Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference

  • 15 Feb. 2020 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 17 Feb. 2020 18:43

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Teri and it is always a great pleasure to be here at the Munich Security Conference.

This year’s conference raises the question
"has the West lost its way?"
Indeed, questions are being asked on both side of the Atlantic about the strength of our transatlantic bond.

People wonder where we are heading.
And whether we will continue to go together.
But does this mean that we are lost?
It’s true, the path is not easy.
And sometimes we stumble.
But we have not lost our way.
And more importantly,
our values have not lost their value.

Freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
They have brought unprecedented peace and prosperity.
And they remain, the values remain a beacon of hope for people around the world.
Whenever they have been threatened, we have stood up for them.
Europe and North America came together to end two bloody world wars.
Countless men and women fought oppression during the Cold War.
And today, people are standing up for their right to live in freedom.
From Hong Kong to Tehran.
And people refuse to be intimidated by terrorism and extremism.
From Paris to Christchurch. 

In many ways, NATO is the ultimate expression of the "West."
Europe and North America.
United in our vision of free and open societies.
And in our commitment to protect and defend one another.
The reality is that we are doing more together now than we have done for many, many years.
The US is investing more in European security.
With more troops, exercises and infrastructure.
With strong bipartisan support from the US Congress.
And while the US President has urged European Allies to do more,
he has also recognised the enormous progress we are making.
European Allies and Canada are investing more in our collective defence.
Adding in new capabilities.
And increasing their contributions to NATO missions and operations.
And when we met in London, NATO Leaders agreed to launch a reflection process.
To further strengthen NATO’s political dimension.
So, Europe and North America need to continue to stand together.
In the face of increased global competition.
Economically, militarily, technologically.
And more fundamentally, over our way of life and our values.

This is what is at stake in our fight against terrorism.
Freedom against oppression.
Tolerance against intolerance.
And let’s not forget that together we have made enormous progress.
ISIS no longer controls any territory in Iraq and Syria.
And millions of people have been liberated from oppression.

But the fight is not over.
We must ensure that ISIS can never return.
To threaten people in the region and our citizens at home.
So therefore NATO Defence Ministers have this week decided to step up our support to Iraq.
And to consider what more NATO can do in the Middle East and North Africa.
To support our partners and stabilise the region.

Our mission in Afghanistan is also about protecting our values, which came under attack on 9/11.
16.000 NATO troops are training the Afghan forces, so that they can fight terrorism and create the conditions for peace.
We are not leaving Afghanistan.
But we are prepared to adjust our force level if the Taliban demonstrate the will and the ability to reduce violence and make real compromises.
That could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists

We also face competition from a more assertive Russia.
Which seeks to return to a world of spheres of influence.
NATO Allies are responding.
Significantly increasing the readiness of our forces.
Upholding sanctions.
And countering Russia’s attempts to interfere in our democracies.
Allies consulted closely over many years on Russia’s breach of the INF Treaty.
And agreed on a joint response.
All Allies remain committed to arms control.
And to dialogue with Russia.
We continue to aspire for a better relationship with our biggest neighbour.

We also face competition from a shifting global balance of power.
China will soon be the world’s largest economy.
It already has the world’s second largest defence budget.
And it is investing heavily in new capabilities.
So, the rise of China presents both challenges and opportunities.
We need a common understanding of what this means for our shared security.
For freedom and democracy.

Keeping our societies open, free and resilient must be part of our response.
As is investing in new capabilities to maintain our technological edge.
We should not be tempted to trade short term economic benefits for longer-term challenges to our security.

So, there is a competition out there.
In so many areas.
And with so many different actors.
But simply lamenting that we have lost our way will not provide us with a way forward.
We must have the ability – and the confidence - to compete.
Some say that the answer is more Europe.
And I agree.
But this is only part of it.
Because more Europe cannot mean Europe alone.
Any attempt to distance Europe from North America,
not only weakens the transatlantic bond,
and our ability to compete on the global stage,
it also risks dividing Europe.
I don’t believe in Europe alone.
As I don’t believe in America alone.
I believe in Europe and America together.

So, we should not compete with ourselves.
And talk up our differences.
While talking down our strengths.
Europe and North America are indispensable partners.
Two sides of the same coin.
Together we are half of the world’s military might.
And half of the world’s economic might.
So, when we stand together,
we can compete with confidence,
protect our interests,
and defend our values.
Thank you.

