Lord Robertson Event
- Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, Ambassador to the United States from Germany
- Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
- Senator Chuck Hagel, Chairman, Atlantic Council
- Lord George Robertson, Former Secretary General of NATO
March 2, 2010
AMBASSADOR KLAUS SCHARIOTH: Lord Robertson – George, Sen. Hagel – Chuck, Mrs. Makins, Fred, colleagues, friends. Welcome first of all to the German residence here in Washington. It is my wife’s and my own great pleasure to have you here for the fourth annual Christopher Makins Lecture. I think this is one of the great events and I thank you all for coming.
Now, I believe there could be no better memory of Christopher Makins than honoring his memory with an annual lecture by outstanding statesmen or stateswomen as we have experienced. And I very much agree with what Zbig Brzezinski said three years ago at the inaugural lecture when he said, Christopher Makins was “a man of true dedication to a cause larger than himself.”
I think that’s true. I totally agree. I would just add, we need more of those. And that’s why I’m happy to have all of you here tonight, and that’s why I’m happy why you, Mrs. Makins, give us the honor to be present and also you, the young Ms. Makins, thank you very much for coming. (Applause.)
Thus, in view of what I just said about Christopher Makins, I believe it is fitting that today’s speaker is Lord Robertson; Lord Robertson, who served as the 10th secretary-general of NATO in difficult, and certainly not easy, tumultuous times.
Many of you might know that I also served, although in a much lower function, as director of the private office for many years at NATO headquarters. Actually, I did for the seventh, for the eighth and for the ninth secretary-general of NATO and I loved it; I thought it was a huge challenge and it was very much worthwhile.
My one regret was that I didn’t hang on long enough to also have a chance to serve you, George. My one mistake. Maybe it had to do with the fact that my previous boss, Javier Solana, he said, the true world language is English badly spoken. (Laughter.) And so you didn’t qualify because you see my previous bosses, they all came from three different countries, and they did qualify. And I also qualified. And therefore, I think you did not qualify and so I had a good reason to leave.
I’m particularly pleased to have you here because I believe that you made a huge contribution to what NATO did between ’99 and late 2003. I think you led the response to 9/11. You led the response to what was a heinous attack on our open society. And you led the way in invoking for the very first time Article V, something we had never thought that Article V which for the first time be invoked in favor of the United States. But I think we all agreed and we were grateful that you were at the helm.
And we were also grateful that you were at the helm when there was this German/Dutch/Canadian proposal to have ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan to make it from a purely bilateral affair to have NATO being in charge. We always said, why use the Fiat if you have the Mercedes in the garage? And the Mercedes was NATO. My Italian colleagues speak of different car makes – (laughter) – but basically I think it’s right.
And I also very much appreciate that you were at the helm when we did the second huge step of enlarging NATO. You were at the helm when we enlarged NATO from 19 to 26, which I think transformed Europe, just as the enlargement of the EU transformed Europe. And I think those two enlargements probably qualify among the most major developments in the last 50, 60 years in really peacefully changing the landscape in Europe.
And I’m also grateful that you further evolved something which was also dear to my heart and that was what used to be the permanent joint council and then what under your leadership became known much more appropriately as the NATO-Russia Council because I firmly believe that we needed that to balance the enlargement of NATO. And I think that the strategic relationship which was then formed in this NATO-Russia Council was very important, continues to be important, and I think we probably have to think how to give more substance to it. But I think it is very important, so I appreciate that very much.
I appreciate you being the main speaker tonight. I feel very honored. I appreciate also that Sen. Hagel is here. Chuck, you will remember that not only you have always been during your times as senator one of those who pleaded for a very strong trans-Atlantic alliance.
But you were also there when it was difficult, and I remember many meetings which we had in difficult times in your office and you were always ready to receive us; you were always ready to have a free exchange of thoughts. And I must say, I always had the feeling we had a true friend here in Washington, and that’s why I’m so pleased that you are here also tonight. Thank you, Chuck, for being here. And now, having said that, I turn over to Fred. Thank you very much for coming. (Applause.)
FREDERICK KEMPE: Our international advisory board chairman, Gen. Scowcroft, isn’t here tonight but if he were, he would be chiding me for once again playing my true role as president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, which is introducing the introducer. (Laughter.) But I must say, Ambassador Scharioth, I’m much more of a Lamborghini man, myself. (Laughter.)
First of all, thank you, Ambassador Scharioth, for your welcome and hosting us in your beautiful residence. I couldn’t think of a more fitting host. First of all, you’ve been a generous and consistent friend of the Atlantic Council with your time, with your advice, and of course there’ve been more than a couple of events you’ve hosted here. And I remember a board meeting here where National Security Advisor Steve Hadley spoke, who is now on our board, and you’ve just been there throughout a remarkable ride at the Atlantic Council.
Second, you’ve been such a key figure yourself, humble as you are, in your many years of shaping a better U.S.-European relationship. In many ways, you embody our mission of renewing the Atlantic Council for global challenges. You’ve done this through your diplomatic service as head of defense and security policy, head of international security and North America directorate, head of foreign ministers cabinet, political directorate, states secretary, ambassador. but what you didn’t say when you said you served as chef de cabinet for three NATO secretary-generals is that no one has ever done that before or since. And so that will go down in history as well. And nothing could be more appropriate than to host a former NATO secretary-general in your home this evening, who my chairman, Sen. Chuck Hagel, will introduce in just a moment.
It’s become a tradition that our good friends in the ambassadorial corps pay tribute to their fellow diplomat, a visionary Atlanticist, a man of ideas, Christopher Makins. Previous lectures in honor of Christopher were hosted by the British ambassadors, Sir David Manning and Sir Nigel Sheinwald, which is only appropriate since this is the service in which he served; and by the Swedish ambassador who is here tonight, Jonas Hafström. Jonas, are you – (off-side conversation). Great, thank you so much, Jonas. And thank you all for your hospitality.
We’re meeting for the fourth time to honor our friend and the former president of the Atlantic Council Christopher Makins. You quoted Zbig Brzezinski but it’s interested that we both picked this quote. And I’ll give it to you verbatim. What Zbig said was, “he was a man of enormous clarity of thought, a man of great precision of expression and a man of true dedication to a cause larger than himself.”
