Defending Allies, Sharing responsibility, Upholding values
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Tallinn University, Estonia
Minister Paet - dear Urmas,
First of all thank you Urmas for the kind welcome. It’s great to be back in Estonia. And it’s a particular pleasure to be back here at Tallinn University. I have fond memories of speaking here during my last official visit as NATO Secretary General two years ago. But regrettably, our continent is less stable, less secure today than when I was last here. We now face a new and worrying security situation in Europe.
President Putin and his government have shown complete contempt for international law. For international order. And for international institutions. Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine are outrageous. They are irresponsible, they are illegal, they are illegitimate. But the crisis we face today is not only about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
By demonstrating a willingness to use force to intimidate and invade its neighbours, and by declaring a doctrine of protecting Russian speakers everywhere, Russia has created uncertainty, instability and insecurity across our continent. And across the whole Euro-Atlantic area.
At the same time, in a feeble attempt to explain and excuse its behaviour, Russia has manipulated its media and pushed pathetic propaganda about NATO.
I have come here today to set the record straight. To de-bunk some of those Russian myths. To explain what we do in NATO. How we do it. And why we do it.
First, what we do in NATO. It is to safeguard every one of our 28 Allied countries. That commitment is enshrined in Article 5, the collective defence clause of our founding treaty. It is central to what we are as an Alliance, and to what we do together as Allies.
Let there be absolutely no mistake or misunderstanding – by anyone. Article 5 is a rock solid commitment. We will do whatever it takes to defend every part of our territory. And to protect every person among our populations. This is precisely what we have done.
Recently, we have taken a number of steps to react to Russia’s aggressive behaviour. And to clearly demonstrate our collective commitment and resolve.
Here in the Baltic region, we have already reinforced our air policing mission and our naval presence. We have also deployed AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania. We will continue to keep a close eye on Russia’s actions near our borders. And we are prepared to take further steps if necessary.
This includes reinforcing our defence plans. Enhancing the readiness of our forces, including the NATO Response Force. Intensifying our exercises. And reviewing the posture and positioning of our forces. All with the aim of strengthening our collective defence.
In response to the measured defensive steps we have taken, President Putin and other Russian leaders have stated that NATO has no right to reinforce our Allies in this part of the world. Let me be crystal clear. That is simply wrong.
In the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, we agreed that, I quote "in the current and foreseeable security environment" end of quote, the Alliance would ensure the ability to carry out collective defence through reinforcement and adequate infrastructure, rather than the "permanent stationing of substantial combat forces".
NATO has fully lived up to this commitment. Working with our new Allies, we have ensured adequate infrastructure by upgrading, for example, air bases in this country and in Lithuania. Russia has no cause to complain about this.
Moreover, the Founding Act specifically states that "reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression". That's how we have stated it in the NATO-Russia Founding Act. And we clearly see such a threat now. The fact is the security environment has changed dramatically.
So NATO is taking legitimate defensive steps to deal with the instability created by Russia’s illegitimate aggressive actions.
So this is what we do in NATO – we guarantee the security of every Ally. How we meet that collective defence commitment is by demonstrating collective responsibility.
NATO is a community of democracies where every Ally plays its part. And every Ally contributes to our collective responsibility. This is what we call solidarity. And this is the true and real strength of our Alliance.
Because being a NATO member is not only a privilege. It’s also a duty. It’s not just all for one – it’s also one for all. It’s not just some Allies helping some other Allies. It’s all Allies being ready to help each and every Ally. That is what collective defence in NATO is all about.
Part of that collective responsibility is to be ready to respond to all the different risks and threats that we face today. And this includes not only Russia’s current behaviour. It also includes new weapons and weak states. Pirates and proliferation. And missiles as well as malware.
In order to deal with this wide range of challenges, our Strategic Concept identifies three core tasks for NATO. Collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. And all three tasks remain valid. Indeed, they reinforce each other. Because to strengthen our security at home, we must be prepared to tackle crises abroad. And we must be able to do more than one thing at a time.
This means we need to work closely with partners. It also means we must have a full spectrum of capabilities. Because assets like Special Forces, drones, and transport aircraft are relevant to all three tasks. They are all about being able to react quickly, together, and effectively to all threats – whenever and wherever they might occur. Including here in the Baltic region.
