by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NPA) in Sofia, Bulgaria

  • 27 May. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 27 May. 2024 17:32

(As delivered)

Thank you so much. Good morning to everyone. Prime Minister, Minister, excellencies. President, Szczerba. Michał, it's great to see you again. And it's great to be back in Sofia and to meet with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. As I've said so many, many times before, for me it is a privilege to meet with parliamentarians across the Alliance and from partner nations, because I know that at the end of the day, it is parliaments that decide what really matters for NATO. The budgets, that commitment to our collective defence.  And also parliaments represent the democratic institutions that NATO is established to defend. 

So therefore, I always look forward to this opportunity to engage with you, to say some words about where we are at the NATO Headquarters and then to engage in Q&A sessions with parliamentarians from NATO Allies and partner countries. 

Thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you for having me here today. And let me start by saying that I have attended these conferences, meetings, of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly now for 10 years. And in all those meetings, Sweden has been a partner nation, but this is now the first time where Sweden is not sitting here as a partner nation, but Sweden is sitting as a full-fledged member of the Alliance. So welcome to Sweden. It's great to see you here. And to be honest, it's great to welcome them as the Secretary General of NATO, but also as a representative from Norway and neighbour country of Sweden, to have now Sweden as a full-fledged member.

So, what I will do today is that I will try to be not too long, so we have time for the Q&A session, but I will go through the preparations for the NATO summit in July, where we will of course celebrate the 75th anniversary of the strongest, the most enduring, the most successful Alliance in history, NATO. 
We'll do that in Washington. We will celebrate the 75th anniversary. But we will do that, reflecting the reason why NATO is so successful. And the reason why NATO is the most successful Alliance in history is partly that we have been able to unite despite our differences. But the main reason why NATO is the most successful Alliance in history is that we have been able to change and adapt when the world is changing. And therefore, at this Washington Summit, we have to not only be able to celebrate, but we have to be able to demonstrate that NATO is changing, that NATO is responding, that NATO is adapting, when the world is changing. And now we live in a more dangerous world and therefore NATO to has to respond to that more demanding and difficult security environment we are facing. 

And there are three topics, three issues which we will address at the Summit, where we have to make important decisions and where we need to ensure that we are responding to a changing world. And I will briefly go through the three of them and then I'm more than ready to answer questions on those issues, but also on all the other issues that I don't mention and the Q&A afterwards. 

The first issue at the Washington Summit and we're working on that as we speak at the NATO Headquarters is deterrence and defence, which is at the core of NATO. Because you have to remember that the main purpose of NATO is not to fight the war. The main purpose of NATO is to prevent war, preserve peace. And we do that by making sure that any potential adversary knows that an attack on one Ally, will trigger the response from the whole Alliance. And by doing that we have been able to prevent any military attack on any NATO Ally for 75 years. So, NATO's purpose is peace, NATO's purpose is to prevent war. And we do that by credible deterrence on defence. And we now have a more aggressive Russia, Russia which is using force against neighbours of NATO -Ukraine, but also, we have seen it against Georgia. We have seen how Russia has forces in Moldova, and how they're threatening other countries. Then of course, we need to do more to strengthen our deterrence and defence.

And that's exactly what we are doing. We have agreed new defence plans and what we have to do in Washington is to demonstrate that we are delivering on those plans, because plans are important, but plans without the necessary forces do not have any value. So therefore, we need to ensure that by Washington we actually can demonstrate to the whole world, to all of us, that when we have agreed that we need more forces, at higher readiness, new capabilities, that we are actually delivering on that. The good news is that we see that Allies are delivering, they are making more forces available for NATO. They are investing in new modern high-end military capabilities, and they are increasing the readiness of our forces. 

And this is not least reflected in the fact that Allies are investing more. You may know all these numbers but I’ll repeat them just so you're 100% aware of them. When we published our latest report on defence spending in February, 18 Allies spent 2% or more of GDP on defence, and that is significantly more than just a few years ago - two years ago, less than 10 Allies spent 2% or more on defence. And if we compare with 2014 when we made the pledge all NATO Allies to invest 2% of GDP on defence, only three Allies - Greece, United Kingdom and United States spent 2% of GDP on defence. So, in February when we have the latest update - 18. 

Then since February, Sweden has joined and they spend 2% of GDP. So, then you can add one more, that's 19. Then, since then, Norway has announced in the revised budget presented in the beginning of May that they will meet the 2% target, they actually post billions extra for defence. So that makes it 20. And then I expect also a couple of other Allies. I had a very good conversation with the Prime Minister of Montenegro just a few days ago and Montenegro also stated they will be at the 2% this year, and there are also some more. So, I expect that, I will not give you the final number but we will have at least have two thirds of Allies spending 2% of GDP on defence by the Washington Summit. This is very much better than just a few years ago. It demonstrates that we are taking the deterrence and defence seriously. And it demonstrates also that burden sharing is improving within the Alliance.
So, the first topic at the Washington Summit will be that we have to deliver on the defence plans with forces, capabilities, readiness, and also demonstrate burden sharing when it comes to defence spending.

Final numbers we will have within a few weeks, but I'm optimistic when it comes to burden sharing and the ability of Allies to demonstrate that we are stepping up when it comes to deterrence and defence and defence investments. 
The second main topic on the summit in Washington will be Ukraine. And we saw the horrific attack on the shopping mall in Kharkiv over the weekend.

Many civilians killed, many wounded. And it's yet another example of the brutality of this war and why this war has to end and why Russia has to stop attacking a sovereign independent nation. It is simply unacceptable that Russia continues to attack, invade another sovereign independent nation and that was demonstrated yet again by the brutal attack against a shopping mall in Kharkiv. 

