[NATO] Secretary-General Robertson, fellow ministers of defense.
It is certainly a surprise to me to be returning to this distinguished Council after a brief absence of a quarter of a century. My last time at a North Atlantic Council meeting as Secretary of Defense was December 5, 1976. Back then, we were 15 nations, and a topic of discussion was the admission of Spain into the Alliance. Today, we are 19.
Then, the principal challenge NATO faced was the military threat posed by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Since then, the Alliance succeeded in its mission of preserving peace and freedom during the Cold War, has welcomed three former members of the Warsaw Pact into the Alliance, and has extended a hand of friendship to 27 other nations through the Partnership for Peace (PFP). These are important accomplishments of which we all can be proud – and on which we must build.
But, as we gather here for this first meeting of NATO defense ministers in the 21st Century, we must be careful not to rest on the accomplishments of the 20th Century. We must prepare together for the new and quite different challenges we will face in the new century.
This is a matter of some urgency. The Cold War threats have receded, thanks, in no small part, to the work of this Alliance. The new and different threats of the 21st Century have not yet fully emerged, but they are there. We need to take advantage of this period to ensure that NATO is prepared for the newer security challenges we will certainly face in the 21st century.
What might those new challenges be? We know this much for certain: it is unlikely that any of us here even knows what is likely. One statesman summed up the prevailing mood at the turn of the last century: "War," he wrote, "is too foolish, too fantastic, to be thought of in the 20th century. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of law, the Hague convention, liberal principles… high finance… common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible." Then he asked: "Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong."
They were wrong –and it was more than a pity. How often have we been wrong about the threats and challenges to our peace and freedom? Consider the track record during my lifetime: I was born in 1932, the Great Depression was underway, and the defense planning assumption was "No war for ten years."
By 1939, World War II had begun, and in 1941 the fleet we constructed to deter war became the first target of a naval war of aggression in the Pacific. Airplanes did not even exist at the start of the century; by World War II, bombers, fighters, transports had all became common military instruments that critically affected the outcome of the war.
By the 1950’s our World War II ally, the Soviet Union, had become our Cold War adversary, the Atomic Age had shocked the world, and, with little warning, the so-called "police action" was underway in Korea.
In the early 1960s few had focused on Vietnam. By the end of the decade the U.S. was embroiled in war there. In the mid-1970s the Shah of Iran was an ally and the regional bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism; a few years later, Iran was in the throes of anti-Western revolution and the champion of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
In March of 1989 Vice President Cheney appeared before the U.S. Senate for his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense – not one person uttered the word "Iraq." Within a year, he was preparing for war in the Persian Gulf. Today, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest are all NATO capitals, proliferation is pervasive, rogue states are acquiring ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, asymmetric threats transcend geography, and the parallel revolutions of miniaturization, information, biotechnology, robotics, nanotechnology, and high-density energy sources are putting unprecedented power in the hands of small countries and even terrorist groups, foreshadowing changes beyond any ability to forecast.
That recent history should make us humble. It certainly humbles me. It tells me that the world of 2015 will almost certainly be little like today and, without doubt, notably different from what today’s experts are confidently forecasting.
The point is: none of us here has a crystal ball through which we can clearly see the future. While it is difficult to know precisely who will threaten us or where or when in the coming decades, it is less difficult to anticipate how we will be threatened.
Terrorism: We know, for example, that as an Alliance of democracies, our open borders and open societies make it easy and inviting for terrorists to strike at our people where they live, work and play.
Cyber-attack: Our dependence on computer-based information networks make those networks attractive targets for new forms of cyber-attack.
High-tech Weapons: The ease with which potential adversaries can acquire advanced conventional weapons (high-energy explosives, very fast torpedoes, surface-to-air missiles, sea mines, quiet diesel subs) will present us with new challenges in conventional war and force projection.
Ballistic and Cruise Missiles and WMD: Our lack of defenses against ballistic missiles creates incentives for missile proliferation which, combined with the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, give future adversaries the ability to hold our populations hostage to terror and blackmail.
Because of the speed of technological change, and with the increasing power and reach of weapons today, we must prepare to meet these threats before they fully emerge. We will face the 21st Century threats together – so we must work to address them together.
