Closing remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the GMF Seminar ''New Challenges for NATO, What Role for France in the Atlantic Alliance?''

  • 14 May. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 15 May. 2018 15:44

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: We have our differences in this Alliance always, dating back to the Suez Crisis in 1956 all the way to the Iraq War in 2003 and also later on.  So, the challenge is to make sure that even though we're now seeing some serious differences, for instance on the Iran Nuclear Deal, that we continue to be able to deliver on our core task, that we protect and defence each other.  Because together we are stronger and together we are a formidable force.  NATO Allies represent 50% or more than half of the world economic might and a half of the world's military might.  So, as long as we stand together we are strong and therefore we have to make sure that that's still the case, even though we now see some differences.

I have for instance heard that we see a weakened transatlantic bond because the US is disengaging with Europe, or with the security of Europe.  That’s actually not correct because the reality is that the United States is stepping up its presence in Europe.  The current US Administration is committed to European security, not only in words but also in deeds.  They are increasing their military presence, they are spending more on European security and, for instance, the last US battle tank left Europe in the autumn of 2013, after a drawdown after the end of the Cold War.  Now the US is back with a full armoured brigade.  They have more than tripled US funding for what they call the European Deterrence Initiative, and there is more US equipment, more US exercises and more US soldiers now because it's going up after a decline after the Cold War.

So, yes there are differences, yes they are challenges, but it's wrong to say that North America is not committed to the transatlantic bond.  Not only is the US coming back and increasing its presence, but also Canada is back leading one of the battlegroups in the Baltics, the battlegroup in Latvia is led by Canadian troops.  So, this illustrates that the unity of NATO is there despite differences on some important issues.

Second, adaptation:  adaptation has always been important for the Alliance, but it's even more important now because we are faced with the most serious security challenges in a generation; a more assertive Russia, terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons, cyber-attacks and many other threats.  And especially after 2014, when we saw the illegal annexation of Crimea, and ISIL growing as a serious threat and controlling big parts of Iraq and Syria, it has been extremely important for NATO to adapt.  And NATO is now in the process of implementing their biggest adaptation, their biggest reinforcement to our collective defence since the Cold War.  We are changing when the world is changing.

We have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence by, for the first time in our history, deploying combat ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, the Enhanced Forward Presence and what we call a Tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea region.  We have increased the readiness of our forces, tripled the size of the NATO response force and also established what we call the VJTF or the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.  We are strengthening our cyber defences, we are adapting the structure of the Alliance, the command structure, we are boosting our defences against missile attacks.

On top of that, we now see for the first time in many, many years that NATO Allies are spending more, investing more in defence.  After years of decline, reduction in defence spending, since 2015 or since 2014, the first year with increase was in 2015, we have seen three consecutive years with increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada.  All Allies have stopped the cuts.  All Allies have started to increase defence spending.  And more and more Allies have reached the 2% guideline.  So, I'm not saying that have finished, that we have done everything we need to, but I'm saying that we are adapting, we are changing the Alliance as the world is changing, and I think that many of those who were present at the Wales Summit, NATO Summit in Wales in 2014, where we agreed to invest more, actually didn’t expect us to deliver as much and as quickly as we have delivered.  We still have a long way to go, but it is a very, very good start.

We are also stepping up when it comes to the fight against terrorism and we saw this weekend a new horrendous terrorist attack in Paris.  It highlights the importance of fighting terrorism, but it also highlights that we need many different tools in the fight against terrorism.  NATO has an important role to play and we are stepping up our efforts, but we are also shifting the focus of our counter-terrorism efforts.  Not so many years ago, the main effort was in combat operations, especially in Afghanistan.  Now, the focus is much more on not combat, but on training, building local capacity, because I think that one of the lessons we have learned from Iraq, from Syria, but also to some extent from Libya, is that in the long run the best weapon we have in the fight against terrorism is to enable local forces to stabilise their own country and to fight terrorism themselves.  So, we have ended the combat operation in Afghanistan.  We have gone from more than 100,000 troops to now around 16,000 troops.  And the troops we have there now, they do training, build local capacity, enable the Afghans themselves to fight terrorism, Taliban, stabilise their own country instead of we doing combat operations in Afghanistan.  That’s the focus of what we do in Iraq and that’s the focus when we work together with countries like Jordan and Tunisia.  Based on the idea that prevention is better than intervention, we have to enable them to stabilise their own countries and their own region and that’s the main focus of NATO.

