The Warsaw Summit: Strengthening NATO in turbulent times

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Warsaw University

  • 31 May. 2016 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 06 Jun. 2016 10:38

(As delivered)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivers a speech at Warsaw University

Good morning, it’s good to see you all here this morning, and I’m looking forward to speak to you and I’m also looking forward to answer your questions afterwards.

But let me start by thanking for the kind introductions. And also to thank you Professor Palys for the invitation to speak to this audience today. And I would also like thank Dr. Debski and his colleagues at the Polish Institute of International Affairs for the work they do in cooperation and in partnership with NATO.

And I’m also very much looking forward to speak to your experts at the prestigious Experts Forum which you are co-hosting with NATO in connection with and on the margins of the NATO Summit in July. So thank you once again for inviting me here. And then I will address all of you, guests, professors, students. And I’m looking forward to speak to you because we are facing a new and more challenging security environment and therefore it is important that we keep the debate going on on how we can develop, how we can strengthen NATO in response to a more challenging security environment.

And for me it’s very natural to do that at this university because this year Warsaw University celebrates its 200th anniversary.

And this great institution’s long history reflects Poland’s turbulent past.

Occupiers have turned it, at different times, into a medical school, an Imperial University, and even a military barracks.

And when martial law was declared in the early 1980s, brave members of the academic staff organised an underground university.

At great risks for themselves. 

The University library opened in 1999.

The very same year that Poland joined NATO.

Since then, Poland has made extraordinary progress.

Over the past seventeen years, Poland has evolved from a new Ally into a leading Ally.

This evolution is testament to the transformative powers of the Open Door of NATO, and of EU enlargement.

But it owes most, of course, to the commitment, determination and hard work of the Polish people. And of successive Polish governments.

At NATO, that commitment takes many forms. Including the most precious.

Over the years, 40 Polish soldiers have given their lives serving under a NATO flag in Afghanistan. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

As Secretary General of NATO, I have a close political relationship with Poland.

But I also have a personal relationship with your country.

When I was a child, I remember my grandfather telling me about his time in a German prisoner of war camp in Poland.

My father visited Poland frequently during the 1970s and the 1980s as a Norwegian politician.

He met secretly with representatives of Solidarnosc on several occasions – providing political and financial help.

He went on to become a strong advocate of NATO membership for Poland and other countries of the former communist bloc. 

And I, as a young activist, was one of many in Western Europe who supported Solidarnosc  and political prisoners in Poland during the 1980s. And I as a young politician in Norway  had also then strong relationships with Poland.

So it was natural that I, when I became Secretary General of NATO, to make my first visit to Poland, in my very first week in the job, and I have also visited Poland later. I came again last summer.

To see the first military exercise by our new high-readiness Force.

And, today, I am here to meet with the President and members of the government.

To discuss the preparations for NATO’s Summit, here in Warsaw, just in a few weeks.

At the Summit, NATO’s leaders will come together to agree on the Alliance’s future direction.

I often think about the sacrifices my grandfather’s generation made in service to a greater good. What they went through is a powerful reminder of the importance of collective security and the need to prevent war.

It is also a reminder of NATO’s essential role in continuing to keep the peace. And our nations safe. That is why the upcoming Summit is so important.

It will take place at a critical moment for our Alliance. A moment where our security and our values face significant challenges. 

Challenges both from the east and from the south.

To the east, we see Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Its continuing actions against Ukraine.

And a significant build-up of its military forces – stretching from the Barents Sea, to the Baltic and the Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean.

To the south, turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa has unleashed the biggest migrant and refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.

We see other threats that have no respect for territorial borders. Terrorism. Cyber-attacks. Nuclear, and ballistic missile proliferation.

To carry out NATO’s mission in this more dangerous world, we need to strengthen our collective defence, and to project stability beyond our own borders.

This will be the focus of our decisions at our Warsaw Summit in July.

And this is what I want to talk about now.

Let me start with defence and deterrence.

In response to the changes in our security environment, NATO has significantly increased its collective defence. 

