Secretary-General of NATO (1984-1988)
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How justifiable is it for Western Europe to intervene with military force in countries with large ethnic conflicts?
Is it acceptable NOT to intervene when a large part of Europe seems to be reverting to barbarism?
It is a very great privilege to be asked to address you this evening. It is also very pleasant for me once again to be in the Netherlands. Fifty years ago this year, I had the unforgettable experience of seeing at first hand the courage and resolution of your fellow countrymen, the privations they suffered, and the resilience of spirit in the most appalling circumstances. The Dutch character is something greatly to be admired and give or take a few differences over the centuries, including an unforgivable intrusion up the River Thames, your country and my country have been firm friends. Long may it continue!
I have been asked to talk about peace and security in Europe and I note that the notice about this lecture refers to me as a former everything – former Secretary General of NATO, former Foreign Secretary, and indeed a former negotiator in Yugoslavia. You must, if I may say so, beware of formers! They get out of touch rather quickly, and sometimes get stuck in a time warp. I have done my best to avoid this but with no expectation of a very good success.
There may be those who critizise us in Europe for being Eurocentric in the sense that we are inclined to ignore what is happening in the rest of the world and concentrate on our own affairs. And it is, of course, perfectly true that there are places other than Europe in which there are great problems.
I have just returned from South Africa, for example, where in spite of the courageous efforts of both blacks and whites, there is still the danger of a bloody conflict between black and black. But the fact remains that it is Europe which has been the source of all our major wars, and certainly, in the last 50 years or so, Western Europe has been the tinderbox which could have lighted the fuse for a third world war.
Even now, though the economic power of Europe has declined and other major powers are emerging – not least China, whose economic growth is phenomenal – there does not seem to be, with the possible exception of fundamentalism in the Middle East, an area as politically dangerous as the continent of Europe.
It is a fact that until about three years ago, nobody in this room had lived in a period when the world was not overshadowed by a possible conflict – first, the run-up to the Second World War, and then in its aftermath, the rivalry between East and West, the threat of nuclear war, and an ever present Cold War.
We all of us have our domestic problems and own anxieties and difficulties, but all these have been overshadowed. The threat of a Third World War, nuclear disaster, the amassing of armaments, the spending of far more money than anybody would like on weapons of destruction, have until recently been daily with us. Eastern Europe was under Soviet domination. Soviet expansion from Afghanistan to parts of Africa to Vietnam was a continuing danger, and there seemed no likelihood in the foreseeable future of any change for the better. The horns of the two superpowers had been locked together for forty years.
Well, all of us, young or old, got used to it. We knew we had to do certain things, however unpalatable they were, and the great majority of those in North America and Western Europe were content to go along with it. Indeed, they believed, and I think they were right, that they had little option, if they wished to preserve their way of life and Western values. There was a certainty about our affairs, a disagreeable certainty, but we all knew where we were and what we had to do.
Then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves in a situation which most of us never believed could or would happen and which opened up all sorts of possibilities which none of us had dreamed about. If you look back on what was said at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, you may find it understandable but rather curious that no one seemed to foresee the problems that were bound to arise.
After the initial phase of euphoria, when everyone seemed to think that the millennium had arrived, we were brought down to earth with a big bump – the invasion of Kuwait, the breakup of Yugoslavia, to name but two of the most serious international problems. It is ironic to reflect that, if Mr Brezhnev and the Cold War had still been alive and the Soviet Union still in being, neither the Gulf War nor the breakup of Yugoslavia would have happened. Saddam Hussein would have been far too frightened of the Russians and the consequences of what the Russians and the Americans might do ever to have invaded Kuwait.
And, the six republics of Yugoslavia, in spite of the death of Tito, would have been far too nervous of Soviet ambitions in their country to contemplate a breakup of the federation. And, indeed, if the Soviet empire had still existed and the breakup had taken place, the Americans would very swiftly have moved in to ensure that vital strategic ports in the Adriatic did not fall into Soviet hands. Yugoslavia and Kuwait will not be the last of the international problems. Trouble looms in the countries of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
This brings me to the first of our many disappointments and disillusionments. We had hoped that the inability of the Security Council to act firmly and swiftly because of the superpowers’ rivalry would disappear and that a more amenable Russia would join the United States and the other members of the Security Council in creating a Security Council capable of being the world’s policeman and of taking action in all parts of the world to prevent or stop disputes which could lead to war or famine.
