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Military

Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

07 Jun. 2021

(As delivered)

Laura Seligman:
Thank you so much, and thank you to the Atlantic Council for having us and thank you to you, Secretary General, for making this your first official stop on your trip.

So as was already said, a lot has changed this year since you've last been here, elections, we've had a global pandemic, and of course you're here in Washington meeting with a new president that has a very different view of NATO than the last president. So to kick it off. How do you talk to the American public about NATO now? And in this moment in time, and what NATO does?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So fundamentally, my message is exactly the same, that a strong transatlantic bond, a strong NATO is good for Europe, but it's also good for the United States because we face so many challenges. The global balance of power is shifting with the rise of China, we see Russia continues its aggressive actions, we see international terrorism, we're seeing more sophisticated cyberattacks and all these challenges and many others. We have to stand together, none of us can face them alone. We have to stand together in NATO to deal with them. And that's also good for the United States because it's a great advantage for the United States to have 29 friends and Allies in NATO.

So that's my message. That has been our message for years. The important thing now is that we are at a pivotal moment. And we will have the Summit next week with all leaders coming to Brussels, and I am very much looking forward to welcoming President Biden to Brussels and of course it's, it's also great to have the opportunity to meet him today, and prepare for the upcoming Summit next week in Brussels.

Laura Seligman:
Yeah that's going to be a very interesting Summit. So I wanted to tease out a little bit how you see NATO's relationship with the United States evolving with this new administration. So can you talk a little bit about the challenges of the Trump era, and obviously his public criticism of the Alliance, and now in your dealings so far with President Biden and this upcoming meeting today? How has that relationship changed, and how do you see it evolving?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Of course, there is no secret that there were some differences between Allies over the last four years. At the same time, we all ensured that NATO remained a strong Alliance. And NATO is a strong Alliance because it is in the interest of all Allies to stand together. And for me what matters now is to look into the future, how can we continue to make sure that NATO remains the most successful alliance in history, and the key to be that, is to continue to change as the world is changing. And at the upcoming NATO Summit, we will agree a forward-looking, ambitious agenda, we call it NATO 2030, which is exactly about how can NATO continue to change as the world is changing. Making sure we are a unique platform for consultations among Allies, but also investing more in deterrence and defence. And also addressing issues of resilience technology. So this is an ambitious, forward-looking agenda and President Biden has expressed a very strong support for NATO. He knows NATO very well. He has worked with NATO Allies for many, many years so his experience, his knowledge about the Alliance is something I very much welcome.

Laura Saligman:
So I'm gonna, in the interest of time, sprinkle in questions throughout from the audience with my own, and I see a couple here about Afghanistan, so I wanted to ask you about that. Obviously, that's one of the big issues facing NATO today through the withdrawal, not only how to tackle the drawdown itself, but, and ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists, but also some friction within the Alliance. We've heard world leaders like Ben Wallace talk about how they were unhappy with the US decision to withdraw. They weren't consulted ahead of time. So what are some of the thorny issues regarding the drawdown that NATO now must work through?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Well, the drawdown is on track and we are withdrawing our troops in a coordinated way. And of course, our main concern now is to make sure that we are able to maintain the safety for our troops, as we are leaving. At the same time of course, we're also looking into the future. And addressing how can we preserve our hard won gains in Afghanistan. And therefore we are ending our military mission in Afghanistan, but we are not ending our support for the Afghans, we will continue to support them. Partly with NATO's civilian presence, which will provide advice on capacity building for security institutions in Afghanistan. We will continue to fund the Afghan Security Forces. And that's extremely important and Allies are ready to continue to do so. We will also look into how we can provide out-of-country training to train the Afghan forces, especially their special operation forces outside Afghanistan. And then we're also working on how can we maintain some critical infrastructure, as for instance, the airport, to also support the presence of the broader international community, diplomatic presence, but also development aid and so on. So NATO will continue to be committed to Afghanistan, but in another way than over the last two decades with a big military operation.

Laura Saligman:
So just a follow up on that, you talked about training- is that, is NATO going to continue to train the Afghan forces after the withdrawal, whether inside Afghanistan or abroad?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We are looking into how we can provide training outside Afghanistan. Our military mission, the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, will end. But of course, we can train Afghan forces in other countries, and we're looking into how we can provide that kind of support. And we'll have a civilian presence in Afghanistan, helping them with capacity building, and so on at the ministerial level or for the different security institutions. And of course, just the fact that we're continuing to provide funding for Afghan Security Forces is of great importance. So again, yes, we are ending our mission, but you have to remember that in one way, this is a gradual development. Not so many years ago we had more than 100,000 troops in a big combat operation, then we gradually reduced and by the beginning of this year, we were around 10,000.

