by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the 38th Meeting for Friendship amongst Peoples in Rimini, Italy

  • 24 Aug. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Aug. 2017 13:37

(As delivered)

Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Conference: From North to South. Defence and Peace in the World (Rimini meeting 2017)

Many thanks and good afternoon everyone. 

Buon giorno a tutti.

And let me start by thanking you, Chairman Roberto Fontolan, for that very nice introduction and for hosting also all here.

I would also like to thank Minister Angelino Alfano for his very interesting and insightful remarks.

I listened very carefully to your speech and I really appreciate the cooperation you and I have in NATO. The personal cooperation we have but also of course the close cooperation between NATO and one of our most prominent and founding members Italy.

It is also a real honour to be here at this Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples, the Rimini meeting.

And this is actually my first visit to Rimini ever. I appreciate very much to attend this meeting but I also understand that next time I have to go for holidays to Rimini.

I really admire your dedication to bringing people together. In the spirit of open dialogue, mutual respect and optimism. And the world could really use a healthy dose of the Rimini Meeting spirit right now!

I want also to take this opportunity to thank Italy for all its contributions to the Alliance.

You are the second biggest contributor to NATO operations and missions. Italian soldiers serve in our multi-national battle group in Latvia, Italian jets are conducting joint air policing in Bulgaria.

You also lead NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Italian troops play a key role in the fight against terrorism both in Afghanistan and also in Iraq.

You host our Joint Forces Command in Naples, including NATO’s new hub for the South and Italy is a strong voice for dialogue and diplomacy.

And I really thank you for all your contributions to our shared security.

Today I want to share a few thoughts with you.

About the role NATO plays in preserving peace and promoting stability.

We are a defensive alliance of 29 members, united by shared values: democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.

Our dedication to peace is etched into our founding treaty.

A treaty which, as it happens, came into effect exactly 68 years ago today - on 24th August 1949. So we are celebrating a NATO anniversary.

For the last 68 years, the purpose of NATO has remained the same: to preserve peace.

And we do this by promising to defend one another.

At the core of our Alliance is Article 5, our collective defence clause, that clearly states that an attack on one Ally will be regarded as an attack on the whole Alliance.

All for one, and one for all.

This pledge has helped us to preserve peace in Europe for nearly 70 years.

One of the longest periods of peace and stability in Europe’s turbulent history.

While our core mission  to preserve the peace is unchanged, the way we carry it out depends on the security environment.

And today, we face the biggest security challenges in a generation.

A more assertive Russia.

And instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Let me discuss each of these challenges in turn.

First, Russia.

Russia is NATO’s largest neighbour.

NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia.

In fact, after the Cold War, we worked hard to forge a strategic partnership with Russia.

But Russia’s aggressive behaviour has undermined trust, stability and security in Europe.

In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
The first time since World War Two that one European nation has taken the territory of another by force.

And Russia continues to destabilise Eastern Ukraine.

It is a conflict in which nearly 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed.

This has dramatically changed our security environment.
NATO has a two-track approach to Russia: defence and dialogue.

I am a strong believer in dialogue.

Last year, I was granted an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.
Whom I greatly admire.

I fully agree with His Holiness, when he said that:

 “Dialogue is what brings peace.
   Peace is impossible without dialogue.”

NATO continues to seek a more constructive and predictable relationship with Russia.

To preserve peace.
And to create a better relationship between NATO and Russia.
And encourage Russia to act within the norms and rules of the international community.

Transparency and predictability are critical. Especially when tensions are high.

With more military forces –
And more exercises along our borders –
The risk of unintended incidents or accidents increases.

We have to do everything we can to prevent mistakes or miscalculations from happening.

And if they do happen, to make sure they don’t spiral out of control.

So, despite our differences, we continue to engage in political dialogue with Russia.

But no one should doubt the readiness and resolve of NATO to defend its Allies.

That is what deterrence – preserving the peace – is all about.

Since 2014, the NATO Alliance has significantly reinforced its collective defence.

Not to provoke a conflict.
But to prevent a conflict.

All our measures are defensive, transparent, proportionate and in keeping with our international obligations.

The other major challenge we face comes from violent instability to the south of the Alliance.

Instability that has forced millions of people to flee their own countries.

As you in Italy know only too well.

Instability that has also bred extremism and has inspired acts of terrorism.

Last week we saw another brutal attack, this time in Barcelona.

It follows similar attacks in Nice, Berlin, London and elsewhere.

These attacks use low-tech weapons – cars, trucks and knives – to devastating effect.

In our free and open societies, it is very difficult to prevent every attack.

We cannot just close down our cities.

But we should not accept terrorism as the new normal.

We should not allow our values and our free societies to be undermined.

Our societies have faced the threat of terrorism before, and we have prevailed.

Many of you here are too young to remember.

But in the 70s and in the 80s, terrorist groups like ETA, the IRA and the Red Brigades were responsible for far more deaths than we see today.

At the time it seemed an impossible challenge to overcome. But we did. And we can do it again. If we stand by our values. If we are resilient and determined.

And if we are strong and united.

Thanks to our military, police and intelligence services, there have been no more attacks of the scale and complexity of 9/11.

Al Qaeda is far from the force it once was.
And ISIL has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

But the threat is still there.
And there is still much more to do.

