London. The City. Office of Lord Robertson – 9.30
Numerous photographs cover the walls and desks.
The host knows many world leaders.
He is one of them himself having been head of the most
powerful military organisation in history – NATO.
Our attention is drawn to one photograph showing Berlusconi, Putin, Bush and our
On the other wall big black and white photos – deserted landscapes, compositions.
The host notices our looks, nods – yes, mine. Shows interest in our camera – yes “Contax”, good optics.
Lord Robertson, an accomplished photographer, sometimes publishes in photography
magazines and participates in exhibitions. Landscapes, seascapes, rocks and
people. A Scot, former Labour Member of Parliament and Defence Minister of a
nuclear power, he served as Nato General Secretary from 1999 to 2004.
Following his resignation, he became Chairman of the Royal Institute of Foreign
Affairs (Chatham House) which is situated next door to the offices of Herald of
Q: Ninety-one years ago the First World War started and it changed the course of
world history. The break between the First and the Second World War was twenty
years. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
You are a man of the post-war world. From your point of view and with your
experience, what do you think we should remember as the most important lesson
to be learnt from the Second World War? What conclusions should we draw from
LR: Yes. At 11 a.m. on the 11th of November 1918 the bombardments stopped – Germany capitulated. On the 3rd of September 1939, Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain announced that Great Britain was at war with Germany. The lessons
of both the First and the Second World Wars were that competing interests in
Europe are always going to be a constant source of instability, competition and
confrontation. What I believe has protected my generation, born after the
Second World War, from the kind of conflagration of previous generations is
that the integration of Europe has meant that competition is more limited.
People argue about the Common Fisheries Policy and about Agriculture not about
national frontiers or borders. So, the lessons which were learned very quickly
after the Second World War
– integration and co-operation – are as valid today as they were then. If we are to avoid what happened in 1918
and 1939 then we must continue that process of co-operation between European
Q: During 1940–41 Britain, and above all London, withstood heavy bombardment, the signs of
which can be seen even now. In June and July 1944 the Germans launched
thousands of V-1 missile-shells. Churchill recalls in his
History of the Second World War (for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature): “This new form of attack was a heavier burden for Londoners than even the raids
–41. 8,564 missile-shells were launched on London. Around 750,000 households were
damaged, 23,000 of them beyond repair. The number of civilians killed was
6,184, with nearly 18,000 seriously wounded
…” The Discovery Channel from time to time shows the film Battle of Britain. The
commentator argues that if the missile attacks had gone on for another month,
then Britain might have been looking for a separate peace. The Germans were
thinking the same thing, but not the British. Later, 1,359 V-2 rockets were
launched on London. In August and September 1944 German bombardments continued.
By the end of the campaign around 2,000 pilots had died defending London. Both
sides were aiming to crush the enemy economically and psychologically, to
undermine morale. That was the strategy of the war.
At the beginning of WWII Britain was practically fighting alone against Nazi
Germany. Later, Britain, the United States and Russia formed the Alliance.
After the end of the war there was a long period of the Cold War. In Zurich, on
the 19th of September 1946, Churchill delivered a speech urging countries
“as a sovereign remedy… to recreate the European fabric, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it
with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in freedom and in safety
… The first step must be a partnership between France and Germany. If Europe is
to be saved from infinite misery and final doom, there must be this act of
faith in the European family
…Time may be short. If we are to form a United States of Europe, or whatever name
it may take, we must begin now.
Since that time, the mechanisms of world security, created at the end of the
1940s, have remained broadly unchanged and are no longer compatible with the
current situation as it has evolved, particularly over the last fifteen years.
What kind of changes do you think are needed to create new mechanisms of world
In other words what essential intelligence would be needed to secure an
integrated and co-operative approach to world security? How can agreement be
reached between different countries, for example, on selling weapons to Iran or
Arab countries or lifting the embargo on sales to China? Should we plan a new
structure for world security?
