Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on NATO 2030 and the importance of strengthening the transatlantic bond in the next decade and beyond

  • 04 Feb. 2021 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 05 Feb. 2021 11:21

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, Robin.
It’s great to see you again.
And good morning North America.
And good afternoon Europe.
Welcome everyone.

Let me start by thanking Chatham House.
For over a hundred years, your intellectual leadership has helped to guide governments, societies and leaders through constant global change.
So, therefore, you are the ideal partner for today’s event.

Like many of you here today, I became interested in politics at an early age.
Because I wanted to work for a better, safer world.

I grew up during the Cold War,
Always aware of the risk of a nuclear conflict. 
So I protested against nuclear weapons,
and celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

For so many centuries, conflict was a constant companion in Europe.
But since the creation of NATO, more than seventy years ago, peace has been preserved and freedom maintained.
The nations of Europe and North America have stood together.
Pledged to defend each other.
To protect our peoples.
And to uphold our values.

That pledge remains.
But the world has changed.
And it has become much more unpredictable than when I was growing up.

We don’t just face one clear challenge, but multiple, complex challenges.
From pandemics to infodemics,
From climate change to disruptive technologies.

And the lines between peace and war,
civilian and military,
state and non-state,
are increasingly blurred.

To continue adapting our Alliance to this unpredictability, we launched the NATO 2030 initiative.

This is why we are all here today.
And why I asked a group of 14 young leaders from across the Alliance to advise me on NATO’s future.

In addition, students from 10 universities have been competing all week in NATO’s first policy hackathon.
And later, you will have the chance to vote for the most innovative ideas.

Today’s event is about generating fresh, new thinking about the future of NATO.
We asked you to look at five areas that are vital to our security.

First, we asked you to look at how we can continue to protect our values,
and the rules-based order that has brought us peace and prosperity for so many decades.
These values – freedom, democracy, the rule of law – are not abstract notions.
They are at the very core of who we are.
And we got a shocking reminder of this as we watched the attack on the United States Congress just a month ago.

That was not only an assault on the heart of American democracy.
But also on the core values of NATO.

President Biden’s inauguration on those same steps just two weeks later showed the strength of democracy.
It also showed that we must never take our democracy for granted.

The second area we asked you to look at is resilience.
Increasingly, our security does not just rely on strong militaries.
We need strong, resilient societies and economies too.

We need more robust infrastructure.
Transport and telecommunications, including 5G and undersea cables.
And we need safer and more diverse supply lines.
For fuel, food and medical supplies.
We must do more to identify vulnerabilities and mitigate risks.
And hold each other to account.
For example, by screening foreign investment, ownership and control of our critical infrastructure and assets.

Because these are not just economic decisions.
They are crucial for our ability to protect ourselves.
We should never trade short-term economic benefit for our long-term security interest.

The third area we asked you to look at was NATO’s role in the world.
NATO is and will remain a regional alliance of Europe and North America.

But the challenges we face are more and more global.
So we need a global outlook.

We need to work even more closely with like-minded partners across the globe to develop a community of democracies.
Like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

And also to reach out to potential new partners, like Brazil and India.

To contribute to global peace and security, NATO must continue to work with partner nations to protect civilians in war zones and counter-terrorist operations.
NATO is a standard setter in this area.
Because for NATO, national security and human security must always go hand in hand.

Fourth, we asked you to look at the security implications of climate change.
Global warming puts pressure on people and resources and makes the world a more dangerous place.
Climate change affects our security.
And makes it harder for our military forces to keep us safe.

Therefore, we all have a responsibility to do more to combat climate change.
Which is why we are looking at how NATO can play our part in reaching Net Zero.

Finally, we asked you to look at emerging and disruptive technologies.
For decades, our technological edge has kept our militaries strong.
But today it is being challenged.
By countries like Russia and China.

So we must continue to innovate and invest in the right forces with the right capabilities.
To remain competitive in a more competitive world.

For all five areas, the ideas you put forward today will help me finalise my recommendations to NATO Leaders at our Summit later this year.


Your generation has the greatest stake in our future.
So it is essential that your voices are heard.
This is your chance to shape our agenda for NATO 2030.

So I thank you for your energy, your ideas and your optimism today.
We must be bold.
Together, we can make NATO stronger.
To keep our nations safe on both sides of the Atlantic.
In a fast-changing world. 

