by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Day of Industry, organised by the Federation of German Industries

  • 19 Jun. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 19 Jun. 2023 17:25

(As delivered)

President Russwurm, dear friends, 
It’s a really great pleasure to be here at this ‘Day of Industry’, and I look forward to share with you a few thoughts, and then sit down and actually answer some of your questions, and listen to your remarks. 

Because we are now at a critical time for our security: Great-power competition is on the rise, our values and democracies are under pressure, and President Putin has brought war back to Europe.

After the Cold War, we all hoped for – and worked for – a more peaceful relationship with Russia.
Gradually those hopes waned, because of President Putin’s pattern of aggressive behaviour - in Georgia, Aleppo, Crimea and the Donbas. 

The full-fledged invasion of Ukraine shattered any remaining illusions of constructive cooperation with Russia.
And so we are at a turning point in history. 
And what we do or don’t do now will define our security for decades to come.

So let me briefly share with you three things I believe we must do to respond to this more dangerous world. 

First, we must continue to support Ukraine. 

NATO has been assisting Ukraine since 2014. 
And over the last year, we have provided unprecedented support.  
Germany contributes significantly to this effort with air defence systems, battle tanks, artillery, and ammunition.  

Our help strengthens Ukraine’s ability to fight on the battlefield.
They have been retaking their land, and have the capabilities to retake more. 
We must continue to give them what they need to prevail as a sovereign, independent state. 
This is our immediate task. The more land they are able to liberate, the stronger their hand will eventually be at the negotiating table.

We all want this war to end. But a just peace cannot be freezing the conflict and accepting a deal dictated by Russia. 
NATO is not a party to the conflict, but we stand with Ukraine in its right to self-defence, a right which is actually enshrined in the UN Charter. 

Then, second, we must further strengthen our own defence. 

After Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, 
everyone understands much better why we need strong defences.

It is not to provoke a conflict, but to preserve peace and protect our prosperity. 

This costs money. 

So I expect leaders at the Vilnius NATO Summit next month to agree a new Defence Investment Pledge, with 2 % of GDP for defence as the minimum.

And I am grateful for Germany’s contributions to our collective defence - including troops along NATO’s eastern flank, jets in the skies of NATO Allies, and ships part of NATO’s naval deployments. 

As we speak, Germany is hosting the largest air exercise ever in NATO history, Exercise Air Defender, which I look forward to visiting tomorrow. 

Chancellor Scholz’s historic Zeitenwende demonstrates German leadership in these dangerous times. 

I welcome that Germany has announced it will spend 2% of GDP on defence from 2024, and I also welcome that it started delivering on its commitments to procure the right capabilities to make the Bundeswehr stronger. 
This is important for German security, it is important for European security, and for transatlantic security. 

We also need a more robust defence industry, and some of you are present here today.

Our weapons and ammunition stocks are depleted and need to be replenished, not just in Germany, but in many countries across NATO. 

Last week I had the privilege of engaging in a productive meeting with defence industry representatives. 
We discussed how to best ramp up production, secure supply chains, and remove barriers to our cooperation. 

This is key to sustain our support to Ukraine and assure our own defences. 

And third, we must end our dependencies on authoritarian regimes. 

You know that not so many months ago, many believed that buying gas from Russia was a purely commercial matter, only to learn the hard way that it is also affects our security. 
So therefore it was also a political decision.

Germany and the EU have made impressive efforts to diversify energy supplies. 
But we must not make the same mistake once again with other authoritarian regimes, not least China.

China is not our adversary, and we will continue to trade and engage with China.
But at the same time, we must avoid dependencies that make us vulnerable. 

We must not rely entirely on China for critical raw materials and products. 
We must not export technology that can be used against us, or lose control of critical infrastructure, like 5G networks. 

Resilience is key to our security, and I welcome the strong emphasis on resilience in the German new National Security Strategy.
We must continue to work together – government and private sector – because our security is a shared responsibility.  

Germany is a highly valued NATO Ally. 
You have a remarkable industrial base, and a very capable defence industry. 
So what you do really matters. 

I count on Germany’s continued leadership and support to protect our people and values, and to preserve peace. 

Thank you very much.  

