Keynote speech

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Global Security 2020 (GLOBSEC) Bratislava Forum

  • 07 Oct. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 07 Oct. 2020 18:48

(As delivered)

Thanks Steve.
And good afternoon.

I am delighted to be able to join you.
GLOBSEC is a highly respected and influential conference.
Bringing together some of the world’s most innovative thinkers to discuss the world’s most pressing problems. 
And we need fora like GLOBSEC to deepen our understanding of the evolving security challenges we face.

I remember very well, in early 2014, when I was first asked about becoming the Secretary General of NATO.
The world was a very different place.

Since then, Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. 
Increased its military presence on our borders. 
Tried to interfere in our elections.
And attempted to assassinate political opponents.

We have seen a new level of brutality from ISIS and other terrorist groups. 

China has been asserting its economic, diplomatic and military weight.

We have experienced new levels of sophisticated cyber-attacks.

And we have seen how climate change can affect our security as a threat multiplier.

So what is clear is that we need to expect the unexpected. 
We must be prepared.
And we must continue to adapt.

So at the NATO Summit in 2019, NATO leaders asked me to make proposals on how we can make our strong Alliance even stronger.

That is what ‘NATO 2030’ is all about.
To ensure our Alliance remains ready to tackle any threat.
In the next decade and beyond.
To do that, we need to make NATO stronger politically.
Bringing issues that affect our security to the table.
Regardless of how difficult or divisive they may be. 

NATO must also be able to take a more global approach. 
Responding to global threats by making ourselves stronger at home.
By working with like-minded partners around the world.
And by defending the rules and institutions that have kept us safe and prosperous for so long.

And we must ensure that NATO stays strong militarily.
Because ultimately, our success as an alliance derives from our unity and from the strength of our military forces.

We are building on solid foundations.
Since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the rise of ISIS, 
NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation.

We have increased the readiness of our forces.
Reinforced our presence in the east of the Alliance.
And strengthened our ability to fight terrorism.
All Allies have increased defence spending.

And while prioritising defence in the middle of a health crisis is not easy,
we need to stay the course.
Because the threats and the challenges that made us agree to spend more in the first place have not disappeared.
Because the pandemic has demonstrated the vital role that our armed forces play in support of civilian efforts.
And because we need to maintain our technological edge in a competitive world.

Today, disruptive technologies are changing warfare as much as did the Industrial Revolution.
Conflicts are increasingly defined by bytes and big data.
As much as by bullets and battleships.

Technological dominance has always been key to NATO’s success. 
But that dominance is now being challenged by those who do not share our values.

So we must re-double our efforts.
And focus our investments even more on new, cutting-edge capabilities.
We must also ensure that Allies coordinate as they develop new technologies.
Because never before has the issue of interoperability been more important.

A ship from one NATO country can always sail next to a ship from another.
But if they can’t share information, 
If their radar and tracking systems cannot communicate, 
They may as well be in different oceans.

Today, NATO is driving innovation across the Alliance.
For instance, the NATO Science and Technology Organisation has a network of more than 6,000 scientists and engineers.
Dedicated to integrating the latest technologies – including Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and quantum computing – into NATO and Allied platforms.
Such as our next generation early-warning aircraft.  
And maritime autonomous vehicles for mine-sweeping.

As part of NATO 2030, I intend to put further proposals on the table. 
To maintain our technological edge.
To develop common principles and standards for new technologies.
And to enhance cooperation between Allies in areas like joint research and development. 

Having a strong military is fundamental to our security.
But our military cannot be strong if our societies are weak.

So our first line of defence must be strong societies.
Able to prevent, endure, adapt and bounce back from whatever happens.

In fact, resilience is in NATO’s DNA.
Article Three of the Washington Treaty places a duty on Allies to become more resilient.

When the treaty was written, the concern was an armed attack from the Soviet Union. 
Today, we face a far broader range of challenges.
That is why boosting resilience is a key task for the future.
We need robust infrastructure and systems.
Power grids, 
ports, airports, 
roads and railways. 
Our deterrence and defence depend on it.

For example, for large operations, around 90% of military transport relies on civilian ships, railways and aircraft. 

