by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Public Forum

  • 10 Jul. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Jul. 2024 19:38

(As delivered)

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council 
Good morning, still is morning. It's great to see you all here in person. It's wonderful to have so many people here online from all over the world and, of course, across all of our Allies in Europe as well.

So it's my honour to introduce someone I've known a long time now. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and I'm gonna moderate conversation with you in a moment, something you've called a pivotal moment for our Alliance.

I was going to start by saluting you on something I didn't know about which is your great arm because you threw out the first pitch of the Nationals game and it was an amazing, I was there in the heat sweating while I was watching, but it was an amazing salute to NATO.

But having been at Mellon auditorium yesterday evening, one of the most moving events I've been at, I’ll instead, quote, President Biden what he said to you, as he gave you the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a standing ovation, a really remarkable moment.

He called you a man of integrity, and intellectual rigor, a calm temperament in moments of crisis, a consummate diplomat and I think the consummate diplomat, a person who can engage with leaders across all spectrums and across all nationalities and I just want to salute you on behalf of everyone in the audience for more than a decade of the most extraordinary leadership, so let's start with that.

So, we at the Atlantic Council gave you our highest honour, the Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award in 2017. And I consider that visionary, we knew you'd already accomplished a lot in your life. And I won't go through at all, Prime Minister of Norway, all the things you've done for NATO and at NATO, in terms of strengthening its defence, strengthening the defence spending, and I think it takes time, too long to go on that and you're a humble man, and I don't think you would even want that.

So I'm going to go right into the questions. You laid out three goals for this Summit, increasing support for Ukraine for the long haul, reinforcing collective defence and deepening global partnerships. I'm sure they're all important, but for this week, what do you consider most crucial?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
I will answer that in a moment. But let me first say that it's great to be here, to be at the public forum and many thanks to you, Fred, and also many times to all those who have organised and are making this event possible because this is an important part of the Summit, the public outreach, which this public forum is a very important part of, then thank you for your kind words, it has actually been a great privilege serving as Secretary General of NATO for 10 years.

And I see you around in the audience here, there are many people who have helped me, supported me, so many thanks to all of you for your advice, your help and support throughout these years.

Then on throwing the first pitch, that is the most difficult task I've ever committed as Secretary General of NATO not least because I've never been at the baseball match ever before. The first time I touched the baseball actually, when I started to exercise for this. I thought it was a tennis ball, but it's not the case. So it was a very steep learning curve. And I think my future is not in baseball. I think my future is in something else.

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council 
I was going to say the introduction that it shows that NATO always sets lofty targets.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
And we have to adapt to the challenges. Then, of course, this Summit, of course the Summit, we're going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the strongest, most successful Alliance in history. But the only way to truly celebrate that achievement to the 75th anniversary is of course to demonstrate that NATO is adapting that we are changing when the world is changing, because we are the most successful Alliance in history, because we have changed when the world is changing. And now we live in a more dangerous, more, more challenging security environment and therefore NATO is changing again, and therefore we will make important decisions at this Summit for the future not only celebrate the past.

There are three main issues, is deterrence and defence, is our partnership with our Asia Pacific partners. But of course the most urgent, the most critical task of this Summit will be everything we will do and decide on Ukraine. Because this is really the time where we are tested. If you want to stand up for democracy and freedom, it's now and the place is Ukraine. And I expect that NATO leaders will agree a substantial package for Ukraine.

There are fundamentally five elements in that package. One is that we will establish a NATO command for Ukraine to facilitate and ensure training and delivery of security assistance to Ukraine. It will be 700 personnel, will take over much of what the US have done so far in leading the coordination of security assistance and training in [inaudible] command in Wiesbaden in Germany but also with logistical nodes or hubs in the eastern part of the Alliance. To ensure that we have a more institutionalised framework for our support to Ukraine, then it will be a long-term pledge to support Ukraine not least to send the message to President Putin that he cannot wait us out.