LR: We already have some very good security institutions, which should be refreshed
and organised. The United Nations still has a huge role to play in the world
but it must be modernised. It needs to be reshaped and re-modelled for the new
dimensions it has to face today. I think NATO has shown the way in security
terms by its relationship with Russia, with the Ukraine and countries of the
former Soviet Union. Now it is reaching out to the Mediterranean countries as
well to show how common security can be formalised in an international
organisation. NATO was established as a counterweight to the Soviet threat, but
now it is a co-operative organisation able to build multinational peace-keeping
forces which it can send to places like Afghanistan or the Balkans and it has a
lot of lessons for other parts of the world. You then have the European Union,
which has gone from strength to strength. In the post-war world it was NATO to
’s collective security, the European Union to build the economic strength of
Europe after the war. The European Union is 25 members strong, it has a
security and military dimension as well and it obviously plays a huge part in
keeping the continent together. It is also a major influence in the world. Then
you have the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is
less well known, less publicised, but actually an important organisation that
helps to keep East and West closely aligned with one another. The OSCE has a
hugely valuable role to play in peacekeeping, in elections and in democracy
building too. So, we have plenty of organisations at the moment that we should
revitalise, instead of pretending that we could start a new organisation which
would prove very difficult to construct and which ultimately is not necessary.
Q: In the current situation there are some crucial disagreements within the unity
of the European members of our alliance, e.g. the situation in Iraq. Does it
reflect the relations of the members of NATO within NATO?
LR: No but I would like to mention that there are contradictions. There are
differences of opinion and we have had differences of opinion in the past. You
cannot get a group of countries that are democracies, with individual public
opinion, individual governments, individual parliaments, without having
differences of opinion. The question is, how are they resolved?
In the past, these issues were resolved by war, conflict, border disputes. Now
they are argued about round a table: the issues are thrashed out and they are
resolved. For example, every one of the issues confronting the NATO allies
since NATO was formed in 1949 has been solved. Some of them were almost at
breaking point, some of them could not be resolved because they were
unsolvable, and yet because there was a common interest they have been solved.
The main aim
– defence of the democratic world – stayed, survived, but it acquired a new meaning. Many people criticise NATO,
often deservedly, but it is the only effective international structure able to
Without NATO the world would be a lot more dangerous and unpredictable. When I
was in NATO we created the NATO Russian Council and we brought Russia into that
same cohesive decision-making. It was a huge surprise to many Russians to
discover how NATO comes to decisions. Previously, they thought it was simply a
phone call from Washington and the other 18 countries simply did what they were
told. When we formed the NATO Russian Council an issue would be under
discussion and the Russians would find themselves on the same side of an
argument with the Americans, with the British, with the French. But still there
was no decision because there was not unanimity at the level of 20. So, these
are not contradictions of policy, they are differences of policy, and if there
is a common will to solve them they will be solved. And that is how we solve
the problems of NATO.
Q: Do you think at some time in the future the Ukra-ine can participate in NATO and
then possibly even Russia?
LR: Both the Ukraine and NATO are involved at the moment. The NATO Russian Council – that’s the first picture of the meeting over there, myself and a few friends! NATO
has a NATO/Ukraine commission. In fact, the reason you did not meet Mr Yushenko
in Kiev last week is because he was in Brussels at NATO headquarters
participating in a meeting of the NATO/Ukraine commission with all the heads of
state of government. I don
’t know what the future holds. Who would have thought that NATO would have
included Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, formerly parts of the Soviet Union? So
the future will take care of itself. What we need to do is to build
institutions that bring that co-operative approach, now.
Q: You are in a unique position, one of very few at the present time with such
enormous experience in international relations, especially international
military relations. The question is, from our point of view Russia sits between
two chairs. Russia will not make a final decision about what it wants. To
become a European country, Westernised, with a European democracy, or to create
a new alliance with totalitarian countries like China. Within Russian society
the choice has not yet been made. Do you think there are serious chances that
Russia finally will be welcomed into the society of the current developed
countries, or will Russia create a new alliance with countries like China?
LR: The president of Russia wants Russia to be a Western country. He said that to
me very explicitly and I believe him. I believe that the people round about him
want that as well. They want to be firmly anchored in Western Institutions: EU,
NATO. They want to share in the prosperity of Western Europe where they believe
they have a role to play. They want to be part of the security, the common
security set-up. Even though they don
’t particularly want formal membership of the institutions, they see themselves
very much as part of the successful integration, the successful growth strategy
that has been represented by Western Europe. I don
’t think there is a choice here, a choice to become part of an alliance with
China or Central Asia. The fact is the bulk of the Russian people live in the
European part of Russia and it is to Europe that they look and the president,
quite rightly, sees Russia very much as part of that huge economic success that
Western Europe has represented after the Second World War. Generally, I see two
most important, post-WWII, historic factors
– establishment of the European Union and disintegration of the Soviet empire, – freeing countries and nations from totalitarianism, leading to the
establishment of democratic regimes in the countries of the former Warsaw Pact.
