Address to the National Assembly of Slovenia
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the National Assembly of Slovenia
President of National Assembly [Interpreted]: Members of parliament, government representatives, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome in our midst the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and his delegation. Welcome to the National Assembly, Mr Stoltenberg. I trust that, given your vast parliamentary experience, we all share the awareness of the role that the legislative branch of power that it is the parliaments have, when deciding on the guidelines for foreign and defence policies, which is why we are all eagerly looking forward to your speech. As you know, next year, the Republic of Slovenia shall be celebrating its 15 years of NATO membership, the result of a clearly voiced support at a national referendum, as well as of the determination of our country to share and live NATO values, that is the respect of democratic principles and human rights, as well as the ideals of personal freedom and the rule of law. These are times of complex international challenges, calling for concerted action and multi layered response. With all the advantages offered through our integration, we might have forgotten the reasons for the establishment of the Alliance, we might have forgotten also its basic purpose, that is the maintenance of international peace and security. Peace and security, both sine que non for undisturbed development of each and other country, can no longer be taken for granted. Today, we need to strive for them, to contribute to them, working in hand in hand with our partners. Not all the political parties in Slovenia see the role and importance of the North Atlantic Alliance with the same pair of eyes, still we exchange our opinions and views in an open and honest dialogue. Nevertheless, the position of the Republic of Slovenia is clear; Slovenia is and remains a credible, reliable and responsible Ally. The National Assembly's declaration on the foreign policy clearly says that NATO, together with other mechanisms of collective security in Europe and the world, remains our fundamental security framework. Slovenia is also, because of its own experiences, very much aware that the European and Atlantic perspective of the Western Balkan states is a must for all who wish to have such a perspective, as well as for all of us who wish that our future generations to enjoy peace, prosperity and progress. This is why we are ardently convinced that the Alliance undoubtedly needs to extend to all the countries in the region, who strive for integration, who see their future within the Alliance and who are willing to adopt and implement all the reforms needed on their path to a fully fledged membership, in order to reach integration goals and become members of NATO, as well as the EU.
Members of Parliament, distinguished guests, at this point it gives me great honour to give the floor to Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO. The floor is yours.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, President of the National Assembly, Members of Parliament, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, first of all I'm really honoured to be here and let me start by saying dober dan. I appreciate to be here for many reasons. Slovenia is a highly valued member of our Alliance, but I also have to tell you that I have fond memories of my visits to Ljubljana when I was child in the 1960s and the 1970s, because my family used to live in the former Yugoslavia, and then we travelled around here many, many times, and I came to Ljubljana many times and I have very fond memories from Ljubljana. So, therefore it's always a great pleasure and honour to be back here.
We are grateful for the contributions Slovenia is making to NATO and to our shared security. You contribute to the Alliance in many different ways. You are part of our mission in Afghanistan, making sure that Afghanistan will never again become a safe haven for international terrorists. And actually, earlier today I saw your Special Operation Forces in an exercise, or in a display, and I saw the quality and I saw the professionalism of your Special Operation Forces, some of which have served in Afghanistan. You are also present in Kosovo, in KFOR, helping to make sure that we keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo. I would also like to thank you for your contributions to our Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic countries. You have been part of the NATO battlegroup in Latvia. And I know that you also, in a few days, will participate in the biggest exercise, the biggest NATO exercise in many years, the Trident Juncture in Norway, with important capabilities from the Slovenia defence or armed forces. I would also like to mention that last time I went to Skopje, I met the head of the NATO mission in Skopje, who is from Slovenia, and it also highlights how you are focused on and playing a key role in addressing the challenges we see in the south east of Europe, and addressing the challenges we see and the partnership we have with Skopje.
