Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the European Parliament’s committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and sub-committee on Security and Defence (SEDE)

  • 15 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Mar. 2021 18:10

(As delivered)

Thank you so much for inviting me,

Madam Chair and Mr. Chair; Nathalie and David.

It is really a pleasure to be with you all again.

And I am happy that we are able also today to see and welcome a new Chair of the Delegation of the European Parliament for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Tom Vandenkendelaere.

And as a former parliamentarian myself, I really relish the opportunity to engage with elected representatives.

Because I know how important your voices are, in shaping policies that affect us all, upholding our democratic values and acting as the connection between our institutions and the people we all serve.

So much has changed since the last time we spoke, not least, the global health pandemic, which prevents us from meeting in person today.

The EU plays an important part in combating COVID-19 and alleviating the economic consequences of the pandemic.

This demonstrates the significant role of the EU in addressing global challenges.

NATO is also playing its part in dealing with the pandemic, we have been coordinating and facilitating military support to the civilian responses.

Across the Alliance our armed forces continue to play a vital role, from transporting medical supplies and personnel, to setting up military field hospitals and securing borders and now helping with the vaccine roll-out too.

But NATO’s main task is to make sure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis. And that is exactly what we do.

Our forces have remained ready and vigilant throughout, because while our attention has rightly been focused on fighting the pandemic, our security threats have not gone away, just the opposite.

Existing trends and tensions have accelerated; Russia’s destabilising behaviour, brutal forms of terrorism, sophisticated cyber-attacks, disruptive technologies, the rise of China and the security impacts of climate change.

No country or continent can face these challenges alone.

Not Europe alone.

Nor America alone.

But Europe and North America together.

We now stand at an important juncture in transatlantic relations. We have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter.

And I welcome President Biden’s clear commitment to rebuilding alliances and strengthening NATO.

We intend to set an ambitious and forward-looking agenda for our security and defence at the NATO summit later this year.

This is at the heart of our NATO 2030 initiative to prepare our Alliance for the future.

To do so, we must reinforce the unity between Europe and North America.

This unity derives from the promise of 30 Allies to defend each other.

Based on this commitment, we must also strengthen our political consultations.

Using NATO even more, as the unique platform bringing Europe and North America together everyday, to consult on all issues that affect our shared security.

To prepare for the future, we must also broaden our approach to security, by increasing the resilience of our societies, maintaining our technological edge and combating the security impact of climate change.

And finally, we must safeguard the international rules-based order, by working more closely with partners to build a global community of like-minded democracies.

Stronger cooperation with the European Union is an important part of our work for the future and I am proud, as we also referred to, that in recent years, we have been able to lift our cooperation to unprecedented levels.

Today, NATO and the European Union are working closely together in many different areas; helping to stabilise our neighbourhood from the Western Balkans to Ukraine, dealing with illegal migration in the Aegean and addressing a range of hybrid threats, from cyber-attacks to disinformation campaigns.

I welcome the EU efforts on defence, including the fullest possible involvement of non-EU Allies in PESCO and the European Defence Fund, for our mutual benefit.

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.

We all know that more than 90 percent of the EU citizens live in countries that are NATO Allies. At the same time, EU Member States provide only 20 percent of NATO’s defence spending.

So it is obvious that the strong transatlantic bond in NATO remains the cornerstone of Europe’s security, now and for the future.

As members of the European Parliament, you can help push for more ambitious and practical cooperation between NATO and the European Union.

We can – and should – step up our cooperation in key areas; on military mobility, championing new technologies, bolstering our resilience, fighting climate change and protecting the rules-based order.

We have a lot in common.

And in a more competitive world, we can achieve more together than alone.

So I really look forward to today’s discussion with you.

Thank you so much.

[Questions by European Parliament members]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much. Thank you for all your questions and your comments, I have taken duly note of all of them. 

My understanding is that I should try to limit myself to roughly eight minutes so I will not be able to go through every question but I will try to group the main issues you have raised. 

