Sign Up

What NATO Must Do

The alliance’s secretary general on how to update its capabilities.

June 29, 2004

The alliance's secretary general on how to update its capabilities.

Former Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became NATO's 11th Secretary General in January 2004. On his first day in office, he announced that his predominant concern would be the transformation and modernization of the alliance. In our Read My Lips feature, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer gives his opinion on what NATO must do to stay relevant.

How important are NATO's military capabilities to its prestige?

“The Alliance enjoys such a strong international standing because it can convert — when necessary — political decisions into concrete military action.”

Where can we find evidence of this?

“We have seen in Bosnia that moral condemnations or the use of economic sanctions availed us little without the backing of military power.”

Does NATO use these capabilities to address potential threats and risks?

“Projecting stability has become a precondition for our security. NATO's core function of defending its members can no longer be achieved by maintaining forces only to defend our borders. Afghanistan is a case in point. Either we tackle these problems when and where they emerge — or they will end up on our doorstep.”

What does "projecting stability" entail?

“We need more wide-bodied aircraft and fewer heavy tanks. We need forces that are slimmer, tougher and faster — forces that reach further and can stay in the field longer, but can still punch hard.”

Can any other organization project stability as well as NATO can?

“The demand for NATO is likely to increase, not diminish, in the future. NATO will be called upon by the international community to be a peacemaker, peacekeeper — and the provider of security and stability.”

Is NATO too dependent on the goodwill of its members to get missions underway?

“I don't mind taking out my begging bowl once in a while. But as a standard operating procedure, this is simply intolerable.”

How can members prove they are serious about operations?

“My predecessor, Lord Robertson, was fond of his mantras ‘capability’, ‘deployability’ and ‘usability’. In my view, we need to add another one: ‘predictability’. We must devise a formula that both encourages and enables nations to honor their collective decisions and commitments.”

Should capabilities therefore be taken into account during decision-making?

“Whenever we enter into a political commitment to undertake an operation, we must have a clear idea beforehand as to what forces we have available to honor this commitment.”

So how do you achieve more predictability for NATO planners?

“Predictability requires many nations to confront some rather traditional mindsets in their military establishments. There are still too many out there who are comfortable with old ways of doing business.”

Should NATO members consider common funding of essential capabilities?

“I want nations to take another hard look at how they go about developing certain capabilities. Let us be realistic: some capabilities are simply unaffordable to individual smaller nations. Developing these capabilities bilaterally or multinationally can offer an affordable solution.”

Where else might new approaches help NATO make progress?

“Some countries have one defense budget, out of which they finance peacekeeping and other operations as well as new military hardware. I personally do not think that is the best way because it creates a zero-sum situation — where operations become a drag on military modernization, and vice versa."

Do you expect any of these changes to happen soon?

“NATO is an alliance of sovereign nations. It is ultimately a matter of national political will.”

How soon do you expect results?

“Transformation is a process, not a single event.”

This selection of quotes is based on the speech given by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Royal United Services Institute on June 18, 2004.