Strengthening Transatlantic Relations: the right thing to do, the right time to do it

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the EU Inter-parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy

  • 03 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 03 Mar. 2021 18:27

(As delivered)

Thank you so much President Rodrigues. 

And thank you for inviting me to address the Inter-Parliamentary Conference.

For many years, I was a parliamentarian myself,

and I know how decisive and important your voices are.

So it really is a pleasure to join you all today. 

Let me also take this opportunity to thank Portugal – a staunch NATO Ally and a committed European Union member. 

You contribute to our shared security and to our collective defence in many different ways.

Portuguese jets and ships are part of our air policing missions and our maritime operations.

Portuguese forces take part in our multinational brigade in Romania.

And you host a number of different NATO facilities, including our cutting-edge cyber academy.

You are also a lead and host nation for exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 later this year.

This is an important defensive NATO exercise which will demonstrate Alliance readiness and transatlantic solidarity. 

Portugal is also a champion of strong NATO-EU relations.

My address to you today is a testimony to that.

The Portuguese EU Presidency has made strengthening transatlantic relations one of its priorities.

And I strongly welcome this.

Because strong transatlantic relations are the only way for our countries to address the great challenges of today and tomorrow.

Russia’s destabilising behaviour.

Brutal forms of terrorism in our neighbourhood.

Sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Disruptive technologies.

The rise of China.

The security implications of climate change.

And a health pandemic.

All of these challenges are far greater than any of us can address alone.

In recent years we have lifted NATO-EU cooperation to unprecedented levels.

We are working side-by-side in many areas.

Helping to stabilise our neighbourhood in the Western Balkans.

Dealing with illegal migration in the Aegean.

And addressing a range of hybrid threats, from cyber-attacks to disinformation campaigns.

But we can do even more together.

To bolster our resilience.

Champion new technologies.

Combat climate change.

And protect the rules-based order.

It makes sense for NATO and the EU to join forces.

As I have stated many times, I welcome EU efforts on defence.

And the fullest possible involvement of non-EU Allies in PESCO and the European Defence Fund.

I also welcome the recent US decision to join the project on military mobility, which is a flagship of NATO-EU cooperation.

This can enable US and other NATO troops and equipment to move faster across Europe.

For instance to reinforce our NATO battlegroups in the Baltic Sea region. 

A European Union that spends more on defence and new capabilities,

and that reduces the fragmentation of the European defence industry,

is not only good for European security.

It is also good for transatlantic security.

But European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity.

And the European Union cannot defend Europe alone.

More than 90 percent of EU citizens live in a NATO country.

But EU members provide only 20 percent of NATO’s defence spending.

It is not only about money.

It is also about geography.

Iceland and Norway in the North are gateways to the Arctic.

Turkey in the south borders Syria and Iraq.

And in the west, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom link together both sides of the Atlantic.

All of these countries are critical for the defence of Europe.

And most of all, it is about politics.

Any attempt to divide Europe from North America will weaken NATO.

But it will also divide Europe.

Only a strong NATO can keep our almost one billion people safe in a more dangerous world.

So I do not believe in Europe alone.

Or North America alone.

I believe in Europe and North America together.


In strategic solidarity.

There is no denying that in recent years, serious questions have been asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our bond.

And we have seen competing visions of transatlantic relations.

But now, we have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in our relations.

I welcome President Biden’s clear message on rebuilding alliances and strengthening NATO.

We all have a responsibility to seize this opportunity.

That is why we launched the NATO 2030 initiative.

Aimed at making our Alliance even stronger for the future. 

I have engaged with parliamentarians, as well as independent experts, civil society, and young people.

To provide inputs for an ambitious and forward-looking agenda for NATO leaders,

when they meet at our Summit in Brussels later this year.

Let me briefly set out what I see as the main priorities for NATO 2030.

First, we must reinforce the unity between Europe and North America.

Our unity derives from our promise to defend each other.

The time has come to update NATO’s Strategic Concept.

So that we can chart a common course going forward and reaffirm the fundamentals of our Alliance.

We must also strengthen our commitment to collective defence,

and fund more of deterrence and defence on NATO territory together.

And we must strengthen our political unity.

Using NATO even more as the unique platform that brings Europe and North America together every day,

to consult on all issues that affect our security.

Second, we must broaden our approach to security.

So that we address the full spectrum of threats.

