by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Wilson Center Auditorium followed by Q&A

  • 17 Jun. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Jun. 2024 17:23

(As delivered)

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Ambassador Green, good morning everyone. It is great to be back in Washington. Great to be here at the Wilson Center.
And as you all know, this institution has a reputation for academic and policy excellence.  It carries the name of a Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson and it is located in a landmark building named after a Republican President, Ronald Reagan.

And it is supported by the United States Congress. So, the Wilson Center truly embodies bipartisanship and American leadership on the world stage which has been crucial to keeping transatlantic relations and NATO strong for over 75 years.

Our security is closely intertwined. President Wilson learned that lesson over one hundred years ago. At first, he wanted to keep the US out of the ‘Great War’. But he eventually changed course, realising that America could never be safe without a Europe at peace. Just two decades later, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised not to send American boys to yet another war in Europe and to maintain America’s neutrality. But after Pearl Harbor, he decided otherwise.

So twice when Europe has been at war, the U.S. chose isolationism. And twice, it realised that this did not work. That was true then, and it is even more true today. The vast Atlantic and Pacific Oceans do not protect the U.S. in an age of rising global challenges. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic submarines, the weaponization of space, and increased cyber and terrorist attacks. All of these are threats to the United States. 

So, we must counter these threats together.

Presidents Putin and President Xi are adamantly opposed to NATO, because they know that in NATO, the United States has something they don’t have. 31 friends and Allies, which help to advance U.S. interests, multiply U.S. power, and keep Americans safe.

Alone, the United States represents a quarter of the world economy, but together with NATO Allies, we represent half of the world’s economic might, and half of the world’s military might. So together, we are much stronger.

Next month, NATO leaders will convene for the NATO Summit here in Washington D.C., to make decisions on issues that matter greatly, for Americans as much as for Europeans.

Three topics will be at the top of the agenda.

First, deterrence and defence, NATO’s core business.

The United States’ military presence in Europe remains essential for the security and stability of the European continent. But Europeans are doing far more for their collective security than just a few years ago. They lead combat-ready battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance. They have increased the readiness of their forces. They have strengthened NATO, with highly capable Finnish and Swedish militaries joining our Alliance.  And Europeans are ramping up their defence spending to record high levels.

When we made the Pledge to invest 2% of GDP in defence back at the Wales Summit of NATO in 2014, only three Allies met that mark – and that was the United States, Greece and United Kingdom. Just five years ago, there were still less than 10 Allies that spent 2% of GDP on defence. But later today when I see President Biden, I will announce new defence spending figures for all Allies. And I can already now reveal that this year more than 20 Allies will spend at least 2% of GDP on defence.

This is good for Europe and good for America. Especially since much of this extra money is spent here in the United States. NATO creates a market for defence sales. Over the last two years more than two-thirds of European defence acquisitions were made with U.S. firms. That is more than 140 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of contracts with U.S. defence companies. So, NATO is good for U.S. security, good for U.S. industry, and good for U.S. jobs.

The second topic for the NATO Summit in Washington and the most urgent one – is Ukraine.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, NATO Allies have provided unprecedented levels of support. This has been indispensable for Ukrainians to fight back and survive as a sovereign nation. But this winter and spring, we saw serious delays and gaps in delivering support, with consequences on the frontline.

We cannot let this happen again. This is why, at the Summit, I expect Allied leaders to agree for NATO to lead the coordination and provision of security assistance and training for Ukraine. It is also why I have proposed a long-term financial pledge, with fresh funding every year. 

The more credible our long-term support, the quicker Moscow will realise it cannot wait us out and the sooner this war can end. It may seem like a paradox, but the path to peace is therefore more weapons for Ukraine. I strongly welcome the 60-billion-dollar package that the U.S. Congress passed in April.  This is significant and complements efforts by other NATO Allies.