NATO Allies have provided unprecedented military support to Ukraine. Many partners have also provided support, and I am grateful for that. Providing economic, humanitarian support to Ukraine, but when it comes to the military support, it's almost only NATO Allies. 99% of the military support provided to Ukraine is provided by NATO Allies.

And this military support has enabled the Ukrainians to liberate 50% of their territory that Russia occupied in the beginning of the war. And we have to remember where we started at the beginning of the war in February 2022, then most experts believed that Russia was going to control Kyiv within days and the whole of Ukraine within weeks. That didn't happen. 

The Ukrainians, with the military support from NATO Allies have liberated 50% of their territory. They have been able to sink many of the ships in the Black Sea, the Russian ships in the Black Sea Fleet, open a corridor for export of grain and other commodities, and they have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian invading forces. These are important gains and victories made by the Ukrainian forces and we, NATO Allies, partners have enabled that by our support to Ukraine.

That's the good news. The problem is that over the last months, we have not delivered to Ukraine what we promised. 

The United States spent six months agreeing and new package of aid. European Allies that promised one million rounds of ammunition have not delivered anything close to that number of rounds of ammunition to Ukraine.

And just last month, in April, NATO Defence Ministers met with President Zelenskyy and he underlined, he addressed the urgent need for more air defence, in particular advanced air defence systems like the Patriot systems or SAMP-T, except for Germany that has delivered one additional system of the Patriots, Allies have not delivered what they promised on air defence.

And of course, these gaps, these delays in military support has had consequences on the ground. It's not the kind of academic theoretical thing. The fact that they don't get ammunition, they don't get air defence, they don't get the supplies we have promised, has made it very hard for Ukrainians to defend the land. Outgunned, not able to shoot down incoming Russian missiles, outgunned on the battlefield - of course it has consequences. 

And that's also reason why the situation now on the battlefield is difficult. We see the consequences will airstrikes, the missile strikes and all the other things we see in Ukraine. And that's also reason why it is an urgent need for Allies to step up. And of course, I welcome the recent announcements from several Allies. I welcome of course the decision by the US Congress to pass a supplemental with 60 billion more for Ukraine.

These are important decisions, they will make a difference. Support has started to flow in again, but delays and also the fact that not everything is delivered as promised, has caused serious consequences. That's also one of the reasons why I have suggested that at the Summit, we agree a big NATO role in coordinating and providing security assistance and training for Ukraine.

Because I strongly believe that we need a firmer, stronger institutionalized structure for the support. Ad-hoc, short term, voluntary announcements are good, but in the long term, we need more predictable, stronger support for Ukraine.

And therefore, I think a bigger NATO role in providing that support is the right thing to agree. And we have received a proposal from SACEUR, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Cavoli. Allies are now working on that proposal. And I expect that by the Summit in Washington, we will agree a stronger NATO role in organizing, providing, planning, delivering supplies to ensure more stable flows of supplies to Ukraine. But, to make this really effective we also need not only a better organization that provides more accountability, transparency, predictability and the delivery of supplies, but we will also need more long-term financial commitment. And therefore, also this working on that I cannot tell you exactly what the conclusion will be, but I hope that Allies can agree a multiyear financial pledge because the Ukrainians need more long-term knowledge, more predictability to plan and to invest, to ensure that they have the forces they need to defend against the Russian invaders, but also in the future to deter against future Russian aggression. So, what I have suggested for Allies, and I hope that we can agree in July is a stronger organization, a stronger NATO role in providing and coordinating training and support, and a multiyear financial pledge. 

If we can get this, then we have a more robust foundation for the continued support for Ukraine. We also have a tool to ensure fair burden sharing when it comes to supplies and support to Ukraine. So, I just count on your support for stronger, more predictable support for Ukraine, because that's exactly what Ukraine needs. 

The third main topic at the Washington Summit will be global partnerships, and in particular, our Asia Pacific partners - Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. And that reflects that security is not regional, security is global. NATO will remain a regional Alliance. NATO is an Alliance of North America and Europe. But this North Atlantic region faces global threats.

And the war in Ukraine demonstrates that very clearly. Because you have to remember who are actually supporting Russia's war in Ukraine. The most important suppliers and supporters of Russia's war in Ukraine in Europe, they are countries in Asia.

China is propping up the Russian war economy delivering dual-use equipment, being the most important trading partner. China has not condemned at any stage, Russia's invasion of Ukraine. China has stepped up economic trade relations with Russia and they are providing 90% of the microelectronics that Russia receives comes from China. And these microprocessors, microelectronics are the equipment that Russia uses to build missiles, battle tanks, planes, which are then used to conduct the brutal war against Ukraine.

So, without this economic support from China, Russia would not have been able to conduct the war in the way they do against Ukraine. In return, Russia is mortgaging its future to Beijing.
Then the other supplier is Iran, supplying drones also help Russia to build a new drone factory in Tatarstan in Russia.

North Korea providing more than one million shells, artillery shells from North Korea to Russia. In return Russia is sharing technology which enables Iran and North Korea to develop their missile and nuclear programmes. So, what we see in Europe, in Ukraine is how Asia matters for the war in Ukraine. And it reminds us of that what happens in Europe matters for Asia and what happens in Asia matters for Europe, and that China and Russia, authoritarian powers, Iran, North Korea, are more and more aligned and therefore we need to not expand the NATO to the Asia Pacific, NATO will remain Europe and North America, but to work with our partners in the Asia Pacific and therefore welcome that the leaders of the Asia Pacific will be at, we have invited them to attend, the summit in Washington. That will be for the third time, reflecting that we are expanding our cooperation with these countries, because we share the same values we believe in democratic open societies, but we also strongly believe in the need to stand together in upholding those values. So, these are the three main topics for the Washington Summit. Let me also mention that when we discuss partnerships of course we discuss partnerships beyond the Asia Pacific. One of the topics will be also our partners in the South. We have just received a report from the expert group that I established some months ago on the challenges, but also opportunities in the South - Africa, Middle East, and how NATO can work and do more on those challenges and utilize those opportunities.

