by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the Plenary session of the NATO Parliamentary Assemby Spring Session in Tirana, Albania
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
It’s an honour for me to address this plenary session.
First, I want to express Secretary General Stoltenberg’s best wishes to all members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, along with his deep regret that couldn’t be here in person.
Let me also take a moment to thank the Albanian Parliament for hosting this Spring Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and congratulate Albania on the 7th anniversary of your membership of NATO.
There has always been a special bond between NATO and the members of the NPA.
In your roles as legislators, you help shape your national foreign and security policies. You oversee defence planning and military budgets. You authorise spending on weapons systems and military deployments. And you play an indispensable role in building public support for NATO’s overall mission – to protect and defend its almost one billion citizens.
Your staunch support for NATO over the decades has helped NATO preserve the peace and uphold our shared values of democracy, individual liberty, human rights and the rule of law.
And I’m very pleased to say that this Assembly has been, from the very beginning, a staunch supporter of NATO enlargement via our “open door policy”.
As you know, our host country Albania, along with Croatia, joined NATO in 2009, becoming the 27th and 28th members of the Alliance. NATO’s door is opening once again with the impending membership of Montenegro.
Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers signed the Accession Protocol for Montenegro, and now Montenegro is well on its way to becoming NATO’s 29th member.
NATO membership will strengthen Montenegro’s independence, which it regained 10 years ago. Becoming the 29th member of NATO will help to ensure Montenegro’s long-term stability and security.
Once the parliaments of all 28 Allies have ratified the Protocol, Albania will have a fellow NATO member on its northern border. This will enhance Albania’s security while fortifying the stability of the Western Balkans and the Adriatic region more broadly.
We have seen over the decades that NATO membership can have a transformative effect on member countries. Their democratic institutions are strengthened. Their commitment to free markets, to human rights and individual liberties, and to the rule of law is enhanced. And all of this helps to lay the foundation for economic progress and political stability.
From our formation in 1949, NATO has provided the necessary security for democracy and economic prosperity to expand in Europe. By helping to keep the peace for nearly seven decades, NATO created the conditions for European integration, helped nations to overcome historic rivalries and to work together to reach common goals.
Membership of NATO has allowed members to pool their defence, security and intelligence resources, enhancing the safety and security for us all.
I also believe that Euro-Atlantic integration is the key to stability here in the Balkans. Now, that doesn’t mean that every nation should necessarily seek NATO membership. We respect the choices of non-member countries like Serbia, as well as Austria, Sweden and Finland, to pursue partnership rather than membership.
And indeed, we have very strong partnerships with all of those countries, including a robust Partnership Action Plan with Serbia. Neutral countries like Serbia play an important role in international peacekeeping operations, and we appreciate Serbia’s contribution to the UN Missions in Cyprus and Lebanon, and to the EU missions in Africa.
With that as backdrop, I want to say a few words on the current security situation NATO faces as we prepare for our summit in Warsaw this July.
Our summit will take place at a critical time for our alliance – a time when our security and our values are facing significant challenges from the south and the east.
We also see other threats that transcend territorial boundaries – including cyber attacks, nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation.
For NATO to protect the freedom and security of the 28 Allied nations, we need to make progress in two areas simultaneously: We need to strengthen our collective defence and deterrence, and we need to project stability beyond our borders. These will be the two overarching themes of our Warsaw Summit, and the areas where our leaders will make important decisions.
Let me start with collective defence and deterrence.
In the last couple of years, Russia has illegally annexed Crimea and it continues its aggression in Eastern Ukraine. It has also significantly built up its military forces from the Barents Sea and the Baltic to the Black Sea and in the eastern Mediterranean.
These actions challenge the very foundation of European security, undermining respect for national sovereignty and the use of peaceful means to settle disputes – principles laid down in the Helsinki Final Act and many post-Cold War agreements that Moscow helped to write. Moreover, Russian leaders don't conceal that their vision for European security is no longer Helsinki, but Yalta – a Europe based on spheres of influence that we thought was long behind us.
