by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Rīga Conference 2020

  • 13 Nov. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 13 Nov. 2020 13:55

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Pauls. And many thanks to you Prime Minister Karins.

It is always a pleasure to speak in Latvia. The Riga Conference remains an important meeting point for the strategic community.

In the Baltic region, all NATO Allies stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Allied jets keep your skies safe. Allied ships keep the Baltic Sea secure. And NATO’s multinational battlegroups prevent conflict and preserve peace.

NATO keeps all Allies safe. In the air, on land, at sea, in cyber space and in space.

And as you all know, Latvia makes an important contribution to our collective defence. 

Your forces train Afghan troops to fight terrorism.
And help maintain stability in Kosovo.
Latvia leads by example on defence investment.
Spending 2 percent of GDP on defence.

And of course, you host NATO’s Canadian-led battlegroup.
In Ādaži, troops from ten Allies serve alongside Latvian forces.
Soldiers from North America and Europe serving together to keep our Alliance safe.

All of this demonstrates the strength of the transatlantic bond. Every day. Through concrete action.

Across the Alliance, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. How we live, how we work, how we relate to each other. Even how we perceive threats to our security.

NATO’s main responsibility is to make sure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis.Therefore, we have done what is necessary to keep our forces safe,
to maintain our operational readiness, and sustain our missions and operations from the Baltic Sea to Afghanistan. And we continue to deliver a credible deterrence and defence for our Alliance.

Beyond that, we have strengthened civilian efforts to tackle the corona virus.
During the first wave of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops supported civilian efforts. Hundreds of NATO flights delivered critical supplies around the world. And almost a hundred field hospitals treated many thousands of patients.

As we all know, we have now entered the second wave.
Just these last weeks, we have distributed hundreds of extra ventilators to our Allies Albania, the Czech Republic, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
NATO and Allies are ready to provide further assistance. Quickly and efficiently.

But there are some things the coronavirus has not changed.
It has not changed Allies’ dedication to each other.
It has not changed our commitment to our values.
It has not changed our resolve to defend and protect our people.
And unfortunately, the pandemic has not changed the fact that we still face many other challenges.

Russia’s aggressive acts and military activities continue unabated. For many years, we have seen a disturbing pattern of Russian behaviour.
Its illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine. A massive military build-up on our borders. The use of a military-grade nerve agent. Attempts to assassinate its opponents. Cyber-attacks. Disinformation campaigns. Attempts to interfere in our elections. And Russia’s deployment of new, nuclear-capable missiles that led to the demise of the INF Treaty.

This is part of a whole suite of new Russian capabilities. And in response, NATO Allies are acquiring new air and missile defence systems. Including Patriot and SAMP/T batteries. We are strengthening our advanced conventional capabilities.
Investing in new platforms, including fifth generation fighter aircraft.
Adapting our intelligence and exercises. And keeping our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective.

At the same time, Russia remains our biggest neighbour. It’s not going anywhere.
That is why we maintain dialogue with Russia. To avoid incidents, accidents and miscalculations. And because we are committed to effective arms control.

But know one thing. NATO and all NATO Allies will do whatever is necessary to keep all our countries safe.
Everything NATO does is defensive. Including our presence here in the Baltic region. So when the leadership in Belarus tries to use NATO as a pretext for cracking down on its own people, it is completely unjustified. And absolutely wrong.
Our message is that only the people of Belarus should decide the future of Belarus.

NATO also faces many other challenges. China is asserting its economic, diplomatic and military weight.
New technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and autonomous systems, are changing the nature of conflict. Conflict which is fought in new domains like cyber, and also in space.
And terrorist attacks continue. In recent weeks we have seen barbaric attacks in France, in Austria, as well as in Afghanistan.

NATO must be able to respond to all these challenges. We must always look forward. To prepare for tomorrow’s challenges, just as we rise to meet today’s.

This is why I have launched the NATO 2030 initiative.
NATO 2030 has three objectives.

First, it’s about staying strong militarily.
In a challenging security environment, we need to continue to invest in deterrence and defence. Not only in tanks and bullets. But also in cyber and other new capabilities.

Second, we must make NATO a stronger political Alliance.
It’s not news that Allies sometimes have their differences. But NATO is the only place where North America and Europe meet every day. So it’s the best place to sit down, remember what unites us, and solve our differences together.

And third, NATO needs a more global approach.
Not because we want to be a global alliance. But because so many of the challenges we face are global. Like terrorism, cyber-threats, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of course the rise of China. So we need to work ever more closely with our partners. And with other organisations like the United Nations and the European Union, to protect our values and way of life. And to defend the global rules-based order.

None of our countries, even the biggest ones, can deal with the challenges we now face alone. We need to work together to find common solutions.