I very much look forward to hearing from you.
And I wish all the hackathon teams the very best of luck.

Robin Niblett: Thank you very much, Secretary General thanks for those very important remarks for laying out the scope of the challenge that you set to the NATO Young Leaders to look at the diversity of the challenges and risks, which as you described cover a spectrum that no longer has some of perhaps the simplicity of the Cold War challenges that faced NATO in that time.

We want to draw in some questions right now, we've got about 15 minutes to be able to get some questions over to you and points back.

What I wanted to do though if I may is start with a question on behalf of one of the young members of the Common Futures Conversation, a network, actually as Chatham House, has helped convene with the support of the Robert Bosch foundation and a number of other organisations, that looks, brings young Europeans and young Africans together, to think about their common future, and […] from Nigeria, wanted me to pose the following question to you.

So if I could kick off with this one, and his question goes as follows:

Africa has a security challenge which needs both internal and external support. NATO has already established a working relationship with the African Union. What role will NATO play in curbing the insecurity that has been plaguing the continent, beyond 2021. Could you share any thoughts on that specific question first, please.

Secretary General: For NATO it is extremely important to work with the partners in our neighbourhood, and Africa is a neighbour of the North Atlantic region where NATO operates. NATO is and will remain regionalized for North America and Europe. 

But of course, what happens in Africa matters for our security.

So therefore, we strongly believe in the importance of working with partners, countries but also organisations like the African Union, and as you just alluded to NATO has already established cooperation with the African Union. We also work with the UN, so we help for instance with the training of peacekeeping forces, capacity building, how to deal with things like improvised explosive devices, how to protect the peacekeeping troops in their missions and operations, including in Africa.

Then we also have some partner nations through something we call the Mediterranean Dialogue. We work with countries like Tunisia, Morocco, other partners in Northern Africa. I also recently met the President of Mauritania, we are of course concerned about the situation in the Sahel region, and NATO allies are helping supporting, to fight international terrorism, different terrorist groups in the region and NATO is also looking into how we can step up and do more both when it comes to exercises, capacity building and training.

So in NATO we will often say that when our neighbours are stable we are more secure. So, I think it is extremely important that we work with Africa, with African Union, with countries in Africa and in particular our partners, to support, to help the efforts to fight instability, and to fight international terrorism, and work in other ways with African countries.

Robin Niblett: Thank you very much and I think with your commentary about the cascading effects of climate insecurity, we could easily see the relationship with African countries in that focus growing.

I'm just going to turn to a couple of questions that I see here, we've got a huge amount coming in already as we might imagine into our Q&A. But, […] if I can stick with the sort of international NATO, part of your remarks that you gave here, NATO in the World, your third topic, he says here:

Which NATO model are we heading towards, given the strategic rivalry between the US and China will NATO be more of a global alliance, or will collective defence against threats, for example from Russia, continue to be central. We know certainly during the Trump administration Secretary General there are quite a bit of emphasis about turning towards the risks from China, which I think you did allude to in your remarks. But do you see, as he asked this question is there going to be a new model where NATO becomes part of that US-China rivalry?

Secretary General: We don't regard China as an adversary. And there are opportunities, connected to the rise of China, the strong economic growth has helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and of course the strong economic growth in China over decades have also been important for NATO allies, important for our export markets, our economies.  Having said that, at the same for that there are some challenges for our security.

Soon, China will have the biggest economy in the world.

China is an authoritarian society, which does not share our values, we see that in the way they cracked down on democracy, human rights activists in Hong Kong, how they deal with minorities, or oppress minorities in their own country like Uighurs, and also the way that they have threatened Taiwan or the way they actually behave for instance in the South China Sea.

China is also now, investing heavily in new modern military capabilities, including new nuclear capabilities and China is present in NATO countries, investing heavily in infrastructure. We had an important discussion about 5g and I think we've seen a convergence of use within NATO realizing that, for instance, 5g network is crucial, not only for our economies but also for the resilience of our societies. And fundamentally about the security of our societies,

And NATO is a unique platform to bring together North America and Europe to address these challenges because in security, science matters. And, of course, NATO is important for Europe but the NATO is also important for America and especially addressing the complex security consequences of the rise of China. It matters for the United States that they have 29, friends and Allies in NATO.

