NATO: The Transatlantic Alliance at 70

Conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Aspen Security Forum

  • 17 Jul. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 31 Jul. 2019 12:25

(As delivered)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Aspen Security Forum

ANNOUNCER: . . . and Courtney Kube of NBC News. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  So, I get the great honour of doing a little bit of a further introduction, of the next session. First I’d like to introduce Courtney Kube, who’s with NBC News, and the Pentagon correspondent, and she’ll actually be facilitating this interview. It is my great honour to also introduce Mr Jens Stoltenberg. An economist by education, Mr Stoltenberg is currently the Secretary General of NATO. Before assuming that role, he was twice the Prime Minister of Norway and the lead of the Norwegian Labour Party. He has indeed had a long, illustrious career in Norwegian politics, including a number of Ministry posts between 1990 and 1997. Cumulatively, he was a member of the Norwegian Parliament from 1991 through 2014. As Prime Minister, Mr Stoltenberg was a strong supporter of the transatlantic relationship. He was instrumental in transforming the Norwegian Armed Forces and increasing defence spending. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr Stoltenberg had to deal with a variety of national security issues, including the threat of terrorism and the re-emergence of Russia. Mr Stoltenberg has also pioneered the work of NATO on cyber. Under his leadership, NATO has made cyber defence a core part of collective defence, and has recognised cyber security, or cyberspace as a domain of military operations. Thanks to Mr Stoltenberg’s leadership, NATO has also partnered closely with the cyber security industry. Speaking on behalf of Symantec, I can say that the partnership with NATO has been one of the most successful and all-encompassing with governments around the world. Please join me in a warm welcome for Mr Stoltenberg.

COURTNEY KUBE [NBC News]: I am honoured and humbled to be part of the opening panel for Aspen 2019. And I want to get right into it, because we have so many issues that we want to cover with the Secretary General here. In the news this week, we’re less than two weeks, or just about two weeks away from the INF Treaty potentially falling apart. Of course, most of you know this is the intermediate range missile treaty that the US and Russia entered into in the 1980s, late 1980s. The US announced they were going to withdraw from it and the deadline for Russia to come into compliance with that is August 2nd. A US delegation travelled to Geneva, met with the Russians to talk about arms control today. Is there any indication that Russia might be moving towards compliance, or there might be some hope for the treaty?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: No, there is no indication that . . . no. Thank you, no. There are no indications that Russia is moving back into compliance with the INF Treaty, but we continue to call on them, knowing that it’s only three weeks left until we meet the deadline, the 2nd August and after that, the INF Treaty will not exist anymore. But the reason why we continue to call them to come back into compliance is that this treaty is so extremely important. It is cornerstone for arms control in Europe. And I am part of a European generation of politicians who were actually shaped by the deployment of the Russian SS-20 missiles in the 70s and 80s and the NATO Pershing and cruise missiles, as a response to the Russian missiles. And we . . . I have to be honest with you. I’ve been out demonstrating against those missiles with a lot of friends with long hair and quite radical attitudes. But then we were so pleased when Ronald Reagan, Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in 1987, not reducing the number of these missiles, they were banning all of them, zero. And now Russia has started to deploy these missiles again. Now the name is SSC-8. They are different, but the same threat. They are mobile, hard to detect, can reach all European cities within minutes and reducing the warning time and therefore reducing the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict. Therefore it is extremely serious that Russia is violating the treaty. And actually, the Obama administration started to raise this issue with Russia. They denied, of course, but all Allies and many of them independently, have come to the same conclusion, that Russia is in violation, that they are deploying these new missiles. And therefore all NATO Allies also support the United States when the United States decided, in the beginning of February that they will start the withdrawal process. That process takes six months. At the end of that process, which ends on the 2nd of August this year, there will be no more INF Treaty in the world. So we are also preparing for a world without the treaty and with more Russian missiles. I can say something of what we are going to prepare for, but I have already answered quite long so . . .


JENS STOLTENBERG: And my advisor told me one thing: not be long in your answers so . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: This is Aspen, there’s no rules here.


COURTNEY KUBE: That’s what I was told.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So then the question is: what will we do . . . if they don’t come back into compliance? We have stated and we have decided that we will respond. What we will do will be measured. It will be coordinated as the NATO family, no bilateral arrangement but NATO as an Alliance, 29 Allies. We will not mirror what Russia is doing, meaning that we will not deploy, we don’t have an intention of deploying new ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe. But we have other options, conventional, we have missile defence, we have increased readiness of our forces. We will also support new initiatives on arms control and we have other, also other opportunities we are ready to follow up, because we have to make sure that also, in a world without the INF Treaty and with a more Russian missiles, we need to be able to continue to deliver credible deterrence and defence from NATO, because that’s the best guarantee to preserve peace in Europe.

