|Deputy Secretary Talbott|
Address to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
Conference on "A Catalyst for Freedom and Stability:
NATO in the 21st Century"
Mons, Belgium, March 11, 1999
Thank you, Wes [Clark], for the introduction -- and for the privilege of working with you over the last several years. I m also honored to be in the presence of several other friends and colleagues: Secretary General Solana, General Naumann, and Ambassador Vershbow. General Naumann, let me pay special tribute to you as your service as Chairman of the Military Committee draws to an end. As a soldier and a statesman, you have embodied the best qualities of this alliance.
The foursome I've just mentioned -- Wes, Javier, Klaus, Sandy -- capture, in microcosm, what has made NATO so successful over the 49 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, 13 hours, and 10 minutes that have passed since the founders of the alliance signed the Treaty of Washington. What has made the alliance so successful is two layers of teamwork, one operating between North Americans like Wes and Sandy and Europeans like Javier and Klaus -- the other between soldiers like Wes and Klaus and civilians like Javier and Sandy, all working together to preserve and consolidate the peace of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Eight years ago, the very essence of that challenge changed from what it had been for the previous 41. Just how dramatically it changed, and how quickly, is apparent as I look around this room at this distinguished, diversified and, by and large, elegantly attired audience.
You know, it may come as a surprise to some of you -- perhaps even to Sandy -- but we used to have an official uniform for the U.S. diplomatic service: it was a blue tunic lined with white silk, a gold-embroidered three-cornered cap, gilt buckles, a black cockade and, last but not least, a sword. Alas, in 1867, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution abolishing the custom, thus further disadvantaging the Department of State in its long and friendly rivalry with the Department of Defense. There are still a few exceptions to the no-uniforms rule: for example, Secretary Albright's red Stetson hats and dramatic brooches (sometimes the handiwork of a particularly talented jewelry designer who lives in Brussels); meanwhile most of the rest of us have been left to our pinstripes and the occasional tuxedo. But looking around, I still feel underdressed for the occasion.
Let me also say this, in addition to an impressive and diverse array of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, I also see quite a few spouses here this evening. My own wife, Brooke, is a friend and admirer of Wes, Javier, and Sandy, as well as of Gert Clark and Lisa Vershbow, who are here tonight. A couple of months ago, when I began my current trans-Atlantic shuttle, Brooke asked me to give her some background on the project to which I was devoting so much time: preparation for the Washington Summit that opens 43 days from now. Well, I said, the summit will, among other things, commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Brooke fell into a thoughtful silence. Since the summit occurs around the time of my own 53rd birthday, she had a sudden revelation, which she put rather indelicately. "You mean to tell me," she exclaimed, "that I'm married to someone who's older than NATO?!"
Frankly, I'd never thought of the alliance -- or myself -- in quite that way. Once I recovered from the shock, her comment actually set me thinking about how biography is entwined with history. As I look around this room, and around the head tables, I see several other friends and colleagues to whom Brooke's bracing observation also applies. They, too, are even older than NATO -- the Chairman of the Military Committee, SACEUR, and the Secretary General himself. In fact, Javier's biggest applause line in his speech at the London NATO conference this week was, "Life begins at 50."
The life stories of these individuals illustrate a point that I think forms an important part of the backdrop both to this conference and to the Washington Summit: these two events not only bring together 44 different countries, stretching (as Churchill might have put it) from the Presidio on the Pacific to Petropavlovsk -- also on the Pacific; they also represent a collective historical experience. To say that the span of time in question is a half-century actually understates the significance of what has happened and what we have witnessed; for, in those 50 years, the world -- especially our part of the world -- has undergone one of the most extraordinary and promising transitions in all of human history, all the more so because the transition was, in the main and in the final analysis, peaceful.
