NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks to POLITICO

  • 06 Jun. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 12 Jun. 2016 21:04

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participates in an online discussion at the Politico Playbook Cocktails at Residence Palace in Brussels.

RYAN HEATH (Senior EU Correspondent, Politico): Okay, I think we'll get started now that everybody appears to be in the room. We've got a lot to get through tonight. Welcome to all of you here in another packed house at the Residence Palace in Brussels. And of course, also, there are several thousand people watching online and I suspect that includes some sizeable contingents in the US and possibly also Russia.

We are joined here tonight for Politico Playbook Cocktails with the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway. And you can join the conversation online by tagging your questions or your comments with a tag PlaybookCocktails. And obviously we'll also take questions throughout and at the end of the interview tonight.

It's going to be a fun hour in the lead-up to the NATO Warsaw Summit. NATO is juggling a lot of balls right now from threat to renegotiation, from Donald Trump to an increasing international engagement from Germany, a somewhat weak France, a possible Brexit, the spreading threat of ISIS both here in Europe and outside of Europe, and of course Russian aggression along the eastern borders of the NATO alliance. We're not going to be short of things to talk about.

But first, this event couldn't happen without the support of our sponsor Raytheon. So I would like to invite to the stage Mr. Christopher Lombardi, who is the Vice President for Business Development at Raytheon International, to say a few words. Chris, come on up.

CHRISTOPHER LOMBARDI (Vice President for Business Development, Raytheon International): Ryan, thank you very much for that introduction. As someone who calls Brussels my home, I'm honored to be here. It's very nice to be here. And I know, as Ryan said, the Secretary General is juggling a lot of balls right now and there's a lot of things on the agenda for the upcoming Summit in Warsaw.

I would like to address just one of those topics tonight that I think that will be on the Summit in Warsaw, and that is the urgent need for more robust coordinated missile defense across Europe. Sixty-seven years ago in Washington DC the founding members of the NATO alliance signed a treaty, and that treaty committed their governments to promote stability and well-being through collective defense in the North Atlantic. In his visit to that same city this spring, Secretary General Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance's clear purpose of protecting its citizens and territory against any real threat, conventional or ballistic.

So what do I mean by ballistic threat? Well, the US Missile Defense Agency recently stated that there are more than 6000 ballistic missiles outside of US, NATO, Chinese and Russian control. That's not counting the thousands of shorter-range missiles being built by non-state actors across the Middle East and North Africa. There is also the growth of a higher-tier, longer-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and even short-range rockets launched from aircraft. Here today in this room, we're in the range of those threats.

Given that fact, missile defense now is more than ever an essential part of NATO's role. The need for missile defense reinforces NATO's relevance. Admittedly this is a threat that's very difficult to even comprehend. If a ballistic missile were launched at a European city right now, we would have less than 20 minutes to respond, to detect, track, identify and destroy. NATO's leadership and military commanders know that the best response to this threat is interoperability, systems that work together in a layered approach, systems that combine different types of protection to intercept and eliminate threats coming at varying speeds, altitudes and distances.

Because of European density, no one defensive measure can protect on its own. And because of European geography, no one nation can defend itself without the help of others. True defense here requires an alliance of like-minded countries with a connected missile defense system. NATO's member states must be able to share information, make collective decisions and take swift action using land- or sea-based solutions.

Last month, NATO celebrated its first land-based Standard Missile-3 site in Romania becoming operational. The following day, NATO broke ground on a second site in Poland which is going to become operational in 2018. I'm sure you've heard about this in sound bites and on the news, but just to elaborate a bit, the sites in Romania and Poland take the Standard Missile-3 or the SM-3 which originally was used on ships, and brought them ashore, essentially moving this land-based capa… the sea-based capability to land.

And when an SM-3 is launched from a ship or from land, it goes into space and takes out threats high above the earth's atmosphere in space. And it does this now with an explosive warhead, but with… by ramming into the threat. Our engineers have likened it to a 10-tonne truck traveling at 1000 kilometres an hour. The sheer impact destroys it completely.

This is a real capability that is deployed to day both on land and at sea, protection Europe. It's an incredible defensive capability, and that's why it's the cornerstone of the US's contribution to Europe's missile defense. But there's also lower-tier threats for military installations, cities, critical infrastructure, and 13 countries including 5 in NATO are using combat-proven Patriot systems for this lower-tier threat. Just last week Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile coming from Yemen with their Patriot system. Just last week Japan ordered its SM-3 naval destroyers and their land-based Patriots to shoot down anything coming out of North Korea.

Saudi and Japan are singular nations, but Europe is defending itself through an alliance. And altogether, these defensive systems are real and deployed today in Europe, but what we have in place is not enough to address the growing threat. Each NATO nation must contribute for its own good and for the good of the whole. When interoperability truly exists across countries and platforms, the result will be the kind of robust shield necessary to ensure Europe's safety and security.

Many allies are making contributions: Romania, Poland, Spain, Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, the US, and others. And these contributions are imperative because interoperability and collective defense is more than critical—it's essential.

In addition to better security, interoperable systems provide significant cost and efficiency benefits. NATO nations can take advantage of mature training, support structures, and learning from each other's best practises. At a time of new spending pressures, whether because of the refugee crisis or continued austerity measures, countries can achieve considerable cost savings from sharing missiles and components, conducting joint testing exercises and coordinating on logistics and maintenance.

Last month General Breedlove talked about the arc of instability and aggression threatening our interests and allies in our region. He's correct. The danger of ballistic missiles today is greater because of this instability. The nature of the threat to Europe requires urgent action and smart funding commitments. Spending money on development projects that may never be operational, even after decades of research and development, is a luxury that Europe cannot afford.