Our digital infrastructure is also fundamental, not just to our ability to communicate.
But also to our ability to operate and act together. 
Practically every piece of data on the internet is transmitted via a network of undersea cables.
Imagine the potential damage to our security, and to our daily lives, if those cables were cut.

Just as fundamental are safe supply lines.
COVID-19 has highlighted our dramatic dependence on distant providers of face masks and other essential medical equipment.
We are also reliant on a small number of providers of rare earth materials for our electronic infrastructure.
From phones to satellites.

So decisions on investments, on supply chains and on ownership are not only economic or financial decisions.
They are critical to our security.

That is why we have strengthened our resilience guidelines for telecommunications, including 5G.
Encouraging NATO Allies to conduct thorough assessments, so they use secure and reliable providers. 

We need to do more.

We need to do a better job of balancing our commercial interests with our security interests. 
That is not easy.

But as an Alliance of 30 countries with almost one billion people and half the world’s GDP,
NATO is the platform to have these conversations.
As part of NATO 2030, I want to see how we can strengthen and broaden our commitment to resilience.
We should use NATO more to hold each other accountable on issues that affect our shared security.

We should consider how we can map, monitor and share more information on foreign investment in our critical infrastructure, companies and technologies.
So we can identify gaps in our resilience.
And act if the activities of a foreign power risk affecting our security.

And we should agree common principles:
On whether to export technologies that we rely on for our security.
And how to establish secure supply chains for essential goods and services.

To enhance our resilience, we also have to work with other like-minded countries and, of course, with the European Union.

Our Alliance faces many significant challenges.
Whatever the challenge, one thing is clear.
We have to face them together. 
By staying strong militarily
Being stronger politically,
And by taking a more global approach. 

In 2030.
And in the decades to come.
Thank you.

STEVE CLEMONS [Editor-at-Large, The Hill, Washington, D.C.] Thank you very much, Mr Secretary General, and I’m hoping you can hear me. Can you wave if you can hear me?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: I can hear you now.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Excellent. Great. We’re very happy to have that. I’m also going to ask my GLOBSEC team to come over and get this fixed back, so I can look at the many questions from around the world that are trying to come in, because it is on the wrong page. So, come fix this for me.

Mr Secretary General, let me ask you, you know, many institutions, whether it’s NATO or any other large institution, tend mostly to be driven by inertia, meaning they do tomorrow pretty much what they did yesterday. When you’re at a moment like this, where there have been so many fundamental challenges in the world. Is it time to give NATO a reset? Is it time to think through a new Strategic Concept? What are your thoughts on that front?

JENS STOLTENBERG: My thought is that the existing Strategic Concept, which we agreed in 2010, has served NATO well. And it has actually served us well for many years. And we have also seen over the last year that the Strategic Concept we already have has not prevented us from adapting and changing NATO. Having said that, I think we all have to realise that since we agreed the Strategic Concept back in 2010, the world has fundamentally changed.

We see a much more assertive Russia than we did in 2010, with illegal annexation of Crimea destabilising eastern Ukraine, the military build-up. We see a new and more brutal form of terrorism, more instability to the south of our Alliance – Middle East, North Africa. And we see, of course, a fundamental shift in the global balance of power with the rise of China. And we see the development of new destructive technologies which affect our security.

So I believe the time has come to take all of this into account. The time has come to develop a new Strategic Concept for NATO, a new blueprint for how NATO can adapt and respond to a changing security environment.

And I expect, therefore also, that part of the NATO 2030, as part of that process, there will also be an issue that will be discussed amongst Allies related to the need for a new Strategic Concept, to make sure that what makes NATO the most successful alliance in history is the ability that we have been able to change and adapt when the world is changing, that we continue to change – and one part of that will then be a new Strategic Concept.

