Conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Brussels Forum

  • 27 Jun. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Aug. 2019 10:22

(As delivered)

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: It's my pleasure to introduce the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: So, again, my name is Kevin Baron, I'm the Executive Editor of Defense One.  We are a news website in Washington.  I'm a Pentagon reporter for shorthand, to give you some sense of where I'm coming from.  And there's a lot going on this week, with the new date for Brussels Forum, we are overlapping with a NATO Defence Ministerial meeting, the first one for the new Acting Secretary of Defense in the United States, Mark Esper.  It comes amid a whole lot of news going on.  The Secretary General has been talking to the press and doing his stand ups actively in the last couple of days.  We have the INF Treaty deadline looming, August 2nd.  We have an Iran crisis, or semi-crisis, whatever you want to make of that, going on in the background.  We've got Russia, we've got spending, we've got a lot of things to get through.  We have 35 minutes to do it all.  So, we're going to talk a little bit, but this is a group event.  We’re a family here, so if you have questions, think of them.  If one of us says something that catches your eye, please shoot your hand up and wave it vigorously and, if I really like how you look, I'll call on you and we'll get something going.  Mr Secretary General, let's start with INF.  We had General Wolters here, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander, which is the greatest job title in the world by the way, just here and I asked him a question that I'll put to you, because I thought of something you said this week.  The concern now is that, if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance with INF, it's over on August 2nd.  And my question is, what happens on August 3rd?  You’ve talked about the concerns with these SSC-8 missiles that you’ve said are very fast, they're mobile, you're not going to know if they're conventional or nuclear-tipped.  Therefore, what do you do about them?  And you said there are a lot of options that are being considered, all of which, being NATO, are supposed to defensive.  Would a pre-emptive strike on those locations also fall into that bucket of defensive?  If so, if not, what are NATO's options?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well I think you have to understand that our main focus now is to try to bring Russia back into compliance.  I admit that the likelihood of that happening is actually going down every day, because the time window for them to come back into compliance is becoming shorter and shorter.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Is there any sign whatsoever Russia will do this?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, but I think this treaty is so important, so I think we have an obligation to try to save the treaty, but the only way to save the treaty is for Russia to come back into compliance.  And the INF Treaty is not just one arms control treaty; it's a cornerstone, landmark treaty and I am part of a political generation in Europe that was very much shaped… my political understanding of security and defence issues were very much shaped by the discussion we had in Europe in the 1980s about the deployment of new nuclear missiles.  The SS-20 was the Russian missiles back then and the NATO or US Pershing and cruise missiles.  And I had to admit to you that I actually demonstrated against all of them in the 80s, as many other young people did in Europe in the 80s.  And therefore, it was such a great achievement when we got the INF Treaty, because the INF Treaty didn’t only reduce the number of missiles, it actually banned all of them.  So, for decades, there has been zero land-based intermediate-range weapon systems in Europe.  And that has been a great thing for our security and it has proven that arms control works.  We are all safer when we have effective arms control.  And that’s also the reason why we are so focused on the message to Russia that they are doing something which is very wrong, for all of us, when they now, over actually several years, have deployed these new SSC-8 missile, which is then putting the whole treaty in jeopardy.  And, also the reason why all NATO Allies support the US decision to announce that they will withdraw on 2nd August unless Russia comes back into compliance.  So, that’s our main message.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Right, well… and that’s fine.  And that’s until August 2nd.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yeah.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: But August 3rd, if there's no… it's either strike those batteries or just deterrence.  Do you have any trust in deterrence working?  And I ask that because, something I said to the General as well, deterrence doesn’t seem to be working in places like Ukraine, where Russia keeps putting more troops, more equipment, more weaponry, more information ops.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: But for NATO and for NATO Allies, and for the close to one billion people living in NATO, deterrence works every day.  And it has worked every day for 70 years.  Because the whole purpose of deterrence is to make sure that no NATO Ally is attacked.  And we deliver credible deterrence by sending a clear message to any potential adversary that if one NATO Ally is attacked, the whole Alliance will respond.  And by doing that, we actually preserve the peace.  The idea of deterrence is not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict.  So, it's extremely successful.  It has worked for 70 years and it is going to work for many more years, as long as we are united, strong and credible.  Then of course we will respond, and that was the big decision we made at the Defence Ministerial meeting yesterday.  And that was to say that, if Russia does not come back into compliance, we will respond.  We are considering different measures. I mentioned yesterday conventional of course, air missile defence, exercises, new initiatives on arms control, and so on.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: When you say conventional, do you mean adding more conventional capabilities to NATO countries or do you mean conventional response?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I say conventional because… what do you mean by response?  I mean it's not that, you know, we will have a conflict on 3rd August, but what will happen 2nd August is that the INF Treaty will cease to exist.  There will be no more INF Treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear weapons.  And, for instance, Secretary Esper, the new US Secretary of Defense, he stated, or he has told the media today that the US has started to do some research and develop a new intermediate-range ground-launched missile, meaning that that missile…