TERI SCHULTZ: Let's talk about Afghanistan, with the moves towards a potential reduction in violence, if all goes well, possibly even a peace deal.  This means that the US will pull out troops.  That is likely followed by a withdrawal also of NATO troops, right, the troops from NATO Allies.  But my question is, if we need to monitor what's happening on the ground, if these withdrawals at least on the NATO side are conditions-based, but you're no longer there, who's monitoring the far- flung provinces?  How do we know if the Taliban is respecting these deals?  And, over the course of this war, the longest in NATO history, you’ve now got ISIS as a complicating factor.  What are you going to about that?  With fewer troops, all I see is these groups rejoicing that you're going to be gone.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: So, first of all, I think we understand that we are not leaving Afghanistan and we don’t have a deal, but we are closer to a deal.  And what we have said, NATO has said, the US has said, is that we are prepared to adjust our presence if Taliban demonstrates real will and capability to reduce violence.  And of course we are in Afghanistan to create the conditions for peace. 

The aim is not to stay in Afghanistan as long as possible, the aim for our presence in Afghanistan is to send a message to the Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield, but they have to sit down and make real compromises around the negotiating table. The only lasting solution to the crisis/conflict in Afghanistan is an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. 

So actually, one of the main goals we have now is to try to initiate, to facilitate a start of Afghan talks, Afghan negotiations.  But again, we have said that everything we do in Afghanistan will be conditions-based.  We will only reduce our presence if we see that Taliban is really able and willing to deliver and then we will do it step-by-step. 

Let me also briefly add that of course the US is talking with the Taliban, but the US is consulting closely with all NATO Allies.  We have 16,000 troops there, many of which are non-US troops.  And of course this is also about NATO adjusting our troop levels in Afghanistan if there is a deal.

TERI SCHULTZ: But at the moment, the Taliban controls roughly half of the territory.  How does that look like victory?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but this is about finding a compromise.  I mean I think we all have to understand that we have been longer in Afghanistan than we expected when we went in.  

I was Prime Minister of Norway in 2001 when they made the first decisions to send Norwegian troops to Afghanistan and if then they had told me in 2001 that we were going to be there now, I would have said that’s out of the question, impossible.  But we are still in Afghanistan. 

So, we need to find a way that we can, in a responsible way, reduce our presence in Afghanistan, make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for international terrorists.  And the best way to do that is to train the Afghan forces, build local capacity, so they can take full responsibility for their own country.  And that’s exactly what we are doing.  NATO's not in a combat mission anymore, but we are training the Afghans so they can be able to stabilise their own country and have the strength to make real deals with the Taliban.

BOJAN PANCEVSKI: Secretary General, I wanted to pick up on something you said about the transatlantic bond.  You appear to have succeeded where your European peers are struggling a little bit.  I mean, President Macron, who is speaking here shortly, has tried everything, ranging from a candelight dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower, to the famous white-knuckle handshake.  But you seem to be the only leader who has elicited positive feedback from the President of the United States, including on Twitter.  I mean, is this a lesson that you can give to your fellow leaders about preserving and sort of improving the transatlantic bond?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, I believe in the strength of North America and Europe working together, and we have been extremely successful and we deliver a lot when we are able to stand together. 

Then of course I'm not naïve and I'm reading newspapers, so I have seen that there are some disagreements between us.  We are 29 different Allies, from both sides of the Atlantic, with different political parties in government.  And there are differences, there's no way to deny that.

 But my message is that partly that we have seen differences before, dating back to the Suez Crisis in 1956 all the way to the Iraq War in 2003, and we have seen that also the differences we have today, we have been able to deal with them when it comes to what we do on the security and defence arena.  Because the reality is that, despite the disagreements we see on trade and climate change, and these are serious disagreements, actually the United States is now delivering more when it comes to European security.  More troops, more investments, more exercises.  And European Allies are standing up. 

So, I'm not saying that climate change, trade and the other differences we see are not important. I'm only saying that the history of NATO is that we have been able to overcome these differences again and again, because we see the importance of uniting around our core task, to protect and defend each other.  And we actually make some progress, for instance in the fight against Daesh/ISIS.

