Questions and answers

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the ''NATO Engages: Innovating the Alliance'' conference

  • 03 Dec. 2019 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 03 Dec. 2019 21:50

(As delivered)

MODERATOR: Good morning.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Good morning.

MODERATOR: Good morning and happy birthday.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much. And happy birthday to all of you.

MODERATOR: Yes. And I must, I must begin with the question I think that is on everybody’s mind.


MODERATOR: How was your breakfast with President Trump?

JENS STOLTENBERG: [laughs] It was, as always, a great breakfast. And . . . and we had omelette and some sausages and brown toast and orange juice, so that was a great breakfast. And, as always, paid by the United States. So . . . so we have fair burden-sharing!

MODERATOR: Oh! Oh dear, be careful. I hope there was a bit of burden-sharing there, and the Norwegians perhaps provided some sausages or . . . but a lot of words must have gone back and forth across the table. Let’s just randomly pick three, ‘very, very nasty.’ That’s how President Trump has described President Macron’s comment about the NATO Alliance, declaring it ‘strategically brain dead.’ Now, I know Norwegians and NATO Secretary Generals don’t use words like ‘nasty’, but at the very least, the comments by President Macron weren’t nice.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I have a comment, what he has said, and, and I don’t agree. And I think that, more important than that I don’t agree is the fact that when you look at NATO, you see that we are actually delivering, we are doing more, we are acting together. We are . . . we are proving every day that this Alliance is . . . is agile, is active, and it’s delivering.

I have, for instance . . . so we have just implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation since the end of the Cold War. For the first time in our history, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. We have tripled the size of the NATO response force. We’re able to reinforce if needed. We invest in high-end capabilities to step up in the fight against terrorism … a new training mission in Iraq. And European Allies are investing more in defence. So if you just look at a look at the substance, you can see that this Alliance is delivering.

MODERATOR: Well, some say it’s the most successful alliance in history, but there now seems to be some fundamental disagreements about this Alliance’s future, its mission. And at the very least, to be the NATO Secretary General at this time, the fact that big people are raising big questions in public must be a matter of concern?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes and no, because . . .

MODERATOR: Let’s deal with the ‘Yes’ first.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, because yes, of course. We should never question the unity and the willingness, the political willingness to stand together and to defend each other. Because the whole purpose of NATO is to preserve peace, is to prevent conflict by sending a clear message to any potential adversary that if one Ally is attacked, it would trigger the response from the whole Alliance. And by doing that, we preserve the peace, we prevent any conflict.

MODERATOR: So let’s just be clear on this, because as you know, deterrence is not just a question of military hardware. You, you’re doing well on that front. It’s also a question of perception . . .


MODERATOR: . . . and political credibility. And therefore, NATO’s credibility has been dented by these very public rows about . . . even your founding principle, one for one and one for . . . all for one and one for all, collective security.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes. But then I think, but, but, but . . .

MODERATOR: And, the first time that . . .

JENS STOLTENBERG: . . . but I also strongly believe that the best way of expressing this well, is actually to what we do. Actions speak louder than words. And the fact that we have these troops in the eastern part of the Alliance for the first time, combat-ready troops, which are multilateral, multinational troops headed by, or led by the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany. That sends a very clear message that if any of these countries are attacked, NATO’s already there. It will trigger a response from the whole Alliance.

MODERATOR: The Baltic expansion was a huge achievement. But you have President Erdoğan coming, telling you that if you don’t recognise his . . . his Kurdish enemies, the Kurds in Syria, as terrorists, he’s not going to . . . he’s going to block the Baltic expansion. Can you find a form of words to come out of this summit with . . . healing that rift and keeping the Baltic expansion?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, it’s . . . it’s well known that we have some issues related to how to designate YPG, PYG, the organisation in Syria. There are different views among NATO Allies, but we have plans in place to protect all the Baltic countries and Poland and all other Allies. And more than plans, we have forces. The fact that we have forces there, sends a very clear message about our readiness to protect and defend all Allies.

