Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE) followed by an exchange of views with Members of the European Parliament

  • 07 Sep. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 07 Sep. 2023 14:13

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, madam chair, David, Natalie, and dear friends in the European Parliament. It is really a great pleasure to see you again, to engage with you again here in the European Parliament because I really appreciate this expression of NATO-EU cooperation, to meet with you. And as you know, to strengthen the cooperation between NATO and the European Union has been a top priority for me, since I started my tenure as Secretary General of NATO in 2014. I believe in NATO-EU cooperation, because we share the same values. We share the same challenges. We are two different organizations, so but we have a lot in common. 

As you know, 600 million Europeans live in a NATO country. And when Sweden joins NATO, 96% of the citizens of the European Union live in NATO country. So yes, we are different, different institutions, but we have a lot in common. And therefore it is good to see that over recent years, we have been able to strengthen NATO-EU cooperation, on cyber, on space, on critical infrastructure, on military mobility and we work hand in hand in the Western Balkans, in Kosovo, and also in addressing the illegal migration in the Aegean Sea, and in many other areas. 

And this is also reflected through the fact that, as you refer to, that earlier this year, I signed the third Joint Declaration between the two EU presidents. President von der Leyen and President Michel. They participated in the EU summit in Vilnius, [inaudible] was there. As I participated in June, I met with all the all the EU leaders in the European Council. So we meet at different levels, we work closely together, reflecting the reality that we have so much together and need to work together. 

So I would like to commend you as a European parliamentarians for supporting these efforts, enabling the strengthened cooperation between the European Union and NATO. And of course, we have a lot more to do, but we can be be quite proud of how far we have been able to move over the last years in in ensuring the partnership, the bond between our two organizations. 

NATO-EU cooperation has always been important, but the war in Ukraine has made it even more important because this is the most brutal war we have seen, the biggest war we have seen in Europe since the Second World War. And that makes it even more important that we stand together. 

And the reality is that President Putin made at least two big strategic mistakes when he invaded Ukraine last year. The first and most important was, of course, that he totally underestimated the Ukrainians. The strength, the commitment, the courage of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian political leadership and the Ukrainian armed forces. The other big strategic mistake he made was to underestimate us. Our willingness, our commitment to support Ukraine, to stand by Ukraine, with economic sanctions, with political support, but not least, with the military support. 

And that's unprecedented, what we have seen now, of military support from NATO Allies, from EU members, from EU, from NATO. And, this is a support which is much bigger than anyone expected when this war started. With, with advanced artillery, with the long range cruise missiles, with advanced air defence systems, with a lot of ammunition and not least training from EU, from NATO Allies.

And now I would also like to commend the Netherlands, Denmark, and also Norway for announcing that they are ready to deliver F-16s. And many Allies have also announced that they're ready to start a training of Ukrainian pilots and technicians to enable them to have F-16s. 

So again, there's much more we need to do, we need to support and sustain this support. But if we just stop for a moment and think where we are today, compared to where we thought we were going to be just weeks ahead of the invasion. I think we need to recognize the strength, the commitment, not least enabled by the European Parliament, for EU members, for NATO Allies, for our institutions, to stand by Ukraine. 

And that's extremely important to recognize because this is something that needs to continue. Our support has helped to enable the Ukrainians to launch the counter offensive. The Ukrainians are gradually gaining ground and it proves the importance of our support and also our ability and willingness to continue the support, because this is heavy fighting, difficult fighting, but they have been able to breach the defensive lines of the Russian forces and they are moving forward. 

And that was also the clear commitment and clear message from the NATO summit in July. That we need to continue to support Ukraine. That has been the message from the European Union, again and again. And the offensive just highlights the importance of standing by them.

At the NATO Summit, the main message was of course to support Ukraine. We were also able to make progress on Ukraine’s path towards NATO membership.

We recognize what the European Union has done, in granting them candidate status. In NATO, at the Vilnius summit we made important decisions to help to move Ukraine closer to membership. 

We reiterated that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, but then we added three elements which actually move them closer membership. 