Let me just end by saying that, for me, this is not about making NATO, a global Alliance. NATO will remain an Alliance with members from Europe and North America and our collective security guarantees, they apply for North America and Europe. But the threats we face in this region, they are becoming more and more global terrorism, cyber, space, and the rise of China, these are global challenges that affect our regional security.

Therefore, being a regional Alliance, we need a global approach, and this is also what we address in NATO2030.

Robin Niblett: Thank you for that important term distinctions, and as you said, a North Atlantic Alliance in terms of collective security guarantees, but an Alliance that has global interests.

There are a number of questions I'm sort of grouping them together, but […] in particular, along with others, asking about the dilemma I'm sure you're having to deal with, with two key members, Greece and Turkey, facing quite a serious set of disputes and disagreements including deployment of vessels and so on, in eastern Mediterranean. How are you, as the Secretary General managing this challenge. And how do you see the way forward, to put it bluntly, given both countries’ central role for a strong need to go in the future.

Secretary General: It is well known, and it's actually part of what we also addressed in NATO at several occasions that there are differences between NATO Allies and in this case, between two important NATO Allies Greece and Turkey. Both Greece and Turkey are valued Allies. But they disagree on some issues related to the eastern Mediterranean.

I think that NATO's role is to provide the platform to address these differences. When we disagree, when there are differences we need to convene, and to sit down and to have open and honest discussions about the differences. And that's exactly what we have done.

When it comes to for instance situation the eastern Mediterranean. And therefore we have been able to establish at NATO, what we call a deconfliction mechanism and that's actually military lines of communications, hotline , military technical talks between the Greek and Turkish military personnel here at NATO in Brussels. And by that, reducing the risks of incidents, accidents, between ships, planes in the eastern med, coming from Turkey and Greece.

This is important because in the 1990s where we had similar differences, tensions between Greece and Turkey, we actually saw that that led to casualties to serious incidents that lead to actually fatalities and loss of personnel. We need to prevent that from happening again and that's the reason why we have established this de-confliction mechanism at NATO. This has all helped to pave the way for Greece and Turkey to sit down and re- start what they call exploratory talks on the underlying disagreements.

So, yes, there are concerns but I think the most important thing that NATO can do is to try to find ways, step by step, not only complain about the concerns and express concerns, but also find a positive approach, a way forward and over the last weeks or months we have seen some important steps in the right direction, proving that NATO has an important role to play, Also when allies disagree as the differences in the eastern Mediterranean..

Robin Niblett: Thank you. We have quite a few questions coming in on the cyber question as well. I'm just looking here. Obviously you highlighted this as I think your fifth or one of your key topics in your list for the young group to focus on.

And I can see […] has asked a question about whether NATO, having created its cyberspace Operations Centre in Belgium. This is a big discussion about broadening the Article V commitment to include significant cyber attacks and he asks, What do you consider a significant cyber attack? I think there are a couple of other questions about cyber security but let's focus on that one first if we could. How are you going to be able to keep that predictability the deterrent effect of NATO alive in this cyber era in particular.

Secretary General: So we will never give a potential adversary or enemy the privilege of telling them exactly when we're going to trigger Article V. That's for us to decide based on a concrete assessment of a concrete situation. But what we have clearly stated is that is that a cyberattack might trigger Article V.

So if we assess it, deem it, as serious enough, then we can trigger Article V, meaning that then we have all NATO Allies, stepping up and protecting the Ally or the Allies, that are under a cyber attack. We can respond in cyber, but you can also respond in other domains - that's up to us to decide.

The whole purpose of deterrence, is to prevent an attack. And, and the success of NATO has been that we have been able to prevent conflict, the purpose of NATO is not to fight the war, the purpose of NATO is to prevent the war. And we have done so successfully for decades, then I think we have to recognise that in cyber, the line between peace and war is more blurred. And that's one of the challenges we face that before it was, it was easy to define whether we were at war, whether it was living in peace. Now with terrorism, cyber, hybrid threats that line is more blurred and that, that in itself is a challenge.

We have established  cyber as an operational domain, and we also developed what we call National Cyber effects, sometimes also referred to as ‘offensive cyber’ and NATO Allies use that in a very effective way for instance in combating Daesh, ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We were able to take down many of their cyber capabilities that were important for them recruiting, spreading their propaganda, financing, so offensive cyber or National Cyber effects are also part of what NATO has developed over the last years, and, and we continue to strengthen our cyber defences.