Since the full-scale invasion in February 2022, European Allies and Canada have provided around half of the military aid. If we add financial and humanitarian support, non-U.S. Allies have provided significantly more than the United States. So, ensuring Ukraine prevails is a real transatlantic effort. An effort that also serves U.S. security interests. By allocating a small fraction of its defence budget, the United States helps Ukraine to destroy a significant share of Russia’s offensive combat capabilities, without putting a single American soldier in harm’s way.

We must ensure that Putin’s aggression doesn't pay off, today or in the future. That is why at the Summit we will continue to bring Ukraine ever closer to NATO membership. So that, when the time is right, Ukraine can join without delay.

The third major topic for the Summit is global partnerships. Especially in the Indo-Pacific.

The war in Ukraine demonstrates that our security is not regional, it is global. Not least because of the support we know Russia is getting from China and others. Beijing is sharing high-end technologies like semi-conductors and other dual-use items. Last year, Russia imported 90 percent of its microelectronics from China, used to produce missiles, tanks, and aircraft. China is also working to provide Russia with improved satellite capability and imagery.

All of this enables Moscow to inflict more death and destruction on Ukraine, bolster Russia’s defence industrial base, and evade the impact of sanctions and export controls.

Publicly, President Xi has tried to create the impression that he is taking a back seat in this conflict.  To avoid sanctions and keep trade flowing. But the reality is that China is fuelling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two. And at the same time, it wants to maintain good relations with the West. Well, Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point – and unless China changes course – Allies need to impose a cost.

Russia is receiving support from others too. North Korea has delivered over 1 million artillery shells. And Iran has delivered thousands of deadly Shahed drones. In exchange, Pyongyang and Tehran are receiving Russian technology and supplies to help them advance their missile and nuclear capabilities.

The growing alignment between Russia and its authoritarian friends in Asia makes it even more important that we work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific. 

I have therefore invited the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea to the NATO Summit in Washington, next month. Together, we can uphold the international rules-based order and protect our shared values.

So, ladies and gentlemen, for 75 years, the United States has been the driving force at NATO. Helping preserve peace and prosperity across the Euro-Atlantic. And for 75 years, keeping NATO united and strong has been in America’s national security interest. 

As NATO Secretary General, I have had the privilege to work with three different U.S. Presidents, and different U.S. Administrations. All have supported NATO. And in fact, since 1949, every U.S. President, every U.S. Congress, and millions of Americans have been staunch supporters of NATO.

Because a strong NATO is in the vital national interest of the United States. This was true 75 years ago, it is true today, and it will continue to be the case in the future.

At the NATO Summit in just three weeks’ time, I am confident we will demonstrate NATO’s unity and strength once again. In support of Ukraine, and to keep all our people and values safe.

Thank you so much.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: Again, it's just an absolute pleasure and honour to have you with us here at the Wilson Center. I'm Ambassador Philip Reeker. I'm the chair of the global Europe program here at Wilson and I had the great honour to sit at tables with the Secretary General earlier in my capacity as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, with both Secretary Pompeo and with Secretary Blinken and having also served as a career diplomat much of that time in the Balkans during the presidency of President Obama. We share this decade of engagement and I can tell you that NATO's crucial role as part of U.S. defence, our role in the transatlantic Alliance has been so important to U.S. success there.