For this, we need strong militaries.

But also strong, resilient societies.

And more investment in innovation,

to maintain our technological edge,

and remain competitive in a more competitive world.

Lastly, we must safeguard the international rules-based order,

which is  being challenged by authoritarian powers.

The rise of China offers opportunities, for instance for our economies.

But it also  poses challenges for our security and way of life.

That is why we should deepen our partnerships with countries like Australia and Japan.

And reach out to other like-minded nations around the world.

Protecting the rules-based order starts with protecting our values at home.

So we ourselves must recommit to our values, strengthen our democracies and protect our institutions.

As members of parliament, you can help reinforce the ties between Europe and North America.

You can help shape a bold new transatlantic agenda.

And you can help push for more ambitious and practical joint efforts between NATO and the EU.

Strengthening transatlantic relations and working hand-in-hand is the right thing to do.

Now is the right time to do it.

I look forward to our discussion.


[Questions from parliamentarians]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much, many thanks for your questions and your comments.

This is very useful for me and I think it's important for NATO to have this kind of direct exchange and for me as Secretary General to have are directly exchanges with you as Parliamentarians. I think the best thing I can do now is not to go through the whole list of questions, because many of them actually address the same issues in in slightly different ways but try to group them and to address the main topics you have raised in different ways.

First, many of you raised issues related to NATO-EU cooperation, and also European or EU efforts on defence. I am a strong supporter of stronger and improved and enhanced cooperation between NATO and the European Union. And one of the things I really appreciate or value is that over the last years, we have been able to lift the cooperation between European Union and NATO to unprecedented levels, we have never worked so closely together on a wide range of areas as we do today. But of course we cannot be complacent. We need to look into how we can do even more. And one of the aims with NATO 2030 is also to look into how can we further strengthen cooperation between the European Union and NATO for instance in areas related to resilience.

Resilience of our civil societies is of great importance for our military defence. We need to make sure that we have infrastructure, telecommunications, roads, airports, undersea cables that are functioning safe and secure in peace, but also in crisis and conflict, and we know that our adversaries, they are not only using military tools but then, using political tools, economic tools to undermine our societies and we cannot have strong defence without having strong societies. So, that is, for instance, an area where there is a huge potential for doing more together with the European Union, and neither the European Union, nor NATO has all the tools we need to address these challenges but together we can really make a difference.

I also think that the maritime domain is an area where we can do more together. We are working together in fighting piracy one of the questions was about piracy and NATO and the European Union we work together in addressing piracy off the Horn of Africa, of course, potentially, we can do that again if the political will is in place, both in Europe, in the European Union and in NATO. We have something called the NATO operation, Sea Guardian which is operating in the Mediterranean. It provided support to the previous EU mission there, Operation Sophia, and we are now looking into the potential of working together with the current Operation IRINI.

So, cyber, many other areas where we can work together, and I would champion continue to support it, and I met the European Council, last week and I met the College of Commissioners some weeks ago and I meet a lot of European leaders, and of course in all those meetings I, and we sit together and look into how can we do more together.  But this is not only something we can decide here in Brussels we need the support from member states in the European Union from NATO allies, so we also need the strong support from Parliaments to make sure that we further strengthen NATO-EU cooperation.

NATO and the EU are of course, two different organisations, but we share the same neighbourhood, we share many of the same threats and challenges. EU is of course, working on economic issues, climate, many other issues when NATO is not playing a lead role, and then NATO has a main responsibility for security, defence, collective defence of all NATO allies in both Europe and in North America.

So my main message on European, EU, cooperation. Yes, we should do more and we are constantly looking into how we can step up that cooperation.

Then, on efforts on EU efforts on defence. And there were several questions also related to the phrase ‘Strategic autonomy’. Well, I think strategic autonomy is something which is understood in different ways. So, what matters for me is that, as long as EU efforts on defence complement NATO, I'm absolutely in favour. But we need to avoid duplications, and we need to avoid competition. This is important also because perception matters.

So we must avoid the perception that EU can defend Europe, because EU cannot defend Europe, partly because, as I said, 90% of the people,  actually more than 90% of the people living in the European Union, they live in a NATO country, but only 20% of our defence spending comes from EU allies.

