by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI),
London, 18 September 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen,
About two weeks ago, an exasperated NATO Ambassador asked a question to his colleagues around the Council table: Why is it that we always see so many crises happening in the month of August?
The question was, of course, a rhetorical one, so no one felt compelled to respond. But there can be no doubt that August 2008 will go down in history as a key moment in international security. "The Guns of August", to borrow the title of a famous book, will sound in our ears for some time to come.
We saw a war erupt in the Caucasus - with a Russian military response so disproportionate that some observers started musing about a second Cold War. As I will try to explain later in my remarks, I don't believe that a second Cold War is in the offing. But one thing is clear: the role that Russia wants to play in the new international system still remains uncertain.
At the same time, the month of August and the first two weeks of September have also seen fierce fighting and a large number of casualties in Afghanistan - many NATO soldiers and many Afghans have lost their lives, and I want to use this opportunity to express my sympathy to the loved ones and friends of all those British soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
We have also seen the Taliban and other extremist forces strengthen
their positions in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. It is thus becoming ever clearer that success in Afghanistan can only be achieved if we engage Pakistan in a common effort against extremism which threatens the future of the entire region.
Conflict in the Caucasus, instability in and around Afghanistan - these two theatres alone would seem more than one can handle at any given time. Yet we all know that these crises are not happening in a vacuum. Both conflicts will reverberate far beyond their points of origin. I don't have to explain at length why Russia's justification for recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia could set a dangerous precedent - with truly global consequences. Nor do I have to explain at length why the conflict will have longer-term implications for our energy policy, notably for the discussion about alternative transit routes.
The conflict in Afghanistan, too, is more than a regional issue. It is about
our response to the global phenomenon of international terrorism. It is about our readiness to support fragile young democracies that are trying to take their people out of poverty and into the modern world. It is about long-term stability in Central Asia. And it is about the struggle of moderate Islam to prevail against the forces of fanaticism.
Samuel Johnson once said that the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind. I am not suggesting that we are in any immediate danger of being hung, but if we don't want this world to take a turn for the worse, we'd better concentrate on how best to deal with the challenges we face. So let me give you my thoughts on the way ahead - with respect to Russia, and with respect to Afghanistan.
First; Russia. Here, the issues are crystal clear. Irrespective of who did what and when in the August conflict, Russia has demonstrated a disregard for the sovereignty of a small neighbour, and for international law. This has created a major challenge for our partnership. Both NATO and the EU have made it abundantly clear that the very notion of partnership implies due respect for certain agreed standards of behaviour. As long as Russia chooses to ignore these standards, there can be no business as usual. Russia has long demanded to be treated with respect, as becomes a global power. But respect has to be earned - by taking one's global responsibilities and the defence of universal values seriously, rather than by abusing one's military might.
In both her actions and her accompanying rhetoric, Russia has shown much assertiveness. But what worries me even more is Russia's apparent readiness to stand against virtually the entire international community. Russia's perceived temporary gains in Georgia have come at the cost of her strategic isolation. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin tell us that the West needs Russia, but that Russia doesn't really need the West. I have no problem with the first part of their statement. Yes, the West does indeed need Russia. But it is an illusion to believe that Russia can go it alone without the West. Going it alone in this global world is simply not an option.
What next? Let me be very clear. A solution to this crisis is possible.
But it will only be found if all parties are willing to make concessions and to walk back from where they are today. Such a solution cannot be found if we simply seek to "punish" Russia. NATO is not in the punishment business. Nor is there any ne