Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders

Speech by NATO Secretary General at the Graduate Institute Geneva

  • 02 Mar. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 03 Mar. 2017 11:11

Projecting Stability Beyond our Borders- Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a Townhall event co-hosted by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General):  Good afternoon. 

It’s good to see you all and to say thank you for that kind introduction.  It’s great to be here and it’s great to be here at this event co-host by the GSP and the Graduate Institute.

And I would like to start by saying and telling you that I am really delighted by being here in Geneva because I feel very much at home in Geneva. Because in my previous life as a Norwegian politician I used to spend a lot of time here, especially in the years between 2001 and 2005, when I was on the board of something called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, and that was a big event, not an event but a big organization which was very much funded by the Gates Foundation and by the government of Norway and some other governments and the aim was to immunize children all over the world. 

At that time I was not so very much focused on increased defence spending, my focus was more on increased spending on health.  Now I am focused on both health, health and the defence spending.  So I have good memories from that time in Geneva.  In addition I have to tell you that I also have a relationship to Geneva because my parents they used to work here when my father was High Commissioner for Refugees and my mother worked in the International Red Cross Committee back in 1990. 

At that time I had two small children so we very often went to Geneva and we travelled around here and I have seen the beauty of this very beautiful city.  So that’s one reason that I am glad to be back.  The other reason I am glad to be back is that Geneva is really a platform for peace.  The institutes, the Graduate Institute and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy are just two examples of how this city is so important for dialogue, for diplomacy, for education and only the fact that we have this house, Maison de la Paix, is a great expression of the importance of Geneva contributing to more a more peaceful world, trying to build international cooperation, trying to build international institutions and trying to create a more peaceful world. 

As you know NATO is not based in Geneva, NATO is based in Brussels. But our aim, our task is the same as the task of all institutions, all organizations based here in Geneva working for peace, because the core task of NATO is to preserve the peace.  So we are working in different ways but the goal is the same and that is to create a rules based order, strong international cooperation, solving, resolving conflict through negotiations, political dialogue instead of armed conflicts to make sure that we preserve the peace and prevent conflicts. 

NATO has existed for almost 70 years and I think it Secretary Mattis, the new Defence Secretary in the United States, he stated at the hearings in the U.S. Congress before he was confirmed that NATO is the most successful alliance in history and of course I totally agree with him.  He’s a very wise man.  But the reason why NATO is the most successful alliance in history is that NATO has been able to change, to adapt when the world is changing. And just briefly remind you of how that has happened. Because for 40 years since NATO was founded in 1949 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 NATO had one and actually only one task; and that was to deter the Soviet Union.  So the only thing that we did was to be present in Europe with strong forces, armed forces, with troops, with American troops massed along the border of East West Germany and also in other parts of Europe to deter the Soviet Union from attacking West Europe.  And that was quite successful and the Cold War ended without NATO firing a single shot.  The Berlin Wall came done in 89, the Soviet Union was dissolved, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and people started to ask whether we needed NATO anymore and I remember someone formulated the sentence “NATO either has to go out of business or out of area”. 

What we did was to actually to go out of area.  So we adapted, we responded to a new world and we reduced our military presence in Europe significantly, the United States reduced most of its forces, or at least a significant part of its forces from Europe, defence spending went down and what NATO did was then to be less focused on Europe, much more focused outside NATO territory.  It started in the Balkans.  We helped to end the two wars, the bloody wars first in Bosnia with 60,000 troops, NATO troops on the ground with air strikes; then later on in Serbia and Kosovo helping to end the bloodshed there.  Then we went even further to Afghanistan fighting terrorism and we fought in parts of the Horn of Africa.  So our focus was out of area, out of our part of Europe, out of NATO territory.  So we adapted. 

