Center for Strategic Decision Research


How Shall We Respond to the Present Challenges?

Rt Hon Dr. John Reid, MP
Minister of Defense of the United Kingdom

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe and in the Far East. In doing so, we are also celebrating the six decades of relative peace and prosperity in Europe and Asia that have followed. During that time we have witnessed the birth of NATO, the United Nations and the European Union. We have also resolved hostility with communist nations by peaceful and diplomatic means. When you consider that in a historical context, it is indeed a major achievement. But it is an achievement that must be maintained into the future, against new, different threats.

Next month the UK is to hold commemorative events throughout the British Isles, celebrating the many sacrifices that were made during those six years of war. As the number of veterans diminishes, we want them to know that what they did is still acknowledged and highly valued. But we also want their experiences to be passed on to younger generations, so that they can understand the significance of what their forebears endured, the value of peace, and the price that sometimes has to be paid for it.

More widely across the world, I believe we are also united in gratitude to the millions of our fellow citizens-civilian and military-who gave up their lives in pursuit of peace. We recognize that the greatest share of the human cost-more than 27 million-was borne by the former Soviet Union.

The cooperation forged between the Allies and Russia was solid, contributing to the signing of the United Nations charter by 50 countries, 60 years ago in San Francisco. In turn, that charter was strong enough to survive the subsequent Cold War, and today it provides the greatest worldwide mechanism against threats to humanity. We should consider the miracle of countries once on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain, today being able to deploy together on UN operations, in an altogether different strategic environment.

It is an environment presenting threats to international peace and stability that are far less predictable and more immediate than those of the Cold War. Indeed many times in recent years we have witnessed how the inter-related threats of international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and failed and failing states can trigger a series of political, social and economic effects which are felt throughout the world.

Facing up to these new threats is challenging, but essential. It is also a continuous process. When I was last in Defence in 1997 and 1998, I was involved in shaping our vision in the Strategic Defence Review. It is still a good framework, but we need a process of permanent revision, just as we require permanent vigilance. We therefore have had two further changes since then-adjusting our infrastructure still further to be capable of simultaneous operations at distance from the UK. So, our British Armed Forces are still undergoing a comprehensive programme of modernization. We are reconfiguring our force structure to make it even more flexible and deployable. We are developing new equipment that gives the Forces greater responsiveness to unpredictable situations. The Apache helicopter and Typhoon fighter are good examples of this. We are also investing in new network technology and communications so that we can deliver military effects more rapidly and with more precision. But these changes to the British Forces are not in themselves enough to meet the strategic threats of today. Increasingly we are looking beyond defence to a cross-government approach.

In 2001, for instance, we created the Conflict Prevention Pools, bringing together the foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, and the Ministry of Defence. Their purpose was to bring complementary skills from each department to tackle the long-term structural causes of conflict, regional and national tension, and to provide support for post-conflict re-stabilisation. In the Balkans, for instance, the Department for International Development is working on community policing, while the Ministry of Defence is training humanitarian de-mining personnel and Foreign Office advisors help with tackling organised crime.

Meanwhile, our Africa Conflict Prevention Pool is addressing the issues on that continent that are important to its long-term development. Many African countries still suffer from instability caused by poor governance, corruption, poverty, disease, and social injustice. The work undertaken on these types of problem will be given further priority under Britain 's chairmanship of the G8 and presidency of the EU.

But as we have seen in Afghanistan, and to a greater extent in Iraq-and also now in the Sudan, a response is all the more effective when it comes through like-minded nations and international organisations working together.

The UK is committed to developing effective responses to global threats through the G8, NATO, the EU and-as I mentioned earlier-the UN.

At the heart of the UK 's security policy is a strong Euro-Atlantic relationship built on the foundations of NATO. Time and time again NATO has proved itself to be a remarkably successful and adaptable alliance. It ensured the collective security of the West during the Cold War. It played a leading role in reshaping Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And now it is developing a broader role as an international security organisation.