We are delighted to have members of Christopher’s family with us – Wendy, Marian thank you so much for being here. And Wendy, thank you for your service on the board of directors.
Let me also welcome the representatives of the diplomatic community and the council’s board of directors and members, and especially so many members of the administration.
I also offer a special welcome to several European leaders who are in town to debate NATO and nuclear policy; they were with us today. Former Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik, thank you; and Ministers Des Browne, Jan Kavan, Giorgio La Malfa, Ana Palacio, thank you for your ongoing support of our mission.
I must say, Des Browne told us that his event at the Atlantic Council at noon today was in preparation for our ears for the Scottish language. (Laughter.) I’m only, as a recovering journalist, quoting the former defense minister.
I want to offer a special thanks to Francis Finlay and Ambassador Boyden Grey and to all those who have generously supported this lecture from its launch.
To honor Christopher, we created this series with the mission to focus on the state of the Atlantic partnership, its future direction and prospects for strong and lasting global leadership. Each year, we bring together top strategic thinkers to address the most pressing challenges that the trans-Atlantic community faces in the 21st century.
You will get on your way out with the publication we’ve done from last year when Dr. Henry Kissinger was the featured speaker; before that, Brzezinski, and Latvian President Vike-Freiberga. We trade off Europe and U.S. every other year.
To lure Lord Robertson here, however, was a little bit harder. You would think – Kissinger, Vike-Freiberga, Brzezinski – it would be easy. It was not easy. I had to hire his former right-hand man, Damon Wilson – (laughter) – and I had to enlist one of his closest friends on Capitol Hill, Sen. Hagel. And finally, after all of that, he consented to come.
Although Sen. Hagel will introduce Lord Robertson properly, I will only remind him in a sentence of an interview I conducted with him when I was at The Wall Street Journal and he was about a year into his job. He was giving key staff members a copy of the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” which had just come out and was a hit. He called it a modern-day parable about preparing for change. His quote was, “The message of the book was to stay one step ahead to anticipate change.” The headline was, “A Big Cheese: Robertson Manages Unwieldy NATO.” (Laughter.)
With that, I will hand it to the big cheese of the Atlantic Council. He is also co-chair of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors group, co-chair of the president’s intelligence advisory board, a member of the secretary of defense’s policy board and a member of the Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.
Sen. Hagel, this month marks your one-year anniversary in leadership at the Atlantic Council. I’d like to take this chance on behalf of the board, on behalf of members of the Atlantic Council, to thank you for your remarkable leadership and everything you do for us every day. Welcome to the stage. (Applause.)
CHUCK HAGEL: Fred, thank you. I am grateful for your generous comments. They were not overstated. (Laughter.) maybe an acceptable exaggeration, but nonetheless, thank you, and of course, Madame, it’s great to see you and your daughter, and we of course appreciate what your family has meant to the Atlantic alliance over so many years.
Ambassador and Mrs. Scharioth, thank you as always for your generosity, and Klaus, your continued leadership, although I think there may be some question about Lord Robertson’s proficiency in English – (laughter) – but nonetheless, we will test that tonight.
And to all of you who are here tonight who have – and continued – to make important contributions to the Atlantic alliance and to make a better world, we thank you; and especially, Fred, to you and your team, who’ve really done a remarkable job for the Atlantic Council.
I recall it was fairly early in Secretary-General Robertson’s term that he was giving a very significant, in his words, “major” speech. And he wanted to share some of his thoughts with me before he gave that speech. And he sent me a very enlightening article that had some history of NATO and essentially was in bound form the minutes of the last formative meeting of NATO in preparation for the announcement of this historic institution.
And he pointed out that some wise leader in that meeting had said after there was much question, consternation and officialdom, as these meetings have a tendency to produce, let me remind you – this individual said – that what we are creating here is unquestionably important for the future of the Atlantic relationship, but it also must be understood. In fact, it should be so clearly understood that even a milkman from Omaha, Nebraska, could understand it.
Now, I thought that was a hell of a high compliment – (laughter) – that an Omaha dairyman, a milkman, would have such an auspicious opportunity to shape NATO. And I know, as he offered it, I took it in the amount of great pride as I do in introducing Sir George Islay MacNeill Robertson. You all know of his accomplishments over many years in the parliament as he served the U.K. as its minister of defense when we first became acquainted, the kind of leadership at, as Klaus noted, a very formative, defining, difficult and critically important time in NATO’s history.
The one thing among many, many virtues that probably has served Lord Robertson as well as any one thing is his ability to bring a consensus, find before the glue that binds that consensus, but the right lubricant that works all the gears in the machinery to listen carefully, to assimilate that and actually bring forward something wise and accommodating and important. Of all of his great instincts and abilities, that in particular has always stood out in my mind.
This is an individual who I suspect has never veered very far from where he came and who he thinks he is, what his beliefs are. He is anchored to important dynamics of humanity. And after all, that is the most defining dynamic of an institution or organization, a culture, a civilization, humanity.
And as important as NATO is in collective security and all of the reach that it’s had in the importance for anchoring a stability that I don’t know of any other time in the history of man has done so much, it has always been grounded with a certain humanity and dignity and respect for others. And Lord George Robertson has always represented that in his life, in his leadership, and why we’re so flattered and honored to have George Robertson here tonight. Sir, it’s an honor to introduce you and have you back with us. Lord George Robertson. (Applause.)
LORD GEORGE ROBERTSON: Well, thank you very much for all these introductions. I’m tempted to say, never has so little been introduced by so much. (Laughter.) But it’s a great honor to be asked to do this lecture; a great pleasure, as well, to deliver it. Not in any way a pleasure thinking about it and writing it.
We were deciding earlier on, those of us who are now among that class of people who say, do you know who I used to be – (laughter) – is that the real terror is a blank sheet of paper in front of you and no Damon Wilson or Klaus Scharioth there to give you the draft that you can tear apart. (Laughter.)
But it is good. And it’s also good to be here to pay a tribute through these thoughts to Christopher Makins. We were almost coterminous, my native service with his service with the Atlantic Council. And I came across the first time when I went to the Atlantic Council of the United States, I thought, what the hell is this English guy doing running this organization? (Laughter.) You know, most of these positions in foreign countries are held by Scots. (Laughter.)