This has not happened. Not because of Russian intransigence but because the Security Council is not really capable of doing the job. It becomes clearer every day that, unless it gets a very firm lead from the United States, nothing much is going to happen. We saw that in the Gulf, in Somalia and elsewhere. This is an unpleasant truth for the United States, but it is something they and we have to face. The United Nations has no troops of its own and is not very well organised to deal with them even if it had. Sir Brian Urquhart, for whom I have a great admiration and who was for many years a most distinguished Deputy Secretary General, advocates a UN fire fighting force under its own command. I find it difficult to see how that would work in such a diffuse organisation – nor who would be the contributors. And, though the UN has struggled manfully in a number of places to assert its authority, no one can truthfully say it has been very successful. Its authority has been flouted, from Yugoslavia to Somalia to Haiti.
Much, therefore, depends upon the leadership given by the United States and there are signs – and perhaps understandable signs – that the new Administration is not prepared to get involved in situations in which American interests are not closely involved. I was in the United States at the time when twelve US servicemen were killed in Somalia. The question asked and asked trenchantly was ‘what American interests did those twelve servicemen die for?’ And the resounding answer by public and press was ‘None’. I don’t think it is going to be easy to convince the United States whether by itself or in conjunction with others that it should intervene in areas in which it has little interest. Moreover, the new Administration’s eyes are firmly set on US economic problems, domestic and international.
The second issue which has caused some controversy and discussion has been the future of NATO. NATO, formed in 1949 as result of the post-war actions of the Soviet Union, was specifically devised to protect Western Europe and the North Atlantic area and deter the possibility of further Soviet aggression.
Recently, discussion has centred around whether NATO should or could be turned into a rather wider organisation with a role outside the North Atlantic area. It is a perfectly reasonable question in the changed circumstances of the collapse of the Soviet Union to ask what NATO is now for. In the current circumstances, and I stress the word ‘current’, the scenario envisaged at NATO’s birth is most unlikely to happen.
What then, should we do about NATO when there is no very obvious potential aggressor? Some felt that NATO should be expanded – that the erstwhile countries of the Warsaw Pact, including some who were formerly part of the Soviet Union, should become members. Such a proposal would certainly alter the character of the organisation since it was to a very large extent against those countries or rather the Soviet Union which dominated them, that NATO was formed. What would be the point of a defensive organisation without a potential threat.
It is difficult to see how such an amorphous body could exist without a real purpose. In the event, as you know, it was inclined to postpone such a decision by the compromise proposal of Partnership for Peace in which ex-members of the Warsaw Pact, though not as members of NATO, were asked to become increasingly involved in consultation and planning. I think this was the right decision since full membership of NATO would have been a most unwelcome move to President Yeltsin.
This is not to say that we should allow Russia to have a veto over any decisions we might take about the future of our defence policy, but at the present time, in the delicate state of Russian politics, it would not be very sensible to make life more difficult for President Yeltsin who, from our pomt of view, is quite clearly preferable to those who seek to depose him.
It would be absurdly optimistic to suppose that the West – whatever it may or may not do – can influence the political outcome in Russia. The Russians will decide for themselves, either democratically or by some coup, who is to govern them in the future, but there is not much sense in giving ammunition to the enemies of the man who appears to be the most likely to lead Russia back into economic recovery under a democratic system.
Should we then form a new European defensive alliance, including all Europe, without the Americans and the Canadians but within NATO?
This, in essence, is what the French and perhaps others believe will happen anyway since they don’t rate highly the chances of the United States forces staying in Europe for very long and have always been ambivalent about American domination of NATO. But a European caucus within or outside NATO composed of WEU countries would be wholly unacceptable to the United States. A European caucus within the NATO Council taking decisions outside NATO and pressing them inside NATO would not be an acceptable solution.
Is it very sensible to drive the Americans out of Europe and actually give them a cast iron alibi for leaving? They may well in the middle or long terms withdraw, but the presence of Americans in Europe gives political stability as well as military stability and is not something lightly to be thrown away, and certainly not to be encouraged.
I don’t believe there is an easy solution, nor am I by any means convinced that the idea that NATO should be the military arm of the United Nations is a practical one. Individual countries would still have to make up their own minds whether they joined in a United Nations sponsored peace-making or peace-keeping force and the fact of the matter is that there are really only three countries with a credible military capability – the United States, Britain and France – Germany exluded by virtue of her constitutional position. But ad hoc agreements between individual countries under the NATO umbrella should not be excluded, and indeed did to some extent take place in the Gulf War. This for the time being at any rate, must be the answer.