I want to start by going to your first point, deterrence and defence and the essential role that NATO plays in that for the United States because I think sometimes this is lost on the broader American public. Now as leaders gather next month and mark the 75th anniversary, it's important to remember that from its founding in 1949, NATO has been and remains very much to this day a defensive Alliance. 32 Allies, including the United States now have taken over a series of decades and generations, have taken independent and sovereign decisions, often backed by national referenda to become members of an organization committed to common defence. And as we've heard from the Secretary General they're doing more; all Allies are doing more at unprecedented rates. What I want to ask you about is Vladimir Putin, the leader, the authoritarian leader of Russia, while he has changed his narrative and justification for his war against Ukraine, over the past two and a half years, and of course, since he invaded Crimea in 2014, he continues to point to NATO, and particularly Ukraine's aspiration of membership in NATO, as threatening to Russia. Why do you think Vladimir Putin has been successful, certainly in his own country and increasingly, in other parts of the world in painting NATO as an aggressor with offensive intentions against Russia when it is so clearly defined at its basic roots for 75 years as a defensive structure and organization.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So first of all, it's good to see again I remember very well when we met in different capacities and it's good to see you here. Then, also, first of all, I think we need to distinguish a bit because Putin has not been very successful in convincing people in NATO countries that NATO is responsible for this war, because if you look at opinion polls, and if you look at actually the Parliaments that are elected across this Alliance, there is overwhelming support to Ukraine. And that's also the reason why we are able to continue to step up both in the United States but not least in Europe. European Allies are now matching what the U.S. is doing when it comes to military aid and if we put the humanitarian and economic aid on top, European Allies are actually providing significantly more and especially if you compare with the GDP. So yes, of course when you are 32 democracies, there are different voices there are different opinions, but the overwhelming majority supports the idea of supporting Ukraine.

Then, of course, he has been more successful in conveying the narrative that NATO is responsible in Russia, but you have to understand what Russia is. Russia is authoritarian country, where journalists are put in jail and opposition leaders are poisoned and killed. So of course, he controls the media in a way that makes it hard in a way to convey any different story than the official story. But more important is that NATO is a defensive Alliance and it's absolutely wrong this idea that Ukraine was a threat to Russia. Ukraine has never been a threat to Russia. The whole thing started with Russia annexing Crimea back in 2014, after Russia actually signed different documents, agreements, after the end of the Cold War, recognizing Ukraine as a sovereign independent state, including the Budapest Memorandum where Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Ukraine was actually one of the largest nuclear powers in the world after the end of the Soviet Union. They agreed to give up all those weapons. But in return, Russia recognized Ukraine within its international recognized borders.

Then they annex Crimea. Then a few months later, they went into eastern Donbass. Then we had the Minsk 1 agreement, they violated that and they push the border even further west. We had the Minsk 2 agreement and then they waited for seven years, and then they launch a full scale invasion. So, there's no doubt that that aggressor is Russia and that's a blatant violation of international law. Ukraine has the right to self-defence that's enshrined in international law. And we have the right as friends of Ukraine, as NATO Allies to support Ukraine in upholding the right to self-defence. That doesn't make us party to the conflict and from the beginning of the war for NATO, there have been two main tasks. One is to support Ukraine and the other is to prevent this conflict from escalating to become a full-scale conflict between NATO and Russia in Europe. And that's reason why we don't send in NATO troops. Why we don't involve NATO forces directly, but why we support Ukrainians in defending their land. So, in short, NATO remains a defensive Alliance, the aggressor is Russia. There is a pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour against Ukraine over many years, and we are supporting them to uphold their legal rights for self-defence.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: I think it's absolutely important to underscore that narrative and that timeline to show because, in fact, Putin has proved to be exactly the threat that we hoped was gone at the end of the Cold War, and indeed, we took steps to reduce troop presence. There was a feeling that we were secure under these agreements. But what is at stake, if we can pursue this a little further, if Putin actually prevails, Ukraine does not prevail in this conflict and Putin prevails. Many were sceptical when the United States and other intelligence agencies, other countries reported of what Putin was doing, raised the alarm as Putin prepared his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. That intelligence proved to be spot on. And now we hear warnings that Putin would not stop with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, perhaps even Baltic countries, the Western Balkans where countries have become members of NATO. Would Putin, do you think, invade or attack a NATO country in trying to reconstruct this concept of a near abroad or a sphere of influence? And how real is that threat?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I think there's no doubt that President Putin is trying to re-establish a sphere of influence to ensure that Russia has control over neighbour countries, Georgia have.. he went in there in 2008, Moldova, they continue to have Russian troops there without the consent of the government in Chișinău, in Moldova. And we have this pattern of aggressive behaviour against Ukraine over many years.