Similarly, Europe cannot risk its security on untested systems that lack broad international support and could potentially fail when called upon. Instead, Europe needs immediately available, well-connected missile defense systems that can be continually upgraded while maintaining their compatibility with existing technology. That approach will ensure that Europe has a strong effective network to protect its people across the continent now and for decades to come.

Europe's firm commitment to missile defense is indispensable. I am certain it will an important topic at the upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw, and having Secretary General Stoltenberg driving this objective is reassuring for all of us living in Europe.

So thank you very much for your time. Ryan, thank you. And I will turn the floor back over to you.


RYAN HEATH: Now I would like to invite to the stage Mr. Stoltenberg, and we can get underway with the interview.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): This is not the kind of chairs we have in NATO.


RYAN HEATH: We really keep you on your toes literally here. But we will keep you upright, I promise.

So, Mr. Stoltenberg, there's a lot of heavy topics we’ll be able to get into, but I wanted to start off a little bit on the personal side to get to understand who you are and what you bring to the table as a person when you're going through all of these tough issues.

And I understand that you spent some of your childhood growing up in Belgrade, you had a Yugoslavian nanny and you've continued the relationship now with holidays and the like. So how did those experiences shape you?

JENS STOLTENBERG: They have shaped me in a way that very much my identity is about growing up in a country which was not Norway. And I lived in what is now called former Yugoslavia, I lived in Belgrade. And as you said, I… I lived there for three years, but then we moved back to Norway after some years, and then I had a Serbian nanny. So I… and she was very kind to me, she prepared a lot of Serbian food, and I still have a nice and good relationship with Serbia.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. And then one of the ways that many of the people around the world came to know you was the tragic events in 2011 where including dozens of people some of you knew personally were massacred at that Labour summer camp just outside of Oslo. Was that your toughest day?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, it was my toughest day. Yeah, it was in… at least in position as a Norwegian politician. And that was partly because it was an attack on the government building where I worked and several people lost their lives, and also because it was an attack on this island where the young Social Democratic Party of Norway has gathered for decades. I have been there every summer since 1974. So many of my friends and people I know very well, they were there also this summer and I was actually going to go there the day after.

So this was an attack on Norway—77 innocent people lost their lives. But it also was an attack on something which was very close to me, the office where I worked and the youth organization which I was leader of during the 1980s and which was very close to me for many, many years.

RYAN HEATH: And did it change how you view conflict in the sense, I mean you… I'm not saying, maybe you were [inaudible] as a younger person.


JENS STOLTENBERG: I don't think it changed the way I view conflict, but it was a very strong reminder of the fact that no country is 100 percent immune against terrorist attacks. A terrorist attack can hit anyone and also a country like Norway. And, of course, Norway has always regarded itself as a very safe, stable country and we didn't actually believe that something like that could happen in our country. But it happened in Norway and we have seen terrorist attacks in many other countries, both before and after.

So for me it was a very, very strong reminder that we are all vulnerable. But it is also an example of how the Norwegian people were able to react, to stand up in defense of our open society, our freedom, our democracy. And that's exactly the same we have seen in Paris, in Brussels: that people want to keep on with their life, they live, and not be intimidated by terrorists. And that was great to see in Norway and it has been great to see also in the many other European countries.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. Now, one of the things that we hear a lot about these days is the need for the EU and NATO to work more closely together, to cooperate. And I'll still keep it on the personal track a little bit there, because you knew Federica Mogherini really for decades. You know, a lot of people when Mogherini was appointed to her current role, it was like, where did she come from? She has come out of nowhere. But she didn't come out of nowhere and, in fact, you've known here for those 20 years. So tell us a bit about that and tell us something that you know about Federica that we wouldn't know.

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, I promised never to tell.


JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but first of all, I know here as a politician because we were… and so she's from the centre-left in Italy, I'm from centre-left in Norway, so we knew each other from political life. She's much younger than I am, so she was a very young girl. So, but we worked together in politics and that's the way I learned to know her.

And then we became, let's say, international politicians in Brussels almost at the same time. I became Secretary General of NATO and she became High Representative, Vice-President in the European Union. And since then we have worked very closely together and we have both been very engaged in trying to enhance, strengthen the NATO-EU relationship, and I think we have succeeded at least to contribute to a new momentum in the EU-NATO relationship.

But I can also add that I have some kind of personal relationship to the European Union, because Norway is the only country in the world that has negotiated an accession treaty with the European Union and then voted it down, not only once but twice. And I have been campaigning in favour of "yes" both times, and so I'm an expert in losing referenda. And so if you want to… so I have nothing to… as I say, to tell David Cameron about winning referenda. He has to do it himself.

RYAN HEATH: I was going to come to the Brexit question a little bit later, but seeing that we're on it, let's go there for a second. Would a Brexit materially affect the security and the capabilities of the NATO alliance?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First, I think it's important for me to underline that it is up to the people of Britain to decide whether they want to remain or leave. Second, even if I wanted to give them advice, I'm not certain whether that would help, because…

RYAN HEATH: But we can put the advice aside.


RYAN HEATH: How would it affect your work?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What I can say, what will matter for NATO, and that is that I strongly believe that a strong United Kingdom in a strong Europe is good both for the United Kingdom, it's good for Europe but it's also good for NATO. Because we live in times with new security threats, with instability, and we don't need more instability. We don't need less cooperation in Europe; we need more. And we already see a more fragmented security environment and, therefore, everything that binds us together, everything that strengthens the unity is good for all of us.