But somehow this tall, dignified, patrician Englishman had managed to sort of slide in the backdoor and become the president of the Atlantic Council. But he was a lovely man, a decent and a good man who kept alive the spirit of the alliance and did so much. And when I came and got the award, the international award of achievement, from the Atlantic Council, I was delighted to have it; I wore my kilt that night in the hall. As I said – not in – it was a black tie – not in order to pretend to be Sean Connery or William Wallace but to distinguish me from the waiting staff – (laughter) – especially since the security people had taken me in through the kitchen. (Laughter.)
So on my wall at home I’ve got my awards. So the name of Christopher Makins is actually there all of the time when I am at home as well.
I really have to say a word or two about this slur on the most perfect pronunciation of the English language that we Scots prefer. (Laughter.) I’ve said this before, but I say it again – there is a difference between the New York mafia and the Glasgow mafia. The New York mafia, as you know, make an offer you cannot refuse. The Glasgow mafia make you an offer you can’t understand. (Laughter.) And if I was successful in NATO it is probably because they didn’t know what I was saying but assumed that it was the right thing. (Laughter.) So simultaneous translation will be provided and you will be able to check against delivery later on.
It’s lovely to be here. Klaus Scharioth is somebody who knew NATO from the inside. Directors of the private office run NATO. That’s a fact of life and he did it superbly well. But he has also been a man that I’ve admired and respected in the other jobs that he has held – not all of them easy. He didn’t mention the crisis over Turkey in the early part of 2003. But I won’t mention it either – but sometimes difficult times where public servants have got to follow the wish of the masters. But I thank you for your generous comments.
And Chuck Hagel, well, I always, when I came to Washington, went to the Hill. As a parliamentarian I thought it was important to do it. Not everybody in the White House even thought it was a priority – (laughter) – in both administrations that I was involved in, I have to say – quickly. (Laughter.) But it was always a source of great common sense from the senator from Nebraska and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I have a great memory of going to the United States Congress one time with – Strom Thurmond was the chairman of the foreign – the Armed Services Committee. So we went to his office to greet the senator and he was to come along with us to the meeting room. So somebody needed to help the old senator. So I helped him along.
So as we were walking along – he’s sort of ambling along, muttering away – and he said, why are we going to this meeting? (Laughter.) And I said, well, you’re actually going to hear the secretary-general of NATO. He says, am I? Who the hell is he? (Laughter.) I said, well, for the moment, I am. (Laughter.) He said, oh, well, congratulations, he said. (Laughter.) So, anyways, enough of this frivolity.
I have to say there are some who might have thought – who are up to date on some of the controversy swirling around who might have thought I would use this platform, this residence especially to talk about NATO’s nuclear policy. But I’m not going to do that. I’ll leave that to questions afterwards because I’m sure somebody might want to put a point on that.
And for a time, when I was thinking about this speech, I thought I just could tonight deliver my usual speech about NATO and NATO’s future. I knew it almost without a script and I dare say that you do, too. (Laughter.) That actually wasn’t a laugh line, you know? (Laughter.) You take them when you get them, I suppose. (Laughter.)
Long bonds of common values, 60 years of tried and tested methods of working, a resilient alliance which has seen off its main adversity but adapted to the new security threats that we face. Twenty-seven nations pledged to common security and bound together by the “attack one, you attack all of us” pledge; a range of activities from capturing war criminals in the Balkans, opening a virtual Silk Road in Central Asia, reforming armed forces, leading the efforts on piracy, providing emergency help in Pakistan and logistic help in Darfur and to consolidating progress in the Partnership for Peace.
And on top of that were the successes in Bosnia and Kosovo and Macedonia and now confronting the asymmetric enemy of the Taliban in Afghanistan – an impressive catalogue by any standard.
But you have heard it all before; you know it all. You heard it relentlessly from me when I was secretary-general; you heard it from Jaap de Hoop Schaefer after me and you heard it again last week loud and clear from my distinguished successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
But the question is this: Who is listening? Too few is the answer. So I believe now is the time to take the gloves off in connecting with our publics and with their political leaders. We are on the edge of a precipice looking down on a world of growing disorder and discontent and only blunt talk and some straight language will save us from falling over it.
Now, is this too apocalyptic? Am I exaggerating? Scaremongering? Well, I’m sad to say that I don’t think that that is in any way any exaggeration. The decision two weeks ago by the Dutch to withdraw their troops by this year end from NATO’s mission in Afghanistan has thrown into very sharp relief the nature of the alliance’s crisis. The Dutch and the Canadians who also say they will leave this year have both made valiant contributions to what has to be done in Afghanistan and there have been awful sacrifices with it. So I cast no aspersions on these two nations alone.
But if these two robust allies and those who may well be thinking of doing the same, and additionally those who contribute less than they should, if they can all shy away from their obligations that stemmed from the decision taken unanimously in 2003, then what is it other than a crisis?
We all knew why we went in. We knew our own safety was at stake if the Taliban continued providing a safe haven for the bloodthirsty criminal killers of al-Qaida. That’s why the decision was taken in the first place to go to Kabul and take over ISAF, and then to extend the mission outside of Kabul to the provincial reconstruction teams in the regions. And surely, surely we all realize what will happen if we prematurely leave Afghanistan without a sustainable Afghan state in place.
Be assured, if the Taliban and their allies can defeat the most successful defense alliance in history, why would they stop at Afghanistan? And they won’t. And we all know all that. So why can’t we join the dots between going in and coming out?
The Netherlands is just one fallen government, one divided parliament, one polarized people and one bemused army. But they are all too not alone. Public opinion in Germany, in France, in Italy and Spain and even in the United Kingdom is all swinging to troop withdrawal and the raising of hands.
And why is that? Why is there such a wobbling of commitment among these European countries, many of whose own survival and freedom today depended on allied solidarity only a couple of generations ago? Well, I will tell you why I think it is. It is because governments do not explain with sufficient force and passionate conviction why being in Afghanistan and winning there matters to the peace and security and the safety of our people a continent-and-a-half away. It’s a stark fact that we could lose to the Taliban in Afghanistan and let loose the hosts and apologists of al-Qaida with all that means simply because governments in the NATO countries will not spell out what the high stakes are for all of us – we who are going to be the next target set for the extremists.