And sometimes we also hear that the US is leaving Europe. That’s not correct. The US is actually increasing their presence in Europe. It’s correct that after the end of the Cold War, the US gradually reduced its military presence. The last US battle tank left Bremerhaven in December 2013. But now the US is back with a full armoured brigade and prepositioned equipment for yet another brigade and even more. So . . . so there’s more US presence in Europe, more US troops in Europe. I can’t think about any stronger way to demonstrate US commitment to Europe than that.

MODERATOR: Okay, but let’s . . . let’s deal with it just one issue by issue. So, do you think by tomorrow when the declaration of some kind is made, you will have found a form of words to resolve this growing rift with Turkey?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I will not promise that. But what I can say is that we are working on that and that we already have plans in place. What we are discussing is the additional plans. We are constantly updating and revising plans. But it’s not like NATO doesn’t have a plan to defend the Baltic countries. We have a plan. And as I said, we have the forces. So . . . and we have the presence. So I think that’s the strongest expression of our collective defence, our commitment to NATO’s collective defence goals.

MODERATOR: President Macron has defended his comments and he actually says it’s been a wakeup call for NATO. So it’s been helpful. Others in the Alliance look at it differently. They’re saying, actually his comments backfired, because some big NATO partners like Germany doubled down on their commitment to NATO. How would you describe his intervention? We’ll take . . . I know, you can’t criticise . . . let’s just take the personality out of it. That intervention.


MODERATOR: Helpful, a wakeup call, or backfired?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, I will . . . I will not go into that. What I will say is that I don’t agree. But if . . . and, and then the most important thing is for me, actually what NATO does. I expect . . .

MODERATOR: But did it, did it force you, for example, I understand there is going to be at this su— . . . at this meeting, it’s not a summit, there’s going to be an agreement on a Wise Persons Group to look at NATO’s future strategy?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What I expect the leaders to agree is that we will conduct a process, a reflection on how to further strengthen the political dimension of NATO. Exactly how we organise that, I expect the Allies to ask me to put forward proposals. But, but the important thing is not exactly how we organise such a reflection. The important thing is that we reflect on not whether we need NATO, not a question of the fundamentals of NATO, but that we reflect on how can we further strengthen NATO, especially the political dimension of NATO. And I think that’s a good thing, because we are 29 Allies, from both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, there are differences. It would be strange if 29 Allies with different political parties, different histories, different geography, always agreed on everything. But the lesson we have learned from history is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other, because it is in our international . . . our national security interests to do so. And we have to sometimes remember that this is not the first time there are differences between NATO Allies. Going back to the Suez crisis in 56, or when France decided to leave the military cooperation in 66, or . . . or the Iraq War in 2003, and many other examples, there have been differences. But this Alliance has shown incredible strength, resilience and ability to deal with these differences without weakening the core task of this Alliance.

MODERATOR: But, but still, you’re absolutely right that NATO has had to deal with these challenges consistently throughout its . . . throughout the decades. But there wasn’t Twitter in 1956.

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, that’s right.

MODERATOR: Or in 1966. There wasn’t the kind of social media, which means our perceptions are forged by the fact that there’s this instantaneous information. And this is something that, every morning you wake up, you must wonder what’s going to be on Twitter today?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes. But I think you just have to realise that that’s a different world. That’s true. But if you look at, for instance, the opinion polls, especially in the United States, it’s record high support for . . . for NATO. And not only in the public opinion in the United States, but also in the Congress. They have stated again and again their strong support for NATO. So there is this big paradox that while people are questioning the strength of the transatlantic bond, on both sides of the Atlantic, actually, there is stronger public popular support for NATO than it has been for many, many, many years in most of the NATO Allied countries, especially in the United States.

