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02 January 2004

Interview with NATO's Outgoing Secretary General Robertson
Discusses NATO capabilities, Russia relations, NATO's future

Improving the military capabilities of the NATO member countries "has to remain the key priority of any Secretary General because the credibility of the Alliance depends on it having the capability to take action," says outgoing NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson.

"If the NATO countries don't make more of their troops usable and don't get the equipment to get them fast where the action is, then the organisation will suffer and will increasingly become irrelevant," he said in a December 16 interview published on the NATO web site. "But I think it's because that has dawned on political leaders, that we're actually now beginning to see substantial improvements in what we've had before."

"If we get the capabilities, NATO, along with the European Union, can do amazing things," Robertson said.

Another priority when he took office in 1999 was rebuilding NATO's relationship with Russia, Robertson said. "And we now sit round a table of 20 equal people under my chairmanship in the NATO-Russia Council."

He also was pleased that NATO has maintained its open-door policy, "bringing in new members without creating either a weaker organisation or a counter-reaction from other elements outside. So seven new countries, three of them formerly part of the Soviet Union, and the others part of the Warsaw Pact, will become full members of NATO next year."

Robertson said the that one of the biggest challenges he faced as Secretary General was managing NATO's response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which "required our organisation to rethink a lot of the things that it had taken for granted in the past and had to make us transform in order to be able to deal with that new threat."

Asked about NATO's future, he said it remains "a defensive organisation, but we've had to use pre-emptive action in the past, and pre-emption is anyway part of deterrence." NATO acted pre-emptively in Kosovo in 1999 to stop the ethnic cleansing under Slobodan Milosevic; in Bosnia in 1995; and in Macedonia in 2001, Robertson said.

His favorite memories, he said, are "meeting children in the countries where I've gone to, to Moscow and to Kiev...the children in the mixed village in Macedonia in the Tetovo Valley, where all the trouble was in 2001 and where the violence was spreading like a moorland fire, or the school in Sarajevo, the mixed school that I went to there as well, and the children I met in the village of Novo Selo and Pristina."

The children are "alive and they're well and they're learning and they're happy. And the alternative would have been death and starvation and exile. They would have been refugees if the violence had spread and if NATO hadn't acted when NATO did act."

Robertson's successor, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, takes office January 5.

Following is a NATO transcript of Roberston's interview:

(begin transcript)

NATO HQ
16 Dec. 2003

VIDEO-INTERVIEW WITH NATO SECRETARY GENERAL, LORD ROBERTSON

Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us in your last days in which you described as one of the best jobs a former defence or foreign minister could have. You have been Secretary General of NATO at a time when the organisation has been through some challenging and tumultuous times. For instance, after September 11th committing to Afghanistan and the issue of Iraq. What was the most challenging for you in your function as Secretary General and why?

Lord Robertson: I would select two major challenges. One was the 11th of September 2001 because that was not just a horrifying tragedy for those who were affected by it and it was a terrible atrocity, but it also showed that global terrorists were willing to cross a line that they had never previously done and were using mass violence against civilians, not for achievable political means, but simply to attack our values and our freedoms as well. And that required our organisation to rethink a lot of the things that it had taken for granted in the past and had to make us transform in order to be able to deal with that new threat. So, that was challenge number one.

The second challenge was the insurgency in the small former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001 where we had to use all of our diplomatic and military and political skills, along with that of the European Union to help that country through its moment of trouble and to produce a political path, the disarmament of the rebels, and to move it forward. So, that was a challenge but a successful one as well.

But the Alliance, when it takes things on, does tend to succeed.

Q: And at Reykjavik in 2002, NATO adopted a revolutionary principle that will operate when and where necessary to fight international terrorism, and NATO therefore has committed itself to engage in operations beyond its traditional area, beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. This of course is a big step for the organisation taking on, for example, the mission in Afghanistan. Will the next step be to engage in pre-emptive operations taking it, taking the Alliance beyond what is stipulated in the Treaty, that is to say a purely defensive organisation?

Lord Robertson: Well, we are a defensive organisation, but we've had to use pre-emptive action in the past, and pre-emption is anyway part of deterrence. An aggressor needs to know that it will not simply be when he crosses a border or when he attacks to kill that something will happen. There has to be something much more flexible than that, and that has always been part of our policy.

But we acted pre-emptively in Kosovo in 1999 to stop Milosevic from doing what he was doing and increasingly doing the ethnic cleansing in a systematic way. We acted pre-emptively in Bosnia in 1995 before the violence got way out of hand there as well. And frankly, we acted pre-emptively in Macedonia in 2001 as well.

So, I don't get hit up about the word pre-emptive. You've got to be able to act when it's necessary to act. And you've got to be able to act where the threat is. The threat to New York and to Washington on the 11th of September came from Afghanistan on the other side of the world. And that is why the foreign ministers of NATO at Reykjavik in 2002 decided that the old debate about out-of-area was out of time, and that we had to be prepared to go where the threat was if we were actually going to protect the people who rely on us for protection.

Q: When you walked through the main entrance of NATO headquarters on 14 October, 1999, on your first day as Secretary General, you no doubt had expectations and objectives in mind. Could you tell us what they were and how if they evolved with the time as Secretary General?

