Center for Strategic Decision Research


Complex Threats Breeding New Opportunities

His Excellency Tómas Ingi Olrich
Minister of Education, Culture, and Science of Iceland

It is a great honor to be part of the International Workshop and to speak to such a dedicated and elite group. During the discussions I have noted a general consensus on the new situation we have been facing since September 11. Most speakers have stated that the events of September 11 changed the world forever. The resulting problems are well known and were discussed in depth by a number of speakers, but none as strongly as Netherlands Secretary General Dirk Barth. 

What has changed is that the problems we have been aware of have now reached a new scale. Suddenly we comprehend their dimensions. Responding to the new situation may necessitate better exploitation of existing tools rather than radical institutional changes, and perhaps greater resolve to incorporate those tools. 


One point on which most workshop participants agree is that the road to global security cannot be paved with good intentions only. It must be paved with democratic ideals and with the political resolve needed to navigate the complicated and sometimes slow democratic process. Here the importance and the strength of NATO will be invaluable. That is because NATO is built on the fundamental principles of democracy, which are the foundation of lasting peace. 

The new opportunities for NATO/Russia relations are a great opportunity for democratic Europe too, as Dr. Sergey Rogov underlined on several occasions. The old problem of weapons of mass destruction is now higher on the agenda, since there are now more uncertainties regarding them. But the problems surrounding weapons of mass destruction are not only concerns for NATO and Russia but the major threat to all peace and stability in the future. 

One of the main lessons we learned from the tragic events of September 11 is that terrorists will stop at nothing and will go to extreme lengths to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Therefore the international community cannot accept Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to perform their tasks in that country. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty regime needs to be strengthened, in particular the International Atomic Energy Agency. But strengthening the agency has proven to be a difficult task. While arms control of course remains most important, military means cannot be excluded when it comes to rogue states and nuclear proliferation. It is critically important to have the military means with which to deal with international terrorists and terrorist threats, and the political resolve to use those means when needed. 

During the conference, NATO's role as an institution for the collective security of the Euro-Atlantic region has been confirmed. The European pillar must be strengthened, of course, but while it is a fundamental security structure, it remains clear that its objectives are limited, as Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping reminded us. The transatlantic link remains the key, which many speakers stressed, but it is weakened by the capability gap and the lack of political resolve this gap illustrates, which a number of speakers from both sides of the Atlantic also stressed. 


NATO has already adapted to the new circumstances and I believe will continue to do so without joining the club of narrow and less effective international institutions. It is hoped that NATO-Russia relations will be considerably strengthened at the Reykjavik meeting since they have huge geopolitical significance and far-reaching consequences on the democratic process in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as on economic development in the Euro-Asian theatre. NATO will certainly take on global responsibilities for certain tasks, but we must be careful not to extend its regional responsibilities to the point that its major raison d'être is undermined. This was understood by the Russian representative, Dr. Andrei Piontkovskiy. 

The Russian views expressed during the conference on NATO as a new global institution do not seem convincing to all NATO allies, however. Yet we now have a unique opportunity to cultivate new ground for NATO-Russia cooperation. I feel a bit differently about these opportunities, frankly-I think that the music is there but the sound is not quite tuned for both sides. As Mark Twain said when describing Wagner's music, "It is better than it sounds." 

President Adamkus of Lithuania and President Kwasniewski of Poland both stressed that NATO enlargement is a move to strengthen democracy in Europe and to return the new democracies to their rightful place in the world. The enlargement process will contribute to stability and security in Europe as a whole. 


I paid great attention to the debate on the root causes of terrorism, and could not help noticing the extreme caution with which many speakers approached this issue. The most outspoken speaker on the economic and social dimensions of international terrorism was Defense Minister Scharping, who defined economic and social development as the very basis for future security, a useful way to think when coupled with the democratic process. Dr. Rogov defined the new terrorism as the losers' response to globalization, a rejection of participation in improved living conditions and open societies. While it may be useful to describe economic underdevelopment, poverty, and illiteracy as fertile soil for terrorist movements, a number of speakers during the conference pointed out that terrorism is basically a very successful tool in the hands of people who seek political power and do not share our ideals of social equality and democratic values. There is poverty and social inequality where there is no terrorism and there is opulence and education where there is terrorism. Terrorism is part of a political power game and we need to concentrate on how it operates and where it strikes to understand the nature of the new international terrorist network and how we should react to it. 

The new international terrorist network operates by preying on our societies' weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To some extent, we are vulnerable because of the values we believe in. Our open, free societies lend themselves to abuses. But do we want to limit our openness and our freedom? Of course not. We may accept limited restrictions for a period of time, but such measures go against our convictions. 

International terrorism also concentrates on our economic weaknesses. For example, why is the Middle East breeding global terrorism but Indonesia and Central Africa are not? It is because the main players of the democratic and developed world have huge invested interests in the Middle East. Every year, the European Union and the U.S. are becoming more dependent on imported fossil fuels, much of which is found in the Middle East, the most unstable political region in the world. Indeed the energy problem has manifested itself four times since 1970 but we have not taken it seriously. We have not seen the signs and we are not quite literate in this respect. We have woken up to the terrorist problem but we have yet to fully comprehend the energy problem. The two are closely linked, however, as at least two speakers, Professor Stefano Silvestri and Dr. Sergei Karaganov, pointed out. 


I believe this conference has greatly improved our understanding of the threats to global security. However, these new security challenges do not require drastic changes in fundamental policies, but instead require more determination and more resolve to proceed along existing paths. We face complex threats, but we also see new avenues of cooperation that can greatly strengthen the democratic process, which is the true basis for global security. 




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