between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Founder and Chairman of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit
Chairman of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Secretary General Stoltenberg, Jens, a warm welcome to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, the place where democratic forces assemble and dictators aren't welcome. It's a big pleasure to have you with us.
So let's go directly to the issue. I'll start with a very broad question to you: In July, NATO will have its next Summit in Vilnius. So, how can the NATO Summit in Vilnius best express the strength, the determination and unity ahead of the jubilee Summit in Washington in April, or whenever it will be, next year?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, Anders, thank you so much for inviting me, and thank you for the leadership you demonstrate and you have demonstrated for many, many years in standing up for democracy, for freedom, and also for convening the Copenhagen Democracy Summit. And it has been a great pleasure to work with you, first when we were both the Prime Ministers in Denmark and Norway for some years, and then also following you here at NATO.
The Summit in Vilnius will be a very important Summit because we meet at a critical time for our security. And I really hope that it will demonstrate once again that NATO is the strongest and most successful alliance in history because of two things: Because of our ability to adapt to change when the world is changing, when we face new threats and challenges and, of course, our ability to stand together, our unity.
And first and foremost, we need to demonstrate this in the way we reiterate our support to Ukraine. I expect Allies to repeat, and then strengthen and sustain the support for Ukraine, the political, the practical, the military support, but also that we will agree new plans on how to further strengthen our deterrence and defence. Because fundamentally, NATO's task is to support Ukraine, as NATO Allies and NATO have done now for more than a year, but also to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine. And therefore, I’m also looking forward to Allies agreeing new plans and new commitments to strengthen our collective defence, and our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.
And the last thing I'll mention for the Summit in July is that we will also engage with our Asia-Pacific partners. For the second time in our history, we will invite heads of state and government from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia to participate. And this demonstrates that we realise that what happens in Asia, in the Pacific, matters for NATO, and therefore we are strengthening our partnership with them.
Chairman Rasmussen: Let’s zoom in a bit. No doubt that the issue of future NATO membership for Ukraine will be an issue. I mean, it won't be a topic that just will go away. Actually, during your recent visit to Kyiv, you said yourself that the future of Ukraine is within NATO. I know there's a lot of discussion, so how do you intend to address the issue of Ukrainian membership of NATO?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: I think that it is obvious that NATO Allies will, when they meet in July, the heads of state and government, they will send a very clear message of support to Ukraine, and this will be manifested in many different ways.
When it comes to membership. I expect that NATO Allies will say that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance. This has been stated several times by heads of state and government. All Allies also agree that Ukraine has the right to choose its own path. It's not for Moscow to decide what Ukraine can do, it’s for Ukraine and 31 NATO Allies to decide on the issue of membership. And of course, NATO’s door remains open.
I also expect that we will agree a multi-year programme for Ukraine, where we will work on how to help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era standards, doctrines, equipment to NATO standards, doctrines and equipment, and to become fully interoperable with NATO. And of course, to do that, also helps them to move towards NATO membership.
And then, I also strongly believe that all Allies will state that of course, the most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, that President Putin does not win in this war. Because it's only if Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation in Europe that there’s any meaning in discussing when and how Ukraine can become a member of the Alliance.
Chairman Rasmussen: Even in the best case, it will take some time to figure out on which conditions Ukraine could eventually join NATO. So the question is: Until then, does Ukraine need security guarantees? As you may know, I've co-authored a set of proposals called the Kyiv Security Compact that will guarantee the security of Ukraine until Ukraine can join NATO. Do you think, in the run-up to Vilnius, that a number of Allies could agree on a set of security guarantee for Ukraine?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: There are consultations going on, as always before the Summit, among Allies here at NATO and also, of course, in capitals. And of course, it's too early for me to pre-empt the exact conclusions of a meeting of heads of state and government when we have ongoing consultations. But again, I am absolutely certain that all Allies realise that we need to provide military support to Ukraine. More than 150 billion [euros] has been provided already in military support, and we just had new announcements from Germany this weekend, more than 2 billion euros, and also the United States. So Allies are providing military support. That's important for Ukraine to prevail, to win the war, but also of course, to strengthen Ukraine after war, to be able to deter and defend any further aggression.
We don't know how this war will end, but what we do know is that when it ends, it is extremely important that we are able to prevent history from repeating itself. Meaning that we need to ensure that the pattern we have seen of Russian aggression against neighbours – in Georgia in 2008, Crimea and 2014, later on Russia moving into eastern Donbas and then the full-fledged invasion last year –this has to stop.
And the only way to ensure that that stops is partly to ensure that Ukraine has the military strength to deter and defend against further aggression from Russia, but also to find some kind of framework to prevent Russia, or President Putin, from continuing to chip away at European security. Exactly what kind of framework, I cannot tell you now, but what I can say is that if NATO Allies and especially of course, the big ones, start to issue security guarantees bilaterally to Ukraine, we are very close to Article 5. So there is no way to find an easy solution to these issues. The most important thing is to be very strong in our support Ukraine so Ukraine will prevail as a sovereign strong, independent nation in Europe.
