Opening speech

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Aspen - GMF Bucharest Forum

  • 29 Nov. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Nov. 2022 12:58

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Cristina,
And good morning to everyone, it’s really a pleasure and honour to be here.

And many thanks to the Aspen Institute Romania and to the German Marshall Fund for organising this very timely and important conference.

Romania is a strong and highly valued NATO Ally.
And I am reminded of that every day, because one of the great contributions you are making to our Alliance is that you have provided me with an excellent Deputy Secretary General.
Who reminds me of Romania’s commitment to NATO every day.
And Mircea Geoana is really a man that I appreciate working with.
And is a friend and he is also the co-founder of this Institute.
So it’s, for many reasons, a pleasure to be here this morning.

NATO foreign ministers will meet in Bucharest as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on Romania’s borders.
Undermining the international rules-based order.

This is a critical time for our security.
And we are sending an important message:
NATO is here.
NATO is vigilant.
And NATO is ready to defend every inch of Allied territory.

In response to Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, we are raising the readiness of our troops.
And we have doubled the number of NATO battlegroups from four to eight.
Including one here in Romania, led by France.

Just last week, NATO Allies conducted an exercise to test air and missile defences in Romania.
Involving Spanish, Turkish and US aircraft, as well as French jets flying from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. 
Demonstrating how NATO Allies operate together and are ready to defend every inch, but also the airspace above NATO Allies.

NATO Allies and NATO are not a party to the conflict in Ukraine.
But we are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine.
Because Ukraine is a nation that has the right to self- defence, a right which is enshrined in the UN Charter.

President Putin is failing in his brutal war of aggression.
He is responding with more brutality.

We see wave after wave of deliberate missile attacks on cities and civilian infrastructure.
Striking homes, hospitals, and power grids.
This is terrible for Ukraine.

But these are also tough times for us in the rest of Europe, and many others around the world,
who face a painful cost of living crisis.

Indeed, we are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
But the price we pay is in money.
While the price Ukrainians pay is in blood.

And if we let Putin win, all of us will pay a much higher price, for many years to come.

Because then the lesson learned by President Putin and other authoritarian leaders is that they can achieve their goals by using brute force.
So they will be emboldened to use even more force once again.
That will make our world more dangerous.
And all of us more vulnerable. 
Therefore, it is in our own long-term security interest to support Ukraine. 

There can be no lasting peace if the aggressor wins.
There can be no lasting peace if oppression and autocracy prevail over freedom and democracy.

We know that most wars end at the negotiating table.
But what happens at the negotiating table is inextricably linked to what happens on the battlefield.   
Therefore, to create the conditions for lasting peace, which ensures that Ukraine prevails as an independent sovereign state, we must continue to provide military support to Ukraine.

So our message from Bucharest is that NATO will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
We will not back down.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has not made us forget other partners facing Russian pressure, intimidation and aggression.
It has actually made our partnerships even more important.

That is why NATO foreign ministers will meet with their Ukrainian counterpart, as well as with Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
To address the challenges we face.
And to enhance our support.
For their resilience, political independence, and the modernisation of their armed forces.
So that they can better defend themselves.
If they are safer, we will be more secure.


NATO foreign ministers will also address the challenges posed by China.
China is stepping up military modernisation.
Increasing its presence from the Arctic to the Western Balkans,
From space to cyber space.

The war in Ukraine demonstrated our dangerous dependency on Russian gas.
This should also lead us to assess our dependencies on other authoritarian states. Not least China.
We are dependent on China for certain key components and materials, including rare earth minerals.
As well as for many of our supply chains.

We will continue to trade and engage economically with China.
But we have to aware of our dependencies, reduce our vulnerabilities and manage the risks.


The foreign ministers from Finland and Sweden will join us for all the discussions in Bucharest. 
Their membership of NATO is a game-changer for the European security architecture.
It will make them safer, our Alliance stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure.

It demonstrates once again that NATO is the bedrock of Euro-Atlantic security.
Europe and North America will continue to stand together to defend our values, and our freedom.

