Center for Strategic Decision Research


The New Challenges to Global Security

Secretary General Dirk J. Barth
Secretary General, Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands


It is with great pleasure that I take part in this meeting that, despite its many distinguished participants, is so modestly labeled a workshop. I appreciate this unpretentious label. But let us be clear: If Dr. Weissinger-Baylon had extended the same impressive list of invitations to bankers and CEOs, this meeting would have been in Davos. 

It is a particular pleasure to be a member of a panel chaired by Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. In a previous position I was the counterpart-or should I use the beautiful French word "homologue"-of his predecessor. From my experience I can guarantee you that a French director of strategic affairs is one of the most informed and qualified persons to address questions on new challenges to global security. 

When I was preparing my notes for this meeting at my desk in The Hague, I wondered how many points I should make. I decided against 14 points, as I am definitely too shy to compete with President Woodrow Wilson. However, Wilson was not so shy, since he surpassed God, who only made 10 points. The number 7 is sacred. Three Points is a city in Arizona; that might suggest that I am biased regarding transatlantic relations. As a civil servant, I know that two points would be overly balanced. However, making one point is for zealots. Slightly depressed by all these associations I took a die and threw it: the number showing was 4. So, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I will make four points. 


  • My first point is a general one. Assessments regarding new challenges to global security often tend to be overly focused on phenomena, and labeled with phrases that fit on bumper stickers. "Globalism" and "unilateralism" are clear examples. These concepts are widely applied, not because of their exactness but because they are vague. We see globally organized demonstrations against globalization. Globalization only materializes locally. Unilateralism is addressed at multilateral conferences. Such concepts enlighten as well as delude us, and they invite us to format our thinking only in one direction. We should not allow this to happen. If it does, our analyses will focus on concepts and phrases, not on reality. The question is not whether Fukuyama or Huntington is right, but what we can learn from both. There is no single concept that can explain today's complex world. We should accept that when we try to understand new challenges to global security. 
  • My second point is closely related. Focusing on novelties, people tend to suggest that only new policies and instruments will help. Of course we have to think about new approaches all the time. But in doing so we should not disregard what we already have. Let me illustrate this. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, people in my country immediately suggested that the struggle against terrorism should become the fourth main task of our armed forces in addition to their three existing tasks. On closer observation it became very clear that the existing main tasks fully covered scenarios including terrorism. After examining the impact of September 11 on our defense plans, the Task Force on Defense and Terrorism, which I had the privilege of chairing, recommended a number of important additional projects costing up to some 90 million Euros per year, but advised against a full-scale overhaul of all existing plans.
  • My third point is that our defense plans are not tailored to wars in a rubber-stamped future, but are already focusing on armed forces that have the flexibility needed to enable them to act when the unexpected happens. Many of the initiatives we took before September 11 have now proved to be even more relevant. Of course people want their leaders to show them the new answers they have to the new challenges. But governments should make it clear that many of the initiatives decided upon during the last years were already essential for modern, 21st-century armed forces. 
  • My fourth point concerns the North Atlantic Alliance. As soon as it became clear that NATO would not act as an organization in Afghanistan, merchants of gloom rushed to the opinion market to table their merchandise. When that happened I could not suppress memories from the days when I was ghostwriting speeches. All too often I wrote that the Alliance was at a crossroads. Looking back, I think that transatlantic debates on the exact role of the Alliance are not examples of disintegration, but underscore the Alliance's vitality. We have had many such debates. NATO survived them all. It drew strength from the open exchange of views between allies. Such debates are one of the "raisons d'être" of NATO. We should thus be careful not to be "hyped" into gloomy conclusions about NATO's future. 


The new challenges to global security are multifaceted and complex. On September 11, a new type of war was added to the long existing list. As human beings we want to be comforted. Thus there is a market for simple "anti-terrorism" formulas. But we need to resist the understandable tendency to embrace these formulas and pre-fixed solutions. Avoiding fixed patterns of thinking, reductionism, and all-encompassing concepts is a prerequisite to understanding and facing the new challenges to global security. 

Does all this mean that we should just continue along the road we have been following so far? Of course not, if that road is one of fixed plans and predictable outcomes. But yes, if the road to this point has been full of surprise and improvisation, as most of us think it has been. 

For certain, more surprise is ahead, and improvisation will be even more necessary in the future. Let us prepare ourselves for the unexpected. As Field Marshall von Moltke said: Each opponent has three options. He unfortunately will use the fourth one. 


















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