Each of our 28 Allies – whether big or small, old or new - needs to take responsibility. Not necessarily to develop all those different capabilities on its own. But to play its full part in making sure that we have access to all of them in NATO.
Estonia has been showing the way. You have made a strong contribution to our NATO operations, especially in Afghanistan. You have taken the lead in making cyber security a full part of our collective defence effort. And you have raised your defence spending to the NATO target of 2 per cent of your Gross Domestic Product.
By doing all this, Estonia has set an excellent example. And I am glad that Latvia, Lithuania and Romania have announced that they will also raise their spending. And I am confident that other Allies will do so too. Because, defence matters. Security is precious. Freedom is priceless – and it doesn’t come for free.
We are driven by a desire to protect our values as much as our territory and our people. Freedom. Democracy. The rule of international law. The inviolability of borders. And the right of nations to decide their own security arrangements.
These values and these norms are essential for our way of life. These values are at the heart of the United Nations charter of 1945, at the heart of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and the OSCE Charter for European Security of 1999. They are the foundation of peace and stability in the entire Euro-Atlantic area.
We have built a norms- and value-based cooperative international system. And Russia has been part of that. And Russia has benefited greatly from the transparency, the predictability, the stability that this system has delivered. But now, Russia is violating these very values.
In seeking to defend their illegal actions in Ukraine, Russian leaders have attacked the legitimacy of NATO’s operations in Libya and Kosovo. But there, as well, they have misrepresented the facts.
In Libya, our operation was launched under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. And we conducted our Kosovo operation in order to prevent genocide, in accordance with the principles of the United Nation’s Charter.
By contrast, in Crimea, with no evidence of a crisis and no attempt to negotiate any form of solution, Russia has simply occupied a part of Ukraine’s territory in a blatant breach of international rules and international commitments.
Russian leaders have also claimed that, by keeping its door open for new members, NATO has encircled and threatened Russia.
The reality is that NATO has grown from 12 members in 1949 when NATO was established to 28 today, not because we pushed to expand, but because 16 countries wanted to join. And because they exercised their sovereign right to make that choice.
Moreover, NATO’s enlargement has actually been good for Russia in terms of trade. Investment. Security. For over two decades, NATO has consistently worked to build a cooperative relationship with Russia on areas of mutual interest. With the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Rome Declaration, and the NATO-Russian Council Summit in Lisbon, NATO has demonstrated our genuine desire to build a true strategic partnership with Russia.
My very first public speech as Secretary General was about the importance of building such a strong and mutually trusting relationship. And we have proposed numerous concrete and forward-leaning measures, such as cooperation on missile defence. At every step, we have tried to involve Russia. NATO’s long-term aspiration has been to develop a true strategic partnership with Russia.
But Russia has not responded constructively. I deeply regret that Russia currently seems to view NATO as an adversary rather than as a partner. This is not an approach we favour. But we are ready to meet the challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me finish with two clear messages.
My first message is to Russia. Step back from the brink. Rejoin the international system and fulfil your international commitments. Because these are critical to your future security and stability, as well as to that of our shared continent and the entire world.
I also have a message to Estonia and your Baltic neighbours: NATO stands with you. You may be on NATO’s border geographically, but you are right at the core of our Alliance politically. NATO will defend you and all Allies. We will do what it takes to defend our populations and societies against any threat. NATO’s commitment to collective defence is rock solid. And it will remain rock solid.
MODERATOR: Now there is time for questions. You can ask either in English or Estonian and there will be also microphones there. So I see a question in the back. (speaks in Estonian)
Estonian Public Broadcasting.
QUESTION: (speaks in Estonian)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Thank you. First of all, let me stress that NATO as an alliance has decided to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia; and that of course includes military-to-military cooperation. So NATO as an alliance has suspended all practical cooperation with Russia.
The issues you touch upon are, of course, at the end of the day national responsibilities. Having said that, I would expect individual Allies to be in line with what we have decided at the NATO level to suspend practical cooperation with Russia. But as I said, at the end of the day it is a national decision.