Many of those countries have already covered a long path of transitional
development, become members of EU and NATO; others are still on that path. The
result of these grand scale historic events is the end of the intense military
and political opposition on the European continent. Young people today do not
know what level of threat, what kind of potential was discharged, but only some
20 years ago peace in Europe was so fragile. In the centre of Europe, the most
powerful military machines in history, complete with nuclear weapons, were
standing in opposition to one another.
Q: If you remember, Churchill stated in his book about the Second World War that
war also happens as a consequence of many wrong decisions, mistakes, not enough
levels of responsibility for politicians and so on. Are the current mechanisms
of decision-making and the direction of organisations appropriate to our
present circumstances? Are they adequate and efficient? What do you think? Does
the mechanism of decision-making need to be improved or is it equal to dealing
with current military threats?
LR: No, it’s not adequate for the current situation. We have far too much in the way of
military hardware and manpower still configured for the conflicts of the past.
In the West we are far too dependent on constant forces and on equipment that
was designed for confrontation with the Soviet Union. The military in Russia is
a huge waste of money because it is still configured for a battle that is gone
completely. We now have common enemies in terrorism, instability and failed
states. They are renegades of Russia and of the West and yet we are completely
insufficient to deal with them. They are enemies that are agile, asymmetric,
unexpected. Enemies, which require flexibility of thinking and of action
because their agents move very quickly and we simply are not configured
properly for that.
Q: The most important questions. Integration processes are accompanied by something
– surges of nationalism, separatism, and terrorism. This is happening not only on
the territories of disintegrating multinational countries, the Soviet Union,
Yugoslavia, but also in Western Europe. In some European countries the
ultra-right parties are very strong, nationalism is becoming a demanded product
on the political market. It is important to understand the conditions the new
mechanisms of coexistence have to satisfy. What measures are adequate to combat
terror or what new technologies must countries produce in place of an enormous
capacity of nuclear weapons and missiles? Do you think the new political
strategies and alternative technologies are being implemented and produced in
order to deal with new threats, or are we still not ready to answer that new
LR: The world is changing rapidly, too rapidly, and many people, indeed whole
countries, do not manage to adapt to it. This is an objective and unavoidable
process. There always will be outsiders; it is important that they do not take
Q: Up to 200 years ago, in order to change the government one had to fight in
battle. Now it
’s enough to set off explosions on trains and buses. Some people think the
democratic system is too fragile. Is that true?
LR: You have to be constantly vigilant. Democracy is not something automatic; it
has to be worked at. I think there are plenty of institutions around to deal
with security issues. But certainly the capabilities need to be examined. One
of the things I was most concerned about was manpower, troops who were used in
difficult situations whether it is in the Beslan school or in the Balkans. You
have to have usable forces on the ground in sufficient quantity in order to be
able to deal with the kind of situations that you are faced with. We have
hardly any of them. Russia has most of theirs deployed in the southern part of
the country. The Europeans have theirs distributed in the Balkans and
Afghanistan and a lot of them in Iraq. But there are too few of them. It should
be the priority of every country to make those expensive soldiers into usable
soldiers for the threats that we are going to face now and in the future.
Q: What sort of new technologies do countries have to produce, perhaps in
co-operation, specifically to fight threats like terrorism?
LR: We need to be much more sophisticated in terms of chemical, biological and
radiological weapons because that
’s what the instrument of choice of the terrorists is likely to be. We need to
focus on what is called C4 ISR. Command; control; computers; surveillance;
reconnaissance; because that gives you an advantage over those who use
primitive methods. We need to focus a lot more attention on logistics, on
medicine, on engineering in the armed forces both in the East and in the West.
We need to have sophisticated precision weapons because it is not acceptable
that you take out a whole block of buildings in order to get one group of
terrorists who are involved. Therefore precision weapons are the only things
that are acceptable to international opinion and international law and we need
to have many more of our troops equipped with that kind of precision. Take a
look at Russian forces. The whole potential of the Soviet Union was directed
towards production of weapons that are not necessary any more. For example,
what can be done with huge tank armies in contemporary conditions? What use are
thousands of missiles, millions of shells and mines? Smaller numbers of tanks
are needed but equipped in more sophisticated ways. There is not enough
transport, communications systems, other infrastructure. But reconstruction of
defence is not only a problem of Russia.