First, we agreed a substantial package and also funding for a substantial package to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and NATO, and interoperability between our armed forces. And it's really a way to, in practical terms, to move Ukraine closer to NATO membership. The second thing we did was to strengthen their political institutionalized cooperation. We established something called the NATO-Ukraine Council, where we don't meet Ukraine as a partner, we meet as equals around the table. 31 Allies, soon 32, and then with Ukraine, around the table as an equal. 

This council can make decisions. It can convene on a short notice, it can address crisis, as we did just after the summit, when the when the grain deal was suspended. And the plan is now to really develop the NATO-Ukraine [Council], to a practical, to an important tool, to strengthen the bonds between NATO and Ukraine. 

And the third thing we did at the NATO summit was to remove the requirements for Membership Action Plan for Ukraine to become a member. Because previously the idea was to grant the country Membership Action Plan and that was a step towards invitation. At the Vilnius summit, we said that there is no need for Membership Action Plan. Because Ukraine has only moved closer to NATO. So we turn now the membership process from a two-step process to a one step process. 

And these three things, the interoperability, the NATO-Ukraine Council and removal of the requirement for Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, demonstrates that Ukraine has never been closer to a membership in NATO than now. 

And let me just end by saying that this reflects the political reality that nations are sovereign. Nations decide themselves, and Ukraine has of course the right to decide its own path. And it's up to Ukraine and NATO Allies to decide when Ukraine becomes a member. Russia cannot veto membership for any sovereign independent state in Europe. The other main issue at the NATO summit was to strengthen our deterrence and defence. Because fundamentally NATO has two tasks when it comes to the war in Ukraine. One is to support Ukraine as NATO Allies and NATO does. The second is to prevent the escalation.

Therefore, we have already increased our presence in eastern part of the Alliance, to send a very clear message to Moscow. To remove any room for misunderstanding, miscalculation. That NATO is there to defend every inch of NATO territory, one for all for one.

At the NATO summit, we agreed new plans for the defence of the whole Alliance. We also agreed to establish and identify more high readiness troops, 300,000 troops on different levels of high readiness, and also have more air and naval capabilities, ready to quickly reinforce if needed. 

The purpose of this is to prevent war. The purpose of this is to ensure that NATO continues to be the most successful Alliance in history because we have prevented any military attack on any NATO Allies. And when there's a full-fledged war going on in Europe, then it becomes even more important that we have credible deterrence and by strengthening our deterrence and defence, we are preventing war, preserving peace for NATO Allies, because there's no room for miscalculation. 

And the third thing was that NATO Allies have really now demonstrated that they are delivering on the commitment we made in 2014, because the war didn't start in February last year. It started in 2014. The full-fledged invasion happened last year, but the war, the illegal annexation of Crimea, Russia went into eastern Donbas in 2014. 

Since then, NATO has implemented the biggest adaptation on this Alliance in modern history, in decades. And part of that is to invest more in defence. I think I've told you before that I know it's hard to allocate money for defence, because most politicians want to spend money on health, on education, on infrastructure instead of defence. But sometimes you have to invest in defence and when tensions are going up, risks are increasing [inaudible] we have to invest more. 

And this year, we expect NATO Allies to increase defense spending by more than 8% in [inaudible] terms. This is the biggest increase in decades, and most of them are also EU members, are now taking this very seriously. More money for defence also enable us to invest more in production of ammunition, which is extremely critical. I welcome the efforts. I welcome the decisions by the European Union, which go hand in hand what we do in NATO. In NATO we have different arrangements for joint procurement of ammunition, we have done that for many years. We have something called a NATO support and procurement agency. I welcome efforts by EU members, NATO Allies, to ramp up production and we work closely with the defence industry throughout the Alliance, in EU but also in non EU Allied countries. To produce more and more spending, is a precondition for also increased production.

Then lastly on Sweden. First of all, it is historic that now Finland is member of the Alliance. And we have to remember the background. The background was that President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn't sign that.

The opposite happened. He wanted us to sign that promise, never to enlarge NATO. He wanted us to remove our military infrastructure in all Allies that have joined NATO since 1997, meaning half of NATO, all the Central and Eastern Europe, we should remove NATO from that part of our Alliance, introducing some kind of B, or second class membership. We rejected that. 