So, we are also adapting when it comes to fighting terrorism.  I think NATO has an untapped potential to do more training and capacity-building, and therefore I hope that when we meet at the Summit in July in Brussels, the NATO Summit, that we can agree to step up and especially launch a training mission in Iraq.

Another area where we need adaptation and where we have started to adapt is in our cooperation with the European Union.  More than 90% of the people living in the European Union, they live in a NATO country.  We share the same neighbourhood, we share the same security environment, but neither NATO nor EU has all the tools to respond to this new security environment and therefore I welcome very much that NATO and the European Union have been able to lift our cooperation to a completely new level, we are working more closer now than ever before.  And I also welcome the efforts of the European Union to strengthen European defence, as long as it is not competing with NATO but complementary with NATO, and that has been underlined again and again from European leaders, that this is not an alternative to NATO, this will actually help to strengthen NATO, and therefore I welcome those efforts.

I promised to be brief, so I will just then end by the following message and that is that France is playing a key role in this adaptation.  France is a highly-valued and very strong NATO Ally, contributing to our shared security, to our collective defence, with high-end capabilities, with highly professional and committed forces - I have met them many places in the world - and with resolve and willingness to deploy forces where needed.

Then France is also important for our Alliance because you don’t only play a key role contributing to our collective defence, but also to our deterrence, because France is one of the three nuclear powers in our Alliance.  You play a key role… France plays a key role in the fight against terrorism.  500,000 Personnel troops in the Levant and Sahel, in the fight against terrorism, which is important for all NATO Allies.  And then you are also a champion of multilateralism, which is extremely important.  I believe in strong institutions, strong international institutions, especially when times are unpredictable, as they are now, then we need strong EU, strong NATO, strong UN.  And, as you know, after Brexit, France will be the only country which is member of the EU, NATO and the UN Security Council.  So, in that sense, you will become even more a champion for multilateralism than you have ever been before.  If anything, I would like to see an even stronger French leadership in strengthening NATO as a multilateral tool, to address the security challenges we all face.

So, to briefly sum up these concluding remarks, NATO is successful because we are united, NATO is successful because we are able to adapt, and France is key both to the adaptation and to the unity of this Alliance.  And as long as we continue to be united and agile and willing to change, we will continue to be the strongest and most successful Alliance in history.

Thank you so much.


QUESTION: German Marshall Fund in Paris.  I had a very simple question.  I think you're seeing President Trump on Thursday.  And so my question is what are the main messages that you're going to convey to the American President, as you're going to meet with him?  Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: I think the easiest… yes, I will meet President Trump on 17th May which is the Norwegian National Day, so I will celebrate the Norwegian National Day in the White House.  And you have to know, here in France, that the reason why we became independent in 1914… in 1814 in Norway was that we supported Napoleon during the Napoleonic War.  So, yeah, together with Denmark.  We didn’t win, but we were at least together with France and Napoleon.  And then we had independence from 17th May 1814 to August 1814. Then Sweden invaded us. We were under Swedish rule for 100 years.  And then we became independent.  That was not the answer because that’s not what I'm going to tell President Trump, at least not the main message.  To be honest, the main message is exactly what I said now.  The main message is that NATO is strong, NATO is successful because we are united and because we are able to adapt.  But I will also be of course… in all my speeches … and the NATO leaders are mostly addressing the differences, the challenges we have.  Because I think there is no reason to try to deny that there are challenges and I just met with the French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, and I will meet Macron, President Macron tomorrow.  And of course, my main challenge is to make sure that, despite these differences, we are able to once again prove that NATO Allies unite around a common task, one for all, all for one, we protect each other.  And that we are able to invest and adapt more in defence, because we are faced with a more unpredictable world.  And then I will go through the… some specific challenges.  There are… we will discuss the upcoming Summit and there are five main topics for the Summit.  It's deterrence and defence, including the relationship with Russia, it's fighting terrorism, very much what I talked about now, building local capacity, training local forces.  It's about NATO-EU cooperation, more cooperation, welcome EU defence, as long as it's not competing but complementing NATO.  And then modernising the Alliance, which is about the command structure and some other institutional things we are doing to modernise the Alliance.