Thank you so much.


Cristina Cileacu, DIGI24 (Moderator): We already have, as I see, your first question. So please introduce first yourself and address the question to Secretary General Stoltenberg.

Question: Good morning, I’m [inaudible] Andrew from George Marshall Centre, Romanian Alumni Organization. Mr. Secretary General, first of all, allow us to congratulate you for the excellent job you are performing as the Secretary General of NATO, probably the most effective Secretary General of NATO, in this organization history. Taking into consideration the war of aggression of Russia, this war of distraction against Ukraine, don't you think so, Secretary General, it might be time that the democratic states should have to come together and decide to expel Russia from the most relevant international organizations?

NATO Secretary General: Thank you. First of all, thank you for your kind words. Second, I think that every organization has to make their own decisions and of course, organizations have different tasks, different purposes, ranging from United Nations - so it's actually called we're all nations in the world - to other organizations like, for instance, the Council of Europe. And I will leave it to those organizations to make their independent decisions. What I can say on behalf of NATO is that for many years, we strived for a more constructive relationship with Russia, we strived for a constructive dialogue. And Russia has walked away from that dialogue. There's no way we can continue the meaningful dialogue we've tried to establish for many years with the behaviour, the aggressive actions by Russia against Ukraine as we see now. At the same time, we need military lines of contacts with Russia to reduce the risk of incidents/ accidents, and if they happen to prevent them from spiralling out of control. And, of course, also arms control is an area where there is a need to engage with Russia. But the institutionalized dialogue we tried to establish to, for instance, the NATO Russia Council, that doesn't work in the circumstances we now live.

Moderator: if I may, Secretary General before we take the next question, we are talking about the Black Sea as a strategic point was established at the Madrid summit this summer. Can we have a strategy at the Black Sea considering that we have three NATO countries two NATO partners but also an aggressive Russia in the region?

NATO Secretary General: The Black Sea is of great strategic importance for NATO, not only the littoral states, Türkiye, Bulgaria and Romania, but also for NATO as such, because this is of a great strategic importance. Then, of course, we have, especially since 2014, increased our presence in the Black Sea region. We are working more closely with two other Black Sea nations, Georgia and Ukraine, two close partners. We did that before the war of course, we're doing even more now after the war. So yes, the Black Sea requires that NATO is addressing all the challenges we see in the region. And that's part of our overall adaptation of this Alliance: responding to a more aggressive Russia.

Moderator: Next question, please.

Radu Tudor (Antena 3/CNN): Secretary General, Radu Tudor, Antena 3/CNN, Romania. How will you describe Romania’s role since the war has started because Romania has the longest land border with Ukraine? And, second, will you discuss and decide something today about the rapid deployment of NATO forces - because it took 12 days to bring some French tanks from France to Cincu where the HQ of the NATO battlegroup is -? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Romania has played and is playing an important role in our efforts to support Ukraine for exactly the reason you alluded to: that Romania has such a long land border with Ukraine. You have been instrumental in providing support to both -Romanian support to Ukraine – military and humanitarian support, but of course also help to facilitate the support from other NATO Allies and partners to Ukraine. And we highly appreciate that. I'm absolutely certain that when Foreign Ministers meet today and tomorrow, the message will be that we need to sustain and step up our support, not least when it comes to, for instance, air defence systems to help Ukraine defend themselves against all the air and defence attacks they are now facing. Then, of course, as you well know, Romania is also hosting many refugees. Millions of refugees have crossed the border and many stay in Romania. Others go on to other countries in Europe. But, of course, this is also a demonstration of Romania’s generous support to Ukraine and Ukrainians and also those who have to flee their own country. Then I think we have to understand that when the invasion happened, NATO was not taken by surprise. Actually, we have been preparing. We have been ready to face situations like this since we started the big adaptation of NATO in 2014. The war didn't start in February this year. The war started the Spring of 2014. And since then, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement and biggest adaptation of our Alliance since the end of the Cold War. With more presence in Eastern part of the Alliance. With high readiness forces. With more defence spending, including from Romania with 2% and many other Allies. We had intelligence many months before, actually in the Fall of 2021, last year, that Russia was planning to attack a full-fledge invasion of Ukraine. We shared that intelligence with all Allies, and actually with the public. So when they invaded that was no surprise, meaning that actually in the lead-up to the invasion we have already further increased our presence. I, myself, visited MK base in Romania. I think it was early February, before the invasion. Then we saw US troops, other NATO troops and also French troops, increasing their presence. And then, when we had the invasion, the same morning, early in the morning, we activated our defence plans and decided to further increase our presence. So it's not as we, you know, were totally unprepared for, in a way, eight years - so from 2014 to 2022 -, and then suddenly wake up in the morning and start to act. We have acted over a long period of time we actually stepped up in the weeks ahead of the invasion. And then after the invasion, many Allies, but not least France leading the battlegroup, have further increased their presence. This is backed by significant naval power in the Black Sea - sorry in the Baltic Sea - and in the Mediterranean, and also with a lot of air power. And we can quickly reinforce even more if needed.