U.S. commitment to NATO
The United States has a vital interest, with our European and Canadian Allies, in NATO. It will remain the anchor of America’s security commitment to its Allies. Let there be no doubt. Increased U.S. attention to the security situation, for example in the Persian Gulf or Korea, in no way implies any American intention to de-emphasize Europe.
This is not a zero-sum game; U.S. attention to the differences in circumstances in other regions does not mean something else must be downgraded. We value highly our bilateral and multilateral security relationships with our NATO Allies and recognize their central importance to peace and security; any suggestion to the contrary is flat wrong.
If we were to look down from Mars on Earth, we would see that most of a large number of the like-thinking nations on the face of the earth are in Europe and America – we are inextricably linked politically, economically, militarily, to our great benefit.
Because of our unambiguous commitment to the Alliance, I don’t envision measurable reductions in U.S. troop strength in Europe. It is possible, however, as a result of our defense review, we may reconfigure elements of our deployed forces in Europe and elsewhere. We would certainly consult closely with Allies were that to be the case.
NATO capabilities and transatlantic defense cooperation
To ensure transatlantic security in the future, NATO allies need to improve defense capabilities in the fields most relevant to modern warfare. We are leaving a world where our principal aim was to deter the Soviet Union and we are entering a world where we will need to deter a variety of different actors, with a variety of different motivations, armed with a variety of different weapons. We need to rearrange our capabilities and our posture to deal with the strategic environment of the future, not the past.
The Alliance has recognized the need for more deployable, flexible, sustainable, interoperable, and survivable forces to engage effectively in a range of missions. But we have not yet matched our rhetoric with action and resources.
The United States is committed to working with our Allies in building defense capabilities. I know several Allies have made clear their interest in pending U.S. decisions on certain major existing programs – in particular, the Joint Strike Fighter. We have not come to the point in our review of addressing specific systems, so I have nothing to report yet. But there should be no question of America’s commitment to improve transatlantic defense industrial cooperation, to include meaningful cooperation in co-development and technology sharing.
In the face of a world of changing threats, Alliance cohesion will be essential. Those pursuing a European Security and Defense Policy will need to be vigilant to ensure that this project is managed and handled in a way that adds capabilities to NATO, embeds defense planning in NATO, and that activities are arranged so that NATO has the right of first refusal. I agree with Prime Minister Blair’s statement to the Canadian Parliament in February that "NATO is our organization of choice" and that ESDP "applies only where NATO has chosen not to act collectively." We look forward to working with all allies to make certain the Alliance grows in unity in the coming decades.
In light of this changing world, we are examining our nuclear force requirements, following President Bush's guidance to achieve a credible deterrent with the lowest number of nuclear weapons consistent with our present and future national security needs and our Alliance commitments.
Moving to lower numbers could be done in a number of ways, including reciprocal approaches, arms control, unilateral initiatives – or some combination. But I know President Bush’s determination, and it will be done.
The number of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe has been reduced dramatically since the Cold War. However, I do not envision any significant change to our nuclear posture in Europe. They continue to provide a political and military link between the U.S. and European Allies. At this point we have not considered making any reductions in the existing numbers of these weapons.
A new framework of deterrence
Our thinking on reductions in nuclear forces is guided by a larger vision – a realization that we need a new response to a world that is notably different from the Cold War. During the Cold War, our aim was to deter one adversary from using an arsenal of existing weapons against us. In the 21st Century, our challenge is to deter multiple potential adversaries not only from using existing weapons, but, to the extent possible, dissuade them from developing new capabilities in the first place.
Just as we intend to build "layered defenses" to deal with missile threats at different stages, we also need a strategy of "layered deterrence" that can deal with a variety of emerging threats at different stages. We do not intend to abandon nuclear deterrence. Rather, we see it as one layer of a broader deterrence strategy that includes several mutually reinforcing layers of deterrence.
Such a strategy would aim to: dissuade countries from pursuing dangerous capabilities in the first place, by developing and deploying capabilities that reduce their incentives to compete; discourage them from investing further in existing dangerous capabilities that have emerged, but are not yet a significant threat; deter them from using dangerous capabilities once they have emerged to threaten us all, with the threat of devastating retaliation. For example, overwhelming Naval power discourages potential adversaries from investing significant resources into a competing Navy to threaten freedom of the seas – because, in the end, they would spend a fortune and not accomplish their strategic objectives.
