Standing up for Freedom and Security

Keynote speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at GLOBSEC 2014 (followed by Q&A session)

  • 15 May. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 15 May. 2014 17:41

Ambassador Káčer,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for that kind welcome.

It's a great pleasure to be here today. In just a few years, the Bratislava Global Security Forum has become one of Europe's premier venues for the discussion of international security matters. And this year's meeting comes at a critical moment for all of us. Twenty-five years ago, this part of Europe was the front-line in the fight for freedom. Barbed wire fences were cut. Walls came down. And freedom prevailed over force.

NATO's Open Door policy and European Union enlargement, advanced our goal of a Europe whole and free. Not by threats, coercion or the use of force, but by the choice of sovereign nations and free people. By free choice, not by force, we erased the deep dividing lines across our continent. And by free choice, not by force, we relegated so-called "spheres of influence" to the history books.

Russia too subscribed to these principles. That each country has an inherent right to choose or change its security arrangements. And that no state has the right to consider another as its sphere of influence. These are clear commitments made by all the members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe 15 years ago in the Charter for European Security. And they are also enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

So what we see now in Ukraine is a blatant breach of the fundamentals of European security. It is a dangerous attempt to turn back the clock. To draw new dividing lines and rewrite the rule book. President Putin and his government have only used the language of international values and norms in order to subvert them. Russia's state media are spinning a dishonest narrative to manipulate public opinion. And Russia has not taken one single step to live up to its Geneva commitments. Just the contrary.

So judging by Russia's actions, the aim is clear. Russia is trying to establish a new sphere of influence. In defiance of international law and fundamental agreements that Russia itself has signed. This has profound, long-term implications for our security. And it requires serious, long-term solutions.

My message today is that NATO is both able and willing do whatever is necessary for as long as necessary. As we prepare for our Wales Summit in September, we will bolster our collective defence. And we will continue to uphold the fundamental principle that every country should have the freedom to choose its own future.

So first, collective defence.

We already have more planes in the air, more ships at sea, and more exercises on the ground. We have deployed AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania. In the Baltic region, we have reinforced our air policing mission and our naval presence. And Allies have deployed land forces to participate in training and exercises. These measures demonstrate our unity. Our solidarity. And our commitment.

We are also considering the longer-term implications of Russia's actions for what we do in NATO. So we are taking a close look at how we can develop and deploy the right forces for defence and deterrence. We are looking to strengthen the ability of our NATO Response Force and Special Forces to respond quickly to any threat against any member of the Alliance, including where we have little warning.

We are also reviewing our threat assessments, intelligence-sharing arrangements, early-warning procedures, and crisis response planning to take into account a more unpredictable security environment.

We are examining our Connected Forces Initiative to make our exercises more frequent, more demanding, and more visible.

These are some of the strands of a Readiness Action Plan that we are considering at the moment. They are all defensive measures. They are in line with our international obligations. And in line with a changed security landscape, where - more than ever - we need to be ready, prepared and flexible.

Of course, to have credible defence and deterrence, we need credible capabilities. And credible capabilities come at a cost. And this is my second point.

Let's look at the figures. Russian defence spending has grown by more than 10 percent in real terms each year over the past five years. And according to some forecasts that rate of growth could increase in the coming years.

By contrast, several European NATO countries have cut their defence spending by more than 20 percent over the same period. Some Allies have even cut by more than 40 percent. And the cuts have been particularly deep here in Central and Eastern Europe.

This is unsustainable. Now is the time to stop the cuts and start reversing the trend. We have a NATO target of 2% of GDP to be spent on defence. We need to gradually increase our defence budgets to reach that level. We must spend more on what we need. Less on personnel. And more on equipment, skills and training. So that our forces are more flexible, deployable and ready.

Some Allies, like Estonia, are already setting a good example. Poland is very close to the 2 percent benchmark and modernising its forces. While Latvia, Lithuania and Romania have announced that they too will gradually invest more in defence.

We must also bridge the gaps in our military capabilities. This means we need to stimulate further involvement in our multinational "Smart Defence" projects. And also closer regional cooperation. The Visegrad countries continue to demonstrate that this is a pragmatic way to build greater security together. And in a way that makes both NATO and the European Union stronger.