So, and over these years, we have been able to build and train the Afghan Security Forces so they are now responsible for security in their own country. The intention was never to stay there forever. And actually, we have to face the reality that there is of course a lot of uncertainty, it's a very difficult situation in Afghanistan. And the decision to leave entails risks, but at the same time we will leave an Afghanistan which is very different than the Afghanistan we went into in 2001. We have built Afghan Security Forces from almost nothing. We have helped to promote economic and social progress. So, at some stage the Afghans had to take full responsibility for their own future and that's what they're doing, with continued support from the NATO Allies. Let me also add that, we actually had consultations on these issues over the last month, until we made a decision. We had several ministerial meetings, we had many meetings at the ambassadorial level in Brussels. So we consulted, but of course it was a difficult decision to end the military mission which we had for almost two decades.

Laura Saligman:
In terms of counterterrorism, the US has said that they're going to be using the Gulf as the launching point for most of these operations now. Do you think that that is a realistic scenario for counterterrorism going forward, and do you think that, what role can NATO play in making sure that these areas are monitored?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So NATO and NATO Allies are fighting terrorism in many countries without having big military missions on the ground in those countries. And of course we need to stay vigilant. We need to still be very focused on how can we fight international terrorism. NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, we all participate in that in different ways. We have a training mission in Iraq, because I strongly believe that prevention is better than intervention. If we can train local forces, build local capacity so they can stabilize their own country, I'm absolutely certain that's the best way also to fight terrorism. And NATO Allies are working also on intelligence and other issues related to how we can support each other in the fight against international terrorism.

Laura Saligman:
I want to turn now to Russia, and I see a couple of questions here coming in from the audience on that. We recently saw a massive buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine, and some of these have left but the majority are still there. So can you talk a little bit about how you see the Russia problem today, both the threat to Eastern Europe, but then also cyberattacks are increasing, and also Vladimir Putin's support for oppressive governments like President Lukashenko in Belarus.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So we have seen a pattern of behavior by Russia over the last years, where they have invested heavily in new modern military capabilities, conventional and nuclear. They have intimidated neighbors, they have used military force against neighbors, in Georgia and in Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea, destabilising Eastern Ukraine. And then we have seen that they have tried to interfere or meddle into domestic political processes, in elections, cyberattacks, and different types of hybrid aggressive actions against different NATO allied countries. So, this pattern of aggressive actions, using everything from military tools to hybrid cyber tools is something which is of course a great concern for all NATO Allies. What we do is partly to provide support to partners, as for instance Ukraine, political support, practical support, or Georgia. But we have also implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, triggered by the aggressive actions we saw in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea. So now we have four combat battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance. We never had that before. It's a completely new thing. We have air policing, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea. And we have significantly increased the readiness of forces. So altogether, this is a very clear and strong response from NATO Allies as to the aggressive actions by Russia.

Our approach to Russia is what we call dual-track approach. We have to be strong, firm, but at the same time, we need to strive for dialogue with Russia, because Russia is our neighbor, we want to work on issues like arms control. And we also have the NATO-Russia Council which is a platform to sit down with Russia. And we have a standing invitation for Russia to participate in a meeting, to reconvene the NATO-Russia Council again. So far they've not answered in a positive way, but we have some contact with them now on the possibility of convening a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.

Laura Saligman:
We have an audience question here on Belarus. Just asking about the airspace issue and Putin's comments that he would not rule out doing the same for flights flying over Russian air space. What should NATO's response be to that?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The forced landing of the Ryanair plane flying from one NATO capital, Athens, to another NATO capital, Vilnius, was outrageous and it was a violation of fundamental, basic norms and rules. And then of course, it was not only an outrageous attack because it put a lot of passengers in danger, but of course, they arrested a journalist, Raman Pratasevich, and his companion, so actually it was also an attack on freedom of speech, on independent media, and yet another example of how the Belarusian regime is cracking down on democratic protests there. So NATO Allies agreed a very strong statement, strongly condemning this. We are calling for an impartial international investigation. And NATO Allies, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, have imposed sanctions, and I welcome that. This of course sends a message to anyone that is considering to do something similar. We need to respect the rules and the norms we have for international air traffic, and that's important for all countries.