Because the paradox is that the stronger and the more we are committed for a long term to support Ukraine, the sooner this war can end and so that's the thing we have to do. Then, we will have and we have already seen some new announcements of military immediate support with the air defence systems with F-16 and other things that Allies have and will announce, we have the bilateral –that's a third of –the announcement of military aid.

Then we have the bilateral security agreements, 20 agreed between NATO Allies and Ukraine. And then the fifth element of the package for Ukraine will be more interoperability. We will have a new joint training and relation centre in Bydgoszcz, in Poland. We will have the comprehensive assistance package to help Ukraine implement reforms on the defence and security institutions to ensure that the armed forces are more and more interoperable with NATO and together the NATO command, the pledge, the bilateral security agreements, the announcement of new military support and interoperability.

These five elements combined constitute the bridge to NATO membership for Ukraine. Later on today we will see the language which we will agree in the NATO Declaration on how to ensure that Ukraine is moving closer to NATO membership. So these are the five important deliverables on Ukraine that I expect Allies will agree later on today.

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council 
The –not to press you on what's actually going to be in the document because of course you can't reveal that. But we saw at the Vilnius Summit, hearing it again in Washington, Allies closer to Russia, or more eager to provide NATO membership sooner for Ukraine. And no doubt the bridge and all the elements of the bridge are pretty impressive, including the new command.

But are Ukraine's NATO membership prospects sufficient? We did our own wargaming with our Estonian partners in the Estonian government. We found almost under any scenario, Ukraine was safer in NATO, that Russia would respond in a way that would be less provocative [inaudible] outside. What's your thinking on that and have we gone far enough with Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all the language you will see later on today in the NATO declaration or declaration from the Heads of State and Government of course, that language is important because language matters, it sets an agenda, it points a direction. But of course, action speaks louder than words.

So in addition to the language in the declaration on membership, which again is important, I think that what we actually do together with Ukraine is as important, and therefore, the fact that we now have a NATO framework, will have a NATO framework around the support. The fact that we have a long term NATO commitment, when we agree the pledge, and also the fact that we actually are delivering more weapon systems to Ukraine. All of that is helping Ukraine to become closer to NATO, come closer to NATO membership, because when you now deliver F-16s, we don't only deliver F-16s, we deliver the training, the doctrines, the operational concepts that will actually move Ukraine closer to being fully interoperable with NATO on more and more areas.

So, again, language is important, but the elements in the package I mentioned, they are actually changing the reality, enabling Ukraine to come closer to membership so we can then when the time is right, when you have consensus and the political conditions are in place.

So when an invitation then is issued, they can become members straightaway. I cannot give you a date, because as you know, there has to be consensus in this Alliance on membership, but what I can say is that when the fighting stops in Ukraine, we need to ensure that that's really the end. Because what we have seen is a pattern of aggression.

First, the –Russia annexed Crimea. We said that was unacceptable. After some few months, they went into eastern Donbas. We said that was unacceptable. Then we have the Minsk one agreement with the limitation of the ceasefire line, that was violated and Russia pushed the front lines further east, sorry –west in Donbas, in 2014, we had Minsk 2 and the Russians waited then for seven years, and they had a full scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Because Minsk 2 was in 2015. So we have seen a pattern where they're taking slices of Ukraine. So if the –if there is now a new ceasefire, a new agreement, then we need to be 100% certain that it stops there, regardless where that line is.

And therefore, I strongly believe that when the fighting stops, we need to ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities to deter future aggression from Russia, and they need security guarantees. And of course, the best and strongest security guarantee will be Article Five. So therefore, I believe that the way to ensure that it stops, is actually NATO membership.

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council 
Thank you for the very clear answer.
One more brief question on Ukraine and then we'll move on to Indo Pacific. In a press conference you had with President Macron a couple of weeks ago, you noted recent gaps in delays and how they've led in funding and weapons and led to battlefield consequences. You said, quote, we must give Ukraine the predictability and accountability it needs to defend itself.