The NATO Response Force – our quick reaction force – is now three times bigger compared to what it was previously.

With 40,000 troops ready to move at short notice.

Including a very-high readiness force capable of moving within 48 hours. 

We have added eight new small headquarters in the east of our Alliance – including here in Poland – to help link up national forces with other NATO forces.

We have increased the number of our exercises.  

We have developed detailed plans for the defence of our eastern Allies. And we have sped up our decision-making.

Together, these measures represent the largest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.

We need to continue to adapt, and to be prepared for the long haul. And we are.

Last night, I met with President Duda.

I told him there will be more NATO troops in Poland. 

We have already agreed to enhance our forward presence in the Eastern part of our Alliance. With more troops, more infrastructure and more pre-positioned equipment. And a greater capacity to plan and command, so that forces already on the ground can provide a bridgehead for NATO reinforcements, if needed. 

This presence will be multinational and rotational.

Our military planners have put forward proposals for several battalions in different countries in the region. We are now discussing the exact numbers and the exact locations. And we will take those decisions at the Summit in Warsaw. 

This enhanced forward presence, combined with the ability to deploy NATO forces quickly, will send a clear message.

An attack on Poland – or any other Ally – will trigger a response from the entire Alliance.

That multinational forward presence shows our resolve. It enhances our deterrence.

And – because it will significantly increase the costs to any potential aggressor – it will have a stabilising effect on NATO’s borders.

NATO is adapting to other existing and emerging challenges too. We are improving our resilience. Our ability to resist – and to recover from – hybrid and cyber-attacks. 

Recently, you broke ground here in Poland on a new missile defence site. This will become an important part of our defence against ballistic missile attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.

Later this year, we will deploy our advanced reconnaissance drones to Sicily and it will enhance our ability to keep a continuous watch on developments in and around the Alliance. 

And we will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent as part of our overall collective defence and deterrence.

Everything we do is defensive, it is proportionate and it’s fully in line with our international obligations.

My message is clear:

NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race.

Russia is our biggest neighbour, a member of the UN Security Council, and can still play a constructive role in world affairs.

We saw this with the Iran nuclear negotiations and in the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.

Our aim is a more positive and a more cooperative relationship with Russia.

At the very least, we must work towards a relationship that is more predictable.

NATO Allies remain committed to dialogue with Russia and to transparency in military affairs.

Poland itself has put forward constructive proposals to strengthen confidence-building measures.

Channels of communication and political dialogue are in our best interest.  

That is why the NATO-Russia Council, where we have met for almost 20 years, is important.

And why there is broad agreement among Allies that we should seek to meet again before the Summit here in Warsaw.


Defending our homelands is not just about defending our borders.

It is also about projecting stability beyond our borders.

Because if our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.

That will be the other major theme for the Warsaw Summit.

In North Africa and the Middle East, terrorist groups like ISIL exploit weak states and ungoverned spaces to spread chaos and violence.

Terrorism poses a real threat to our security and to our way of life.

NATO Allies are taking direct military action as part of the Global Coalition Against ISIL.

Helping to degrade and destroy a brutal terrorist group, which has inspired and directed attacks on our own streets.

But, as we have learned through many years of operations, building local capacity and training local forces is as important as our ability to deploy our own combat troops.

In fact, training local forces is often our best weapon against terrorism.

That is exactly what we are doing in Afghanistan. While our combat mission there has come to an end, we remain to train, advise and assist the Afghans. So they can continue to take full responsibility for the security of their own country.

For the same reason, we are helping our partners in the Middle East and North Africa – to build stronger defence institutions, to field more capable forces, and to regain lost territory.

We are training Iraqi officers.

And we are working with the Iraqi government to identify ways of scaling up this training.

We are also helping Jordan and Tunisia to develop stronger defence institutions, and improve their Special Forces and intelligence capabilities.  And all of this is part of how NATO contributes to the global efforts to fight ISIL and to fight terrorism.

And we stand ready also to assist Libya, if requested, and as part of broader UN-led efforts.