This is about, for instance, what we do in Iraq to help to fight terrorism, to enable the Iraqi Security Forces to ensure that ISIS does not return. We have partnerships in Tunisia, Mauritania. We have partners in the Gulf region.

So, I also look forward to the discussion and to address how we can do more in our Southern neighbourhood, and with our partners more in general. We have the Balkans. We have [inaudible] regions where partnerships are important for what NATO does.

But the three main topics as I said will be deterrence and defence, Ukraine - robust, predictable framework for our support and partnerships, global partnerships in the South, in Europe, but also not least, our Asia Pacific partners addressing the fact that authoritarian powers are more and more aligned.
So, I'll end by saying that we live in a more dangerous world but NATO has become stronger.

We live in a world with a full-fledged war in Europe, with the new war in the Middle East, with more global rivalry with China, North Korea, Iran or Russia being more aligned, but also then, the need for NATO Allies to be more aligned with our partners around the world. No one can tell with certainty what the next crisis, the next threat will be against NATO Allies. But what we can say with certainty is that whatever that crisis is, we will be able to handle, to ensure that our countries are safe as long as we stand together, because as you all know, together we represent 50% of the world's economic might and 50% of the world's military might. So as long as we stand together, North America and Europe we are safe in a more unpredictable world. 

Thanks so much. I look forward to the comments on the questions. Thank you so much.

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Jens, thank you once again, for taking the time to be with us here in Sofia. These exchanges review embodied the necessary dialogue between NATO and NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It's very important to have this dialogue with the democratically elected legislators of Allied countries. As a long time, successful politician yourself, you have honoured that great democratic tradition. Over the years you have attended many of our session and hosted us in the North Atlantic Council. Not simply to speak to our members but also to engage with them.

And our exchanges have always been extremely valuable.

These moments have been a highlight of our assemblies, our Assembly’s work, and are absolutely essential for us to fulfil our mandate. Our mandate is to promote a common feeling of Atlantic solidarity, to strengthen national parliamentary oversight, to increase public knowledge of the Alliance, and to further NATO's aim, and democratic values.

Just as importantly, Jens, you have been the right leader of this Alliance at the most difficult moment since its founding.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has put NATO to its greatest test. You have ensured that NATO stands with Ukraine. You have tirelessly pushed Allies to do more. And you have made it clear that Ukraine's future is in NATO.

Thanks to you, this Alliance have emerged from this test stronger, larger, more focused on its core mission and more united than ever.

Under your leadership, NATO has adopted a New strategic concept, which recognizes the threat that Russia and other autocracies pose to our security, to democracy and to the rules based international order.

Under your leadership, NATO is also conducting the most in-depth transformation of its collective defence since the end of the Cold War. During your term, NATO has welcomed Finland and Sweden as new members.

You have also made sure that the work that we work more closely with each other and with our closest democratic partners to defend the rules based international order. There is of course still time to add a few other achievements to this very long list before your term comes to an end. If we could suggest one, we remain 100% convinced that NATO needs a Centre for democratic resilience at its headquarters.

Dear Jens, for all of these reasons and for your friendship and support, I would like to present to you the award for outstanding service, this award for outstanding service to the Alliance on behalf of this Assembly and all of its members. Let me give it to you on behalf of us all.
So Dear colleagues, we now come to questions.

I must warn you that we already have a large number of questions. It is highly unlikely that we will be able to go through all of them. I will set one and half minute time limit for questions. I encourage you to keep your question as short as possible, so that the more delegates can participate. I will follow our usual procedure, I will announce those calls to ask questions in groups of three.

I ask Mr. Nicu Falcoi from Romania.

Nicu Falcoi [Romania]: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr Secretary General, there has been significant public discussions in recent months about the necessity of increasing NATO assistance to Ukraine, particularly through training mission within the country. Given the positive expression from some member countries and NATO's extensive experience in providing training programs it is crucial that the lines take a clear position. Are you in favour of NATO Training Mission being deployed in Ukraine?

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Now, Marcos Perestrello and Michael Turner.

Marcos Perestrello [Portugal]: Thank you, Chair, Mr. President. Dear Secretary General, my question is concerning the southern flank, if you could comment on the new military agreements that Russia is making with African countries. Thank you.

Mike Turner [USA]: Mr. Secretary General, thank you for your leadership and your commitment and working with legislators. You even personally came and met with members in Congress as we were deliberating on the additional funding for Ukraine. Thank you for your efforts, to do that.

You have identified obviously the importance of the enormous amount of Ukraine support that we have given as an Alliance and certainly Ukraine's will and dedication which has been, you know, inspirational for us all. But you also have identified the gaps, we have been slow to give advanced weapons, air defence systems, fighter jets, long range fires, our production is a problem. There are time gaps and delays and as you've indicated, these are having consequences for Ukraine. Recently on a bipartisan group of the US delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly sent a letter to President Biden, encouraging him to expand the authorities given to Ukraine. Currently, they're fighting with one arm tied behind their back. They're limited in their ability to attack inside Russia. And as you know, that's a math problem for us as Russia continues to produce weapons systems, no matter how many air defence systems that we give to them we’ll never keep up with their production. The ability for them to take the fight to Russia to diminish their production capability could change the battleground, also the ability to provide intelligence so they could have better targeting and be more effective in those attacks. Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much. Thank you for your questions. First, on the training inside Ukraine.