It is not enough for the secretary-general of NATO, still less for an ex-secretary-general, to tell the people of allied countries how ruinous and disastrous it would be if we were to leave Afghanistan with the job unfinished. Political leaders right across the alliance need to do it and they need to do it urgently.
I want to ask you for a moment to recall – from your knowledge of history rather than from being around at the time – the spring of 1940 in Europe. The Nazis had swept through the Low Countries and right into France. The British expeditionary force had been defeated and had retreated from Dunkirk with most of Britain’s fighting equipment left on the other side of the channel. The U.S. government was still refusing to intervene. There were no other allies of consequence and the British cabinet was split with a significant appeasement faction led by the foreign secretary wanting to sue for peace.
At that moment, chronicled in John Lukacs brilliant book “Five Days in London, 1940,” Hitler was winning and Britain was defeated. On paper we were defeated. The fact that we are free people today is mainly due to the fact that Winston Churchill inspired the British people to not accepting or even contemplating defeat. And he made it clear that Britain would fight on and that the Nazis would be defeated. It was a triumphantly psychological approach which simultaneously rallied the people of Britain and rattled Adolf Hitler. And it transcended the facts on the ground which looked so bleak.
I think that we should take note today from that example. The closer – much closer to this generation was NATO’s campaign in Kosovo 11 years ago. Without a U.N. Security Council resolution and confining ourselves to aerial bombardment of military targets, we were up against a well-armed opponent using methods frighteningly different to our own and capable – more than capable – of sitting us out.
But we won. In sum, there are plenty of people in this room who were around at the time knowing about it. But we didn’t win because of superior military might. We won because we never contemplated defeat and because we persuaded Milosevic and his generals that we would simply never give up. We ran a military campaign and in parallel we ran an information campaign. Both were professional and focused but it was, to my mind looking back now, that it was the information campaign in many ways that won the conflict.
Every day, every single day in the British Ministry of Defence we ran a world-transmitted press conference. We dominated the world and the British press. Our daily press conference was followed by one in NATO headquarters in Brussels in the afternoon and followed in the evening by one from the Pentagon.
So publics right across the world got the message that we meant business and that we were absolutely committed to achieving our objectives summed up succinctly as the phrase: NATO in, Serbs out, refugees home. The Kosovars were watching and were reassured by our resolution and in Belgrade the generals and the Serbs began to understand that once NATO had taken on a mission, it was simply not going to fail.
And as they got that message their resolution crumbled and even though their immediate military advantage did remain, they gave up. So NATO went in; the Serbs cleared out; the refugees went home and Milosevic faced trial where he died in the Hague court.
So why, I ask you, knowing the force and effectiveness of such psychological warfare do alliance governments today stay on the back foot? The Taliban watch and monitor and superbly use the old and the newest media. They calibrate their intensive IED attacks with the fragility of our public opinion. They mobilize money on the ground to outspend us and it is they, not us with our demands for exit dates, who say they will continue until they win and kick us out.
The fact is that in Afghanistan we can make it work or we can let it fail. It’s our choice. But if we want it to work we must bring the same professionalism to the reconstruction, development and information task as we do to the military effort. And we need to show the people of Afghanistan that when this great alliance takes on a task it does not ever contemplate losing. And if that message was to get into the minds of the Afghan in the street and the mosque and into the twisted minds of the extremists then and only then will we prevail.
We should always remember the words of Leon Trotsky. I don’t often say that. (Laughter.) And I said it a couple of months ago in Moscow and it created a frisson in the room, I have to tell you. (Laughter.) But he said at least one wise thing and it’s like he said about another time, “We may not be interested in this war, but this war is interested in us” – wise and sage and we should reflect on it.
So that is one of my lateral thoughts for the alliance. So long as we speak learnedly to each other inside the bubble and our opponents talk to the world and the impressionable, they will get the message over and we will stumble. The public relations team at NATO headquarters is quite brilliant; it is well-equipped and its product effective and persuasive. And anybody who has looked at the NATO Web site can see that.
But imagine how much more successful it would be if allied governments multiplied that effort, spent more, spoke more, persuaded more and actually acted as if we were in a war that we had to win? So long as alliance governments remain feeble, reactive, preoccupied and paralyzed in their commitment then so long will we be in trouble.
My next lateral thought is this: Exhortations to burden-sharing in NATO are as old as NATO itself. But they still remain a struggle. Cost sharing, whether on operations or on programs, remains a time-consuming and spirit-sapping routine. I think it’s time that we found a new mechanism. In the end the key allies bear the burden not just of costs but also of responsibilities. And it’s time for the devolution of some of these responsibilities.
The North Atlantic Council should say that individual nations should take the lead in some of the alliance’s key efforts. One nation, for example could carry the initiative in relation to the Mediterranean countries; another for relations with the membership applicant countries. We should revisit the idea I encouraged – and it’s still alive in some areas – about lead nations driving the sharing of missing capabilities like heavy lift aircraft and helicopters.
I am in favor of challenging the nations to take a lead and accept the responsibility for failure or success in the areas NATO has collectively deemed a priority. The concept worked when we set up the mobile chemical, biological and radiological battalion and the Czechs, whose history in the Warsaw Pact included both offensive and defensive chemical biological warfare, accepted successfully the lead responsibility for this first historic, first iteration.
My next lateral thought is it’s time for a much less gentlemanly approach to capabilities. When we are talking about life and death on the real NATO battlefield it’s time for peacetime politeness to end; it’s a dangerous luxury. At the moment the country chapters on NATO force planning are published but they are not actually debated. So I think the time has come to be honest and brutal in saying what is needed for NATO missions and what is a pure waste of taxpayers’ money.
You have heard this from me before – I dare say you’ll hear it again and again – why on Earth in the NATO European countries do we have 10,000 main battle tanks when their role in any conceivable future conflict is negligible if not nonexistent? These tanks with all the costs and manpower that they generate are frankly an inexcusable drain on the scarce resources which are needed for more deployable troops, more helicopters and combat support and of course allied ground surveillance, which has been around for so long.