Second, we are doing more together in North America and Europe than we have done for decades, with more US presence and European Allies stepping up. You know, I’m a politician and I’m used to be criticised for having good rhetoric . . . rhetoric, but bad substance. In NATO it’s the opposite. We have bad rhetoric, but extremely good substance. And . . . and that’s a good thing.

MODERATOR: Let’s, let’s take some questions from the audience. This . . . the lady in red and the man in blue.

PATRYCJA SASNAL [Polish Institute of International Affairs]: I’m Patrycja Sasnal from the Polish Institute of International Affairs, and I want to ask you about the substance, Mr Secretary General. It seems to me that there is one country behind the controversies in the political lack of cohesion within NATO, both when it comes to President Trump’s criticism of NATO and President Macron’s ideas for NATO in the future. And that’s China. So my simple question to you is: what . . . what is NATO’s idea for China?

MODERATOR: And it’s on the agenda for the first . . . for the first time in a NATO . . . a NATO meeting, China?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, I think the answer is that it is a very important thing that we have agreed in NATO that we need to address the rise of China together. Because until now, China was not on our agenda in a way. W . . . we left that to the . . . to different Allies, especially the United States and some other Allies which are present in the Pacific, but China was not a NATO issue. But we have now, of course, recognised that the rise of China has security implications for all Allies.

There are some opportunities, but also some obvious challenges. China has the second largest defence budget in the world. They recently displayed a lot of new, modern capabilities, including long-range missiles able to reach all of Europe and the United States, hypersonic missiles, gliders. And . . . and we also see that . . . this is not about moving NATO into the South China Sea, but it’s about taking into account that China’s coming closer to us, in the Arctic, in Africa, investing heavily in our infrastructure, in Europe, in cyberspace. So, so we just have to understand that this has implications for NATO. And it is . . . for the first time, we have then decided that we need to address this together and we have work going on in NATO to, to then develop a common approach to China. Not to create a new adversary, but just to analyse, understand and then respond in a balanced way to the challenges China poses.

MODERATOR: And there was a question here? No? Question went away? Then to the gentleman.

SOLOMON PASSY [Atlantic Club of Bulgaria]: Solomon Passy, the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria. One question and one invitation, Secretary General. The question is to follow up on the question on China. Isn’t it time not to make a new . . . a new adversary from China, but to make . . . need to have the start of a dialogue establishing NATO-China Council in the way in which we have NATO-Russia Council. It may work better than the previous one. This was a suggestion which the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria made some 10 years ago. But today I would upgrade it with one idea more. In order to understand the Chinese, we need sort of a technological bridge with Taiwan, which may help us a lot. And the invitation follows. Since Lord Carrington, your predecessor, you are the first Secretary General of NATO who hasn’t had the chance to address the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria.

MODERATOR: Okay, okay . . .

SOLOMON PASSY: I was not persuasive enough, so I make use of this occasion to invite you to address the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria like your first predecessor did.

MODERATOR: All five hundred of us will be there, don’t worry!

JENS STOLTENBERG: Okay. But I recently visited Bulgaria, so . . . so I have to come back, I understand? Yeah.

MODERATOR: Let’s . . . let’s just take a . . . let’s just get a sprinkling to see what the mood is in the audience. Can we get a microphone? The gentleman with the . . . with the . . . yeah. People think it’s an auction here, with their papers in the . . .

HARLAN ULLMAN [Atlantic Council]: I’m Harlan Ullman of the Atlantic Council. Secretary General, thank you for your comments. Now, as you know, NATO spends about 15 times more on defence than Russia does. Only four NATO states physically border on Russia, six if you count the . . . Kaliningrad. So I’m wondering, why is spending more money going to make NATO more secure? And spending more money really doesn’t address what I think is a primary Russian threat, namely active measures. Could you comment on both those, please?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I didn’t get the . . . ?

MODERATOR: Active measure.

HARLAN ULLMAN: Active measures.