COURTNEY KUBE: So NATO’s going to, is going to employ or deploy some sort of a missile defence system that’s geared, in Europe, geared specifically towards Russia?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We already have an integrated air and missile defence in Europe. But, of course, one option is to strengthen that. I am a bit careful to be too specific, partly because we are still calling on Russia to come back into compliance and we don’t want to give them any excuse for not coming back into compliance. Second, because I think it is important that we launch, or that we announce, the concrete measures when we see after the 2nd of August, and some of the measures will take some time to implement, some others will be possible to implement more quickly. And we also have to understand that the new Russian missiles are actually part of a broader pattern. So, Russia has modernised their nuclear weapons over a long time. And they have invested in new, modern military capabilities over a long time. And therefore NATO, in many ways, have already started to respond, not by deploying new nuclear weapons in Europe, but by increasing our military strength in Europe. For the first time in the history of our Alliance, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, in the three Baltic countries and in Poland, one of them led by the United States. And these combat battalions or battlegroups are not very big, but they are multinational NATO troops, meaning that NATO is already there. So, if any of those countries are attacked, there’s no doubt that it will trigger the response from the full Alliance. And we have also increased the ability, the readiness of our forces to reinforce quickly if needed. So, in many ways, NATO has already started to respond in a measured, defensive way to a more assertive Russia and the new nuclear missiles are extremely important, extremely serious, but they are part of a broader picture we have seen developing over some time.

COURTNEY KUBE: But that enhanced . . . I mean, that really began after the invasion of Crimea. Right? NATO enhancing the . . .


COURTNEY KUBE:   . . . against an aggressive Russia. So, do you know how many of these INF-violating missiles Russia has?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I know, but I can’t tell you! So . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: So, in 1980— . . .

JENS STOLTENBERG: And they know that we know.

COURTNEY KUBE: Yeah. So, in 1987 it took from mid-1988, I guess, until about 1991 for all the 2,700 or so missiles to be destroyed, which, as you mentioned, the treaty bans these missiles and their launchers, which means to be in compliance you have to destroy them. Is it even logistically possible at this point for Russia to come into compliance and destroy all their missiles?

JENS STOLTENBERG: As I mentioned, last time in 1987 they were able to destroy almost 2,000 missiles in a matter of weeks. So, it is possible to start to destroy missiles if they want. So, if we really saw a real willingness from Russia to start to destroy these missiles, I’m certain that we would have been able to find a way to save the treaty. But NATO and United States have raised this issue with Russia for years. In the beginning, they denied the existence of the missile. Then they had to accept that the missile exists. But they say that the missile doesn’t violate the INF treaty. That’s wrong. As I said the US, but also other Allies have independently assessed, determined, that these missiles are violating the treaty and that’s the reason why we also have said that there has to be a limit, because if we accept that Russia violates this treaty with impunity, then we are not only undermining the INF Treaty, but we are weakening the credibility of all arms control treaties. If Russia thinks that they can just violate the treaty without consequence, then what kind of credibility with all the other treaties we have, if we accept that?

COURTNEY KUBE: But with all due respect, they’ve been in violation of the treaty for years. As you mentioned, President Obama brought it up with Vladimir Putin years ago. So what kind of deterrent can you employ after the treaty . . .  assumes it falls apart in a couple of weeks? What kind of deterrent can you possibly employ? Could you . . . you mentioned you don’t want any ground-launch cruise missiles or ground-launch missiles, but what about air-launched or sea-launched? I mean, could you . . . could you have a nuclear deterrence but just not ground-based?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I will answer that in a moment. But, fundamentally, the most important deterrent NATO provides is ‘one for all and all for one.’ And as long as that’s credible, that if you attack one small Ally, or a big Ally, the whole Alliance will respond, then we are, by far, the strongest alliance in the world. We are 50 percent of the world’s military might. So we are strong, and stronger than any other potential adversary, as long as we’re together. So, so of course, it is important what we do, but the most important thing is to resolve the political will, the unity of the Alliance. As long as that’s in place, then we are safe, all of us. So that’s my first answer. And, I’m from Norway and Norway is a beautiful country, we have beautiful mountains, but I have to admit that you have beautiful mountains here too. So, I’m actually considering coming back to do some hiking and some downhill skiing. They told me actually, that you don’t only do downhill skiing here, but also cross-country skiing, and that’s even better.

COURTNEY KUBE: Yeah it’s good for . . . it’s good cardio.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So you see . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: Were you talking about skiing to avoid my question on air-launched cruise missiles?


COURTNEY KUBE: I’ll talk about skiing too!

JENS STOLTENBERG:  No, but, but first of all, we have air-launched nuclear weapons. That’s part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent in Europe and that’s no secret. We have, we call it . . . it’s something we do together, it’s the weapons are owned by the United States, but the planes are owned by different European Allies. And then the different support capabilities and so on are owned by and operated by other Allies. So, the air-launched nuclear component of the nuclear deterrent is really a joint effort by many Allies. So that’s, of course, part of our deterrent and will be also part of the deterrence we have after the potential demise of the INF Treaty.