We have no plans to start training inside Ukraine. Not least because our aim is to do more training outside Ukraine and we are proving that we are able to do that in an effective way in across the Alliance. And I strongly believe that if we have a stronger NATO framework, around the support, we will be able to scale up and also coordinate even better. To plan even better the training that we are providing to Ukraine and to help them build their forces. I think we just need to reflect a moment on NATO's tasks in this war. In one way, we have two tasks. And we defined those very clearly in the morning of the invasion on the 24th of February.

The first is to support Ukraine as we do in so many ways with unprecedent support and we need to do more to help Ukraine defend themselves. The other task is to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine to become a full-fledged war between Russia and NATO in Europe, and therefore we made it clear that we will not be party to the conflict, we will not have NATO combat troops on the ground. And therefore, we have worked on how to increase training outside Ukraine but also how to deliver weapons and ammunition into Ukraine, hand them over to Ukrainian forces.
That's the training issue. Then on the southern flank - first of all, we had this expert group. We received the report. We're now going through all the proposals from the expert group. The expert group was actually chaired by a Portuguese professor and I welcome her, her efforts and the efforts of the whole group.

I think what we see is that both Russia and China are increasing their presence in different ways in Africa.

That just highlights the importance of us countering disinformation. Because I think the increased presence of these countries is partly based on a lot of disinformation about NATO, NATO's role, and including the war in Ukraine. Russia and China are sharing the same narrative that for instance, the war in Ukraine was caused by NATO. The war in Ukraine was not caused by NATO. Ukraine is a sovereign independent nation attacked by Russia and Ukraine has the right to choose some path including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. So, it's about countering disinformation, including across Africa.
But it's also about being present when we are invited.

Several African countries want more NATO presence - not combat troops, but capacity building, training, partnership activities, helping to build intelligence services, border forces, countering terrorism, and the reality is that NATO could do much more. When we are invited by these countries, and they actually want us to do more, but we don't do more, because NATO Allies have not been willing to allocate resources, because to do more, with countries in the southern neighbourhood, we need the resources to do so. And so far, there has been limited willingness for NATO Allies to allocate the resources. So, I think that an important part is that we actually agreed to step up. Also, the resources we are allocating to work more closely with our partners in the southern neighbourhood.

Then to US and Mike Turner. First of all, thank you for what you do and what you have done for so many years in ensuring strong bipartisan support for the Transatlantic Alliance in general, and for Ukraine, in particular in the US Congress, and I know that you worked hard to ensure the decision we then got some weeks ago in the US Congress for the supplemental for Ukraine, and that is extremely important, it is substantial, it means significantly more support. And we are grateful for what you did to make that decision possible.
Then, it’s for Allies to decide on what conditions they deliver weapons to Ukraine. It's not a NATO decision, it’s a decision made by individual Allies.

But I have said that the time has come to consider whether it will be right to lift some of the restrictions which have been imposed. Because we see now that especially in the Kharkiv region, the front line and the borderline is more or less the same.

And of course, if they cannot attack military targets on Russian territory, then it ties one hand of the Ukrainians on their back and makes it very hard for them to conduct defence, because they are attacked from Russian territory, with missiles, with airstrikes, with artillery and it's hard for them to respond because there are restrictions on some of the weapons they could use.

And we have to remember this is self-defence. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a war of aggression, blatantly violating international law, attacking another democratic sovereign nation. That is a violation of international law. But as clear as this is a violation, it is clear that Ukraine has the right to defend themselves.

Self-defence is enshrined in UN Charter, self-defence is enshrined in international law. And self-defence includes the right to also attack legitimate military targets inside Russia, that’s self-defence and they have the right to self-defence, and we should help them to uphold the right of self-defence. And therefore, some Allies have lifted restrictions enabling the Ukrainians to better defend themselves. And I think the time has come to consider also lifting other restrictions to help self-defence within the limitations of international law.

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. The next group of delegates Julie Dzerowicz from Canada, Daniel Mitov from Bulgaria and Alec Shelbrooke from the United Kingdom.

Julie Dzerowicz [Canada]: Secretary General I want to start off by thanking you for your extraordinary leadership. Not only has NATO, but the world has benefited from your leadership. We're stronger and more united because of it. So heartfelt thanks to you. Secondly, as you know, Secretary General, Canada has recently announced significant increase in defence and investment spending that sets us on the path to 2%. We know we need to do more. And I want to reassure you, and everyone here that we will be there and do more than our part.

Getting to my question. With climate change, we are seeing the melting of the Arctic. Not only Russia, but also China is increasingly focused on this area. The High North and Arctic countries, including Canada, are very worried about the new threats, the new security and sovereignty threats that the changing physical and geopolitical landscape has created. So, my question is, how is NATO thinking about the northern flank? And how is it incorporating it into its overall deterrence and defence posture? Thank you.

Daniel Mitov [Bulgaria]: Thank you very much, Mr President. Mr Secretary General, thank you very much for being here with us. It's an honour for us to welcome you in Sofia. And of course, I'd like to commend your leadership in these years and your personal contribution to keeping the Alliance united in very turbulent and challenging geopolitical times.

As we all know, and we render ourselves accounts on the fact that information and disinformation war on the part of Russia is a dimension of a real war, which Russia wages against the West, against NATO, against all of us. Are we prepared to collectively recognize the level of that danger and to scale up the collective action against information wars on the part of Russia and China and faced the disinformation challenges towards us by taking it to an upper level? I would mention even triggering Article Five in that dimension. Thank you.

