''NATO Engages: The Brussels Summit Dialogue'' - Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Security Conference held on the margins of the NATO Summit Brussels

  • 11 Jul. 2018 -
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  • Last updated 13-Jul-2018 12:54

(As delivered)

Good morning,

It’s good to see you all. And first of all many thanks to the Atlantic Council, the German Marshall Fund and the Munich Security Conference and Women in International Security for cohosting and organizing this event. I will be very brief in my introduction and then I will sit down and also some very difficult questions. But I will start by saying that all NATO Summits are important, but this Summit is in many ways more important than normal NATO Summits. Partly because we are confronted with a more complex and more difficult and more demanding security environment with new challenges, new threats, a more assertive Russia. But also more turmoil, violence to the south of the Alliance, Middle-East, North-Africa.

But on top of that we also have to recognize that there are disagreements, different views between Allies.

So this is about how the Alliance can respond to a demanding security environment admitting that we don’t agree on all issues. And therefore it is important that this Summit demonstrates that despite disagreements, despite frank and open discussions, we will be able to deliver and to make decisions. And I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that, because despite the disagreements we see for instance on trade, or climate change, or the Iran Nuclear deal, or we see the discussion on defence spending, the fact is that NATO has been able to deliver, to make decisions and actually strengthen what we do together all 29 Allies and also to do together Europe and North-America.

I think you just heard Prime Minister Trudeau announcing that Canada will lead the battlegroup in Latvia for 4 more years. And as you know, the US has increased the military presence in Europe over the last years.

So what we see on the ground is that Europe and North-America are doing more together, we are not weakening the transatlantic bond in NATO, actually, we have been increasing it.

And then the challenge is to make sure that this Summit continues to make sure that we are able to continue to do exactly that.

I’m confident that we will all be able to make the necessary decisions and to show that NATO is delivering.

I expect us to agree on strengthening our collective defence, by increasing the readiness of our forces, we call it the 4 thirties: 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 battle ships ready to move or to be used within 30 days or less.

I expect us to agree on the new Command Structure, which is a modernization of the Command Structure, including two new commands, one in Norfolk, Virginia, for the Atlantic, and one in Ulm, Germany, for support logistics in Europe.

I’m also confident that we’ll agree to step up our effort to fight terrorism with a new training missions in Iraq and also sustain the support for the Afghan security forces in Afghanistan.

Because prevention is better than intervention, we need to train local forces to enabling them to fight terrorism and to stabilize their own country and that is really why we are so focused on training capacity building to enable them to stabilize their own countries.

And then I’m also confident that when we meet in a few hours we will also agree to recommit to increase defence spending.

We all agree that we don’t have fair burden-sharing in NATO today. Some Allies spend 2% of GDP and some much more than that on defence, especially US, and other Allies spend much less.

That’s the reason why we agreed in 2014 that we should stop the cuts after decades of cutting defence spending and we had to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence. The good news is that that’s exactly what we are doing. All Allies, we published the figures yesterday, and I guess you can on NATO’s homepage, an excellent homepage, there you will see that all Allies have stopped the cuts, all Allies have started to increase, and more Allies spend 2% of GDP on defence. This year we expect 8 Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence, compared to 3 back in 2014. And the majority of Allies have put forward plans on how to reach 2% within a decade.

And let me just tell you that I’m aware that most politicians, they like to spend money on something else than defence.  I have been a politician for many years myself, and we like to spend money on health, on education, on infrastructure, and that kind of stuff.

And I have told some of you before that when I was Minister of Finance in Norway I was very good at cutting defence budgets. I know exactly how to do it. But don’t tell anyone.

But then that was in the 1990s, and then tensions went down. So in one way it’s completely fair to reduce defence spending when tensions are going down, after the end of the Cold War. As long as you’re able to increase defence spending when tensions are going up, as they are now.

So therefore, as Prime Minister of Norway, I started to increase defence spending. So I know both how to cut and how to increase. So depending on my message, I use the lines from the time as a Minister of Finance or Prime Minister. Actually, I use the Prime Minister lines more now.

So the thing is that Allies understand this, and the good news is that we have started to move.