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Also violates the treaty.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Will violate or would have violated the treaty if it was developed and deployed before the treaty expires.  So, this is kind of preparations for a world without the treaty. 

We have not started to implement.  We have not started to do anything which is in violation of the treaty, but we have started to prepare for a world without the treaty, so we can react, respond.  But we will respond in a defensive, measured way.  Because we are not seeking conflict; our aim is still to reduce tensions, but at the same time maintain credible deterrence, deterrence also in a world with more Russian missiles and without the INF Treaty.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: And now there's one more meeting to come, between now and that date now, with Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Again, our main message is…

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: When is that meeting?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: We will have a meeting in NATO-Russia Council next Friday, 5th July, and that demonstrates what we call the dual-track approach of NATO towards Russia.  We believe in deterrence, defence, but at the same time we believe in dialogue with Russia.  Because Russia is our neighbour, Russia is there to stay, and we need to strive for a better relationship with Russia.  In this case, raise and discuss the INF issue and call on them for the last time to come back into compliance. 

But I also think it's important to have dialogue with Russia, even if we don’t think it is possible to improve the relationship in the short term, we need to manage a difficult relationship.  With more missiles, with more weapons, with higher tensions, we need to avoid that incidents and accidents happen, and that they spiral out of control and create a really dangerous situation.  So, we need dialogue both to improve the relationship, but even without a better relationship we need to manage a difficult relationship, and that’s the reason why we have the NATO-Russia Council next week, and the main focus from our side is the INF Treaty and Russia's responsibility to … [inaudible].

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: On Friday 5th?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yeah.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: There goes my July 4th holiday weekend, thanks.  OK, moving on with time, and if you want to come back to this topic, feel free, we'll come back.  Afghanistan was today's meeting as well.  I often say, when I come back here, Afghanistan used to be a much bigger topic for NATO and for the world, it tends to get put on the backburner in people's minds, but it's there and NATO has a role to continue it's training mission, continue the fighting and the security mission, working toward peace.  Two questions: What was discussed today?  What's going forward?  I think there's a funding commitment through 2024, there's another year of troops that are committed.  But what happens beyond that?  And the context in my mind is… back in the United States, last night and tonight are the first Democratic Presidential debates.  At least half a dozen of those candidates have signed on to a pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan, a pretty blanket, not too… you know, substantive pledge.  But that’s not the mindset of a big chunk of the American population and a lot of the European population as well.  So, talk about how much time you think there is, political time, and patience, to get to these… the goal that you're seeking.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, what we discussed today is the peace process, because we are now closer to a peace agreement in Afghanistan than we have ever been before.  I am not saying that we are certain that there will a peace deal, but at least there are some real talks taking place between United States and Taliban, and the United States is closely consulting, discussing these negotiations with all their Allies and partners who are together with them in Afghanistan.  Because we have to remember that Afghanistan is… as we have been there for close to 20 years and the United States has been there, but roughly 40% to 50% of the troops have been non-US NATO Allies and partners.  There have been tens of thousands of Europeans, Canadians, partner nations, participating and they still are, in Afghanistan. 