Alec Shelbrooke [United Kingdom]: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, building on Julie Dzerowicz’s question from Canada about the High North. Obviously, we all want to see the High North remain an area of low tension. So, what do you believe Mr Secretary General that we perhaps we need to look at what is included in the 2% spent to ensure we have the capabilities to have a credible deterrent in the emerging importance of the High North due to climate changes.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Okay, let me first start with [Bulgaria] and Daniel, and then I come back to the High North which is the question from Canada and United Kingdom.

So, disinformation is extremely important. I think that we just need to be aware of that in times with social media with [inaudible] and a lot of efforts by not least Russia, but also by other authoritarian regimes to try to create confusion, false narratives that we need to counter those false narratives. And this is partly what we do at the NATO level that we share information, we provide the facts, that we are very much aware and Farah, my spokesperson, is actually working hard on that every day with her team and everyone at the NATO headquarters. But at the end of the day, I think it's extremely important to understand that countering disinformation has to be something which is our top priority for the individual Allies, because you know, it has to be done in your native language, you know better exactly what kind of language, what kind of message that fits into that domestic context.

So, NATO can help, NATO can support but it's very much a national responsibility to ensure that we counter it in the right way in the different NATO Allied countries. We can learn from each other, we can exercise together, we can share best practices, but the conduct of the counter disinformation has to be very much a national responsibility, that we do together. Than let me add that first of all, I believe that in long run, truth will prevail. Second, I strongly believe that the best tool we have in countering disinformation is to ensure that we have a free and independent press and media. Because having journalists that are independent, that are asking the difficult questions, that are searching their sources, that may be sometimes a bit annoying for people with power. And I have been in that position myself, but it is a good thing.

And free and independent press is the best way to ensure that disinformation doesn't prevail. So, make sure that you do what is needed to have free independent critical press towards us, but also then towards everyone else that try to manipulate the media landscape.

Then to Canada and the United Kingdom.

So, climate change matters for our security in many ways. It fuels conflict, it's changing the environment where our emissions and military operations are taking place. And we need to also reduce emissions from military operations. But you mentioned one aspect of climate change and that is the High North and of course, climate change is changing the conditions in which we have military operations in the High North. Both we but also of course, Russia and others. The ice is melting, the temperature is increasing much faster in the High North than in the rest of the world. So, we have already seen dramatic effects.
The ice shelf in the Arctic has really been reduced in last years and this will mean that it will be easier to move shapes we can have more commercial activities. The North East passage is more and more open for traffic. And this has impact on economic activity and military activity up in the High North. It also means that this happens in combination with that Russia has increased their presence, they reopened all bases in the High North. They have more exercises more military presence in the Russian High North.

NATO is stepping up and the reality is that when we for instance agree capability targets which we do in NATO - thousands of different capital targets for each and every ally, we take those into account the need for presence in the High North. Then of course many of the capabilities are not earmarked for the High North. But for instance, when Canada is now buying F-35s or the United Kingdom is investing more in both advanced maritime patrol aircraft but also in in the British Navy. These are capabilities that can operate in the High North.

And it matters for our presence. I visited Canada as the first Secretary General ever to visit the High North of Canada, Cambridge Bay. And I visited NORAD, I saw NORAD facilities, which is this integrated US - Canada air missile defence early warning system. This is of course important for Canada and United States. But this is important for all of NATO.

So, this is NATO, in the High North. So therefore, if anything, it just highlights the importance of investments, that we invest in capabilities that can operate in cold and harsh climate and the good news is that that's exactly what NATO Allies are doing. And we have to remember that. So, Canada, US, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark. Seven out of the eight Arctic countries are NATO countries. So, when we do things together, exercise together, plan together and then we are able to also face the challenges together in the High North.

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Thanks a lot NATO Secretary General and the next group of three are Hans Wallmark from Sweden, Johann Wadephul from Germany and Lorenzo Cesa from Italy. Hans, the floor is yours.

Hans Wallmark [Sweden]: Thank you. As a Swede, I'm so glad to say ‘We are NATO’. Thank you. Thank you, Jens for your leadership. As the newest kids on the block, let me say something about three things.

Article Three, it's important that you have your own abilities and therefore I'm very happy to say that Sweden has 2% of GDP in defence spending this year. We have an agreement among all eight parties in the Swedish parliament to go up to 2.6 to 2028. Article Five it's very important that we implement now the defence plans not only with paper and ideas, but with content and substance and capabilities. And thirdly, 360 degrees perspective, it's important to understand that the seas are linked to each other - Mediterranean, Black See, the Baltic Sea, High North Arctic and vice versa. And then it's also important that we have this kind of long-term budget commitments. As a country Sweden has done that, we have now three years budget frame for Ukraine, that we do that also inside NATO and the European Union. Last but not least, in the Washington summit, you're going to discuss also the Centre of Excellence of democratic resilience. Please can you say something about that and can that be achieved during the Washington summit – which must be a success–? Because if it's not if it's not a success for us in NATO is going to be a success for Russia. Thank you.

Johann Wadephul [Germany]: Mr. Secretary General, can I also thank you for your extraordinary service for the Alliance. Thank you for staying with us for not leaving your job, as they there were easier and perhaps better paid alternatives and your home country. I have two questions. The first is we heard from the Hungarian Prime Minister that he for his country was seeking to redefine the terms of NATO membership of Hungary. I would like to quote him - our lawyers and officers are working to define how Hungary can exist as a NATO member without taking part in NATO operations outside NATO territory, and of quote, how is that compatible with the obligations out of Article Five in your interpretation? And the second is, how are the concrete prospects for Ukraine to join NATO. Could the old model of Western Germany as a divided country, becoming member of NATO in earlier times, also be a model for Ukraine in this time? Thank you.

