NATO: keeping Europe safe in an uncertain world

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the College of Europe in Bruges

  • 04 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 04 Mar. 2021 15:49

(As delivered)

So thank you so much, Federica. Thank you for those kind words. It is really great to see you and to see you again in your new role. And your experience, your knowledge, your background make you the perfect rector for this school and therefore it’s a great pleasure to be here, together with you, and to be able to continue our cooperation, our collaboration, which we have developed over many years, as old friends. But not least in the time when you were EU High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission.

At that time I saluted you. We were able to lift NATO-EU cooperation up to unprecedented levels and that was very much because of your efforts, your commitment and your leadership. And therefore I’m really glad to be here and to meet with you and in many ways, to continue to strengthen the cooperation between NATO and EU and the European institutions.

So when you reached out and asked if I was ready, prepared to come here and visit, it was very easy for me to say yes. Also because I had never been to the College of Europe, never been to this beautiful city before. But I know a lot about it because I’ve read, I’ve heard, I know that this has been an institution, the College of Europe, has been an important institution for many many years. And I know that some students here have been studying NATO. NATO-EU in particular, and that you also have something called International Model NATO which is a project where you actually address and look at and study NATO. And of course at the Secretary General of NATO I welcome that this institution actually links together and focuses both on the EU but also on NATO and the interaction between NATO and EU.

I’m happy to address all of you in this room but of course also all the students following online. And I also know that the College of Europe is a highly-recognised institution, building expertise on European issues, international issues, and you have done that for many many years.

I know it also because I have some Nordic friends who have attended this school as students some years ago. That is Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Alexander Stub, two Nordic friends who both became Prime Ministers. So for me it’s obvious that students at this college are destined for great things.

So it’s also for that reason, great to be here.

Then, I’m also happy to be here, because I am a committed European. I have campaigned for Norway joining the EU not only once, but actually twice. And the first time I did so I was thirteen years old.

But I strongly believed in the idea of European integration. And I still believe in the importance of countries coming together. Solving and addressing the common challenges they face.

And I also see how EU over the decades has helped to provide peace and prosperity in Europe.

As you well know, we failed to convince the majority of the Norwegian people to join the EU, but for me participating in for instance the European Council last week or coming here as a kind of private membership in the EU. So at least I appreciate that opportunity.

But as a committed European, I do not just believe in European integration.

I also believe in transatlantic integration.

Because a strong transatlantic bond is the bedrock of Europe’s security.

For more than 70 years NATO has embodied this unique relationship.

Our Alliance is the only place that brings North America and Europe together every day to discuss common security challenges.

To preserve peace. And prevent war. Based on our common solemn pledge. To protect one another. All for one and one for all.

For centuries, conflict in Europe was our constant companion.

The Seven years’, the Thirty Years’, the Hundred Years’ Wars.

The Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-German War, and two World Wars, are only a few examples of many.

And NATO was established back in 1949 help make that this didn’t happen again, to stop this meaningless bloodshed in Europe.

The Alliance has had to bring peace and democracy to a divided continent over decades. And enabled strong European integration from the very start.

For 40 years, Europe and North America stood together in NATO to deter the Soviet Union.

After the Cold War, we helped the newly free democracies of Central and Eastern Europe to fulfil their euro-Atlantic aspirations.

NATO membership paved the way for EU membership.

And in the 1990s, NATO ended two ethnic wars in the Western Balkans.

After 9/11 when the US was attacked, NATO Allies stood in solidarity. Deploying hundreds of thousands of troops to Afghanistan.

And today, NATO remains at the forefront of fighting new more brutal forms of terrorism.

Through the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, we have helped liberate vast territory and millions of people in Iraq and Syria.

Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation. Deploying combat-ready troops in the east of our Alliance, to deter any aggression.

Let’s not forget, that this attempt to redraw borders by force, as we saw in Ukraine and Crimea, happened only a few years ago.

So the need to prevent conflict on our continent and to defend Europe remains very real. And the commitment of NATO and NATO Allies to protect and defend each other has therefore not changed.

Today, NATO stands 30 Allies strong. And keeps almost one billion people safe. But our Alliance continues to change as the world around us changes. And we must continue to adapt,  as we address challenges, both old and new. 

Russia’s destabilising behaviour. Brutal forms of terrorism. Sophisticated cyber-attacks. Disruptive technologies. The security impacts of climate change. And the rise of China.

China is not our adversary. But it has the world’s second biggest military budget, and it does not share our values. The rise of China and all of these global challenges make it all the more important for Europe and North America to work together.

Because no single country and no single country and no single continent can face these challenges alone.

But together in NATO, we represent half of the world’s economic might, and half of the world’s military might.

And we now have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in relations between Europe and North America.

I welcome President Biden’s clear message on the need to rebuild alliances and strengthening NATO.

And I look forward to welcoming him and all other Allied Leaders to our Summit in Brussels later this year.

At the heart of our preparations for the summit and at the heart of the summit will be NATO 2030, an ambitious and forward-looking agenda to prepare our Alliance for the future.

We must reinforce our unity, which derives from our promise to defend each other.

By strengthening our deterrence and defence, as well as our political consultations.

We also need to broaden our approach to security. By increasing the resilience of our societies, maintaining our technological edge, and addressing the security impact of climate change.

And we must defend the rules-based order. By building a community of global democracies, with like-minded countries that share our values.

Stronger cooperation with the European Union is part of this ongoing adaptation.

NATO and the EU are already working closely together in many areas.

Supporting our partners from Afghanistan to Ukraine. Countering disinformation and cyber-attacks. And working on maritime security.

And I see potential for strengthening our cooperation even further.

I have stated many times that I welcome EU efforts on defence. With the fullest possible involvement of non-EU Allies.

So I welcome therefore 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 NATO battlegroups in the Baltic Sea region. 

A European Union that spends more on defence, invests in new capabilities, and reduces the fragmentation of the European defence industry, is not only good for European security.

It is also good for transatlantic security. And that’s exactly also why NATO has called for Europe to do more in addressing these challenges, including increasing the competitiveness of the European defence industry. It would be good for Europe, but also good for the whole of NATO.

At the same time we know that the EU 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.

This 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 UK link together both sides of the Atlantic. All these countries are vital for the defence of Europe.

And most of all, it is about politics. Any attempt to divide Europe from North America, will not only weaken NATO, it will also divide Europe.

So I do not believe in Europe alone. Or North America alone.  I believe in North America and Europe together. In NATO. In strategic solidarity.

Whatever challenges we face, we are stronger together. In uncertain times we need strong institutions. Like NATO and like the EU. To defend our values, promote our interests, and keep our nations safe and free.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions, and I think I’ll remain here because then I can keep my mask off.