shove. It is now a proud member of NATO, and the leader of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.
For the transatlantic alliance, the period in which Lithuania and other captive nations gained their independence was a time of reflection. Not only were we pondering enlargement to secure the wave of democracy sweeping across Eastern Europe, but NATO was also pondering the very concept of collective self-defense in a post- Cold War world.
We saw this in 1991, when NATO issued its first Strategic Concept. This document recognized that [QUOTE] a “single massive and global threat ha[d] given way to diverse and multi-directional risks” [UNQUOTE] – challenges such as weapons proliferation; disruption of the flow of vital resources; ethnic conflict; and terrorism. Overcoming these threats, the document stated, would require a “broad approach to security,” with political, economic, and social elements.
From the perspective of one who played a role in that effort to redirect NATO 17 years ago, today I would like to discuss a subject that embodies the security challenges that have emerged since that time, and correspondingly, the capabilities we need, in this new era.
That subject is, not surprisingly, Afghanistan. After six years of war, at a time when some may sense frustration, impatience, or even exhaustion with this mission, I believe it is valuable to step back and take stock of Afghanistan:
- First, within the context of the long-standing purpose of the Alliance, and how it relates to the threats of a post Cold War world;
- Second, with regard to NATO’s vision of becoming a transformed, multifaceted, expeditionary force – and how we have evolved in accordance with that vision; and
- Finally, to recapitulate to the people of Europe the importance of the Afghanistan mission and its relationship to the wider terrorist threat.
There is little doubt that the mission in Afghanistan is unprecedented. It is, in fact, NATO’s first ground war and it is dramatically different than anything NATO has done before. However, on a conceptual level, I believe it falls squarely within the traditional bounds of the Alliance’s core purpose: to defend the security interests and values of the transatlantic community.
During the 1990s, even as we tried to predict what form the threats of the 21st century would take, Afghanistan was, in reality becoming exactly what we were discussing in theory. Subsequent events during the intervening years have shown that:
- Instability and conflict abroad have the potential to spread and strike directly at the hearts of our nations;
- New technology and communications connect criminal and terrorist networks far and wide, and allow local problems to become regional and even global;
- Economic, social, and humanitarian problems caused by massive immigration flows radiate outward with little regard for national borders;
- A nexus between narcotics and terrorists increases the resources available to extremists in the region, while increasing the drug flow to European streets; and
- The presence of safe havens, combined with a lack of development and governance, allow Islamic extremists to turn a poisonous ideology into a global movement.
More than five years ago in Prague, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, our nations set out to transform NATO into an expeditionary force capable of dealing with threats of this type – capable of helping other nations help themselves to avoid Afghanistan’s fate. At the time, I imagine many were unsure of what, exactly, this would look like – what new structures, training, funding, mindsets, and manpower would be needed. Since then, however, we have applied our vision on the ground in Afghanistan.
- Nearly 50,000 troops from some 40 allies and partner nations serve under NATO command, thousands of miles from the Alliance’s traditional borders;
- Growing numbers of reconstruction and security training teams are making a real difference in the lives of the Afghan people; and
- NATO’s offensive and counterinsurgency operations in the South have dislodged the Taliban from their strongholds and reduced their ability to launch large scale or coordinated attacks.
Due to NATO’s efforts, as Minister Jung pointed out yesterday, Afghanistan has made substantial progress in health care, education, and the economy – bettering the lives of millions of its citizens.
Through the Afghan mission, we have developed a much more sophisticated understanding of what capabilities we need as an Alliance and what shortcomings must be addressed.
Since the Riga summit, there has been much focus on whether all allies are meeting their commitments and carrying their share of the burden. I have had a few things to say about that myself. In truth, virtually all allies are fulfilling the individual commitments they have made. The problem is that the Alliance as a whole has not fulfilled its broader commitment from Riga to meet the force requirements of the commander in the field.
As we think about how to satisfy those requirements, we should look more creatively at other ways to ensure that all allies can contribute more to this mission – and share this burden. But we must not – we cannot – become a two-tiered Alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not. Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the Alliance.
As many of you know, a Strategic Vision document is being drafted that will assess NATO’s and our partners’ achievements in Afghanistan, and will produce a set of realistic goals and a roadmap to meet them over the next three to five years. We continue urgently to need a senior civilian – a European in my view – to coordinate all non-military international assistance to the Afghan government and people. The lack of such coordination is seriously hampering our efforts to help the Afghans build a free and secure country.
The really hard question the Alliance faces is whether the whole of our effort is adding up to less than the sum of its parts, and, if that is the case, what we should do to reverse that equation.