COURTNEY KUBE: There was a disclosure just this week, actually, of a report that acknowledged that, in fact, there were 130 nuclear bombs across five NATO nations that were belong to NATO essentially. And as you mentioned, this is, it’s been widely known. But this is sort of an official way of acknowledging where those weapons are and that they actually exist and it also included some talk of the US nuclear component that’s overseas as well. Did that concern you, that disclosure? And particularly the acknowledgement that there’s actually . . . there are nuclear weapons at Incirlik, just miles from the Syrian border?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I don’t comment on the details of our nuclear deterrent, where we have deployed the weapons. But it is official, it’s public that we have air-launched systems and that different Allies deliver this together. This paper is not actually a NATO paper, it’s a draft from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, some parliamentarians, so it’s not a paper from me or from the NATO structures. But so I cannot confirm what is there, but, of course, if we have nuclear weapons in Europe, we have them somewhere in Europe. So I cannot deny that. But actually, I forgot, the reason I mentioned Norway,  that was not because of mountains, but it was because of deterrence. I mean, Norway, 5 million people, and I remember when I was doing my conscription, I was a soldier back in the late 70s, at the height of the Cold War, and we are bordering Russia. But I felt safe, because I knew that if Norway was attacked, the whole of NATO, including the United States will be there. And as long as deterrence is credible – and deterrence is in the mind of you a potential adversary – as well as your potential adversary knows that we will be together, then he will not attack. So credible deterrence is the best way not to provoke conflict, but to prevent a conflict.

COURTNEY KUBE: But I just have to push back on the deterrence a little bit, because, you know, it’s . . .  while this is, it seems that the NATO Alliance has been able to deter an actual attack on the NATO Allies from Russia, NATO . . .Russia continues to push the line. So the deployment of these potentially nuclear ground- launch cruise missiles, you know, right on NATO’s doorstep. At what point is it not deterring Russian behaviour considered not effective deterrence? It’s deterring an actual attack, but Russia is walking right up to the door, armed, and ready for an attack?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, I think for deterrence to be credible, it has to be very clear what we are deterring. And we are deterring an armed attack on a NATO Ally. Of course, we would like to see Russia change their behaviour, but we have seen before that Russia is behaving in a way we don’t like, or the Soviet Union. That was very much the case during the Cold War. Then, Russia had many more nuclear weapons and many more combat-ready troops just at our border. And then, we really needed deterrence, saying that, ‘If you cross that border, then the whole Alliance will respond.’ So deterrence is working. That doesn’t mean that Russia behaves exactly as we want, but it means that since we established NATO, no NATO Ally has suffered a military attack. And we are the most successful alliance in history, because we have been able to deliver that. The challenge now is that we are faced with new threats, which is not, what should I say, the classical military attack, so armies crossing borders or missiles crossing borders, but cyber – meddling in democratic process, elections processes. We had the Skripal case in UK, where a nerve . . . a chemical agent was used on the territory of a NATO Ally. These are what we call hybrid attacks or hybrid warfare, they blur the line between peace and war. Before, it was very easy to say whether it was peace and war. Again, I’m from Europe, and in the Second World War in Europe started as in my country 9th April and it ended 8th May. And there was no, no question where it took place. When we now are faced with cyber-attacks, it’s hard to say when you are attacked, where you are attacked, who is attacking you. Or, the fight against Daesh, it’s hard to say when it started, where it took place and when it is going to end. So we are faced with a much more difficult kind of threats. These blurred line or hybrid threats, which is blurring the line between peace and war.

COURTNEY KUBE: Another NATO Ally that’s been in the news a lot lately is Turkey, with their acceptance of some of the components for S-400 Radar. The White House put out a statement about it today, saying that accepting the S-400 undermines the commitment all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems. The US military also is saying that the S-400 endangers military intelligence, that the radars allow Russia to be able to read intelligence on system struck of this new advanced aircraft that Turkey was supposed to take possession of, and they no longer will. One critical part of the NATO Alliance is this integrated interoperability, integrated air defence systems. A Russian-made air defence system like the S-400 cannot be integrated with NATO. So what does that mean going forward now that Turkey has taken possession of it? Are there technical changes that NATO members now have to make to exclude Turkey from having access to their systems and are there physical air defence infrastructure that has to be altered?

