by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO’s 2024 Youth Summit: ‘Shaping Your Tomorrow’

  • 13 May. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 13 May. 2024 19:00

(As delivered)

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Thank you, Donna in Miami and earlier Sarah in Stockholm. It is indeed an absolute pleasure to be here at the NATO HQ to conduct this transatlantic conversation with the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Thank you very much for having me in your home. It's a pleasure. Before we begin, I would like to recognize the audience here with us at the Agora comprised of young NATO staffers and interns, I'm sure they're very eager to hear your thoughts on the future of the Alliance and the future of the world. So, thank you and hello.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (Brussels, Belgium): Thanks so much, Carlota. It's great to be with you here in Brussels, and also hello to Sarah in Stockholm and Donna and Miami and I am also told that in Miami, the president of Montenegro, Milatović, is there together with you, and Montenegro is actually the first country I had the honour and pleasure to welcome in, as a new NATO Ally when I became Secretary General. They joined in, back in 2017. So, it's great to be together with all of you and to be able to, again engage with and talk with young people, and not least, and also to first time to engage with Sweden, with our newest member. We raised the Swedish flag outside the NATO Headquarters not so many months ago, and it's good to have Sweden as a full member of the Alliance.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): And then it's been great to seeing it out there as well, while here in Brussels. Well, let's look ahead to July, that's when NATO will hold its Summit in Washington and it will mark the 75th anniversary of the Alliance, but also will address some of the very serious issues and challenges. So, I'm curious to hear from you. What are some of the key threats faced by NATO Allies and what are we doing to solve them?

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): So, NATO faces of course many threats and many security challenges. We live in a world with more great power competition. Also, with China, but we have on top of that, of course, a new war in the Middle East, and we have a full-fledged war in Europe with a brutal war aggression launched by President Putin against Ukraine. And all of this matters for our security. No one can tell with certainty what the next war, the next crisis and next threat will be. But what I can say is that as long as we stand together, North America and Europe and protect each other, we will be safe, we will be secure, because together NATO Allies represent 50% of the world's economic might and 50% of the world's military might. So, as long as we stand together, we will be able to handle any potential threat and challenge against our security.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Well, I want to turn to the question of, you know, an increased defence spending because at a time when there are so many challenges around the globe, and this can go you know, from health to education to climate crisis. Why should governments be spending taxpayers’ money on, you know, more tanks and bombs so why this conversation about the increase in defence spending?

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): Because without peace, without security, we will not manage to cope with any of the other big challenges we face - be it global warming, climate change or alleviating poverty or making social and economic progress. All of that will be impossible if we are not able to preserve peace, to preserve security for the 1 billion people that live in NATO countries. I have been Minister of Finance, I've been Prime Minister for 10 years, I've been in different political positions for many years. And I really understand that it's hard to find money for defence because all politicians always, and I have been among them, would love to spend money on health, on education, on climate change, on all the other important tasks. But the reality is that unless we succeed when it comes to security, we will not succeed with all the tasks.

And when the Cold War ended, after the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended, NATO Allies, also our own country, Norway, we all reduced defence spending for many, many years when tensions went down. But when we reduced defence spending, when tensions went down, we have to be able to increase the defence spending and once again, invest in defence when tensions are going up as they do now. And the last thing I'll say about defence spending is that we have done it before. As late as the beginning of the 1990s, at least the end of the 1980s, NATO Allies in Europe and Canada, we spent roughly 3% of GDP on defence which is significantly more than we spent today. Because then we lived in a more dangerous world and then we invested more in our security.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Well I think we should open the floor to questions. We'll get started in Miami where I know Donna is standing by and we have a couple of questions for the Secretary General.

Moderator Donna Farizan (Miami, US): Yes. Thank you so much, Carlota. And it is a great honour to have the Secretary General. We have asked one member of the Aspen Youth Council and one of the winners of the Youth Summit Challenge to address a question. So, Vijay and Kissa I'd love for you to come to the stage. Please introduce yourselves, we can grab that microphone. You can come on up and, both come on at the same time. And you will introduce yourselves with your name the country you're from and then your question.

Question (Miami, United States): Okay. All right. Good morning, Miami and good afternoon, Sweden. And thank you so much for having us. My name is Kissa Jafri. I'm part of the Youth Council Summit. And I'm originally from Pakistan, but I've lived in Chicago for a couple of years now. And [Secretary] General thank you so much for your time and sharing your knowledge with us in answering some critical questions that we have. And one from me is with emerging technology, shaping the future of warfare. How is NATO going to be responsive, adaptive, as well as ethical during these changes? Thank you so much.

Moderator Donna Farizan (Miami, US): Thank you and you can pass the microphone on to Vijay. Vijay, you may do the same.

