The future of European defense

This article is an excerpt of a talk given by George Robertson, British secretary of state for defense, on April 16 at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.

On July 4, 1962, President Kennedy set out his vision for the transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe.

He looked toward the formation of a partnership resting on two pillars, one North American and one European. He recognized the indivisibility of European and transatlantic security.

The partnership he referred to in this "Declaration of Interdependence" has been the foundation of Europe's security for 50 years.

In 1962 the threat was monolithic. Today, the Iron Curtain has been dismantled and lies on the scrap heap of history. Instead, we face a variety of complex and unpredictable risks and challenges to our security. But the transatlantic partnership is no less important in forming our responses to them.

Today NATO air forces are engaged against the forces of repression and "ethnic cleansing" that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has unleashed. Why is NATO involved? The alliance, which has defended democracy and freedom in Europe since 1949, is doing it again in southeast Europe today. Kosovo presents a defining moment in the aftermath of the cold war.

The solution to ethnic conflict cannot be to shift populations around like pieces in a board game.

To critics who say this was ever the way in the Balkans, I answer: Just because it has been sanctioned previously, we should not continue to tolerate it. Appeasement is not the answer.

To those who question why we should act in Kosovo when we did not act in Rwanda, I say: If we are unwilling to act in the face of barbarism on NATO's borders, what right have we to comment on evil taking place elsewhere in the world?

To those in America who call Kosovo Europe's problem, I reply: If NATO is to mean anything as a transatlantic alliance, Kosovo is also NATO's problem.

Europe must do more to contribute to NATO's capabilities. This will take time. In the meantime, NATO must be firm in its resolution. As the alliance's principal power, America must play the role assigned to it by history.

What lessons should we draw from Kosovo?

First, NATO has to be prepared for the unexpected. Who would have predicted that 10 years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall we would be involved in a conflict in the Balkans?

Second, NATO must recognize that threats to European security still exist in the post-cold-war world. The flow of refugees from the Balkans and the destabilizing effect of violence there bring the risk of wider conflagration into the heart of Western Europe. Events on NATO's borders affect the security of its members and must be tackled.

Third, although NATO's European members are playing a sizable part in Kosovo, the operation has underlined the areas where Europe is too dependent on US help.

If Europe is serious about shouldering more of the burden in future conflicts, it must improve its defense capabilities.

Whether we act as Europeans or through NATO, our aims will amount to nothing if our armed forces cannot meet our political aspirations. The European Defense Initiative, launched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in December, was sparked by an appreciation of this point.

Its aims for European security are simple: to strengthen Europe's military capability to better contribute to NATO, and take action when NATO as a whole is not engaged. And to strengthen the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

This requires Europe to develop effective politico-military structures; to build on arrangements that allow European access to NATO assets and capabilities (so as not to duplicate what NATO already does); and, most important, to strengthen European defense capabilities.

Britain made an important start last year with its Strategic Defense Review. Europe must develop a more coherent and effective contribution to its own security. Unless we do so we cannot expect the US to continue to make such a substantial contribution.

I hope Americans continue to recognize, as President Kennedy did - and as President Clinton and others do today - that they cannot insulate themselves from events in Europe.

We will stand or fall together in our efforts to promote the ideals of freedom and democracy. That is what we are doing in Kosovo. The challenge for Europe is to take a greater share of the strain.

With the European Defense Initiative Prime Minister Blair has set the ball rolling.

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