JENS STOLTENBERG: The S-400, the Russian air defence system, it’s not possible to integrate into the integrated NATO air and missile system, which is about, you know, sharing radar picture, which is about joint air policing, which is about also shared capabilities. And Turkey has not asked for that. So the S-400 will not be integrated into NATO’s air and missile defence system. But Turkey can still be part also with other capabilities. Turkey will and is still part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defence. They have also planes, they have radars,  they have other capabilities which are important for our air and missile defence. It is up to each and every nation to decide what kind of systems they acquire. But what matters for NATO is interoperability and the S-400 system will not be interoperable with NATO. And therefore this is an issue I have discussed many times in Ankara with President Erdoğan, in Washington with President Trump and other officials and, of course, we tried to avoid to end in the situation where we are now, where two Allies so vehemently disagree and where Turkey . . . I’m concerned about the consequences of the Turkish decision, because it means that Turkey will not be part of the F-35 program any more. I actually visited Lockheed Martin at Fort Worth, I think a year ago or something, and I saw the production lines, and I saw the different flags of the different Allies producing, having planes coming out from that production line, and there were also Turkish planes there. But now they will not be part of that. That’s, that’s not good. It’s bad for all of us, but it’s a consequence of that decision and therefore what I welcome is the direct ongoing dialogue, contact, between two NATO Allies, Turkey and the United States on this issue. I know that they are talking about Turkey acquiring a Patriot system. Turkey is also talking with two other NATO allies, Italy and France, about acquiring some SAMP/T, an Italian-French system, also an air defence system. And you have to remember that NATO is augmenting Turkey’s air defences today. We have deployed a Patriot battery, a Spanish Patriot battery in Turkey and we have deployed an Italian SAMP/T battery in Turkey, as a part of NATO assurance measures for Turkey. So we do what we can. But now we are in a difficult situation, because of the consequences of this decision.

COURTNEY KUBE: But it’s not just . . . I mean, there’s also the symbolism of it, that Turkey, you know, they were trying to acquire the Patriot, it didn’t work out, but the United States and our President Trump has said that the US would figure out a way to sell them, in fact they’ve even offered to help with some of the cost of it, to encourage Turkey to . . . for it to get another Patriot battery and not to buy the S-400. And Turkey . . . in a . . . symbolically turned towards Russia and bought this system, knowing that it would be no F-35, no interoperability with the air defence system, with S-400. So what does that mean? It’s is this Turkey turning away from NATO and towards Russia?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No. This is a serious issue. It’s about S-400 and F-35, but, Turkish contributions to NATO, and NATO’s core cooperation with NATO Ally Turkey, runs much deeper and it’s much broader than F-35, even though that’s important. For instance, Turkey is a key Ally in the fight against Daesh/ISIS. The fact that we have been able to, the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, to liberate all the territory Daesh controlled in Iraq and Syria. They controlled a territory as big as the United Kingdom, eight million people, and now they don’t control that territory anymore. That’s not least because of the contributions of Turkey. We have used the bases, infrastructure, and Turkey has played a key part in that fight. Turkey is contributing to  many different NATO missions and operations in the Balkans and Kosovo and also in Afghanistan. So, I’m not underestimating the difficulty related to S-400, but I’m saying that Turkey, as a NATO member, is much more than S-400.

COURTNEY KUBE: There’s some people who, you know, commentators are saying that Turkey deserves to be kicked out of NATO because of this, which, of course, there’s no mechanism for doing. But does it . . .  do you . . . are there other members, other NATO Allies, who are expressing that kind of sentiment, that they don’t trust Turkey anymore with this decision? That they have, in essence, with the activation of the S-400, they’re opening up a door that potentially exposes other NATO Allies to spying?

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO . . . sorry, Turkey is a NATO member. Turkey is an important NATO member. And no Ally has raised that issue at all, because they, we all see that we are dependent on each other. Then there is a disagreement on the issue of S-400. That’s correct. And I think that my responsibility is partly to try to help to solve the issue, but as long as that issue is not solved, we need to minimise the negative consequences and also highlight, as the White House does in the statement today, that the partnership the Alliance, the role of Turkey in NATO is much broader than F-35 or S-400.