Laura Saligman:
Turning now to China. As you know, the United States has increasingly focused on Beijing as its number one long-term security challenge, not just in the military realm, but also in areas like cyberattacks and telecommunications. So, in what ways do the NATO Allies share this perception of China, and in where do these views diverge?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The rise of China matters for all NATO Allies, and at our Summit in 2019, we actually made a statement, all the Heads of State and Government, that the rise of China poses some opportunities because there's trade, and there are other opportunities related to China. We need to engage with China on issues like arms control or climate change. And therefore, China is not an adversary.

Having said that, NATO Allies also see the fact that China will soon have the biggest economy in the world. They already have the second largest defense budget, they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities, they have the biggest Navy in the world. And they don't share our values. European Allies and of course Canada have again expressed deep concerns about the crackdown on democratic voices in Hong Kong, the persecution of minorities in China, and the fact that they're using, you know, facial recognition, new disruptive technologies to conduct surveillance of their own population, in a way we've never seen before. And then, intimidating neighbors, undermining freedom of navigation. And all of this.

So we, NATO, realize that the rise of China matters for our security. And the NATO 2030 agenda covers many different areas, but many of them are highly relevant for the consequences of the rise of China. So NATO is a platform for political considerations, reaching out to our Asia-Pacific partners, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea. But also for instance, taking into account the fact that they are investing heavily, or trying to control, critical infrastructure in our countries. So we are, as part of the NATO 2030 agenda, working on how can we develop stronger guidelines for our resilience, telecommunications, undersea cables, energy grids, critical infrastructure. And also investing in and working more on technology, sharpening our technological edge. So NATO Allies are responding, and the NATO 2030 agenda is about how we can respond to a more competitive world, and that includes also the security consequences of the rise of China.

Laura Saligman:
So just a question here, following up on the use of cyber capabilities by China and Russia- this is a question from the audience- China and Russia's use of offensive cyber capabilities continues to disrupt both the public and private sector. What is NATO doing today to deter these cyber attacks, and how can it coordinate its efforts effectively?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So we see more frequent and we see more sophisticated cyberattacks against NATO Allies, also the United States. This has led to a significant strengthening of our cyber defenses, and how we work together on cyber. We have actually decided that a cyberattack can trigger Article Five, can trigger our collective defence clause. We have established cyber as an operational domain, alongside air, land, sea, we now also have cyber as a new operational military domain. We have established a new Cyber Operations Center at our Headquarters. And we are sharing best practices, we are conducting big exercises, there's an ongoing exercise now where actually cyber is part of the exercise. So we are doing more and more together to help, to support, to increase awareness.

At the end of the day, of course, it's a national responsibility to make sure you have good cyber defenses. But NATO Allies are helping each other, and supporting each other, and we're also of course doing that to protect our own networks.

Laura Saligman:
Just to follow up really quickly on that, you said a cyberattack can now trigger Article Five. Is that a major change from in the past, and when did you decide this? Why hasn't it been put into practice yet?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We did that some years ago, but of course in a way, it sends a message that a kinetic attack can of course cause a lot of damage, but so can also a cyberattack. So in a way, it doesn't matter whether it's a kinetic attack or a cyberattack, we will assess as Allies when it meets the threshold for also triggering Article Five. And that sends a message that of course we regard cyberattacks as seriously as any other kinds of attacks.

Then of course we can respond in cyber, but we can also respond with all the means, that's for us to decide. I think also it's important to make sure that Allies come together and call out bad behavior, also in cyberspace, when we see that. And NATO Allies have, you know, we have seen attempts to… the cyberattacks on the German Bundestag, then we have seen the Solar Winds. We have all seen different cyberattacks, we have seen the attack on the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. So we need to call out bad behavior when we see it, that's also a way to at least increase the threshold and impose some costs on Russia, or other countries, when they are responsible for cyberattacks.

Laura Saligman:
I want to turn now to climate change. President Biden has made addressing climate change a priority for his administration, and you yourself, I believe, are a former UN Envoy on Climate Change. So what role does an Alliance like NATO have in addressing and mitigating climate change? Why is this such an important task for the Alliance?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First of all, I think you have to recognize and realize that climate change matters for our security because climate change is a crisis multiplier. With more competition, it will lead to more competition for scarce resources such as water and land. It will force a million people to move, more migration, and of course that affects our security.