And especially for NATO, I think it is a great advantage that you have the United Kingdom being a strong advocate inside the European Union, pushing for more cooperation with NATO, transatlantic cooperation. And then you have the United Kingdom inside NATO at the same time pushing for exactly the same. And the United Kingdom is just… is, you know, one of the biggest economies in Europe, and it's the largest force contributor in Europe to the NATO alliance. No other country in Europe invests more in defense than the United Kingdom.

So it's good to have the United Kingdom both inside NATO pushing for transatlantic cooperation, and inside the European Union pushing for the same and NATO-EU cooperation. So that's… it matters what the United Kingdom does and, therefore, a strong United Kingdom pushing for cooperation between NATO and the European Union inside both organizations, it's good for us.

RYAN HEATH: Yeah. And would it be fair to say that the success or the fate of the EU and NATO are more and more intertwined? I think this came up during the Grexit discussions last year where if there had been a Grexit, not only does that put pressure on the budgets that could otherwise go towards meeting the NATO 2 percent target, it also gives comfort to the sort of people that NATO is guarding against, you know. I think Russia would have been very happy for a Grexit, for example.

So, I mean, is it true to say that NATO and the EU depend on each other more and more to be a stabilizing force?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We depend on each other more and more for several reasons, partly for just the fact that the enlargement of the European Union and the enlargement of NATO, it means that most people living in Europe, they are living in a NATO-allied country. More than 90 percent of the population in the European Union live in a NATO country. So we share members but we… most of the population in the European Union are protected by the NATO alliance. So in that sense we depend on each other.

But we also depend on each other when we are facing some new security threats and challenges. For instance, hybrid warfare. And hybrid warfare is this mix of military and non-military means of aggression. It's this mix of overt and covert operations. It's threats against infrastructure, against energy supply, the function of the governments, cyber and so on. And the European Union has some capabilities, NATO has some capabilities in addressing these challenges and these threats, but none of us have all the tools in the toolkit. We have to work together to address these challenges and, therefore, hybrid threats have just made it even more important that NATO and the European Union are able to work together.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. And so in that context, you've also gotten a lot better at going to each other's meetings. There seems to be a lot more dialogue between the two institutions now. But given that the EU itself obviously has limited operational capabilities compared to the national governments and militaries, how do you take it beyond words? Have you got some… can you give us some practical examples? Because I think there are a lot of people in this town, in Brussels, who realize NATO is three kilometres away, but they don't really know how you work and they don't really understand how the cooperation happens in practise.

JENS STOLTENBERG: But first of all, I think it's important that we go to each other's meetings because politics is about meeting people, it's about discussing issues, it's about addressing issues and trying to understand each other. So for me it is a great advantage that I am invited to EU defense ministerial meetings, some foreign ministerial meetings and also some of the summits.

So I appreciate that very much and especially coming from Norway. Because as I told you, I have tried to convince Norway to join the European Union twice and failed, but now I have some kind of personal membership in the European Union because I am able to participate in European ministerial meetings. So it's a great personal…

RYAN HEATH: You got there in the end.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, I got there in the end, and… very long.


JENS STOLTENBERG: So, but I think it is important that we… and Federica Mogherini, she attends our meetings and with the EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, they will be at our Warsaw Summit and so on. So that we meet, that we share opinions, views, analysis is in itself important.

Second, we have also been able to make some progress on some concrete areas. We, during the last months we have been able to reach an arrangement on cyber which is a technical arrangement, but it is important because to be able to work more closely on how to address cyber-threats and cyber-challenges is important to the European Union and NATO. And we have also been able to agree to work together in the Aegean Sea and we have made an agreement on how to exchange information, how NATO ships’ assets can provide information, share information with… from … [inaudible] and the Greek Coast Guard.

And these two agreements or arrangements which we have achieved in the last three months are… it's actually more agreements between NATO and the European Union than we have achieved in the last 13 years. Meaning that now we are really making some progress both when it comes to more political contact, meeting and discussing common challenges, but also when it comes to the very practical cooperation on the ground related to cyber and, for instance, the operation in the Aegean Sea.

RYAN HEATH: And is the next stop getting more contributions towards defense? I know that there are several countries now at 2 percent, but that's really a cause of concern for the US side, for example, isn't it?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Absolutely, the next stop is to make sure that the European NATO allies increase defense spending. We are actually starting to see some progress, but we have a very long way to go. Because we made a very firm commitment at our Summit in Wales in 2014 to stop the cuts, then gradually increase defense spending and then aim at 2 percent. And in 2015, the first year after we made the pledge in Wales, we were actually able to stop cuts among European NATO allies.

So now we are working on 2016. I hope that we can see more progress. It's a bit too early to tell, but at least the first year after the pledge we were able to stop cuts, which is the first stop towards a gradual increase.

And I know that the United States is extremely focused on this, because the GDP of the United States is almost exactly as big as the GDP of NATO… European NATO allies. So we are in one way as rich as the Americans, but they are spending more than twice as much on defense than we are doing, meaning that more than 70 percent of NATO's total defense spending is coming from the United States. And this is not sustainable. This is not a fair burden-sharing and, therefore, this is partly about increasing total defense spending, but it is also about having a more equal burden sharing between Europe and the United States.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. Now, the EU is proud or sometimes even likes to brag about how good it is at getting nations to cooperate together, but there's one example where NATO has more experience, and that is having Turkey as a member of NATO. And as Turkey gets drawn more and more into EU politics, as everyone is all involved in the Mediterranean more and more, for example, around migration, have you got any advice or any reflections on what the EU can do to have a more fruitful and harmonious engagement with Turkey?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I would welcome what the European Union and Turkey have been able to achieve so far. The migrant and the refugee crisis is a profound humanitarian tragedy, the biggest migration and refugee crisis we have seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War. And there is no easy way to address that, but at least it is important that Turkey and the European Union have been able to come to an agreement and to start to address something which is a common challenge.