COURTNEY KUBE: Ambassador Burns talked about the importance of Afghanistan. There’s talks right now, potential peace talks. NATO forces are there and committed until 2020. But it’s a conditions-based mission. If Ambassador Khalilzad, Zalmay Khalilzad, if he’s successful and negotiates a peace deal, it could have an impact on NATO forces deployed to Afghanistan. You’ve said numerous times that he briefs you frequently, he keeps the NATO Allies in touch with what he’s doing, but if in fact he comes to a peace deal that leads to the full withdrawal of all NATO troops, Resolute Support Mission troops, will NATO have a veto over that? Will you have . . . will NATO have any kind of a part in the negotiations for what that would look like?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, we are very much involved in that now. We consult with Ambassador Khalilzad frequently, I speak with him, he has been in the NATO North Atlantic Council many times. We have our NATO representative in Kabul, so, closely linked up to the negotiations. So, of course, this is a US envoy but, but all NATO Allies are involved. Because we went into Afghanistan together, we are going to make decisions on our future posture together, and when the time is right, we’ll also leave together. Because we have to remember that, as Nick Burns said, the first and only time NATO invoked the Collective Defence Clause, Article 5, was after an attack on the United States. I think everyone expected that Article 5 was for, you know, Soviet Union attacking a small NATO Ally. No,  that never happened, because deterrence worked. But then, suddenly, we had an attack on the United States, 9/11 and all Allies stood behind the United States. Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers, Canadian soldiers, have served in Afghanistan and more than a thousand have paid the ultimate price. And we had, at the peak, we had more than 140,000 troops there in the combat operation, roughly one third, at some stage even more than, of those soldiers were non-US soldiers. So this has been a big operation, not only for the United States, but for many NATO Allies and partners. Therefore, we will decide on the future presence in Afghanistan together. We strongly support the efforts by Ambassador Khalilzad to reach an agreement with the Taliban. We will not stay in Afghanistan longer than needed. We have been able to go from 140,000 to now roughly 16,000, to go from a combat operation with casualties and to train, assist and advise mission with very much fewer casualties. And, and, of course, we hope that Khalilzad will succeed. This is not a leave deal we are seeking, but a peace deal, meaning that it has to secure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become a safe haven for international terrorists. It has to secure inter-Afghan dialogue on how to maintain the gains we have made there. We have invested heavily, blood and treasure, in Afghanistan for many years. And, of course, it will affect the presence of international forces, NATO forces, US forces in Afghanistan. In what way? It’s a bit early to say, because that’s now negotiated. I hope we will see a result. And as Secretary Pompeo said, I think it was at a NATO meeting recently, hopefully something within weeks or months. So we hope, but nothing is agreed before everything is agreed, and therefore it’s a bit early to try to speculate about the different elements.

COURTNEY KUBE: The Taliban have been pretty open about the fact that they want all foreign troops out, not just American troops out. So if you . . . if, in fact, there was a negotiated peace settlement that involved withdrawal of all NATO troops, NATO would be on board with that if that’s…?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We will support . . . if there is a negotiated peace deal, then we will support that deal. And that’s the reason why we are so closely involved in the process and that’s also the reason why we brief and involve Allies in the process. But it remains to be seen what kind of deal we will get. And, and, of course, NATO support to Afghanistan now, as I said, is not combat. What we do now is to train, assist and help the Afghan forces. And we have to then realise that the Afghan forces are now doing what we did for them, with 140,000 combat troops. So there are many problems in Afghanistan and many reasons to be concerned, but at least this great achievement, that instead of having 140,000 US, European, NATO troops in Afghanistan, we have 16,000 troops which are enabling the Afghans to fight terrorism themselves. And I think that one of the lessons we have learned from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Libya and elsewhere, is that in the long run it’s much better to train local forces than to deploy large number of our own forces in big combat operations. I remember Ambassador Doug Lute, when he was in NATO, he said, ‘Prevention is better than intervention.’ And I totally agree. So we train local forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to help them stabilise their own country, so we can reduce our presence and our, as I say, combat operation in these countries.

COURTNEY KUBE: Do you feel confident, like, you know, there’s talk of a negotiated peace settlement pretty soon, potentially, in a matter of months if NATO troops were supposed . . . were to withdraw and abandon this training mission, as part of the negotiated settlement, that the Afghan forces could stand on their own? I mean, they continue to have a difficult time, there was a district was overrun in Paktika over the weekend, and Afghan forces fled. Do you feel confident that they could actually hold back not only the Taliban, but also now ISIS?

JENS STOLTENBERG: But as I said, we are looking for a peace deal, not a leave deal. So we need elements in place to ensure that we can preserve the gains we have made, that we can reduce and eventually leave in an orderly way. But again, how and when and how fast? I think it’s a bit early to speculate. NATO will support a negotiated solution, because we are closely involved in that process and we are prepared that a negotiated solution will also impact our presence. But how and in what way and how fast, that remains to be seen. And, and of course, we can continue to support an Afghan government if . . . when we reduce defence spending, when tensions are going down, we have to be able to increase defence spending when tensions are going up. So NATO Allies also the United States, reduced defence spending after the end of the Cold War, because then tensions went down. And I’m a politician. I know that all politicians prefer, at least most of them, prefer to spend money on something else than defence. They’d like to spend money on education, health, infrastructure. And I told audiences like this before, that I was minister of finance back in Norway in the 1990s. And I was really good at cutting defence spending. But then tensions went down. So I’m actually, I’m not, I’m not ashamed of that. Because then, we really thought that we were able to develop a new relationship with Russia. We had a significant build-down of Russian forces in Europe and then it was fair enough that we reduced defence spending, all across the Alliance. But then, when tensions are going up, when we see that Russia is investing more, when we see that the global balance of power is shifting, then we need to invest more. And the good news is that that’s exactly what NATO Allies are doing. So I’m quite optimistic and, to be honest, I’m quite impressed because, because for many Allies, they’re not able to borrow. They’re not able . . . again I’m not saying so much about the United States, but, you know, for many Allies it is impossible to borrow money, because they have a very strict budget rules in the European Union and/or because they are faced with extremely high interest rates if they borrow too much. And they have been through a financial crisis, which makes it impossible to borrow. So if they spend one dollar or one euro extra on defence, they have to spend one euro less on health, education or something else, or increase taxes. That’s not easy. But, despite that, they’re actually allocating more money for defence. And that shows that they are committed to this Alliance.