Multinational cooperation can help in multiplying individual efforts. But ultimately, credible defence and deterrence requires credible investment. And if there was ever any doubt in our capitals that defence matters, the Ukraine crisis has surely removed it.

And now my third point. In the face of Russia's aggression, we must uphold the principle that every country should have the right to choose.its own future, including its relationship with our Alliance.

Because that freedom is fundamental to our vision for a Europe whole, free and at peace.

There is a very good reason why security and stability spread across this continent in the wake of the Cold War. Without coercion. Without annexations. Without interference and illegal referenda.

It is not because NATO and the European Union pushed to expand. But because this country, and many others, were attracted by the values and principles of our Euro-Atlantic institutions. You had the sovereign right to choose. You had the freedom to choose. And your choice was Europe and Euro-Atlantic integration.

We must, and we will, remain committed to our, positive vision for Europe. That means we will deepen our partnerships with Ukraine and our other NATO partners. And keep our door open for those countries which see there their future in NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our next Summit in September in Wales is about Future NATO. As we prepare for the Summit, we stand ready to take all necessary measures. To bolster our collective defence. To boost our defence spending. To bridge capability gaps. And to uphold the principle that every country should have the freedom to choose its own future.

Freedom is the foundation of our democracy and our prosperity. And it is the foundation of the Europe we have built with such effort since the end of the Cold War: a continent where every country remains free to make its own choices. NATO will continue to stand up for our freedom and our security.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Let me walk down to see better in the room to take questions. And I cannot agree more, Mr. Secretary, with your comments of a free choice but also on willing and able.

Truth is that security’s more complex than ever and now, in this situation, it’s more and more visible. And this complexity of the challenges, they influence both dimensions of you mentioned, which I think are key, of being willing and able, because there are now means by which you undermine, dilute and erode our willingness and the way how we care about things.

But also the ways how you impose your dominance and how you destruct or how you challenge the system. The abilities are getting to be more complicated. And it’s not only a question about spending money but also how you spend it, what kind of abilities you create really to cope with the challenges.

How do you feel? How willing we are? … [inaudible] about those 28? How is the will? How strong is the will and how diluted and how eroded our will has become, because if you are not willing, even your abilities are about nothing.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Yeah. That’s a controversial question, I think. Because that’s I think what you indicate.

Sometimes we have Europeans in general, Europeans in general less willing to use what I would call hard power to promote and protect our values and principles. So I understand the background of your question.

But having said that, I also think we have seen some positive... some positive news. Let me use as an example first, Afghanistan. Actually you have never seen Europeans deploy so many troops out of area as you have seen during the last, yes, in Afghanistan during the last 12 years. In the Balkans, in the 90s.

During the Cold War the Europeans didn't engage in any NATO-led operations at all, actually. That’s also part of our success, that we prevented the Cold War from getting hot.

But after the end of the Cold War, we started a new era of engagement, a very operational era. And you have seen Europeans deploy to a great extent. So never, ever have the Europeans deployed as much as during the last 20 years.

A concrete example – Libya in 2011. Well, we had some discussions but within six days, we took the decision that NATO should take responsibility for our operation in Libya and we achieved consensus among 28 Allies.

So my point is, Ambassador, that the bottom line is that after some discussions, the Europeans are ready to step up to the plate when needed.

Now we are faced with a completely new security situation in Europe. And so far we have seen NATO Allies support our reassurance measures, and my ambition is that when defence ministers meet at the beginning of June we can declare that all 28 Allies contribute one way or the other to these reassurance measures.

So in conclusion, yes, we have some discussions in Europe; but at the end of the day I think there is a political will to also use our capabilities.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much. And I...

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  And we need the capabilities.

MODERATOR:  I think this is curse and blessing of a consensus-based organization that consensus is not an easy to make. It was not easy, even between 14, and at 28, it’s more complicated. But once you get there, it’s a strong commitment and strong resolution.

Thank you very much.

Let me turn to the floor. We might have some 10, 15 minutes. I’m watching Zaborowski who I see and Jajinski, those two, first two questions. Please

Can we get a microphone here?

QUESTION: I can just shout.

MODERATOR:  No, no, no. There is a microphone. But the crowd is big here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary General, if I may, I will even have short, but two questions if that’s permitted.