In this rapidly changing world, NATO will continue to be the mechanism by which Allies develop interoperable, deployable high-readiness forces, capable of the full range of operations that might be expected.

If NATO is to prove its continued relevance on the global stage, then it must seize the current process of transformation with both hands. Success here depends on two things: the first is the willingness and ability of European nations to enhance the usability of their armed forces-and yes, as Michele Alliot-Marie, SACEUR, and others have recently made clear, this will require increased national investment in defence. The second is willingness to operate beyond NATO's traditional areas, in places like Afghanistan . The Prague Capabilities Commitment and the NATO Response Force have served as important catalysts here. They have given member nations the chance to consider the most likely and most frequent types of future operation, and to develop capability to meet that need.

Allied Command Transformation also has a critical part to play. It must continue to promote interoperability between NATO states, and bridge the capability gap between the US and its European allies.

Britain also supports the modernization of the Alliance's central administration and decision-making process to better reflect its expeditionary aspirations. Until this is achieved, NATO may not be a sufficiently agile mechanism for applying military force on fleeting targets.

Equally, although we see NATO as our first choice when a multinational security solution to a crisis is sought, there are likely to be circumstances where NATO is unwilling to become involved, or where it is more appropriate to act under a EU banner. The 25 EU member states now represent one of the world's largest partnership of democratic countries, which provides Europe with an increasingly influential role on the world stage.

So sometimes the EU may prove better for crisis response than NATO, particularly as the European crisis management capability evolves. This will add diplomatic, civilian, judicial and economic components to the military component. It will plug crucial gaps in the capability to handle today's complex security environment, and particularly the aftermath of military interventions. This synergy of military and civilian capacity is I believe a unique strength which the EU brings to the world's security architecture.

There are some who have interpreted British participation in the European Security and Defence Policy as evidence of a move away from NATO. I would like to emphasize-as I highlighted earlier-that nothing could be further from the truth. Attempts to present the relationship between ESDP and NATO as competitive or mutually exclusive are misleading. They will-indeed they do-complement each other, rather than compete.

The progress of ESDP is marked by operational success and by commitment to the evolution of European capability. Most recently, the transfer of authority from the NATO-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU-led Operation Althea is a real and tangible achievement. We have deployed a robust force, starting at the same force levels as NATO, and in doing so have proved that the "Berlin Plus" arrangements for EU use of Alliance assets and planning capabilities can be implemented successfully.

The UK has been a strong supporter of the EU aspiration to create a rapid reaction capability in the form of battlegroups. Despite our heavy commitments to operations elsewhere, we (with France ) are meeting the requirement to demonstrate an initial operational capability throughout the first half of this year.

We see the EU battlegroup initiative as complementary to the NATO Response Force. It will enable a European response to crises demanding the rapid deployment of military capability for all types of peace support and humanitarian tasks. For some nations it is an opportunity to create an initial expeditionary capability that could be a stepping-stone to a larger, more capable NATO Response Force.

Starting on 1 July the UK 's EU Presidency aims will flow from the agenda we inherit. We will seek to build on the momentum and achievements of the Luxembourg Presidency and its predecessors.

In our planning we are taking as our framework the strategic themes of the European Security Strategy, seeking to make the Union more capable, more coherent and more active.

Alongside these three strategic themes, we will aim to strengthen ESDP's multilateral cooperation, especially with the UN and NATO. For example, we will look to deliver, in liaison with the UN and NATO, further practical assistance to the African Union and other African organizations for their efforts to build capacity and peacekeeping capability, not least in Darfur . And we will continue to build the EU/NATO partnership, including through establishment of the EU and NATO liaison cells.

These priorities underline the UK 's view that important as the developments in international military capability will be, that the military response can only be one part of the solution. So, above all in a world where defence issues and defence threats have evolved into far more complex issues and threats to our security, our answer must also extend far beyond the purely military aspects to embrace a far more comprehensive and complex response.

International responses which combine other capabilities will provide for more effective and longer lasting solutions.


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