Question (Miami, US): Alright, so my name is Vijay. I am a senior at Yale and from Luxembourg. Thank you so much for taking my question today. My question is about NATO strengthening relations with countries outside of the Alliance, like Australia and Japan. What is NATO's mission in fostering those relationships and how to respond to questions about NATO potentially overexposing itself, specifically in regions that intersect with China's sphere of interest.

Moderator Donna Farizan (Miami, US): Thank you both for your smart, thoughtful questions. Carlota. Back to you.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Thank you. Well, let's begin with the first question about you know, emerging technology and how it is shaping warfare. I’ll let you tackle that one first.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): Well, emerging disruptive technologies are changing the nature of warfare as much as the Industrial Revolution did a couple of centuries ago, because we see it also in Ukraine. How cyber, how drones, how autonomous systems are playing a very major role in the warfare in Ukraine. This is part of, so they have trench warfare, which reminds us of the First World War and then we have the advanced technologies applied to this kind of classical warfare. NATO has been and continues to be the strongest and most successful Alliance in history for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that we have always been able to keep a technological edge on our potential adversaries, and we just need to make sure that we maintain that technological edge. We do that by and now investing more in technology, we have established a new fund, Innovation Fund. We have also established a network of centres for developing technology across the Alliance.

And all of this was due to partly ensure that NATO as an Alliance but also Allies as Allies ensure that they invest in new disruptive technologies, which are very linked to also military capabilities, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Of course, it matters really, or how weapons or weapons systems will be acquired and developed today and in the future. We also need ethical guidelines. We're working on that. For NATO Allies, but most of all, we need to ensure that not only NATO Allies, but also our potential adversaries have a minimum of ethical guidelines when they now implement all these different technologies in their weapon systems.

Then on our partnership outside NATO, we have many partners, we have close to 40 partner nations around the globe, but the question was primarily about our partners in the Indo-Pacific. We have four partners there, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. These are important partners for NATO. NATO is a regional Alliance, North America and Europe and NATO will remain a regional Alliance. Article Five our collective defence clause will apply for NATO Allies, Europe and North America. But this region, the North Atlantic region, faces global threats. Cyber is a global threat. Space, which becomes more and more important for defence is a global challenge, of course. But also, for instance, China. It's not about moving NATO to the Indo-Pacific, but it's about that China and global threats are coming closer to us. We see China in cyberspace, we see them in Africa, we see in Arctic, we see them trying to control critical infrastructure in our own countries. So, all of this matters for our security in many ways.

The war in Ukraine demonstrates that security is not regional, security is global. The main country that is enabling Russia to conduct its war of aggression against Ukraine in Europe, is China. They are by far the biggest trading partner for Russia. They are delivering a critical components to their weapons, microelectronics, advanced technology, which is enabling Russia to build missiles, drones, a lot of other stuff, which is key for their war against Ukraine. So, and then we have Iran and then we have providing drones. We have North Korea providing ammunition and weapons. So, the friends of Russia in Asia, Iran, North Korea and China, they are key for Russia's capability to fight against European friend, neighbour of NATO. So, this idea that we can divide Asia from Europe doesn't work anymore. This is interlinked, than we also of course, need to address the security challenges that China's representing for our security.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Well let's turn to the newest member of the Alliance, where Sarah is standing by in Stockholm with two more questions for the Secretary General.

Moderator Sarah Franzen (Stockholm, Sweden): Thank you, Carlota. And thank you for your time, Mr. Stoltenberg. We have two young participants here in the room. We have an international participant who also competed in the NATO Youth Challenge. And we also have a Swedish participant asking each question. Please introduce yourself. Tell us which country you're from and ask your question.

Question (Stockholm, Sweden): Thank you, Mr. Secretary General and my colleagues from Stockholm and also Miami. I'm Bartosz Mościcki, president of Polish Forum of Young Diplomats from Poland. I would like to ask about what should be the role of the Alliance of NATO in the reconstruction process in Ukraine after the war ends. Last but not least, thank you for the years of your service for the Alliance. Thank you.

Question (Stockholm, Sweden): Hello, everyone. My name is Amie Trawally. And I'm a political science student at the Swedish Defence University from Stockholm, Sweden. I want to thank the organizers today for doing all of this. It's very nice that to us that the youth get a place to ask your questions. And I also want to thank the Secretary General for answering our questions. The debate surrounding Sweden and Finland’s entry in NATO have been characterised by how the organization will contribute or how the countries will contribute to the organization. But my question is how will the NATO membership contribute to these countries? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): Well, first on the question about NATO's role in reconstruction of Ukraine after the war. The first thing I will say is that first of all, you need to ensure that Ukraine prevails. Because unless Ukraine prevails, there's nothing to reconstruct in the free and independent Ukraine. So the most immediate, the most important task now is to help Ukraine with military support as NATO Allies and NATO do. We need to sustain that. We need to make the support more predictable and more robust, and we are going to hopefully make decisions on that not least at the NATO Summit in July. So yes, reconstruction in the future is important, but unless Ukraine prevails, there is nothing to reconstruct. And the second, reconstruction will be very expensive. But prevention is cheaper than, in a way, repairing so meaning that every air defence missile we can provide Ukraine will actually mean less damage, less destruction. And then also less need for reconstruction after the war.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): So does it go back to that notion of the increased defence spending then?