So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite. He has got more NATO presence in eastern part of the Alliance and he has also seen that Finland has already joined the Alliance and Sweden will soon be a full member. Because at Vilnius Summit, we agreed a statement where it was clearly expressed how Sweden will do more, follow up the agreement we had in Madrid on fighting terrorism, and also address issues related to export of military equipment, and then Türkiye made it clear that they will ratify as soon as possible. 

This has been reiterated by President Erdogan several times. So I expect that when the Turkish parliament reconvenes later this autumn the ratification will happen as soon as possible, which has been stated again and again. And then we will be 32 Allies, and both Sweden and Finland will be members.

This is this is good for the Nordic countries. It's good for Finland and Sweden. And it's also good for NATO. And it demonstrates that when President Putin invaded a European country to prevent more NATO, he's getting the exact opposite. 

I think have used my 10 minutes or even more so. So I think I stop there to allow as much time as possible for the comments and questions and I am looking forward to our discussions. Thank you so much.

Exchange of views

NATO Secretary General: Thank you so much. I will really try to address as many as possible of the issues you have raised. But there are so many precise and concrete questions that I'm not able to go all into all them. But, we'll try to group them. And first of all, I'd like to thank you for the questions, for the interest. And also I think that this session and all the questions you have asked demonstrates the value of NATO-EU cooperation. Because most of the issues you have raised are issues related to how NATO and the EU have to work together to address common challenges. And many will ask questions about Ukraine and how we can support Ukraine and what we can do more for Ukraine. 

And first of all, there is coordination going on at the political level, but also in a very practical level. We have a coordination cell in Wiesbaden, where NATO Allies, EU members are together and very practically coordinating the aid and the support, both identifying the needs from Ukraine, and then approaching different countries, ensuring that we build packages of support. Because you need to understand that when you deliver military support, it's not only about delivering a cannon. It's about delivering that artillery piece, but also the ammunition, the spare parts, the training, and maintenance facilities so we can ensure that the whole system can work. And some of you asked me, ‘what is the top priority?’ And I think that in one way, the top priority now is to ensure that all the systems, which are already in Ukraine, actually work. Because there is an enormous need to provide ammunition, maintenance, spare parts, to ensure that the systems, which already delivered, actually function. I'm not saying that we should not consider to deliver new systems. And we are now in the process of delivering F-16’s. But in the public debate, it's perhaps a bit too much focus on new systems, instead of ensuring that all the existing systems have all the maintenance they need to actually function.
There is coordination. I've been there myself. It's very impressive of NATO, EU Allies, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom. But also of course, a lot of EU members are together, and in a very practical way coordinate and ensure we will continue to do so.

Second, on standardisation and procurement. Again, I welcome the things that the EU does. NATO has also different programs. We realised last fall or last summer that this was going to be a war of attrition. So then production becomes extremely important. In the beginning, we depleted our stocks to provide support to Ukraine. But our stocks are not big enough. So we need to ramp up production. The reality is that our production capacity is not as big as it should be. That's the reason why we now see some good progress in new investments and more production throughout the Alliance in EU and non-EU NATO Allied countries.
I welcome the efforts of the European Union. NATO, as I mentioned, we have done joint procurement for many, many years through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. And also, groups of Allies, EU and non-EU Allies are going together and doing joint procurement, and so much as to just doing it individually as Allies. To be honest, the most important thing is not the framework where we decide to ramp up production and procure ammunition. The most important thing is that we actually do it, be it in the EU framework, NATO framework, a group of countries, or individual Allies. And the thing that really matters is to sign contracts. We need nations to sign contracts because that enables the industry to invest and ramp up production. And standardisation is of course key. That has been an issue for NATO for decades. We have now stepped up our efforts to ensure standardisation because we also seen some gaps there. And of course this has to be a NATO effort. Because as you know, 80% of NATO's defence spending comes from non-EU Allies. So we've admitted standardisation across the Alliance, and therefore we welcome the increased efforts by NATO to do more on standardisation.

Then, on the offensive and whether Ukrainians are gaining ground or not.