Robin Niblett: Thank you. A couple of, ee've got another four minutes between the two of us, so Secretary General, just so you know where we are in the flow, and thank you everyone for all the questions I don't know how many more we'll be able to take but I've got a few left here. I want to make sure we touch on maybe a little bit traditional, but […] asks the very obvious question.

What mechanisms, do you foresee NATO developing in its 2030 agenda to contain continued Russian aggression. Full stop.

Secretary General: Credible deterrence, and that's exactly what we have done for 70 - more than 70 - years and we will continue to do so. And we have done that, over the last years, also by significantly, strengthening our collective defence the biggest  reinforcement of our collective defence, since the end of the Cold War, with the deployment of combat battlegroups to the Eastern part of the Alliance, in the Baltic countries and Poland.  With increased readiness of our forces with a new command structure. And of course, with the fact that all NATO Allies after the cutting defence spending for many years, all NATO allies have since 2014 increased defence spending.

So, the adaptation of NATO, the fact that we are modernising our military capabilities, that's the best way to make sure that no Ally is suffering any attack from any direction including, of course, also from Russia.

Robin Niblett: Two more questions […] asks again a very big and important question how do you see the arrival of the Biden administration, affecting the future of NATO and the kind of plans that you're developing, do you see some fundamental change?

Secretary General: I welcome the new Biden demonstration I'm looking forward to working with President Biden and his security team. I have spoken with President Biden twice since the elections and he has expressed strongly his personal commitment to NATO. I have worked with him in his previous capacities, and I know that President is a strong personal supporter of the transatlantic bond and he knows NATO very well.

I have also spoken with Secretary Blinken and the new Defence Secretary, Austin, and they also express their strong personal commitment. So I think that the new Biden administration provides a unique opportunity to re energise to revitalise to rebuild NATO, and I look forward to welcoming President Biden, to the NATO Summit in Brussels later this year.

Robin Niblett: And maybe one last question I think this is what we've got time for now.

[…] has asked a question about environmental threats I've had a couple of questions about environmental issues here.

For environmental threats is NATO going to have to rethink, its value structure and its habits and its customs and can nature play a role in that redefinition of what security is? […] asks a similar question. Climate change is not just a climate threat, it is driven and is affecting biodiversity, in particular, and that also has security implications. So how inventive can NATO be in rethinking these environmental dimensions of future security, how much of a role, and they do play in that space.

Secretary General: So climate change is a serious issue for many reasons. One of them is that climate change affects our security. Climate change is a crisis multiplier. And therefore, it matters for NATO, and therefore, NATO has to address the security consequences of climate change. One of the reasons I want to, as part of NATO 2030 to launch a process where NATO is adapting, developing a new Strategic Concept is that actually in the existing Strategic Concept we agreed back in 2010, climate change is hardly mentioned,  it is mentioned one word tiny reference to climate change.

I think that in a new strategic concept for NATO, which hopefully will start to develop when we meet at the NATO Leaders meeting later this year, climate change has to play a much more prominent and important role. NATO should do its part to look into how we can reduce emissions from military operations. We know that heavy battle tanks or fighter jets and naval ships, they consume a lot of fossil fuel and emit greenhouse or co2, greenhouse gases, co2, and therefore we do have to look into how we can reduce those emissions by alternative fuels, solar panels, other ways of running our missions.

That will be good for the climate, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, but it will also increase the resilience of our troops and military operations, because we know that one of the vulnerabilities in any military operation is the supply of fossil fuels. Along supply lines, vulnerable supply lines, As always, for two decades been a critical vulnerability for many different military operations so if we can make us less dependent on that, we are both reducing emissions, but at the same time, increasing the military effectiveness, the resilience of our troops. So, so we are working on that with different projects to look into how we can make our militaries greener and less dependent on fossil fuels.

So, we will address a climate change. We are in the process of stepping up in that area and for me it is a privilege to have my background as UN Envoy on climate change, and then bringing that  background into my current responsibility as Secretary General of NATO.

Robin Niblett: Thank you very much for those answers and actually in particular the one you made at the end there about actually potentially being more resilient, as a an Alliance by actually addressing the climate challenge, because otherwise we're going be facing enemies who may be ignoring these issues.