by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during an online conversation with POLITICO journalist Lili Bayer
Thank you so much.
Thank you for this welcome.
Good afternoon to all of you and many thanks to Politico for hosting this event.
And for giving me the opportunity to address the main issues we are going to address when all the NATO heads of state and government meet in Madrid next week.
And I really expect that this summit in Madrid will be a transformative summit. Because we are at a pivotal time for our security.
President Putin’s war against Ukraine is the most urgent threat we face.
It has shattered peace in Europe.
At the same time, we must not forget all the other challenges to our security.
Competition is rising between democracy and authoritarianism.
Moscow and Beijing are openly contesting the rules-based international order.
Terrorism and nuclear proliferation persist.
Cyber-attacks and climate disruptions are on the rise.
All of this affects our security.
Faced with this new security reality, NATO continues to adapt.
At the Summit in Madrid, we will take decisions to strengthen our Alliance,
and keep it agile in this more dangerous world.
Let me highlight five areas.
First, strengthening our defences.
We will do more to ensure we can defend every inch of Allied territory.
At all times and against any threat.
We will adapt the NATO force structure.
With more forces at high readiness.
We will also have more NATO forward deployed combat formations,
to strengthen battlegroups in the East up to brigade level.
And more pre-positioned equipment and weapon stockpiles.
And for the first time since the Cold War,
we will have pre-assigned forces to defend specific Allies.
So that we can reinforce much faster if needed.
All of this builds on the substantial adaptation we have already done since 2014,
when Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
Second, we will agree a new Strategic Concept for NATO.
To guide NATO in a radically changed security environment.
I expect the 2022 Concept will refer to Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security.
It will address a lot of other challenges that are hardly mentioned in the current strategic concept.
Including climate change, cyber, hybrid, and space.
And, for the first time, we will address China and the challenges it poses to our interests, security and values.
In this context, I welcome that the leaders of our Asia-Pacific partners – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – will take part in our Summit for the first time.
This brings me to my third point –NATO partnerships.
We will strengthen our support to Ukraine and other partners at risk.
I am pleased that President Zelensky will address our Summit.
Ukraine is in a critical situation and there is an urgent need to step-up our support.
At the summit, we will agree a new comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine.
It is composed of concrete projects.
To assist in the short term.
Including with anti-drone equipment, secure communications and fuel.
But importantly, we will also look at the longer-term.
Including by assisting Ukraine to transition from Soviet-era military equipment to modern NATO equipment.
And further strengthening its defence and security institutions.
All of this builds on the significant support provided to Ukraine by NATO and NATO Allies since 2014.
As well as training and equipping Ukrainian forces in addition to financial, humanitarian and military aid.
We will also continue to do more for other partners vulnerable to Russian threats and interference.
Including Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By stepping up more political and practical support for these partners.
To help strengthen their resilience.
And prevent any future aggression.
Allies are unwavering in their support for the right of each nation to choose its own path.
This is also Finland’s and Sweden’s right.
And this is my fourth point.
Their decisions to apply for NATO membership are historic.
We are now working actively on the next steps in the accession process of both Finland and Sweden.
And addressing Türkiye’s security concerns, including in the fight against terrorism.
My aim is to find a common way forward so that both countries can join our Alliance as soon as possible.
This will make them safer.
And the Euro-Atlantic area more secure.
The fifth and last point is burden-sharing.
In Madrid, we will recommit to the pledge we made in 2014.
To spend at least 2% of GDP on defence.
More Allies now reach – or exceed – this target.
A majority have clear plans to reach it.
More and more also see 2% as a floor, not a ceiling.
Allies are also investing more in modern capabilities.
And contributing to NATO deployments and exercises.
This is the right trend.
It shows a real commitment to greater burden-sharing across the whole Alliance.
We must continue to invest more.
And invest more together in NATO.
I can tell you that according to NATO commissioned polling ahead of the Summit,
nearly 80% [78%] of Allied citizens support maintaining or increasing defence spending.
The same polls indicate that support for NATO membership is at a very high level.
Over 70% [72%] support their country’s membership in NATO.
So support continues to rise.
And this matters.
Because a strong NATO is essential to preserve peace,
and protect our people and our values.
Now and in the future.
Thank you so much and then I'm ready for your questions.
POLITICO Reporter Lili Bayer: Thank you so much. To start off with something that is you know, really on the minds of a lot of leaders and citizens at the moment, the defence plans for the eastern flank. You talked about plans for boosting defences for putting more equipment and troops on the ground, but the model you described with a lot of pre-assigned forces to defend the eastern flank. Do you think that will be enough to really reassure citizens in places such as the Baltic States that they are safe?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So NATO will always do what it takes to protect and defend all Allies and we have to understand that what we will agree in Madrid comes on top of a substantial change that has taken place over the last years. It is not as if NATO suddenly woke up on the 24th of February and realised that we had a challenge with Russia in Europe. We were very well prepared. This was an invasion that was predicted, foreseen by our intelligence services and we shared that intelligence with the broader public last fall. And actually since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.