And this scandal – because that is what it is, a scandal – applies to our European surplus of unusable fast jets and undeployable conscripts. So let’s have a grown-up argument round the NATO table on what is vital and what is dispensable in capabilities and stop the pretense that what was good enough for a long-gone Cold War is good enough for fighting the Taliban.
The final lateral thought that I want to offer you tonight is that of youth. What does this great alliance mean to the younger generation and how do we connect with them and their counterparts in the fragile and failed states who will incubate and spread the disorder that we should now fear? In the Middle East 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and 25 percent of them are unemployed. How are we going to reach them?
We made, to my mind, a great mistake – and I accept some of the responsibility for it – in allowing the religious fanatics to use Iraq as a platform to electrify the young Muslim generation against NATO and the West. We utterly failed to get over the fact that when the Muslim population in Bosnia were under assault from Milosevic’s ethnic cleansers it was NATO, the instrument of the so-called “West,” which saved them.
I think we failed again when – to take enough credit among those impressionable young Muslims and indeed others when it was only NATO’s intervention which saved the lives and homes of predominantly Muslim Kosovo Albanians. And we made much too little of NATO and the EU stopping a civil war in Macedonia in 2001 where Albanian Muslims felt constitutionally disadvantaged.
The idea that the West is anti-Islam in the light of that record is just fraudulent. But it is peddled relentlessly without the high-profile rebuttal and contempt that it deserves. So we need to get up to date in getting over our message. The race for space in a media-crowded world is won only by the nimble. In Tehran we have actually seen right round the world a courageous younger generation. And the pictures can’t be cut off from the world as Albania’s population was under Communism. The mobile phone, the Internet and digital cameras have irretrievably broken down old borders and barriers.
The wave of sorrow about the death of Michael Jackson may have mystified those of us over 50 but a worldwide tsunami of feeling must have seriously frightened those hard-line mullahs whose attitude to the youngest, like Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat faith.” (Laughter.)
You know, I recall visiting the mixed village of Tearce in Macedonia after the conflict of 2001 was over. Children – and criminals as well – rarely get up in ethnic rivalries, but my overwhelming memory of that visit was seeing the number of Manchester United and Juventas jerseys that the kids were actually wearing and strange how Western so-called “culture” crosses the boundaries of adult hate.
So we need to challenge the corruption of expectations sold by the fanatics. Young people have got universally common expectations of a job, of a family, transport, of music and sport, of enjoyment. Cater for them and the attractions of the explosive belt will fade and die.
The Grand Prix in Bahrain two years ago was the biggest sporting event ever held in the Middle East and a new generation of motorsports fans was born in that region. So successful was it that last year, Abu Dhabi followed the trail laid by Bahrain. So the question is, are we capable of being as nimble, or indeed, more nimble than those who seek to confront us?
Do we know what to offer in terms of argument and substance to persuade the potential adversaries, as well as our own youngsters, that our alliance, which has done so much for former generations, can produce a vision of a better, safer, more prosperous world for those whose history started with the invasion of Iraq.
People like Christopher Makins kept the flame alive for a mighty alliance, which changed the world. The task which now faces us and those who care what the alliance can now do for the world is how we can be inventive and think laterally and think deeply to make sure the next generation also feels that the alliance flame is worth carrying. Thank you very much for your attention. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: Lord Robertson, we all hope, someday, to use a blank sheet of paper so effectively. (Laughter.) That was a very significant speech, and inspiring. And I think if anyone in the audience will look at this against Secretary Clinton’s speech at Atlantic Council event around the strategic concept seminar with NDU and ACT, you’ll see that you sort of carried it a step further. But she also picked up these sorts of arguments. And so let’s hope that there’s a shift in momentum here in the argument; perhaps we can play a small role in moving this forward.
Many things that you said were so important. What is it, other than a crisis? We have to act. We admit that. Why should they stop in Afghanistan? They won’t. Here’s what I hear in Europe a lot – and I’ve heard this from a senior European Union official, so I’ll ask the first question, but I’ll also move on to the audience quickly: “You got us into this. We did this because we were helping you. Some went into it because they didn’t want to go to Iraq. And European leaders have never really explained to their publics why they’re in Afghanistan.
Be now a prime minister, president, somewhere in Europe, and tell me why I’m there. And tell me why my soldiers should be dying on that ground and why it’s of existential importance to me, sitting back in Europe. And then also explain to me, if you can explain that, why European leaders have not done that. I’m not sure American leaders have done it that effectively, but why hasn’t it been done?
LORD ROBERTSON: Well, I tried to address that in a calibrated way in the speech. I think people are preoccupied with the various crises that are going on domestically, as well. It’s a difficult argument to make. You know, we wouldn’t have been able to do it in Kosovo, in the Kosovo campaign, had we not been doing it every day. You know, if you’d done it every fortnight or you’d done it every month or you’d sort of done it when something happened, it would have faded, because the appetite for news, as you know here only too well, is very, very time-limited. Today’s story is yesterday’s rubbish – you know, new news stuff.
And you know, we had to stretch our imaginations at that time very considerably in order to get some new stories. You know, every visiting politician was rammed in front of a camera to say something about Kosovo, you know, just to keep it alive. But you know, I still meet people today in Kosovo – Kosovar Albanians – who seem to be everywhere. I’m very worried when you meet Kosovar Albanians in hotels and they say how wonderful you are and we watched you on television all the time, because are all the Kosovo Serbs in the kitchen? (Laughter.)
But they watched it; they listened, wherever they were in the world. It kept morale up. And I think part of the problem we have in Afghanistan – you know, Des Brown is here, one of my successors, and knows Afghanistan more intimately than me – but we have got to connect with the population that doesn’t think we’re going to give up next week. Because in that case, you might as well throw your hand in with the guys who are going to be there next week, next month, next year.
But in Kosovo, despite the odds being against us, we never let that go down. But it wasn’t an easy argument; it required a lot of time and a lot of effort. And I think a lot of political leaders today think that there’s other things that they’ve got to focus on. But if you don’t look to the long term, you know – I summed it up when I was asked, at the time, why are we going to Afghanistan? And I summed it up. And I’ve heard Des using it and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer using it, as well. If we don’t go to Afghanistan, Afghanistan will come to us.