As part of NATO 2030, I am seeking a wide range of views. From experts, from academia and from the civil society. This will feed into my recommendations to NATO Leaders when they meet next year.

As a part of this, I also believe it is now time for us to develop a new Strategic Concept for NATO. An updated blueprint for how NATO can adapt and respond to the very challenging strategic environment we face today.

So ladies and gentlemen,
NATO is the most successful alliance in history. Our success is based on our values. Freedom, democracy, the rule of law. And on the unbreakable bond between our countries. Between Europe and North America.

It is only by remaining united, investing in our defence, and looking to the future,
that we will maintain the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed for so many years.

Thank you.

PAULS RAUDSEPS [Journalist, Chairman of the Board of Cits Medijs]: Thank you, Mr Stoltenberg. We move now to the Question and Answer part of our session, a chance for our participants to address their questions to Mr Stoltenberg and Mr Kariņš. You can do that by clicking on the blue button in the bottom right-hand corner of your Riga Conference screen and writing your question, which I will then address to either Mr Kariņš or Mr Stoltenberg, or the both of them. But to get the ball rolling, we have two participants already lined up who’ll address their questions personally by video link. The first question is from Renata … [inaudible], a student of International Relations at Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte. Please, Renata, the floor is yours.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, your Excellencies. As Pauls mentioned, my name is Renata … [inaudible] and I’m a student of International Relations in the Riga Stradins University. My question is addressed to Secretary General. Could you elaborate on the role of disinformation and social media on youth radicalisation? Is NATO considering to expand its scope towards defensive tactics in the new-age global war on terror? We have recently seen dramatic developments in this area in NATO member states. How far does the situation need to go before there are NATO repercussions? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: We are taking disinformation very seriously, because we see more and more disinformation. We see it from non-government organisations, from terrorist organisations and from state organisations. And of course, we need to respond. And I think that the best response is, of course, to make sure that facts, the truth, is available, because I strongly believe that in the long run, the truth will prevail.

So we are providing facts. We are helping Allies to push back and we actually are regularly updating a home page at NATO where we actually counter a lot of the disinformation we see out there, especially in cyberspace, on social media.

We also help to increase the awareness in different capitals about the seriousness of disinformation in different forms. And, of course, this is also partly linked to what we do in cyberspace and protecting our networks.

But in the long run, I actually believe that the most important thing we can do to counter disinformation is to make sure that we have a free and independent press. That we have journalists who are asking the difficult questions, who are checking their sources, who are not victims for disinformation campaigns. So the whole idea of having strong democratic institutions, having a strong, independent free press, I think is actually the best way to make us as little vulnerable as possible for disinformation. And that’s perhaps the best bulwark against disinformation.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Thank you, Mr Stoltenberg. The second question will be from … [inaudible]. She is a lieutenant colonel in the Latvian National Armed Forces. Lieutenant Colonel.

QUESTION: Good morning, sir. I would like to address my question to Mr Stoltenberg. And of course, at first I would like to say that we appreciate all NATO efforts to secure our country. And as I am connected very much to military exercises and we all know that combat-readiness of NATO troops is very crucial and it is mostly maintained through the exercises and collective training. And in this light, when . . . what if exercises are downsized or even some of them are cancelled? I have a question: how the current situation affected NATO troops’ collective training and their combat-readiness. And the second part of the question is: in your opinion, what should be done in the future? What lessons we have learned from this situation? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I totally agree that readiness is key, and therefore we have been extremely focussed on how to increase the readiness of our forces. The NATO forces and, of course, general [sic], introduce a culture of readiness into our different Allies and their forces.

When it comes to Latvia and the Baltic region, I think we have to understand that just the fact that we now have multinational combat-ready NATO troops in Latvia has significantly increased the readiness.

I remember well when we prepared for the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016 that it was not obvious that all NATO Allies were going to agree on a decision to deploy four battalions in Poland and the three Baltic countries of combat-ready troops. That’s what we have now. And that’s a huge improvement of readiness. The fact that we have these troops there every day. And also the fact that they are multinational demonstrates that NATO is there working together with the host nation, Latvia, working together with you. I think that’s a very strong demonstration of readiness.

Then, of course, we need exercises and, therefore, we have made sure that we are able to uphold our operational readiness throughout the pandemic, but to minimise the risk for the spread of the virus, for actually a situation that could undermine the strength of our forces. We have been forced to implement some measures, meaning adapting, scaling down some of the exercises. If this continues, of course, we need to look into how we can scale up and do more exercises with the pandemic. But of course, the main goal for all of us is that we, at some stage within the not-too-distant future, are able to find a vaccine, are able to deal with the pandemic so we can return to more normal behaviour and more normal exercise patterns.