MODERATOR: Why spend more. So let’s take first the issue of a NATO-China Council.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We don’t have any plans to establish a NATO-China council, but we believe in also, of course, also have political contacts with, with China. We have some military lines of communications.

The . . . the Deputy Secretary General, the former Deputy Secretary General visited China, I think a year ago or something. And then, of course, we are not going to establish a new adversary. But we just have to take into account that the rise of China has implications for our security. And we are now analysing and addressing that together.

On . . . on defence spending. You know, I’m always a bit careful about these figures, partly because, you know, when you compare NATO defence spending with Russia defence spending, you use market prices for currency and you don’t take into account the huge cost differences. So, of course, the cost for a soldier, an officer in Russia is totally different than the cost in . . . in a NATO Allied country, or in Norway, or the United States, or . . . or Britain. So if you’re trying to introduce some kind of purchasing power comparisons, then those figures are totally different. So I’m not saying . . . I’m only saying that to find a precise and accurate way to measure is not so easy when you compare some different economies with so totally different cost levels.

Second, NATO’s increased defence spending is not only about Russia. It’s correct that it was triggered by the fact that Russia used military force against neighbours in Ukraine in . . . in Georgia, but also by the fact that we had to step up in the fight against terrorism. It’s not . . . it was a big military undertaking to liberate all the territory that ISIS controlled in Iraq and Syria. And we need to respond also to new threats, including in cyber. We need high readiness of our forces and all that.

So we all reduced defence spending after the end of the Cold War to record low numbers. But then when we do that, when tensions are going down, we have to be able also to increase defence spending when tensions are going up. And 2 per cent is historically not that high. During the Cold War, it’s more like 3 and 4 per cent. So yeah, I think it’s the right thing to do. And I welcome the fact that actually Allies now are increasing. When we made the pledge, three Allies met the 2 per cent guideline. Now nine Allies meet the 2 per cent guideline. All Allies have stopped their cuts, all Allies are increasing and the majority of Allies have plans in place to meet 2 per cent by 2024. So this is a huge difference. And . . . and that shows that NATO is delivering. We are agile and active.

MODERATOR: You’ve often said, Secretary General, that there’s a two-track approach to Russia: dialogue and deterrence.


MODERATOR: Some NATO members are saying there should be more dialogue. Do you . . . do you think the balance is right now, or is this something you think should be discussed here in London or outside London?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I strongly believe in this dual-track approach, because I think there is no contradiction between deterrence, defence and dialogue. Actually, I believe as long as we are strong, as long as we are firm, we can also engage in a dialogue with Russia.

And . . . and I say that also because that’s my Norwegian experience. Even during the coldest period of the Cold War, we were able to work with Russia on issues like the delimitation line in the Barents Sea, fishery, energy, environment, many other things. So it’s possible to make deals with Russia. And I strongly believe that NATO and NATO Allies can do the same.

I agree, also, we need to deliver on deterrence and defence and we are delivering on that. But at the same time, I think that we could do more and should do more on dialogue. This is partly to try to strive for a better relationship with Russia. But even if we don’t believe that we’re able to improve the relationship with Russia, at least in the near future, we need to manage a difficult relationship, avoid incidents, accidents. With more military presence, with higher tensions, we have to make sure that we have as much transparency and predictability as possible, to avoid dangerous situations from occurring.

The last thing I’d say about dialogue with Russia is arms control. We need to find new ways of addressing arms control. The demise of the INF Treaty is really a serious setback. We need to find . . . and that was one of the issues we will discuss at the Leaders Meeting tomorrow, how to reinvigorate, how to find ways to conduct credible, real arms control, especially in the nuclear domain.

MODERATOR: I wonder if there’s more under-35s . . .

MODERATOR: . . . who wants to ask a question?

JENS STOLTENBERG: There’s a woman over there …

MODERATOR: Oh there, okay.

JENS STOLTENBERG: You’re not able to see her, because she . . . she’s . . .