First, some of you refer to this expert group, which has played a very important role in supporting my work on NATO 2030 and I would also like to recognize Anna Fotyga, she was member of the group, and I'm very grateful for the advice, and the input that the group has provided.

Of course, that will be followed up, and it's part of the ongoing process and discussion among NATO Allies. The group presented 138 different proposals. Based on that, and also input from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, from capitals and from many others, I have put forward eight strategic level proposals, which are now discussed among Allies. 

And I hope, and believe, that based on this, NATO leaders, when they meet in Brussels later on this year, they can make some really forward leaning strategic ambitious decisions on how to further strengthen the transatlantic bond in NATO, bringing 30 Allies together, and addressing all the different challenges we see. 

So the answer is yes, the report has been an important part of that process, and we continue the discussions in NATO, and one element of that is of course also, how can we further strengthen cooperation between NATO and the European Union. 

I was also asked whether this cooperation between the European Union and NATO has actually led to something. And my answer is yes, absolutely. We are actually working together on many different issues.

We have strengthened our cooperation when it comes to cyber. We have exercises where we exercise in parallel together to help, and learn from each other. We are exchanging information real time on cyber-attacks.

We work on military mobility. We are in close contact and describing what kind of needs NATO has, to be able to move a military equipment, for instance coming in from the United States and be able to move them across Europe to our battlegroups in eastern part of the Alliance. Also, of course, an important part for the European Union, but NATO and European Union has to work together addressing these issues. 

We work together and providing support for partners in Bosnia Herzegovina, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan. We coordinate our efforts in these countries we do different things but, but together we complement our efforts, working with these partners. 

And I also mentioned the cooperation we have in addressing migration, and the illegal migration we have seen in the GNC, where actually NATO ships are present in the GNC helping to implement the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, and bringing Turkey, EU, Frontex, Greece together in the Aegean, on NATO ships, to help implement that agreement

And there are many other examples, and I think there's a huge potential to further strengthening this cooperation and part of NATO 2030 we are working on how to further strengthen NATO EU cooperation. 

And then, let me add, on top of that we have the political consultations on a wide range of issues. So, when Josep Borrell, the High Representative, participates in NATO ministerial meetings, or I participate in either defense ministerial meetings, or I meet, for instance with you, or I met last month with the European Council and all the EU leaders, that's part of the close consultations we need at all levels to further strengthen our cooperation and our partnership, NATO and the European Union.

Then, I had several questions on China. China is not an adversary, and actually the rise of China provides some serious and some real opportunities for NATO, and for the EU, and for all our countries. When it comes to trade, economic growth, and the rise of China has also helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. 

At the same time, the rise of China also poses some serious challenges. China is authoritarian countries that doesn't share our values. They will soon have the biggest economy in the world. They already have the second largest defense budget. They're investing heavily in new modern military capabilities. And I strongly believe that NATO should remain a regional alliance, North America and Europe. 

But I also believe that the threats, and the challenges we face in this region, they are more and more global. And the rise of China, the shifting global balance of power, caused by the rise of China, is part of that. 

And if anything, that just makes it even more important that Europe and North America stand together in NATO. Because Europe is not big enough, United States is not big enough. But together we represent 50% of the world's GDP and 50% of the world's military market. So if you're concerned about the rise of China, the military and economic strength of China, that makes it even more important that we stand together, Europe and North America in NATO. 

Then of course, I recognize that NATO is only part of the answer. There are climate change issues, there are economic issues, which are not for NATO to address, but when it comes to deterrence, defense, and also resilience in our societies, I think that NATO plays a key role in bringing Europe and North America together in developing a response to the rise of China.

Then, I was asked by some of you about arms control, so a mix of question, and others also referred to that. NATO has been at the forefront of arms control for decades. We are extremely concerned when we now have seen the unraveling on some of the most important agreements, especially the INF Treaty that banned all intermediate range weapons that has been extremely important for the security of Europe. 

The reason why we have seen the demise of the INF Treaty is that Russia has violated the treaty and deployed, many missiles, nuclear capable, in Europe. And, of course, then that treaty doesn't work.