This war actually didn’t start, the war in Ukraine did not start in February. It started in 2014. What we saw in February was an escalation with the second invasion by Russian forces. And when that happened, we were well aware we were very well prepared. Because since 2014 we have for the first time in our history, deployed combat ready troops to the eastern part of the Alliance, to the Baltic countries and Poland, and increased the readiness of forces and increased defence spending.
Since February, we have doubled the number of battle groups from four to eight. Increased the size of the battle groups for instance, in Lithuania, in Estonia and also in Latvia. And then the United States has increased the number of US troops in Europe from roughly 70,000 to more than 100,000 over these last months. And then we now have now more than 40,000 troops in the direct NATO command in the eastern part of the Alliance.
I just remind you all of this because I guess you know that but this is just the starting point for where we then will take new decisions and those decisions will be, when it comes to the land domain that land forces, will be based on partly even more combat forces forward deployed. More pre-positioned equipment I think, if anything, if there's any lesson to be learned from Ukraine is the importance of heavy equipment in place, but also fuel, ammunition, supplies. And then we will also have then pre-assigned forces that will exercise, train in their home country, but will then have worked with and know well the terrain, the countries where they are supposed to be deployed if needed.
This is exactly what Germany just announced up to brigade-level, more forward presence, more pre-positioned equipment but then a pre-assigned brigade in Germany that can easily and quickly move to Lithuania if needed. Then there will be many other decisions on cyber, hybrid, space and other domains. But this is a significant increase. And this just demonstrates that NATO is there to protect and defend all Allies.
Lili Bayer: Thank you. Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, Ambassador Chentsov was asked by reporters this week about your recent comments that the war in Ukraine could last years. And his response to the reporters was that these predictions are quote, “not helpful”. What he said is, quote, “We need a lot of weapons and now, and this should change the situation”. How would you respond to the Ukrainian ambassador?
NATO Secretary General: Well, first of all, I think that my message has been and still is that wars are unpredictable. We predicted very precisely the invasion, and we shared that information. But since then, it has been very hard to predict how this war evolves. And that's because the outcome of war is a combination of capabilities, but also the will, and the courage, and the commitment, and the morale. And what we have seen which I think has impressed the whole world is the bravery the courage of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, their will to stand up against the brutal Russian invasion and also the Ukrainian political leadership and Ukrainian people. That has impressed the whole world and it just also demonstrated that President Putin totally underestimated the strength of Ukrainian resistance and their ability to stand up against them.
So then, my message has been and still is that since it's hard to predict, we should be careful about drawing any certain conclusions about how long this war may last. It may last for weeks, months, but also for years. The political message is that regardless of how long the war lasts, we need to be prepared for the long haul and to be prepared to continue to provide substantial support to Ukraine. I think we all would like to see an end to this war as soon as possible, but at the same time the Ukrainians, and I totally agree with them, that of course they will not surrender, they are fighting for their independence for their sovereignty, and we need to provide support to them and ensure that they can prevail as a sovereign independent nation in Ukraine.
Lili Bayer: You talked about preparing for the long haul. In some NATO capitals, there is I think some growing questions right now about whether the support for Ukraine politically and also logistically and financially is sustainable. How long do you see NATO countries being able to keep up the supply of weapons to Ukraine at current levels?
NATO Secretary General: As long as necessary, that's my whole message is that we need to be prepared for the long haul. I cannot tell you exactly how long this war will last. But I just tell the decision makers in NATO capitals, in Parliament's, the public opinion, that we have a political and a moral obligation to provide substantial support for a long time. As long as it takes. Partly because when we started to provide support we actually took on some kind of responsibility, you cannot stop in the middle of that effort, because they are in the middle of a war.
And it's not as, that of course I realise that this has a cost for NATO Allies, because it costs of to donate your weapons, it costs something politically, and of course, you also have the consequences of the sanctions. But those costs are, first of all, much smaller than the cost that Ukrainians has are willing to pay for their freedom and their independence. So therefore, we should be willing to pay our part of that which is much smaller. Second, the price we risk to pay if Putin gets his way, by using military force against the independent democratic, state, nation in Europe will be much higher than the price we pay today to support Ukraine.
So that's my message in all this speeches and interventions, that just be prepared for the long haul. Wars are unpredictable, they are bloody, and this is now turning into a war of attrition. And that makes it just even more important that we continue our support. And I'm absolutely certain that the message from NATO Allies will be that we should maintain support. Deliver also, modern weapons, heavy weapons, as NATO Allies have now done for a long time, and also that NATO has a role to play in providing support.