I say all of this because it is important that we understand the strength of NATO. And the strength of NATO is that we are an Alliance of 29 democracies, where we stand together and protect each other, and NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because we have been able to stand together, we have been able to be united, and we have been able to change and adapt when the world is changing. And now, once again, we need to show that, in an unpredictable and more unsecure world, security environment, we need to once again prove that we are able to stand together and able to adapt. Because our security environment is changing, therefore NATO has to change. Let me just briefly remind you of the fact that for 40 years NATO actually did only one thing, and that was to provide collective defence, deterrence in Europe, against the Soviet Union. And then the Soviet Union was dissolved, the Warsaw Pact disappeared, and people started to ask whether we needed NATO anymore, because the main reason why we existed, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, stopped… or ceased to exist. And it was stated that either NATO has to go out of area, so meaning out of the NATO territory, or NATO had to go out of business. And while we were discussing that, NATO decided to go out of area. And we have to remember… or I think we all have to remember that the first time NATO went beyond our own borders, the first time NATO engaged in any military operations, was in the Balkans, helping to end wars in the south east of Europe. NATO forces, NATO operations, NATO missions, were key to ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We played a key role in stopping the actions of the Milošević regime, with our air campaign in Serbia and Kosovo. And we also had troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to help to prevent armed conflict in that part of this region. So, in the 90s and the beginning of 2000, we actually played an essential role in stabilising, ending conflicts, in this part of the region, of Europe. We made also progress by not only helping to stabilise and to end conflicts, but also through the fact that NATO was enlarged, new members joined the Alliance, and Slovenia joined, Croatia joined, Albania joined, and now last year, Montenegro joined as the 29th member of the Alliance. And the enlargement of NATO has been a great success, because it has contributed to peace, stability and democracy in Europe, and by providing stability, security, the enlargement of NATO has also been important for prosperity and economic growth, because peace, stability and security is essential if we want investments, growth and economic development. We also went beyond our borders, not only into the Western Balkans or the south east of Europe, but we went beyond our borders also to fight terrorism. Afghanistan, that was a direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. And we have been there since, to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again. We are in Afghanistan to protect ourselves, because if we allow countries to become safe havens for international terrorists, where they can train, plan, and launch attacks against us, then we are more unsecure. That’s also the reason why we are part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and why we welcome the enormous progress we have made, because we have to remember that back in 2014/15, ISIS was able to control big parts of Syria and Iraq, actually threatening Baghdad, and they controlled a territory bigger… or the same size of the United Kingdom, and they controlled a population of about eight million people. So, that was a real threat. And then NATO Allies, in the US led Coalition to Defeat ISIS, have made a lot of progress and at least denied ISIS control of territory. The fight against ISIS is not over, but we have made enormous progress by achieving the military progress on the ground, which we have seen in Syria and Iraq.
So, for many years, NATO was less focused on collective defence in Europe and more focused on crisis management beyond our borders, in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, Iraq, and in fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa. But now NATO has to adapt, because what we see now is that we not only see the turmoil and the violence in our southern neighbourhood, but we also see a more assertive Russia being responsible for using military force against neighbours, in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. And therefore, NATO is adapting once again. And we have, over the last years, since 2014, implemented the biggest adaptation of our Alliance since the end of the Cold War, with higher readiness of our forces, with for the first time to deploy NATO forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, in the Baltic countries and Poland, and we have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, we have established what we call the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. So, not only have we increased the military presence, but we have also enabled or increased our ability to reinforce quickly, if needed. Because the strength of NATO is that we are able to deter any adversary, sending a clear message that if one Ally is attacked then the whole Alliance will be there. And the reason why that is important is not because we want to provoke conflict, but we strongly believe that deterrence, a strong and credible defence, is the best way to prevent conflict. And that’s the success of NATO. We have had 70 years, or more than 70 years… no, 70 years of peace in the part of Europe which NATO has been responsible for. And it's hard to find any historic period, in the history of Europe, with such a long period of peace and stability. And that’s very much because of the security guarantees and the strength of the Alliance, that we protect each other.