COURTNEY KUBE: So we’re going to get to questions in just a couple of minutes, but one more but one more . . . [to the audience member: not quite yet but you’ll get the first one if you want it].  You know, you’ve mentioned unity a bunch of times, and the commitment, the NATO Ally commitment. Are you confident at this stage that if, in fact, there . . . a NATO Ally was attacked by Russia that the other 28 members of the Alliance would respond, that . . . ?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes. And there are several reasons for that. Partly because that’s the core sort of treaty obligation they have in the Washington Treaty, Article 5, ‘one for all, all for one.’ If one Ally, Ally is attacked, it will be regarded an attack on the whole Alliance – that’s Article 5. But second, because they have all stated it again and again. And thirdly, and that’s perhaps the most important thing, is that NATO is present. There are US troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. There are actually now also US troops in Norway, we didn’t see that . . . for, for the first time in our history. And there are German troops and, and French troops, and troops from all NATO Allies are already in, deployed, combat-ready, in the eastern part of the Alliance. So an attack on any NATO Ally, and for me there is no stronger way to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity than deploying your own forces in the most Russia-exposed part of the Alliance. And that’s exactly what the United States and all other Allies are doing. And the last reason why I’m absolutely certain that the whole Alliance will respond is that it is in our interest to stand together. I mean, NATO is good for Europe, but it is also extremely good for United States. It is extremely good to have friends and allies. You are, I mean, you are privileged to have 28 friends and allies who are together with you. Every time. Not only triggering Article 5 after 9/11, but if you compare with China or Russia or any other great power, they don’t have that kinds of friends and allies as you have. That makes you stronger. And when I travel around the United States I meet people who are concerned about the size of China. If you’re . . .  economic, militarily and so on. If you’re concerned about the size of China, then you should stay in NATO. Because as long as you in NATO you are terribly big. Because if you add all the other Allies, we are 50 percent of world GDP and 50 percent of the world’s  military might, as I said. So NATO has been important, but NATO’s actually even more important now, because we see this shift of power balance and that makes the importance of strong international institutions, alliance as NATO, even more important.

COURTNEY KUBE: I want to get to questions but, you know, it is also important to point out that there are some people who say that NATO was slow to respond to China’s growing influence around the world. But it seems as if now it’s a recognition by NATO that . . . ?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but I have to be honest to say that NATO has not been focussed on China, for . . . we have been focussed on the Soviet Union and then the fight against terrorism, also . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: But the growing influence of China, even in . . . and Africa and South America moving into Europe now, and NATO allies…

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO is a regional organisation, so we don’t have any plans of moving into the South China Sea, or to move into that part of the world. But, despite that, we need now to assess the consequences, the security consequences, for our Allies of the rise of China. Because China is coming closer to us. China in the Arctic, in Africa, in Europe, in cyberspace. So there is no way we cannot assess and respond to the rise of China. The challenge is to find the right balance between, between seeing the challenges, but also the opportunities. And, therefore, we have now started, for the first time in our history, a systematic work among Allies to try to create some kind of consensus on the challenges, on the opportunities, how to respond. And that just shows that NATO is able to adapt when the world is changing. And one reason why NATO is a success is that we have been able to change and adapt when the world is changing.

COURTNEY KUBE: So we’ve time for about 15 minutes for questions. I’m hoping we can do two at a time, so if you can keep your question kind of short, and so we’re generous and don’t make the Secretary General remember too much at once. So here? And then him, over there?

STEPHEN SHAPIRO [BENS and the Atlantic Council]: Thank you Mr Secretary General for being here. Steven Shapiro with BENS and the Atlantic Council. I’d like to ask you a question about the defence of frontline states in NATO and . . . with a little bit of explanation, and I’ll try to be brief. The way NATO structures frontline, its defence system now, is that the frontline states essentially serve as bumpers, like car bumpers, to crumple in a classic Russian armed attack. And then they’re there to hold out for six, seven weeks, until the United States can mobilise get across the Atlantic, join up with the Brits and fight its way. . . fight their way back in and kick the bad guys out. There is some currency now of a concept called the porcupine defence, where the frontline states might be somewhat hardened, to make them less encroachable, with respect to the Russians. Things such as super sensor arrays undersea, inexpensive drone swarms, significant cyber defences, things which might make the Russian taste for coming across the border less, less attractive. I wonder if you have discussed the porcupine defence concept and if you . . . even if you haven’t, what can you say about it. Thank you.