We have to remember that no one ever said that this was going to be easy, the offensive. It was clearly stated this is going to be a bloody, difficult, and hard offensive. Because what we have seen is, of course, that the Russians have prepared defensive lines — layers of defensive lines — with trenches, with obstacles to battle tanks, Dragon’s teeth, and mines, enormous amounts of mines. Hardly any time in history, we have seen more mines on the battlefield and mercy in Ukraine today. So it was obvious that this was going to be extremely difficult. But the Ukrainians decided to launch the offensive because they are going to liberate the land. And they are making progress. Not perhaps as much as we hoped for, but they are gaining ground gradually some 100 meters per day. Meaning that when the Ukrainians are gaining ground, the Russians are losing ground. 
And you have to remember the starting point.  The starting point is that the Russian army used to be the second strongest in the world. And now the Russian army is the second strongest in Ukraine.
And that's quite impressive by the Ukrainians. And that's the courage, the will, the commitment, the determination of Ukrainian soldiers that are making this possible. And we also need to remember the starting point. The starting point was that when the invasion happened, the full-scale invasion, happened in February, we were told by most experts that Kyiv would fall within days, and Ukraine would fall within weeks.
The Ukrainians proved them wrong by pushing back the Russian invaders, liberating the north, around Kyiv, the east around Kharkiv, and then bigger territories in the south and around Kherson. And now they are gaining more ground, liberating more Ukrainian territory. And then the same experts that told us that Ukraine will fall within weeks are complaining about the speed of the defensive.
The reality is that Ukrainians are actually exceeding expectation again and again. And we need to remember what's our responsibility, our responsibility to support them.
We can advise them, but it has to be the Ukrainian commanders, the soldiers on the ground, that make the difficult decisions. We cannot sit here in Brussels, in the NATO Headquarters or the EU Headquarters and tell them exactly how to fight. That's their task. They're risking their lives and we just support them. And we praise them for the courage.
And then I say this because wars are by nature unpredictable. No one knows exactly where we are in a week or two, or a month, or a year from now. And [in] hardly any war, we will see only, what I say, victories for the side we support. There will be bad days and good days. We need to be with Ukraine, not only good times but also bad times. So those who conveying the kind of message that while only if they win, we will continue to support them. No, we support them when they win and if they lose, we are there with Ukraine. Because to support Ukraine is not an option. It’s a necessity to ensure that we preserve peace for our members, for our countries and to ensure that authoritarian regimes don’t achieve what they want by violating international law and using military force. So I just tell you that of course, sometimes it's hard to imagine how brutal this war is. But, we need to never forget our responsibility to provide support to Ukraine.

Then I had a concrete question about the drone, the possible drone.

The Romanian authorities have confirmed and informer NATO about that debris from a potential, possible drone have been found near the border with Ukraine.
They informed NATO Allies in the regular meeting yesterday about all their findings. And the investigation is going on and demonstrates the risk of incidents and accidents. We don't have any information indicating any intentional attack by Russia. And we are awaiting the outcome of the ongoing investigation. Regardless of that outcome, what we have seen of course is a lot of fighting and also their attacks close to NATO borders. And we also had other incidents in Poland and elsewhere. And therefore, we have increased our vigilance. We are closely monitoring what's going on close to our borders. And we have also increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

There were questions about the Black Sea.

The Black Sea is of great importance for NATO. We condemn that Russia has withdrawn from the Black Sea grain deal. We welcome the efforts by Türkiye to try to reestablish the grain deal. And, of course, the best way to ensure safe and secure shipment of grain from Ukraine is to end the war. The reason why we have this problem is because of the war. And then the grain deal is a way to try to mitigate some of the consequences of the war. But I can also say that we have increased our presence in the region.
We've done that over a long period of time, but especially since the war with more maritime patrol aircraft, with battle groups in Bulgaria and Romania. And that we are closely monitoring the whole situation in the Black Sea region, including the literal states.

There was a question about the difference between the Vilnius and the Warsaw Summit. 

I will not compare two very successful summits. But, there is a difference in that you're right; in Warsaw, we decided to deploy new battlegroups.
What we did actually before Vilnius, was that the morning of the invasion, we activated NATO defence plans. And by activating NATO defence plans, we give SACEUR the authority to deploy more forces where and when he deems that necessary. So he has increased the presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We have doubled the number of battlegroups from four to eight. And we have more air and naval forces available. So we will do what is needed to defend every inch of Allied territory. This is [partly] about forward presence, but it's also very much about our ability to reinforce. And that's the reason why more high readiness forces is the key to address any potential threat caused by the war in Ukraine and Russia's aggressive actions. Then I need to move on [to the] South, many questions about that. The South is of course of great importance for NATO.