But that doesn't mean that I see any threat or any risk, imminent risk for military attack against a NATO Allied country. And I think it's extremely important not to confuse those two issues. Because the whole purpose of NATO is to prevent war, is to prevent a military attack. And we have done so successfully for 75 years, even during the most dangerous and the coldest period of the Cold War, where you had hundreds of thousands of combat ready Russian troops on the border of NATO. We had West Berlin in the middle of East Germany. And throughout those decades, we were able to deter any Soviet or Russian aggression against NATO territory, because it was so clearly communicated that an attack on one Ally will be an attack on all Allies and since we continue to be clear that this applies, that NATO is there to protect and defend all Allies, not only in words, are we communicating that but actually we have since 2014, the illegal annexation of Crimea, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in generations. With for the first time in NATO's history, combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, with high readiness armed forces. Now we have 500 [thousand] troops on high readiness, with significantly more defence spending, investing in advanced aircraft F-35s, ships, battle tanks, a lot of high-end capabilities.

We do all of this not to fight the war, but to prevent the war and to remove any room for misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow about our readiness to protect every NATO Ally. And as long as we are sure that there are no room for misunderstanding, miscalculation in Moscow or any other capital of any other potential adversary, there will be no military attack against NATO Ally. So, I'm just saying it, because sometimes you get the feeling that, you know, it's only question of years before Russia will attack. No, the purpose of NATO is to prevent that from happening.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: And it's been remarkably successful. No Alliance in history has shown that success, because of the Article Five, the unity that is created within the transatlantic space, and that's important for the United States. Stability, security over now 80 years, unprecedented in history, and that has created opportunities for prosperity that would have been felt completely out of the question as you look back in 1947 or ‘48. So, the success of NATO I think is clear and the importance is, as you put it, remembering that this is about defence and deterrence and is it European Command 2017-2018, we called it ‘a return to strategy’. It was really a strategic approach of how we needed to work with our Allies. We've heard of course, shifting to the question of Ukraine, under your leadership as Secretary General in the past decade, NATO has added four Allies, each of those countries choosing on their own with the support of their populations, democracies to become part of this Alliance, seeing how important it was for our collective defence, for their defence, for their security and prosperity. Ukraine was told back in Bucharest in 2008 that it would become a NATO member but that invitation has not been forthcoming. You've talked about the unprecedented levels of support, particularly from Europeans but certainly from the United States that Ukraine has seen and is ongoing at this point, as their resilience is so tested by Russia. We are already clear that at next month's 75th anniversary, Ukraine cannot expect invitation to membership. But instead of bridge, a bridge for Ukraine to future membership in NATO girded by a new US-Ukraine tenure bilateral security agreement, a number of other bilateral agreements and this strong support from Allies and others in Europe and from other parts of the world. How do you see and what's the message to Ukraine that that bridge can be considered credible and different from what many, particularly Ukrainians see as unkept promises in the 16 years since 2008.

Secretary General: Well, Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance when we have consensus, when all Allies agree because as you know, decisions on enlargement is taken by consensus. So, it's not sufficient to have a majority of NATO Allies being in favour of extending an invitation, but we need all Allies to agree. In the meantime, we are building that bridge, we are helping to move Ukraine closer to NATO membership and we do that in many different ways. And that will also be demonstrated at the Summit next month. At our last Summit in Vilnius, we removed the requirement for what we call a Membership Action Plan. Because until recently, that was a requirement that before we were going to invite anyone to become an Ally, they had to go through a Membership Action Plan that actually could take many years. We said that Ukraine doesn't have to go through that phase of a Membership Action Plan, they can go straight to the next step and invitation, so we turned the whole membership process for Ukraine from a two-step process to a one-step process. That helps them to come closer to a NATO membership.