Given the magnitude of the threats we face, we must do more. And that is also among the issues we will discuss at the Summit here in Warsaw in July.

In the East, we are also boosting the defence capabilities, and increasing the resilience, of our partners.

At the Summit, we will meet with the Ukrainian President and agree on a new comprehensive package of assistance from NATO to Ukraine.

And we are strengthening our already very close cooperation with Georgia, and with Moldova.  

To do all this, to ensure strong deterrence and defence, and to project stability in our neighbourhood, we need sufficient resources.

That is why Allies have to invest more in defence. Poland has shown leadership on defence spending over several years. Last year, in 2015, Poland met NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. And that is something I welcome very much.  In every Allied capital I visit, I use Poland as an example of what is possible.

Other Allies are also starting to increase their defence spending. After a long decline, defence cuts among European Allies virtually came to a halt last year.

This is an important first step. We must spend more. And we must spend better.

That means strengthening our cooperation with other partners.

The European Union is a unique partner for the Alliance.

Together, we have transformed Europe.

We have helped to spread peace and prosperity across the continent after centuries of war.

And we helped to extinguish the fire of ethnic conflicts in the Western Balkans.

Cooperation between NATO and the European Union – as demonstrated by our deployment in the Aegean Sea – gives a big boost to the security in and around Europe.

At the Warsaw Summit, we will seek a new level of cooperation with the EU. On issues such as countering hybrid threats, cyber defence and maritime security. Cooperation in the face of common threats. Cooperation to ensure our common security.                                                         

NATO is an Alliance of democracies.

In democracies there are many different opinions and views. And democracies sometimes disagree with each other. But throughout NATO’s history we have demonstrated our ability to stand together. To make decisions. And to act.

Our common values – individual liberty, democracy and the rule of law – are the source of our unity.

And unity is our greatest strength.

At our Summit here in Warsaw, we will demonstrate that unity. With a strong deterrence and defence. And a determination to project stability beyond our borders. To honour the generations who fought to defend our values.  And to safeguard peace and security for the generations to come

Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary General kindly agreed to take some questions. So I would like you, all those who would like to take the floor, to introduce themselves, show their affiliation, and wave to me if you'd like to take the floor.

Q: My name is [inaudible], I'm a PhD scholar at the University of Warsaw, for International Relations. Sir, after the death of Mullah Omar and Akhtar Mansour in Afghanistan do you think the Afghanistan security is still a challenge for NATO? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG (Secretary General of NATO): The answer is yes, but I can add some more reflections, because the important thing we have done in Afghanistan is that we have helped to build a strong Afghan National Army and Security Force. We ended, at the end of 2014, our combat mission, so what we do now is that we train, assist and advise the Afghans themselves because we believe that in the long run it's better that they are able to take responsibility for security in their own country themselves instead of we fighting and deploying combat troops there.

It is a challenging situation in Afghanistan:  there's going to be violence, there's going to be fighting and there's going to be difficulties, but at the same time we have seen that the Afghan National Forces are capable, they're professional and they are dedicated, so they are now able to take responsibility for the security of their own country, provided that we continue to train and assist and advise them, and also provided that we continue to not only assist and train and advise them but also to fund, provide financial support for the Afghan Army and Security Forces.

And let me just end by saying that for me Afghanistan is an example of what I believe of what we should do more of, and that is to train local forces to enable them to fight terrorism, train local forces to enable them to stabilize their own countries, train local forces to enable them to destroy ISIL.

So NATO has an important role to play but in the long run we need local forces. This is not a fight between the West and the Muslim world, but this is a fight against terrorists, against criminals, and we know that the majority of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and therefore I welcome very much the dedication and the commitment of the Afghans themselves and President Ghani and of Abdullah to be in front in that fight.

MODERATOR: Gentleman over there.