NATO is contributing to that. We have deployed between six and eight ships to the Aegean. They provide information, surveillance and reconnaissance. They share this information with the Greek Coast Guard and with Frontex. And perhaps most importantly, we share this with the Turkish Coast Guard so they are able then to act upon the information they get from us. And the difference is that when Frontex take action then they bring the boats to Greece, but when Turkey takes action the boats are brought to Turkey.

And I think that the European Union and NATO have been quite successful in cutting the lines of illegal trafficking and migration in the Aegean Sea. And the most important thing NATO does is not actually to provide concrete information and to be there with ships, but it is that we create a platform for enhanced cooperation between Turkey, a NATO member but not an EU member, to work together with the European Union, Frontex and Greece.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. Now, let's move to Donald Trump.

JENS STOLTENBERG: He's a candidate.

RYAN HEATH: He is a candidate, yes, yes, well observed. He also said that NATO is, quote, "obsolete." He says, quote, "it is time to renegotiate because," quote, "we certainly can't afford to do this anymore." Do those comments worry you?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I will not comment on the election campaign in the United States and I will not be part of that election campaign. And what I also can say before I say something about the issues is that I think it is a strength in NATO that we are—actually it is one of our core values—is that we are open, democratic societies. And in open, democratic societies, there are different opinions, different views, and we agree and we disagree. That's part of being democratic societies where people have different opinions.

But despite of that, we have been able to reach conclusions, to reach consensus, and not only do that but also implement our decisions. And I'm 100 percent certain that we will also be able to do that after the US presidential election result.

My message is that NATO is important for the security of both the United States and for Europe. I think the two world wars have learned or have taught the United States that stability, peace in Europe is also important for the United States.

Second, we have to remember that the only time we have invoked Article 5, the collective defense clause of NATO, was in defense of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And thousands of Europeans and other partner nations have been… for instance, have sent soldiers to Afghanistan. More than a thousand European soldiers and soldiers from partner nations have lost their lives in Afghanistan in an operation which has been organized in the protection of the United States against global terrorism.

So, yes, the Europeans should do more. Yes, the Europeans should spend more on defense. But NATO is also important for the security of the United States and, therefore, NATO is good for both Europe and the United States.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. So Trump effectively does have a point then when he says that America pays or carries too much of the cost burden. Europe needs to up its game.

JENS STOLTENBERG: As we stated at our Summit in Wales, 28 heads of state and government from all the 28 NATO-allied countries, we agreed that those countries that spend less than 2 percent should increase.

RYAN HEATH: Yeah. That's growing the pie. It's not that the US should pay less; it's that Europe should pay more…


RYAN HEATH: … and, therefore, have a bigger pie.


RYAN HEATH: … if the Americans, so as I say, maintain their level of spending and we increase our level, Europeans start to increase their level of spending, then of course the pie will be bigger and it will be more equally shared. So that's in a way part of the defense pledge is still to have a more fair burden-sharing between the United States and Europe.

Let me underline that in Europe you see many different, as I say, levels of defense spending. You have countries like the United Kingdom. You have Poland, you have Estonia, you have others which are spending 2 percent or more already. So Europe is not one thing. Europe is many different countries with different levels of defense spending. And I welcome, for instance, that the UK made such a strong commitment to maintain about 2 percent, and Poland which has quite a big European economy has been able to reach 2 percent. But I would like, of course, to see more NATO allies do the same.

RYAN HEATH: What can you do with Germany? I mean, it must be a bit disappointing that Germany is constantly telling the world that it's got an economic model that works, and if Germany with its size and with its claim to economic success can't get to 2 percent, you know, who can?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, Germany is the biggest economy in Europe so, therefore, it matters what Germany does. Germany has actually decided to increase defense spending. I met with Chancellor Merkel last week and she very strongly confirmed that Germany has stopped the cuts and Germany will start to increase defense spending. And we have seen the first increases in German defense spending. We have also seen the first increases in the number of soldiers in the Bundeswehr.

So they have… there's a long way to go to 2 percent, but, again, then I think it is important to remember that we decided to not go to 2 percent immediately. We decided to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then over a decade reach 2 percent. And Germany has been able to stop the cuts and start to increase after only one year after the… after we made the pledge. So they are on their way. They have started. They have a long way to go, but at least they are moving now in the right direction also in Germany.

Add to that that Germany is really contributing to our collective defense. They have contributed to the enhanced collective defense in Europe and they are a key ally, for instance, in Afghanistan where they are a lead nation in the north. So Germany contributes to that already.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. Turning to the Warsaw Summit now, you know, the critics of NATO would put it out there that NATO is struggling to rejuvenate or find a new role in the world. Other critics, such as Russia, want you to lay off and ease your readiness to defend the members of the alliance. So to what extent is this summit a make-or-break moment for NATO?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I will not call it a make-or-break, but I will call it a landmark summit and I will call it one of the most important summits in the history of NATO, because we are faced with such fundamental… such a fundamentally changed security environment. With a more assertive Russia in the east which has tripled its defense spending over the last… since 2000, which has invested heavily in new and more modern equipment, and which has been willing to use military force against a sovereign nation in Europe, against Ukraine. So that has created a more challenging situation to the east.

And then to the south, we have all the turmoil, all the violence at our borders: Iraq, Syria, bordering a NATO ally, Turkey; in North Africa, close to Italy, the southern Europe; and terrorist attacks, hybrid warfare, close to us and in our streets. All of this has really made the security environment which we are faced with so much more challenging and in many ways more dangerous.

And therefore NATO has to respond, and that's… we have started that adaptation but we have to make new important decisions at the Summit in Warsaw, making sure that NATO changes, NATO adapts when the world around us is changing. And that is what we are going to do at Warsaw.