I say "in the main and in the final analysis," because the outcome of the Cold War was not quite so clear or so reassuring while we were living through it. Join me, for a moment, in recalling what the world was like at the time that NATO observed, with somewhat less fanfare, its 20th anniversary, 30 years ago. The year was 1969, and the global rivalry between what many of us then called the Free World and the forces of international communism was going strong. In Europe, NATO remained poised to counter the threat from the East. NATO's resolve and unity helped keep the Cold War -- though a deadly business, from ever turning hot.
But elsewhere, especially in Southeast Asia, the Cold War had turned very hot indeed. In 1969, Wes Clark, then a captain in the United States Army, was one of many Americans who bravely served in Vietnam, in his case as an assistant operations officer in an infantry division and then as a company commander. As for myself, I had recently graduated from one of the many colleges in the United States seething with opposition to the cause in which Wes, Mike Byron, Dave Weisman, and other officers here tonight were risking their lives.
I recall that political turmoil only to be sure that all of us remember -- as no American of our generation can forget -- that half-way through NATO's first 50 years, what might be called "the strategic concept" for the conduct of the Cold War was a matter of the most wracking doubt and the most divisive debate, both around the world and on the American home front. By the way, just to give you another set of coordinates in the space-time continuum: Thirty years ago, Javier Solana was undergoing his first sustained transatlantic experience. He was studying physics on a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Virginia.
At that same time, quite a few of the military officers who now represent a dozen independent states were beginning their careers in the service of a single state that no longer exists, and an alliance of other states that were then far from independent. Now join me in flashing ahead 10 years, to 1979, when NATO observed its 30th anniversary with little more than the issuance of a joint commemorative communique, I was a journalist specializing in coverage of the Soviet bloc. That assignment was somewhat complicated by my status as persona-non-grata in Russia. I was banned from traveling there or anywhere else on the territory of what are now 15 sovereign member states of the EAPC. That was because of my role in the publication of the Khrushchev memoirs, which I like to think of as an early, anticipatory example of glasnost.
Meanwhile, in 1979, Wes Clark was serving right here at SHAPE as an assistant executive officer and speechwriter to the then-SACEUR, Al Haig. One of Major Clark and General Haig's principal preoccupations was the annual REFORGER Exercise, a dress rehearsal for the rapid return of 10 U.S. divisions to reinforce our allies in blunting what was seen as the clear and present danger of a Warsaw Pact invasion through the Fulda Gap. NATO had thousands of nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe, nearly 10 times as many as is the case today.
Meanwhile, by 1979, Professor Solana had left physics for the less exact, but no less challenging, science of politics. He was now a member of the Spanish Parliament. The issue of NATO enlargement -- that is, membership for Spain in the alliance -- was not yet front and center, to say nothing of membership for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the other nine aspirant states in today's central Europe.
Fast forward again to the end of the next decade, to the year 1989. That was when NATO reached the post-yuppie age of 40 and when Europe as a whole crossed a truly momentous threshold. For this continent, '89 was the annus mirabilis -- the year of wonders -- when the Iron Curtain cracked, then crumbled. The transition was vividly reflected in Col. Wes Clark's change of assignment. He began that year as director of the Battle Command Training Program, which in Europe still focused on preparations for the defense of West Germany against Soviet attack.
I should, and do, recognize that a number of the officers here tonight served on the eastern side of the Fulda Gap; they, too, wrestled every day with the uncertainties and perils inherent in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation of such massive scale and such cataclysmic stakes. But in November of that year, at almost exactly the same time that the Berlin Wall was coming down, Wes was withdrawing from the front lines of the Cold War. He took command of the National Training Center in the California Desert. His new mission was to whip U.S. forces into shape for what became Desert Storm -- the first great armed struggle of the post-Cold War period.