MODERATOR: And then there’s . . . we’ll take . . . okay, there’s two women here.

DR KATHERINE WRIGHT [Newcastle University]: Thank you, I’m 32. Dr. Katharine Wright, Lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. So, NATO reaffirmed its commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and the Women, Peace and Security agenda last year, in a revised NATO/EAPC policy. I wondered if you could tell us, Secretary General, what is the value of Women, Peace and Security to NATO? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s hold that, so we’ll just get . . . there’s two, there’s three, okay you . . . oh, the man took the microphone, okay.

ALESSANDRO MARRONE: Hi, good morning, Alessandro Marrone from the … [inaudible] Institute, Rome. As NATO is a political-military alliance, not just a military one, how do you see possible developments in terms of partnership with countries in North Africa and the Middle East, an effort to stabilise the southern flank of NATO? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. 1325 for Women, Peace and Security.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The Women, Peace and Security is extremely important for NATO. And actually, when I was Prime Minister of Norway, Norway actually was the first country to finance a special post, a Special Representative on Women, Peace and Security. And now this is the permanent position in NATO, because we realised that gender equality is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. This is partly about mobilising women as part of the . . . the armed forces in our member states. But also, of course, when we do missions and operations to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent sexual abuse and other ways of misconduct. Partly by our own forces, so they are all trained and . . . and anyway also learned how to behave. But, but not least by reporting when we see examples of misconduct, or sexual abuse, or bad behaviour against women and children. And also when we train, we train the Afghan forces, we train forces elsewhere in the world, Iraqi forces, then Women, Peace and Security is part of that.

MODERATOR: Okay, and in terms of counter-terrorism, cooperation to the south?



JENS STOLTENBERG: No, sorry. No, we . . . that’s of course, important. And we . . . I strongly believe that NATO has to be able to deploy large numbers of troops in big combat operations to fight terrorism, as we have done, or to address crises as we have done in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. We have to be able to do that, do that again. But in the long run, it’s better to train local forces. Prevention is better than intervention. So I strongly believe in working with partners and enabling them to stabilise their own country. And therefore, we work also with partners in North Africa, especially Tunisia. But also other partners in North Africa, helping them to develop their defence and security institutions, intelligence, special operation forces. And because if we are able to do that, then they will, more . . . it’s more, more likely they will succeed in stabilising their own countries. And that’s important for them, but, of course, also important for us, if our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.

MODERATOR: Okay. The two . . . the ladies here, yeah?

NATIA SESKURIA [RUSI]: Natia Seskuria, I’m an Associate Fellow at RUSI. Thank you very much, Mr Stoltenberg, for your very useful comments. And most importantly, thank you so much for your continued support to Georgia. Yet, we see that almost every single day Russia keeps violating the Georgian sovereignty. So my question to you is: how likely it is that countries like Georgia and Ukraine, that suffered the most from the Russian occupation, may be offered a membership into the . . . into an . . . an alliance in any foreseeable future? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, NATO decided at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, I was there myself in a different capacity. I remember we decided then that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO. These . . . this decision still stands. At the same time, we are not putting in place any exact a timetable. What we focus on now is how we can help both Georgia and Ukraine moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Implementing reforms, modernising their defence and security institutions.

And . . . and speak about Georgia, we have more NATO presence in Georgia now than ever before. We have a training centre outside Tbilisi. We had a big exercise there. We have political close contacts. I visited, and the North Atlantic Council visited Tbilisi not so long ago. We actually also went to Ukraine.

So we are working with both Georgia and Ukraine. And I think that there’s a lot between full membership and nothing. And what we do is that while we are helping Georgia and Ukraine moving towards NATO, we are also delivering more cooperation. That’s good for Georgia and Ukraine, but it’s also good for NATO. Because Georgia and Ukraine participate in NATO missions and operations, for instance in Afghanistan.