RYAN HEATH: Uh-huh. And how have you been handling the pressures that Poland brings to the table. They're obviously quite bullish, they're quite hawkish. They want perhaps even nuclear weapons stationed on behalf of the NATO alliance there. And then on the other hand, NATO is an alliance of democracies but there have been serious questions about the direction that Poland is traveling with. One person before the event today said, wanted me to ask: Did you even consider taking the Summit away from Warsaw? So there's tensions in two directions there, and I wanted to know how that played on your mind.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I'm 100 percent certain that we will reach consensus on how to adapt the alliance and that Poland, all the other allies will agree when we meet in Warsaw in a few weeks.

Second, last week I visited Berlin but I also visited Warsaw, and I really feel that we are now developing a common understanding both when it comes to the analysis and to understand the challenges we are faced with, but more important also how to respond.

And for NATO, this is about having some more military presence in the eastern part of the alliance, including with forces in Poland and the Baltic countries. But it is also about that we will do what we can to avoid a new Cold War. we don't seek confrontation with Russia. Actually, we continue to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia.

That was the message in… that was the message in Warsaw and that was the message in Berlin. Meaning that this idea that we are so divided and that we disagree so much I think is very exaggerated. We are actually now in the process of uniting and reaching a common approach based on this message of a dual-track approach to Russia which is about strength, deterrence, defense, but also based on that, reaching out for political dialogue with Russia.

Because we believe that in the long run, we just have to understand that Russia is our biggest neighbour. We have to relate to Russia and we have to work with Russia, and that's in a way the political basis for what we are addressing in Warsaw.

RYAN HEATH: So even if you get on the same page on Russia, are you putting enough into it? I mean, it has also been put to me that NATO at some level is sleepwalking on this? How can one battalion, for example, cover itself against a whole division from Russia? You know, are we just crossing our fingers in the Baltics, or are you really ready?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What… perhaps I'll just have to explain a bit what we are trying or aiming at too in this, and it's exactly as you said, what we are now aiming at is to have enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance and we are discussing to have a battalion in each of the three Baltic countries and in Poland.

And this will be a multinational battalion, it will be a reinforced battalion, and it will send a very clear signal because when you have a multinational NATO presence in the three Baltic countries and in Poland, it sends the signal that an attack on one of the Baltic countries or in Poland would be an attack on the whole alliance.

So that's about assurance. It's about deterrence. It's about sending the message that NATO, we stand together. An attack on one ally would be an attack on the whole alliance.

But the forward presence of a battalion in each of the three Baltic countries is not the only answer. We have to understand that that's just one element of many building blocks in our response. More forward presence is one element. Enhanced and increased readiness and preparedness of our forces is another important element, enabling us to deploy forces quickly if needed to reinforce, if needed.

So we have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force. Now it's 40,000 troops. And as part of that, we have established a very high joint readiness force which can deploy within… lead elements can deploy within hours. So…

RYAN HEATH: That's enough?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but we… if there is a need, we can redeploy, we can reinforce if needed to send an even stronger signal about deterrence. The idea to have enhanced forward presence, enhanced ability to reinforce if needed, is not to fight the war but it is to prevent the war. Strong defense is not because we want to fight war, but it is because we want to send such a clear signal at any time that any adversary understands that there's no way you can attack a NATO country, because you will have a response from the whole alliance.

And add to that that we will also invest more infrastructure in prepositioning, in supplies and… of supplies and equipment. And all of this enables us to send this clear signal that NATO is there to protect all allies against any threats and then prevent the conflict.

RYAN HEATH: That's a very opportune moment to turn to the southern flank, as it were, because you no longer have the luxury of just dealing with an eastern flank. You've got a southern issue to deal with as well. So I'm wondering, is NATO making a pivot to the Mediterranean? And, well, just tell us how you're making the pivot to the Mediterranean.

Because you have a migration crisis where literally there are hundreds of people drowning every month. You've got ships in operation down there. You have a people-smuggling operation in Africa that is partly organized by ISIS, that channels funds into ISIS that's delivering political crisis onto the doorstep in Europe. So how is NATO going to get more involved in the Mediterranean?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So you already said it. We don't have the luxury of choosing between either addressing the challenges we see to the east or the threats and the challenges we see to the south. We have to do both at the same time. And that's exactly what we are doing. That's the reason why we are enhancing our military presence in the east, but that's also the reason why we are addressing the challenges to the south in many different ways because we speak about different types of challenges and different, how should I say, situations in different countries.

We can start with Afghanistan which, in one way, is also part of the south. Afghanistan is our biggest military operation ever. We will continue to support Afghans. Many of the refugees and migrants are coming from Afghanistan. And we will continue to fight international terrorism while supporting the Afghan government.

Then we will… we have started to train Iraqi officers and we are working with countries like Jordan and Tunisia, based on the idea that NATO has to be prepared to deploy a large number of combat forces in military operations also in the future. But I believe that we should be as much focused or even more focused on what can we do to create stability or project stability, not by deploying our own forces in combat operations but by training local forces to enable them to stabilize their own countries and to fight ISIL themselves.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. So I want to bring in Barbara Sirk who covers NATO and defense for Politico. So if we could get a microphone to Barbara, because that brings us Libya…


RYAN HEATH: … where there isn't really a government that you can train in order to cover that and which is a real pinch point in this migration issue. So, Barbara, I think you have a question on that.