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): Yes, absolutely. The thing is that we must afford, we must be able to help Ukraine prevail because it's important for Ukrainians. But also because every day this war drags on, of course, the more destruction and the more expensive, the more resource demanding it will be to do reconstruction afterwards. So I'm not saying that we shouldn't think about reconstruction but the precondition for reconstruction is to prevail. And the sooner Ukraine can prevail, the sooner this war can end with just a lasting peace where Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation in Europe, the less need there will be for costly reconstruction afterwards.

Then on the issue of reconstruction. Of course, NATO will play a key role in rebuilding defence and security institutions. We will play a key role in also helping them to not only reconstruct their own country, but to become a full-fledged member of the Alliance. We decided in Vilnius at the summit last summer that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. We also made three important decisions to move them closer to NATO membership. We turned the whole process from a two-step process to a one-step process. We removed something called the Membership Action Plan. So, meaning that Ukraine doesn't have to go through Membership Action Plan; they can be go straight from where they are now and be invited as a full-fledged member. So then we shortened down the process. Second, we established what we called the NATO-Ukraine Council, which is an important political body where we actually strengthened our political integration and cooperation with Ukraine, and also made it easier for them to join the Alliance. at a later stage. And thirdly, we agreed the big program for interoperability. And interoperability is a difficult word for ensuring that Ukraine and NATO Allies can work together on communications and operations, on everything. And this program will help them now but will help them also in the future to build a future force, which is which is fully interoperable that can fully be integrated with NATO forces. So these are the things we have to do both in the short and long term to ensure Ukraine prevails and help them to rebuild the country afterwards.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Let's tackle the other question then which was about you know, the other side of membership. What can NATO membership do to the newest members of the Alliance?

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): Well, first of all, NATO provides security guarantees. And that's the best security guarantee that ever has existed. That's Article Five of the Washington Treaty saying that an attack on one Ally, it will be regarded as an attack on all Allies. So, if you attack Sweden or Finland or Norway or Belgium or whatever NATO Ally, then it will be regarded as an attack on 32 Allies. And again, we are by far the strongest military power in the world, 50% of the world's military might. So as long as we stand together, as long as we ensure that there’s no room for misunderstanding in Moscow or in any other capital that may be an adversary to NATO,  there will be no military attack against any NATO Ally and that includes also Finland and Sweden, because they realise that an attack on one Ally is the attack on all Allies. So the first and most important thing that Finland and Sweden gets is Article Five, is NATO's collective defense clause, collective defense security guarantees.

Then, of course, they get the opportunity to sit here at NATO Headquarters to be fully part of this family, to sit at council meetings just inside the meeting room over there and be equal around the table and take decisions and be integrated in our political, our practical, our military cooperation. That's good for Finland and Sweden, but it's also of course good for NATO because Finland Sweden bring a lot to NATO. So, this is good for NATO, good for Finland and Sweden and good for peace.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Well it would be remiss if we didn't turn to the audience here with us in Brussels. There is time for a few questions. So if anyone has a question for the Secretary General, could you put your hands up? I can see two here. One, two, and if we could follow the same format, could you introduce yourself say where you're from? And we'll have the questions back to back please.

Question (Brussels, Belgium): Hello everyone in Miami in Stockholm and good afternoon, sir. My name is Kornelia. I'm from Hungary. And my question would be over the past 10 years of being Secretary General of NATO, what do you think was the biggest challenge and on the other hand, the biggest accomplishment of the organization? Thank you.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): And the second question, please.

Question (Brussels, Belgium): Yes, hello, my name is Tatum Brunton from Canada. My question for you is: did you always want to work in this field? And do you have any advice on youth professional career paths? Thank you.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Thank you. Quite nice stuff. We got a bit more personal here in Brussels.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): The first on the biggest challenge: the biggest challenge is and has been the war in Ukraine. Because all the other challenges I have faced, have, of course, been very serious, but they have not had the same magnitude and not the same implications for NATO's security and for peace in our region as the fully-fledged war in Ukraine. And I say fully-fledged war on purpose because when I arrived in October 2014, Russia had already annexed Crimea and had already taken part of eastern Ukraine or used their forces to control the eastern part of Ukraine. So the war in Ukraine didn't start in 2022, in February. It started back in 2014. But of course, a fully-fledged war invasion in 2022 really changed everything and has been by far the biggest and most serious challenge I have faced as Secretary General.