So therefore, it matters for NATO. NATO will of course never be the main platform for addressing climate change, but NATO should be the main platform for addressing the security consequences of climate change. And what we need to do is, first of all, to set the gold standard when it comes to fully assessing, and to understand the link between global warming, and our security. Second, we need to adapt our military operations. Because with rising sea levels, it will affect a lot of military infrastructure, of course naval bases. But also with more extreme weather, heat waves, it will affect the way we conduct military operations, uniforms, equipment. And we have soldiers in Iraq, and they went several days with more than 40 degrees Celsius. And of course, how they do their work will be affected by extreme weather conditions. Melting ice in the Arctic will also matter. So changing weather, more extreme weather, will matter for how we do military operations, what kind of equipment, what kind of uniform, what kind of challenges we will face.

And thirdly, NATO Allies, more and more, are now committed to net zero emissions. Meaning that we also need to reduce emissions from military operations, and we need to find ways of reconciling operational effectiveness with reduced emissions. And we are investing in technology, we have different programmes for making sure that we have military equipment and vehicles which are emitting less, but also then are effective military tools and equipment.

Laura Saligman:
And so a related question here from the audience on the Arctic. What do you make of recent developments, related to Arctic security, particularly Russia's militarization of the region, China's growing interest and of course, like we talked about, the impact of climate change opening the region up?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The Arctic region has always been important for NATO. We have five NATO Allies which are Arctic nations. And NATO has always been in the Arctic. But the melting of the ice, combined with increased Russian military presence, they are reopening some old bases from the Cold War. And increased Chinese interest and presence, of course, just increases the importance of the Arctic, also with a potential new sea route, a north-east sea route from Europe to Asia. And all of this matters for our security. So therefore, NATO is also increasing its focus and its presence in the Arctic.

NATO Allies, including the Arctic NATO Allies, are investing in new capabilities, everything from maritime patrol aircrafts to submarines, and all the other equipment and capabilities we need to make sure that we continue to show the necessary precedence in the High North.

Laura Saligman:
So we're quickly running out of time but I want to squeeze in one more from the audience. What can you do to convince more European Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defense?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First and foremost to remind them that this is in the interest of European Allies, and also Canada, to invest more in our security because when tensions went down after the end of World War II, NATO Allies reduced defence spending. But if we are reducing defense spending when tensions are going down, they need to increase when tensions are going up, as they do now. And therefore we made a decision at our NATO Summit in 2014 that all Allies spending less than 2% of GDP should increase. And the good news is that that's exactly what European Allies and Canada have done over the last years since 2014.

We have now seven consecutive years of increased defense spending across Europe and Canada. They have added significantly to their defense budgets. Back in 2014, it was only three Allies that spent 2% of GDP on defence, now its ten Allies. And also those Allies who are not yet at 2%, the majority have plans in place to meet the 2% guideline, and have also increased significantly. So, we still have some work to do, we still need to invest more in defence. And again, part of the NATO 2030 agenda is to make sure that we continue to invest and also invest more together because that's a force multiplier. It's a way not only to spend more but also better if we spend through NATO together. But I'm optimistic because I've seen the commitment of our European Allies to live up to the decision we made together in 2014.

Laura Saligman:
And as far as the United States is concerned, and the Biden administration in particular, we saw a defense budget come out recently that only had a very slight increase for defense. So do you see the Biden administration as a partner that you can rely on to try to increase the defense spending in NATO?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The Biden administration is, first of all, is a very strong supporter of NATO. Second, the United States spends much more than 2% of GDP on defence. It goes a bit up and down, but the reality is the United States invests heavily in defense, and I welcome that. It is not for me to decide or give any specific advice on the exact amount as the United States is, by far, the lead nation when it comes to defense capabilities and defence spending in our Alliance. So I'm confident that the United States will continue to invest, and also invest in NATO because it's good for-- a strong NATO is good for Europe but it is also very good for the United States. And even more so because the United States is, of course, concerned about the security consequences of the rise of China and compared to China, it is very good to have friends in NATO.

Laura Saligman:
Well, I think we're about out of time but thank you so much. This has been a great conversation. And thank you so much to our audience for joining us, joining the Atlantic Council.



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