Q:  Good morning, my name is Philip … [inaudible] and I am an observant of Warsaw University of Life Sciences, of environmental protection. Mr. Stoltenberg, let me explain something, okay. Don’t you realize that NATO and U.S. murderers were responsible for the attack on a sovereign and peaceful Libya? Don’t you realize that NATO and U.S. murderers and Blackwater are responsible for genocide of innocent people in Eastern Ukraine?

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it's important to understand that some of the most important and most difficult decisions politicians are making, and also some of the most difficult decisions NATO has to make, is when to use military force and when not to use military force.

And I was at that time Prime Minister of Norway, we had the discussions in Norway but I supported the decision of NATO to take part in the military actions against the Gadhafi regime. We did so because we had a very clear UN mandate. It was a clear decision by the UN Security Council to use all necessary means to stop the regime killing its own population, and we had a very critical situation just outside Benghazi, and I think that we all felt that it was an urgency to act. And NATO acted, NATO allies acted, and we were able to stop the killing of civilians by government forces or regime forces in Libya.

Having said that, I think that one of the lessons we have learned from Libya is that one thing is to win the war but you also have to win the peace, and it underlines the importance of my message in my speech, that we have to build local capacity, we have to build defence institutions, we have to enable local forces to stabilize their own country. And this is a responsibility of NATO. We stand ready to help the new Government of National Accord in Libya. It's a responsibility of the European Union, of UN, of the whole international society.

So NATO acted upon a very clear UN mandate; we stopped the killing of civilians, or we contributed to that, but the lesson learned in Libya is that we also have to be much more focused on the stabilization efforts after the end of the military operations.

Q: My name Arian Meinhardt. I'm a student at the College of Europe in Natolin. Thank you first of all for your speech. We heard a lot on deterrence against, not against Russia but towards Russia, so we're very clear about the stick, but what's the carrot? What do we have to offer Russia in case the situation gets better?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Let me first underline that strong defence and deterrence is not about that we want to fight a war but it is about that we want to prevent war. So if we stay strong, when we stay united, then we are also able to prevent war. That's the main reason why we are enhancing our collective defence and our deterrence.

Second, the message from NATO is that we have a dual track approach to Russia. We have strong defence, strong deterrence, but we also convey a very clear message that we are open for dialogue, we are striving for a more cooperative relationship with Russia, because we strongly believe that that is not only in our interest but in the long run it will also be in the interests of Russia to have trade, to have open borders, to have cooperation.

And I say that partly because I have also experience as a Norwegian politician, and Norway being a country bordering Russia on land but also with a long, long border in the sea where we have fish, energy, oil and gas, we have experienced how it is possible to cooperate with Russia, how political dialogue on defence, on energy, on many other issues, and that has been of mutual benefit both for Russia and for Norway.

The thing is that we have to stay strong. We have to enhance our collective defence, because that also provides the best foundation for a political engagement with Russia, and they will also gain from a more cooperative relationship with us. So we have to make it clear for them, for Russia, that in the long run they will gain more from cooperating with us instead of confronting us, and I think we convey that message very clearly.  We are prepared for the long haul, but we're also prepared for a more cooperative relationship.

MODERATOR: Two questions from the ladies on my right side.

Q:  Thank you. My specialization is the Balkans and I know very well the operations of NATO and UN in the Balkans, when all the countries accused Serbian aggression, first Yugoslavian, later Serbian. It was the 90s. Now it's 2016 and two months ago Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh, the same, like killing civilians, and I don’t want to take about cutting bodies of Armenian soldiers and so on, but all members kept silence, nobody accused Azerbaijan for aggression even though Armenian side represent all [inaudible], all pictures…

MODERATOR: Question please.

Q:  My question is why? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Why? I have not been silent. I have strongly supported the initiatives to have a political negotiated solution and also strongly supported the efforts to make sure that the ceasefire is respected, so I actually issued a statement not so many weeks ago on Nagorno-Karabakh and the importance of supporting the efforts of a political negotiated solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

So I don’t believe in a military solution, I don’t believe that what we need there is more troops, more military presence, but we need strong support, and I appeal to both parties and to all parties involved to make sure that the ceasefire is respected and that the political process can continue to find a lasting political solution.