The second thing we did was to establish something called the NATO-Ukraine Council, which is actually a Council where we sit together all 32 Allies and Ukraine as equals, we can make decisions together and we can consult together and this Council has now lasted for almost a year. It has proven to be very effective. The Ukrainians have used it many times also for consultations on acute crisis and challenges that are faced. So that's also a way to deepen our political cooperation.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is that we are helping to ensure that Ukrainian armed forces are more and more interoperable with NATO, meet the NATO standards, the NATO doctrines, the NATO way of operating and we do that partly by what we call the comprehensive assistance package, which is focused very much on interoperability, but also by the fact that NATO Allies are now providing a lot of modern NATO standard weapons. The fact that now delivering F-16s of course it will create the future Ukrainian Air Force that will be NATO interoperable. NATO planes, NATO pilots, NATO trained pilots and NATO procedures for their Air Force. The same with advanced air defence systems and a lot of others. So, everything we do when it comes to supplying, providing weapons also helps us to ensure interoperability and integrate them into NATO.

So, then the idea is to move them so close to membership that when the time is there, when we have consensus they can become a member straightaway in one way as Finland and Sweden when the political situation allowed them to became members within.. As a reality, from they applied to when they were invited and signed the Accession Protocol, it was only a question of weeks. Then the ratification took some time but that's always the case that takes some time in the different Parliaments. So, we should be in the same place when it comes to Ukraine. Then let me add one more thing about membership and that is that nobody knows when and how the fighting will end in Ukraine. But when it ends, we have to be certain that this is peace. And not just a pause before Russia launches new attacks, because as I said, Georgia in 2008, then Crimea 2014, later on Eastern Donbass, then Minks 1, Minsk 2 and all that time Russia has pushed further and then they had the pause, reconstituted their forces, build up and then they launch a full fledge invasion.

So, in one way there has been a constant military aggression of Russia against Ukraine since winter 2014. And with different ceasefires that have not really been respected and have been a real end, it has been pauses. When the fighting ends in Ukraine, we need assurances that this is the end, it stops here. And, to ensure that we need to build the future Ukrainian armed forces so they can help to deter future Russian aggression. But we need also security guarantees and the ultimate security guarantee is Article Five, NATO. So, in that sense, NATO membership will also help to ensure that the war really ends, that Ukraine can prevail. So, this is all about ensuring lasting peace in Ukraine.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: I think that's an excellent point. A - reminds us that NATO operates under consensus. Now 32 members, 32 Allies must take decisions at consensus, that the process of joining NATO can be a long one. To think of our friends from North Macedonia, but it's all about becoming interoperable. It's all about understanding the responsibilities of NATO membership. And Ukraine is working on that path. I think it may be important to underscore that over the weekend in Switzerland, we saw again strong support from around the globe for Ukraine's call for peace. But as you put it, Secretary General, a just peace not a pause, not a frozen conflict that Russia can use to regroup its forces and continue periods of instability. In fact, as you say, NATO has shown now for 75 years that it is what has helped preserve the peace. We didn't have war between Russia and the West, the Warsaw Pact and NATO because of this, this defensive position of NATO. Now, Putin of course has shown no indication of any consideration of halting the slaughter and destruction. In addition to the remarkable resilience of the Ukrainian people that many questioned and doubted at the beginning of this war, there has been this great unity of the international community. How do you assess the future of Allied resolve? Do you fear that something could shake that resolve, that could change that resolve or from your experiences over the past decade, but what you've certainly seen during the first two and a half years of this war, is that resolve solid?