It came on the 11th of September, 2001, to New York City and to this city as well. That was Afghanistan coming to us. We’ve stopped them coming to us by fighting on the Tora Bora mountains. You lose there; they will be back over here again.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Lord Robertson. I’m going to ask one more question, and I will raise the nuclear issue. Particularly appropriate in the German Embassy. Let me read from your report for Center for European Reform with our board member, Frank Miller, and Kori Schake.
“The agreement that brought Germany’s ruling parties into coalition in November 2009 committed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to, quote, ‘the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany.’ Senior Americans close to Barack Obama are said to be similarly advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons stationed in NATO countries. We believe these steps would be damaging, both to Germany and the alliance as a whole.”
Why do you feel so strongly about that? What use, militarily, are these weapons in our changed world?
LORD ROBERTSON: There is a balance, at the moment, which prevents the use of these weapons. These weapons – nuclear weapons are political weapons; they’re not military weapons. And they must never become military weapons. That’s the important thing about it. There are 5,000 – over 5,000 short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian armory, and there are 200 U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, only a fraction of which are actually operational. That’s a ludicrous imbalance, and the Russian figure is far, far too high. And I actually think the Russians think that as well, and would like to reduce that.
What worried me and Frank and Cory was the seeming unilateralism of the statement in the German coalition agreement, which sort of said that the elimination of the American nuclear weapons from Germany. Now, the ambassador, Klaus, has said that, that wasn’t the intention; it was a much broader objective than that. But there is a movement that says, these things are pretty well obsolete, unusable. Why don’t we just get rid of them? And that will contribute to the NPT review conference that’s taking place in May of this year. That will be a great gesture that will sort of lead to other people doing things.
Well, I don’t think so. It was part of a very careful, balanced situation that was created that sort of stopped any talk of Germany wanting nuclear weapons, of Turkey wanting its own nuclear weapons. It was to tie America’s homeland to Europe, as a whole. And it’s part of that balance between these short-range forces that are uncovered by any existing treaty. Start unpicking that without a negotiation, you can create a much more dangerous situation than before.
First of all, the Central European countries who came in on a commitment that there would be no forward stationing – or permanent forward stationing of troops in the new countries, or of nuclear weapons, are going to start saying, well, wait a minute. Some of this guarantee we had before is gone. We want more contingency planning, you know, for an Article V attack on our countries, with the implication it would come from Russia. You start planning that, the Russians get spooked. They put more of their short-range weapons in, so you end up with, actually, more rather than less in there, as well.
But the main thrust of what we said in this paper, which seems to have been sort of downgraded in the coverage of it, is that this is the classical opportunity to get rid of more of these weapons – more of these unusable weapons – by negotiating with the Russians to get down their level of 5,000 by utilizing the small number that we have as part of the nuclear umbrella. So there’s an opportunity there to do it.
The Russians won’t say that in public. Of course not. I was there the week before last. And they said, we’re not going to negotiate until all the American nuclear weapons are out of there. But you know, sometimes it’s tricky and difficult to get into a negotiation, but we should be trying to do that. You know, Russia may say look, we’ve got 17 neighbors; not all of them are European. That’s why we need these weapons. But they don’t, and they shouldn’t.
And we need to be as serious about reducing these weapons, which in many ways are much more usable than the intermediate and strategic weapons, and focus a bit more attention on that. So we were raising what sounded like a unilateral call from Germany, which has now been developed by the Germans and the Dutch, the Norwegians and the Luxembourgers, into something that is much more of a negotiation. And I hope that’s where it ends up.
MR. KEMPE: This is – let me turn to Ambassador Scharioth on this. Clearly, in the strategic concept, this is going to be one of the most interesting things to deal with, given the difference in the French and the German positions in the moment. Ambassador?
AMB. SCHARIOTH: I think, George, we are not as far apart as –
MR. KEMPE: Oh, just a minute. Let me get the – sorry.
AMB. SCHARIOTH: I think we are not as far apart as it might sound from the papers, because our position, of course, is, first of all, that we won’t do anything as long as the START negotiations are not finished. And second – and if you read the coalition agreement further down and if you read, for instance our disarmament report of the German government, you will find that the German position is that we should talk inside the alliance about what to do and especially about how to convince, also, the Russians to get rid of those. And we are very much aware of the concerns of other members of the alliance.
But we just believe in a thing many Central Europeans would share that thought, that we can’t leave these 5,000 or so Russian missiles undiscussed. And we need to put the issue of tactical nuclear weapons on the table. And there can’t be, I believe, any German politician who does not raise this issue. And so it needs to be discussed. The problem is that there are 20 times as many on one side than on the others, so in the end, you will have to put more into the package than just those who are currently in Russia and those who are currently in Europe.
But the key question is, these tactical nuclear weapons, of course, would have a huge escalating factor if they would ever be used. And we really believe that they are, militarily, totally useless. So I think what we say is, this issue needs to be addressed. We are patient. We want to discuss it inside the alliance and then, of course, with the Russians. But a last point: We have always, bilaterally, raised the issue with Russia. The problem is, if just Germany raises it, I’m not sure we will succeed.
MR. KEMPE: Do you see your position as different?
LORD ROBERTSON: No, I – I think the coalition agreement and the starkness of the language, I think, you know, created the wrong impression, you know, in the camp that thinks about nuclear weapons. You know, you have to worry about unintended consequences of something that seems benign, but has unintended consequences. And that’s very important, as well.
The second thing is that there needs to be a NATO-Russia dialogue. We need to find serious, substantive issues to put before the NATO-Russia council that actually get people talking about the same things. There are paranoias around on both sides. You know, you go to Russia – and I – you know, two weeks ago, they published their military doctrine – their new military doctrine. Threat number one is NATO expansion. They classify it as a danger, but which will be a threat if military bases are put into the new countries. That is the number one threat to Russia. At the bottom of the pile of threats to Russia is terrorism.
You know, this is Alice through the looking glass. And yet, on the other side, we’ve got other people saying, you can’t trust Russia. Look all right today – this Medvedev guy seems to be saying the right things. But what’s going to happen down the road? So both sides are fighting shadows. So unless you actually bring people together to talk about substantive, self-interest issues – and there are plenty of them – then that sort of shadow-boxing will go on.