The same goes for trade arrangements. I'm confident, however, that all Allies will take into account concerns raised by other Allies and act in a spirit of solidarity.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (speaks in Estonian)
QUESTION: Thank you. Honourable Secretary General, I’m from Tallinn University. As I know today, North Atlantic Council had a meeting and they discussed the future of NATO. And I'm interested about your personal view about the future of NATO and how much NATO is ready to deal with defence-related economic affairs like defence industry, trade, environment, and some other… energy, atomic energy and so on.
How much North Atlantic cooperation might become North Atlantic security and trade area? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, we have discussed what you call the future of NATO or part of the future of NATO in today’s meeting. We have discussed how to move further when it comes to strengthening our collective defence. I can’t go into detail right now but as you know, we have taken immediate steps. I have outlined some of them. And they will be followed by further steps, as required, to make sure that we can continue to provide effective defence and protection of our Allies.
Such steps might include new defence plans, an update of existing defence plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployments. So that is to answer the more specific part of your question.
But as I stressed in my introduction today, collective or territorial defence is one of three core tasks. And I think that the future of NATO is also to continue to fulfil the other two core tasks, to be able to participate in international crisis management, as well as cooperative security which is about expanding partnerships.
So that’s how I see the future of NATO. Of course territorial defence is a core task, but also the possibility to participate in international crisis management and cooperative security. Now you broaden it a bit and suggest that NATO could also engage when it comes to energy security, environment, trade, etc.
In that respect I would like to stress that while NATO of course is an important part of an answer to the overall security of our societies, it’s not the whole answer. And I will here include the European Union. As you know, the E.U. and the U.S. is right now discussing a Transatlantic trade and investment partnership.
And I think when you speak about industry, trade, etc., I think it’s more for the European Union to address that.
Maybe you are aware of Article 2 in the NATO Treaty. Article 2, it’s not well known, but actually in Article 2 in our treaty we speak about the need for a strengthened economic cooperation between Allies. And I do believe that we need a strengthened Transatlantic relationship in the future, not only in the security field but also when it comes to economy, including energy.
And here I see this Transatlantic trade and investment partnership as an essential element and I hope that could also be followed by an intensified energy cooperation between the United States and Europe.
So to broaden it, I agree, but I think we should then also broaden the institutions and actors to address it and include the European Union.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
(speaks in Estonian)
And after that, Reuters.
QUESTION: When centuries ago the first Danish king arrived to Estonia, but today we all are very happy to see here Danes, especially in the top of the NATO organization. At first the troops arrived, then the Secretary General, but I will also have a quite hard question to continue the topic which was already raised.
The topic about weapon sale. Maybe the world, including the NATO countries, are producing too much weapons because a lot of them are sold to the let’s say Arab countries or to Russia, which are not democratic countries.
And the problem is maybe there is need to restrict production of weapons. And the other side of the question is maybe it is also possible to establish some common rules to not permit the selling of weapons to non-democratic regimes. Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I agree and actually we do have such common rules. It’s not in the NATO framework but the European Union for instance has a common set of rules regulating arms, sales and trade and I take for granted that all members of the European Union live up to these actually quite strict rules when it comes to weapons trade and sale.
As a Dane, I feel very strong links with Estonia. As you may know, according to the legend, our flag fell from heaven here in Tallinn.
MODERATOR: Thank you for this. Reuters. Yes, the microphone.
QUESTION: David (inaudible) from Reuters. I have two quick questions for the Secretary General. In the last 24 hours have you had any confirmation of the Russian troop withdrawals from the border region along Ukraine? And the second question is do you have a comment or opinion or reaction to President Putin’s visit to Crimea?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on troop withdrawals, no, still we don’t have visible evidence of Russian withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian border. We have seen such announcements also in the past without any withdrawal of Russian troops. So we are very cautious when it comes to such announcements.
Let me add that I would be the very first to welcome if Russian troops were actually pulled back from the Ukrainian border if we are speaking about a clear and meaningful withdrawal of troops because such a withdrawal would contribute to de-escalating the crisis.
But again, so far we haven’t seen visible evidence of a withdrawal of Russian troops.