We must develop new capabilities that, by their very existence, dissuade and discourage potential adversaries from investing significant resources into hostile capabilities. Just as we do not intend to abandon nuclear deterrence– but rather integrate it into a broader deterrence approach – the same holds true for arms control.
Arms control negotiations have had a role in our strategy. Arm control agreements have been valued in our Alliance for various reasons, including that they can help to create transparency, foster predictability, and promote dialogue among nations.
In devising a new framework, we would seek to achieve these desirable functions and we think we can do so. We want to get the new framework right. Either way, we see a good prospect for early reductions in nuclear forces. This framework does not view Russia as an enemy. We expect to deal with Russia as we deal with other countries – not as an enemy, not as a state with whom we are locked in a posture of Cold War balance of terror or mutual assured destruction. The world has changed. Our thinking about deterrence, security, arms control, nuclear forces, and missile defense must change accordingly.
We need to get over the Cold War, and the legacy of Cold War thinking and approaches that still narrow and restrict our thinking. And, as President Bush recently declared at the National Defense University, "Today’s world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active non-proliferation, counter-proliferation and defenses."
Development and deployment of ballistic missile defenses will be an element of this new framework for deterrence. As a result of a first round of consultations following President Bush’s May 1 address, we have a better understanding of Allied views – both those supportive of our position, and those with questions and concerns. I am pleased to see that our Allies have welcomed the U.S. commitment to conduct close and substantive consultations.
We intend to build and deploy defenses to protect the U.S., our forward deployed forces, and in cooperation with friends and allies. We expect to deploy "layered defenses" which would intercept relatively small numbers of ballistic missiles of various ranges in various phases of flight.
Our development program will test a range of U.S. technologies and approaches. As this program progresses, we will likely deploy test assets to provide rudimentary defenses to deal with emerging threats. We will likely continue to improve the effectiveness of any deployed capabilities over time. We intend to deploy limited numbers of defenses consistent with technical maturity and the threat.
The Corona satellite program, which produced the first overhead reconnaissance satellites, had 11 straight test failures. Where would we be today if President Eisenhower had cancelled it? Where would we be if the Wright brothers had quit after their first 20 test failures? Answer: without airplanes. Testing is how we learn. Testing leads to knowledge.
Our goal is to deploy defenses against handfuls of missiles, not hundreds. We will not make decisions on systems architecture until our technologies have been tested, and it is likely they will evolve over time. We welcome your input in this regard. We look forward to exploring opportunities for enhanced cooperation with friends, allies and others. A number of Allies have, over the past several years, done impressive work on shorter-range ballistic missile defenses. The development and testing program we envision will offer opportunities for Allied participation.
Deploying missile defenses capable of protecting the U.S., friends and Allies will eventually require moving beyond the ABM Treaty. We understand this conclusion is not welcomed by some. It is simply inescapable.
The United States intends to find appropriate defenses. The ABM Treaty’s very purpose several decades ago was to prevent the U.S. and U.S.S.R. from doing just that. The treaty stands in the way of a 21st Century approach to deterrence. It prevents deployment of defenses that can deny others the power to hold our populations hostage to nuclear blackmail.
We will be consulting closely with you and with Russia to find a new framework that will enable us to test and deploy defenses against new threats. Such defenses are no threat whatsoever to anyone. They are defenses, not offences. And by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could they even begin to deal with the thousands of weapons deployed by Russia. And Russia knows that very well, let there be no doubt.
Alliance solidarity on the tough issues remains, as it always has, the true measure of our strength of purpose. As we work to build 21st Century Armed Forces, we must also work together build a 21st Century Alliance.
I assure you we will do everything possible to work with you and that you will find the United States to be a dependable, capable, and open partner in working to preserve and strengthen NATO, so that we can together preserve peace and security well into the new century. For it is on this peace and stability that our prosperity and opportunity depend.
We need to get it right. Because a quarter century from now we want to look at our work today and find we served our peoples well. They deserve our best. Thank you.