NATO has responded decisively. At our Wales Summit in 2014, our leaders agreed to significantly strengthen our collective defence and deterrence capability, and we have delivered.
We have stepped up NATO’s readiness. The NATO Response Force – our quick reaction force – is now three times bigger, with 40,000 troops. 5,000 of whom make up the high-readiness Spearhead Force, able to deploy within 2-3 days anywhere on Alliance territory – to the east or to the south.
We established eight new headquarters to help coordinate training, exercises, prepositioning of equipment and, if needed, rapid reinforcement.
Moreover, we have significantly increased the number of our military exercises. In 2015, we held a total of 300 exercises, including our largest live military exercise in years, Trident Juncture, which took place across Portugal, Spain and Italy, mobilizing more than 36,000 troops.
We have sped up our decision-making, and we are improving our ability to resist – and recover from – hybrid or cyber-attacks.
We are developing and expanding our defensive shield against ballistic missile attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area – most recently with the activation of a ballistic missile site in Romania. And we are ensuring that our nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective.
The Wales Summit in 2014 demonstrated that NATO can – and will – respond quickly to threats from any foe. But we will need to go further to ensure the effectiveness of our deterrence. With Russia’s increasing anti-aircraft and anti-ship capabilities, and its ability to mobilize large numbers of combat forces along its borders with little warning, it is not enough for NATO to rely exclusively on rapid reinforcements. We need to be there.
So I expect leaders at Warsaw to agree on an enhanced forward presence in the East of the Alliance, including multinational, battalion-sized units provided by European and North American Allies. This will make it clear to anyone who would do us harm, from the east or south, that an attack against any Ally will be swiftly met by forces from across the Alliance.
Let me stress, however, that this presence will be defensive, proportionate and in line with our international commitments, including the NATO-Russia Founding Act. NATO does not seek confrontation but we will defend each and every Ally against any attack. Our presence will be sufficiently robust that there will be no doubt about the strength of our collective resolve, but there will be no grounds to accuse NATO of posing an offensive threat to Russia or any other state.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO Allies have worked diligently to establish a constructive relationship with Russia. We created the NATO-Russia Council, giving Russia more influence and access than any other partner country at NATO. And we managed to cooperate to our mutual benefit in many areas, laying the foundation for a genuine strategic partnership. More widely, the international community welcomed Russia into the G8 and the World Trade Organization.
I’m convinced that Russia can still be a source of stability in the world. We have seen this on occasion with initiatives like the recent nuclear deal with Iran, and the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. But in Europe, as long as Russia continues its aggressive actions against Ukraine and violates international law, the prospects for partnership are dim.
NATO has kept political channels of dialogue with Russia open, while suspending practical cooperation after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. As part of our ongoing dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council met in April after a two-year hiatus.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues of principle. We aired our differences candidly – on the crisis in and around Ukraine and on the risks posed by Russia’s aggressive military activities. But the fact that we are talking, and making clear our expectations and our intentions, is positive – and necessary.
In the current environment, dialogue is needed to manage a difficult relationship, to increase transparency and predictability, and to reduce the risk that incidents could spiral out of control. That is why there was broad support among NATO foreign ministers, at their meeting last week, for holding another NATO-Russia Council meeting before the Warsaw Summit. We hope to reach early agreement with Russia on the agenda.
Dialogue will continue, but there can be no return to “business as usual” with Russia until there is full implementation of the Minsk agreements and Russia once again demonstrates respect for international law and the norms of international behaviour.
Now, it goes without saying that strengthening our defence and deterrence requires resources. At the Wales Summit, our leaders agreed on the need to invest more in defence to meet today’s more challenging strategic environment. So what has been done over the past two years? I’d say the defence spending picture today is mixed but improving.