Let me, on this question of whether we have the staying power, I would like to remind also about the fact that NATO and NATO Allies have been giving support to Ukraine since 2014. I was in this training camp that was bombed very early in war, in western Ukraine. I was there, Yavoriv, I think it was, I was there in 2015. And there I saw how NATO, Canadian troops, UK, United States trained, and equipped Ukrainian forces. Forces which are now essential for the defence of Ukraine. And also Türkiye has provided essential equipment to Ukraine for many years.
So yes, we have stepped up and more Allies are now helping since the invasion, but we actually, NATO Allies have been and should continue to be ready for the long haul because we cannot allow Putin to, in a way, see that he is rewarded for his brutal use of force.
Lili Bayer: I see we have quite a few questions from the audience on Turkey specifically. So I think Turkey's decision to block the accession of Sweden and Finland caught a lot of Allies by surprise. You've been in talks for many weeks now behind closed doors. Do you believe that this public display of disunity could hurt NATO's credibility? And I'm asking this also because we're getting a tonne of questions from the audience about Turkey's role as an Ally.
NATO Secretary General: First of all, there are different views in NATO on many issues. That has always been the case. And sometimes I remind people the fact that back in 1950s, we had the Suez Crisis, where we actually had two Allies moving into the Suez Canal and then some Allies not being prepared for that at all. We had, we had in the 1960s we had France leaving the military structures of the NATO Alliance and NATO had to move its headquarters from Paris to Brussels.
In the 70s we had disagreements among allies on the Cold War in in Africa by some Allies and also the Vietnam War and then we had huge disagreements among NATO Allies on the Iraq War and there are many other disagreements. So I can actually sit there for hours and go into details about the disagreements between Allies. And that's not the surprising thing, because we are 30 different nations with different political parties in power. Different history, different geography from both sides of the Atlantic. So of course, our differences.
The impressive thing with NATO is that despite the fact that we are 30 different Allies, from different views on many issues, that we agree on so many things and that we’ll always agree on the essential issues that were are ready to protect and defend each other. So I'm confident that we also agree on Finland and Sweden, but then we have to do what you always do in NATO, and that is to sit down and address differences and concerns when they are clearly expressed by Allies such as Türkiye has expressed now.
Because we also have to recognise that Türkiye is the country, the NATO Ally that has suffered the most terrorist attacks. It's a country, which is of great importance for our Alliance, bordering Iraq and Syria, they played and are still playing a key role in the fight against terrorism. And they also play a key role as a Black Sea Nation, and they for instance now do very important work or facilitate talks on trying to get food out of Ukraine. So, when they raise concerns, of course, we have to sit down and then address those concerns. And that's exactly what we now are consulting on. And then I hope that we can find a solution to allow Finland and Sweden to become members as soon as possible.
Lili Bayer: But do you feel that you're being held hostage by Turkey? We all understand that there are disagreements and debates within any group or organisation, but do you feel that you're unable to move forward with something of key strategic importance because one member is holding you back?
NATO Secretary General: But when we have a system where we are based on consensus, that's the way we make decisions in NATO, then there will often be a situation where one or a few Allies disagree with the rest, and then we need to overcome then. And this is not the first time we see one or just a few Allies, not agreeing with the rest. But then, they applied for not so many weeks ago, and my aim is still to make sure that they can join with us soon. I cannot guarantee but I'm saying that's still my aim. Then, and then, as has happened before, also, when we speak about accession processes, we just need to take into account that not all Allies have the same starting point and then find a way to reconcile and find common ground and that's exactly what we're working on.
Lili Bayer: Moving on to an issue that has been in the headlines over the past few days. Russia has warned Lithuania of serious consequences after it banned the rail transfer of some goods to Kaliningrad. Are you concerned about a possible escalation in the region? Are you in touch with the leadership and Lithuania about this issue?
NATO Secretary General: So we are in constant touch with all NATO Allies, and of course, also with Lithuania, they briefed NATO Allies on this, this week and in all our meetings so we have daily contact with Lithuania at different levels. What we see is that Lithuania, a NATO Ally, but also, of course, an EU Member, they applied EU-agreed sanctions and NATO Allies have also imposed sanctions and NATO Allies, support the EU sanctions because it has to have consequences when President Putin violates international law and launches a brutal attack against a neighbour.
Lili Bayer: Let's go then to some questions from the audience. There's one question from a Portuguese member of the audience. How will China fit in NATO's future Strategic Concept? Will China be a lesser threat to the Alliance or continue to be a major future threat?