And then it's about burden-sharing.  And to be honest, that will be one of the main issues we will discuss, meaning how to make sure that all Allies deliver on what we agreed in Wales.  Because it's not… this is not an idea that I invented - it was actually, at that time, 28 Allies sitting round the same table and they agreed to stop the cuts, they agreed to increase defence spending and then to move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence.  This is something we do not to please the United States, we do it because it is in our own security interests.  And France is leading by example because you are, I think, at 2.79 and this year you actually expect to at 2.81.  So, you are increasing… no, sorry, 1.81% of GDP.  I saw the face of the Ambassador, she was a bit confused. Well, I blame her, I was given the wrong figures.  No, 1.81 is the expected figure for this year.  It's not yet 2%, but France has a very clear commitment to reach 2% by 2025, so you are leading by example.  But all Allies agreed to this and we don’t do that to please the United States, we do it because it is in our own security interests.  Having said that, I think it's obvious that this is also about fairness.  Because the GDP of the United States is roughly the same as the GDP of European NATO Allies, so we are as rich.  But despite that, the US spends twice as much on defence as we do.  And that’s not balanced.

QUESTION: I will take the privilege, Mr Secretary General.  Thank you.  You have been seen, since you took office, as a strong advocate of NATO-EU cooperation.  At the same time, some of the remarks you have made in the past, particularly at Munich, have been construed here in Paris - you probably know this - as kind of symbolising a backlash towards… or some kind of a warning towards too much development of European defence that could, as you just said, compete with NATO.  So, how do you really believe that European defence can develop and not compete with NATO?  We in Paris believe it can develop and not compete.  What is the path ahead for you, in your view, for that?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: So, first of all, I fundamentally said the same thing and my message has been the same thing all the way, that I strongly welcome efforts by the European Union to strengthen European defence.  And then I've actually quoted a lot of European leaders. I even remember, for instance, Ursula von der Leyen, the German Defence Minister, she said this is about building not something which is an alternative to NATO, but she said this is about building the European pillar within NATO.  And that’s in a way obvious.  Because if France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, get stronger, then NATO gets stronger.  And actually, NATO has called for Europe to do more, so then when suddenly Europe does more we should regret that too?  That would be very strange.  So, we should welcome when Europe does more.  But at the same time I have, in all my meetings, when I've been in Munich or I met… just weeks before I met the European Council, the leaders, I have pointed at some risks.  And they have pointed at the same risks themselves.  So, I'm very often quoting them.  But of course, we need to make sure that this coherence between capabilities developed within the EU framework and those developed in the NATO framework.  Because actually we ask the same nations.  One of the most important things NATO does is to have what we call defence planning and we develop lists, but very specific lists, of different capabilities: drones, planes, tanks, brigades and all that, and then we allocate them to the different nations and then they deliver, and all together that provides a very strong collective defence.

We cannot have a situation where NATO asks Paris to deliver ABC and then the EU asks Paris to deliver something completely different.  If I was Prime Minister in a country which was a member of both NATO and the EU, I would never accept that an organisation which I'm a member of present conflicting and competing lists.  I will tell them you have to present the same list.  And that’s obvious.  It's not a problem for NATO and the EU, the main problem is for the nations, if Brussels - NATO and EU -start to go to the same capitals asking for different things.  We have one set of forces and the force is developed and the PESCO and the NATO defence planning has to be available for NATO operations, and it has to be the same things.  Sometimes the EU may need some special things outside the framework, but mainly this is about the same nations responding to the same security challenges.

QUESTION: Mr Secretary General, you have just moved in a beautiful building, which many minister will saw with envy, because it's so modern and effective, but… and at the Summit in July, you will approve the new military structure, so what are your intentions concerning the reform of the HQ, which is under your authority?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: How about you are going to help me with that?  So, I… Yeah, yeah.  So, I will not say… answer that question until you have given me an advice.  I will wait for your advice.  No, no, but I mean we have asked external experts, and you are among them, to give us advice and to help us with what we call the functional review, which is a review which is now going on to try to make sure that NATO is adapting, that we are as effective, as targeted as possible, and that we are agile and forward-looking all the time.  And the reality is that there are several strands of works that are going on the same time, and they are supporting each other.  We are adapting the command structure, we will hopefully agree that in July.  Then we are having this functional review to make sure that the headquarters is working in the best possible way.  This is about decision-making, speed of decision-making, and it's about avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy.  It's about making sure that we are transparent and also that we are, for instance, able to develop new capabilities in an effective way.  And so on.  There are always challenges in an organisation representing 29 nations.  It will always be a bit more difficult than in one single nation, but we have to always try and push for being as effective as possible.

So, it's the new command structure, the functional review of the headquarters, but then on top of that we are moving into a new building as you have just said, and I think that creates an excellent platform for reshaping and to invigorating the whole way that NATO is working.