We all support the peace efforts, but we strongly believe that the best way to support those peace efforts is to stay committed, to send a message to the Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield, so they have to sit down at the negotiating table and to try to find a solution.  So, the paradox is that the more we commit now to stay for a long time, the more likely it is that we can leave with a peace deal.  The less committed we are, the more likely it is that we'll be forced to stay because there'll be no peace deal and no stable development in Afghanistan.  So, the strong commitment to stay for a long time is actually the best way to leave in an orderly, good way, as part of a peace agreement. 

Having said that, I think that even with the peace deal, there may be a need for… or it is likely that there will be need for support, train, assist and advise, funding for the Afghan government, but that will then be part of a peace process where NATO will continue to do whatever we can to support a peaceful development in Afghanistan.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: OK.  I hear you.  We've heard you.  We've heard a lot of those reasons before, but you know the criticism of that; that this is a self-defeating policy.  To keep in Afghanistan, American and foreign troops, NATO troops, to keep fighting that… this carrot that’s being dangled in front of the forerunners of peace, just isn’t real and it's just not making a difference.  It's not worth the cost, it's not worth the blood, and some type of withdrawal may still lead you to peace, but at least it would save lives, it could change the dynamic somehow.  Do you just completely reject that?  Do you understand the frustration that comes behind that?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I understand that people are frustrated because it's a tough task to stay in Afghanistan for 18 years, and the Afghan people and the NATO Allies, the partners, they have paid a high price in blood and pressure by staying there.  But you have to compare the cost of staying with the cost of leaving, and I am absolutely certain that just to leave, the cost of that, without a peace agreement, is higher than the cost of staying.  And because we have to remember why we went into Afghanistan: we went into Afghanistan because Afghanistan was a safe haven for international terrorists, organising attacks against United States, 9/11, but also Madrid, London, other NATO Allies and partner countries. 

There are many problems, there are many things that are not as we want to see them in Afghanistan: instability, violence, corruption, many problems, but at least Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for international terrorists.  And that’s a huge achievement compared to where we were in 2001. 

The second big achievement is that we have actually been able to train and build an Afghan army, which is now taking responsibility for security in their own country. 

You know, not many years ago, we were 140,000 NATO troops in a big combat operation, high casualty numbers.  Now we are 16,000 troops in mainly a train, assist and advise operation.  And the Afghans are on the frontline, they are fighting the Taliban, they are fighting ISIS Khorasan.  So, we are helping them, but they are really carrying the heaviest burden, because we have enabled them to do so. 

The last thing I will say is that, well, we have been fighting Daesh.  We had also a meeting today, also at the margins of the NATO Ministerial, of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh.  I think it's obvious that we needed a strong military effort to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria.  And of course it will be a big tragedy if we allow the caliphate they lost in Iraq and Syria to be re-established in Afghanistan.  So, that’s another reason to stay in Afghanistan and to make sure that they cannot move to Afghanistan and re-establish that caliphate.  So yes, we will be in Afghanistan and that’s the best way to find an agreement that enables us to reduce and eventually also one day leave.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: So, thank you for all those reasons and explanations.  We talked a little back stage, I want to transition you into messaging, meaning… a lot of people in the room, I'm sure, have heard this, defence and international security community folks have heard, they know what the reasons are for staying in Afghanistan.  It's not reaching the public with the same, you know, with the same effect.  You and I last spoke, the Secretary and I last spoke in Washington in the fall, you came over to speak at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative American think tank, maybe not as influential with this Administration as it has been in the past, but an influential place, to give a speech that was, we said at the time, pretty basic.  It was pretty, this is what NATO is, this is what the Alliance does, this is who we are.  It was a really kind of back to school for why we have this Alliance and why it matters.  Then cut to April and the Secretary General was invited to speak at a joint session of Congress, a rare invitation.  It was a pretty big moment, again for our community, maybe not as much for the general public.  But a similar message, pretty basic, a little deeper, getting out there a little more.  But just two weeks ago, I was looking through your transcripts and you were in Iceland and got the same kind of question, so if the United States really committed to NATO?  Is President Trump really committed to NATO?  Is Article 5 really going to happen?  It seems you're still fighting that fight.  What kind of progress are you seeing, specific to… not just President Trump, but the Transatlantic relationship and the trust among NATO Alliances… NATO members?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, I think, first of all, we see that President Trump, the US Administration and the Congress – bipartisan - express again and again strong support to NATO, so there is no doubt that the position, the language, the words are about supporting NATO.  But then, this is not only in words, but also in deeds, because we see that the United States is increasing their military presence in Europe and I think it's harder to… it's not possible to have any stronger expression of Alliance solidarity that actually the United States is spending more money, sending more troops, pre-positioning more equipment in Europe than they did before.  So, that’s concrete and it's deeds, showing that this is a real commitment.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Is that different… a year ago, at the NATO Summit, you know, there were op-eds being written in our own publication, this is going to be the end of NATO, that Trump in one tweet is going to dismantle the entire Alliance.  Are we in a different place now, a year later, or is there still that angst?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, first of all, we were not there a year ago and we are not there now.  Because I have been much more secure about the strength of our Alliance than some of those commentators who have questioned the strength.  Having said that, my message, both in Washington and in Europe, is that it's not written in stone that this Alliance will last forever.  It requires commitment, political will, and decisions every day by Europeans and North Americans to uphold the Alliance.  So, if we don’t do that, it will not exist. 