There are common threats that we all face, and it’s about time that the Russians and ourselves got down to dealing with them – with Iran, with proliferation of nuclear weapons, with climate change, with failed and fragile states. All of these things affect Russia as much as they do the West. So instead of sort of going around pretending that there are going to be huge threats there, let’s talk about things that are urgent.
I’d say one final thing I would say is, the Europeans tend, always, to forget – I know you don’t hear in Washington – that America is not run by the president. The Congress of the Untied States of America – they’re not a legacy we left you behind after the Revolution – you know, is a weigh-anchor behind.
You know, start unpicking careful treaties and careful arrangements that have been made, you’ll find out that the Congress will retaliate, and making it more difficult for President Obama to get the START Treaty ratified, perhaps to get the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty re-ratified and these other things, is something we should bear in mind. And not enough Europeans recognize how important the Senate and the House actually is in all these choices.
MR. KEMPE: Ambassador Hunter? Sorry, Ambassador Hunter.
AMBASSADOR ROBERT HUNTER: Thank you, Lord Robertson. I think we’ve discovered, once again, that one of NATO’s most important deployable capabilities is you. (Laughter.) Our need is not as great as the other allies. I wish you could –
LORD ROBERTSON: Sometimes, I explode on landing, and – (laughter).
AMB. HUNTER: I wish we could get you all over the alliance to do what you did here tonight. We all know, in Afghanistan, as you pointed out, that it’s not just a military answer. It’s also governance, reconstruction, development, which means that unless NATO goes into that business as well, it’s also got to be other institutions, of which, if I may say so, an institution that is still somewhat absent is the European Union.
And I was wondering what we Americans or what you, over there, can do to get the EU to step up, including where countries are prepared to put in enough troops, whether they will put the other efforts in? And on top of that, something I know you wrestled with, and it’s still being wrestled with by the new secretary general – how do we finally break down this barrier between NATO and the EU so they can work together, because, quite frankly, it’s not going to just be NATO’s end of the boat that leaks in Afghanistan?
LORD ROBERTSON: Well, I agree with, you know, what you say is that we have to focus, as well, on the other aspects in Afghanistan. That is self-evident. And it is also self-evident that it is not happening in the substantive way that we’d seen in the beginning. When we came out of Kabul, we talked about provincial reconstruction teams. The military were to be there to provide the security guarantee that would allow the reconstruction to take place. And sadly, not enough of that has gone on in order to make sure that the military can, sort of, downgrade what they’re doing. And that pressure needs to be kept up.
The bigger issue of NATO and the EU is, frankly, beyond belief. That there is no transition between NATO and the EU in Kosovo because NATO and the EU are not allowed to speak because of a dispute concerning Cyprus. You know, these things don’t surface in public. You know, I had it when I was there, and it was the same countries, as well. I was allowed to meet Javier Solana for breakfast – specified breakfast – (laughter) – and I was allowed to tell the North Atlantic council what we ate for breakfast. But I wasn’t allowed to report what the discussion were about because Turkey objected to, at that time, the European security and defense policy.
And you know, this farce – because that’s what it is – is going on. And it costs lives. And it prevents things from happening that should happen. The European Union has got a huge role to play. I don’t advocate NATO taking on all these different roles. You know, NATO should not be in the business of reconstruction. That’s for somebody else’s funds to do. NATO should do what NATO is good at doing and other people should do the things that they are best doing.
It worked in Macedonia in 2001. I think the Macedonian ambassador’s here – might agree. Javier Solana and I worked without the rules, out with all of the sort of prescriptions that were there, with the OSCE to get a settlement to stop the insurgency that produced the disarmament of the rebels, brought the Albanian insurgents back into the political process and created a coherent country which would be in NATO if it wasn’t for a crazy dispute about what Macedonia is to be allowed to call itself.
But you know, that worked in practice. Unfortunately, it’s not working in theory. And that is unacceptable and, I think, unreasonable.
MR. KEMPE: Harlan?
Q: I’m Harlan Ullman. You were a magnificent minister of defense and a better secretary general and we’re really indebted to what you’ve done. You talked about speaking out of the box, and I’d like to ask you two questions. First, who are today’s Churchills? Who are the surrogates who can make that case? And secondly, you talk passionately about Afghanistan, but you talk about the Taliban. But the real issue, I would argue, is the Pashtun. So how do you relate the Pashtun issue with the Taliban issue? Because it seems to me, if you solve the Pashtun issue, in terms of minority that wants greater impact in, basically, a Northern Alliance-Karzai government, that’s the solution.
LORD ROBERTSON: Well, the solution in Afghanistan will come on a regional basis. There are a lot of people who have got a dog in this fight – Central Asian countries, Iran, China. Everybody has got something in that, and somehow, we need to galvanize that. When we were going in – NATO was going into Afghanistan – I spoke to everyone. Spoke to President Putin, spoke to President Musharraf in Pakistan; I spoke to Rahmonov in Tajikistan and to Karimov in Uzbekistan. I wasn’t allowed by the American government to speak to the Iranians, but the Iranians wanted to speak to me about it.
And the Chinese said, wave as many NATO flags as you can, because we want stability in Afghanistan. So you know, there is a concert there which, I think, has got to be put together. And I think that’s what the present administration is working on. There is an envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Richard Holbrooke and Britain has now appointed one as well. And I think that we’re beginning to start to get these pieces of the jigsaw in place, as well.
Who’s going to be the next Churchill? Well, I don’t know. Nobody thought it was going to be Churchill. (Laughter.) Churchill was a discredited mercurial politician who kept changing parties and who, basically, wasn’t listened to when he warned about the rearmament of Germany that was taking place. But you know, the moment came.
Chamberlain collapsed and, you know, Churchill was the man of the moment, and of the moment, it has to be said. Remember that the British people got rid of him when they thought he’d done the job of winning the war, they said, we’re going to give somebody else the job of winning the peace. And he was a very charismatic little man with no great personality who created the national rail service. There’s a lesson for President Obama. (Laughter.) Rescued the economy, and the rest of it as well.