As an Alliance, we must be willing to discard some of the bureaucratic hurdles that have accumulated over the years and hinder our progress in Afghanistan. This means more willingness to think and act differently – and quickly. To pass initiatives such as the NATO Commander’s Emergency Response Fund. This tool has proven itself elsewhere, but will, for NATO, require a more flexible approach to budgeting and funding.
Additionally, it is clear that we need a common set of training standards for every one going to Afghanistan – whether they are combat troops conducting counterinsurgency operations; civilians working in Provincial Reconstruction Teams; or members of operational mentoring and liaison training teams. Unless we are all on the same page – unless our efforts are tied together and unified by similar tactics, training, and goals – then the whole of our efforts will indeed be less than the sum of the parts.
I also worry that there is a developing theology about a clear-cut division of labor between civilian and military matters – one that sometimes plays out in debates over the respective roles of the European Union and NATO, and even among the NATO allies. In many respects, this conversation echoes one that has taken place – and still is – in the United States within the civilian and military agencies of the U.S. government as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.
For the United States, the lessons we have learned these past six years – and in many cases re-learned – have not been easy ones. We have stumbled along the way, and we are still learning. Now, in Iraq, we are applying a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes the security of the local population – those who will ultimately take control of their own security – and brings to bear in the same place and often at the same time civilian resources for economic and political development.
We have learned that war in the 21st century does not have stark divisions between civilian and military components. It is a continuous scale that slides from combat operations to economic development, governance and reconstruction – frequently all at the same time.
The Alliance must put aside any theology that attempts clearly to divide civilian and military operations. It is unrealistic. We must live in the real world. As we noted as far back as 1991, in the real world, security has economic, political, and social dimensions. And vice versa. In the future, the E.U. and NATO will have to find ways to work together better, to share certain roles – neither excluding NATO from civilian-military operations nor barring the E.U. from purely military missions. In short, I agree entirely with Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer and Minister Morin’s comments yesterday that there must be a “complimentarity” between the E.U. and NATO.
At the same time, in NATO, some allies ought not to have the luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, thus forcing other Allies to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and the dying.
Overall, the last few years have seen a dramatic evolution in NATO’s thinking and in its posture. With all the new capabilities we have forged in the heat of battle – and with new attitudes – we are seeing what it means to be expeditionary. What is required to spread stability beyond our borders. We must now commit ourselves to institutionalize what we have learned and to complete our transformation.
Just as we must be realistic about the nature and complexity of the struggle in Afghanistan, so too must we be realistic about politics in our various countries. NATO, after all, is an alliance whose constituent governments all answer to their citizens.
My colleagues in Vilnius and those in this room certainly understand the serious threat we face in Afghanistan. But I am concerned that many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European security. For the United States, September 11th was a galvanizing event – one that opened the American public’s eyes to dangers from distant lands. It was especially poignant since our government had been heavily involved in Afghanistan in the 1980s, only to make the grievous error – of which I was at least partly responsible – of abandoning a destitute and war-torn nation after the last Soviet soldier crossed the Termez bridge.
While nearly all the Alliance governments appreciate the importance of the Afghanistan mission, European public support for it is weak. Many Europeans question the relevance of our actions and doubt whether the mission is worth the lives of their sons and daughters. As a result, many want to remove their troops. The reality of fragile coalition governments makes it difficult to take risks. And communicating the seriousness of the threat posed by Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and globally remains a steep challenge.
As opinion leaders and government officials, we are the ones who must make the case publicly and persistently.
So now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied leaders and speak directly to the people of Europe: The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real – and it is not going away. You know all too well about the attacks in Madrid and London. But there have also been multiple smaller attacks in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, and Glasgow, among others. Numerous cells and plots have been disrupted in recent years as well – many of them seeking large-scale death and destruction, such as:
- A complex plot to down multiple airliners over the Atlantic that could have killed hundreds or even thousands;
- A plot to use ricin and release cyanide in the London Underground;
- A separate plan for a chemical attack in the Paris metro;
- Plots in Belgium, England, and Germany involving car bombs that could have killed hundreds;
- Homemade bombs targeting commuter and high-speed trains in Spain and Germany;
- Individuals arrested in Bosnia with explosives, a suicide belt, and an instructional propaganda video;
- Two plots in Denmark involving explosives, fertilizer, and a bomb-making video; and
- Just in the last few weeks, Spanish authorities arrested 14 Islamic extremists in Barcelona suspected of planning suicide attacks against public transport systems in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Britain.
Imagine, for a moment, if some or all of these attacks had come to pass. Imagine if Islamic terrorists had managed to strike your capitals on the same scale as they struck in New York. Imagine if they had laid their hands on weapons and materials with even greater destructive capability – weapons of the sort all too easily accessible in the world today. We forget at our peril that the ambition of Islamic extremists is limited only by opportunity.
