Keynote speech

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the German Marshall Fund event: NATO at Seventy – Post-Cold War Enlargement and the Future of Transatlantic Security

  • 18 Mar. 2019 -
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  • Last updated 25-Mar-2019 10:13

(As delivered)

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, giving a speech at the "NATO at Seventy: Post-Cold War Enlargement and the Future of Transatlantic Security" Event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the US

Dear Ian, ministers, ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all thank you so much for hosting us today, and I know that you have already addressed the fact that this year is an important year for NATO for many different reasons. 12 Allies are celebrating the fact that they have joined the Alliance. We are also welcoming this year the new member, the Republic of North Macedonia as a member of the Alliance, and North Macedonia already participate in NATO meetings as an invitee. And then, of course, we also celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Alliance.

And then I celebrate that also that I became 60 just a few days ago. [applause] It’s actually nothing to celebrate, it’s serious matters. But actually, one more thing, and that is that last year or, no, back in 2017, we marked the fact that in 1947, we marked that it was 70 years since the Marshall Plan created in 1947. And this plan was a bold plan and a bold vision to rebuilt . . .  to rebuild Europe and to strengthen the transatlantic partnership. It paved the way for institutions like NATO, which have underpinned the transatlantic security and prosperity ever since. The GMF was also instrumental in driving the debate on enlargement and continues to encourage cooperation and innovation.

So this is really an ideal place to mark all these anniversaries. And let me just highlight that the GMF was, and has been, extremely important in driving the enlargement agenda. And many of you will remember that enlargement was not obvious. It was actually quite controversial in the 1990s. Many Allies were a bit reluctant, uncertain, and it was in no way given that NATO would embark on such a huge undertaking and to really open its door and go from 16 members to, today, almost 30 members of the Alliance. And many of you sitting in this audience have played a key role, instrumental part, of making that happen and I thank you for doing exactly that.

For most of Europe’s history, conflict was our constant companion. The last 70 years have been the exception and we should not take peace for granted. In 1949 our founding fathers had the vision not just to create NATO, but also to keep the Alliance’s door open – open to any European nation willing to promote NATO’s values and able to contribute to our shared security. NATO enlargement is not a provocation. And I say that because sometimes we hear that the fact that NATO has enlarged is a provocation against others. It’s not a provocation, it is a result of independent sovereign decisions by independent sovereign nations.

And we should never accept that when independent sovereign nations make independent and sovereign decisions that that’s a provocation against anyone else. If we accept that, we actually accept the old idea of spheres of influence, that big countries have the right to decide what other neighbours, smaller nations, can do. And I say that also very much as a Norwegian, because if anyone back in 1949 have asked Joseph Stalin whether he liked or disliked that Norway joined NATO, of course he would have said, ‘I disliked it.’ Actually he didn’t. Only this, as he actually . . . the Soviet Union was of the clear opinion that they didn’t like a neighbour, as Norway, to join the Alliance. But it is a fundamental right of every nation to decide its own path and NATO enlargement has been a great demonstration of that sovereign right to decide your own path.

Therefore NATO respect the right of every sovereign nation to decide their own destiny without force and without interference, whether they decide to join NATO, or they decide to not join NATO. We believe in a world without spheres of influence. Coming from a small country like Norway, as I just said, this is a fundamental and important principle. In 1989, that was the year when Europe was utterly transformed. It was the most striking change in Euro-Atlantic . . . in the Euro-Atlantic area in our generation: with Communism losing its grip and the ideals of democracy and free market economy taking hold; with nuclear disarmament promising to end a costly and dangerous arms race; and cooperation replacing confrontation. Change came through peaceful protests, through popular movements and through the bravery of countless men and women.

But change also involved hard choices and hard work to implement difficult reforms and put aside old disputes with neighbours, to invest in a better future for every citizens, to join a family where these countries felt they have always belonged.  NATO’s open door and the enlargement of the European Union have helped spread freedom and democracy and human rights. And we must continue to work hard every day to uphold those values. Let us remember that the Alliance do not stand in the way of strong and independent nations. NATO exists precisely to ensure the freedom and prosperity in which sovereign countries and peoples can thrive.