Lorenzo Cesa [Italy]: First of all, I would like to express the thanks of the Italian delegation to the Secretary General for his extraordinary commitment and achievements. And now coming to my question. In Rome, about a month ago, we held a meeting of the special group for the Mediterranean. And the meeting was attended by a significant number of countries not only from the Mediterranean region, but also from the Gulf region and Africa. I carefully read the document that was drafted by the experts. And the situation in the Mediterranean is very clear. There are Russian and Chinese ships in the Mediterranean. Russians are present in the Sahel through the Wagner group and we also know that there are Russian troops in Libya. We're aware that Russian ships are in Tunisia and this is a very recent situation and we know that Russia is present in various parts of Africa, and this is due to a very clear political intent. So, what is NATO's approach to the situation along its southern flank, in order to preempt any serious incident which could occur in that area?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much, first to Sweden and to Hans, the Centre of Excellence for democratic resilience is an issue we have discussed several times before. I'm very much aware of this Assembly’s strong support for this idea. And as you all know, NATO is based on some core values, democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and democracy is at the heart of this Alliance. And I think also that NATO provides a platform for allies to raise concerns and to discuss this in this body, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly but also ministerial meetings and in other NATO formats, to have an open and frank discussions about concerns that Allies may have about to which extent all NATO Allies live up to those principles. When it comes to the specific proposal of a Centre for democratic resilience, the only way to establish that is to have consensus from all NATO Allies. We don't have consensus on that proposal. So therefore, we need to also look into what other ways we can ensure that democracy, resilience, democratic resilience is on the NATO agenda. And that's partly by using the existing platforms to discuss democracy, to discuss democratic resilience. You can do it here, you can do it in in every NATO meeting. So, there are institutions or platforms to raise those issues, even if there is no agreement on the specific Centre on democratic resilience. And second, we have this Building Integrity program, which is a voluntary program which is designed to actually strengthen democratic institutions. And I encourage also Allies to use that program. Regardless of whether we have an agreement are not later on, on the Centre for democratic resilience.

On Hungary, we are 32 NATO Allies and we all have the same status within the Alliance. And we are all signed to the Washington Treaty, the collective defence clause, our commitment to protect and defend each other and that we make decisions together by consensus. Then, of course, sometimes Allies have specific concerns. And we have a long tradition in NATO to find pragmatic ways to address those specific concerns without undermining the unity and undermining the commitment we all have to protect and defend each other. So, whatever their concerns may be, I'm confident that we'll find ways to address those without undermining the core responsibility of all Allies to protect and defend each other and the commitment to all the provisions within the Washington Treaty.

Then Italy, well, first of all, I established the expert group on the south to ensure that we had the proposals on the table for what more NATO can do. We are now discussing them and of course, at the end of the day, I will depend on the support from Allies to get the mandate to do more. I think we can do more, but then we need a firm decision and we need the resources to do so. But let me just briefly also remind you of the fact that NATO already has a presence in the South. We have the training mission in Iraq, which is absolutely relevant for the South. We have actually, over the last years, increased that based on request from the Iraqi government to help them stabilize the country to fight terrorism, to ensure that ISIS does not return. We have a partnership program. We work with Jordan in many different areas. And we have just agreed to establish a liaison office in Aman. And of course, Jordan is a country which is important in the wider Middle East region. And King Abdullah has visited the NATO Headquarters several times and we are stepping up what to do together with Jordan. Then we have partners like Mauritania, we have a partnership program, we have Tunisia. We have important activities, helping to build a defence and security institutions. But I strongly believe that we could scale up and the reason why we're not scaling up more is actually very much lack of resources. And again, I'm back to Allies that need to allocate the necessary resources to be able to do more in those areas. Then, last December, I visited Saudi Arabia, Riyadh as the first NATO Secretary General, and I think that the Gulf countries are important. Many of them are our partners, but regardless if they are partners or not, we can engage with them, discuss with them to address global challenges. And the security of that region also matters for NATO. Last thing I will mention is that we also have a NATO presence in the Aegean Sea helping to enforce and monitor the agreement between Türkiye, a NATO Ally, and Greece, Frontex EU on illegal migration. And I think that also demonstrates how NATO can be a platform between NATO Allies inside and outside the European Union in addressing common challenges. So, NATO has a role to play. We do a lot but I significantly believe we can do more. And I think the report we have received is an excellent platform to actually make decisions to step up or to do together in the South.

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Thank you. Now, the next group will start with Mevlut Cavusoglu. Then Raimond Kaljulaid from Estonia and Roman Hryshchuk from Ukraine. The floor is yours.

Mevlut Cavusoglu [Türkiye]: Thank you very much, Mr. President. On behalf of [the] Turkish delegation, I would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to Secretary General Stoltenberg. NATO indeed, pass through challenging times during his tenure. But without doubt we navigated safely through these challenges, thanks to this commendable leadership. He led us with his experience, but also with his wisdom. His excellent communication with all Allies took everyone on board, even against the most delicate issues and ensure trust and solidarity among the Allies. His support and hard work in guiding us to make NATO stronger deserves praise. I personally had the pleasure to work closely with him in many fields, the most recent being the latest enlargement process. And his balanced and attentive approach always help us all to find the best way forward. Jens, my dear friend, your leadership throughout the last 10 years, particularly after the earthquakes in Türkiye is still fresh in our memories. Once again, thank you, and I wish you all the best for the future.

Raimond Kaljulaid [Estonia]: Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, thank you very much for your service from Estonia and I want to say our delegation very much welcomes the comments you made to ‘the Economist’ on getting rid of some of the restrictions that have been placed on using weapons against Russian territory. But I would like to ask you to clarify your stance perhaps on what you said about possibly using troops or providing air defence from some of the neighbouring countries to Ukraine.