Then I’m aware that some Allies would like to see even quicker movement, even higher speed when it comes to defence spending but at least we are moving in the right direction.

I promised to be brief so I will stop with just a final remark and then cover any other issues in the Q&A afterwards, but my final point is the following: and that is that a strong NATO is good for Europe and good for US. Two World Wars and a Cold War thought us that we are stronger together than apart. The US military presence and the presence of Canada in Europe, is good for Europe but is also good for North-America and especially for the US. Because it helps the US to be a global power, the US military presence in Europe is about protecting Europeans but it’s also about projecting US military power into Asia, the Middle-East and Africa. Remember that the US-Africa Command is in Stuttgart, Europe. And the military, the economic, the political clout of European Allies and Canada is helping to strengthen the US. No other big power has so many friends and Allies as the US. And European soldiers, Canadian soldiers have been on the battlefields with US soldiers all the way from Korea to Afghanistan, and more than thousand Canadian and European soldiers paid the ultimate price in Afghanistan. The first time we evoked Article 5 was after the attack on US on 9/11. So I say this to you because NATO is good for both Europe and North-America and we represent together half of the world’s military might, half of the world’s economic might, so as long as we stand together, we are safe and secure.

Thank you so much.

Barbara Starr Question:
Secretary General thank you for your time and we all think you have got to be the busiest man in NATO headquarters this morning so we are going to move very briskly because we now you’re busy, let me start we want to move the discussion on defence spending ahead just a bit, this audience is one that knows all the parameters of defence spending and 2% and all of that but aside from the accounting and the bookkeeping and the defence budget this has now become a ranging political issue on the world stage and in those small part because of President Trump, so you had breakfast with the President this morning, if anybody saw that, how did it go, what did you have? 

Jens Stoltenberg: Excellent orange juice and some toast and some fruit salad and a good breakfast!
Starr: Good!

Jens Stoltenberg: Paid by the United States! 

Question (Starr): Okay, everybody said you had a sense of humour!  What can you tell all of us about your meeting with the President and specifically what did you hear from him about the United States’ commitment to stay in NATO, to be committed to Article 5, to completely contribute to NATO, he says a lot of things, what did you learn about how committed he is to NATO and is he? 

Jens Stoltenberg: So President Trump has stated many times his commitment to NATO and also to our Collective Defence Clause and this was also an issue we addressed today but for instance when we met in the White House in May he stated that to me but also at a press conference in connection with the meeting he was also very clear on his commitment to Article 5 Collective Defence Clause.  For me that is important but it is also important that the US commitment to Article 5 to European security to NATO is something which is demonstrated not only in words but also in deeds. And actions speak louder than words because since Trump became President US funding for military presence in Europe, the European Deterrence Initiative has been increased by 40% so there are more US troops, more exercises, more investment in the infrastructure now than before. 

Starr: But he comes out repeatedly in public in the United States and says he is you know NATO is not worth it, he thinks it is very unfair that NATO is unfair to the United States, he had recently I am sure you are aware one of his rallies in the United States and used very unpleasant language that we won’t repeat here to describe NATO. This has to be very difficult, is this all just for political show and does he really understand NATO, he says people aren’t paying their fair share well nobody pays to NATO of course.  Help us understand once and for all is this political theatre in your view, does he really understand NATO because you’re getting a lot of different messages from him. 

Jens Stoltenberg: You know my main task is to keep 29 allies together and therefore perhaps it is not so useful if I start to reflect and comment on all different hypotheses and ideas about what different political leaders think and believe.  My main task is to keep us together and I do that by trying to find the common ground.  So yes I agree that President Trump has direct language, plain speaking, sometimes very direct pointing at specific allies.  But when it comes to the core message we actually all agree that NATO doesn’t share the burden in a fair way.  We have to share in NATO fairer than we do today, so we don’t have a fair way of paying for the costs today.  When it comes to the funding for the NATO budgets the US pays 22% as a cap.  So actually the US pays less compared to GDP than some other allies because there is a cap for 22% US funding for the NATO budget.  But we don’t speak about the NATO budget we speak about total defence spending which is something completely different and then of course the US defence budget is by far the biggest, the figures we published yesterday shows that the US spends about 3.5% of GDP on defence which is of course more than all other allies and that is the reason why we need to do something with that. 