Today I’m happy to join you in celebrating 20 years since the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO. Fifteen years since Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia became members and ten years since Albania and Croatia joined the Alliance. All of your countries, and you’re all represented here today, have shown great commitment to our Alliance. You contribute brave and professional troops to our missions and operations, to fight terrorism and to maintain stability beyond our borders, from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Western Balkans. You shore up the eastern part of our Alliance from the Baltic to the Black Sea, hosting and contributing to NATO multinational forces. And many of you lead by example when it comes to burden sharing within our Alliance, already investing 2 percent of your GDP in defence.

 And let me just remind you of the fact that when we made the defence investment pledge back in 2014, that was after years of cutting defence spending across the Alliance, in Europe and also Canada had reduced defence spending over several years. What we have seen since we made that investment . . .  defence investment pledge back in 2014, is that now all Allies have stopped the cuts. All Allies have started to increase defence spending. And more and more allies meet the 2 percent goal. Back in 2014 only three Allies spent 2 percent of GDP on defence. This year, or 2018, seven Allies met the 2 percent target and Romania was extremely close.

The majority of NATO Allies have put forward plans, national plans on how to reach the 2 percent target. So we have really started to move, Allies are investing more in defence and just since 2016 European Allies and Canada have added 41 billion extra US dollars and we expect that number to be a 100 billion . . . 41 billion more US dollars since 2016, and we expect that number to be 100 billion extra US dollars for defence by the end of next year. So, and not least, those who have joined the last 20 years, the last two decades, have contributed to the increase in defence spending among European Allies. So we thank you for all your contributions.

We thank you for your contributions to our shared security, to our collective defence, and to many NATO missions and operations. NATO’s open door policy serves both our values and our interests. It is a positive driver for reform; it extends our shared area of peace and stability; and it enriches our Alliance with new voices, new experiences and new capabilities. Since 1989, NATO has almost doubled in size from 16 members during the Cold War to soon 30 friends and Allies.

During my tenure, I was proud to welcome Montenegro in 2017. And I was just as proud when we signed the accession protocol with the Republic of North Macedonia this February. This was possible because of the historic agreement between Athens and Skopje on the name issue, which ended almost three decades of dispute and promises greater stability and prosperity for the whole region. NATO’s door remains open. We continue to work with the three aspirant countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine, to bring them closer. This year of anniversaries is cause for celebration. At the same time we cannot be complacent. We cannot squander the hard-won gains of those who have came before us. They knew that history does not just happen, but that it takes courage and conviction to shape our world and defend our values.

Today in 2019, just as in 1949 and 1989, NATO is adapting to a more complex and unpredictable world. This is what has made us the most successful alliance in history, faced with the greatest security challenges in a generation, we are increasing the readiness of forces, investing more in our collective defence, and modernising our Alliance. We are doing more together, with more partners, in more places, than ever before. And that’s actually a paradox, because what we see now is that questions are raised about the strength of the transatlantic partnership on both sides of the Atlantic. Those questions are asked at the same time as we actually are doing more together, North America and Europe, than we have done for many years. The US is not decreasing its presence in Europe, but the US is actually increasing its presence in Europe, with more troops, more exercises, more funding for US presence, and more investments in infrastructure.

We are doing more together with the battlegroups in the Baltic countries, with the increased presence in the Black Sea region, adapting and strengthening the command structure, spending more and exercising more. And European Allies are stepping up. So the reality is that we are actually strengthening the transatlantic bond when it comes to security and defence. We are doing more together and actions speak louder than words. So we see the strength of the Alliance, just in times where we need a strong transatlantic bond to respond to a more unpredictable and uncertain world. So while the world around us has changed dramatically, our commitment to protect and defend one another has not.

NATO remains both an anchor of stability and a beacon of hope. Thank you so much.