But my message is that it is in the interest of Europe of course to have the North Atlantic… the transatlantic partnership, but my main message in the United States is also that it's in the interest of the United States, because it is good to have friends, as I told Congress.  It is a great advantage for the Untied States, being a superpower, to have 28 [sic], soon 29 [sic] Allies and friends. Two world wars, the Cold War, taught us that.  Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism has shown that. 

But in the United States now, many are concerned about the size of China, the economic size, the military size, technology and all that.  If you are concerned about size, then you should keep European Allies onboard, because then we are by far bigger than China.  So yes, maybe we should be concerned about the size of China, but then you should not divide our family.  Then we should stick together, because then actually we are together much bigger than China.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Thank you for mentioning China, you're reminding… I'm reminding myself to mention; on the way in, I was talking to Laura Rosenberger, who said I can drop her name, from GMF, who just came back from China and she said she noted and remarked that the conversation there is that they see that there is a rift in the transatlantic alliance, between the US and Europe, and it's an opportunity for China to get into.  Whether there is a rift or not, that’s the perception of the Chinese, of a lot of those commentators from last year who were writing those articles.  What else… let's make… we'll make this our last comment, before we go to the audience.  What else needs to be done, do you think, either from the Americans or from the other Alliance members, to fight that perception?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think partly it helps to be honest about that there are real disagreements.  To try to say that there are no problems, everything is fine, that will be wrong.  Because there are real disagreements between NATO Allies.  On issues like climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, trade issues and also, to some extent, about burden-sharing - whether European Allies are doing enough.  But having said that, I think we also have to remember that we have seen differences between NATO Allies before.  I think I mentioned in the Congress that we had the Suez Crisis in 56.  I was not born then, but I guess the atmosphere in NATO was not very good when we had the Suez Crisis and Allies were totally divided.  Or in the 1960s, from 1966 to 1967, NATO had to leave Paris and France, that was our Headquarters and we moved to Brussels because France left the military cooperation.  Or in 2003, when we had a big disagreement on the Iraq War.  So, we have seen disagreements before, but the strength of NATO is that, despite these disagreements, we have always been able to overcome them and stay united around what is NATO's core task, to defend and protect each other.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: Well…

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: And that’s exactly what we see today too.  Yes, there are disagreements, but actually the paradox is that we disagree on many issues, but we do more together in NATO.  We have strengthened our deterrence and defence, more troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, increased defence spending, higher readiness.  So, when you look at the defence and security area, North America and Europe are doing more together now than for many decades.  So, the paradox is that yes, there are rifts, but when it comes to the defence and security cooperation it's very solid.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: OK.  I'm going to get up and walk the room and look for questions.  The reason I brought the rift question up also is because of I guess news from the week about the current Iran situation and European Allies basically not trusting the intelligence from the Americans yet, or wanting to see more of it at least before committing to that action, may be similar to the 2003.