Question (Starr): Does the debate now pose a political, we have the financial challenge, the budget challenge, does it post a political challenge for NATO do you believe?

Jens Stoltenberg: Of course it is a political challenge that we have disagreements partly on issues which are not directly related to NATO but of course this agreement on trade is serious and my task is to try to minimise the negative impact on NATO from those disagreement.  But you also have different views, we have an open discussion about for instance defence spending.  And then I think that my message and my task is that yes I hear you loud and clear that some allies especially the United States wants European allies and Canada to spend much more quickly.  But then I say that well let’s recognise the progress, let’s appreciate that after the US has been pushing for more spending for many, many years now actually something has started to happen so this is something that the US can take credit for.  Of course European allies are investing and Canada are investing in defence not primarily to please the United States.  They do so because it is in their security interests but in addition to providing necessary capabilities it also helps to create a more balance of fair burden sharing alliance and that is a good thing. 

Question (Starr): You mentioned trade and I was very struck by your speech this summer at Lancaster House in London, you said that it was not written in stone that NATO would survive forever you hope it does but it seemed there is no guarantees and you talked about the differences that are driving wedges in certain places.  You mentioned trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal and you just mentioned trade again and of course German trade with Russia came up this morning.  So how much is the issue of trade and the US push on trade reform now impacting a security alliance?

Jens Stoltenberg: So far it hasn’t impacted NATO that much.  I cannot guarantee that that will not be the case in the future but despite disagreements we have seen on trade we do more together in NATO.  So I think we understand that the transatlantic bond is not one bond there are many ties.  Some of them have been weakened – trade, political cooperation on environment.  But when it comes to defence we actually strengthen the transatlantic bond we do more together now than just a couple of years ago so there is a kind of mixed picture when it comes to how the transatlantic bond is now developing.  Defence security has been strengthened, trade of course has been weakened. 

Question (Starr): Going back to your Lancaster House speech I mean do you really worry tell us that NATO there is no guarantee NATO might not survive?

Jens Stoltenberg: I said that because I think it is important to convey the message that the transatlantic bond, that NATO has a cornerstone of transatlantic security, it’s not written in stone that we will be there forever, it’s not a law in nature that we will have NATO forever.  I believe it’s possible and I believe we both can and must preserve NATO but then we need political commitment, we need decisions and we need that we continue every day to adapt and modernise the alliance.  The good thing is that is exactly what we have been able to do over the last years. We have really implemented the biggest modernisation, the biggest enforcement of collective defences since the end of the Cold War.  I am actually quite impressed what we have achieved over a short period of time.  Second we have had disagreements before, dating back to the Suez Crisis. Or when France left NATO command structure in the 60s you know NATO used to have its headquarters in Paris and then in 1967 we moved to Brussels because France left the military corporation.  I was not participating in NATO ministerial meetings in the 60s, but I guess that the atmosphere was not the best when we had to move.  And then we had the Iraq War. So the thing is that we have been able to overcome serious differences before and unite around our core task and I believe we both can and must do that again because it is in our interests.  And that’s my main message is that it is in the interest of Europe and in the interest of the United States and Canada to stay together. 

Question (Starr): Let me move very quickly before we get to audience questions to the subject of Russia, you as I understand as Prime Minister did meet with Vladimir Putin, you have engaged Norway, have engaged in I believe some fishing negotiations with him, so tell us about Putin, what’s he like, not that you’re gonna make recommendations but we have a very important summit coming up in a few days between the President of the United States and Mr Putin, what are you looking for, what should people be looking for is Russia what challenge is it posing to NATO specifically here in Europe, what are your concerns about a Russian threat.  Is there really a Russian threat whether it be military, political or economic?

