Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It falls to me to give some closing remarks after such a wide-ranging and rich programme over the past three days here in Brussels. This is my first General Assembly, and I have been very impressed, as doubtless you have been, by the quality of the speeches and subsequent debate.
Monday saw the parallel running of the ATA and YATA Council meetings, before turning to current issues such as Counter Terrorism after the elections. Yesterday, the ATA and YATA assemblies merged, so as to bring young voices into the fold as debate ranged across topics such as NATO and EU cooperation, the future of NATO, and the consideration of operations after ISAF. Today, we have broached the Transatlantic Bond in its broadest sense, going beyond mere defence capabilities and exploring trade and investment potential, as well as the possibilities for enhancing the bond in the future.
What the shape of the programme and the paths of discussion over the past three days seem to me to reflect is a gradual yet fundamental change in emphasis in the NATO alliance. In the absence of the Cold War that defined the alliance up to 1989 and as we approach the close of NATO’s definitional war in Afghanistan next year, this new emphasis will be more political. Over 150 years ago, Carl von Clausewitz told us that war is the extension of politics by other means; therefore as the prospect of war – or at least major conventional war – recedes for NATO post-2014, we can expect to be faced with challenges that involve the political dimension more heavily than before. Furthermore, in an era not only of economic austerity but also of reduced political will for kinetic solutions, NATO will have to look further forward and evolve more preventative strategies to implement ‘up-stream’, ahead of time and trouble in order to meet its security obligations.
In this sense, Françis Fukuyama could not have been more wrong when he heralded the ‘End of History’ along with the end of the Cold War. Far from facing an existential crisis, NATO’s history is still very much being written, and will continue to be so over the coming years. The increasingly multipolar geopolitical landscape, with the rise of China, India and South America, to name but three states hitherto not counted amongst the world’s ‘great powers’, will put renewed emphasis on the importance of the Transatlantic Bond. Whilst conventional inter-state war may not be on the horizon, conventional inter-state politics with these rising powers is. As the relative power of the US and Europe declines on this crowded new world stage, our alliance to some extent mitigates against our decline, and provides us with a solid platform from which to set the tone in world affairs. Should NATO fail to assert itself in a cohesive manner post-2014, it risks allowing others to set the tone on its behalf.
We heard yesterday that 2014 is a ‘strategic inflection point’. This is because we are now moving into the next ‘phase’ of the NATO alliance after 65 years. The first phase was one of Collective Defence, centred on the deterrence of the Soviet bloc. Since 1994, NATO entered its second, ‘operational’ phase, beginning with the Banja Luka incident in the Bosnian War. The third phase is now upon us, one that I call the ‘anticipatory’ phase. Why anticipatory? Ulrich Beck observed that we live in a risk society, one in which anxieties over terrorism, failed-states or economic decline affect wide swathes of the population. Our sense of ‘security’ today concerns the mitigation of these risks as much as it does the countering of conventional (and these days quite theoretical) ‘threats’. Thus in this anticipatory phase, it will increasingly fall to NATO to concern itself with risk.
Thus the security issues of the future will be characterized by their hybridity. They will combine military and political elements, whether by coincidence or by design, as globalization continues to interweave and complicate the relationships between individuals, communities and governments, across continents and at lightening speed. The ‘wars’ of the future will be, as General Sir Rupert Smith has said, ‘among the people’, and NATO must be wary of becoming apathetic to actively anticipating and countering these risks, or ‘potential threats’, in the post-Afghanistan environment. As we have heard consistently, we must work to improve interoperability and military cooperation. We must strengthen and expand our capabilities, especially in non-conventional areas, yet retain breadth across the Alliance by pooling or clustering our resources along the lines of Smart Defence. Finally, our partnerships will become increasingly important in a world where NATO can no longer afford – in more than one sense – to go it alone.
Sun Tzu wrote that the most successful battles are the ones that are never even fought. So in NATO’s new anticipatory phase, this is the gold standard that the Alliance should aim for. It is also the standard of excellence that our publics will expect of NATO, given the reduced appeal of kinetic responses like Afghanistan that have cost so much blood and treasure in the last twelve years. Yet in shying away from a heavy military footprint, NATO must be careful to keep its members and its publics abreast of the new evolutions of security challenges in the post-2014 era. It must identify and meet these challenges early, before they degenerate into widespread violence.
Looking around the room today, it is of course fora such as these which form that first crucial step in bridging the gap between NATO and the wider public, between the leaders of today and the aspirations of tomorrow’s generation. Let me finish by thanking Giuseppe, Jason, and the rest of the conference team for all their efforts in putting together such a thorough, seamless and engaging three days, and please join me in thanking them along with all those who participated.