Chairman Rasmussen: So let’s discuss a bit the commitment by NATO Allies to invest sufficiently in defence. As you know, in Wales, at the NATO Summit in Wales back in 2014, we decided that within the next decade, all Allies would live up to invest at least 2% of GDP in defence. When we read your latest Annual Report, we see that only seven Allies lived up to that 2% target in 2022. That's very disappointing. So the question is: How would you address this issue in Vilnius? How would you press the Allies to actually live up to their commitments from 2014?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, as you know, Anders, the decision in Wales in 2014 was something that was not easy to reach. You were then Secretary General, when that decision was made, and I am very glad that when I came in, we had that decision as a starting point. But of course, it reflected that some Allies were very eager to move fast to 2% and beyond, and other Allies were very reluctant. So whether it's good or bad, where we are now, depends a bit on whether you assess the glass as half full or half empty.
The reality is that since 2014, we have come a long way on defence spending, even though I would have been much appreciated NATO Allies to have done even more. Because before 2014, Allies across Europe and Canada were reducing defence spending. Since 2014, all Allies have increased defence spending - some more than others - but all have gone from going down to going up, which is a huge difference.
We have more than doubled the number of Allies meeting the 2% target, and even those who are not yet at 2% have now plans in place to be there within a few years. For instance, Germany; they're not there at 2%, but the increase they have already started to deliver makes a huge difference because of the size of Germany and because of the size - 100 billion [euros] - that has been set aside that enables them to reach 2% soon.
Then, the challenge was that since there were different views in Wales, the language says that we should aim to move towards 2%. And for some Allies, they interpreted that as a kind of ceiling we should move towards. I hope that in Vilnius, we will be able to agree to a much stronger commitment, meaning that we should not refer to 2% as something we aim to move towards, but we should have 2% not as a ceiling but the floor, a minimum, that all of us should deliver immediately, not within a decade. And if anything, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated for all Allies the need to invest more in defence. So I welcome the progress we have made. I want to see even more. I’m certain that in Vilnius, we will have a stronger commitment to investing more in defence.
Chairman Rasmussen: When should they meet that floor?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: That should be immediately. So instead of having a decade-long perspective, because 2014 is of course different than 2023, things have changed: Allies realised in August 2014, when the Wales Summit was held, that we lived in a more dangerous world, but it's even more obvious now with the massive aggression of Russia against Ukraine.
So again, it's not for me to decide. This text will be negotiated, I will put forward my proposals, I will push hard for Allies to agree something which is stronger, referring to 2% as a minimum. And when we don't have a decade long, but it should be something that should be reached as soon as possible, immediately, without waiting more than absolutely necessary.
Chairman Rasmussen: Do you think that 2030 is as soon as possible?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, it all varies because some Allies are, you know, quite far away from 2%, and of course there's no way to double your defence spending in one year. But other Allies, and more and more Allies, are now quite close to 2%. And of course, they could be there very soon. But the message should be that there is not yet another decade, you should all be at 2% as soon as possible. That should be the message from Vilnius.
Chairman Rasmussen: Okay. So, let me turn a bit to the broader world: In the new Strategic Concept, NATO addresses the challenges from China. And among other things, you write in the new Strategic Concept: “We will stand up for our shared values and the rules-based international order, including freedom of navigation”.
So what does this mean in practice? Could you imagine a NATO engagement in keeping the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait open for international shipping?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: NATO Allies are present also in the South China Sea. They sail there with merchant ships and, of course, also sail there with military – or naval – ships. NATO will remain a regional alliance in North America and Europe. But what was clearly stated for the first time in the Strategic Concept we agreed in Madrid last year was that China matters for our security. And China poses a challenge to our interests, our values and to our security. And that's also one of the reasons why we are now working even more closely with our Asia-Pacific partners, and also why we have so clearly communicated that the status quo in and around Taiwan should not be changed by force, and China's threatening rhetoric and behaviour against Taiwan is unjustified, and any differences and disputes around Taiwan should be solved by peaceful means.
Chairman Rasmussen: Okay. My last Summit as Secretary General was the Wales Summit in 2014. I don't know if the Vilnius Summit will be your last Summit as Secretary General. I know that you indicated a desire to leave NATO, and I also know that it's very much restricted what you're able to say about this issue. But maybe I could ask you: Which qualifications do think that your successor should possess?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: I've had the privilege of serving as Secretary General of NATO for almost nine years now, and I'm totally focused on that task until my tenure ends in October. It's important for me to not be part of the discussion about who will come after me, my successor. So anything I say about that - qualifications or whatever it is – will just be interpreted as if I'm going into a discussion I should not be part of. I’m absolutely confident that this Alliance of close to one billion people, many nations – 31 nations - will absolutely be able to find a great successor following after me.
Chairman Rasmussen: My question and your reply will be between you and me. If Allies ask you to stay on, are you ready to continue and celebrate the 75th anniversary Summit in D.C. next year?
Secretary General Stoltenberg: I have made it clear that I have no other plans than to leave this fall. I will already have been almost twice as long as originally planned, and that's all I have to say about that.
Chairman Rasmussen: Okay. I would like to thank you very much, Jens. You are the head of the strongest organization on earth to defend freedom and democracy. So thank you very much for joining us today. I wish you all the best in the run-up to Vilnius, and whatever might happen after that. Thank you.