Moderator: Do we have another question? Okay, please.

Question: [inaudible] GMF, Warsaw, Poland. Secretary General, first of all, thank you very much for your leadership. I have two questions. One is about Ukraine's relations and eventual membership of NATO. We all remember that in 2008 the Alliance has said there was an agreement that Ukraine and Georgia will be members. Of course, since then they asked to be part of the Alliance. Where are we in this process? How would you define the relationship between the Alliance and Ukraine in the coming months? The second one, if I may, is about the Vilnius summit in July this year. What is Alliance’s ambition when it comes to the force structure? I agree with what you said that Alliance has responded very quickly. Also our American Allies have been very quick in responding ahead of February 24. But what can we expect post-Vilnius to really address this issue on the longer term? Thanks.

NATO Secretary General: First, on Ukraine, you asked me to define our relationship. Well, our relationship is a very close partnership. It is a relationship where NATO Allies have proven their willingness to support Ukraine in an unprecedented way. We have never seen support to any other country in the same way that NATO Allies, partners from Australia to New Zealand too, of course, we’ve been together with the European Union and many others, are providing to Ukraine. And, of course, the military support is the most critical one that is coordinated in what we call the US-led Ramstein format. NATO Allies and NATO participate in that, but it goes beyond, there is a global effort to provide support to Ukraine. So this is unprecedented. Let me also say that, again, this didn't start in February this year. I was in Ukraine. I was in a Lviv and also in Yavoriv where was a training centre, one of the training centres actually bombed very early in the war. I was there in 2014 and there I saw Canadian troops, British troops and US troops training Ukrainian troops. So the reality was that when the invasion happened in February this year, compared to 2014, the Ukrainian troops and armed forces were much better trained. They were much bigger, much better equipped, equipped and much better led. That's one of the main reasons why they're able to fight back. So the reality is that the partnership, the support that NATO Allies have provided for many years, then training tens of thousands of troops [inaudible], that has proven to be extremely critical and extremely important to demonstrating the very close partnership. Of course, the gains and the victories the Ukrainians have made, that belongs to the bravery, to the courage of Ukrainian troops and armed forces. But it has been critical that they have received support from partners in NATO. And we will continue to do so. Then, yes, you’re right, we made the decision in Bucharest in 2008 at the summit. I was there as a young - not so young but not as old as today – as representing Norway as Prime Minister. I remember very well the decisions. We stand by those decisions. NATO’s door is open. We have demonstrated that NATO’s door is open by recently allowing Montenegro and North Macedonia to become members, despite having Russian protests, demonstrating that Russia does not have a veto. It's for the 30 Allies and aspirant countries to decide on membership, no one else. And now Putin invaded Ukraine saying that he wants less NATO at his borders. He is getting the opposite. He’s getting more presence of NATO troops in the Eastern part of the Alliance. And he will get Finland and Sweden as NATO members. So we demonstrate that NATO's door is open not only with words, but in deeds, and that was part of the decision we made in Bucharest. Then we also made the decision on Ukraine specifically. And we stand by that too, on membership for Ukraine. At the same time, the main focus now is on supporting Ukraine, ensuring that President Putin doesn't win but that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation in Europe. And that's the main focus of our Alliance and that's also the main focus of our partnership. Then, I realize that there were actually two questions. Oh yeah, I know but the form is that questions are precise and short, and answers are long and not so short. So then on Vilnius and force structure. So first of all, you know, I can never tell