Then in 2014 we were forced to adapt again because in 2014 the world change again and I think sometimes we are underestimating because it is to close, the magnitude of the change that we are witnessing.  In one way I think that 2014 will be as pivotal year as 1949, as 1989 and the 2014 will also be a very important year in the history of our part of the world for two reasons.  One is that the emergence of, that was the year we really discovered the threat coming from ISIL and I have told many people then when I was first asked whether I was going to, whether I was willing to consider to be the Secretary General of NATO in January 2014 hardly anyone had heard about ISIL or Daesh.  That was one among many terrorist organizations but it was not more important than all the others.  Then a few months later Daesh controlled big parts of Syria, big parts of Iraq, Mosul and Raqqa.  So that, and of course we have seen, we have been confronted with terrorist organizations before, but Daesh, ISIL is different because of its brutality, because of its strength.  They are not only a normal terrorism organization but they have been able to control big parts of two countries, Iraq and Syria and because of the proximity, how close it is to NATO, bordering a NATO ally, Turkey, and also their presence in Northern Africa; so all of this makes Daesh, ISIL a fundamentally new threat, a challenge for NATO. 

Then the same year we also saw a much more aggressive Russia.  It has developed over some time but in 2014 we saw the illegal annexation of Crimea and that is the first time since the end of the Second World War that borders have been changed in Europe by the use of force, one land, one country annexing a part of another country.  So it’s not only serious because it affects people in Ukraine but it’s also serious because it violates a fundamental principal which the security and the peace in Europe has based on for decades and they also started to destabilize Eastern Ukraine, so the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine added to in a way the new security environment which required a response from NATO.

And I think that NATO once again proved that we are able to adapt, that we are vigilant and willing to change when required. And I will just briefly tell you how we are adapting.  I will not mention, I will not be able to address all the issues that NATO are addressing but just briefly mention some core elements and how we are adapting and then I will be ready to answer your questions.  NATO is adapting partly by strengthening our collective defence in Europe and partly by stepping up our efforts to project stability to our neighbours, fighting terrorism and stabilizing our neighbours. 

First some words about how we are adapting by strengthening our collective defence in Europe.  We are increasing the readiness of our forces; we have tripled the size of something we call the NATO Response Force which are forces that are able to move on very short notice.  We are, we have established eight new headquarters in the Eastern part of the alliance and we are now deploying three battle groups, force battalions, multinational battle groups to the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and to Poland. And the reason why we do this is to make sure that no potential adversary can make any miscalculations about the readiness and the resolve of NATO to defend all allies against any threats.  That is deterrence, credible deterrence.  Let me underline that the reason why we are so focused on credible deterrence in NATO is that that’s the core task of the alliance because the whole alliance is based on the idea that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance.  An attack on one ally will be regarded as an attack on 28. And as long as that resolve is credible, as long as that unity is strong then we prevented anyone from attacking us. 

So the reason why we want NATO to continue to be strong and continue to be able to deliver credible deterrence in the new security environment is not to provoke, it’s not to provoke a conflict but it to prevent a conflict, to preserve the peace and therefore we have increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance.  At the same time we are very much aware of the fact that we have to find a balance because we don’t want a new Cold War, we don’t want a new arms race, we don’t want confrontation with Russia, we don’t want to isolate Russia, and actually we regard Russia as our neighbour. Russia is there to stay and we are striving for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia. 

Therefore it has been very important for NATO to convey the message that we will keep the chance for political dialogue open to address difficult issues like for instance Ukraine but also how we can have more transparency, predictability because with more forces, more exercises, more presence of military troops along our borders the risk for incidents, accidents have increased and if we have to try to do everything that we can to prevent them from happening and if they happen make sure they don’t spiral out of control and really create a dangerous situation.  We saw the downing of a Russian plane over Turkey. We have seen some buzzing and some unsafe behaviour of Russian planes close to NATO ships in the Black Sea and U.S. ships in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and we have do to whatever we can to prevent that kind of incident really creating dangerous situations.  So we are addressing predictability, transparency in our military relations with Russia.  So we, the message is defence and dialogue, not defence or dialogue and I have stated many times that my experience as a Norwegian politician is that there is no contradiction between defence, deterrence and dialogue. 