DR VENESSA NEUMANN [Diplomatic Representative to Venezuelan President]: Hi. Dr Venessa Neumann, I am interim-Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó’s diplomatic representative in the UK, and I’ve been to this forum several times before in my civilian capacity. Simple question: Colombia is now sort of an observer nation, sort of acceding to NATO. What does that mean in practical terms? We Latin Americans and Venezuelans would like to know.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on the protection of . . . I don’t use the phrase ‘frontline states’, but those states who are bordering Russia. Again, I think that you . . . we have to understand that what NATO does is that we deter any attempt to attack any Ally. And we do that by saying that if one Ally is attacked, the whole Alliance will respond. We don’t need . . . during the Cold War, we had a lot of forces, combat-ready forces, on the border between East and West Germany. But we were . . . but, for instance, in my country, Norway, there were no NATO troops. Zero NATO troops. And if you go to northern Norway, there is actually . . . there’s a lot of land, not so many people, but we felt safe. Knowing that, of course, in theory, the Russian . . . the Soviet Union could invade northern Norway and we would not be able to stop them, at least not for the first many kilometres down, before you are able to stop them. But we were safe because we trusted deterrence. We were able to protect West Berlin, which was in the middle of East Germany. Not because we had forces there that would be able to fight an attack by the Soviet Union, but because the Soviet Union knew that if they attacked West Berlin or the northern Norway, then it would trigger the whole response. I say this because the whole idea that . . . ‘bumpers’ – and I didn’t get the other thing, but . . . it doesn’t matter, that’s not the concept. The concept is to just tell them that, if you touch any NATO Ally, the whole Alliance will be there. And we are the strongest alliance in the world. And we are modernising our forces, increasing their readiness, and to make sure that no one misunderstands, we deploys some NATO forces in what you call the frontline states. So there is no doubt. It’s not possible. Because NATO will be involved from day one. And as long as they know that, they will not attack. Then, of course, we are investing in new technologies and in drones and so on, which will help to make that deterrence credible, also as our potential adversaries are investing in new technologies. To try to be sure to have to add . . . to end with one important message: we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO Ally. So, we are not going around and thinking that we will be attacked tomorrow, except for what I said: terrorist attacks can happen tomorrow in any NATO Allied country. And, of course, cyber, these hybrid attacks are actually happening every day. But an armed attack, no imminent threat.

COURTNEY KUBE: And on Colombia?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Oh, sorry, Colombia. Now, Colombia is a partner and the first partner we have in Latin America. So that’s a kind of great achievement. I met the President of Colombia, he came to NATO, it was great to have a partner nation from, from Latin America. But the partner nation is a partner, it’s not an Ally. So Article 5 and so on doesn’t apply for partners. We have roughly 40 partners around the world and, of course, we cannot say that Article 5 applies for all of them. But it means that we will work together, we will train together, we will help each other, different partners participates in different ways, and we discuss different ways where we could, for instance, work on how to engage in peace processes, because they’ve been through a peace process in Colombia and, and also to fight terrorism and so on. So, we can work on practical issues, but it’s not about Article 5 or becoming a full member of the Alliance.

COURTNEY KUBE: Two more, in the back over here and ma’am, right here.

ELMAR THEVESSEN [ZDF Television, Germany]: Elmar Thevessen, with ZDF German television. Thank you Mr Stoltenberg for sharing your thoughts with us. I was wondering: NATO was founded on the core values of democracy, human rights and also the rule of law. Are you in any way concerned about the erosion of those core values, when you look at countries like Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Italy just in recent years, and some members of Congress probably would argue even the US?