BOJAN PANCEVSKI: So, would you say Article 5 is still the deterrent that it used to be?  Because we’ve heard some very serious criticism from within, you know, from some of the top Allies.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Article 5 is the core of NATO and of course the importance of Article 5 is to deter conflict.  NATO's task is not to fight a war, but to prevent a war.  And the best way of doing that is by sending a clear message to any potential adversary that if one Ally is attacked, the whole NATO will respond.  And by doing so, we have been able to preserve peace for more than 70 years. So, as long as this collective defence clause is credible, then we are safe to be in no conflict. 

And then I think well, the United States and European Allies are committed to Article 5 as a treaty obligation, but not only in words, but also in deeds.  For me it's hard to imagine a stronger commitment to Article 5 by North America, actually US and Canada, than the fact that they have increased their military presence in Europe. 

Just as we speak, we have DEFENDER-Europe 20, where we have 20,000 US troops deployed from the United States to Europe, the largest number of US troops deployed in any European exercise for decades.  For me, it's hard to imagine a stronger commitment to Article 5 than more troops. 

And let me add to that that, for the first time in our history, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, the battlegroups in Poland and the Baltic countries.  They are sending a very clear message that NATO is already there.  So again, for me, that’s a clear demonstration of commitment to Article 5.

TERI SCHULTZ: So, we’re running really, really tight on time, but if someone would like to ask a question from the audience, otherwise we'll… there's a guy jumping to his feet, in the back.  Sir, if you could introduce yourself and give us a very quick question.

QUESTION: Thank you.  I'm François Heisbourg and my question to Jens Stoltenberg is the following: you mentioned China as a challenge and an opportunity.  What role can NATO play in helping avoid a rift between the US and Europe, in the manner in which to approach China?  We already see today that there is a policy push by the United States on the 5G business.  Europe is divided about how to respond.  What can NATO do to avoid the China factor, over the next decades, becoming the wedge issue between the US and Europe?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we can do is that we can bring Europe and North America together and to address and discuss the implications of the rise of China and how NATO should make sure that we also are united in dealing with those challenges. 

And that’s exactly… you know, for the first time in NATO's history, we are now addressing China.  At our Leaders meeting in London, we had a statement and the NATO Leaders agreed that we need now to address, to better understand the consequences of the rise of China.  There are some opportunities, but also many challenges. 

And I met with the Chinese Foreign Minister yesterday and of course I stated clearly that NATO is an Alliance based on some core values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and of course we don’t always look eye-to-eye on all issues with China.  But I believe in dialogue with China and I believe in the importance of talking to them on issues like the Middle East, Afghanistan, arms control and many other issues. 

And then we also have, both in the European Union and NATO, developed guidelines, or basic requirements, for instance, investment in infrastructure, including telecommunication and 5G. 

So, I'm not saying that we have solved it, that everything is coordinated, but NATO is the only platform that brings together North America and Europe, on a daily basis, to address a wide range of challenges, including the challenges posed by the rise of China.  So, use NATO as that platform and then we will be able to develop more common responses.

TERI SCHULTZ: Mr Secretary General, I'd like to bring in a question from our audience, from Hannah Neumann from the European Parliament, and I know this is something dear to your heart.  She asks, how will you ensure that any deal in Afghanistan will continue to promote women's rights?  This is something that you care about so deeply.  It's something that has been one of NATO's stated goals and I mean we can argue whether that’s going so well at the moment, but if you leave, who's going to be there to continue these programmes?  Who's going to protect the people who are continuing the programmes?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, we have not decided to leave Afghanistan.  What we have decided is to be ready to adjust our force level, if Taliban delivers and demonstrate the will and capability to reduce violence. 

Second, I think that one of the great achievements we have helped to take place in Afghanistan over these years is to strengthen the role of women in Afghanistan.  Many more girls/women have education and we have empowered women.  They are much stronger now than they were in 2001. 

Thirdly, at some stage, the Afghans have to be in charge fully of their own future.  And this is the message from the Afghans. I met with President Ghani yesterday. Of course at some stage it has to be Afghan-owned peace process. 

And therefore, we need to find this balance between supporting/helping them, but also at some stage enabling them to fully be in charge of their own future.  We will do whatever we can to make sure that the gains we made, for instance when it comes to education, women's rights, are preserved.  But at the same time we have to try to find a lasting, negotiated peaceful solution, and we will do that step-by-step, conditions- based, so we make sure that we do whatever we can to preserve the gains we have made.

BOJAN PANCEVSKI: Sec Gen, thank you very much for your time.  I know you need to rush.  That was wonderful.  We are now expecting Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to come after you.  Thank you again.