Secretary General: It is solid and we have over the last years also with different governments in Europe, but also with different administrations in the United States proven that NATO is able to adapt, NATO is able to respond to more dangerous world and as I said, we have over the last years since 2014, implemented the biggest reinforcements of our collective defence with more troops, higher readiness, more and new military domains, cyber, space, and significantly increased defence spending across the Alliance. So, we have demonstrated that not only in words, but also in deeds. Then of course for the future - you never have guarantees, it's not written in stone that North America and Europe will stand together forever. It is our responsibility as citizens, as political leaders as people living in North America and Europe to ensure that that remains the case. It's a decision we have to take in one way every day. It's like a marriage and you have to deliver, you have to commit and therefore it's not a law by nature that Europe and North America will stand together. But I'm an optimist because it is obviously in our interest to stand together. We are just safer together than alone. It will be stupid for both North America and Europe if they start to be divided. And especially in a world where we are afraid of, not only Russia but also the security consequences of China for our security. As I said, of course NATO is good for European security, but NATO is also very good for U.S. security. The United States is big but it's not that big as it's 24-25% of the world GDP. If you add all NATO Allies, we're 50%, twice as big. That matters.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: And that speaks to China, that speaks…

Secretary General: I think size matters. And it speaks to any potential adversary Beijing, Moscow, whoever. So, it is an enormous advantage for the United States to have 31 friends and Allies, some small, some medium sized and some big. So why shouldn’t you be happy having all those friends, there may be, so to say, not always agreeing with you on all issues, but that's not necessary, has never been the case. As long as we agree North America and Europe to protect and defend each other then we will not be attacked.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: And these are the ideas that President Wilson first discovered in search for ways to have a peace that could be lasting not just in Europe, but globally. Certainly, the legacy of FDR, but as you mentioned, also President Reagan and his determination to stick with our Allies, the importance of NATO in than there's a lot of talk these days about China. People debating where we should be focused. I'd suggest and I think that's what we're hearing from you. We have to be focused on all of the threats, all of the challenges to peace, stability, and our prosperity. You mentioned and it's worth underscoring. President Xi is enabling Russia, is support for Russia. And that comes with support from Iran, North Korea as well. It's something that we've got to keep in mind and be able to address those security challenges from all parts of the world as we have in the past. I just want to underscore what I think is your point is that NATO and the U.S. leadership within NATO is very much part of our way to address and defend and deter China as well.

Secretary General: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there's this idea that we can distinguish between the threats we see in Europe, posed by Russia and the threats and the challenges in Asia, Asia Pacific posed by China that we can separate those is wrong. Our security is global, not regional, and that's very clearly demonstrated in Ukraine. China is the main supporter of Russia's war efforts in Europe, in Ukraine. Iran and North Korea are helping Russia's war effort in Ukraine. So, this is interlinked. And if President Putin prevails in Ukraine, it's not only tragedy for the Ukrainians. It sends a very clear message to President Putin, but also the President Xi, that when they use military force, when they violate international law, they achieve what they want. So, if you're afraid of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea or Taiwan, then you should be very concerned about Ukraine. And I met the Prime Minister of Japan not too many months ago, and his message is - what happens in Ukraine today can happen in Southeast Asia tomorrow. So, the alignment of Russia and China is stronger and closer than ever, and if you add on that North Korea and Iran, these are [inaudible] these are two different things. It is authoritarian powers standing together, challenging us in different theatres, but they are aligned when they challenge us. So again, for the U.S. to have NATO on board when you address the challenge of China is a huge advantage.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: I think that's that point…

Secretary General: And that's also why President Xi is so adamant against NATO, it's his interest to weaken NATO, and therefore it should be in the U.S. interest to strengthen NATO.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: And two other questions and then we're going to turn to the audience. Another point of that, where China and Russia have been involved in a different domain that is, a geographic domain, is in the Arctic, and with the accession of Finland and Sweden to the Alliance I think highlights the security concerns of individual Allies but therefore NATO as a whole, but also the interests of all of us, and the activities of potentially hostile actors, including, obviously Russia and China in the High North, in the Arctic. Coming from Norway I don't want to miss the opportunity to draw in your particular insight and expertise in this geographic domain. As Ambassador Green said, we have a polar studies program here at Wilson. What can you tell us about the current situation in the Arctic, and how NATO is addressing concerns about security there?