So two questions, is everything you've talked about today that’s going to be agreed, enough, and secondarily, not just with uncertainties in US politics, which exists but also uncertainties in European politics. Do you worry at all about sustainability of that support over time?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
First of all, you're right that I have referred to, I also did that in Kyiv in a meeting with President Zelenskyy earlier this spring, to the fact that during this winter and the early spring, Allies didn't deliver on their promises to Ukraine.

We saw the delays in the US. Months agreeing a supplemental. But we also saw European Allies not being able to deliver the ammunition and the support they have announced. So of course, these gaps and these delays in military support to Ukraine, they created a very difficult situation for Ukrainians on the battlefield.

The good news in that –difficult situation is that despite the delays in our support to Ukraine, Ukraine has actually been able to hold the line, more or less. So the Russians have not been able to utilise these delays in really making any big advantage on the battlefield.

Now we are providing more support. And I'm confident that Allies will now actually deliver and we see that, for instance, ammunition moving into Ukraine, have been significant increase over the last weeks. The purpose of a stronger NATO role in providing training and security assistance, the purpose of the command and the purpose of the pledge, is of course to minimise the risks for future delays and gaps.

But of course, you don't have guarantees because at the end of the day, it has to be support in all the individual Allied capitals and parliaments to providing this support. And at the end of the day you have to go to the Congress, to the parliaments, across Europe and Canada, to get support.

But I believe that when we turn this into something which is more a NATO obligation, a NATO framework, the threshold for not delivering will be higher than when it's based on more voluntary ad hoc national announcements.

So the purpose of creating a stronger NATO framework is to make the support more robust and more more predictable. It is also another part of this NATO framework for the support on the pledge and the command and that is that it will visualise and ensure burden sharing. Because my impression is that, especially the United States, there's this perception that the United States is almost alone in delivering support to Ukraine. That's not the case.

When you look at military support, roughly 50% of the military support is provided by European Allies and Canada. 99% of the military support to Ukraine comes from NATO Allies, but 50% of that comes from European Allies and Canada. If you add macro-economic support, humanitarian support, the European Allies are providing much more than the United States. So the point with the pledge is to ensure that we have some kind of agreed formulas for burden sharing, that we have more transparency and also that we have more accountability, because then we can use NATO to count, to measure, and to ensure that Allies deliver.

It's not the same but it's a bit like the 2% pledge. Because the important –with the pledge made in Wales in 2014, was actually to give NATO a role to enforce and to ensure that Allies delivered, and also to agreed how to count and what to count. And that's also what we now do with the pledge, to agree how to count and what to count and to give NATO a role, to having accountability.

So again, there are no guarantees, but by giving NATO that role, I think the likelihood for Allies delivering what they have promised will increase. The likelihood of new gaps will decrease. And that's the purpose of giving NATO a stronger role.

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council
Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, let's go to China. 2022 Strategic Concept, NATO Strategic Concept, recognise China as a challenge for the first time in the broader rules-based system. You've noted that Russia imports 90% of its microelectronics from China, which goes into military.

Secretary Blinken today talked about 70% of machine tools that help the military, coming from China. You've also said that this if this doesn't change, as they're fuelling the greatest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two, Allies need to impose a cost. Is it time for that? And what cost can NATO and NATO countries actually impose?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all, I think it's important that we recognise the reality, and that's the first step towards any action. And that is that not only are Iran and North Korea important when it comes to enabling Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, but China is the main enabler.

Because as you refer today, they are delivering the tools, the dual-use equipment, the microelectronics, everything Russia needs to build the missiles, the bombs, the aircrafts, and all the other systems that they use against Ukraine.

Well, I have said that it remains to be seen how far Allies are willing to go. But I strongly believe that if China continues, they cannot have it both ways. They cannot believe that again, have a kind of normal relationship with NATO Allies in North America and Europe, and then continue to fuel the war in Europe that constitutes the biggest security challenge for our security since the second World War. So this is a challenge for the Alliance. Let's see how far we're willing to go as Allies.