Jens Stoltenberg: So we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally. But we see a much more assertive Russia which has used force against neighbours Ukraine but also Georgia and they have forces in Moldova against the will of the government.  And we have seen cyber. We have seen many other activities of Russia which are malign.  My approach to Russia is very much based on what I learned as a Norwegian politician. I actually started to work with the Russians in the 1990s – actually 1990 -- when I became Deputy Minister for Environment. And since then as Minister of Finance, Industry, Energy and Prime Minister, I have worked with Russia in many different ways, because Russia is a neighbour.  And what we saw in Norway was that even during the coldest period of the Cold War we were able to have a working relationship with Russia on border issues, on military.  The Norwegian army had regular contacts with the Russian army in the high north.  We worked together with animal rescue, on fishery, on environment and many other issues.
Question (Starr): But now today do you have any cautions about the Putin government, their influence here in Europe?

Jens Stoltenberg: Absolutely but my approach to Russia is that we need to combine two things.  We need to be strong.  We need to be firm and as long as NATO is united and as long as we invest in our defences we are firm and we are strong and we are united.  As long as we are that we can engage in political dialogue with Russia.  Because Russia is our neighbour.  Russia is not going to go away and we need to talk to Russia.  Partly to strive for a better relationship which I think is possible. When that can happen I cannot tell you but I actually think it’s possible to get a better relationship with Russia.

Question (Starr): But should people be cautious though right now about Vladimir Putin, should they just accept everything he says?

Jens Stoltenberg: No no no not at all.  I mean we don’t accept that that his illegal annexation of Crimea. We don’t accept cyber, propaganda, interference in domestic political processes.  We have seen it at Salisbury.  We have seen a failed coup attempt in Montenegro. We have seen many examples.  We don’t accept that. But for me that’s not an argument in favour of isolating Russia or stop talking to Russia.  Actually I think the opposite. ,I think when tensions run high it’s even more important to talk to Russia to try to reduce tensions.  So even if we don’t believe in a better relationship with Russia in the foreseeable future we have to talk to Russia to manage a difficult relationship. Because we have more military presence, more exercises, more tensions so we have to avoid miscalculations, incidents and accidents.  And if they happen prevent them from spiralling out of control and creating really dangerous situations.

Starr: Okay

Jens Stoltenberg: So therefore we need military alliance communications, we need dialogue just to manage a difficult relationship. 

Starr: And now we’ll go to three hours of questions from the audience.

Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah.  Yeah.

Starr: Somebody I wanna see some, there’s gotta be some hands here, oh let me go back to this gentleman here behind you sir and I think we have microphones coming very quickly and we’ll have you introduce yourself and state a quick question so we can get to people.

Question (Man): I am Federico Yanif former retired general of the Spanish air force and I have a question. We know all that yesterday was signed a new joint declaration of friendship between NATO and European Union.  There are 74 items that have been pushed forward for collaboration, for cooperation.  But I think there is a big issue, the issue of coordinating NATO defence planning with a combined annual review of defence of the European Union.  Because you have very often that we do have two sets of forces.  We do have only one.  Are you working on that way of combinating those two systems on planning?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The short answer is yes.  We need to have coherence between NATO defence planning and the efforts of EU to develop new military capabilities. Because we cannot end up with EU asking for one list of capabilities and NATO for another list of capabilities from the same nations.  In that joint declaration we actually refer to that we need coherence when it comes to capability development.  Let me add that I welcome stronger EU efforts on defence because I believe it can strengthen the European pillar in NATO.  But the EU cannot replace or be an alternative to NATO and this is also very much underlined by EU leaders themselves.  Especially after Brexit we had to remember that 80% of NATO’s defence expenditure will come from non-EU allies. So there is no way that EU can replace NATO but EU efforts on defence can help to strengthen it.

Question (Starr): As the clock is ticking down we’ll stick on this side of the room, there is a lady way in the back there please?  Over to this way sir

Question (Lady): Dear Secretary General Mr Stoltenberg my name is Hannah Hoke I represent Ukraine, I have a very simple question.  Ukraine spends more than 5% of GDP on security and defence.  Also Ukraine is contributing to almost each NATO missions and also recently Ukrainian parliament adopted one of the strong national security law. Ukrainian army ranks eighth position in Europe and would you agree that Ukraine deserves enhanced opportunity partners programme which we expected to receive on this summit but unfortunately the blocking by Hungarians we are far from this.  Thank you?

