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R. Nicholas Burns - Riga and Beyond

Riga and Beyond

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Remarks to the Welt-am-Sonntag Bundeswehr Forum
Berlin, Germany
October 23, 2006



Good afternoon. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this gathering of so many distinguished students and practitioners of US-European relations, and of NATO in particular.

I understand you just heard from General Brent Scowcroft, one of the great US foreign policy practitioners, and my former boss and mentor at the National Security Council.

Since I am addressing you by video, it is much more difficult to welcome some of my old friends in the audience, so please forgive me if I am leaving anyone out. I would in particular like to thank General Klaus Naumann, who helped make this event possible, and who, in his wonderfully convincing way, made sure I participated even if it can only be by video.

I am delighted to be able to join such a remarkable group of individuals. I would like to recognize the journalists in the audience this afternoon, the members of the German and international Diplomatic Corps in attendance, and the participants from the Adenauer and Ebert Foundations, as well as other foundations, NGOs and academic institutions.

U.S. and Europe: Essential Partners in Meeting 21st Century Challenges

As Ambassador to Greece and then NATO, I lived in Europe and witnessed the marked change in our relations.

Back in 2004-5, we knew we had to rebuild transatlantic ties. That's why one of the first foreign officials that the President met after re-election was SYG De Hoop Scheffer, and it is why the President's first overseas trip after his second inauguration was to Brussels, and NATO. I believe we have now rebuilt those ties. We recognized the truth about the enduring strength of the transatlantic relationship.

We have reinforced bridges across the Atlantic, starting with President Bush's visit to Germany in February 2005, and subsequent visits by Secretary Rice, myself, and other top U.S. government officials.

Jointly, we are working with Europe on the agenda of the future.

During the Cold War – our agenda was focused on Europe: recovering from WWII, building democracy in its aftermath, defending freedom against Soviet aggression.

In the immediate post-Cold War period our agenda helped the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe build strong, free societies, and end the conflict in the Balkans.

Amazed to look back on the major debates of the 90s – such as NATO enlargement or NATO out-of-area – they seem quaint and antique now.

Today our agenda is mainly not about Europe, but rather about how America and Europe can work together in a world full of challenges to all of us: from global terrorism and WMD proliferation to narcotics, HIV, poverty alleviation and the trafficking of helpless people.

We are increasingly engaged in common diplomatic, military and reconstruction actions around the world, including Afghanistan, the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Darfur, and Iraq.

We share core values as a single transatlantic community, despite occasional differences about how we protect and promote them.

This is a fundamental shift in our transatlantic agenda.

Why NATO now?

We agree strongly with Chancellor Merkel that NATO is the pre-eminent security structure in the Transatlantic Alliance.

NATO is part of a broader and growing web of multilateral institutions seeking to address global challenges. We need a NATO that works seamlessly with other key actors – the UN, EU, AU, NGOs, and development agencies. The European Union is a valued partner; ESDP will strengthen Europe as well as NATO, so long as it doesn't try to compete with NATO.

NATO is essential in a global environment.

Although all politics is local, as my fellow Bostonian, Tip O'Neill, used to say, all security is global. This doesn't mean a global NATO: the Alliance remains anchored in the transatlantic region. But global security requires the military capability and global partners to be effective in addressing a global agenda. At Riga, we will strengthen NATO towards both those ends.

This is why NATO is in Afghanistan providing stability -- is in Iraq providing training to Iraqi security forces -- and is in Darfur supporting the African Union. Also why we are working so hard to transform NATO to focus on expeditionary capabilities.

A New NATO with a New Mission

NATO will hold a summit in Riga, Latvia, next month. Its key goal: to strengthen its capabilities for its current and future operations, and enhance its global connections to meet today's demands.

In other words, our goal for the Riga summit is to showcase a NATO that must have global missions, and has partners and capabilities to achieve these missions.

Afghanistan is our topic number 1 – and the most difficult military mission NATO has ever undertaken. All our NATO allies – an some non-NATO partners, are contributing to this mission. The US is grateful for what German is currently doing as part of ISAF and what Germany can do in the future.