Q: One more question related to that. For example, what could happen if, let’s say tomorrow, some terrorist group can get a covert weapon, say a covert
nuclear weapon or a covert biological weapon? Do we have enough security
against that, because people are frightened about it?
LR: Well, we need to expand our capabilities. At NATO we created a new chemical,
biological and radiological facility: a mobile phone that would be able to deal
with some of those threats if they came along and that was the first time in
’s history that we’ve been involved in that kind of thing.
Q: Because the world has to produce new technologies against these threats,
especially developed countries, do we have to spend a much larger part of our
national budgets developing our defence technologies?
LR: Well, we spend a lot of money in all of the countries on defence but we don’t spend it on the right things. So, it’s important that we examine and restructure this sphere. I think we will all
eventually have to spend more on defence if we are going to produce the
security people are demanding. But first of all massive restructuring is
needed, so that the money that is already being spent is being spent on the
right things. Russia and Western Europe are facing the same problems. People
are tied to the past: to old barracks, to large conscript forces, to large tank
formations. These are completely irrelevant in the kinds of conflicts we will
face in the future. A lot is already being done. NATO is one of the bulkiest
structures in the world; it is difficult to turn around, but it is turning.
Precision weapons are being worked on. New communication and dispatch systems,
training of special troops is becoming a priority. For example several years
ago in Afghanistan there was only one autopilot intelligence plane capable of
searching out small groups of terrorists. In Iraq there were tens of them.
One of the important military technology questions, in my opinion, is structure
of forces. The correspondence between types of forces should be entirely
different than in conventional warfare. In order to combat terrorism specially
trained troops are needed and new command methods are needed. So far we do not
have the ability to relocate forces quickly enough. We also do not have enough
of these forces. Training and preparation of such forces is much more expensive
and complicated. We also have to create proper mechanisms for decommissioning
of such forces after they leave the army. So far this has been worked out by
the film industry better than by the army.
Q: Some people think in the current situation, with the new challenges of terror
and so on, that society doesn
’t have enough information to prepare its members for these situations or that
information only comes after the event has occurred. What do you think? For
organisations such as Chatham House and similar institutes in other countries,
what should their role be in these situations? In other words, should they seek
to address a wider public or simply maintain their position as experts in
certain fields? And how is it possible to increase the influence of expertise
LR: There is no lack of information. Look at my desk for example. That is much
reduced because we are moving office but there is a huge, vast amount of
information out there. The important question is, whether people read it. The
question is whether we have the right debates about the right issues. And that
’s why I think it’s right to say there should be a higher level of discussion. We should be
debating the real issues between countries on an international scale. We have
to reach out to the wider public to inform them about what the dangers are and
what needs to be done to confront them. I think there are organisations and
there are lots of them: think-tanks that have been created by the big existing
– the CSISI in Washington, Chatham House, IISS – all of these organisations have a very important role. I try my best as
President of Chatham House to raise money, to be involved and to keep aware of
’s happening. Confronting the terrorist threat, the instability threat, the
failed states, the trafficking, the tide of illegality and corruption which are
all real threats to the future requires a multi-faceted approach. The military
is only one aspect of that but I focused on it as my expertise was involved
with that. It requires a solid effort by bankers, by financiers, by diplomats.
All of these people need to be focused on what has to be done and if we assume
this is only a problem for the military, or only a problem for the bankers in
terms of money laundering, then we will never succeed. You need to have the
co-operation of law enforcement organisations. You need to have a better level
of intelligence and more intelligence sharing. You need to have a blockage on
channels of communication whether they are physical or telecommunications. You
need to do something about their supply of money and the ability we have to
transfer money around the world. All these things are part of the global
strategy to stop these tactics. You then need to have an over-arching policy as
well to deal with some of the biggest political problems we are confronted
with. It is important to ensure the democratic process in Iraq is strengthened
and stabilised so that these people who blew up a hundred people yesterday in
the streets, who did it against civilian Shiite Muslims, because they want to
start a civil war, are defeated. Not because they want to bring Saddam Hussein
back, not because they hate the Americans, but because they want civil war in
Iraq. They have to be confronted. We must deal with problems in Israel and
there is a conference in London today. We have seen President Bush taking a
major role. There is a new democratically elected President of the Palestinian
people and a courageous Israeli Prime Minister willing to take on his own
hardliners. All of that is an overall strategy and people should get the
message that we can only deal with these things by a multi-faceted approach.
The interview was recorded some month ago prior to London bombings.