John Reid, UK Secretary of State for Defense

Posted in NATO , Europe | 04-Feb-06 | Source: Munich Conference on Security Policy

Dr. John Reid, Secretary of State for Defense, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland during his speech.
Speech at the 42nd Munich Conference on Security Policy


There are three features of our world that set the context for our security challenges.

The first is that the rate of change in our world is faster than ever before. We have been around on this planet for around 500,000 years, and yet half of all our knowledge, for instance, has been gained in the last 50 years.

The second feature is that as our knowledge of each other expands, our world shrinks. Advances in transport and telecommunications mean that far distant lands are brought into our homes every evening through television, radio or the internet. None of us can now turn our eyes away from the plights, the sufferings, the wars, or the challenges of others.

Third, the means of providing our security is both increasingly interdependent and complex. More than ever, what threatens one of us threatens all of us. So more than ever, the question of security is much more than just a question of military hardware, or military defence.

We face networked problems: the abhorrent phenomenon of the global terrorist network; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; global drug and people-smuggling networks; and global pandemics. Regional crises in one region are now a real challenge to all regions.


And, as we look ahead beyond the next decade, we see growing uncertainty.

Uncertainty in how terrorist and proliferation threats will interact with new and emerging risks that go beyond the traditional defence concerns.

Uncertainty about the consequences of climate change, migration and resource pressures. Climate change is happening and will inevitably have a substantial impact. Food and water resources, already under substantial pressures, will fail in some areas. Those countries likely to be worst affected are precisely those that lack the capacity to respond effectively.

Uncertainty about how we effectively manage our shared needs for energy security. By 2020, half of the total global oil demand will be met from unstable parts of the world. By 2030 demand will be 60% higher than today.

Uncertainty about how the development of key states around the globe will play out. Asia already has three-fifths of the world's population, with growing needs and impact on world events. We are at the beginning of the Asian century. By 2050 China may be the world's second largest economy and India the third.

How all these factors come together and the stresses they create, will shape the future security environment which we - Europe, America and Asia - must manage together.

To respond, we need relevance and flexibility from our armed forces and security architectures. The relevance to do today's job; but also the flexibility to take on the security challenges of tomorrow.


Our tool in dealing with these issues has to be good transatlantic cooperation between Europe and North America.

Together, we form a community of values. Together, we are the greatest force for prosperity and stability in our world.

The core of this relationship is NATO.

But let us ensure also that when we talk this week about the health of this great Alliance that we are not mouthing platitudes.

NATO is not simply guaranteed to survive and prosper as the cornerstone of the collective security we need. No institution has a divine right to survive. It must meet today's challenges if it is to survive. It must change too, in order to meet these challenges of today and tomorrow.

We are rightly proud of what NATO is doing in Afghanistan. We understand the security consequences of failure there. We know, from bitter experience, what will happen if we allow that nation to slip back into the hands of the Taliban, and their terrorist and extremist allies.

We know that it is only by giving Afghans the opportunity for a better life that we can be sure that they will resist extremism as a barrier to their own prosperity and freedom in future. And we help to remove from ourselves the threat of terrorist attack, as well as the scourge of drugs.

So we know that what we are doing there is not just morally right, but also right for the national interests of us all.

But the converse is also true. There would also be consequences for us if NATO failed in this task. That failure would not be just military; it would go to the heart of the relevance and abilities of the alliance in the 21st Century. The repercussions of that should be clear to us all.

We in Europe know that in the past there have been strong, siren voices in Europe and in the US - voices which have called for a severing of trans-Atlantic cooperation.

We must not play into their hands. We must make them understand that we in Europe can and will shoulder our share of the burden. Sharing risk as well as agreeing words.

We need to ensure that we win the argument that 'shared threats demand shared responses'.

First, all of us in Europe - each nation state, every ally - must be prepared to pay a fair amount towards our national defence and thereby to the common effort.

Secondly, we need to ensure that those resources are configured in a modern, deployable, high-readiness, expeditionary and sustainable forces, relevant to today's threats.

Thirdly, we must have the will and the resolution to deploy forces. Not because we believe that every problem has a military solution, but because we know that a preparedness to use military power is often a necessary, through rarely a sufficient, precondition of security and stability.

And finally, we need to ensure that our common values facilitate and underpin a partnership - not a competition - between our institutions, including NATO and the EU. This is not a zero-sum game, whereby the success of one undermines the other. In fact, the success of each institution enhances and supports the other.

What If?

After all, what is the alternative? What would this unstable and unpredictable world look like to us without the alliance to ensure our security?

In a future crisis, with an emasculated NATO, we would suddenly find that we had no basis for action. Our commonality of purpose would need to be rebuilt from first principles.

We would have to resolve all of our political differences from a standing start before we could even consider a military solution.

Even if we could bridge all of those divides in time to take necessary and effective action - what could we do? Without NATO, we would have no military communications in common, no experience of training together, no interoperability on the ground and confused and convoluted command chains that would make co-operation a tactical impossibility.

The simple truth is that, in that future crisis, despite our combined military, political and economic power, we would be helpless outside the unilateral sphere.

In fact, even where NATO itself is not organising the coalition taking action, decades of common NATO standards and training lie behind any effective multi-lateral military cooperation.

But for all its great strengths NATO needs to be made far more relevant for the threats we face today.

We must embrace the relationship between the Alliance and EU security ambitions. We need European Security and Defence Policy to harness the complementary strengths of the EU. We must have a warm and extensive dialogue between NATO and the EU, as the vast majority of those of us who belong to, and support both organisations wish.

We must have a more grown up relationship that recognises the reality that NATO will be working alongside the EU and others in future operations, as in Darfur.

The issue of defence spending is also relevant. The simplistic argument runs that defence spending must reflect the security ambitions of alliance members.

But spending alone is not the answer. We must spend wisely - more on deployable capabilities and less on static headquarters. We must ensure that this investment is long-term, rather than a one-off shopping spree.

And if we are to achieve this, we must continue to reform our economies and budgets to recognise the world today and the world we want to live in. Not the world as it was 25 years ago.

In the modern world, we need all partners to deliver on the goals we set ourselves.

The reform of NATO, which we will discuss in detail at Riga, is vital to us all, because without it NATO will be less relevant, less effective and less capable.

It is vital because without that reform, NATO will not be able to respond effectively to a crisis. There is some irony in the fact that, in my view, NATO today faces greater threats to its long term future than it ever did at the height of the Cold War.

When this grand alliance was formed, the original signatories declared that NATO would respond to threats against its members as if they were threats to the entire alliance.

If Europe and the United States are to pass the test of ongoing partnership we must answer the question not of how our alliance will respond to threats against its individual members, but how those individual members will respond to modern threats against the Alliance as a whole.

The spoken word is applicable!