BARBARA SIRK (Politico): Yes, I would to ask you if it would actually combine the mission that you were talking about before, that you are cooperating with the "Sophia" mission of the European Union. And I was wondering, is there a point, the way you see it, where NATO has to join the European Union in the mission in some sort of a military capacity and go into Libyan territorial waters, possibly to the coast, to get that done? In other words, not just to fight smugglers, but to take on ISIS if it has to.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it's important to underline that we are ready, we stand ready to help the new Government of National Accord in Libya, but we will only do that if so requested and we will only do that as part of a broader UN effort. We don't have any plans to go into any kind of combat operations or a combat presence, either on land in Libya or in Libya's territorial waters.

What we are discussing is how can we both provide support to the new government if they so request, we are focusing on how can we do the institution-building, and we are also discussing with the European Union what NATO can do to support their "Operation Sophia." No decision has been taken. NATO has capabilities. We have resources which I think can be useful for the European Union.

RYAN HEATH: Shouldn't that be deployed? Shouldn't you push it? I mean, if there are hundreds of people drowning every month, we can't just wait around and say…

JENS STOLTENBERG: But then we're speaking about many different things now.. Because she asked me about not mainly, I think, the migrant or the refugee crisis, but she asked me about whether we will move into Libya and into Libyan territorial waters. And my answer to that is that first of all, we will not do anything without being requested by the Libyan government, be it into territorial waters or on land in Libya.

Second, we are not aiming at any kind of military combat presence in Libya. That's not on the agenda. What we are looking into is the possibility of doing what we call institution-building, an institution-building in Libya. And that sounds a bit bureaucratic, but it is extremely important because if the international community, maybe others than NATO, start to train local Libyan forces, it is extremely important that those forces can be… can work or be part of a well-organized army and defense structure, and not end up in new… as new forces to a local militia.

So therefore, to help the new Libyan government with building a defense ministry, command structures, defense planning is extremely important if we are able to… if our aim and since our aim is to make it possible for the Libyans themselves to take care of stability, security in their own country, supported by us but done by them.

So my answer is that we don't have any plans in order to, say, going in there with any kind of combat operations. What we are discussing is then whether we shall do more to support the European Union. We have done so successfully in the Aegean Sea. The big difference between the Aegean Sea and the rest of the Mediterranean is that, of course, in the Aegean Sea you have EU on one side, Greece, but NATO on both sides, Greece and Turkey.

So NATO is a very good platform for enhancing cooperation between Turkey and Greece, Turkey and the European Union. That's not the case when you look at North Africa and southern Europe. So…

BARBARA SIRK: But this is precisely what I wanted to… what my question was. If "Operation Sophia" does go into the fifth stage, let's say that the government in Tripoli invites the EU forces, isn't NATO the best… has the best position to simply just move in with the operation?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I'll be very careful in speculating too much, because I think that the important thing now is that we are, so, assessing the different alternatives in a careful way, in a prudent way, and that we discuss with the European Union, with the UN and, of course, with the Libyan government what's the best approach. We stand ready to help, we stand ready to assist. We have some capabilities, but I'm very, very focused on that we do this in a way which is accepted by the broader international community and, of course, also accepted by the Libyan government.

So if I start now to speculate on all different possible roles of NATO, I think it can only create more uncertainty and, therefore, actually reduce the possibilities to find a good way to approach the very delicate and sensitive situation in Libya.

BARBARA SIRK: Just one last question, please. I don't want to monopolize the microphone, but I will for a little bit. Is… when you say that you're talking about different possibilities and you're assessing the situation and you… there's reconnaissance missions to the Libyan coast, is there in these meetings, is there a sense of just how close ISIS has come in the past two years only to the shores of Europe?

JENS STOLTENBERG: But, again, maybe that I misunderstand you, but I… what I was talking about was to support efforts in the high seas.


JENS STOLTENBERG: So that's something different.

Second, we have a clear decision by NATO heads of state and government from our Summit in 2014 to stand ready to help a new government in Libya. Now we have that new government, a new Government of National Accord.

I spoke with Prime Minister Sarraj some weeks ago and we agreed that he should send a team of experts to Brussels, to NATO, and sit down with our people and sort, find out what can we help or… and how can we help in the best possible way. And the main focus, as I said, is to build institutions, because they desperately need to have stronger institutions to be able to have their framework for building a coast guard, for building a national army, for building all the other stuff they need.

And, again, since… if I start to, you know, mention all different possible roles that NATO may possibly have, I think I'll just add to confusion, add to uncertainly, and that's the last thing this country and this process needs. So I will just limit myself to say that we stand ready. We are in dialogue with the European Union, in dialogue with the Sarraj government. And then depending on what they ask us for, what they want us to do, we will of course consider and see what we can do to help them.

BARBARA SIRK: Thank you very much.

RYAN HEATH: So that highlights your dilemma a little bit, doesn't it, where in this world of hybrid warfare, it's getting harder and harder to know when NATO starts and when NATO ends, and you're hamstrung a little bit by needing to, you know, act on requests rather than having your own free mandate.

JENS STOLTENBERG: For me that's not the big problem.


JENS STOLTENBERG: For me the important thing is that NATO provides deterrence, defense, collective defense for all NATO allies. And we do that, and we do that stronger and better than just some… a couple of years ago, because the world has become more dangerous.

You have to remember that what we have done since 2014 is the biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War. To triple the size of the NATO Response Force is not a small thing, it's a big thing. To establish eight small headquarters in the eastern part of the alliance is not a small thing, it's a big thing. And to have forward presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of the alliance is not a small thing, it's a big thing. And then to invest in prepositioning infrastructure, airfield, harbours and so on, to enable reinforcement and to have more exercises than before, all of that is a very, very strong response to the challenges we see also into our collective … into our shared security.