A further possibility is to give NATO an expanded political role. The Treaty of 1949 envisaged NATO just as much a political organisation as one solely concerned with defence. This has never been very effective, largely because some countries have not been prepared to discuss political and military matters of importance in that forum.
But NATO is the only forum in which the US is involved with European matters and, in the uncertainty which surrounds the political future of Europe, the United States would surely welcome an opportunity for exchange of views. This would be an incentive for the US to remain involved militarily as well. However, I am inclined to doubt whether such a proposal would even now find favour.
I think that the best solution at the present time is to hang on to what we have got. One of the lessons that I learned as Secretary of Defence was that the unexpected always happens.
In the early 1970s I asked for the number of occasions on which British troops had been engaged in hostilities since the end of the
Second World War, and on how many occasions this had been foreseen. The answer, if I remember rightly, was something in the region of forty occasions, and on only two of them had plans been made and the circumstances foreseen. I think, therefore, until the situation becomes much clearer, we would be wise to stick to NATO which, in its 45 years of existence, has been a splendid success.
If we do not know what the future holds, and have no firm idea of how events will shape, it is much better to leave things alone. Recent events in Russia are not particularly encouraging.
The amnesty for those who plotted against President Yeltsin and the emergence of Mr Zhirinovsky adds to the uncertainties. Anybody who has been to Russia recently will tell you that for most Russians the incorporation once again of what was the Soviet Union is still very much on the cards. Russian troops are still on the territory of the newly independent States. Russians form a very sizeable minority in a number of them. All is uncertainty. It is of course possible to scale down the vast apparatus of the NATO but do not throw away proven success unless you are certain that no medium-term or long-term threat exists.
The third problem on which I touched briefly a moment ago has been the European/North Atlantic relationship which has been the key factor in the prevention of global war. There is no doubt that in the American mind, Europe is a great deal less important than it was four years ago. To the Americans, Europe was the place in which the war would start and its prevention was clearly and rightly a US priority. Its presence in Europe was therefore absolutely vital. That is not so now. The Americans are increasingly preoccupied with their relationship in the Pacific, with Japan and increasingly with China, whose economic growth is phenomenal.
We must also accept that a new generation of leaders and politicians has grown up in the US without any personal experience of the Second World War, the friendships, the shared dangers or the problems which confronted Western Europe and America in the aftermath of the war. The expansion of the Soviet empire, the Berlin Airlift, the invasion of Hungary and so on. Their priorities are rather different. They are basically a Vietnam generation.
Equally, in Europe, the removal of the immediate threat is, for some, evidence, that America and the nuclear umbrella is to them no longer as important as it was, and the close ties of the last 45 years are no longer necessary.
It is also a deplorable but human characteristic that in times of danger, we all huddle together, forget our differences and seek safety in our common objective of self-preservation. When the immediate danger disappears, there is a natural tendency for national self-interest to take precedence over international cooperation.
Thirdly, the events of the last few years have greatly complicated the future of the European Community. We had hoped that a more united Europe would be able to play a great and more positive role in the affairs – not in competition with the U.S. – but as a more equal partner, capable of influencing events by its political cohesion and its economic prosperity. This has not happened, partly because of the economic recession which has caused grave national problems for all our countries, partly because of the reunification of Germany, which clearly altered the balance of economic and political strength in the European Community.
It is not too surprising that in the light of history our French partners who have set such great store by Franco-German partnerships, should feel a little uneasy and anxious that a unified Germany would feel that Central Europe rather than Western Europe was historically more important to it than was the West. Whether that was true or not ,it seems to me that this was one of the reasons why the Maastricht Treaty was so important both to the French and to Chancellor Kohl, who most definitely is committed to the Community. In the event, however, I believe that the Maastricht Treaty has delayed the unifying process of Europe. I think it went too fast and too far, and whether or not governments are prepared to accept in full what was agreed at Maastricht, I am inclined to think that there is a substantial number of people in all the countries of the Community who are not yet disposed to do so. We all of us have our different traditions, different political systems, different standards of living. It is not going to be as easy as all that.
Now, I speak as an Englishman firmly committed to British membership of the European union. It would be folly, economic and political for Britain to divorce itself from Europe; all considerations – geographical, military and economic – show that we are and must be a part of Europe. But I have always believed that increasing cooperation and unity must be as a result of organic growth and not as a result of a series of dates by which certain things are decreed to happen.