So, NATO is adapting and Slovenia is part of that. But to adapt to this more demanding security environment, with the more assertive Russia, with instability to the south, fight terrorism, but also address new challenges like cyber threats, we need to invest more in defence. And therefore, NATO Allies agreed in 2014 to what we call the Defence Investment Pledge, and that is a pledge to stop the cuts, start to increase, and then move toward spending 2% of GDP within a decade, meaning by 2024. The good news is that, after years of cutting defence spending across Europe and Canada, all Allies have started to increase. More Allies meet the 2% target. When we made the pledge in 2014, only three Allies spent 2% of GDP, Gross Domestic Product, on defence. This year, we expect eight Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence. And the majority of NATO Allies have put forward plans to reach 2% by 2024. But we still… so, that’s good news, we are making progress, we have made a significant shift. But we still have a long way to go, because we know that some countries are far away from 2%. And Slovenia is among those. And you are aware of that, spending just above 1%. And therefore, I urge you to invest more. It is in your interests. It is in the interest of us to invest more in our security, because we live in a more unpredictable and demanding security environment.
I have been a politician myself for many years. I've been a Member of Parliament since 1990, Prime Minister for ten years, and I know that it's hard to spend money on defence, because most politicians, they prefer to invest in education, in infrastructure, in health, not investing in defence. And if there's going to be more money for defence, it's something… it's less money for something else. That’s the brutal reality. So therefore, most voters and most politicians, they prefer to speak about spending more on education, health, infrastructure. Or cutting taxes. Because that makes them popular. Perhaps not in Slovenia, but at least in most other countries. But sometimes political leaders have to tell what is necessary, and now it's necessary to invest more in defence. And I have told many politicians when I… back in the 1990s, I was Minister of Finance in Norway and I was responsible for cutting defence budgets. I know exactly how to do it. I'm very good at that actually. But if we are cutting defence spending when tensions are going down, as they did in the 1990s, because in the 1990s that was the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was dissolved, the Warsaw Pact didn’t exist anymore, and we made closer and closer cooperation… or we achieved a closer and closer relationship with Russia, so then it was responsible to reduce defence spending. But now tensions are going up. So, if we are able to cut defence spending when tensions are going down, we have to be able to reduce tensions… sorry, invest more in defence when tensions are going up. And again, I understand it's not easy, but it is not fair that some Allies invest 2% and more to protect the other Allies. We are together in this, so we are protecting each other. And now, since I'm coming from a small country, I also know that some small countries, they think that they can hide behind the big ones. That’s not possible. We have good statistics and everyone can read, so therefore the brutal reality is that there is a need to do more and I welcome the fact that Slovenia has announced… that Slovenia has stopped the cuts and that Slovenia has started to increase and that we have started to move in the right direction and that you have made clear that you will do more. So, you have a good start, but I hope and urge you to do even more in the coming years.
Slovenia is also important because of your good geographic location, and you have knowledge, you have understanding of the challenges we face in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo, and also the challenges related to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And just to share with you some reflections on the challenges we face, I would like to tell you that I visited Skopje not so many… a couple of weeks ago, no, no, early in September, and I told them that we welcome the name agreement with Greece. And I believe that the name agreement with Greece is an historic opportunity, once in a lifetime opportunity for the country to join NATO. That’s good for them, it's good for the region, and it's good for NATO. They had the referendum, almost… so more than 90% voted yes, but as we all know, the turnout was too low. Now, it is for the parliament and the government in Skopje to decide the next steps, that’s for them to decide, not for me to decide, or NATO to decide. But what I can tell them is that if they implement the name agreement with Greece, and changing the name into Northern… the Republic of Northern Macedonia, which is part of the deal, then we are ready to sign the accession protocol. We have already started the accession negotiations, sign the accession protocol, and they can be a member very soon. But there is no other way. There is no other way to join the Alliance. We need an agreement on the name issue.
We saw the outcome of the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We… Bosnia and Herzegovina is a partner of NATO. We are working with them, supporting them in their ambitions for Euro-Atlantic integration and we are also considering when we are ready to activate what we call the Membership Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, to move closer to NATO membership.