Add to that, that we are now also then starting to do more when it comes to projecting stability without deploying combat forces by training, helping countries in the south, we do that large-scale in Afghanistan. We have ended our combat operation. What we do in Afghanistan now is to train Afghans, enabling the Afghans to take care of their own security. And we work with Jordan, as I said, Tunisia. We help them with special operation forces and other capabilities, because we strongly believe that they have to be able to keep their own country stable and to stabilize their own country.

RYAN HEATH: Just a couple of final quick questions before we bring in the audience. Montenegro is obviously a success for you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I don’t know if this is very successful, but…


JENS STOLTENBERG: … but it's okay.

RYAN HEATH: Can I run here, that's the main thing. Yes, excellent. So Montenegro to join, set to join as the next member of NATO. Let's just say Russia didn't seem very happy about that progress last week. What do you expect Russia to do now? Do you think they'll try and disrupt the ratification process?

JENS STOLTENBERG: It is an absolute and fundamental principle which also Russia has subscribed to. For instance in the Helsinki Final Act and in many other documents that every sovereign nation has the right to decide his own path. And that's of course also the case for Montenegro.

And Montenegro has decided that they want to join NATO. And then it is a decision by the 28 present members of NATO whether they would like to welcome Montenegro or not. And we have decided to welcome Montenegro. And no one else, no one outside that group or the applicant country and the member countries of NATO has the right to intervene, or in a way deny or to veto such a process. Because it is a decision by the applicant country and the 28 allies and only them to decide whether a new country shall join the alliance.

I've seen that Russia dislikes this but I just remind them on the fact that they have also subscribed to the principle of the sovereign right of every nation to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of, and Montenegro has decided to… that it wants to become a member of NATO.

RYAN HEATH: Now a very quick stop on the internal bureaucracy at NATO. It's almost time for you to appoint a new deputy secretary general. Can you tell us a little bit about who is on the shortlist, and whether you expect that to happen before the Warsaw Summit, or maybe at the Warsaw Summit?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, I will not tell you anything about that…


RYAN HEATH: I've got Rose Gottmoeller, Martin Erdmann and Juri Luik on the list, so keep an eye out for those names folks.

And finally, it's NATO-related, but it's not NATO specific, and it's on the question of why men should be feminists. And you have got a long track record on these issues, and I will say that I think, and I've said it before, that the stages of this town are very male-heavy, we're doing it again tonight with two men on the stage, and I think if you look through the list of the top positions in NATO, you'd have to search for a very long time to find someone other than Oana Lungescu,  who is sitting here in the front row who is the NATO spokesperson, to find a non-male in all of those structures. And I hear that you met up with fellow pro-feminist Justin Trudeau in Davos. So I wonder, did you talk about that? Is there any hope of progress? And what can you do to contribute to that progress to get more women up into public debates in NATO and in Brussels?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all we talked about the importance of feminism and equal rights for men and women, and including how to address that in, as I say, the world of army and defense and so on. And it's a big challenge in general but in particular when it comes to defense secretary and everything related to that and of course NATO. Because mostly men have been part of that world and defense institutions up to now.

One of the things I did when I was prime minister was to introduce conscription not only for men but also women, and that has to…

RYAN HEATH: That’s one way to bring about equality!

JENS STOLTENBERG: That's one way, so if you are… some regions are against conscription, but in favour of conscription for men and women. So it's a way of being… at least I think that has been one way of increasing the number of women being part of the Armed Forces. And that lays the ground for more, so, also more women in the top ranks after a while.

No, I have to be… I am focused on how can I promote more women in the NATO alliance in general. We have some excellent defense ministers who are women. I think they are good examples that women can be top leaders in also this male world. And this has been an issue which I have addressed during my whole political life because my first public position was to chair the Norwegian Royal Commission of the role of men in a society with equal rights between men and women. And that was about how we can have more equal rights, and how men can contribute to that. So I feel a responsibility for that.

RYAN HEATH: Thank you for this comment. I think it's time that we bring all of you into the discussion. I've also noted some questions down from Twitter. So who would like to go first? I've got Alice here, and then the gentleman in the jacket. We'll bring a mike over, they're not in the sides of the chairs at the moment.

And if you can just explain who with anyone you're representing when you ask your question.

ALICE STOLLMEYER (Energy and Climate Blogger): Yes. Hello, my name is Alice Stollmeyer, I'm an energy and climate blogger. Last year ahead of the UN Climate Summit in Paris NATO has stated that climate change poses significant threat multipliers and I was wondering could you tell us what NATO is doing to address this? And how to amid all the other crises to keep the climate security threat on the agenda? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all I think it's very important to underline what you just said, and that is that climate change is also a security threat because it can really change also the conditions for where people can live, it can create new migrant and refugee crises and scarce resources, water can fuel new conflicts. So climate change is also about preventing conflicts, and creating more stability and prosperity which is good for peace and stability.

Second, NATO is addressing how we can also address… how we can contribute. NATO is of course not the first responder to climate change, we are a military alliance. But partly everything that can make also military vehicles, military equipment more energy-efficient will be good both for the environment but also for the sustainability of the Armed Forces. So energy-efficiency, less energy dependence of the Armed Forces it's good for both the Armed Forces as Armed Forces and good for the environment.

And that's actually the thing we can do as an alliance. We're also sharing this information with allies trying to increase their focus and understanding of this. But of course the most important things that can be done with climate change is more related to energy, to ministries of environment, other areas than defense.

