New NATO chief: Ties with Eastern Europe a top priority
August 4, 1999
LONDON (CNN) -- Europe must improve its defense capabilities and work closely with former Soviet bloc republics, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said Wednesday just before being named by NATO ambassadors to succeed Javier Solana as NATO's secretary-general.
"One of the clear lessons of the Kosovo conflict is the need for Europe to enhance its military capabilities," the outspoken Scotsman said at a news conference. "Relations with Russia -- and with Ukraine -- are going to be enormously important."
Robertson said NATO's expansion into eastern Europe would be a cornerstone of his term as NATO's chief civilian.
"There are a number of other applicant countries which clearly have ambitions and aspirations to join and we've made it clear that the door is not closed," he said.
"The job, one of the biggest and toughest in the world, entails great duties and responsibilities which I will carry out to the best of my abilities on behalf of all the allies," Robertson said.
Solana is to end his four-year term in October, two months early, to take the European Union's newly created position of international policy specialist.
He praised Wednesday's appointment, saying Robertson "showed firm and principled leadership" during NATO's air war against Yugoslavia.
"I believe he has all the qualities to become an outstanding secretary-general of this alliance," the Spaniard said in a statement.
Robertson suggested that "straight talking, plain common sense and a dogged determination" were perhaps the qualities that made him the ideal candidate for the job.
Colorful descriptions of Milosevic
The 53-year-old Robertson may not be a household name in most of the world, but the Kosovo crisis gave him a higher profile.
At daily briefings from London, Robertson was not a bit shy in his portrayal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
The Yugoslav president, Robertson said, was a "serial ethnic cleanser" encircled by "sadistic henchmen" in charge of a "brutal murder machine."
Robertson entered the political spotlight in 1978 as a Labour member of Parliament, but was voted out a year later along with the Labour majority.
The Scotsman returned with the Labour government as the 1997 elections brought Tony Blair to No. 10 Downing Street.
"He comes with a background of having survived the Labour Party's upheavals over the last decade," said military analyst Paul Beaver. "So that gives him good credentials and he is known on the international stage as a result of Kosovo."
After the war, Kosovar Albanians welcomed him to Pristina as "George Robinson." Despite the confusion over the family name, the reception was genuine.
The lighter side of George Robertson is not seen often. He's better known as a tough-talking, no-nonsense son of a police inspector. A resident of Dunblane, Scotland, he was called on three years ago to speak for the community after the primary school shooting that took the lives of 16 students and one teacher.
Robertson's challenge at NATO may be the assessment of its weaknesses after the Kosovo conflict. The Cold War is over, and many of NATO's former foes are now friends waiting to join.
Expanding NATO membership and ensuring that the military side of NATO is ready for future conflicts are two major challenges.
Brussels Bureau Chief Patricia Kelly contributed to this report.
NATO close to approving Britain's Robertson as secretary general
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.