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): Thank you very much. I obviously have one or two questions, and then we actually might have time to have some questions from the audience.
If I may ask my question first: You have said that the new National Security Strategy has been a good sign, and actually you've been quite optimistic about it. Now I thought you wouldn't be, probably, because first of all, it's coming quite late, right, that we now say we want to get to the 2% of the GDP.
And second of all, I think in the national strategy, it says we're going to spend 2% of GDP on average over the next years, which is which could be kind of vague scenario, no?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, so, first of all, it is an important message to all the NATO Allies and to the rest of the world that we now have a very clear commitment from Germany to increase defence spending to 2%. That is something reflected in the National Security Strategy, but I'm actually also very confident that it will be reflected in what we agree at the Vilnius Summit. And then it was also a message when the Zeitenwende was launched, and the 100 billion extra was allocated for defence.
But what matters to me is actually that this commitment to increase defence spending is not only something which is demonstrated in words, but also in deeds. Because defence spending has started to increase, enabling Germany to invest more to buy, for instance, fifth-generation fighter aircraft, buy more air defence, and invest also in scaling-up the stocks of ammunition and provide German support to Ukraine.
Then, of course, I want more. So therefore I expect it will continue to increase, and therefore also expect that when Germany, together with all the NATO Allies, at the Vilnius Summit, we will agree not only to say that we will spend 2%, but that we will regard 2% as a minimum of what we have to spend. Because in addition to agree to spending, we will also at the NATO Summit agree what we call capability targets, targets for the different capabilities, and that's a list of thousands of specific capabilities that each and every Ally should have - battle tanks, planes, ammunition, ships, readiness, and many other things. And that has a price, and for many Allies that price will be higher than 2%. So there is no doubt that Germany, as other Allies, to invest significantly more in defence.
Let me end by saying the following: I have been Minister of Finance, I have been Prime Minister, I know it's hard to increase defence spending. Because the reality is that if you're going to find a billion extra for defence, which we'll have to because we live in a more dangerous world, then there’s one billion less for health, for education, for infrastructure, or for cutting taxes. So it has a price, but the reality is that all NATO Allies, we reduced defence spending after the Cold War when tensions went down. Now tensions have gone up, and there's a full-fledged war in Europe. So if you reduce spending when tensions are going down, we have to increase spending when tensions are going up. And that's reason why I expect Germany and all other Allies to invest more in defence.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt):
We’re definitely going to see in the next couple of years what is actually going to happen.
One question, again, before we're going to ask the audience's: You've mentioned that, [with] regimes like China, we have to be careful what we export, because we do not want to export something that actually strengthens them more and weakens us even more. Now, technology, we don't really know what the weapon of the future is, right? Artificial intelligence has been a topic today. How do you make sure to know what kind of product we can export and what not because, potentially, most of it can be of harm, no?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: But I think we have to understand that this is not black or white and a very clear line. It is blurred landscape where we have to make difficult decisions and address difficult trade-offs and do some risk management. Of course, there is no way we can have zero dependency on imports from a big economy, big country, like China and that's not the aim.
But not so many years ago, I think that many of us – I was part of that – we thought that the more we traded with authoritarian regimes, especially the more we traded with China, the more liberal, the more open, the more democratic they will be. The reality is that China is less liberal today, more authoritarian today, than 10, 20 years ago. So, knowing that these countries are becoming more and more authoritarian, they don't share our values, they're cracking down on democratic rights in Hong Kong, we see how they treat minorities in their own countries and we see how they are threatening their neighbours around the South China Sea, and how they are actually coming closer to us, also trying to coerce and threaten also NATO Allies in different ways. That makes it absolutely certain there is a risk when we make ourselves dependent on key commodities from China.
It's not about turning off, it's not about isolating: We need to continue to trade and continue to engage with China. But we see, for instance, in some parts of the new economies of renewable energies and so on, dependencies on raw materials, on rare earth minerals from China, which is extremely high. And that makes us vulnerable.
So this is partly an obligation for countries for governments to try to define some guidelines and set some restrictions on some of the core technologies, but it's also an issue and responsibility for each and every industry. Because there's also commercial risks in making itself too depend on commodities from authoritarian regimes.
And I think we have learned the lesson from Russian gas. It was it was a mistake to be so dependent on energy from an authoritarian power that used that energy to try to prevent us from supporting Ukraine. So we need to develop guidelines, we need to understand better, we are working on something called “resilience guidelines” at NATO, we try help and to define some of these borderlines. But at the end of the day, it will also be an element of judgment or risk management, from each and every industry, to find the right balance between engagement and trade, but not being naive and being too dependent.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): Not being naïve. So, questions: Does anyone have a question in the audience, right now, for NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg?

Speaker 1: Mr Stoltenberg, thank you very much for your clear words, much appreciated. I’m representing the German defence industries, as [inaudible].
We touched a little bit on China. Can you please elaborate very briefly on the NATO position and the NATO reaction with respect to a potential escalation in Taiwan? And if this would happen, what will happen with NATO reaction? Thank you.

Secretary General Stoltenberg: So, first of all, NATO will remain a regional alliance of North America and Europe. NATO is not becoming a global alliance. But, of course, what happens also outside the transatlantic area matters for NATO. And therefore, we are concerned when we see the threatening rhetoric from China against Taiwan. There's no excuse for China to use force against Taiwan. There is no way they should change the status quo by the use of force, and any differences, disagreements should be solved by a diplomatic means.
Then, of course, if there was a conflict in Asia, it will matter for NATO. Because what we see is that China and Russia are coming closer and closer. They exercise together, just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin signed an agreement, a treaty, where they stated clearly that the partnership is without limits. So it is very easy to imagine a conflict where Russia and China will, one way or another, operate together. So that just makes it even more important to prevent any conflict also that part of the world, because to think that that can be isolated, I think, is no longer the case.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): The next question.