Q: Thank you. Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense Weekly. I have a question about the non-Cold War situation we're in. It's pretty clear Russia has absolutely no interest right now in partnership with NATO. It doesn't look to have had that for a while. And Cold War-like aggression seems to be emerging from the other end of Europe. Officials in East Europe when I speak to them, Poland especially, off record they say, "You bet we're in a pretty Cold War-like situation." Think-tank people tell me this, and even some NATO officials off record. My question to you: If you want the public to support more defense spending and more quickly, wouldn't it make more sense to be a little bit more frank or… frank about the subject, in other words? I know you don’t want to say we're in a Cold War situation, but perhaps some more alarm bells need to be rung with the public. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I think it's very important to be frank. And second, I think it's also important to be nuanced and not to paint everything in black and white, because that's not always the truth.

Second, I think at least so far, but we have a long way to go, but so far we have been quite successful when it comes to defense spending because one year after we made the pledge to stop the cuts, we were able to stop the cuts. If we look at European NATO allies in total, the picture is very mixed, but at least it's better than it was a year ago. And I also underline that we have a very, very long way to go before we are where we should be, but that's something we must address in the coming years.

The reason why I'm not saying that we are in a Cold War is that I don’t believe we are in a Cold War, for many reasons, partly because the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact doesn't exist anymore. And Russia is something very different than Soviet Union. And the Warsaw Pact, most of the countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact, actually all of the countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact except for Russia are now members of NATO. And the ideological global rivalry we had between the Warsaw Pact, Soviet Union and the West, NATO, is not what we see today.

But we see a more assertive Russia and we see a Russia which has invested heavily in military capabilities and which has been willing to use them against Ukraine. And that's the reason why we are adopting, that's the reason why we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense instead of the Cold War, but that's also the reason why we continue to underline that we don’t seek confrontation with Russia. We actually continue to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia.

Because Russia is going to be there, Russia is our biggest neighbour. There is no way we can or should try to isolate Russia, but we have to find ways to work with them.

And add to that that Russia is a member of the UN Security Council. Russia is taking part in many processes which are important for NATO, like for instance… And sometimes Russia also plays a constructive role, like for instance it did when it comes to… as regarding the Iran nuclear deal or the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.

So I think it is important to understand this big complex and complicated picture, and it's only when you address this in a complex and complicated way that you are frank and honest. Because to say that this is very easy and this is very straightforward, that is not the truth and then you… I should never say that.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. We've got this gentleman in the check shirt and if Terry Schultz is in the room, I know she had a question and she gets the last one. So, please, sir.

Q: Thank you. My name is [inaudible] from East of Europe and we very much like your presence and your visit at the ….. [inaudible] Romania. I’m talking about specifically this area, about Black Sea, the president of Turkey said we should avoid the Black Sea to become a Russian lake. Russian officials said we should avoid Black Sea to become another lake. What do you think will be the position of NATO to maintain a sustainable defense policy and security policy in the Black Sea? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The Black Sea should… is not a lake. So the Black Sea should be a peaceful sea where we have cooperation between the countries bordering over the littoral countries. But what we have seen is of course that after the Russian annexation of Crimea, we have seen a significant military buildup in Crimea. And Russia is also deploying and developing what is called A2AD or Anti-Access/Area-Denial capabilities there. And therefore NATO has increased its military presence in the Black Sea, and I know that NATO allies in the Black Sea region—those are Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria—they are also now discussing how we can further increase our presence in the Black Sea and the Black Sea region. And again, I visited also Ankara and Bucharest recently and these were some of the issues we discussed, how we can increase our military presence.

But again, the message is the same. We have to be strong, we have to be firm, we have to be predictable, not to provoke a conflict but to prevent the conflict, and not to isolate Russia but to provide the necessary basis for a political engagement with Russia, and that's also the case for the Black Sea.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. The cocktails are in sight. Terry - one last quick question. Terry is at the very back, if there’s no microphone back there.

TERRY SCHULTZ: Secretary General, today one of my colleagues from NPR … …[Break in audio transmission.] How do you see the situation in Afghanistan? They're making progress in small ways, but the Taliban are staging ever-more aggressive assaults on Afghan troops, and we just don’t talk about it like we used to. I used to raise it at every news conference, and I don’t anymore. And today it just really brought home for me that things aren't settled there by any means. Thanks. And RIP David Gilkey.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First, I would like to express my condolences and also express my sympathy to those who have lost their loved ones and friends and colleagues in Afghanistan. And second, I would like to underline how important it is that journalists are continuing to report from what's happening in Afghanistan. And I agree with you that it is a paradox that the… there is less attention to what's going on in Afghanistan now, but the situation is still very difficult. There are still many, many people who suffer and there is still a very unstable and unsafe situation. And NATO is still present with around 12,000 troops. And you know, I know, we know that we don’t have any guarantees in Afghanistan and we have to expect more violence, more instability also in the coming months.

But I cannot see any alternative to continue to strive to help the Afghans take full responsibility and being able to manage security in their own country. And I also feel very strongly, as I already stated, that what we have done in Afghanistan is the right approach, and that is that we have ended the NATO combat mission but we continue to try to enable the Afghans to stabilize their own country. And we have a big training mission there and we have decided to continue to train them, to assist them and advise them.

And we have also decided to continue to provide for national support for the Afghan Army and security forces. Not because we believe that in one or two or three years Afghanistan will be like an average European democratic society, but because we believe that's the only way to at least be able to avoid that Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists and a place where Al-Qaida and all the terrorist organizations can operate freely.

So there is no easy way, there are no only nice alternatives in Afghanistan, but to continue to support the Afghan is the best alternative among many.

RYAN HEATH: Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. Stoltenberg. It's an honor that you have joined us. I want to say thank you to our sponsor Raytheon and I want to remind you that on your way out to the cocktails, we also have evaluation forms and we're an audience-driven organization at Politico, so we really want your feedback on what we have been doing right, what we could have done better, and who you'd like to have speak at future cocktails and Playbook Breakfasts. Thank you very much for joining.