MODERATOR:  Then very short.

QUESTION: It will be very short. Number one, it’s about the defence spending. Well, I completely agree with your message. The point is that I’m not quite sure if many in this region would, and what we’ve been hearing during the former sessions and so on is that they increase defence spending in the region here. Would it actually make very much of a difference in real terms?

And number two, given the austerity measures that some of the nations had to apply, it’ll be immoral to spend more on defence rather than on social issues. And number two, a very straightforward question is do you envisage a permanent NATO presence in the region in the years to come?

MODERATOR:  Can we pick, maybe in the cluster? Ian, please.

QUESTION: Secretary General, thank you for your very strong words on the crisis in the Ukraine. And let me follow up on that issue. The Alliance has done much to reassure its own members in their security. You spoke forcefully about some of the measures that we’re taking to kind of reinforce collective defence. The Alliance is doing very little to provide any practical assistance to Ukraine.

The result, in a way, is in fact a de facto red line that enhances the security of NATO’s eastern frontier but is basically leaving Ukraine isolated on its own. In a sense, a military carte blanche for Russia.  

Shouldn’t the Alliance be doing more to provide reassurance and assistance to Ukraine to dealing with its immediate threats, which is an occupation of Crimea, an externally inspired, supported insurgency in the east and a massive buildup of some 40,000 to 80,000 forces on Ukraine’s eastern frontier?

Shouldn’t the Alliance be providing packages of military assistance and equipment, defensive weapons, perhaps even some intelligence assets, other forms of assistance that would reassure and provide greater... provide Ukraine’s greater self-confidence in their ability for self-defence and that would complicate Russian military planning?

Isn’t to do so in the interest of the Alliance?

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ian. One more question to Edward Lucas, then I’ll turn back to you. I’ll turn back to you. Yeah, and can we get it here? Thank you very much. And then we’ll turn (inaudible) for the reply.

QUESTION: Secretary General, you’ve rightly said that territorial defence is now back on the agenda, and that’s particularly Northeastern Europe. The problem is that you’ve got two very important countries that are not members of NATO, Sweden and Finland.

It’s proved very difficult for NATO to do defence cooperation with non-NATO members. We saw this over the fiasco over the Icelandic air policing when Sweden and Finland wanted to take part in exercises in Iceland. It proved extremely difficult.

What potential do you see now in these crisis conditions for intensified cooperation with Sweden and Finland in this absolutely vital question of the defence of Northeastern Europe?  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, gentlemen, very much for your questions. Secretary General, please.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, on defence spending. You mentioned that the first argument against a significant increase in defence spending, at least in this part of Europe – and now I quote you – is that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. So why do it?

But let me remind you that if each and every Ally was thinking that way, we wouldn’t have any investment in security and defence at all.

In other words, if you go down that road and argue that why should we spend more because it doesn't make any difference, then you are a free rider. And that leads me to the second point about moral. It’s immoral. Well, I’m always hesitant to use the term ‘moral’ or ‘morality’ when it comes to politics.


But speaking about morale, I think it’s immoral to be... to demonstrate lack of solidarity.

To be a member of NATO is not only a privilege, it’s also a duty. You have some tasks, you have some responsibilities. We would... you would... or whatever it is, would expect other Allies to help if needed. It’s a kind of insurance, and we all know that you pay an insurance premium to get help when needed. And unfortunately, because of the new security situation in Europe, the security... the insurance premium has now gone up. And that’s my point.

Secondly, on basing permanent or non-permanent or whatever, well, I think there are many things that we know in advance will be permanent except taxes, maybe. But why have a theoretical discussion about permanent or non-permanent?

My term would be that we will do what is necessary for as long as required. For as long as required. Let’s see down the road how the security situation evolves. And it’s my clear position, it’s my clear position that we need more visible NATO presence all over NATO territory. That’s actually what we are doing right now with the immediate measures, but I also think we need some long-term measures.

Next question on Ukraine. Shouldn’t we do more for Ukraine? Actually, we have had numerous meetings in the NATO-Ukraine Commission and Ukraine has forwarded a list of requests for NATO assistance and we have responded positively to that.