Jens Stoltenberg: I don’t expect NATO leaders to make any decisions on an enhanced opportunity programme at this summit. But I think or I know that we will reiterate our strong support for Ukraine and we have many tools to develop our partnership with Ukraine.  We have the NATO Ukraine Commission.  We have the other national plans.  We have a substantial package of support.  We have the trust funds so we have many different ways to work together with Ukraine so I think we should focus on that, deliver as much content as possible in the existing frameworks and help Ukraine focus on reform and modernising their security and defence institutions

Starr: We’re gonna try and get to three more questions but let me start with two sir I’ll impose on you to be as quick as you can be

Question (Man): Oh yes my name is [inaudible] from Kazakhstan.  There is a growing assumption that where Russia is portrayed as a medium term threat while China is portrayed as a long term threat.  Do you agree with this assumption and how does NATO view China’s policies in the Asia-Pacific or Eurasian content?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is a transatlantic alliance of course our main responsibility is in the transatlantic area. But we also of course have a global perspective of what we do.  And we are of course aware that China is growing.  We have some military lines of we have some contacts with China.  I would like it to improve and to have more political dialogue with China but of course we are strengthening NATO to be prepared for any potential challenges and threats.  But at the same time we try to reduce tensions not increase tensions. 
Starr: I’m gonna call on the gentleman back there in the blue shirt in the interests of full disclosure, Phil Steward from Reuters another member of the Pentagon press core

Question (Man): Thank you, do you think that President Trump’s insistence on NATO defence spending is still helpful or do you think at this point it is becoming counter-productive and destructive to the political fusion of the alliance? 

Jens Stoltenberg: He has a clear message I think that has increased the understanding of the importance of defence spending and what we see is that defence spending has started to increase.  So I think that is what I have to say about that.  The fact is that defence spending is increasing.

Starr: You know this is where the press core says “But sir I have a follow-up question!”

Jens Stoltenberg: Yes I know!

Question (Starr): We don’t wanna make you too unhappy.  But I do wanna give you in the last 52 seconds on the clock the real opportunity to articulate narrowing your views right now.  You have talked about differences very openly, how serious is it.  Is the US government position right now harming NATO cohesion, how convinced are you that it is not harming NATO cohesion?  This is not …

Jens Stoltenberg: But again you know I’m not an I’m not a professor, I’m not a pundit, I’m not sitting here and just

Starr: But you’re the Secretary General

Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah meaning that my task is to make sure that we stay together. 

Starr: But can you

Jens Stoltenberg: So if I started to freely reflect on all the possibilities then I would undermine the unity of this alliance.  So I have one responsibility and that is to make sure that despite obvious differences – which you can read about in the newspapers every day – we have to keep this family together.  29 members different from both sides of the Atlantic.  Difference history.  Different geography.  Different political leaders.  But as long as we unite around our core task protect and defend each other, then we are safe and secure.

Lady: Are you willing to say what difference it is to wrap this up, what difference it is at the moment, the differences

Jens Stoltenberg: There are

Lady: That concern you the most as Secretary General?

Jens Stoltenberg: As Secretary General I am of course most concerned about the differences on defence spending but that is very much about messaging and language.  Because when it comes to the substance we all agree that we have to do more.  And therefore I try to distinguish between what is different language, different messaging and what is disagreement on the core task.  And when it comes to the core issue, all allies and Canada agree that we have to invest more.

Question (Starr): And on the messaging?

Jens Stoltenberg: Then you of course see that there are big differences.  Some allies are very focused on the progress we have made, some allies are especially Unites States want to see much faster progress.

Starr: Okay.  Well now that you’ve had breakfast maybe we’ll let you get onto lunch!  And then you can come back and tell us how that went!

Jens Stoltenberg: Yes.

Starr: We wanna say thank you, if everyone could [applause].  If we could have everyone stay seated so the Secretary General can get on with his day and thank you so much sir.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you

Starr: It’s a pleasure, thank you so much.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.