''NATO: Standing Strong''
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Spring Session at Seimas Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania
Distinguished members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I always value these meetings with you. And our meeting today could not be more timely.
It is our first opportunity to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. To consider its longer-term implications for our Alliance. And to address some of the key issues that will be on the agenda of our NATO Summit in Wales in September. Today, I would like to focus on three of those issues. Defence matters. Defence spending. And the enduring bond between Europe and North America.
When I addressed you last October, in Dubrovnik, I said that defence still matters. But that we all need to do a much better job at explaining why. Well, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have provided us with an unwelcome, but unambiguous explanation of just why defence matters today and for the future.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has worked hard to establish a genuine security partnership with Russia. During this period, Russia’s responses to many of our initiatives helped to heal the divisions of the past. And to enhance security and stability across the Euro-Atlantic area. At the end of last year, we were doing more together than ever before.
But in recent months, , Russia has shown it is ready to redraw borders. By force if necessary. It is ready to recreate dividing lines in Europe. And it is ready to destabilize sovereign nations in pursuit of its geopolitical goals.
At such times, it is necessary to stand up. And stand strong. That is what NATO has done. And what we must continue to do. Both as transatlantic Allies in NATO. And together with Ukraine and our other partners.
This crisis has shown that defence matters for our Allies. And that NATO is needed as much as ever.
We have taken immediate measures to strengthen our collective defence. We already have more planes in the air. More ships at sea. And more exercises on the ground.
Next week, with Allied Defence Ministers, we will discuss a readiness action plan in preparation for our Summit in September. This includes a review of our defence plans. Of our force posture. Of the size, scenarios and schedule for our exercises. And of the possibility of additional deployments.
These measures are entirely defensive. They are in line with our duty to defend and deter against any threat. They respect international obligations and commitments. They demonstrate that we are prepared to do what is necessary, for as long as necessary. And that we are determined to protect every part of the Alliance. So NATO stands strong. And no Ally stands alone.
At the same time, we continue to stand with our partner Ukraine. To support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future without outside interference.
The Presidential elections last Sunday were an important step on that path. To allow all Ukrainians to make their free and democratic choice. To start a nation-wide dialogue, without outside interference. And to find a lasting political solution to the crisis caused by Russia’s illegal aggression.
The crisis has clearly shown why defence matters. It also shows that defence spending matters. And this is my second point.
Since 2008, Russian defence spending has grown by more than 10 percent in real terms – each year! That’s a total increase of well over 50%. And many forecast that it will grow at a faster rate in the coming years.
Over the same period, total defence spending by European Allies has been cut by almost 10% in real terms. And some individual Allies have cut by more than 40%.
Today, only four Allies meet the agreed guideline of 2% of GDP to be spent on defence. Seven Allies spend less that 1%. And as a result of a planned reduction in spending by the United States, total defence spending across the Alliance is forecast to fall this year.
To keep our defences strong, we need to start reversing this trend. We need to spend more on defence. And we need to spend better on defence.
For many Allies, defence cuts were the price to pay for stabilizing the economy. Our economies are now starting to recover. And Allies should now be in a position to increase their defence spending.
In that regard, I welcome recent decisions by Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania to increase their defence spending. I hope that, with your support, all our Heads of State and Government will make a similar commitment at the Wales Summit. And set individual goals that are ambitious, yet achievable. Ideally, with a concrete timetable for laying out when their goals would be reached.
But we must not only address the quantity of defence spending – the input. We must also consider the quality – the output. This is not just about what we invest, but also about how we invest.
Next week, NATO Defence Ministers will review the significant improvements we have seen in many areas of our armed forces in recent years – in terms of fighting power. Deployability. And sustainability.
We will also discuss a number of capability areas where we still have gaps. Joint Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, for example. And air-to-air refueling. We also need to conduct more training and exercises for large scale, high intensity operations.
I expect Allies to commit to filling these capability gaps. And to doing more multinationally, rather than nationally. Which is why we must pursue our Smart Defence and Connected Forces initiatives with even greater urgency. And also set clear priorities.
While the current crisis will clearly influence those priorities, we must guard against becoming a one-dimensional Alliance. We do not face a single crisis in our neighbourhood, but an arc of crises from the East to the South, and beyond. And we need to ensure that the capabilities we choose to develop first will be those that help us maintain our ability to conduct all three of our core tasks: collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.
All three tasks remain essential. Indeed, they reinforce each other. Because to strengthen our security at home, we must be prepared to tackle crises abroad. That requires the right capabilities, and the right partners.
Reversing the decline in our defence spending, and acquiring the critical capabilities we need, will also help to achieve a better, fairer sharing of the transatlantic responsibility for our shared security. And that brings me to my third point.
The transatlantic bond remains the bedrock of our freedom, our prosperity and our way of life. It is critical that we all continue to invest in it. Politically. Militarily. And financially. And that we share the responsibilities of security just as we all share the benefits.
Our NATO Summit in Wales next September will be a unique opportunity to reaffirm the link between our two continents. And to define our common future. And here, Mr. President, I would like to commend you, and the entire Assembly, for the tremendous work you have done with your “Declaration on Transatlantic Relations”. This is a great contribution towards our own Declaration on Transatlantic Relations for the Wales Summit.
The historical, political and economic ties between Europe and North America are deep. But we cannot take each other for granted. So I look to you, as parliamentarians, to continue playing a key role in fostering a common transatlantic spirit.
By using your role and influence as parliamentarians to explain the essential value of the transatlantic link -- not least for our security. By bringing people together and building trust. By promoting scholarships, exchanges and other transatlantic initiatives. And by finding the necessary resources.
Strong parliamentary engagement is also vital in other areas. In supporting far-reaching trade and investment agreements between the European Union and the United States, and between the European Union and Canada. In promoting energy diversification. Opening up our energy markets. And reducing our reliance on energy imports from third countries.
I particularly welcome the strong call in your “Declaration on Transatlantic Relations” for continued investment in credible defence. It is vitally important for Allied Governments and our publics to hear this. And I trust you will repeat and reinforce this message in your parliaments, and in your constituencies, when you return home.
You are the experts on foreign and defence policy in your national parliaments. And you hold the power of the purse. You can help to ensure that decisions about national defence and our collective NATO defence are given the priority they deserve – and need. I know this is not easy. But now more than ever, it is vital.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was particularly struck by one passage in your “Declaration on Transatlantic Relations”. It says that the test for our Alliance is not the absence of differences -- because these are only natural in an Alliance of 28 sovereign democracies. But what is important is the ability to cope with these differences in ways that pull our respective strengths and perspectives together and point to a common direction.
Parliamentary support has been vital in fostering that unity of purpose, and ensuring NATO’s success during its first 65 years. We continue to rely on your support as we prepare for our NATO Summit in September. To keep our Alliance standing strong. Today. Tomorrow. And into the future.