MR. KEMPE: We were looking for our YouTube moment. Thank you for that. (Laughter.)
LORD ROBERTSON: (Chuckles.) You know, if people are willing to take on the challenge, as Churchill was and as Roosevelt was and de Gaulle was, then they will come. But people have got to feel they want to do it. We’re fighting a war at the moment. Soldiers are being killed almost every day from alliance countries. People are paying in blood and in money and in life and limb, and who knows there’s a war on? You know, where are the signs around here? The stars and stripes that flew after 9/11 have all been brought down.
You know, you don’t see signs in London; you don’t see signs in Paris, or, I daresay, in Berlin, but we are at war. We’ve sent young men and women out there to fight and to die for something that we’ve told them we believed in. And yet, it doesn’t seem as though we’re there. And I think that’s where the challenge comes.
MR. KEMPE: We’re running out of time, but I’m going to take my colleague from the German fourth estate, and then one other question – let’s take them one after another and then we’ll let you have a closing comment. Question?
Q: Christoph Marschall from the German daily, Der Tagesspiegel. Thank you for your compelling speech. I would like you to elaborate a little bit on one factor in the Afghanistan war, which hasn’t been talked too much about, and that’s the factor of time. When it comes to comparison with Kosovo, Bosnia or 1940, I mean, this war started in autumn, 2001, and we are now in 2010. We are eight-and-a-half years afterward.
So it’s not – at the first moment of Afghanistan, it was not that public opinion was fading. It’s after years and years without, in the public opinion, signs of progress. So how can we get back to a moment where we can address public opinion in a way like you proposed?
MR. KEMPE: And let me take the last question, please. Yes?
Q: Bill Courtney. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the NATO countries declared their strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of the countries. The Partnership for Peace program was later established, with the implication that the more countries who participated, the more they did participate, the stronger their tie to NATO would be. Then the West strongly supported Caspian energy investment in multiple pipelines.
When the first external threat came – the Russian invasion of Georgia – it was actually the EU that negotiated the ceasefire and deployed monitors. What’s the appropriate role for NATO in defining security interests in the non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union?
LORD ROBERTSON: Well, let me say this in relation to that question – I’ll come to Afghanistan in a moment – NATO is not a monolithic organization. NATO is made up of the nations. It deliberately decided, at the very beginning, when the North Atlantic Treaty was negotiated with this criteria that had to be understandable to the milkman in Omaha, it made a conscious decision that it was not going to be some great, United Nations organization. It’s not like the European Union.
The central staff of NATO is tiny. You know, some of them – you have some of my former members of staff here who know just how strapped it is. It has got a miniscule budget. The budget of NATO is, what – I think Edward Buckley, who is here, can tell me – what was it, one jet fighter or something? A couple of jet fighters is what the annual budget of NATO actually is.
So NATO can’t be blamed, sort of, by governments. NATO is the governments; it is the nations. And therefore, they decide what the priorities are. They decide on what it’s going to do and what it’s not going to do. And they do it unanimously. It’s a long, painful process. I went from being a hardline, tribal politician in the United Kingdom – I mean, defeated the conservatives. I was the leader of the Labor Party in Scotland. We eliminated the Conservative Party from Scotland.
I come into power, I go to NATO and I’ve got to stay silent, maneuver, wriggle around, try to get consensus among these nations. I had to discover reserves of patience and tolerance that I never thought I actually had – (laughter) – in order to get there. But that’s what it’s about. That is – it’s principle weakness, but it’s also its towering strength. Once you get consensus, you can only break consensus unanimously as well. And that has what has been the strength all of the time. I think if it had been a monolithic EU-type organization with a huge internal bureaucracy, it wouldn’t be here today.
It was actually given 20 years to live. The American Senate said it had to be time-limited. It would only last for 20 years, and then any nation that wanted to get out could get out. Some of them wanted it to be five years; some of them didn’t want it at all. Some of them said Article V was a mechanism for the Europeans to get into a war and expect the Americans to fight it for them. Must be rolling in their graves when, the first time Article V is invoked, in a Scottish accent, by the other allies.
MR. HAGEL: That was before I was in the Senate.
LORD ROBERTSON: Not the invocation – the drawing up, I know. Sen. Vandenberg, I think, was the great man who, sort of – we’ll we’re around there. So you know, NATO is what it is. Its weakness and its strength is that it decides on what it is. If the nations decide they’re going to do something, they do it; if not, they don’t do it. I know we can sort of say, where was NATO? The European Union is good at diplomacy. So it should be. So if it takes the lead in that, that’s the way it should be. NATO should do what NATO does and does best, and stay at that.
The time limit in Afghanistan – of course it’s been a long time. It’s not an easy country. But if a job needs to be done, it takes as long as it needs to take. Do we say, sorry, we’re tired, we’ll get out, and then face the population with the consequences of that? You know, what political leader – you know, we’ve got a prime minister here, an ex-foreign minister over here, a defense minister over there – what do you say to the people? Do you say well, you were tired, people? The opinion polls said, as one did in Britain last week, 63 percent of the British people want our forces out by the end of this year.
Do you say, you were tired and we were fed up arguing with you so we’ll come out, when you know what the consequences will be, when you know what Osama bin Laden will do, what al-Qaida will do if they manage to defeat eth alliance? So the argument is the other way around. The argument is, what do we do to persuade people that this has to be won? And the more we do that, the more likely we are to win and to get out.
MR. KEMPE: Lord Robertson, I will repeat, again, that one should take a look at these two evenings together – Sen. Clinton, who is more constrained in her position and lack of Scottish capabilities. (Laughter.) But if you look at this together, we all know the adage, if you forget the lessons of history, you’re condemned to repeat them. But what I heard in both of these presentations, which I think are enormously important, is, if you forget the lessons of history, you may not be able to build upon that history.
And you’ve retaught us about history, but you’ve taken us squarely – you’ve made us understand the present and looked courageously to the future. Before I thank you, I want to thank Ambassador and Madame Scharioth. It is so wonderful that you’ve invited us into your home once again. Sen. Hagel, thank you again for your leadership. Lord Robertson, thank you for an evening that was inspiring, that honors all of us, but particularly honors Christopher Makins. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, DC.