you exactly what 30 Heads of State and Government will decide when they meet. They tend to have their own opinions. But I expect that we will build on what we agreed in Madrid this year. We've actually made important decisions on force structure, on strengthening further NATO, and building on what we have done since 2014. Because we are in the needs of the biggest reinforcement of collective defence. We have done a lot. The message is from Madrid and I guess, I believe that we'll build on that and make decisions on more details, on how to implement. It is a mixture of, partly, more presence in the East - we have already doubled the number of groups - but we're also working on how to scale those groups or those battlegroups up, from battalion to brigade-size levels quickly. You’ll have more earmarked troops to be able to scale up and we will have generally more, a bigger pool of high readiness forces that we can draw on to quickly reinforce, and then more pre-positioned equipment. So the combination of more presence, more earmarked troops, higher readiness, pre-positioned equipment, all of that will strengthen our ability to react and act. And again, the purpose of all this is to, every day, 24/7, deliver of credible deterrence and defence. And by doing that we're not provoking a conflict, but we are pursuing peace preventing a conflict because if every potential adversary knows that an attack on one Ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance, there will be no attack on the Ally.  And that's the purpose of NATO: to preserve peace, to prevent war, but then we need a credible deterrence. And that's exactly what Madrid decided on and Vilnius will continue to develop.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. [inaudible] Aspen fellow from Türkiye. My question is about the role of NATO towards the unconventional attacks of Russia and China, especially last years that we are hearing more about those issues. How do you elaborate on the unconventional attacks of Russia and China towards the sovereignty of NATO members, especially, apart from the cybersecurity, the opening of Chinese unofficial police stations almost all over NATO members? Thank you. How do you elaborate on those issues? Otherwise, it's about the homeland security, but it's part of the peace and security and that's why I want to ask.

NATO Secretary General: No, so it demonstrates two things. First of all, it demonstrates that we need to be agile. We need to be monitoring carefully how our resilience and our security can be challenged by the increased presence of China in many different ways. This is not about NATO becoming a global military Alliance, but it is about the North Atlantic region, North America and Europe, seeing that China is coming close to us. We see them in cyberspace. We see them in Africa. We see them in the Arctic. And then we see different attempts by China to increase the presence inside Europe, including with the different activities you mentioned, but also with trying to control critical infrastructure. I think one kind of wake-up call for many Allies was the discussion we had about the 5G network, not so many years back as in 2019. At that time, many Allies thought that decision on 5G network - who is going to control that basic network for our infrastructure into that industrial production, public sector almost everything we do - was only a commercial decision. It was a bit like we discussed about gas from Russia. This is not about politics. This is about economic, commercial decisions. I think that what we have seen with Russian gas highlights that some of these decisions, yes they are commercial, but they have direct consequences for our security. So we also need to take into account the security aspects of these economic decisions. And, therefore, I welcome that Allies have increased awareness, for instance, of 5G and the importance of 5G for also their security. Indeed we are developing, we have developed and we are strengthening guidelines on resilience to ensure that Allies fulfil some minimum requirements when it comes to resilience of critical infrastructure. This is not targeted on China. But, of course, it's relevant also for China.

Moderator: Okay, before we get to next question, let me tell you that we have around three minutes, so make it short, and I think it would be the last one.