Q: I am a student from the University of Warsaw. My faculty is European Administration. I have only one question. Is it possible for my country, Ukraine, to enter the NATO, and how much time could take this process?  That’s all.  Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Sorry, you are from which country? Ukraine? Sorry, sorry. The main focus now in Ukraine is to support Ukraine when it comes to its territorial integrity and its sovereignty, and NATO provides a lot of practical support for Ukraine and political support for Ukraine, and again that will be an important issue at our summit in Warsaw because we have President Poroshenko at the summit and we have a meeting in the NATO-Ukraine Commission addressing how we can increase our support for Ukraine.

Ukraine is now in the process of reforming its institutions, fighting corruption, modernizing its different government institutions, and that is the main focus of Ukraine, and they have clearly stated that they have to implement these reforms before Ukraine can apply for membership.

If Ukraine some time in the future applies for membership, an application from Ukraine will be assessed in exactly the same way that we assess any other application. And the thing is that whether Ukraine is going to become a member of NATO or not, that is a question which has to be decided by Ukraine and the 28 members of NATO, no-one else. No one else has the right to interfere or to intervene or to try to veto such a process. And it is a very, very important principle that every nation, including Ukraine, has its sovereign right to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.

So if Ukraine applies then the application will be assessed in exactly the same way as any other application.

MODERATOR: We have time only for two more questions. First we go for the gentleman from the first row and from the lady almost from the last row.

Q:  Michal Baranowski, I'm a director of the Warsaw Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. It's great to see you Secretary and thank you very much for your message in Warsaw ahead of the summit.

I actually wanted to ask about something beyond the summit. You mentioned a need for NATO's development and transformation facing the threats and challenges in the east as well as the south, but if you look over the arch of your mandate, going forward, where do you see the main emphasis on transformation of the alliance? What do we do post-Warsaw? How do we face those two very different challenges coming from the east and the south? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all I think it's extremely important that an alliance as NATO stay agile, stay prepared, and are able to adapt also to unforeseen events. So it is important that when we look beyond Warsaw that we have the ability to also respond to unforeseen events, because it is extremely hard to predict about the future, and we have been wrong again and again.

Experts, when they try to say…, most experts were not able to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall, they were not able to predict the Arabic Spring, and many other major international events that they haven’t been able to predict. So I think that this is not about predicting exactly what is going to happen in the future, but it's developing our ability to quickly adapt when we see different unexpected events occurring.

Then, I of course believe that one thing is to make decisions at Warsaw related to collective defence deterrence and dialogue, and at the same time increase our ability to project stability, but of course a major responsibility for me, for all NATO allied countries after the summit in Warsaw, is to implement also the decisions. So when we decide to increase our collective defence, when we decide to increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, that's a good thing, but we have to also make sure that we deliver, that we implement those decisions.

And I hope that the summit will decide for instance to step up our efforts to help Iraq fight ISIL, to work with Jordan and Tunisia, two stable countries in a region of a lot of instability, help them stabilize their own countries, help them increase their capacity to fight ISIL, and that is important decisions at the summit, but then after the summit we have to find the resources, find the people who are going to do exactly that. So stay agile, prepared for the unforeseen, and implement the decisions: that's my main message for beyond Warsaw.

MODERATOR: And the last question. You have 15 seconds.

Q: Hello, Does our government's anti-European discourse and nationalist view, we can  [inaudible] on the international arena?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What was that …. ? Sorry.

Q:   How are we such a good ally if our government is anti-European and has nationalist views?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Poland is a good ally because Poland provides a lot of military support to different missions, activities of NATO, to NATO’s presence in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to our collective defence, so Poland is an ally which invests in our collective defence, contributes to our collective defence.

I have underlined many, many times that NATO is an alliance which is based on some core values: individual liberties, democracy and the rule of law. I personally attach very strong importance to those values because they are so important for the alliance, they are so important for the unity of the alliance, and therefore these values are the basic values for NATO and for me personally.