Remarks to the troops

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the headquarters of the US Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida

  • 01 Feb. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 01 Feb. 2024 20:39

(As delivered)

It's great to see you all. And it's great to be back. Because I actually visited SOCOM and the MacDill Air Base back in 2017. And I was briefed, and today I was briefed again, and a lot has changed. And that reflects that you are able to adapt to a changing world, and that you reflect that we are facing different threats and different challenges now than we did back in 2017.

As mentioned, my visit here to SOCOM ends a quite extensive visit to the United States. We started in Washington on Saturday, we have met with the administration but also spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill meeting with both parties, with Republicans and Democrats. And then yesterday we went to Alabama, to Troy. And there we saw how they are making some of the most advanced and important weapons for this Alliance. We saw actually the Javelins, but of course they're also making a lot of other types of weapons there. And then my visit ends here at MacDill Air Base and SOCOM.

And therefore, I would like to start by thanking you for your service, what you do every day. Because Special Operations are vital to any military operation, and therefore so important for the whole NATO Alliance. And you are the best of the best, you are key to so many of the things we do as an Alliance, and also as individual Allies. And the great thing here is that, of course, you have the US Special Operations forces and Command, but you also have NATO Allies and partners working together with them. So actually, what you do here is not only important for the US, but it's important for the whole Alliance, and the way we work together with partners in Europe, but also global partners around the world.

You Special Operations forces, as you know, are often the first in and the last out, and that puts you often in danger. So let me also pay tribute to all those who have paid the ultimate price, also recently. And therefore we need to remember them and express our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones.

The reality is that we are now living in a more dangerous world than we actually did back in 2017 when I was here last time. Because since then we have seen increased great power rivalry, not least with China, the Taiwan Strait. We see a continued threat of terrorism, we see cyber threats. But then we have a new war in the Middle East, and we have a full-fledged war in Europe, in Ukraine, the war of aggression against Ukraine.

All of this has led to that NATO has implemented the biggest adaptation, the biggest change for our Alliance, since the end of the Cold War with more forces on higher readiness. For the first time in our history, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. And Allies are now actually investing more in defence. For many years, as you know, defence purchases went down, especially in Europe. And now, over the last years, all Allies have started to increase defence investments, and more and more Allies meet the guideline of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. This also means that Allies are investing more in Special Operations, Allies and partners; in the national capabilities, but also in working together with partners as Allies throughout NATO. And what happens here, all the activities that I was briefed on just before we came to this room, reflects the increased importance of Special Operations.

NATO is responding because we need to do that together. The good news is that we see that NATO is responding in a way which actually continues to demonstrate that NATO is the most successful and the strongest Alliance in history. And we are responding also by supporting Ukraine. Because we have many challenges, and a long term most important challenge for NATO is China and their heavy investments in new modern military capabilities and their attempts to coerce also neighbours and to threaten neighbours like Taiwan.

But the most immediate challenge we face is, of course, the war in Ukraine. And I welcome that NATO Allies and partners are providing Ukraine with unprecedented support. You are part of that, and thank you for that. We are tested in Ukraine. Because if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it's not only a tragedy for the Ukrainians, it makes also the world more dangerous and us more vulnerable. So therefore, it is in our national security interest to support Ukraine. And I strongly believe that actually what we do in Ukraine is important, not least because what we have achieved there is that by using a fraction of our defence budgets, we have inflicted heavy losses on the Russian combat capabilities without putting our own forces in harm's way. And that demonstrates that we should continue to support the Ukrainians.

Of course, we all hoped for greater achievements in the offensive the Ukrainians launched last year. But we have to remember when this started, when the full-fledged invasion was launched by Russia back in February 2022, many feared that Russia was going to take control over Kyiv within days, and the rest of Ukraine within weeks. That did not happen. The Ukrainians have been able to push back the Russian invaders. They have liberated 50% of the territory occupied by Russia in the beginning. And they have been able to open a corridor in the Black Sea, which is a great achievement, to push back the Russian Black Sea fleet. And they have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian armed forces: more than 300,000 casualties, thousands of armoured vehicles destroyed, and hundreds of aircraft.

So we have to take this into account because this demonstrates that the support we provide to Ukraine, United States or other NATO Allies, is actually making a difference on the battlefield, on the ground, every day. I say this because my main message has been throughout this visit that we should not step down, we should actually step up and ensure that Ukraine gets the support they need. We have the capacity, we have the capabilities, what we need is the political will to ensure that we deliver the support they need to actually protect our values and to make the world safer, compared to a situation where we allow President Putin to win.

This is not least important because what goes on in Ukraine is closely watched by authoritarian leaders all over the world: in Iran, in North Korea, but not least in Beijing. Beijing is watching Ukraine. And we know that what happens in Ukraine and Europe today can happen in Asia and Taiwan tomorrow. So this is interlinked. That's the reason why this really matters for NATO.

Then let me just end this very brief introduction by saying that I'll come back to the United States, not necessarily to MacDill Air Force Base, but I will come back to the United States at least in July, when you're going to have the NATO Summit with all the heads of state and government coming here to celebrate NATO’s 75th anniversary. That will be a Summit where we celebrate the Alliance, but also where we're going to make important decisions on deterrence and defence, on working with our Asia Pacific partners, and also on Ukraine.

But most of all, we will demonstrate the unity of 31 Allies, and soon 32. Because you mentioned Montenegro, North Macedonia and Finland, that's absolutely correct. But then very soon we will have Sweden as the 32nd Ally. So we will demonstrate, we will celebrate the unity. NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because we have been able to change; the world is changing. But also because we have been able to stand united despite the differences. We are 31, soon 32 Allies from both sides of the Atlantic, a different history, different culture, different political parties in power, but we have always been able to unite around our core task to protect and defend each other.

And the purpose of NATO is to prevent, or, through credible deterrence, is to preserve peace by standing together. So as long as we continue to communicate to any potential adversary in a credible way, that an attack on one Ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance, we are safer and stronger than when we try to do this alone.

So NATO is a good deal for all Allies. NATO is important for Europe. But NATO is also important for the United States, especially since the United States is now more concerned about China: the size of their economy, the heavy investments in new military capabilities, technology. The United States is by far the biggest Ally. At the same time, we have to know that the United States represents 25%, a quarter, of the world’s economy, the world’s GDP. Together with 31 NATO Allies, we represent together 50% of the world's GDP and 50% of the world's military might. So NATO is a good deal for the United States. NATO makes also the United States stronger and more secure. So in NATO we stand together, because it benefits us all, and that's what we're going to celebrate when we have the NATO Summit in July. So, thank you so much, then I'm ready to take some questions.