Keynote address

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Three Wise Men Report, Norway House, Brussels

  • 13 Dec. 2016 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 13 Dec. 2016 15:52

(As delivered)

Norway House, I will start by saying : God morgen alle sammen. That is Norwegian.

And, thanks to the Permanent Representatives of Norway, Canada and Italy for taking the initiative to this event.

And also many thanks to Carnegie Europe for organizing it and for being a think tank which is constantly so focused on the Transatlantic relationship. And as you all know we are now approaching Christmas, so I found it extremely natural that we focused on the three wise men.   

But today it is not Caspar, Melchior and Baltazar.

But it is Martino, Pearson and Lange.

And even if I heard a lot of nice things about the report they presented 60 years ago,   I think it’s too much to call it a miracle.

So it’s not fully or possible to compare it to what happened more than 2000 years ago
but at least it was an important event.  But even though the report was not a miracle’ it has had a great influence on the Alliance and the influence on the alliance cannot be overestimated.

The report in many ways paved the way for the Alliance as we know it today, a political and military alliance, and not just the latter.

Let me just start by a short, brief, personal note or reflection and that is back in 1987 I was the chairman of the Young Labour Party back in Norway.  And the young Labour party Norway was strongly against NATO and very much in favour of Norway leaving NATO and that was a very fierce debate going on in Norway, it was probably what we today would have called the NOxit debate in Norway.

But one of the things that I am most proud of from my time, as leader of the Young Labour Party was I was actually able to change the position of the Young Labour Party from being strongly against to actually being in favour.   Not knowing, that I would end up as Secretary General, but knowing that one of the most important arguments I used back then was that NATO was not only a military alliance but NATO was also a political alliance where, 20, not 28 or I think it was 16 or something allies, met regularly and also developed common policies and common political positions on many different issues. So, without really knowing it, I was, back in 1987, echoing the message from the report that NATO was not only a military alliance but NATO is also a political Alliance and I used that as one of my strongest arguments for turning the Young Labour Party from being against to being in favour to NATO.

As you have already heard in Norwegian politics, Herve Lange is one of the giants.
He was foreign minister for almost 20 years.
He signed the NATO treaty for Norway.

And like the other Wise Men, he is honored with his own room at NATO headquarters. 

In that room I sometimes, hold, sometimes have press conferences and meet the press and I think about the 3 wise men, but I also think of about the fact that I lived in another room which is named after Lange because the residence where he lived for 20 years as Foreign Minister was upgraded to become the permanent residence of the Norwegian Prime Minister so I also lived in that house of Herve Lange for many years until 2013.  And it was a nice house but it is sometimes, it is hard to get in there. 

So, so, yeah but let’s be honest reports from  NATO Committees don’t generally receive a great deal of public attention. Certainly not 60 years after they were published.  Yet this report proved its enduring value.

It deserves to be read and re-read. Studied and re-studied.

Not as history.

But as a living document with a great deal to offer us in our own time.
NATO itself deserves credit for launching this report.

The North Atlantic Council knew something was missing, something had to be done to strengthen the organization.
It took courage -- and wisdom – to embark on this internal review process.

To ask the necessary questions.
The report helped to change NATO from being almost entirely a military alliance into a political-military alliance.

That might sound like a subtle difference.

But it has made a profound difference.

The Three Wise Men helped to ensure that NATO is what it is today.

That our Alliance has continued to adapt.
And remains as important as ever.

We are first and foremost a defence alliance dedicated to the security of our nations and our people.

But the long-term cohesion and durability of our alliance goes far beyond military matters.
In reference to NATO’s Article 5 commitment, the Report makes clear that there must be a “whole-hearted acceptance” by all members in the political commitment to collective defence.

And there must be confidence in the will and ability that all members will “honor that commitment” in response to aggression.

These words are important and they are relevant and important also today. 

Our commitment to Article 5 remains as strong today as it was 60 years ago.

And, as the Three Wise Men wisely recognized, Alliance unity is the backbone of our deterrence and defence.

They also saw that greater unity could only come about through increased political consultation.

Increased cultural, economic and scientific relationships.

And increased public understanding and support for the Alliance.

A culture of political consultation on a wide range of non-military issues and military challenges combined with a wide range of non-military relationships have helped the Alliance adapt to changing security challenges.

Consultation leads to more listening and learning.

And to greater political understanding among Allies and partners.

This has also contributed to consensus-building within the Alliance.

And this strengthens NATO’s unity and cohesion.

And you can see this in our engagement from the Western Balkans to Afghanistan.

When NATO makes a political commitment, we keep our word.

We do what we promise to do.

Over the past few years, NATO has responded with unity and determination to the most serious challenges in a generation.

We are undertaking the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.
These are political decisions, reached by consensus, by NATO political leadership.

In close consultation with our military commanders.

We remain firmly committed to a two-track approach to Russia.

Strong deterrence and defence coupled with meaningful political dialogue.

And Allies have committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade.

Again, this is a political commitment, based on a strong consensus within NATO.

And we are now implementing that commitment. 

And let me just underline for a moment, the importance of delivering on the defence investment pledge, because the reality is that we need capabilities that we can finance by more investments in defence, but we also need the cohesion and the strengthening of the Transatlantic Bond that will follow when European allies and Canada invest more in defence and, we have a long way to go but, I am actually impressed by the fact that we have turned a corner.

And after many years of decline in defence spending across Europe and Canada, we are now seeing that, at least on average, that defence spending in Europe has started to increase again and this year expect 3% real increase in defence spending which is an important step in the right direction.

The picture is still mixed but is better than it was just 2 years ago when it comes to defence spending.

We also made a commitment to step up efforts to project stability beyond our borders.

Through more capacity building, training and political dialogue for partners.

And we have the momentum for closer NATO-EU cooperation.

All of this shows the positive role of NATO’s culture of political consultation and consensus decision-making.

Consensus is not always easy. And sometimes it may take a lot of time;

And I can see a lot of people in the room that knows everything about that.

But consensus is the basis for the strength of the Alliance and when 28 democracies come to consensus, we can move forward and take action as a strong Alliance. 

So consensus and unity are two sides of the same coin.

Thanks to the insights and the recommendations of the Three Wise Men, NATO became a more adaptive political organization.

The essence of the Committee’s wisdom boils down to this:

Non-military cooperation can be as important for the security of a nation or an alliance “as the building of a battleship or the equipping of an army.”


We are all grateful that the Three Wise Men put forward a blueprint for more consultation to achieve greater unity in the Alliance.

By recognizing the importance of non-military cooperation.
By building on the core values that unite members of the Alliance.

And by pointing the way toward creating a true Atlantic community.

Our duty is to carry out that work.

To keep this unique political and military Alliance between Europe and North America strong, flexible and united.

So we can preserve peace and security for our nations for the next decades.