Second, on President Putin’s visit to Crimea, as you know, we consider the annexation, the Russian annexation of Crimea for being illegal, illegitimate. We do not recognize it. So from an international law perspective, we still consider Crimea Ukrainian territory and to my knowledge, the Ukrainian authorities haven’t invited Putin to visit Crimea. So in that respect I think his visit to Crimea is inappropriate.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So there is one in the back, and then here in the front. Yes, please, the microphone there. I think it’s not on.
QUESTION: (speaks in Estonian)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all let me stress that NATO doesn’t interfere with how television stations broadcast their news or other programmes. But interestingly enough actually I asked exactly the same question yesterday in an informal setting and I got … I got the impression that such broadcasting in Russian language already takes place, but I may be wrong in that respect.
But my short answer is that I'm not going to interfere with such decisions.
My general view is that the more accurate information that can be provided to people, the better. In whichever language might be required to ensure that accurate information is delivered to people.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Please, a question here.
QUESTION: Hello. General Secretary, I’m an international student from China attending university. And yesterday the 8th of May there was the anniversary of the 15 years ago NATO bombed the Chinese embassy at Belgrade in 1999. At that time NATO declared it was a misjudgment by the misleading information. That was purely an accident, but it resulted three deaths of Chinese journalists and more than 10 injured embassy working officials.
But based on yesterday I read media from U.S. it called the case of how it deals with this accident a great achievement of NATO’s public relations. And until now NATO shows no regret, purely (inaudible) story mostly shows an expression of regret of not the behaviour, just such a thing happened.
So what’s your knowledge about such an incident? Was it purposely or was it just a misjudgment? Thank you very much.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That was clearly an accident and I strongly regret that it happened. It was not on purpose, of course not. And I think that has also been explained in clear language to the Chinese authorities. The purpose of the NATO air campaign in Serbia at that time was to prevent genocide in Kosovo. We succeeded in preventing such genocide. We deployed troops to Kosovo to stabilize the situation.
And actually I would describe our Kosovo mission as a great success. We started out by deploying 50,000 troops to stabilize the situation and maintain peace and security. Today we have around 5,000. And that decline in the number of NATO and partner troops in Kosovo reflects a significant improvement of the security situation.
And I know that also the Serbs today consider NATO as a guarantor of peace, security and stability in the western Balkans, including in the protection of Serbs in Kosovo.
So on a very sad background, I can tell you that our mission in Kosovo has been and is still a great success.
Having said that, again I strongly regret the accident, the bombing of the Chinese embassy back in 1999. It was clearly not on purpose. It was an accident.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Now we have time for one last question.
(speaks in Estonian).
In the back there, yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), Tallinn University. We have recently heard here in Estonia that there are some debates in our northwestern neighbour countries of Finland and Sweden about possibly joining NATO as well. There are some public concerns, there are some concerns among the politicians. There are also some forces that are against and of course we heard some brief reactions from Russian side that the especially possible joining of Finland would be kind of over-crossing some kind of red line for them.
So my question is if let’s say Finland and/or Sweden would decide or express their own clear will to join NATO, would NATO be ready to accept them as member states, and on what conditions? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress it’s not for Russia to decide who can become a member of NATO. Each and every nation has the right to decide itself with whom it wants to cooperate, including its alliance affiliation. So that’s my first point. It’s not for Russia to decide. We will decide in cooperation with applicant countries.
Next, you asked me whether Sweden and Finland would be accepted as NATO Allies if they were to apply. My brief answer is yes. And they could join quickly because they fulfil - I think I can say they fulfil all criteria - to become members of NATO.
Having said that I quickly add that I’m not going to interfere with debates in Sweden and Finland. This is a national decision. It’s for the people of Finland and Sweden and their politicians to make those decisions. I follow closely and with great interest the debates in both countries, but I know as a former Prime Minister of Denmark that it’s important for such debates and decisions to be purely domestic. And that’s why I'm not going to interfere with that as the Secretary General of NATO. But certainly I would welcome them as new members of NATO if they were to apply.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General. With that note, thank you very much all for coming. Have a good Friday and a good weekend. Thank you. (applause)