Question [GMF]: Bruce Stokes of the German Marshall Fund.  Mr Secretary General, a number of public opinion polls have shown that, while there is commitment by the United States public to live up to its Article 5 commitments, the German public in particular does not adhere to that.  They are not willing to go to the defence of a NATO Ally if attacked by Russia.  And there is not good support in Britain either.  I'm just curious, what do you attribute that to and what can be done to change that public opinion?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: When we look at the opinion polls, they vary and they fluctuate a bit, but the overall picture is that the support for NATO is actually stronger than it has been for many years, if we look at opinion polls and support for NATO. 

Second, I think that… for instance, in my own country, in Norway, there has always been a… some people have been heavily against NATO.  But that’s the case in democracies.  If you have democracies, there will be different opinions.  And again, the only way to maintain this Alliance is that you can go to the people, ask them to support and vote for parties which are in favour of NATO, and as long as they do that, NATO will survive.  And I'm quite confident that that will be the case also in the future.  But we have to, in a way, fight that fight every day, because we have to tell them that NATO actually provides security. 

What makes me certain about, for instance a country like Germany, is that now also Germany is doing more.  You know it's a historic thing that we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, and one of the battlegroups is led by Germany, in Lithuania.  It has never happened before.  So, it's impossible to think about a stronger commitment of Germany to the collective defence of Europe than that they have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance.  So, I am not saying that opinion polls don’t matter, but actually the readiness of the German forces in the eastern part of the Alliance is the strongest possible message that Germany is part of the collective defence of Europe and part of NATO.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: OK.  Anna, next.  A question from Sweden.

Question [Atlantic Council]: Anna Wieslander with the Atlantic Council in Stockholm.  I wanted to turn north, because we’ve been discussing the South a lot, and if we look at the Arctic, there is a rise in great power competition there. Russia has been modernising and building up its military presence. We have China coming in on research, economic, also building icebreakers, preparing.  And at the same time, NATO, as an institution, has not been that much involved in the Arctic.  There has been the responsibility of specific NATO countries, such as your own country, Norway, and Canada, the US, but will this change?  I mean, will this be enough in the future, when we look at the Arctic being part of this global strategic competition?  You also had the big Trident Juncture exercise this fall.  Do you have any experiences from that, that you would like to share with us?  What's the NATO thinking on the Arctic?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: The Arctic is important.  It has always been important and it's becoming more and more important.  Partly because ice is melting, so we will have new sea lanes of communication - the Northeast Passage which, whether we like it or not, that’s the reality. 

And the Arctic is also becoming more important because we have, as you said, more military presence, especially Russia is building up, but we also see some more presence of China in the North. 

Then, NATO has also increased its presence and I think we have to remember that NATO… we are NATO, the Allies are NATO.  So yes, Canada, United States, they are NATO and they are present in the Arctic.  UK, Norway, Denmark, are actually building up their maritime capabilities, new frigates, new maritime patrol aircraft, investing in new submarines, operating in the North. 

So, NATO has increased and is increasing its presence in the North.  At the same time, and that’s the challenge, that’s the balance, is that we want to be present, we want to show strength and a firm attitude, but at the same time we don’t want high tensions, we don’t want to escalate.  I think it's a good idea that in the High North we have low tensions.  And even if we don’t have that to the same degree as we had before, I think also in the High North we see some unique cooperation between NATO Allies and Russia, in the Arctic Council and also in the Barents Cooperation, Sweden is part of that.  And I always… often refer to my own experience from Norway: even during the coldest period of the Cold War, we were able to work with Russia on border issues, our military have regular contacts, search and rescue, energy issues and so on.  So, I think we should try to maintain that, even though we also see some increased military presence.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: OK, we’re getting short on time a little, in the last five minutes, so I'll call on Steve here and then kind of make our way quickly, if we can.  The shorter your answers are, the more people get to ask you something that'll make you look bad. 