SUZANNE SPAULDING [Center for Strategic and International Studies]: Suzanne Spaulding from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Secretary General, thank you for being here. I wanted to pick up on your comments about hybrid threats, or what we might call grey zone threats. I spoke about a year ago with a former member of the NATO Parliament, NATO parliamentarian, who was speaking with some East European intelligence officers in 2010, who said Putin then had three top goals: weaken NATO, weaken the NATO Alliance, weaken the bonds between the EU and the US, and undermine the credibility of justice systems and the media as arbiters of truth. Russia is using information operations to achieve these goals and how does NATO think about those information operations and how to counter them?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on the core values. NATO is founded on some core values: democracy, and the rule of law, and individual liberty. And, I stress and highlight, or underline, that many times in my conversations in different NATO capitals, because these values are of great importance for the Alliance and for me. Because I just believe in those values, they’re better than . . . democracy is better than authoritarian regimes, freedom is better than oppression and I think we have proven that these values are very strong. Then, of course, there are some concerns expressed from different NATO Allies about to what extent all Allies are able to live up to these standards. I think that one of the important things that NATO provides is a platform for an open and free discussion about that. So, so, then, then we meet, we discuss, we may agree, we may disagree, but at least NATO should be a platform for also raising these concerns, and then hopefully that will enable us all to deliver even better on these core values. One very brief thing is that: we are 29 Allies, from both sides of the Atlantic, so we are different and sometimes we disagree. But despite those disagreements and differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other and that’s important that we continue to do. Then on hybrid. We do a lot to counter disinformation campaigns or disinformation. Partly we increase awareness, because I think this is about very much being aware of how vulnerable we are, when someone try to interfere in our domestic processes. So to share best practices, to learn from each other, to inform each other about different attempts to interfere in our democratic institutions, or undermine our democratic institutions, is extremely important. We have strengthened our cyber defences, both the NATO cyber defences, but also helped to strengthen the cyber defences of NATO Allied countries. We conduct big exercises, you know – sometimes it’s about very simple things about what they call ‘cyber hygiene’, just to behave responsible when you have a computer or anything like that. And, of course, we provide facts. When we see that there is some disinformation out there, we have a web, online website, where you can have a lot of facts related to some of the disinformation that we see presented by Russia and others. But I think that the most important thing is that we need a critical and independent press. I’m a politician. I’ve been quite irritated at many journalists many times. But I’m in favour of them. Meaning that they have to ask the difficult questions, they have to check their sources, and that’s the best guarantee against disinformation. So, our core value is about creating a society which is resilient against attempts to try to interfere. And then, lastly I want to say that, it’s very easy to be concerned. That’s, in a way, the easiest thing in the world. But we should not be . . . we should also be a bit optimistic, because despite all these attempts to weaken NATO, NATO is not weak. And actually, if you look at opinion polls, there is great support, record-high support for NATO. So if I was campaigning for NATO, it would have been a big victory already. So those who are trying to undermine the public support for NATO have not succeeded. Even in . . . not even, but also in the United States, there is record-high support for NATO.  So yes, we should be aware, attempts to weaken NATO, but so far they have not succeeded, actually, there is stronger support for NATO than there has been for many years.

COURTNEY KUBE: We have time for one more very quick question, if anyone has a quick one? Sir?

CHARLIE DUNLAP [Duke Law School]: Charlie Dunlap from Duke Law School. Mr Secretary, we’re seeing that conscription is being looked at by a lot of European countries. Do you think that that trend will continue, especially to get the high tech and cyber talent that modern militaries need?


COURTNEY KUBE: We’ll just do the one, yeah.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Ah yeah, okay. To be honest, I don’t know. I think that . . . in my own country, I’m sorry to use Norway, but I know Norway the best, we have conscription. Actually, we have conscription for men and women. It was introduced when I was Prime Minister. And, again, I was very sceptical in the beginning, but I ended up campaigning for female, or women, conscription because then I understood . . . because if you have . . . not half of the population, but a hundred percent of the population you get really… even better people. And the advantage of having conscription is that you can recruit really the best. The problem is, to be honest, is that I think in most countries you don’t . . . no country . . . very few countries will afford to have so many people in the armed forces. So, again, to use my own country, we have conscription. But the reality is that, I think, it’s 50 percent or something of the cohort – is that what you call it – so . . . do military service. Because we can’t afford to have a bigger army. So, therefore I’m a bit reluctant, or careful, to have any clear advice to other Allies. But the important thing is that we need the best and the brightest and we need more and more skilled people. Because we are now in the midst of a big transformation of our armed forces. Artificial Intelligence, autonomous weapons systems, big data – all that will change the nature of warfare more fundamentally than the Industrial Revolution did. So therefore we need, really, the best people in our armed forces to maintain the technological edge, which has always been so important for NATO. But, again, I’m a strong optimist, because we have proven again and again that we are able to change when the world is changing.

COURTNEY KUBE: I’ll take a point of personal privilege as the moderator and ask you one more. You already have disclosed to us your days of protesting. Did you have long hair as well, or was it just your friends?



JENS STOLTENBERG: You can Google me and you will see a long-haired Jens Stoltenberg.

COURTNEY KUBE: We all will be, it’ll be posted on the Aspen website by the end of the evening. We . . . I also understand that, as a younger man, you looked in —  . . . you wanted to be a professor? Economics and statistics?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes I was active in student politics as a young man, then I decided that that was not for me. I was going to do something really serious. So I finished my exams in economics – or econometrics, which is mathematics and statistics – and I started to work, to the Central Bureau of Statistics to do something serious. And then I was asked to become Deputy Minister for Environment back in 1990, and I promised my wife only to stay for one year. I’ll stay there . . . and I’ve been in politics for 30 years or something.

COURTNEY KUBE: As you sit here in Aspen answering questions about a potential nuclear arms race with Russia . . .

JENS STOLTENBERG: Oh, which is . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: Do you wonder whether you made the right choice there? Or . . .

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, I don’t regret, but, to be honest, every time when I’m back . . . back in Norway, I have a kind of longing for that academic life. But I think it’s a bit too late for me. So I will . . . yeah. I . . . and this is also quite a good life to be honest, yeah, so . . .

COURTNEY KUBE: Mr Secretary General, thank you so much for you time and the spirited discussion. Thank you very much.