Karel Schwarzenberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Czech Republic

Posted in Europe | 11-Feb-07

Speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy

Ladies and Gentlemen:

First, let me thank the organizers of this outstanding event. Your effort and devotion has helped develop von Kleist- Schmenzin’s idea into one of the world’s most prestigious forums focused on transatlantic foreign and security policy issues. Thank you and congratulations. Let me also thank Germany as the host country for a traditionally warm welcome.

Last but not least I would like to thank president Putin, first for bringing all the media attention to this conference and second for spelling out all the reasons why NATO should change.

We are here to talk about the role of NATO in the twenty-first century and the challenges the transatlantic alliance will be facing in the future. Let me add a few remarks.

Sixteen years after the once-rival Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, there is still no alternative to NATO. The global security environment has changed dramatically during these years, and yet NATO remains here, functioning, effective, even engaged in regions far beyond the original north Atlantic perimeter.

So, can it survive the 21st century? I think it can, although there are a few tests it has to pass. In short, it must continue to (1) adapt to external threats, (2) overcome internal tensions and (3) remain open to new members, partnerships and tools.

But let me convey these thoughts a little.

Ability to adapt

The Alliance’s ability to adapt to a changing security environment has been the key to its survival in the post-Cold- War era.

Since the early nineties, NATO has repeatedly had to reevaluate the threats faced by its members. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the all-out war with Soviet-led forces was no longer its major concern. The series of crises in the Balkans broke out and NATO started to focus on threats caused by instability in areas adjacent to its borders, including security risks from potential refugee waves. Therefore, a new Strategic Concept emerged, soon followed by two major vehicles for establishing new partnerships and future enlargement - the NACC (North Atlantic Cooperation Council) and the PfP (Partnership for Peace). At that time NATO identified a new threat and accordingly reached a step beyond the traditional North Atlantic perimeter. It physically entered the neighborhood, when it started its engagement in Bosnia in 1995 and later in Kosovo in 1999.

But that was not the end. Fortunately, we were able to assess our future and reflect it - once again - in our Strategic Concept of 1999.

The rise of global terrorism in late nineties and at the beginning of the 21st century reminded us, that the threats to our security might originate thousands of miles away. It became clear that major risks to our security and stability comprise international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including development of long-range ballistic missiles by “rogue states“. Neither of these threats can be contained and fought by the traditional means. Even bringing stability to our closest neighborhood is not sufficient. We had to reach even further.

And we got the message. That is why NATO is now engaged in Afghanistan, that is why NATO operates its training mission in Iraq. That is why NATO is looking into possibilities of how to support United Nations and African Union efforts in Darfur.

Indeed, we have gotten fairly good at identifying external threats to our security and - to some extent - at modifying our ways of engagement to face them.

Internal challenges

But that is not enough. Setting the course is one thing - following it to a desired point is another one. There are also internal challenges we have to deal with to remain a flexible and effective alliance of the 21st century. If we fail to do so, they can substantially hinder the cohesion and capabilities of the Alliance.

One of them is lack of unity in principle. We were prompt to invoke Article V for the first time in history right after the attacks of 9-11, as we saw the basic foundations of our societies threatened. It was a unique display of unity, a demonstration of solidarity as a primary source of NATO’s strength. Two years later we failed to repeat this demonstration of unity and - at least at the first attempt - failed to guarantee defense of one of NATO members. We let our differences over the right policy towards a brutal dictatorship overshadow the principle that makes us strong. It was a moment of weakness and it must not happen again.

Lack of resolve and commitment in building capacities is another one of NATO’s internal challenges. We have managed to overcome the feeling of comfort supported by NATO’s victory in the Cold War, suddenly perceived weakness and a profound change of behavior of a former adversary, and overall impressiveness of the military strength of the United States. European Allies soon realized the need to define their role in the new Alliance. We acknowledged the gap between the military capabilities of the US and Europe and we decided to close it as much as possible. We were quick to do so politically by launching the ESDI (European Security and Defense Identity). Later, we launched the Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI) at the 1999 Washington Summit and we introduced the Prague Capabilities Commitment in 2002. But the whole process takes time. It is a long-term goal and we should keep that in mind. It might be tiresome, financially exhausting and politically difficult. But building a strong European element within NATO is the only way to build a strong and well-balanced defense and security organization. Needless to say, it will boost EU’s own defense capacities, which are so high on the Union’s agenda.