So there is no way we have the resources within the European Union to defend Europe, and it's also about geography, I mentioned, Norway, Iceland in the north, Turkey in the south, and of course in the West Canada, United States and United Kingdom, all these countries, non EU members. They are all important for the defence of Europe. But most importantly, again as I said in my intervention. If we start to weaken the bond and leave the perception that we can defend Europe without North America, and non EU allies, then you're not only weakening the transatlantic bond, weakening NATO, but you are dividing Europe.

So that will be not good for Europe, not good for EU, and not good for NATO. So I believe in strategic solidarity, that we work together. And I think that as we have to remember that for centuries, conflict was a constant companion in Europe. And one of the main reasons why we established NATO after the Second World War, was to prevent new wars from occurring, taking place in Europe, and NATO has helped to make, preserve the peace for more than 70 years, and by delivering security, by preserving peace in Europe, NATO has been key for European integration, for enlargement of the European Union. So a strong NATO actually facilitates and helps European integration and but that has to be understood because a strong NATO, strong transatlantic bond is important for Europe is important for the United States, and not least in light of all the new challenges we now see.

Terrorism, it’s not something we can address, either as Europe or as North America, we need to have North America and Europe, working together in NATO.

We have seen that in the fight against international terrorism in Afghanistan after the attack on the United States, 911, but also seen North America and Europe and NATO being part of that, liberating the territories that ISIS controlled in Iraq and Syria. It was not US alone, it was not Europe alone, it was North America and Europe together. And of course, working with the Iraqi security forces and other forces in the region, helping to liberate the territories that ISIS controlled in Iraq and Syria.

The rise of China, makes it important that Europe and North America, stand together in NATO.

China has the second largest economy in the world, soon the largest economy in the world, the biggest defence budget, leading in technology. Neither Europe nor North America will manage that alone. So, if anything, the rise of China, just makes NATO even more important because size matters when it comes to security, especially when we address the global challenges related to the shifting balance of power, and so on with all the other challenges. We need to stand together.

Then there was some, several, several questions on NATO and Turkey.

You're absolutely right that there are disagreements and differences. You can see them in the public newspapers and the media almost every day. And there's no way to hide that.

I have raised my concerns myself about the eastern Mediterranean, the consequences of the Turkish decision to acquire the Russian Air Defence System S400, the migration situation and so on.

And I think that NATO, actually provides an important platform for when there are differences between allies, that we sit down and have open discussions about these differences, and we have open exchanges, where allies also raise their concerns, and express their views on all these difficult and sensitive issues.

And I have expressed my concern myself, not only in Brussels, but also in Ankara.

But I think the important thing is to understand that at the same time, also, as many allies are concerned, and have expressed views also at NATO meetings several times, we need to realise that Turkey is an important ally in the fight against ISIS, Daesh, Turkey plays a very important role. We used basis infrastructure in Turkey to defeat Daesh, or to liberate the territories, just south of the border of Turkey in Iraq and Syria.

No other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turke, and Turkey hosts millions, 4 million, refugees. So we have to work with Turkey to address many of these issues. And that's exactly what we do.

So the challenge is the way to understand the differences, understand the concern that many allies express, but at the same time trying to find ways forward, where we can try to reduce tensions, work together and find some positive steps in the right direction. And that's exactly what we tried to do at NATO.

So for instance, I welcome the fact that, despite differences we have been able to maintain the NATO-Aegean  presence, the presence of NATO ships in the Aegean, helping to bring Turkey and the European Union, Frontex, Greece together, addressing the migrant and refugee crisis in the Aegean. This is an ongoing activity. It has been a German led activity for some time with the German flagship, but the NATO presence in the Aegean helps to address the migrant and refugee crisis, and is one important step in the right direction.

We've also been able to establish what we call a deconfliction mechanism of military presence of Turkey and of Greece. We actually saw back in the 1990s where we had some similar kind of tensions that led to casualties, to downing of planes and really dangerous situations; we need to prevent that from happening again. And therefore have been able to establish this mechanism of communications, the military experts sitting down and reducing the risks for instance and accidents in the Aegean.

Moderator: Mr. Stoltenberg I would like to ask you, if you please could conclude, please.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Then, I will just conclude by saying that we strongly believe that NATO 2030 is the best way to shape an agenda for NATO for the future, including working with the European Union, but also making sure that the most successful Alliance in history remains strong and agile as we have been for more than 70 years.

Moderator:: It was a beautiful ending, thank you very much Mr Stoltenberg for your participation in this forum