Speaker 2: Can I add something to what she just asked? What would that mean, an escalation of the conflict, for US support for NATO in Europe? Could the US, do they have the capacity to be present and engaged on two fronts?

Secretary General Stoltenberg: The US has, of course great capacities, and they also realise that the protection of Europe is in the US interest. At the same time, the US, of course, doesn't have limitless capacities. And that just highlights the importance of European Allies investing more in defence. This is something that NATO has asked for decades.
The US defence budget is roughly 70% of NATO’s total defence spending. So the risk of more global conflicts also that can involve US forces all the places in the world than Europe just highlights the importance of one of my main messages today, that we need to invest more as Europeans, because we cannot totally be dependent on the United States. We need to do our share to be stronger degree than we do today.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): Thank you. We have one more question from the audience. I’ll hold on to the microphone.

Speaker 3: So, Mr Stoltenberg, first of all, you have made NATO more popular in Europe, and in particular in Germany, than ever before. If you think about 40 years ago, we had this demonstration against NATO’s double-track resolution [1979 Double-Track Decision], a very different world. What, and that's my question, what could we do to engage with China, to prevent China from openly supporting, militarily, in Russia?

Secretary General Stoltenberg: So, first, I think that it is important to engage with China to convey those messages. And that has been conveyed by NATO, it has been conveyed by NATO Allies, that China should not provide any military support to Russia's illegal war against Ukraine. And I welcome the fact that Secretary Blinken, the US Foreign Secretary, actually now had long meetings both with his Chinese counterpart, but also with President Xi. And based on the reports I've read from that – of course, they haven’t solved all outstanding issues – but the meetings have been good, and they have addressed a long range of issues and conflict, and I’m confident also addressed the need for China, the message from the United States has almost certainly been that China should not provide any support to [Russia].
Then, on the popularity of NATO: Yes, you're right. If you look at the opinion polls, we have a record high support. But I think the reality is that it just reflects that people see what's going on. What we see is that a sovereign, independent democratic state in Europe – Ukraine – has been attacked with a full-fledged innovation. And we also see the rhetoric from Russia, from President Putin, that this is partly about Ukraine, that it doesn't recognise Ukraine as a sovereign, independent nation, despite the fact that he has signed many agreements recognising Ukraine as an independent nation. And one of those agreements is actually the agreement where Ukraine gave up all its nuclear powers, it had nuclear weapons, gave up its nuclear weapons. Russia and many other countries then signed that they respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. So that's a quite strong message, that they violate, blatantly, agreements that have been made again and again with an independent sovereign nation in Europe.
One more thing about this is that we have to remember is that we in NATO were not surprised, because, partly we had very precise intelligence, which was shared as early as the fall of 2021, precise intelligence of the Russian military build-up, precise intelligence of the intentions. So when the invasion happened, we were well prepared, and we activated our defence plans, we deployed more forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, we gave SACEUR, our Supreme Commander, more authorities, because we were prepared and therefore, that morning, we did all that.
But we were also prepared because the invasion of Ukraine is part of a pattern. It started – well, we can discuss when it started with Chechnya, - but at least with Georgia in 2008, where they went into Georgia, then the brutal warfare in Syria. And then the war in Ukraine didn't start last year in February, it started in 2014. That was when they took Crimea, and a few months after went into eastern Donbas. So this pattern led to the biggest reinforcement of NATO in generations since 2014, with more troops, more defence spending, higher readiness, because we need to send a very clear message to President Putin that that we are there to protect every inch of NATO territory.
The last thing I will say is the following: He – just weeks or months or a couple of months before the invasion – [in] December 2021, he sent the letter, or a proposed draft agreement to the United States and to NATO. And he wanted NATO to say that we should have no forces in the eastern borderlines, introducing some kind of B-membership for those Allies that have become members after 1997. He wanted, of course, Ukraine to promise never to join NATO, but he also wanted NATO to promise no additional enlargement of NATO – including with Finland and Sweden. That prompted Finland and Sweden to immediately apply for membership, because they realised that Putin tried to close the door. And when someone tried to close to the door then he can win and then move in. So he went to war because he wanted less NATO. He wanted NATO to remove forces from the eastern border lines and he wants no more NATO members. He has got the exact opposite. He has gotten more NATO troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, and Finland and Sweden - Finland already, Sweden soon. So the whole world has been a big strategic mistake of President Putin, he’s getting the exact opposite of what he wanted.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): May I ask you, on the popularity of NATO, a very, very short, very last question, a very personal one. Would you like to go for another term if they ask you?

Secretary General Stoltenberg: It has been a great privilege to serve at NATO. I have been extended before, I may declare that my term ends this this fall. And I'm absolutely certain that the Alliance is capable of finding an excellent successor, so it has been a great privilege. Thank you.

Ina Karabasz (Handelsblatt): Thank you.