John Hutton

On the Future of the Alliance and the Mission in Afghanistan

delivered 8 February 2009, 45th Munich Security Conference

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Well, can I thank you for reminding us about British involvement in this area?

I would like to start, I think, with an area where I hope, I believe, there is common agreement in this room and in our respective capitols -- which is the nature of the threat that we are trying to deal with here. I've listened to most of the discussion today and, to some extent, I have to say we haven't really just reminded ourselves about one or two very important features of this campaign that we are trying to address.

International violent jihadism, I do not believe, is and will prove to be, susceptible to any rational political accommodation. It does present an existential threat to our way of life, and we must acknowledge that. It may not threaten our borders in the way that previous security challenges that we've had to face do, but I believe it to be just as important a threat to our way of life as previous security challenges we've confronted. And finally, I just do think it worth just reminding ourselves -- because we tend to gather on these circumstances and chuck around quite a lot of blame -- this is not a confrontation we sought, but it is a confrontation that we have to win.

I want, secondly, to say one or two words now about the mission itself and what I see as the implications for all of us of what we're doing in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Firstly, my comment is this: These sorts of operations are not an aberration. The last 10 years, I think, have not been and shouldn't be seen as exceptional. These are the nature of future security operations that all of us are likely to be involved in, to greater or to a lesser extent. So this is the pattern of future conflict. NATO, its allies and friends around the world -- we have to prepare for this type of conflict for the future. Even if we are successful in Afghanistan in the near future, this is not the end of this campaign. We must prepare for it.

I do not believe that we are properly preparing for it.

Specifically, I think in the future we will need much more of a seamless connection between our armed forces, our police and intelligence and security agencies. And above all, those agencies must themselves be capable of delivering greater civil effect, because in many of these scenarios, many of these contexts, it is only our men and women in uniform who are likely to be able to deliver on the ground in very difficult security circumstances the civil effect that we all know is important to support these operations.

And here I agree very, very strongly with what Secretary Gates said very recently. He said, our armed forces in the future must have not just the ability when the need arises to knock the door down, but then to clean up the mess and start rebuilding. That is, I think, a challenge for all Defense Ministers in this room.

I think the strategy, therefore -- we've had a lot of talk today about the strategy -- I think we've got the right strategy, which is to improve security and improve political institutions so they can better repel jihadist terrorism, while specifically we build up Afghan security capabilities and recognize the regional dimension to the threat that we are trying to deal with.

So, my approach to this is not to say that we don't have the strategy, we don't have the right strategy -- we do. It's a focus on how that strategy is being delivered. I think the real issue for us today -- all of us -- is whether we believe today we have assembled the right resources to execute the strategy that we've chosen to deliver, both political and military. And my view is that we don't.

Given where we are today, however, I think we need stronger force levels in Afghanistan, so that the ground that needs to be cleared can be cleared and then held and built upon -- and ultimately transferred to the authority of Afghan security forces. We certainly need better governance at every level in Afghanistan, both regional and national. And we need the collective political will -- all of us -- to make that improvement in governance happen.

I don't think we face a choice between greater security on the one hand and political progress on the other. I hear that debate sometimes. I think that's wrong. We need both. We need greater security right now in order to improve the success of any political reconciliation process. Always better, I think, to cut a long argument short and say we should negotiate from strength, not weakness. You get a better prospect of success that way.

I think the extra U.S. forces are going to make a difference, a positive difference. What I think is less developed at the moment is the practical support that we need to see demonstrated for political reconstruction. Again, my analysis would be we've been long on rhetoric, painfully short on delivery.

On burden sharing, an issue that needs to be raised, I think, in this forum, my view is that we need to do more on every level to support the leadership that the United States is showing. The Afghan government in turn needs to make more progress in dealing with the problem of corruption and drugs, which we know is a toxic poison affecting the strategy and its successful delivery. And I believe we are entitled to ask for better progress in those areas because we cannot ask our soldiers to lay down their lives for anything less.

And my final point I want to say about -- The final point I want to say is about NATO, because I think we face a moment of choice here as well. I'm frustrated. I think probably all of us are. We're fighting, I think, a[n] existential campaign in Afghanistan, and potentially in other regions. What I want from NATO is more of a wartime mentality to rise to the challenge of the threat that we face -- less of a peacetime culture which is characterized, I'm afraid, far too often by process, an obsession with process, bureaucracy, and prevarication. This is a fundamental struggle that we are facing. We'd better recognize that and deal with it appropriately.

Thank you very much.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Also in this database: General David Petraeus Speech to the 45th Munich Security Conference

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Copyright Status: Text = Public domain. Audio = Uncertain. Image = German Creative Common License 3.0


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