The Taliban is not a strategic threat to the Afghan government, but a serious tactical threat. NATO is fighting back, but the bulk of the fighting is being done by four allies: the U.S., the UK, Canada, and the Netherlands. NATO needs to be ready to use force and to be wise in how we use it. NATO also needs to be more flexible in how we use our forces in Afghanistan.

It would be better to have the flexibility to move forces around Afghanistan – from the relatively stable north and west to the more difficult south and east, as required by the situation on the ground. Currently that is not possible because of the restrictions some of our Allies have placed on their troops. I would respectfully ask the German participants to reflect on the narrow, rigid restrictions on German forces. Would it not be better, for example, if Germany and France could provide temporary and limited support in other parts of the country? this would reinforce Alliance solidarity and help guarantee the success of the mission.

A New NATO with Global Partners

Because we are working together in places like Afghanistan, we are working together with others, far beyond NATO's borders, in ways we never did before. Our partnerships with non-NATO countries magnify our effectiveness and benefit the alliance.

NATO is currently working with 42 countries contributing to the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan – 26 are Allies but another 16 are not.

There are five leading partners in two parts of the world: Sweden and Finland in Europe, and Australia, Japan, and South Korea in Asia.

Our Asian partners will not be future Member of NATO (although we would welcome Sweden and Finland if they ever sought to join) but they are natural partners nonetheless. We need to be able to train effectively with these partners, and to discuss strategy and doctrine. I hope we can achieve important steps in this direction at Riga.


NATO has always had an open door. NATO has enlarged successfully five times, first with Greece and Turkey, then with Germany in 1952, and after the end of the Cold War, with our new partners in Central Europe.

Each new NATO member is making important contributions. We need to self-consciously keep the door open to new members. New members who meet performance-based standards strengthen the Alliance, and our collective security in Europe and Eurasia.

President Bush has said he supports Croatian membership in 2008, and by that time, we hope that other aspirants will have moved forward successfully.

On Ukraine, we respect the views President Yanukovych expressed in Brussels that Ukraine is not interested in joining at this time. We would look positively at Ukrainian membership if in the future it seeks to join the alliance and meets the criteria.

On Georgia, the US understands that Georgia currently has a difficult relationship with Russia, and is disappointed with some of the destabilizing actions Russia has taken in recent weeks. If Georgia later seeks to join NATO, the door would be open.

Macedonia and Albania have made good progress, and we want to see them fulfill their remaining requirements to meet NATO's performance-based standards.

Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina also face challenges to reform, and we want to continue working with them towards the day that they too can join NATO.

A New NATO with New Capabilities

To achieve our global goals – including supporting stability in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and the Middle East – we must have commensurate capabilities.

As General Scowcroft, from whom you just heard, will remember – several decades ago there was a heated debate within NATO to get countries to spend 3% of their GDP on defense-related issues. Now just a handful of our allies spend even 2% of GDP. If we ever needed more capabilities, it is now, with so many critical operations underway.

We also must spend right, to make our forces as flexible and responsive as they need to be:

We must improve the strategic airlift capacity of NATO Allies. This is a crisis for the alliance. Since the Prague Summit in 2002, Allies have made some progress. The U.S. and 13 other Allies have agreed to form a consortium to provide C-17 airlift capacity to NATO on an on-call basis. IN addition, the UK has led the way by purchasing their own C-17s.

NATO must fulfill the Prague Summit promise to fund and empower the NATO Response Force. The NRF, the linchpin in NATO's development of an expeditionary culture became operational in 2004. Now we must use it. The LiveEx exercises showcased how effective the NRF can be. The NRF would have been an ideal interim solution to maintain the fragile peace in Lebanon, but domestic political wrangling got in the way and a number of countries were not willing to use it.

Finally, we must improve coordination of Special Operations Forces. These forces are desperately needed, and have proven their effectiveness in Afghanistan among other areas. The value of SOF in modern warfare is greater than ever. We welcome the decision of defense ministers at Potoroz to move forward on this initiative.

Released on October 31, 2006


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