Question: Thank you, Kevin.  Mr Secretary General, the Americans have been very loud in their concerns about PESCO and EDF.  They have lectured the PSC Ambassadors in Washington about how, in the long run, the regulations on third-party participation will undermine NATO security and they do not believe that these projects are filling gaps in what most people consider to be NATO capacities.  What is your position on this?  Do you agree with the Americans or do you disagree?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I have welcomed EU efforts on defence, but it is important that that’s done in the right way.  Because, if it's done in the wrong way, it can divide Europe and North America, which will not be good for Europe and not good for North America, not good for any of us.  And therefore it really matters how this is done.  And all the details, for instance when it comes to PESCO, is not yet decided.  But I think that… or at least on some of these instruments it's not yet fully decided, but I think it's a very important message from European leaders that they don’t want these instruments to undermine transatlantic unity.  And especially in a time when we have Brexit, because after Brexit 80% of NATO's defence expenditure will come from non-EU Allies and NATO will be the fundamental… core or key for the security of Europe, and Europeans know that. 

So, I think the good thing… for instance, at the Defence Ministerial, we had this also yesterday and today, is that we had a quite open discussion about these issues, and more than 90% of the people living in the European Union, they live in a NATO country, so there's no way we should have competition between NATO and EU, because for most Europeans that would be to compete with yourself.

Question: Why are the Americans so upset?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, they have… they are concerned about some of the instruments.  I think that it's fair enough to sit down and have an open and frank discussion about them and then to sort out what is real, what is just based on misunderstandings, and then to try to clarify and to make sure that none of these instruments are undermining transatlantic unity.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: OK, we got to move on. This is probably our last question, unless you can be extremely fast.  The Secretary has the hard stop.

Question: Mary Fitzgerald, Libya researcher.  How worried are you about the new war in Libya, sparked by Khalifer Haftar's offensive on Tripoli?  And the opportunities that Russia may be seeing or indeed seizing in the current situation?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, of course I'm worried about that.  At the same time, I strongly believe that the thing we should do is to support a UN-recognised government.  We have met, I met many times with Prime Minister al-Sarraj, and we strongly support the UN-led efforts to try to find a political, negotiated solution.  It's not easy, but that’s the only way forward for Libya.

Question: And Russia's role?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: We have seen increased presence of Russia and that’s also one of the reasons why, of course, we follow what's going on in Libya very closely.

Kevin Baron [Defense One]: I'll give you ten seconds for a question, if you can be very fast.  He's been begging.  I appreciate that.

Question: Thank you, Mr Secretary General.  I am from Afghanistan.  My question is that it's certainly that the Afghan people, they need peace more than anything else.  But on what cost?  Shall the NATO Allies and the Americans withdraw back all the progress that has been made from the last 17 years and leave without the… as they did, you know, in 1989, without supporting the Afghan government?  Because, you know, it's the Afghan government which will represent, and which is representing, the entire nation?  So, will the NATO and its Allies continue its support to the central Government of Afghanistan?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, we are ready to continue to support the Afghan government with forces to do training and with the funding, and we have committed to do funding until 2024.  We just restated that as well recently. 

We are also of course very focused on that we need to preserve the gains we have made, both when it comes to making sure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become a safe haven for international terrorists. But also to make sure that the gains which have been made, when it comes to human rights, freedom of the press, democracy, and not least the rights of women, have to preserved. 

But the reality is that the only way to preserve that is to have an Afghan dialogue, inter-Afghan process, so that’s in a way the next step, is to try to now agree on a way forward to have an inter-Afghan dialogue which also then preserves those gains.  And that’s the reason why we are committed to Afghanistan.

GMF Member: I wanted to thank Kevin so much for moderating this session so expertly and I want to give a special GMF thank you to the Secretary General.  I want to say one thing, which is we're happy you came back, but I also think at this moment we find ourselves, this world disrupted, that we could not be more fortunate than to have a straight-talking Norwegian, who is passionate about the power of alliance and calm under pressure, leading NATO.  So, please join me in thanking him.  Stay in your seats as he leaves, because he's got a very busy schedule, because of the NATO Defence Ministerial.  But thank you so much.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.