But I think my main message is, yes, we have adapted some exercises, but overall, NATO has been able to maintain operational readiness. We have been able to maintain our missions and operations: the battlegroups in the Baltic countries, the air policing, our maritime patrols, so we are there operating as a strong Alliance in the midst of the pandemic.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Thank you, Mr Stoltenberg. I see the questions are coming in, but I’m going to take advantage of my position as the moderator to ask a question that’s been troubling me in the last weeks. We see military conflict breaking out in Nagorno-Karabakh, over the last years Ukraine, Libya, Syria. The number of military conflicts on the European perimeter are growing. And I was won— . . . I wanted to ask you, do you see the COVID pandemic as something that increases the risk of military conflict or as something that decreases it? Or is . . . are things pretty much staying the same? And that’s a question to both of you.

ARTURS KRIŠJĀNIS KARIŅŠ [Prime minister of the Republic of Latvia]: Yeah, thank you very much. Well, I don’t see in any way that it would decrease conflict, but what it does is it increases stress in any society. So it’s hard to say, for example, Nagorno-Karabakh, I’m unaware that this is a direct result of the pandemic and how much the pandemic actually affected Azarian-Armenian thinking in this, may be little to none. But what’s clear is that, at least in our societies, in the Western societies, it is causing people to . . . it’s another fault line.

So now there’s the question: do you believe that it’s a conspiracy or do you believe it’s a disease? Do you believe that there are measures that can be taken against it? So wearing masks or not wearing masks. And these all become politicised as another visible way to drive societies apart at the same time as the health care system is under stress, the economy is under stress and the educational system is under stress. So it certainly is affecting our societies, the democratic societies. That’s very clear. Whether it’s stoking more conflict is . . . is unclear, but it certainly is not helping. So I think it only increases our own challenges, not least of which is unity within our societies, because that’s my entire premise and argument, is that we in the West need to be unified because the difficulties are arising by themselves. And if we are disunited, that is our weakness and their strength. So the pandemic is actually hampering unity because it’s providing yet another fault line.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Thank you. Mr Stoltenberg, from NATO Headquarters. Is COVID increasing the risks of military conflict?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  At least, the pandemic is putting heavy pressure on our societies and not only on NATO Allies, but on societies and countries all over the world. And, of course, that can at some stage also increase the risk for potential conflicts. But I will not speculate about … too much about the link between the pandemic and potential crisis risks in the future.

What I will say is actually the same as the Prime Minister, that regardless of how much we believe there is a risk or a link between pandemic and potential risks in the future, we need to be prepared. It has proven over the decades extremely hard to predict what will be the next crisis. Is it Ukraine or is it 9/11 or is it a pandemic or is it . . . whatever it is? The thing is that we need to be prepared for the unforeseen.

So instead of being so focussed on trying to predict the next crisis, which has proved extremely difficult, we need to be always prepared for surprises, for crises. And then, as long as we stand together, as long as we have a strong Alliance, as long as we stand up for the principle of ‘one for all and all for one’, then we are partly able to reduce the risk for any threats and challenges and crisis because any potential adversary knows that we are together, we defend each other.

And second, if there is a threat, if there is a challenge to NATO Allies, we are much more able to deal with it as long as we stand together. And the pandemic demonstrates that because NATO Allies have provided significant help to each other and we have seen how the military, across the Alliance, have been critical and extremely helpful in supporting the civilian efforts to cope with the pandemic.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Okay, thank you. A question has come in from our audience for Prime Minister Kariņš. States closed their borders and blocked the export of vital medical inventory during the COVID. How can we prevent similar reflexes if security threats arise?

ARTURS KRIŠJĀNIS KARIŅŠ: Thank you. I think that’s a very pertinent question. But what we have seen, at least in Europe, so, in the first, let’s call it a wave, in the spring, the quick reflex was to close borders to stop the virus. And it had the knock-on negative effect of actually impeding flows of goods. And no-one intended that. But we had forty-hour longer lines on many member state borders, which included not only food, but also vital medical supply chains.

But what we are seeing now in the second wave is that despite the numbers being actually far worse than in the first wave, we are not closing our borders because, also, as heads of state and government, we’ve spoken a lot about this, that it’s vital to keep our borders open – that’s not going to solve the issue – and to cooperate with one another. So on some level, we have learnt from . . . you could say it’s a mistake or it’s . . . it’s something that hadn’t been thought about before. But if we were to need at any point to restrict the movement of people, say for a pandemic or this pandemic, it is vital that we keep always the supply routes open. And the difficulty is that on the border controls, border controls are not generally set for people and goods being completely separated, because the drivers of those goods are also people. So everyone is being checked.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: One thing is borders, but I think what the questioner is also asking is about . . . medical supplies. Some states had large reserves that they didn’t need at the moment and other states had an emergency and . . . but there was a lack of willingness to share in some cases. Do you see that as a problem?

