Speech at Atlantic Council Gala

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Never in contemporary military history has there been a record amassed by an alliance that can even approach what NATO has achieved. So we begin with NATO, the foundation of all the Atlantic partnerships and dialogues that relate to security issues and, most importantly, the foundation of a future system of global security.

After deliberation, NATO correctly embraced the concept of “out of area” missions. It took courage to step up and make that decision, but it was achieved. There is no better example of this than the leadership NATO is providing in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. I was in Afghanistan about three weeks ago; I try to go to Afghanistan or Iraq every four months. ISAF is expanding its reach to provide security and stability throughout Afghanistan — in the face of a rising number of attacks — while the new government forges ahead putting down roots of democracy so that Afghanistan can take its place among the free nations of the world.

That commitment has required sacrifice from the members of NATO — financial resources, military resources, and issuing orders for their militaries to perform missions, at times, in harm’s way. By the end of this summer, we expect ISAF to assume command of security and stabilization missions throughout the whole of Afghanistan.

In the past, NATO operations have been burdened with “national caveats,” wherein some nations in NATO stipulate: “Yes, our forces can go into this area, but if the ‘shooting starts’ we’ll have to pull back and leave that to others.” To the credit of General Jim Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEUR), and the current leadership of NATO, this is changing. General Jones said this past February: “In Kosovo we have virtually eliminated caveats; we need to eliminate caveats in Afghanistan too. Caveats send a bad message to an enemy which they will expose.” I’m pleased to say that General Jones informed me on my recent trip that we now have far fewer “caveat” restrictions in Afghanistan; the soldiers serving there, regardless of their nationality, are more equally assuming the risks of the dangerous ISAF mission.

Beyond Afghanistan, NATO forces remain in the Balkans with a record of success in achieving stability in that region. The patience of the world, the patience of our country, the patience of the NATO nations, was necessary to keep forces there to this day.

In Iraq, despite continuing violence, a new unified government is emerging. Even with the strong differences of opinion within NATO relating to Iraq, NATO is participating in the training of Iraqi security forces.

Let’s examine the immediate future of NATO. To become more agile and respond more quickly to contingencies, NATO must lessen some of its restrictions related to consensus decision-making. There are several in this audience tonight who have had first-hand experience with this problem. In my many visits with NATO officials, they often point out problems that result from the overburden of bureaucracy and the longstanding consensus requirements.

Now I’d like to present a challenge to the Atlantic Council.

The greatest threat to regional stability, the greatest threat to global stability, is none other than Iran. We have to admit that fact.

The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Hoekstra, on national television this past weekend, stated: “There’s a whole lot we don’t know about Iran that I wish we did know, and we as public policymakers need to know that as we’re moving forward and as decisions are being made on Iran, we don’t have all of the information that we would like to have.” We do not know the full extent of their aims and capabilities. The rhetoric, constantly flowing out of Iran, is astounding considering their long history as a cultured and educated people.

Underway at this very moment are negotiations — our nation together with France, Great Britain, Germany, and the other members of the EU, are doing everything that diplomacy can attempt, everything to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. The UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are also playing important roles in promoting nuclear nonproliferation in Iran and elsewhere.

Iran boasts about its inventory of missiles which can range throughout the Middle East and reach Europe. If Iran defies diplomacy and develops nuclear weapons, the threat will increase exponentially.

Free nations must face this reality now.

Given that we have not yet seen encouraging progress from any of the negotiations underway, should we not now begin to prepare for our next initiative?

I support the principle of preserving as many options as possible in diplomacy. There are at least two other options that should be considered.

Given that the estimates range from 5 to 10 years before Iran can develop a deployable nuclear weapon, time permits a sequence of steps.

First is the option to engage in bilateral talks between the United States and Iran, and/or between one or more other nations that share our objectives and Iran. While it may not be timely at this moment, the United States should keep this option on the table. Iran needs to understand that the free nations of the world are serious. Iran can go ahead with its civil nuclear program, under the inspection regime of the IAEA, insofar as it relates to Iran’s legitimate energy needs, but we will not, as a consortium of free nations, permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. As we gather here tonight, the IAEA, although trying valiantly, is being denied by Iran the ability to fulfill its responsibilities.

Second is the option of deterrence. Let’s reflect on the worst case scenario: If diplomacy does not succeed and Iran defiantly goes forward with a nuclear weapons program, what is our response?

We should reflect on the lessons of the Cold War, when deterrence succeeded. We should consider erecting a “ring of deterrence” that would surround Iran. This could be accomplished with a standoff military capability, incorporating some of the recent advancements in conventional weaponry that challenge the security of underground installations. Initially such a plan could be limited to a stand-off naval force operating in international waters, and a stand-off air capability in international airspace.

History shows that diplomacy, backed by deterrence, can achieve results without firing a single shot. The free nations of the world can and must prevent Iran from ever using its weapons to destabilize other parts of the region or Europe.

Has any organization had a better record for planning and effecting a policy of deterrence than NATO?

Is it not now time for NATO to step forward and initiate a preliminary concept for a deterrent mission that addresses the unique situation posed by Iran? This step would give NATO a place at the international table in support of the diplomatic efforts being pursued by the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and a consortium of nations who are deeply concerned such as Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States. Such an initiative would signal the seriousness with which the 26 NATO nations share the concerns of the international community, and would lend important support to the various diplomatic efforts underway to, hopefully, resolve Iran’s nuclear weapons threat.

I bring to your attention two quotes which, though not directly on point, demonstrate general thinking on why NATO should begin to prepare to address the potential threats from Iran. In a speech on November the 3rd 2005, the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said: "Either we tackle challenges to our security when and where they are, or they’ll end up on our doorstep." He’s absolutely right. On February 10th this year 2006, the Secretary General said at a press conference: "Iran is of course a very, very, relevant subject for NATO. That Iran can be discussed in NATO, yes." (With a sense of fairness, I point out that in his remarks of February 10, 2006, the Secretary General also said the following: "We follow the EU-3 in their negotiations with Iran, together with America, we follow Russia, the IAEA, and we have no intention of playing the first violin, or playing any direct or active role in this dispute.")

But here in this room tonight I say, most respectfully, to the Secretary General, “Mr. Secretary, the problem of Iran could be on your doorstep very soon, if it is not already there.”

I challenge the Atlantic Council and its professional staff to come back to me and constructively criticize – or support – this concept of NATO planning for deterrence of Iran, as an option to be put on the table.

As the Congress, and your organization, and others, continue our work and support of NATO, we have got to prepare for the many challenges in this troubled world. We may not know today what some of those challenges may be, but we must keep NATO strong and viable.

NATO’s most valued asset is the respect, confidence, and trust people have for its past record of success and future potential.

We sleep better at night knowing that NATO is standing watch.

I say to you, we cannot allow ourselves to lapse into an exercise of nostalgia, basking in the greatness of this organization, greatness achieved by our predecessor trustees and respected leaders of NATO, down through the past half century.

In my most recent consultation with General Jones, I recorded a few notes, which I share with you this evening. We agreed on the following: "NATO has been and must remain a great alliance. Great alliances do great things. It is possible that NATO’s most important days and most important missions lie ahead in the future."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).