I believe that, eventually, there will be a proper European Union, but it will come about because everyone in the Community wants it, because the people want it. Of course there must be a blueprint. Without Mr. Monnet, there would not be a Community, but at the same time, there has to be a degree of pragmatism about what is sensible and achievable at any given time.
I sometimes think that the differences that we face are differences of national characteristics. The French and the Germans are great believers in concepts. My fellow countrymen are not very good at concepts. They have a habit of asking – ‘yes, but what does it mean? What does it entail?’ – in some ways rather an irritating question. There has, I think, to be a judicious mixture of the two.
Our problems in the Community are partly also due to the debate over enlargement, and more particularly, the enlargement with the members of Eastern Europe, who badly once again wish to become members of Europe to which they once belonged. This poses a dilemma. If we do not in some way accommodate the East European countries, there will be widespread disillusion. When the colonial master disappears, there is a natural tendency to believe that all problems will now be solved. They never are.
Indeed, in some instances, they get much worse. The countries of Eastern Europe are in much the same position as were the erstwhile colonial countries. Disillusionment can be very dangerous indeed. If we do not allow them to export their goods to us and manage trade between us to their disadvantage, there will be real trouble.
But, if we accept them as members of the Community, together with those members of EFTA, such as Sweden, Norway, Austria and Finland who may, and I hope will join, we shall create almost insuperable problems in its running. Foreign affairs and defence for one thing, difficult now, will be doubly difficult and we can all think of many other examples in a Community consisting of twenty countries as opposed to twelve.
This is a problem not yet resolved. There are those who wish to deepen the Community, that is to say, to get ourselves more unified before we accept others. But there are those – and it must be said amongst them are those who are deeply opposed to the Community in whatever form – who believed that a widening of the Community will make it unviable – and therefore encourage it. We have a difficult ride ahead.
I believe that the gradual approach is the best. Let us start the process of membership of the Community for the Eastern Europe countries and, particularly in the economic field. Let us accept, as indeed we should, the Swedes and Finns and Norwegians and Austrians, if they still wish to join.
Let us sensibly pursue greater collaboration in defence and Foreign Affairs and, if we can achieve a common foreign policy, so much the better. Yugoslavia has shown that it will not be easy.
How, then, have these different organisations faced up to the problems created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the uncertainties into which we have all been plunged? How have the United Nations, NATO and the EC emerged as effective peacemakers and peace keepers? Though all of them have acted with the best intentions, it would only be truthful to say ‘not very well’.
Are there any lessons to be learned from the events of the past few years? Perhaps you would allow me, in conclusion, to draw some lessons from what has happened in Yugoslavia, a country in which I was deeply involved for over a year between 1991 and 1992. It is necessary, for a moment, to recall how the tragedy of Yugoslavia unfolded.
The death of Tito, who, single-handed after the Second World War, united the Yugoslavs and, by his charisma and ruthlessness, held that disparate country together, was the chief reason for its dissolution.
Secondly, the death of Marxism. Communism was the cement that held Yugoslavia together, and when Tito and the Soviet died, it crumbled; nationalism took over and nationalism, curiously enough, with exactly the same leaders who had been in power all along – with one notable exception – President Izetbegovic, who had been put in jail in Bosnia for a book he had written, in which he talked about Islam from Indonesia to the Adriatic which was interpreted as dangerous fundamentalism. Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence. The Croatians promulgated a new constitution which gave no safeguards for 600,000 Serbs in that country, and, with memories of what happened in the Second World War and the Croatian mass murder of between 300-400,000 Serbs, the fighting between Serbia and Croatia began.
The European Community was asked to mediate by the CSCE and after a period, they appointed a constitutional conference with myself as the Chairman to try and devise a political solution acceptable to all six of the Republics.
In the meantime, fighting went on. As a matter of fact, the conference went a very long way towards agreement and only one outstanding matter remained. The problems of Bosnia had not arisen, and all the Republics had agreed that they would associate themselves loosely, or more closely, with a centre. The sticking point, curiously enough, was a comparatively minor one, which was whether Serbia should be the lawful successor to Yugoslavia, a proposition to which the other Republics refused to agree.
Whether this agreement would have been successful or not, I do not know, because we never got to that point. Whether, if an agreement had been signed, it would have stuck, I do not know. Leaders of the former Yugoslavia are notorious for signing documents which they have no intention of implementing. Maybe they have had their own agenda all along. I remember clearly both Presidents Milosevic an Tudjman separately telling me, two years ago, that the solution to the Bosnian problem was an agreed division between Serbs and Croats. No suggestion at that time of any separate Muslim state.