ARTURS KRIŠJĀNIS KARIŅŠ: I see that as a very big problem. And I also see that this crisis has shown that even within Europe, we have a lack of capability to . . . to supply ourselves.

So, for example, for the Personal Protection Equipment, the PPEs, many countries, including my own, we had to turn to China to purchase facemasks and gloves and plastic coats for doctors, et cetera, because there simply is not enough supply capability in Europe. And I think this is a question that we need to return to: what are the vital industries that we need to make certain that they exist in Europe?

I think that on the medical supply issue, probably markets will have adjusted and companies will be investing and maybe say with . . . with facemasks, this issue now seems to be resolved, there seems to be plenty of supply also made in the EU supplied today. But I think we need to look ahead to what other kinds of supplies. Do we have a security in military? I think the answer there would be, yes. What about in the food chain? What about in other chains? And this is not . . . not resolved. And I think it has been a very big problem.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Hm-hmm. A question for Mr Stoltenberg. ‘Societal resilience is increasingly becoming a precondition of security. One example of that is hybrid threats that undermine solidarity in societies. How will NATO expand its scope to meet this need?’

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, one part of NATO 2030, this reflection on the future of NATO will also address resilience. And resilience has become more and more important for NATO. It’s actually a very old topic. It’s enshrined in our founding treaty, the Washington Treaty, back in 1949, but it has been not so high on our agenda over the last years.

But now the importance of resilience has just increased, because we have seen so many threats and challenges which are not, what should I say, classical military threats, but hybrid cyber threats. And that illustrates the importance of having strong societies. We cannot have strong defence without having strong societies. And that is demonstrated by the importance of, for instance, civilian infrastructure, for military operations, but also, of course, for running the civilian society as such.

The majority of the movements of equipment and soldiers and so on that has to take place in a crisis will be done by civilian means of transport. And, therefore, we need civilian infrastructure, transport, airfields, harbours and so on, which are functioning, which are resilient in times of crisis and conflict.

To deal with that, we have developed something we call Baseline Requirements for Resilience in different strands like telecommunications, continuation of government, health services, but also infrastructure and transportation. For instance, looking into telecommunications, 5G, to make sure that we address issues like foreign ownership, foreign control. So we have certainty that all these systems are in place especially in times of crisis, because they are so critical to the operation of our societies in general, but, of course, also for any military operation.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Okay, I understand Mr Stoltenberg has to leave us in a couple of minutes, so I’ll address the next question to him as well, from the audience: ‘Can NATO retain its credibility and successfully continue its mission in light of growing tensions amongst certain members?’

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think we have to understand that NATO is an alliance of 30 different Allies from both sides of the Atlantic with different political parties in power, with different history, different political cultures. And, therefore, there are differences between NATO Allies. There is no way to deny that.

At the same time, we have had differences before, dating back to the Suez Crisis in 1956 or when France decided to leave the military cooperation in the 1960s in NATO, or the Iraq war in 2003. So if we look back, there have been many disagreements, differences between NATO Allies.

The good thing is that despite these differences, we have always been able to overcome them and unite around our core task, our core mission, and that is to defend and protect each other. Because we all know that we are safer and stronger when we stand together than when we are apart. And I am absolutely confident that we will be able to do that also this time.

But again, NATO 2030 is about how to make sure that that happens. And one of the ways to make sure that we are able to unite, despite our differences, is that we should actually use NATO more as a political alliance. So when there are differences, we should sit down, discuss, try to find ways forward and at least have open and transparent discussions about the challenges we see, when there are differences between NATO Allies.

Just to illustrate that with one example, there are differences when it comes to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. And I’m, of course, concerned about the tensions and the disagreements we have seen between two highly-valued NATO Allies, Greece and Turkey. At the same time, we have used NATO as a platform to develop what we call ‘deconfliction mechanisms’, because with more military presence in the Eastern Med, there is a risk for incidents or accidents and we have to prevent that from happening – and if it happens, at least prevent it from spiralling out of control. So, I welcome that Greece and Turkey have established – at NATO, because they meet here at NATO every day – mechanisms to communicate, a hotline, 24-hour, and using the NATO systems to, at least, reduce the risks for incidents and accidents. And hopefully that also can then help to pave the way for negotiations on the underlying issues, the underlying problems related to the continental shelf and so on.

So the best thing would, of course, be if we can avoid differences, agree on all issues. But given the fact that we are different nations and sometimes have different positions, we need to use NATO as a platform to minimise the consequences and find a way forward despite our differences. And we have done that for more than 70 years and I’m confident that we can do that also for many more decades to come.

PAULS RAUDSEPS: Okay, thank you, Mr Stoltenberg and thank you for participating in the conference. I understand you have to leave now, but we’ve been happy to have you here. Thank you.