STEVE CLEMONS:  So, this is high on your priority list and you will roll out a call for a new Strategic Concept? JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I have said that the time has come to revise the Strategic Concept, because the world has so fundamentally changed since 2010. And the key to NATO’s success is that we change when the world is changing. And one way of making sure that we have a common understanding, a common way to recognise and to see the threats and the challenges we face as 30 Allies is by developing a new Strategic Concept.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Thank you, Mr Secretary General. I don’t think you could hear me before, but I was reading from a book that’s about to come out next week, in my introduction of you. It’s written by former ambassador from the United Kingdom to the United States, Kim Darroch. And he says in this that, “NATO summits would become perilous exercises in managing the American President. But the NATO Secretary General, the Norwegian, Jens Stoltenberg, became a master Trump-whisperer, always managing to keep the President just about onboard. I was thinking about this as I was looking at your travels to Turkey recently, to Greece, to many other countries, and wondering if you’re a whisperer for just about every leader of the member . . . members in NATO. And as you look at the tensions now between Greece and Turkey and their leaders, are you able, have you been able, to keep them on the right side of the line with each other? How is that going? What can you share about your trip?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I visited Turkey and Greece this week, on Monday and Tuesday. And both Turkey and Greece are valued Allies, contributing to our collective defence, to our shared security, in different ways. But at the same time, of course, I see what everyone else sees. And that was also one of the reasons I went to the two Allied countries, Greece and Turkey, is that there are some serious differences on issues like, for instance, the Eastern Mediterranean, on issues like the Turkish decision to acquire the Russian missile defence system S-400. And, of course, also related to the issues or the conflicts in Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

And I strongly believe that the only way to address these differences is to sit down, discuss and try to find ways forward together.

And therefore, I welcome also the fact that after we saw some increase in tensions and also increased military presence with the naval capabilities ships, but also planes in the Eastern Med, deployed by Allies Turkey and Greece, we have seen some reduction in tensions over the last weeks.

And also at NATO we have been able to bring Greece and Turkey together and we have now established what we call a military deconfliction mechanism, to reduce the risks for incidents and accidents. And if they happen, to make sure that they don’t spiral out of control. And one part of that is also that we have now put in place a new hotline between Greece and Turkey and a commitment by both Allies to use it whenever needed.

And we also have the chairman of the NATO Military Committee has already communicated with the CHODs, the Chiefs of Defence, in Greece and Turkey to make sure that these lines of communications, that this mechanism is in place, because we need to avoid incidents, accidents between Allies in the Eastern Med.

So this is one example of how we work together in NATO to try to reduce tensions and, in this specific case, deconflict when we see differences between Allies.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Well, thank you. Mr Secretary General, I’m going to give you a chance to sit down and I’m going to read a long question from our audience, which is abroad, to give you a chance to move to your chair. This question is from Valentina Gevorgyan and says, “I’m an Armenian researcher in political science and as a former participant of GLOBSEC conferences, great to have this opportunity to submit a question. I salute the title of the conference, ‘Let’s Heal the World Together’, which resonates perfectly with the need to stop the war happening right now, as you speak, a war imposed on Armenia by Azerbaijan and backed by Turkey.’ And I know there’s a lot of different views on that subject. ‘How do we heal a part of the world – in this case, South Caucasus – which is targeted by one of NATO’s members, Turkey, practising with its imperialist neo-Ottoman fantasies, practising terrorism for that aim,’ I’m reading this just as it is, ‘how NATO can tame its member, if it is involved in terrorism, etc.? So the question is, will the need to address terrorism prevail over former mandates and political states of international organisations?’ So this was a question to go directly at the issue of Azerbaijan and Armenia today and what you think the framing of that should be.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Of course, during my visit to Ankara this week, one of . . .  we discussed and addressed many issues and some of them are issues where we see differences between NATO Allies.

And one of the issues we of course addressed was the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and around Nagorno-Karabakh. And I expressed my deep concern about the escalation of hostilities, the fighting, the increasing number of casualties, including civilian casualties. And therefore, my message was, in Ankara, in Athens, and is today in Brussels, that all parties involved need to cease fighting immediately and we need a ceasefire and we need a political process, to find a political, peaceful, negotiated solution. And I strongly believe that, because the only way to find a peaceful solution is through negotiations. There’s no military solution to the conflict. And therefore, we support all efforts to now reach a ceasefire and to initiate talks.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Thank you. And we have this gentleman right here in the centre of the room. We’ve got a boom mic coming over to you. If you’ll stand, tell who you are, and really . . . that was a long question because we needed it, but I want a really short question from you.

QUESTION: … [inaudible] and my question is: in opposite to conventional weapons, by what share would he agree that the data is actually weapon of 21st century? Thank you.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Did you hear that, Mr Secretary General?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, but I didn’t fully understand the question, to be honest. Whether data is . . . ?