We should also remember that terrorist cells in Europe are not purely homegrown or unconnected to events far away – or simply a matter of domestic law and order. Some are funded from abroad. Some hate all western democracies, not just the United States. Many who have been arrested have had direct connections to Al Qaeda. Some have met with top leaders or attended training camps abroad. Some are connected to Al Qaeda in Iraq. In the most recent case, the Barcelona cell appears to have ties to a terrorist training network run by Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistan-based extremist commander affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda – who we believe was responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
What unites them is that they are all followers of the same movement – a movement that is no longer tethered to any strict hierarchy but one that has become an independent force of its own. Capable of animating a corps of devoted followers without direct contact. And capable of inspiring violence without direct orders.
It is an ideological movement that has, over the years, been methodically built on the illusion of success. After all, about the only thing they have accomplished recently is the death of thousands of innocent Muslims while trying to create discord across the Middle East. So far they have failed. But they have twisted this reality into an aura of success in many parts of the world. It raises the question: What would happen if the false success they proclaim became real success? If they triumphed in Iraq or Afghanistan, or managed to topple the government of Pakistan? Or a major Middle Eastern government?
Aside from the chaos that would instantly be sown in the region, success there would beget success on many other fronts as the cancer metastasized further and more rapidly than it already has. Many more followers could join their ranks, both in the region and in susceptible populations across the globe. With safe havens in the Middle East, and new tactics honed on the battlefield and transmitted via the Internet, violence and terrorism worldwide could surge.
I am not indulging in scare tactics. Nor am I exaggerating either the threat or inflating the consequences of a victory for extremists. Nor am I saying that the extremists are ten feet tall. The task before us is to fracture and destroy this movement in its infancy – to permanently reduce its ability to strike globally and catastrophically, while deflating its ideology. Our best opportunity as an alliance to do this is in Afghanistan. Just as the hollowness of Communism was laid bare with the collapse of the Soviet Union, so too would success in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, strike a decisive blow against what some commentators have called Al Qaeda-ism.
This is a steep challenge. But the events of the last year have proven one thing above all else: If we are willing to stand together, we can prevail. It will not be quick, and it will not be easy – but it can be done.
In the years ahead, the credibility of NATO, and indeed the viability of the Euro-Atlantic security project itself, will depend on how we perform now. Other actors in the global arena – Hezbollah, Iran and others – are watching what we say and what we do, and making choices about their future course.
Everyone knows that in 2009 the United States will have a new administration. And this time, next year, you will be hearing from a new Secretary of Defense.
But regardless of which party is in power, regardless who stands at this podium, the threats we face now and in the future are real. They will not go away. Overcoming them will require unity between opposition parties and across various governments, and uncommon purpose within the Alliance and with other friends and partners.
I began my remarks with a bit of history about NATO in the 1990s. I would like to close with a few words about the dawn of the transatlantic Alliance.
From our present-day vantage point, victory in the Cold War now seems almost preordained. But as we prepare to celebrate NATO’s 60th anniversary next year, it is useful to recall that 60 years ago, in 1948, the year of the Berlin airlift, few people would have been all that optimistic about the future of Europe, or the prospect of a Western alliance. The Continent was devastated, its economy in shambles. The United States was debating the European recovery program – known as the Marshall Plan – and faced a resurgent isolationism. Europe was under siege – with pressure from communism being felt in Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Greece.
In January of that year, Ernest Bevin, the British foreign secretary, went before parliament to discuss the Soviet Union and other threats to the United Kingdom. Between all the “kindred souls of the West,” he said, “there should be an effective understanding bound together by common ideals for which the Western Powers have twice in one generation shed their blood.”
Less than two months later, President Harry Truman stood in the United States Congress and echoed that sentiment. He said: “The time has come when the free men and women of the world must face the threat to their liberty squarely and courageously . . . Unity of purpose, unity of effort, and unity of spirit are essential to accomplish the task before us.”
That unity held for decades through ups and downs. It held despite divisions and discord, stresses and strains, and through several crises where another major war in Europe loomed large. Alexis de Tocqueville once warned that democracies, when it came to foreign affairs, were ill-suited to pursue a [QUOTE] “great undertaking” and “follow it [through] with determination.” But the democracies of the West did just that – for more than 40 years. And they can do so once more today.
We must find the resolve to confront together a new set of challenges. So that, many years from now, our children and their children will look back on this period as a time when we recommitted ourselves to the common ideals that bind us together. A time when we again faced a threat to peace and to our liberty squarely and courageously. A time when we again shed blood and helped war devastated people nourish the seeds of freedom and foster peaceful, productive societies. That mission drew us together in 1948 and keeps us together today.
Many years from now, perhaps future generations will look back on this period and say, “victory seemed almost preordained.”
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