Actually as long as we are firm, as long as we are predictable, as long as we are united then we are also able to engage in political dialogue with Russia and strive for a more cooperative relationship with Russia.  So that’s how we are adapting to the challenges posed by more assertive Russia in the East.  Then we are also adapting to the increased turmoil, violence that we see in the South.  That’s about projecting stability and it’s about projecting stability, it’s about stabilizing our neighbourhood based on the idea that when our neighbours are stable we are more secure. And we have been doing that for many years but we have to do more.  We have been in Afghanistan for many year, all NATO Allies contribute to and participate in the global coalition fighting Daesh or ISIL.

NATO is also providing direct support to the coalition with our AWACS surveillance planes and we have started to train Iraqi officers and we are also present in Turkey with Patriot batteries and other assurance measures for Turkey being so close to the turmoil and the violence in Syria and Iraq. And we are also stepping up our work and cooperation with other partners in the region, in Tunisia, Jordan and so on. And the message is that we have learned some lessons from our presence in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kosovo but also for some NATO Allies that have been present in Iraq, that of course NATO has to be able to deploy a large number of combat troops in big combat operations also in the future as we have done for instance in Afghanistan or in Bosnia. But in the long run prevention is much better then intervention.  So if we are able to prevent conflicts that’s much better than if you are forced to deploy forces to solve a conflict. And the other lesson that we have learned is that we have to train local forces. We have to build a local capacity, we have to build local defence institutions because in the long run it’s much better that local forces, local institutions fight terrorism, stabilize the whole country instead of we doing it for them.  And that’s one of the lessons that we learned for instance in Bosnia. 

We have been quite successful, in Bosnia 20 years ago, two decades ago there were three armies, a Bosnian Army, a Croat Army and Serb Army fighting each other.  Now there is one multiethnic army in Bosnia, I am not saying that everything is fine in Bosnia, but I am saying as least they have one army which is able to work together in Bosnia.  I think if we made any mistakes in Afghanistan, one lesson learned there is that we have started much earlier to train local Afghan forces to enable them and to protect their own country.  So the idea of NATO of projecting stability is very much about how can we build local capacity in different ways in different countries, not only by training local forces but also by fighting corruption, building institutions. And that’s exactly what we do together with institutions here in Geneva.  With DCAF but also with GCSP and also with also the Swiss government we are working on how to build local capacity, train local forces, build local institutions.  So that’s the best weapon that we have against terrorism is to train local forces to enable them to fight terrorism. 

The last thing, then, NATO is adapting collected defence in Europe, projecting stability to our neighbours in different ways and together with partners like Switzerland, but also with institutions that we find here in Geneva.  The last thing that I would say before I answer questions is that of course the only way that NATO can remain strong, the only way that NATO deliver credible deterrence and project stability is that we stay united as a Transatlantic Alliance. 

What makes NATO unique is that it binds together Europe and North America, the United States and Canada and after the U.S. elections, the elections in the United States there have been some questions whether the United States is still committed to the Transatlantic bond to NATO and I can tell you that I am absolutely certain that the United States is and will remain committed to the Transatlantic bond and to NATO and I can tell you that partly because that’s what President Trump has told me.  In two phone calls he has strongly conveyed the message that the United States remains committed to NATO and very supportive of the Transatlantic bond and that is a very consistent message from the President, from the Vice President who visited NATO a couple of weeks ago, from Secretary Mattis the Defence Secretary, from Secretary Tillerson the Secretary of State and from the whole security team.  But it’s not only something they convey in words but it’s something also they deliver in deeds, because we see more U.S. presence in Europe now for the first time in many years.  A new army brigade, more prepositioned equipment, so this not only something they say but it is something that they do with more presence in Europe. 

And let also add that the United States know that a strong NATO, a strong Transatlantic Bond is not only good for Europe but it’s also good for the United States.  Two world wars and a cold war have taught us all that stability in Europe is good for Europe of course but it’s also good for the United States.  So I am absolutely confident that the United States remains committed to the North Atlantic Alliance.  That’s good for Europe, that’s good for North America but most importantly it’s good for peace and stability in our world because the core task of the alliance is to preserve the peace and to make sure that we can continue to live safely in a peaceful part of the world. 

So thank you so much and then I am ready to answer questions.  [Applause]