STEVE CLEMONS:  Yeah, yeah. So can you rephrase that question a little more slowly, because I couldn’t even hear it. So . . .

QUESTION: So, in opposite to conventional weapons, by what share do you agree that the data is the actual weapon of the 21st century?

STEVE CLEMONS: Okay, a very interesting question. The question is: in . . . you know, as a foil to conventional weapons, is it data – and I’m going to piggyback on you – is it data? Is it 5G? Is it . . . is it this broad arena of data that is the true weapon of the 21st century? Mr Secretary General.

JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s both. Of course, conventional weapons will still be with us and will still be important. And we see, for instance, now many countries investing both in conventional capabilities, but we see also more countries investing in a new, modern nuclear capability. So these are weapons that have been there for decades and they will still be a challenge in the future.

But at the same time, all challenges related to cyber, data, telecommunications is becoming more and more important for our security.

One issue we face is that in the past it was very much the military industry that were drivers of technological change. Now it’s more and more the civilian sector that is driving technological change. And therefore we need also to work together with industry, when we look into how can we make sure that we find the right ways to apply and use these technologies within or on military platforms. But also how we can make sure that we have a resilient infrastructure.

And resilience was one of my main messages in my speech. It is one of the main challenges we face as an alliance, because without resilient infrastructure – being it telecommunications, 5G, but also many other types of infrastructure, Internet, undersea cables – our societies will be vulnerable, but also our military capabilities will be vulnerable.

NATO has already done a lot to strengthen our cyber defences. We have revised our resilience guidelines, which applies for all Allies. But, a part of NATO 2030, when we look to the future, will be how can we further strengthen the work on the resilience within our Alliance, because that becomes just more and more important for our security.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Thank you. Mr Secretary General, we have a question from Mauricio in Mexico.

MAURICIO MESCHOULAM [Mexico Research Centre for Peace]: Hello, I am Mauricio Meschoulam from the Mexico Research Centre for Peace. Mr Stoltenberg, you said that in 2014 the world was very different from now and it is. Now, the question is: in comparison to 2014, how do you assess the likelihood of an armed conflict or an armed escalation with Russia or China at the moment?


JENS STOLTENBERG: We don’t see any imminent threat for any military confrontation or attack against any NATO-Allied country. But we see some trends. We see some challenges which are disturbing and which we have to relate to and respond to.

One is a more assertive Russia. Russia has illegally annexed a part of another country – Crimea. They continue to conduct and implement a significant military build-up along our borders from the Barents Sea, the High North, all the way through the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and out in the Mediterranean. We see them in Syria, we see them in Libya. And Russia is heavily investing in new, modern nuclear capabilities, including more sophisticated weapons systems like hypersonic weapons. Of course, this is something which we need to relate to, which is affecting our security as NATO Allies.

Then we see cyber-attacks. We see terrorist attacks. We see a more unpredictable world. So we need to be prepared for surprises. And then the rise of China. You know, NATO historically has addressed the Soviet Union. That was, in a way, the historical reason why NATO was established. But when the world changed, we were able to change. And the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore.

But until recently, NATO didn’t address and didn’t in a way respond to the rise of China at all, because we regarded that as something beyond our agenda, our responsibility. But what we see now is that the rise of China has direct implications for our security. And therefore, for the first time in NATO’s history, NATO’s Heads of State and Government decided, at the London summit in December last year, less than a year ago, that we need now to - as an Alliance, as 30 Allies - also address the opportunities, but also the challenges related to the rise China.

So we don’t see any imminent threats. We don’t regard China as an enemy or an adversary. But of course, where they now have soon the biggest economy in the world, they have the second largest defence budget, China is investing heavily in new missiles, nuclear weapons, Artificial Intelligence, disruptive technologies – this has implications for us. And that’s the reason why I welcome the fact that Allies have agreed that we now also need in a way to take that into account when we adapt NATO.