You you've said it here today as well that you think that this will lead to or might lead to an escalation or a war between Russia and NATO. And I would like to ask you that in the 75 years of NATO this has happened repeatedly that countries have intervened in conflicts. Most recently it was done with Iranian missiles that were directed against Israel. And it did not lead to for instance war between NATO and Iran at this time. So how is the situation different right now and why do you think that this time, it would necessarily lead to escalation? Thank you very much.

Roman Hryshchuk [Ukraine]: Mr Secretary General, thank you so much what you did and what you do for my country, especially for your strong position on lifting the restriction of the use of weapons by Ukraine to protect our territory and civilian. It's, as you mentioned, self-defence. Since the beginning of Russian invasion in Ukraine, Allies promises that each will stay by Ukraine as long as it takes.

As the top official of NATO have you assess the support provided to us so far. Do you believe that NATO did sufficiently to help Ukraine to win and finally, what still should be done by NATO for my country in terms of [inaudible] military help and advancing in UA inspiration to join NATO? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much. First to Mr Mevlut Cavusoglu. Dear Mevlut, thank you for your kind words. It has been a real privilege to working with you and thank you for everything you have done for this Alliance, because you have actually helped to overcome some of the most difficult issues to enable compromise and to also find a way forward on enlargement. So, thank you for that and I hope that we can find ways to stay in touch also in the future. So, I'm looking forward to continue to work with you in different capacities. So, thank you so much Mevlut.

Then to Estonia. I accept that these issues are not always easy, but I strongly believe and continue to believe that the way to mobilize continued and also increased support from NATO Allies to Ukraine is also to communicate to our own publics that we do that in a way that doesn’t make NATO a party to the conflict. Because there is a strong majority across the Alliance for support to Ukraine. But there are not many Allies, which are prepared to go into a full fledge conflict between NATO and Russia.

And therefore, I think that the way to ensure continued support for Ukraine is to find this way of supporting Ukraine without making NATO directly involved. Because if that's the question, I think will really undermine the unity in providing support to Ukraine.

So, if you are concerned about supporting Ukraine, it is actually very important that we find ways to do that, which enable us to do it as 32 Allies with unity for long term, with broad public support.

So therefore, I just think that the more you are supportive of Ukraine, the more cautious we should be to ask for things that can divide us.

We have unity in providing support, we will not have unity in being directly involved and if we have NATO forces, directly involved in the conflict, attacking Russian capabilities in the air or on land in Ukraine, then we will be in a situation where it's very hard to keep NATO out of the conflict.

And that's reason why what I strongly believe is that we should do significantly more in providing support to Ukraine. And I outlined a multiyear financial pledge, outlined a stronger NATO role in coordinating, providing, training, equipment, ammunition to avoid those pauses in the supplies we have seen over the last months, but also why I have also stated that we should not have NATO troops on the ground, or capabilities in the air or in the Ukrainian airspace. But I also believe that when we have delivered the weapons to Ukraine, it's actually not ours anymore. It's Ukrainian’s. And then, as I've said, they have the right to self-defence, and the right of self-defence includes also hitting legitimate military targets outside Ukraine and also in Russia, which are air bases which Russia uses to attack and again in also in the Kharkiv Region, [inaudible] this border region. It is the border lines and the front lines are not exactly the same, but they're very close to each other. So, then it's very clearly operational reasons to actually allow the Ukrainians to use these weapons to attack military Russian targets which are hitting Ukraine. So, I accept that there are different views, but I think that the balance we have been able to find within the Alliance has been and continues to be the right one. Support Ukraine but preventing escalation, prevent NATO from being a party to the conflict.

Then on Ukraine. NATO Allies should do more. We have done a lot. In Russia, President Putin totally underestimated, first of all, he under estimated the Ukrainians. There's the strength, the bravery, the willingness to defend themselves. But he also underestimated NATO Allies and our ability to support Ukraine. So, we should be proud of what we have provided and Allies in this assembly, you should be proud of the support that you have provided. But what we have provided is not enough. Especially not the last months, therefore we need to do more, we need to step up. And I also believe that the reason why we need some kind of agreed financial pledge is to ensure a fairer burden sharing because the reality is some Allies have done very much, other Allies have done not as much as they should.

There are also some problems with accountability and transparency on what exactly Allies have provided.

So, if you have a more agreed financial pledge, and bigger NATO role I think we're going to have more accountability, more transparency on actually what Allies are providing to ensure fairer burden sharing and by having fairer burden sharing I think it'll be easy to continue the support for long haul. No one can say exactly how long this war will last. But we need to be prepared for long haul and therefore we need to have the institutions, the mechanisms in place including long term financial pledge and stronger NATO role to ensure that we can sustain this for a long time.

Then on NATO Membership. Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member but we don't have consensus on exactly when that will be. In the meantime, I think the important thing is that we put Ukraine, help to ensure that Ukraine will be in a place that when the political conditions are in place, that Ukraine can become a member immediately. I know that Ukraine and Sweden and Finland are different countries, but in but in many ways, I would like to have Ukraine exactly the same place as Finland and Sweden.

Because when the political conditions were in place, when actually Finland and Sweden wanted membership in May 2022, they applied on the 17th of May for membership, and in July all Allies agreed to invite them and just a couple of weeks after we have negotiated the accession treaty. So, we should be in the same place with Ukraine. And that's reason why I welcome everything we do to ensure full interoperability. We have the interoperability program for Ukraine. That's one of the reasons why we like to have a stronger NATO role in providing assistance because then we also ensure that we have the standards, the interoperability in Ukraine when we provide support for Ukraine, and also, I welcome the establishment of the NATO Ukraine Council, which we now use as a platform to strengthen our political ties. And also, I welcome the decision at the Vilnius Summit last year to remove the requirement for Membership Action Plan, turning the membership process for Ukraine from a twostep process to a one step process. So as long as we don't have consensus, we should ensure that we put Ukraine in place so they can be called members immediately when the conditions are met.