Question: First of all, thank you for having you here, Mr. Secretary General. Because there is no debate on the cause of the war, and most of the media is referring only on the effect on how this event is now unfolding, insisting on the simplistic argument about Russia’s thirst of conquering new territories. I'd like to know your opinion if there were indeed reason of concern from Russia to take this action, taking into account three important aspects they are claiming. First, proximity security guarantees. Two, violation of the minority rights, which are documented with dozens of reports from media institutions and NGOs, of how Ukraine and militia were oppressing Russian businesses in the Donbass region between 2014-2020. And third, the language issue, here with the amendment that the Venice Commission sanctioned Ukraine language bill in December 2019. So which one of these three topics could be considered as a threat from the Russian part and who can be seen responsible for the failure of negotiations? Because previous agreements, like the Minsk agreement [inaudible] for not exploiting this war? What happened in the meantime, Sir?

NATO Secretary General: None of the points you mentioned are in any way an excuse for a brutal invasion, or war of aggression against the neighbour. Of course, there are always differences and disagreements between countries. That happens all the time and there has been institutions and mechanisms to address those differences. But that doesn't in any way provide an excuse for invading a sovereign, democratic nation. Ukraine is a democratic nation. They changed government after free elections in a peaceful way. Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation with internationally recognized borders, including by Russia several times. First, when Ukraine got their independence, and second in the Budapest Memorandum where we actually guaranteed the borders of Ukraine as part of an agreement with Ukraine to get rid of all the nuclear weapons. So, this whole idea that there may be some issues related to language, that that’s an excuse for full-fledged invasion of another country, that's absolutely unacceptable, and very dangerous. Because there are many minorities in many European countries.  And if there were some complaints - and there are some complaints about minority rights in different countries, right or wrong - I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong, but there are complaints. If you just start to believe that that could be an excuse for the brutal war, with thousands of people killed, damage, bombing of civilians, then it’s absolutely unacceptable and extremely dangerous for all of Europe. The way we have preserved peace in Europe since the Second World War is to accept orders and to say that when there are differences, then we sit down, we discuss them. And we have the Venice Commission. We have others. We have the European Council, the Council of Europe. We have bilateral arrangements with negotiations to solve those issues. So I don't know exactly what you indicate with your question. But if you believe that any of those points could be a kind of excuse for an invasion, it's absolutely wrong, and it's extremely dangerous to allow that kind of thinking. The first point was what about security guarantees - or something like that - based on this idea that NATO is a threat, and Ukraine was a threat to Russia. No. NATO is a defensive Alliance. Ukraine has never been a threat to Russia. Russia has been a threat to Ukraine. They annexed Crimea back in 2014. And they used their forces to control the Eastern part of Donbass, which is within undisputed international borders of Ukraine. Then, I also believe that link to what you said, is this idea that NATO enlargement is kind of aggressive. NATO enlargement is the result of democratic decisions taken by democratic nations. And it's not against Russia, but it's because free, independent nations feel that they're more safe when they stand together with others. And Russia has always pledged or said that if a neighbour of Russia becomes a NATO Ally, that’s a provocation. I'm coming from a country, Norway, that is bordering Russia. And actually, when NATO was established, Norway was the only NATO Ally bordering Russia. No other NATO Ally bordered Russia. And Russia back in 1949, said it was absolutely unacceptable that Norway should become a NATO member. It was a provocation. It was not a provocation. It was the free, democratic will of Norwegians to join NATO. And I'm glad that Washington, London, Paris and the other founding members of NATO said that that’s okay. And it was exactly the same when Lithuania or Latvia joined, or when Romania joined. It was not NATO forcing Romania into NATO. It was Romania that wanted it because it has have free and independent elections, elected governments that wanted to join NATO. So, I respect the will of Romania to be part of NATO. And President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia. But it's his lack of understanding what free and independent nations can do. And I think what he's afraid of is democracy and freedom and that's the main challenge for him. And he doesn’t want that and that's the reason why he has invaded Ukraine,

Moderator: Thank you so much Secretary General. As a Romanian, I should say: we like to be inside NATO; we are NATO! Thank you so much for being with us today in Bucharest forum, and have a good ministerial today and tomorrow.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.