STEVE CLEMONS:  We’re getting close to the end of our time, Mr Secretary General. And I want to kind of build on that . . . that last question and ask you to go a little bit deep . . . deeper on the issue of Huawei, the pressures on 5G system, structural communications within countries that have really dual-use purposes, both national security, but also private sector. And whether or not you, if we see a world of a ‘splinternet’, if we see a division in standards over the future of communications, and we see the growing middle class in Asia increasingly within that China orbit of the Belt and Road Initiative, but we see others that are resisting that. Are you worried that . . . that the world that you’re sort of trying to bring together is eventually going to fall behind and there will be serious national security risks in this debate over . . . over Huawei and whether it should have a place in . . . in national infrastructure or not?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, the discussion about Huawei was only one part of a bigger discussion about technology. And as I stated very clearly in my introduction, resilience, technology, infrastructure has always been important, but is now becoming even more important for our security. And therefore, we need to develop some kind of common approach, because this affects all of us and when we act together, we are much stronger.

And we need a minimum of coordination when it comes to, for instance, to what extent do we protect our own technologies? To what extent do we put common standards when it comes to foreign ownership, foreign control of our infrastructure, including telecommunications? We have seen Allies already starting to do that. We have already put in place our agreed set of what we call the resilience guidelines, in seven specific areas from airports, healthcare to telecommunication and all the rest. But there is a potential and a need to do more to strengthen the way we approach this challenge together as 30 Allies.

But more fundamentally, I think we have to understand the following, and that is that: if we are concerned about technological change, if we are concerned about the size of China, their economy, their leadership in some technological areas, then it makes it even more important for NATO Allies to stand together. Because together we represent 50 per cent of the world’s GDP, close to one million people, and we are leading in many areas when it comes to new, disruptive technologies. So by standing together, we are strong militarily, but we are also able to coordinate, to work together, to address all the challenges we see emanating from new, disruptive technologies like, for instance, the development of 5G.

STEVE CLEMONS:  And one last question from our audience. It wasn’t too long ago that President Macron expressed concerns about NATO and its solvency. Other leaders have as well. How . . . what is the gap right now between NATO and EU defence and security? Is that coming together or is that gap widening?

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO and the EU, we work more closely together now that I think we have ever done before. And when I came to NATO in 2014, one of my main tasks, one of my main goals, was to strengthen the cooperation between the European Union and NATO. And I am proud that we have been able to do that together with the leadership, with the EU and NATO.

We have agreed 74 specific areas where EU and NATO works together. We have lifted NATO-EU cooperation up to an unprecedented level, a level we haven’t seen before. And I think this is of great importance, both for the European Union and for NATO.

I also welcome EU efforts on defence, because I think that will strengthen Europe, it will strengthen the European Union, it will strengthen NATO. When European Allies invest more in defence, strengthen their defence industries, develop new capabilities, that’s good for Europe, NATO, all of us.

But EU cannot replace NATO. So EU has to complement the efforts of NATO, because EU can simply not replace NATO – partly because 80 per cent of NATO’s defence expenditure comes from non-EU Allies. Around 60 per cent of the people living in NATO and 60 per cent of the GDP in NATO comes from non-EU Allies. So there is no way EU can replace NATO, but EU can help to strengthen our joint efforts and help to strengthen what we do together, North America and Europe.

And any attempt to try to divide Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO, but it will also divide Europe. So we need to work together as Europe, as NATO. That’s the only way we can stand together and meet all the challenges we see in the future.

Let me just end on this: that we live in a more unpredictable time. We live with more uncertainty. And we need to be prepared for surprises. As we have seen before, in uncertain times, we need strong international institutions. Therefore, I believe in the European Union. I’ve been advocating for Norwegian membership in the European Union, unsuccessfully, as a Norwegian politician before. But I also, of course, believe in cooperation between the European Union and NATO. And I believe in a strong NATO. And it’s good to see that, despite differences, we have been able to strengthen NATO and strengthen the work . . . the way we work together with the European Union.

STEVE CLEMONS:  Well, thank you. Well, before we thank the Secretary General, I want to tell everyone in this room that in 20 minutes we’re going to continue this conversation with three defence ministers talking about NATO in the Habsburg Room, where we’ll be discussing hybrid threats to democracy. Between then you can have Covid-safe refreshments. But with that, I really want to thank Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for sharing his candid thoughts with us today. An excellent survey. We look forward to that new process around the Strategic Concept. And thank you for outlining the threats that you see that should be the collective priority of NATO. Thank you very, very much. Big round of applause.