But when you mention in concrete terms equipment, intelligence, etcetera, let me remind you that NATO doesn't possess equipment. NATO doesn't have an intelligence service as an organization. We are dependent on individual Allies. So the question about equipment, intelligence, cooperation, etcetera, that’s an issue that should be addressed at a bilateral level between Ukraine and individual Allies.

As regards to the Alliance, we have decided to enhance our partnerships when it comes to defence reform, modernization of the Ukrainian armed forces, more interoperability, including Ukrainian participation in NATO exercises, etc.

So we have done a lot already as an Alliance and I foresee that we will do more in the future.

But let me also remind you that of course there is a difference between being a member of NATO and not being a member of NATO. Collective defence, according to Article 5, applies to members only.

Finally, on Sweden and Finland, if I heard correctly, you used the term ‘fiasco’ regarding the exercise over Iceland. In my opinion that’s not accurate. On the contrary it was a great success. Yes, there was a lot of discussion in both Finland and Sweden before the decision was taken, but it was taken. And I consider it an important and positive step towards increased cooperation between these partners and NATO but also an important and positive step in direction of more regional Nordic defence cooperation.

In conclusion Sweden and Finland are very valued partners. There is an interesting discussion going on in the two countries concerning their relationship with NATO. I follow it closely but obviously I’m not going to interfere with that.

MODERATOR:  I think we have five more minutes, so a quick question, the gentleman over here. And let me go here. Okay, right in the middle. And I apologize to all of those hands up. I’m terribly sorry.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Chinese Institute of International Studies. Let me shift a little bit from Ukraine to Asia-Pacific Region. To my knowledge NATO did have some contact with China in exploring cooperation in recent years. So what’s your assessment on the current status on the cooperation between the two sides and what your… sorry what is your anticipation on the future cooperation (inaudible) for them in Afghanistan or in anti-piracy, you know, (inaudible)? Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much. And I can shift the microphone here in the middle. If you can be kind and pass it on? Thank you very much.

QUESTION:  Yes, Mr. Secretary General, Constantine Eggert, from Moscow. A very short question. Could we expect that MAP or some other substantial invitation will be issued to Georgia during the Wales Summit? Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much. Secretary General?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on China, I would very much like to see what I will call a more structured dialogue between NATO and China. We have a dialogue. We have a dialogue with China at different levels. Actually some years ago the Deputy Secretary General, the then Deputy Secretary General visited China.

The reason why I would like to see a more structured dialogue with China is partly that in certain areas I think we have common interests. For instance, and you mentioned it, counter-piracy. China is also very much dependent on international trade and free sea lanes. So we have a common interest in keeping the sea lanes open so we share interest when it comes to counter-piracy.

And actually NATO organized a meeting on Maritime Security with a particular focus on counter-piracy some time ago and China participated for the first time in a NATO-led meeting.

Secondly, in the region obviously we have an interest when it comes to Afghanistan. We complete, we will complete our ISAF combat mission, hopefully stay with a training mission in Afghanistan after 2014, but a constructive engagement of countries in the neighbourhood is of utmost importance to ensure long-term peace and stability, not only in Afghanistan but in the region. And in that respect, China could play a constructive role. So we have an interest in a dialogue on that.

And finally, let me remind you that NATO operates on the basis... all current NATO operations take place on the basis of  United Nations mandates. And we have special arrangements with four, or special relations, I would say, with four out of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Three of them are Allies: U.S., U.K., France and with the fourth, Russia, we have a special NATO-Russia Council.

But with the fifth, China, we don't have a special arrangement, and that’s why I use the term ‘a more structured dialogue’ with China would be useful.

Finally, on Georgia, definitely we will address our open-door policy at the summit, but it’s a bit too early to say exactly how. My view is that Georgia has made remarkable progress, carried through reforms, conducted exemplary elections, contributed to NATO… the NATO operation in Afghanistan, done a lot to improve interoperability.

So Georgia has made a lot of progress and that progress should be reflected at the summit appropriately. But exactly how, it’s a bit too early to say.     

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you and on your behalf, to Secretary General, for delivering his GlobSec keynote address. I think the message was very clear, straightforward and very understandable. And I hope we will remain strongly willing and well able to act in the future to defend our security and freedom.

Secretary General, thank you very much.