In Kosovo, we are following the situation very closely. We have the presence of the NATO forces there and I think they play an important role in Kosovo, helping to keep a safe and secure environment. I have promised to have some time for some questions, so I will be… I will not address all issues in my introduction, but I’m ready to answer some questions at the end. The last thing I will say is that I know the importance of parliament in shaping defence and security policies. As I told you, I've been a member of parliament for many years myself. Parliaments are important, because you are the basis for governments and you provide the guidelines, the framework for any government in conducting foreign and security… defence and security policy, and of course you make the important and vital decisions on budgets. So, I meet mostly the government and the ministers, but I know that, at the end of the day, the parliament decides. The parliament decides what kind of government, what kind of policies and what kind of budgets. So therefore, I am extremely grateful that I had this opportunity to meet with you all today, to say some words about NATO and how NATO is responding to a more challenging security environment, because I know that you, as individual members of the parliament, are actually those who make decisions in a democratic society as Slovenia. Thank you so much.
President of National Assembly [Interpreted]: Secretary General, thank you for your thoughts. The parliament is very much aware that much depends on our actions. Even though we are a small country, we are a responsible country and we wish to contribute in different manners. Ladies and Gentlemen, Secretary General agreed that he might address two questions from the political groups. This is all that time allows. These questions will be posed by the representatives of the largest coalition and the largest opposition political parties. I propose that first both the questions are asked and then we have the answers. So, I would first like to give the floor to Branko Grims on behalf of Slovenia Democratic Party.
Question [Branko Grims - Slovenia Democratic Party] [Interpreted]: Thank you very much for the floor. Secretary General, Your Excellencies, and everybody here present, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to pose my question.
Well, Europe today is faced with different challenges that we dared to imagine 15 years ago when we became members of NATO. Today, more and more people are aware that mass migrations, coupled also with extremism, call for certain actions, and within such conditions it is important that NATO functions on the basis of consensus and solidarity. Russia is a special force that with which we have to establish contact as best as we can, so that we preserve a balance and security for the whole of Europe. This is only possible however on the basis of solidarity and consensus. But sadly, we see quite a lot of infringements there and this is why I would like to know, what is the Secretary General's view on the current relations between NATO and Russia? And how do you look at the NATO members that do not abide by the NATO agreed decisions regarding Russia? What are the possible security and political repercussions of the infringements of NATO actions, standards and policies, for the individual infringing member states, as well as for NATO? And I'm here of course referring to Russia.
President of National Assembly [Interpreted]: Thank you very much for this question. The second question is going to be posed by the representatives of the largest coalition party, Dari Krichich (?)The floor is yours.
Man [Interpreted]: Thank you for the floor. Colleagues, Members of Government, State Secretaries, Secretary General, it is very important for Slovenia that we live in a secure environment, and one of the important players, when it comes to security, is definitely FYROM. Not so long ago, the delegation of the National Assembly visited FYROM and during this visit, we supported the government in its consultative referendum. So, the support was given to the government, to the parliament. We also met with the opposition party then. We know that the NATO representative is a Slovene national, he is Zoran Janković, but not the Mayor of Ljubljana mind you. And before him, the Head of the NATO Liaison Office again was a Slovene, Gorazd Bartol, and I know that they both do their jobs really well. When it comes to FYROM, we all know that FYROM plays an important role when it comes to stopping migrationary routes, and Slovenia is there with a small contingent. So, we would like to know what your view is on the role played by FYROM, in guaranteeing security in this part of Europe, and Europe in general? What are Macedonia's prospects for NATO membership, given the fact that the referendum was not successful? Do you think that cyberwar has a play in it and have you detected any elements of cyberwar in this regard? Also, in Macedonia's endeavours to become a NATO membership?