NATO Secretary General: I'm confident that in the next Strategic Concept that will be agreed. When NATO leaders meet in Madrid next week. We will address China and the consequences for our security. I think to understand that for NATO this is a big step because in the current Strategic Concept, China's not mentioned with a single word. That concept was agreed at the summit in Lisbon in 2010. I was there as a NATO Prime Minister, the Norwegian Prime Minister and the world has really changed since then, and that will be reflected in the Strategic Concept. At that summit in Lisbon, at that time, President Medvedev of Russia participated in the summit, together with us, and we agreed in that strategic concept that Russia is a strategic partner and that the Euro-Atlantic area was a peace. That will not be the case now. Will not state that the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace, actually, there's a war going on in Europe. We will not refer to Russia as a strategic partner.
And on China, we don't regard China as an adversary but we need to realise that the rise of China, the fact that they're investing heavily in new modern military equipment, including scaling significantly their nuclear capabilities, investing in key technologies, and trying also to control critical infrastructure in Europe coming closer to us, makes it important for us also to address that. So, I expect that Allies will state that China poses some challenges to our values to our interests, to our security and this, of course, has an impact also on how NATO should react in a more competitive world.
Lili Bayer: There is one super interesting question from the audience. How is NATO preparing for a relationship with a post-Putin Russia?
NATO Secretary General: As our main focus now, and urgent need now is to support Ukraine. Fundamentally, NATO has two tasks. Provide support to Ukraine, NATO Allies and NATO provide support to Ukraine, and have done so since 2014. But have stepped up of course, since the invasion and a Comprehensive Assistance Package I expect that Allies will agree next week will also focus on the more long term cooperation with Ukraine, including this transition from Soviet era equipment to NATO standard modern equipment and modernise the defence and security institutions. So, the first task is support to Ukraine and making sure that they prevail as a sovereign independent nation in Europe.
Second task is to prevent escalation. We have to remember that there's a constant risk of escalation. And it's really bad what is going on in Ukraine now with all the people killed and the casualties and the brutality we see there. But of course, this can become worse if this escalates into a full-fledged war between Russia and Europe. And therefore, NATO's other main task is, of course, to prevent the escalation. We do that by not being directly involved on the ground, and we do it by a significant increase on military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. So there's no room for misunderstanding, miscalculation in Moscow, about NATO's readiness to protect all Allies, this is deterrence. And the purpose of deterrence is to not provoke conflict but to prevent conflict, but to preserve peace and that's the reason why we strengthen our deterrence and defence.
I say this because this is a huge task, extremely important, that we both succeed in providing support Ukraine, but also prevent escalation. We cannot continue with, Russia has totally abandoned the idea of a constructive working relationship with them, because they have violated so blatantly international law, trust, and invaded a close partner of NATO, Ukraine. Of course, we need some kind of military lines of communications to prevent escalation, incidents, accidents, and if they happen, prevent them from spiralling out of control. Russia is still there. And some time also, hopefully, it's possible to also engage in arms control agreements. But the relationship we strive for, to establish with Russia for many years, a more constructive relationship, that's not possible now and then Russia has to change their behaviour before we can go back to anything that is more similar to this relationship with strive for before. So I'll not speculate about what, when and how that can happen. We will provide support to Ukraine and prevent escalation that's the urgent task.
Lili Bayer: So before we let you go because I know you have a lot of preparations for the summit. Maybe one more personal question, because as everyone here is aware, you decided to stay on an extra year beyond your term in part due to the crisis and I think we're all curious sometimes when you know, we see you at press conferences and ministerials. What is your favourite thing about this job? And what is your least favourite thing about this job?
NATO Secretary General: Ah so, my favourite and my least favourite thing with this job is the same. And that is that I have to work with 30 nations. That's a great thing when we agree. I feel you know, really that we are doing some big things together when 30 Allies agree and make decisions together to protect and defend each other. Then I have to admit that sometimes it's a bit challenging to ensure that all 30 Allies agree. But I think in a way, the reward is that when we manage it's such a big prize.
Because we have to remember that we are 1 billion people, 30 nations, 50% of the world's GDP and 50% of the world's military might. And of course we have North America but we also have Europe, and when Finland and Sweden join NATO, 96% of the EU population will live in a NATO country. And then on top of that there are 150 million Europeans outside the European Union but in NATO. So this is really representing Europe and North America. And I strongly believe that the only way to preserve peace, the only way to manage a much more unpredictable dangerous world, is to ensure that North America and Europe stand together. And that's not easy, but extremely important. Therefore, the best and the worst thing is to work with 30 Allies. And I like them very much actually. That's the reason why I decided to stay on.
Lili Bayer: Thank you very much for your time. Secretary General thank you to the audience, both in the room and online for joining us. If you have any feedback, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org You can also go to politico.eu/events to find out about future panels and discussions and interviews. Thank you so much.
NATO Secretary General: Thank you