Secretary General: So first, as you said, I'm from Norway, and sometimes I feel a need to say that the Arctic is not that different from what is not the Arctic. The Arctic is some land and some sea and sometimes there is some ice on that sea, but actually is less and less ice and more and more water. And for the land territory, all the normal rules under international rules applies and for the sea territory, the all North pole and that’s closer to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It’s a bit colder and darker. That's correct.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: Part of the year.

Secretary General: But actually, part of the year is actually no, midnight sun. So, on average is quite okay. But I say this because it sounds sometimes that the Arctic is very different. Well, it's about having military presence. It's about conducting deterrence and defence as we do everywhere else, all the places.

And half of my country, half of Norway is actually north of the Arctic Circle. And sometimes you'll get impression is only polar bears and there's some reindeers up there - is a lot of people doing normal things up there. So, it's land and sea. Then out of the eight Arctic countries with Finland and Sweden in NATO seven are now NATO Allies. So, NATO is present with our land forces, our sea, naval forces, our air forces. So, when we invest more in F-35s or new frigates or new submarines or maritime patrol aircraft, then we also invest in capabilities which are relevant for the Arctic. Exercising more, we are more present there. So that's a good thing. And of course, also a reflection of that Russia has reopened old bases in the High North, in the Arctic, from the Cold War era and also the fact that we see more Chinese presence. And the Arctic is also changing in a way that the ice is really melting and the temperature is increasing much faster in the High North than in the rest of the world.

One thing is Norway but north of mainland Norway we have something called Svalbard, that is really High North and the ice shields and the ice we used to have there has really diminished. So of course, this makes it easier to operate, its less ice, at some stage maybe also made it much easier to operate along the north or northeast passage. There are challenges there because Russia would like to control that passage.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: China wants to be in the Arctic.

Secretary General: China wants to join the Arctic Council. I met them many times when I was Prime Minister and they told me that they're near Arctic country, which is a bit… But they want to be part of this. And of course, with climate change, it is more accessible. Then being here in North America I know that you have NORAD, I visited Cambridge Bay in the Arctic of Canada last summer. And of course, that's also NATO. And it matters and the shortest distance to launch missiles from Russia to North America is not over the Atlantic is over the polar sea. So, everything you do up there in the Arctic is about defending North America, especially against all kinds of nuclear and air launched missiles. So, more presence, more exercises is what we do and then actually two new Arctic members has strengthened NATO's presence in the High North.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: And that addresses again, not just Russian but Chinese threats. On another area of domain that has evolved, you know, some would say in this town anyway, at 75, maybe we would consider NATO young, but the latest Strategic concept I think that we adopted in 2022 after a forward looking review process, recognize the evolution of security threats in hybrid realms, cyber, AI, deep fakes, space, quantum and of course, in the information sphere, these are being used and weaponized. How agile do you think NATO is proving to be in addressing some of these threats? Particularly I want to say the disinformation sphere. Some would say these are direct attacks against Allies and the Alliance itself whether it's election interference, disinformation, deep fakes. Can we expect a more unified NATO response to this in the future and again, how does NATO help the United States, all of its Allies by having them work together on these new domains and new challenges?

Secretary General: First of all, we have addressed these new domains as part of the big adaptation of the Alliance since 2014. We have established cyber as military domain alongside air, sea and land, we have established space as a military domain. And we have done much more when it comes to resilience. Also protecting critical infrastructure. Because we all realize that there are threats in these areas which were not so, to say, present some years or decades ago. Then for many of these things, there is a combination of military collective measures, which we can do at NATO, but also a lot of things that individual Allies have to do, partly also with non-military means, so we speak about many different things. For instance, to counter disinformation, well, NATO can do a lot, we can help to at least increase awareness, we can actually exercise to, for instance, protection of cyberspace. NATO is a platform to share intelligence, to be able to counter, identify hybrid cyber disinformation campaigns, but a lot of the measures have to be taken by individual Allies.