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council 
We're getting close to the end of time. So just two other brief questions. First, Indo Pacific 4; Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand are here. Third time taking part in NATO Summit. But it's going to be the first NATO joint document with a [inaudible], can you give us some insight into what might be in it and any concrete outcomes?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The first I would just say that the fact that we now are engaging closely with our Indo Pacific partners, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, that reflects a change in NATO, because that was not the case few years ago.

And as many of you may know, the first time we mentioned China in an agreed negotiated document in NATO is at the NATO Summit in London in 2019. And in the previous NATO Strategic Concept, China was not mentioned with a single word. Now China has a prominent place in the Strategic Concept we agreed in Madrid.

And the fact that we now are engaging so closely with our Indo Pacific partners reflect, of course, the fact that we have to take China seriously when it comes to the challenges it poses for our security. And the war in Ukraine is perhaps the most obvious example or as the Japanese Prime Minister said several times: What happens in Ukraine today, can happen in Asia tomorrow.

We are now working with our Asia Pacific partners, how we can do more together with them. We will agree some flagship projects. That is about technology. It's about support to Ukraine. But we're also working for instance, as part of our defence industrial pledge, how we can ramp up defence industrial production and cooperation with these countries.

They are big, some of them on defence industry, we can work closely with them to ramp up our combined defence industrial capacity. We can exchange more information, and I also welcome the fact that more and more Allies are now also conducting joint exercises. Recently there was a big air exercise. Allies are also more and more actively also looking into how they can also have more naval exercises with Asia Pacific partners. Because NATO will remain an Alliance of North America and Europe. It will not be a global NATO. NATO will be North America and Europe.

But this region, the North Atlantic region, we face global threats and the reality is that is nothing new. Global terrorism, international terrorism brought us to Afghanistan. Cyber is global. Space, which is becoming more and more important for our armed forces, is truly global. And of course, the threats and challenges that China poses to our security is a global challenge.

So this region, the North Atlantic region, faces global challenges. We will remain a regional Alliance, but we need to work with our global partners, Asia Pacific partners, to address these global challenges. That I guess will be a very important issue at the next NATO Summit. I will not be there…

Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of Atlantic Council
And that brings and that brings me to my final question. This is your swan song Summit. And as you prepare to step down, I think everybody in the audience everybody virtually would love to hear what gives you the most hope stepping down from this, but also what gives you the most concern.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all, I'm an optimist, because the reality is that we are very different in this Alliance. We are different countries with different history, different culture from both sides of the Atlantic. We are different parties. And we are always very concerned that when a new party comes into government, they will make bad things for the Alliance.

And if you read the history of NATO, we have been concerned about that from the beginning. There were big concerns in NATO when we actually got a democratically elected government in Portugal in 1975. There were concerns whether or not they were going to be committed to NATO. There were concerns when you had some left-wing parties coming into government in some European countries in the 70s. When I formed my government, my second government in 2005, there were big concerns that we had a left socialist party. It went quite well, to be honest.

And now there’ll be concerns again, but the reality is that despite all these differences, which are part of NATO, we have proven extremely resilient and strong. Because when we face the reality, all these different governments and politicians and parliamentarians they realize that we are safer and stronger together. And that's a very strong message. And that's the reason why this Alliance prevails again and again.

As I said in my speech yesterday, we cannot take for it granted. It's not a given, it was not given in ’49, it's not given now and it is not a given in the future. But the reality is that we have so strong common interest in standing together. So therefore, I'm optimistic for the future of this Alliance.

That was the first question, the second I forgot. I think I answered both of them. But one thing that I remember very well when I became prime minister in 2000. First of all I attended my first NATO Summit in 2001. That was a very different guestlist. It was President Bush, newly elected, it was Gerhard Schröder. Tony Blair. Yes, very different people then than now. I think it’s time for me to leave.

That second also, I remember then my predecessor, when I became prime minister in 2000. She told me as [inaudible]: Jens, you have to remember that most of your life, you'll be former prime minister. And now I have to acknowledge that most of my life I will be former Secretary General of NATO. But that's not so bad. I hang around and see you and then perhaps be part of this audience next time. Thank you so much.