With the wisdom of hindsight, we can all see it as fitting and auspicious that, with that transfer, Wes also received a promotion -- and his first star, thus becoming a general just in time to turn his talents and energies to a menace that had nothing to do with the Fulda Gap and everything to do with new threats to peace: regional conflict and weapons of mass destruction. In that operation in the Gulf, the U.S. and several of its allies concerted their efforts through a United Nations-authorized coalition of the willing. Since Wes acquired his fourth star nearly 3 years ago, when he became Commander in Chief of the U.S. Southern Command, NATO itself has taken on several new missions, and it has done so with new partners, notably including those from the ranks of old adversaries.
Thus entered onto the stage of history and into the life of this continent the organization that encompasses the nations represented here tonight -- the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. When EAPC leaders meet during the Washington Summit, it will be only the second such gathering, the first having been in Madrid. I think the same can be said about the Washington meeting as has been said about elections in new democracies: in some ways, the second is even more important than the first, because it proves that an innovation is becoming an institution. The EAPC so qualifies. It is becoming our institution of choice when NATO and its Partners act together, just as the Partnership for Peace is our mechanism of choice to prepare for joint action in the face of common challenges.
It is no coincidence, by the way, that PfP was the brainchild of a distinguished former SACEUR, Gen. John Shalikashvili, as well as an outstanding public servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joe Kruzel, who lost his life pursuing peace in Bosnia. In its own 5 years of existence, PfP has already run hundreds of events in virtually all of the countries represented here. For example, last October, the alliance sponsored a PfP exercise in three separate locations: Capo Teulada, Italy; Doganbey, Turkey; and, the Incirlik and Kayseri training range, also in Turkey. That exercise had a designation that pretty well sums up both PfP and EAPC: "Dynamic Mix." It also pretty well sums up SHAPEX 1999.
One more biographical note I can't resist. In each of the last 2 years, U.S. Atlantic Command has airlifted a contingent of American paratroopers literally halfway around the world -- 11 time zones from Fort Bragg -- for joint peacekeeping exercises in Kazakhstan. Many of you here know Gen. Jack Sheehan, and count him as a friend as I do, the former commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, and in his NATO hat, SACLANT. In one of his final months in active service -- very active service -- Jack jumped out of a C-141 to participate with a contingent of Azebaijanis, Kazakstanis, Russians, Turks, and Uzbekistanis in a joint peacekeeping exercise on the steppes of Central Asia. That was not, I think it is safe to say, a contingency Jack had envisioned when he joined the Marine Corps in the 1960s.
The world tends, understandably, to think of PfP and EAPC as constituting a giant, ongoing confidence-building measure for former adversaries. It is that of course, but the two organizations are also attracting the participation of traditional neutrals, such as Sweden, Finland, Austria, and Switzerland -- the last of which doesn't even belong to the United Nations. Ireland -- a country that has little in common, historically and geographically, with the PfP members to the East -- has expressed an interest in possible participation in the Partnership.
And then, of course, there is the Balkans -- the region that is most obviously and desperately in need of our collective political and military efforts. PfP has made a real contribution in Bosnia and Eastern Slavonia, and there is every reason to expect that it will do so in Kosovo as well. Many of you here tonight -- and many more of your colleagues -- have been involved in these operations or in their planning. In that sense, too, your careers, like those I have singled out in these remarks, have intersected with history and helped bring about one of the great good-news stories of our time: the end of a vastly expensive and mortally dangerous competition, the end of the division of Europe, and the beginning of an era in which all the countries represented here are united not just in two institutions, PfP and EAPC, but in a single enterprise: the building of a community of nations that is secure, democratic, and at peace for the first time in its history.
That, in a nutshell, is what brings all of us together -- whether on the steppes of Central Asia, in peace patrols in the Balkans, in the halls of the Manfred Woerner building in Brussels, or here in the SHAPE "O Club." This same new and hopeful enterprise -- these same common interests, values, and goals -- will bring us together again, in only 6 weeks, in the Mellon Auditorium of the Commerce Department in Washington, for the meeting of EAPC heads of state and government. Whatever your rank, profession, whatever your country or attire, I look forward to seeing you there. We've got a lot to do, together. Thank you very much.
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