Well, the fighting continued, though Mr. Vance was negotiating for a ceasefire, which he subsequently achieved, and in December 1992, the European Foreign Ministers met to decide their course of action. They decided to recognise Slovenia and Croatia.
The rationale behind this was that the Serbs had overreacted in a gross and appalling way to the promulgation of the Croatian Constitution, which was true, and would be deterred from any further attacks if Croatia had the status of a sovereign independent country and the support of the United Nations, which was not true.
The drawback of this proposal – and it was a considerable one – was that it torpedoed the constitutional conference. If two of six Republics were given independence, they clearly had no further interest in any federal arrangements, however loose. And this proved to be the case. But, much more importantly, it involved, inevitably, asking the other Republics whether they wanted their independence.
It was quite clear, and I must say that I said so very forcibly at that time, that to ask Bosnia whether they wanted their independence would lead to civil war. The Bosnian Serbs had made it absolutely plain that they would not accept an independent Bosnia under the existing constitution which, in their view, President Izetbegovic had already wholly ignored. Equally, President Izetbegovic made it plain to me that, if asked if he wanted his independence, he could in no circumstances say no, but that civil war would ensue. Nevertheless, the European Community went forward and recognised Slovenia and Croatia, and asked the Bosnians whether they wanted their independence. The consequences were exactly as I had foreseen.
You may ask why the European Community agreed unanimously to this. I believe the answer – in part at any rate – is that the meeting took place about a fortnight after the Maastricht Treaty had been agreed, and the proposal for a common European foreign policy had been accepted. It was felt that to show so openly that there was no foreign common policy and in so short a time, was unacceptable. Though many present were doubtful of the wisdom of what they were doing, they went along with it.
Bosnia was, therefore, recognised as a sovereign state after a referendum in which the Serbs did not take part, and which was quite contrary to the existing constitution. This was a grave misjudgement and led directly to consequences we now see.
What are the lessons to be learned from all that, and I do not think I have put it unfairly. They are lessons which will be applicable, at any rate in part, to many future problems we will have.
The understandable wish for Europeans to see a united Yugoslavia and to continue to press for it, was never a starter – they should have known it, and it should have been plain to the Europeans that to continue such a policy would allow time for the Republics to gear up for conflict. And they did.
Lesson one – realism must take precedence over wishful thinking. Secondly, once involved, as the European Community became in trying to mediate in Yugoslavia, there should have been a firm policy on what end and objective, other than a ceasefire, they had in mind. In my judgement, there has never really been an ultimate agreed objective other than to stop the fighting.
Lesson two – decide on a policy, and stick to it. Stopping the fighting gives an opportunity for a political settlement. But you must know what you want the outcome to be.
Thirdly, before you get involved in what essentially is a civil war, you should ask yourself – unless you know what you do want and are prepared to use military force to achieve your objective – whether or not it would be wiser, and in the end kinder, to stay out? I think you could argue, cogently, that international involvement, all well-meaning of course, has caused more, and greatly prolonged, the suffering of the Yugoslavs, meant more ethnic cleansing and more casualties. Do not then take decisions which are in themselves counter-productive in order to paper over the cracks of disunity amongst those trying to make peace.
And, lastly, do not intervene or call for intervention or threaten intervention just for the sake of appeasing public opinion. Intervention to assuage the public, who have seen through the medium of CNN, and others some dreadful things, will never be successful unless there is seen to be a clear and definite policy and the will to carry it out. Intervention for domestic political reasons can neither be justified nor successful.
And there are lessons to be learned, not only from Yugoslavia, but also from Somalia and the Gulf War. Perhaps a dose of disagreeable realism is not too bad a medicine for us. There are no panaceas available to put the world right. There have always been enmities and wars and troubles in the world.
We should not fool ourselves into thinking that human beings have changed all that much.
When serious trouble starts or looks likely, we have to decide whether to intervene, when to intervene, how to intervene – these questions cannot be settled by a set of rules. Each case has to be – and will have to be – decided on its merits, and unless there is much greater political cohesion, not just in Europe but in the UN there will be a tendency, either for historical reasons or self-interest for countries to make up their own minds and thereby make it more difficult for international intervention or mediation to take place. We can, however, learn a bit from the mistakes of the past. It is no use blaming international organisations. They are no more than the sum of their means. One resolution, however, that we can make is to do rather better than we have in the last three years.