The instability in North Africa and Middle East creates threats and challenges for the whole Alliance, not only for the southern Allies. We have our presence in Iraq to help them train and equip their forces to fight terrorism, ISIS, and we work with countries like Mauritania, Tunisia, to help them fight terrorism. And Jordan, another close partner of NATO.
But I think we need to realise that this is also very much about economic and diplomatic efforts, where also other institutions than NATO have to play a key role. So again, an area where we work together at NATO and the European Union.

Then [on] China, we don't regard China as an adversary.

But we are concerned about the challenges that China poses to our values to our interests and to our security. China doesn't share our values. They don't believe in freedom of speech, democratic values, and they expressed that quite clearly.
They crack down on journalists, on opposition, on dissidents across the country. We have seen how they have cracked down on democratic rights in Hong Kong. We see how they are threatening Taiwan.
And, we see how China is investing heavily in modern nuclear weapons, more military capabilities, and also long range missiles. And [we see] how they also work more and more closely together with Russia. Just before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia and China signed an agreement where they promised each other partnership without any limits. And China has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine. So I think what we need to realise is that security is not regional; security is global. What happens in Ukraine matters for Asia and what happens in Asia matters for us. And therefore we welcome the stronger partnership we have with the Asia-Pacific countries. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea participated in the NATO Summit and we are ready to  do even more, to do as much as possible, to work together with these countries.

Then I had some questions about defence spending.

Well, of course, I would like to see all Allies meet the 2% guideline. That is not the case.
But I'm encouraged by what Allies are doing. They are ramping up spending and since 2014, all Allies have increased defence spending. Back in 2014 when they made the agreement, we had only three Allies meeting the 2% guideline. Now 11 Allies meet the 2% guideline and almost all Allies have plans in place to be there within a few years. And even those Allies who are not at 2% have significantly increased. Germany is one example, where actually spending is going significantly up. So yes, I see progress and I welcome that progress.

Then I think since my time is really running out. Okay, then I got to say one thing about the paradox about weapons.

Because the representative from Greece said that in a way, he never believed that he would support the liberal weapons to Ukraine. And I think for many people, that's a paradox. It is a paradox because we all want peace. We all want to invest in something else than weapons. But the problem is that sometimes you need to invest in weapons to ensure peace. That's the basic thing.
And that's the lesson we’ve learned again and again. I remember very well the end of the Cold War. We all were able to reduce defence spending. I don't know exactly the defence spending in Greece, but the defence spending in my country was 3% of GDP at the end of the Cold War. And then we reduced it to just about 1%. And I was responsible for that. I did not all of that. But part of it because I was a Norwegian politician. And across the lines, our government parliaments reduced defence spending because tensions went down. We saw less threats. We believed in new partnership, and we believed in the possibility to work with Russia. And I was a strong believer in that. Because we have seen again in any history that that old enemies can become friends. You see that in Europe, France, United Kingdom. Germany and France fought each other for centuries. Now they’re the closest friends and Allies in the European Union. And if you go to the Nordic countries, we have been fighting each other since the Viking Age for hundreds of years. And now Swedes, Danes, Finns, and Norwegians are best friends.
So it's possible. So I believe it was possible also to overcome, as we have done in Europe for most European countries within the framework of the European Union and NATO, to also overcome that relationship with Russia. Russia didn't choose that path. Russia decided to control neighbors, to try to reestablish their influence and say that there was a provocation if a country decided to join NATO. It is not a provocation. This is democratic, sovereign right to have a nation to choose its own path.
And therefore, we had Georgia in 2008. We had the Crimea in 2014. And then the full-fledged invasion in 2014. Russia has walked away, and I regret that. But then there is no other option for us than to ensure peace for NATO Allies, for EU members by investing in defence supporting Ukraine. Because if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it’s a tragedy for the Ukrainians, but it's also dangerous for us. It sends a message that when they use military force, they get what they want, authoritarian leaders. So it's in our security interest to support Ukraine, and therefore I'm extremely grateful for all the support that EU members the European Union and NATO Allies are providing to Ukraine. Thank you so much.