- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Editor's Note: The following article is the first in a series of occasional profiles of news and opinion makers:

In five hours and 20 minutes on Sept. 12, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson changed the way the largest military alliance in the world understood its mission. It would no longer be a defense alliance that would only protect states against states, but an alliance which would protect states against non-government actors, such as terrorist organizations. It would not fight against a Soviet threat, but pave the way for an anti-terrorist coalition to be created in which Russia acts in tandem with NATO. This would not be a fight in which the United States acts as rescuer for a European nation, but one in which European nations were being called to the defense of America. When Lord Robertson asked the United States' 18 allies to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter for the first time, he was asking them to consider the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America as attacks on them all and to be ready to respond.
"It was one of the most momentous things that anybody had asked the NATO allies to do in half a century," Lord Robertson said in an interview. "When you consider that that is five hours and 20 minutes to change the alliance and to change the world, you realize how strongly everybody felt."
Indeed, it only took Secretary of State Colin Powell 15 minutes to announce his approval of Lord Robertson's proposal to invoke Article 5 when the secretary-general broached the subject on the morning of Sept. 12. By 4 p.m., after talking to NATO ambassadors and European Union ministers, Lord Robertson decided to table the proposal and by 9:20, the allies had voted unanimously to invoke the article should it be proved the attacks came from abroad. On Oct. 2, that proof showing that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were involved was provided in a classified briefing, and the formal invocation followed. That cleared the way for the American and British strikes against Afghanistan on Oct. 7. On who was the hardest to win over for the initial vote, Lord Robertson said he would never tell, but he did hit some snags along the way as he tried to explain how to apply a Soviet-era article to a post-Cold War world:
"It was always seen essentially as an attack by the Soviet Union across the German planes," he said. "It took them a little bit of time when I raised it to realize that we were actually founded for a much broader reason than that, and that this was an armed attack on one of the members of NATO."
Lord Robertson's strong defense of the United States over the past five weeks has taken him a long way from his boyhood visions of America. At age 15, he was demonstrating against the arrival of American nuclear missile submarines on the streets of a tiny Scottish town. By the time he was at the University of Dundee, he had moved on to demonstrating against the Vietnam War. He says his vision has not changed: He is still working toward a more peaceful world.
How to do that and keep his sanity in a world where bombings and anthrax are a part of the every day, and where he is responsible for the largest military alliance in the world? "Maybe I'm not sane, I sometimes wonder" he joked. But his escapes home to Scotland from Brussels, even if for a few hours, to his wife, three grown children and 6-year-old grandchild, go a long way toward helping him keep perspective. It was there in Scotland that he was born, in Port Ellen, 15 feet from the North Atlantic, and there that he grew up climbing on the rocks by the ocean under the pier.
"I don't believe in self importance," he said. "You've got to do your job, and not think that this is one of the most important jobs in the world. You're a leader, but you're also a worker."
The secretary-general's sense of humor and cool head under stress were what one employee close to him appreciated most. Another friend of 30 years, Secretary of State for Scotland Helen Liddell, said it was loyalty that was Lord Robertson's outstanding characteristic, and it was to his loyalty that she also owed her current position. "This guy sticks with his friends, and if he thinks something is right, he will stick by it through thick and thin," she said.
His humor and kindness had seen them through humble beginnings to the present, from working together in unions when he and Mrs. Liddell were in their early 20s, to the present, when they still speak several times a week despite living in different countries and their hectic schedules. They once spent half the night walking each other to and from each other's hotels, insisting it would be improper for either to walk through the city unprotected. When she was in the hospital, he came and read to her from the newspapers. When there was a massacre in a schoolhouse in his district in 1995, he showed great bravery and went directly to the school to see the children. But his main passion as a young man besides his family was NATO, and the relationship of the United States to the alliance. "Even then he had a quiet determination," Mrs. Liddell said.
He will certainly need it in the months to come.
"The biggest challenge is to keep our determination strong. When the pictures have faded and the memories have gone dim, and people have moved on to other activities, other events, we've still got to keep going," he said.
It was not that Lord Robertson invented a new era for NATO. The world was thrust into it on the morning of Sept. 11, and the secretary-general chose to define what he saw and respond accordingly. Nor did NATO choose a secretary-general who came to the job through the conventional route his first job was in a boilermaker's union responsible for the Scottish whisky industry. He supposes he was chosen for his common sense and his "gift of blathering." If that is what helped win the alliance to America's defense, well, Lord Robertson, please blather on.

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