Resolve and commitment in deploying available capacities are also needed to successfully complete NATO’s missions in the world. True, deploying NATO troops thousands of miles away is a new experience for most European allies and to be honest - politically it is not always an “easy sell“. There might be temporary setbacks, but these should not be the reason to waiver and reconsider further engagement.

As ISAF in Afghanistan shows, NATO presence makes a huge difference not only for the hosting country, but also for the Alliance itself. I can see confident Europeans taking over PRTs as well as security operations and gaining experience which no high level summit or political declaration can provide. I am especially glad to see the new NATO members stepping up to the plate and taking responsibilities to bring peace and stability to a war-ravaged country. In a sense, Afghanistan is a self-defining mission for NATO. Failing to complete it would be a sign of our weakness and might in effect bring terrorist actions substantially closer to our borders. Let us not forget that when we discuss our commitments for NATO operations.

Slow and complicated planning and co-ordination with partners also belongs to potential obstacles to NATO’s effectiveness. But even here I can see a way forward. The Czech Republic has welcomed the “Concerted Planning and Action (CPA)“ initiative, proposed by Denmark in 2006. Its purpose is to improve and streamline the planning procedures and operational command through better coordination not only within NATO but also with outside entities, such as host governments, international organizations, NGOs, etc. I am glad that the Secretary General supports the idea and that it found its way to the Riga Summit Declaration. Although the initiative might not seem as glamorous and media attractive as bold declarations and closely watched summits, it might push the Alliance and its operational flexibility a long way forward.

New members, new partnerships, new tools

As I have mentioned, I believe there is a role for NATO in the 21st century. We have the chance to overcome external threats, internal tensions and procedural imperfections. We do have the potential to defend our territories, bring stability to our neighborhood and at the same time maintain our global reach to fight emerging threats before they reach our borders.

But we have to be resourceful and open-minded to keep this potential.

First, we must keep the door to the Alliance open. As the first two enlargement waves have proven, new members do not block the progress forward. On the contrary, they bring new assets new approaches to our collective expertise. Needless to say, further enlargement must not be driven artificially by political means but must reflect actual readiness of potential candidates. To reach this goal, we must continue working with potential future members. We welcome and support the integration of the countries in Western Balkans to the Partnership for Peace, which has so far been an excellent vehicle to accession for candidate countries, including my own. Intensified dialogue has proven its value as an effective mechanism for cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia.

Second, we must build and keep strong partnerships with countries sharing the same values as well as concerns, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan or Israel. We should support these ties as based not only on the same perception of threats, but also on the same concept of free world and just society. These partnerships are vital for maintaining our global reach.

Last but not least, to react effectively to new threats also means choosing the right tools to fight them. The NATO Response Force (NRF) seems like one of such tools to help the Alliance adapt to the new security environment and is most certainly worth supporting.


This Conference has traditionally been an opportunity for reflections as well as outlining NATO’s future. So far, the Alliance has been capable of anticipating new risks and new threats. It has been able to adapt itself - sometimes more, sometimes less to our full satisfaction - to the changing situation. We have learnt that there is no status quo, no permanent state of affairs. Therefore, we should continue to look soberly into realities both, within today’s security environment and within our organization and cautiously start asking ourselves the question whether time has come already to open discussion on our future strategic concept. Yet, I do not want to be misunderstood: I am not suggesting we should do that immediately; I am merely suggesting we should start fixing this idea on our horizon and getting ready for a thorough discussion.

Ladies and Gentlemen, NATO has been doing a remarkable job in adjusting to the changes in global security environment. But, what is most important - the Alliance has so far always managed to do so without weakening the crucial link between Europe and the United States and without compromising its own purpose - ensuring security of its members through cooperation and solidarity.

Let me conclude with one brief remark - NATO’s values and principles still attract others to join. Numerous countries choose to cultivate their behavior, to strengthen their institutions, to transform their militaries, often at great costs. Is there a better proof, that our Alliance actually “has a future“?

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attention.