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
"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
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
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,
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
Following is a NATO transcript of Roberston's interview:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.