Lord Robertson: Well, when I came to NATO on the 14th of October, 1999, I said that my first priority was capabilities, my second priority was capabilities, and my third priority was capabilities because NATO's credibility is based on its capability, and I've tried to focus on that during the whole four years of my term.

But it's not the whole story. I also said at that time that I wanted to rebuild our relationship with Russia. And we now sit round a table of 20 equal people under my chairmanship in the NATO-Russia Council.

I also said that we wanted to learn the lesson of the Balkans to win not the just the military campaign about Kosovo, but to win the peace as well. And I'm glad that Kosovo is well on the way now to being a functioning democracy where different ethnic groups can live in peace.

And certainly, I wanted to manage the open-door policy, the new membership policy, bringing in new members without creating either a weaker organisation or a counter-reaction from other elements outside. So seven new countries, three of them formerly part of the Soviet Union, and the others part of the Warsaw Pact, will become full members of NATO next year.

So, I consider that on these three objectives, we've got... I've got real satisfaction on the capabilities issue. We've set in play a number of processes which I believe will produce the capabilities that are still required but not there. But that's a confidence, it's not based yet on real results.

Q: Speaking exactly about capabilities, that has been one of your main concerns during your four years at NATO, and you touched upon this now. To what extent do you think this effort can be pursued and achieved in the near future? NATO members countries improving their capabilities, the usability of their forces?

Lord Robertson: Well, if the NATO countries don't make more of their troops usable and don't get the equipment to get them fast where the action is, then the organisation will suffer and will increasingly become irrelevant.

But I think it's because that has dawned on political leaders that we're actually now beginning to see substantial improvements in what we've had before. And most countries are now reducing the number of conscripts and increasing the professionals that are available because they're available on short notice.

I see countries like Denmark and the Netherlands and Norway revamping their whole armed forces to make them more deployable and more available for the crisis management operations that we're dealing with. And I see multi-national co-operative efforts which were stimulated from inside NATO, but like the German initiative on strategic airlift of very big aircraft, or the Spanish-led initiative on air-to-air refuelling tankers, or the Dutch initiative on precision-guided weapons, and the Norwegian one on strategic sealift or roll-on roll-off ferries.

We're beginning to see that a process is under way that will deliver those capabilities and there's a genuine will-power now to go and get those capabilities so that we can help to make the world a safer place.

Q: And if you had one piece of advice to give to your successor Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, what would it be?

Lord Robertson: Well, my advice to Jaap, who I know well and trust hugely, I think he's going to make an excellent Secretary General of NATO. I know that basically his priorities will be the continuation of my... he might add a few more to that, I hope so. He's got a good brain and a good intellect and a lot of new energy to bring to the job.

But my advice would be: focus again on the capabilities. If we get the capabilities, NATO, along with the European Union, can do amazing things. Without the capabilities, then the problems will escalate, the difficulties will mount, and problems will start spilling back over into our backyard. So, capabilities has to remain the key priority of any Secretary General because the credibility of the Alliance depends on it having the capability to take action.

Q: You are now moving to quite a different environment in the new year, is there anything special that you have learnt or experienced at... working at NATO that will help in your job at Cable and Wireless and in possible other future positions?

Lord Robertson: Well, I'm moving into the private sector because it's not something I've done before and it was quite exciting. And I was asked if I would come and help with the recovery of this great British company, Cable and Wireless, and I'm delighted to become part of the new and very talented management that have been brought in to that company as well.

And yes, I think I will be able to help them; they think so. I've got some experience of management, both in this organisation and in the British Ministry of Defence and modernising it in order to maximise the outputs.

I've also got experience at managing people and that's essentially what all business is about. And I know how to get on with prime ministers and presidents because I've had to do that. They are the main bosses and NATO and the telecoms as well, they are also the big bosses too.

So I'll have learned something there in order to help me in the future and I'm glad that I'm going to go to a project that has got so much excitement attached to it, just as the NATO mission had as well.

Q: And closing on a personal note, from the four years, what moment will you remember most?

Lord Robertson: What I will remember most from my time in NATO is meeting children in the countries where I've gone to, to Moscow and to Kiev, I've met school children. But most of all, I'll remember the children in the mixed village in Macedonia in the Tetovo Valley, where all the trouble was in 2001 and where the violence was spreading like a moorland fire, or the school in Sarajevo, the mixed school that I went to there as well, and the children I met in the village of Novo Selo and Pristina.

Now, why I say that is that these children are happy. They loved the buzz of my visit because there was cameras and TV and excitement about it. Now, they don't know who NATO is. They haven't a clue what the initials stand for, nor do they particularly care. But they're alive and they're well and they're learning and they're happy. And the alternative would have been death and starvation and exile. They would have been refugees if the violence had spread and if NATO hadn't acted when NATO did act.

So, you know, they are the future. They are the beneficiaries of tough, political decisions taken by people here in NATO. And one day they'll maybe be grateful, but I don't think that we need to get that gratitude to know that we've done a good and noble thing.

So, that'll be what I'll take away into my next occupation and the satisfaction of knowing that children who would have been or in exile are alive, well, and learning, and going to contribute to the greater Euro-Atlantic area that we all look for.

Q: Thank you very much.

(end transcript)