Then the good news is that I've seen how Allies have stepped up. How we have mobilised and provided unprecedented support to Ukraine. And also, I'm absolutely certain that President Putin totally underestimated the Ukrainians, their bravery, their determination to fight and protect the country. You have to remember that at the beginning of the war, most experts feared or believed that Ukraine would fall within weeks, Kyiv within days. That didn't happen, the Ukrainians have been able to liberate 50% of the territory that Russia occupied in the beginning of the war. They have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian occupiers and they've been able to open a corridor in the Black Sea and everything to export a grains and other products. So these are big victories for Ukrainians showing that they have the determination, the bravery, to really fight back.

But Putin also underestimated NATO and the unprecedent support we have been able to deliver to Ukraine. So this has been my biggest challenge. Then the other question was?

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Was about if you always wanted to work in this field.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): First of all, my plan was never to become a politician. That was the beginning. So I was a young politician when I was in my teens, and the beginning of my 20s then I was active in the Social Democratic Party of Norway. But then I decided to leave politics and to become an economist to do statistics and mathematics. So I started to do a PhD at the Central Bureau of Statistics in Norway, and my plan was to never engage in this kind of dirty business or politics, because I want to do pure and as they say, serious stuff science, but then I was asked to become Deputy Minister for Environment in 1990. And I promised myself and my wife only to do that for a year or two.

And then I ended up here because I stayed in politics and to be honest, politics is very exciting because you actually do something, you can change the world. Of course, not as fast and not always in the direction you want, but at least you're part of a process where things are changing and things are happening. And in democratic countries, of course then you also have to face the voters and some I've lost elections. I won elections and I can tell it's better to win than to lose the elections. But you have to have to be able to do both and to live with both. And then my plan was to work on the international scene, I worked mostly on climate change, and also with a big campaign to immunise children, which is a very effective way to alleviate poverty.

But then when I was asked by President Obama and Chancellor Merkel and the other leaders back in 2014, to become Secretary General of NATO, I thought it was impossible to say no, and of course, I don't regret for a second that I said yes. Because it has been an a privilege to serve at this great Alliance with all these great people with all these great nations, and also to have the honour of welcoming North Macedonia, Montenegro, but also Finland, Sweden as members and to serve at a very critical time for our security. So I'm extremely privileged. I'm very happy that I had this opportunity even though it has been a very challenging period 2014 to 2024. But yes, that has been a privilege.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): So the advice for young professionals is perhaps to not be scared to deviate from the plan.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): The problem is that I never had a very clear path or a clear idea for what I should or shouldn’t become. Except for one thing I didn't become, because I had one clear plan that was to not become a politician, and to become a professor in mathematics and statistics, that was my only clear decision in life. And I failed, totally. So I think first of all, it is important to be devoted to what you do a bit regardless of exactly what to do, and not think too much about the next job, but think more about the job you have and not be too afraid that of authorities and bosses. That's really serious, the last one. So be yourself and believe in yourself and be nice to the people you work with. And then something nice will happen.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): Well, I have one final question. I think this being the NATO Youth Summit, it is important to address you know everyone watching us, of course the audiences and here in Brussels, in Stockholm and in Miami, about you know, what parting words you have to say for these younger audiences about the future of our defence and security.

NATO Secretary General (Brussels, Belgium): We live in a more dangerous world and we have to take that very seriously. At the same time, NATO is stronger and more united than we have been for decades. So as long as we ensure that we are united despite our differences, we are 32 countries from both sides of the Atlantic, with different political parties in power, with disagreements on many issues. But we have always been able to unite around what is NATO's core task and that is to protect and defend each other. NATO's purpose is not to fight the war but NATO’s purpose is to prevent the war, is to deter war, is to make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding that we protect and defend each other. And by doing that, NATO has been able to preserve peace for NATO Allies, 1 billion people for 75 years.

So, yes, there is more of a dangerous world but at the same time, this Alliance has proven extremely resilient, extremely capable, and we are by far the most successful Alliance in history for at least two reasons. One is that we have been united despite our differences. We see the value of standing together. And second, we have been able to change when the world is changing. So as soon as long as we just keep this rather big, sometimes a bit strange, family together, we will be safe. And then we can devote our time and our energy to climate change, to education, to science, to arts, to all the other beautiful things. So just make sure that NATO is, as I say, strong and united, then we can devote time for other more beautiful activities.

Moderator Carlota Rebelo (Brussels, Belgium): NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, thank you very much for your time today. I have no doubt that everyone watching us on both sides of the Atlantic found this to be a really inspiring conversation, which will hopefully pave the way for further debate and conversation about the future of the Alliance. Thank you very much for your time.