Together, we have many tools available in the fight against terrorism and we need to use them all.

We need to fight radicalization at home.

We need our police and intelligence services to investigate and protect.

We need political, diplomatic and economic efforts to bring an end to conflict and to negotiate and sustain peace.

And yes, we need the military, to counter and defeat groups like ISIS.

In this collective endeavor, NATO cannot do everything, but it has an important role to play:

Tackling the root causes of terrorism and instability is not only about what we do at home.

But also about what we do beyond our borders.

That is why NATO remains committed to preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorism.

And why we train Iraqi officers to counter terrorism in their country.

We are also increasing our support for partners across the Middle East and North Africa.

With a range of training and defence programmes with partners including Tunisia and Jordan.

We are now preparing to help Libya to build its security institutions.

And we are working with the EU to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis in the Aegean Sea and in the Central Mediterranean and in promoting stability in our neighbourhood.

Because, to put it more simply: if our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.

Here NATO can play a crucial role, building on decades of experience and partnerships with more than 50 nations and organisations around the world.

It is only by working together that we can make real and lasting progress towards peace.

So ladies and gentlemen.

68 years ago today, the NATO treaty came into force.

Since then, NATO has worked hard to preserve peace and promote stability in Europe and beyond.

Today we face the most serious security threats for a generation.

But I am confident that we can prevail against all challenges.

Because our values are stronger. Freedom, democracy and open societies will always prevail over hatred, violence and intolerance.

And united behind our common values, there is no threat we cannot face.

And no challenge we cannot overcome.

So therefore once again thank you for inviting me to this important platform on violence and peace.

Thank you so much.

ROBERTO FONTOLAN (Director of the International Centre of Communion and Liberation): [Interpreted] I was talking earlier to the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg, that at the meeting in Rimini we refer to people even beyond our role, even if they have very important roles, so we always ask questions about individuals' experiences, so I wanted to ask you this question. You have such an important role, how do you feel in such a role with a high responsibility which means that you should contribute to protect the destiny of the world and make it a safer place? Do you take a lot of sleeping pills? Can you sleep at night? Do you wake up happy in the morning? [End of interpretation]

JENS STOLTENBERG (Secretary General of NATO): I'm very good at sleeping. I sleep in my bed, but I also sleep in the plane; I sleep in cars, so I know how to sleep, and I think that's a big advantage if you are working in NATO. But perhaps even more important is that I am very humbled by being at the helm of NATO, because that's a very meaningful job because my main task is to every day try to help to contribute to peace.

And of course, I don’t do that alone. NATO is an alliance of 29 different nations, we protect almost one billion citizens in NATO countries, and of course I have an excellent staff, people helping me every day. So I sleep and I wake up happy knowing that we have been successful in the most important task for NATO and that is to prevent for and preserve peace for the people living in NATO countries. And since NATO was established almost 70 years ago we have had one of the longest periods of peace in our part of Europe.

Then of course there are many challenges, and I mentioned many of them in my speech: the threat of terrorist attacks, instability in our neighbourhood, North Africa, Middle East, Afghanistan, and so on, and we have to address that and I work on how to address that, but I'm happy and I'm confident that NATO will be able to preserve the peace for NATO allies also in the future because we have been able to adapt and change every time the world is changing.

And the last thing I will say about this is that I'm also happy because one of the great advantages of being Secretary General of NATO is that I'm invited to so many places, I meet so many nice people; for instance I'm invited to Rimini and meet all of you. Thank you.

ROBERTO FONTOLAN: [Interpreted] Now, just a few seconds to go back to Mr. Stoltenberg and close our session, I wanted to ask you this. Today, nobody has illusions; democracy cannot be exported with conflict, with war. So I want to ask you this also as a political man, how can we then defend and disseminate democracy today? Is their a role of NATO in this respect? I ask you this because NATO is not just about defence, but it does many more things. [End of interpretation]

JENS STOLTENBERG: The core purpose of NATO is to defend all allies, but NATO is also defending some values, and in our founding treaty it is clearly stated that our core values are freedom, individual liberties, and the rule of law. And those core values are also the core values in any democratic society, and therefore NATO is an alliance of 29 democracies and by having a strong NATO we're also defending our democratic open societies. And I absolutely agree with Minister Alfano that people have to be safe to be free, and we need freedom to have real democracy.

So NATO is contributing to democracy partly by defending our own countries, but we are also helping not by force but through cooperation, through partnership, to also build democratic institutions in other countries. For instance, when we are working in Afghanistan we are helping them with building government institutions, fighting corruption, and also defending those democratic institutions against violence from terrorist organizations and the Taliban. And for instance when NATO was veru engaged in ending ethnic wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, close to Italy, in Serbia, in Kosovo, that was also about helping to create peace and the foundation for democracy.

So NATO's task is to defend 29 democracies, close to one billion people living in democratic societies, but NATO’s responsibility is also to work with neighbours, with partners around the world to help them create free and democratic societies. That's good for them, but it's also good for us because if we have stable, free democratic neighbours we are also more secure.

And since I'm here in Rimini at this meeting I will also underline that part of that is of course also the freedom of religion, because when NATO's founding act speaks about individual liberties that also of course includes the individual liberty: the freedom to worship the god you believe in. So NATO is an alliance for freedom, for democracy, and for peace. Thank you.