President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Michał Szczerba: Yes, thank you and now unfortunately the last final group. Njall Fridbertsson from Iceland, Mr Audronius Azubalis from Lithuania and Mimi Kodheli from Albania.

Njall Fridbertsson [Iceland]: [inaudible]… the role of semiconductors which I had the pleasure to draft as [inaudible] As NATO's Vilnius summit [inaudible] recognizes emerging and disruptive technology brings both opportunities and risk, they are altering the character of conflict applying greater strategic importance and become a key arena of global competition.

Entities are influencing various areas of security and defence amongst them satellite deployment, which is crucial to allow real time detection and monitoring of activity in strategic areas, including in the High North.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has set the great ramification for relations in the High North. And the accession of both Sweden and Finland to NATO might affect Russia's calculus and possible responses in the region.

Therefore, my question is how can we ensure that NATO keeps its technological edge including surveillance and satellite deployment and thus its capacity to strengthen security in the High North?

Audronius Azubalis [Lithuania]: Thank you, Mr. President. Secretary General, how we members of NATO could expect Ukraine's victory if we haven't developed a strategy regarding NATO’s support for Ukraine against aggression by Russian Federation at tactical, operational and strategic levels. We know that such a request about strategic plan for victory the United States administration was sent from Congress. But that is not happening in NATO. Could you comment on that? Thank you.

Mimi Kodheli [Albania]: Thank you, dear Secretary General, dear Jens, on behalf of the Albanian delegation, I would like to show you my gratitude for your outstanding leadership, open mindedness, goodwill and wise solutions you show in your 10 years serving our organization.

Personally, I've been working with you since then, since the beginning, in different capacities, and we're still here, you know, taking care of our future, safe and secure future. So, I'm here to reassure you and my organization, the NATO PA, that Albania it has been and will be one of the best Alliance of the big Alliance, because we are sure that only this Alliance can save the future of our kids. So, thank you again.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much. Let me start with the last comment question. Dear Mimi, it has been a pleasure to work with you too in your capacity as Minister but also now in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and there are many faces around in this audience that I know from over many years, so it's always good to see you and then all the best for the future and hope to see you again in the future different capacities.

Then, let me start with Iceland. Well, NATO is the strongest Alliance I said the beginning for two reasons, unity and because we have been able to adapt. There's actually a third reason and that is that we have been able to maintain a technological edge on any potential adversary. And that's extremely important that we continue to do. And now in times of disruptive technologies, we see how [inaudible] China are investing in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and many other of these technologies which will change the nature of warfare as much as the Industrial Revolution.

And then of course, it is important that we continue to ensure that we maintain our technological edge with the development of autonomous systems, applying artificial intelligence into our capabilities, and many other areas.

To ensure exactly that we have established the NATO Innovation Fund, and many Allies have already invested there, we are working to promote start-ups to help a new industry being developed to support our defence efforts. We have also established DIANA, this network of Centres which are developing different technologies are helping to work again with start-ups. And I'm impressed at how NATO Allies are actually using these NATO tools to ensure that we develop technology, businesses, industries, which are important for our defence. I think what the war in Ukraine has demonstrated is that we're not having any defence without the defence industry, and not have any advanced defence without advanced defence industries. Therefore, part of what we do is also work to work with the defence industry.

We have the NATO Defence Industry Forum, we engage regularly with them, and one of the reasons why we need to invest increased defence spending is that when we invest in new capabilities we're also investing in new technologies. So, we are investing more [inaudible] to produce more of the old stuff. Sometimes we need that. But by investing more in new fighter jets, in new battle tanks, in new cyber capabilities, we are at the same time investing in high end technology. So increased investments are a precondition for maintaining our technological edge. We have a responsibility as individual Allies, but we also should utilize the NATO tools, the different Centres of Excellences, the Innovation fond, DIANA, to ensure that we actually help and support each other in those efforts.

Then on Lithuania, we are constantly in close dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities. There are as you also know, close contact between NATO military authorities, for instance, the US which [inaudible] General Cavoli, he is the top US commander in Europe. And he and his staff, they are engaging with the Ukrainian counterparts, but fortunately, Cavoli is also the top NATO commander in Europe. And when we foresee a great NATO role in providing support and assistance, we also see that some of these things which are now been done under the US led effort in Rammstein, for instance, not mainly in [inaudible] the Security assistance group for Ukraine in [inaudible] that some of those activities will be under NATO umbrella. That will then make it even easier to ensure that we have full coordination between what an individual Ally [inaudible] and what we do as NATO.

So, we are working closely with and my aim is to ensure that we work even more closely with Ukraine in the future. To ensure that they prevail as a sovereign independent nation. Of course, Ukraine has to make the decisions, but we can give them the capabilities, we can give them the long-term commitment, and we can help and give advice, but it's for the Ukrainians to at the end of the day make the decisions.

So, they prevail, and ensure that Russia does not succeed. I think that was actually the last question again, many questions. Thank you for the questions. I'm sorry that not everyone was able to ask the question. But the problem is not the number of questions. The problem is that the length of the answers is too long. So, excuse me so much. But I thank you very much for all the questions for the support, for the cooperation and it's been really a privilege and honour to work with you. And I wish you all the best in the future. Thank you so much.