So, there is a kind of combination of individual national actions and then some collective actions and we support each other in those efforts. But you asked me about whether NATO is agile and fundamentally, I really believe that NATO is the most successful Alliance in history for two reasons. One is that we have been able to be united despite the fact that we are quite different. But the other main reason why we are the most successful Alliance in history is that we have been able to change. For 40 years, NATO did one thing and that was to deter the Soviet Union in Europe. Then the Cold War ended, and then we totally changed. Then for the first time in our history, we went out of area we helped to end two ethnic wars, both wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Kosovo. You know, just once before we did that it was ruled out that was anything that NATO could think about, but then suddenly we were in Bosnia, and later on in Kosovo. Then after 9/11 we were at the forefront of fighting terrorism and NATO Allies were together with the U.S. there for 20 years. Again, many have thought that was impossible. Well, we proved it possible for 20 years.

And now we are again, main focus is collective defence Europe, strengthening our military, also high-end capabilities in Europe and also addressing these new challenges, including China. You have to remember that in the Strategic concept we agreed in Lisbon in 2010, the last Strategic concept until we had a new one now at the Summit in Madrid, China was not mentioned with a single word, it was not an issue. NATO was not about China, NATO was about Soviet Union and Russia and only that. And then the last U.S. administration pushed to put China on the agenda for NATO. And we agreed at the NATO Summit in London in 2019, I think it was December 2019 after actually quite intense discussions and was not obvious and some Europeans were sceptical to include China in the text we agreed and now it also fully included in our strategic concepts. So sometimes, of course, we may be a bit slow, but European Allies, have now realized also that China matters for our security because this was raised by the United States. So, I'm, again, optimistic, NATO has proven agile and adaptable and that's the reason why we are so successful.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: Excellent points, and we're going to have time for one question from the audience. Well, the hand I see is in the front row. From our Polish colleague.

Question: [inaudible]

Secretary General: Yes, NATO has a role to play. But it is a bit like the other hybrid threats that it has. It is a combination of collective actions and individual actions by individual Allies and a combination of military and non-military actions. We have seen the instrumentalization of migration along, for instance, the border between Poland and Belarus. We have seen other hostile acts, including sabotage, we have seen arson attempts in several NATO allied countries against infrastructure to some extent also related to the support we provide to Ukraine. We have seen cyber and we have seen different, actually pattern of Russian facilitated supported hostile actions against NATO Allies. This has actually prompted a response from NATO. It was addressed at the Defence Ministerial Meeting last week. Because we need to realize that this is not the kind of random individual incidents, this is a pattern and we have agreed a set of response options partly to be drawn on by NATO as an Alliance and party to be drawn on as individual Allies and that includes increased awareness again, it includes enhanced intelligence sharing. It includes better protection of critical infrastructure, including cyber and undersea critical infrastructure. And again, two sorts of things - like exercises because this is a bit different. One thing is to defend against the full-scale military attack. That's something NATO has exercised and tried and tested structures to do for many many years. But these below Article Five hybrid hostile acts are different and we need a totally different response but we are working also with the Polish authorities to address them, in a measured and calm, but also firm way.

Ambassador Philip Reeker: Secretary General, I think we have to come to a close but I think it's a very good moment to close because you talked about addressing these different challenges in different ways. And that's what's made NATO special. You raised two key points for NATO’s success over 75 years in keeping not just the United States but all of our Allies safe, secure, the opportunity for prosperity, that is united, united as an Alliance despite our many differences - it is possible and it has been shown. And then agility, the ability to change, the ability to recognize changes and adapt to them, to new technologies, to new challenges, not just in the European space, but globally now. And then third, I would add leadership. And I want to say your leadership has been truly extraordinary. A decade, not what you expected I think when you first signed up 2014. But we are truly grateful for that. Let me speak as an American, but also on behalf of the Wilson Center. Grateful for you being with us here today but grateful for the decade of leadership you have shown to this crucially important Alliance, which I think will celebrate 75 years and move strongly and resiliently into the future for the same ideals of lasting peace that Woodrow Wilson himself espoused. So again, thank you very much for joining us today and all the best to you.

Secretary General: Thank you so much.