After a long decline following the end of the Cold War, defence cuts virtually came to a halt last year in the vast majority of Allied countries. This is an important step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
All NATO members pledged at Wales to move toward a target of spending 2% of GDP on defence over the next ten years. And they agreed that 20% of their defence budgets should go to acquiring new equipment. We need to continue making progress toward these goals. Defence spending levels will be an important topic of discussion in Warsaw. Collectively, we must do better.
Taken together, all of these measures represent the largest reinforcement of our collective defence and deterrence since the end of the Cold War. But, as I said, we do not seek confrontation with Russia. On the contrary, we seek ultimately to have a positive and constructive relationship with Russia. But in the meantime, it is in our interests that our relationship be as predictable and transparent as possible. That is why we are pursuing a twin-track approach – with political dialogue, but dialogue from a position of strength.
The second great strategic challenge we face is instability beyond our borders. The failed promise of the Arab Spring has given way to turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa, which has unleashed the biggest migrant and refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and brought terrorism to our streets. Elsewhere, the crisis continues in Ukraine and Russian troops remain in Moldova and Georgia. To protect our security, NATO recognises the need to do more to project stability in our neighbourhood – to the east and to the south.
At the Warsaw Summit, we will intensify our efforts to project stability by boosting the defence capabilities and increasing the resilience of our partners.
We will build on our strong political and practical support for Ukraine and strengthen our capacity-building efforts in Moldova and Georgia. We will continue to work closely with Finland and Sweden, who have been long-time contributors to NATO operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and who have a significant contribution to make to security in the Baltic region.
And in North Africa and the Middle East, we will continue helping our partners to build stronger defence institutions, field more capable forces, and regain lost territory.
NATO has been actively engaged in Afghanistan for many years and we will continue our Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces beyond 2016.
NATO is already training Iraqi officers in Jordan in areas such as countering Improvised Explosive Devices, military medicine and civil-military planning. Our foreign ministers recently discussed the request by Prime Minister Al-Abadi to expand our training and capacity-building into Iraq itself. We will soon send an assessment team to explore the possibility of NATO training inside Iraq, and to ensure that any such efforts would complement what the U.S.-led Global Coalition is already doing there.
We are developing a number of projects with Jordan, including on cyber defence. In Tunisia, we’re providing assistance and expertise to develop special forces training and a national intelligence ‘fusion centre’.
With regard to Libya, we are continuing our preparatory work with a view to helping to build Libya’s defence and security institutions. NATO stands ready to support the Libyan authorities, at their request, and as part of UN-led efforts to support the new Government of National Accord.
Turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has led to Europe’s largest migrant and refugee crisis since the Second World War, with sometimes tragic consequences, as today's headlines remind us. While NATO isn't the first responder, the Alliance is playing a supporting role. By providing real-time information to the Greek and Turkish Coastguards, and to the European Union’s border agency, NATO’s ships in the Aegean Sea are helping to stop those who would profit from human trafficking. As part of this effort, we have moved fast to step up cooperation with the European Union, because we can achieve more when we work together.
Indeed, as we prepare for the NATO Summit in Warsaw, we are exploring other opportunities for greater cooperation and coordination between NATO and the EU. Our organisations complement each other. One important area where you can see this is in the way we responded to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, with NATO boosting our collective defence, while the EU imposed economic sanctions.
Looking ahead, we are working more closely together to prevent and counter “hybrid” threats. By combining our efforts, and employing the full range of our civilian and military tools, we can better protect our member states against any potential hybrid attack – and make our joint response greater than the sum of its parts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
NATO is an Alliance of equals, based on common values. Values of democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and the rule of law. We are strong because we are united behind those values.
The challenges we face are not going anywhere soon. So, as we move forward, as we continue to enhance our collective defence and deterrence, as we pursue our efforts to project stability beyond our borders, we need to be patient and to be prepared for the long haul.
But united in our values, and with the support of our citizens and their elected representatives, I know that, however long it takes, NATO Allies will always do what is necessary to keep our countries and our peoples safe from harm.
Thank you for your attention. And now I’d be delighted to answer your questions.