President of National Assembly [Interpreted]: Thank you very much for your question. Mr Stoltenberg, the floor is yours.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First, on the question of… on Russia; so, NATO has what we call a dual track approach to Russia, deterrence, defence, combined with dialogue. We need to be firm and predictable in our approach to Russia, especially since we, over the last years, have seen a more assertive Russia, a Russia which has invested heavily in new military capabilities, in the full spectrum of capabilities, including new nuclear forces. And we also see that they are exercising the full spectrum of their capabilities, in larger and larger military exercises. And we see not only that they have invested in new military capabilities and exercised new military capabilities, but we see also that they have been willing to use military force against neighbours; Georgia and Ukraine. And on top of that, we also are deeply concerned about the fact that Russia is developing a new missile, which we believe the most plausible explanation is that they are actually violating the INF Treaty, the treaty that prohibits all intermediate nuclear forces in Europe, and this treaty is extremely important and it's now undermined by the behaviour of Russia. And we have also seen that not only did they develop military capabilities, but they also use what we call hybrid tactics. We saw the Skripal case with a nerve agent used at… in the United Kingdom. We have seen the failed coup attempt in Montenegro. And we recently, last week we actually saw… I think you can just go on the internet, you can just look at the pictures, it was very clearly exposed how Russia is trying to undermine important international institutions, like the OPCW, the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which played a key role in assessing the Skripal case, but also the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They have tried to interfere or meddle with [inaudible] and also the institution that works or investigated into the MH17, downing of the plane over Ukraine some years ago. So, we have seemed attempts to meddle in democratic processes, undermining political institutions, we have seen attacks against critical infrastructure, so we see all of this from Russia. This is of great concern. So, therefore NATO, as I said, has responded with high readiness of our forces, strengthening our cyber defences, investing more in defence, and deployment of our forces, to send a clear message to any potential adversary that we are there to protect and defend all Allies, and we will never accept anything similar to what happened in Ukraine, against a NATO Ally. That’s important for Allies to know. I come from a country bordering Russia and of course, we totally depend on the security guarantees of NATO. Having said that, I also believe in dialogue with Russia, and NATO believes in dialogue with Russia. Because Russia is there to stay, Russia is our biggest neighbour, and for me there is no contradiction between a firm, a strong predictable approach to Russia and to, at the same time, work for a better relationship with Russia, through political dialogue. Russia will not disappear. Russia will be there. And therefore, also very much based on my own experience from Norway, it's absolutely possible to reach out, to work for improved relationships, as long as Russia doesn’t misunderstand or mispercept it as a sign of weakness. So, I know that when… in Norway, we were able to develop… I would call it a good working relationship with Russia, even… or the Soviet Union, even during the coldest period of the Cold War, not despite NATO but because of NATO, because NATO provided the strength, the platform, to be able to engage in a political dialogue with Russia. And I think that in NATO it's the right approach that we do the same, partly to try to get a better relationship with Russia, to make them abide by the international arms control agreements, to make them stop interfering in domestic political processes, in different NATO Allied countries, and… or in… or undermining international institutions. But even without an improved relationship with Russia, I think it is important that we have dialogue with Russia, because we need to manage a difficult relationship. With more military presence, with more exercises, we need to avoid miscalculations, misunderstandings, that can create really dangerous situations. So, our approach to Russia is this combination of defence and dialogue, believing that’s the only way to improve the relationship and, as long as we are not able to improve the relationship, we need to handle a difficult relationship, and also that requires dialogue.
Then on FYROM, and actually both of you mentioned also the question of… FYROM, sorry, FYROM. No, FYROM is very close to become a member of NATO, but to become a member of NATO, they need to agree the name deal. And that’s not for me to decide, that’s for them to decide. And you know that they need a two third majority in the parliament to change the constitution, they announced that they will ask for such a vote. If they have the majority, well then they have overcome the most important obstacles… obstacle in implementing the name deal. If they don’t get the two third majority then my understanding, based on what they have announced, is that they will consider to have a new election. But again, this is for them to decide, them… so, the political authorities of Skopje to decide and to announce. We can only speak or tell them what NATO will do, and we will then invite them and sign the accession protocol when the name agreement is fully implemented. Regardless of that, we of course welcome the partnership with FYROM, and that’s also a partnership which is important not only for the country, but for the whole region.
I think actually now I need to end, because I have been here, I think, longer than the protocol told me to be, and it's important to respect protocol, so I thank you so much once again for allowing me to meet with the parliament and I thank you for the strong contribution of Slovenia to our Alliance. Thank you so much and all the best. Thank you.