But at the same time, we also then welcome the agreement between the United States and Russia to extend New START, limiting the number of long range or strategic warheads. That's extremely important. The last remaining treaty, limiting the number of nuclear warheads in the world. At the same time, we believe that the extension on New START should not be the end but actually should be the beginning of renewed efforts in addressing arms control. 

That includes getting China to be part of arms control in the future, because China becomes a more and more important military power, investing heavily new long range nuclear capabilities, missiles, and other nuclear capabilities. And therefore, we would work for, and we are working for, including China in future arms control agreements. 

Then I was asked about whether I see any threat against NATO Allies from China or from Russia. I don't see any imminent threat of a military attack against any NATO ally. But one reason for that is that we have NATO, based on the idea that if one Ally is attacked, it will trigger the response from the whole Alliance; all for one and one for all. And that's one of the main reasons why we have been able to preserve peace in Europe for more than 70 years. It's an unprecedented period of time. 

The EU is an important institution built after the Second World War, and NATO is another key institution, preserving peace in our old part of the world. But we have seen Russia using force and military force against neighbors, but not against NATO neighbors, not against Norway, or the Baltic countries, or Poland, or other countries in Europe. But they have used it against Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea, continue to destabilizing in eastern Ukraine, against Georgia, and Russia has troops in Moldova, without the consent of the Moldovan government and we see more Russian military presence in many places of the world.

We've also seen a more aggressive China and China also threatening Taiwan and other countries, bullying countries all over the world. And this behavior is undermining the rule of law, the international rules based order, and that's also an argument for NATO Allies standing together and working with partners, including in the Asia Pacific region. 

Then I have to also mention Turkey at least one question about Turkey. I have expressed my serious concerns. And we all know that there are serious differences, and some issues ranging from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish decision to buy the Russian Air Missile as the air defense system, S 400, or related to two democratic rights in Turkey.

We are an Alliance of 30 different Allies, with different political parties, with different history, geography, and different political parties in government. And therefore, there are differences, and there will be differences. But I believe that NATO at least then provides an important platform for discussing these issues, raising these issues, and having serious debates and discussions about different concerns from the Eastern Med to many other issues. 

I also think that NATO's role is to make sure that we do whatever we can to reduce tensions. We have been able to establish what we call de-confliction mechanism between Greece and Turkey. We have the Aegean activity in place, and we also see now that we have helped to pave the way for exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey on the underlying disputes in Eastern Mediterranean. 

So I'm not saying that these problems are solved. I'm not saying that there are no reason for concern. But I'm saying that when we have difficulties, when we have differences, when we have disagreements, also on serious and important issues, I think we need international institutions to provide a platform to try to find ways to address them and to find how we can agree on steps in the right direction and that's exactly what NATO is trying to do. 

Then the last thing I think I want to briefly mention is climate change. I think that we should push much more for addressing climate change. Climate change is a crisis multiplier. It effects directly our security, and therefore it matters for NATO. And NATO should assess and understand the link between climate change and security. 

We need to adapt because more extreme weather will directly affect how we can conduct our military operations. It will affect naval bases all over the world with the rising sea levels. The melting of the ice will strain, it will impact the strategic situation in the High North, and so on. So we need to adapt to how we do our military operations and posture.

And lastly, NATO should play its part in helping to reduce emissions. We know that if we're able to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels in military operations, we will partly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, but we will also make our missions more resilient, because a very vulnerable part of any military operation is the supply of a huge amounts of fossil fuels to different military operations. So, operational effectiveness and climate change, or reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, actually goes hand in hand if we do this in the right way, and we are addressing these issues with our Science for Peace programmes, and in other ways. 

If I am going to stay to my promise on not being too long in my summing up, I'm afraid that what I'm able to cover, but, again, thank you so much for all your comments, and your inputs. And I really appreciate this opportunity to once again engage with the European Parliament and I think that's one example of many on how we are stepping up the cooperation between NATO and the European Union.