MODERATOR: It’s fantastic there’s so many hands going up. This is truly the spirit of NATO Engages, but sadly, we have 4 minutes and 18 seconds. To you?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m … [inaudible], political scientist. My question is about 2 per cent. You say 2 per cent. I think it’s more quantitative measurement and it has taken a lot of attention of NATO member states, though you kind of underestimate the importance of qualitative aspects and qualitative feedback you need from your previous operations, in terms of, as you said, managing difficult relations with Russia. And also, as my previous colleague said, about active measures. So how helpful is it to talk about quantitative metrics when we have qualitative problems? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We need both, and what we agreed when we made, made a pledge to invest more, was that we agreed to spend more and spend better. So therefore, this is partly about spending more, investing more, but it is also about spending better. So we also agreed, for instance, that we should invest more in research and development. We had this 20 per cent pledge that 20 per cent of the defence budget should be allocated for research, development and investments in new capabilities. So we have to do both.

But I think, in the long run, it’s obvious that you cannot . . . you cannot get more out of less. So we cannot continue to cut. You need input to have some output. And the . . . and the problem is that, of course, I agree that it is quality, it is the output that matters at the end of the day. It’s harder to measure output. So therefore, I think it’s important that we focus on both. Both on quality, but also on the need for having more resources. And the good thing is that’s . . . that’s exactly what NATO is doing now.

MODERATOR: Okay, sorry, there’s a question over on this side? Hand went down. This one here, yeah. The woman with her hand up, yeah.

QUESTION: [Student, University of Sheffield]: Hi, I’m a student at the University of Sheffield. With regards to emerging security threats, how important do you think the Arctic will be as a setting of increasing tensions, with American-attempted intervention, perhaps more jokingly with Greenland, but also Russia’s involvement with their increased presence there?

MODERATOR: Good question, thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The . . . the Artic is . . . the importance of the Arctic is increasing for several reasons. Partly because we see more Russian presence up in the Arctic. We see also China is increasing their presence in the Arctic. They . . . they define themselves as a ‘near-Artic country’, trying to be a member of the Arctic Council. And . . . and, of course, the melting of the ice means also that the whole geography is going to change, because it will be easier to have economic activity, sea lines of communications and so on, also in the Arctic and also from . . . from the North East Passage, and actually, perhaps, also the North West Passage.

So . . . so this is changing the whole importance of the Arctic. Therefore, we also need to make sure that NATO is present in the Arctic. And some of the investments we make in new ships, maritime capabilities, surveillance capabilities, but also aircraft capabilities are relevant for the Arctic.

At the same time, I have always been part of this tradition where we used to say that we have the High North and low tensions and we should at least try to maintain cooperation with all the Arctic states, including Russia in the Arctic Council and also in the Barents Sea Council. So . . . so there’s . . . again, we have this balance between military presence, but also political cooperation with Russia up in the Arctic.

MODERATOR: Listen, we’re very sorry, we only have 30 seconds left, and I think let’s try to give a message to the Secretary General to bring to these very important meetings of the Alliance at this 70th birthday. How many of you in this room are in a mood to celebrate the Alliance at 70?


MODERATOR: Okay. And how many of you are coming to this birthday party, well, a little bit worried that some things have to change?

JENS STOLTENBERG: But I would like to change . . . yeah, NATO has to change.

MODERATOR: Okay. Just one last word from you. I mean, if you Google ‘NATO 70th’, the words would come up on social media which would be ‘muted celebration’, ‘dysfunctional family’, ‘fractious’, ‘headaches’ for you. How would . . . what words would you use to describe this . . . this moment, in light of the challenges and successes at your door?

JENS STOLTENBERG: That NATO is the most successful alliance in history, because we have always been able to change. And as long as we continue to change, we will continue to be the most successful alliance in history. So I’m extremely in favour of change. You asked people whether they were in favour of change, or whether they were in favour of celebration. So, I’m in favour of change and celebration. And that’s the message.