by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the United States Military Academy West Point
General Williams, Cadets,
It is a great pleasure and honour to be here today, and to speak with you all, being here at West Point, this exceptional seat of learning. And it is a pleasure to meet with you, the future leaders of America’s armed forces.
West Point is about building men and women of excellence, determination and character. It has done this for more than 200 years.
The rules here are rightly so strict. And I’m sure some of you can, occasionally, find this a bit difficult. Which is why I understand a good way to start a speech at this place is by asking General Williams’s permission for me to grant you amnesty to the corps!
[Applause and cheering]
I shall do that every time I give a speech.
But not all the effects will be the same.
Graduates of this Academy have always played an important role in the NATO Alliance.
General Eisenhower was NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
The majority of those who followed in his footsteps had also worn the grey uniform of a cadet. As did several of our current senior leaders.
Including General Austin Scott Miller, commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and United States Forces in Afghanistan.
Throughout the years, graduates of West Point have served with honour under the NATO flag. Standing up to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Ending bloodshed in the Balkans. Fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. And they continue to make the world a safer and more secure place every single day.
‘The Long Grey Line’ runs through the heart of NATO.
I pay tribute to each and every one of them, and to each and every one of you.
This year we are celebrating 70 years of the NATO Alliance.
We kicked this off in April in Washington, the city where our founding treaty was signed in 1949.
And I was given the great privilege of addressing a joint meeting of the United States Congress.
These events underlined the enduring importance the United States places in the NATO Alliance.
NATO is an extraordinary idea…
To bring together nations that share the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
And to unite them in common cause – to maintain our collective security in light of foes that no one could face alone.
NATO was created by men of foresight who could see beyond the world as it was, towards the world as it could be. For good or for ill. They could see the terrible threat posed by the Soviet Union. But they could also see the potential strength of Western democracies united for peace.
This is an important part of NATO’s history. The hard-headed ability to see the world as it is. But also to imagine the world as it could be. And then to act to shape it.
For 70 years, no NATO Ally has been attacked by another nation. Demonstrating the enduring power of that idea, and the lasting success of our military alliance.
Our Alliance has stood the test of time because it is in the national interest of each and every one of our countries. NATO is good for Europe. And NATO is also good for the United States.
You can measure the strength of a nation in many ways. By the size of its economy. The strength of its military. But also by the number of its friends. Especially those who are willing to fight by your side. And through NATO, the United States has more friends and more Allies than any other power in the world.
Most of you will be too young to remember first-hand the events of 9/11. But remember this: when the United States was attacked, you were not alone. Within hours, and for the first time in our history, we invoked Article 5 of our founding treaty. Our collective defence clause, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.
I heard General Mattis talking recently about how, shortly after 9/11, he was fighting in Afghanistan. And how troops from NATO Allies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway and Germany joined him there. As General Mattis said, “They were there because we were there.
“Because we had been attacked, our values had been attacked.”
Over the years, thousands of troops from Europe and Canada have served alongside American troops in Afghanistan. We have fought together, and some have died together. We remember all those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. As well as those who have suffered wounds – visible and invisible. And the families of all of our service men and women who have served so bravely in defence of our nations.
18 years later, our troops are still there. To make sure Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. NATO Allies and partners continue to train and advise Afghan security forces. So that they are strong enough to create the conditions for peace.
Because the Taliban must understand that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to make real compromises at the negotiating table.
The path to peace is long and difficult. But we will reach our goal if we remain shoulder-to-shoulder.
The NATO mission, our mission in Afghanistan shows how NATO responds to a changing security environment.
For the rest of my remarks I’d like to focus on how we are responding to another challenge – new and disruptive technologies. Technologies that are changing our societies and the nature of our defence. There are many important topics I will not cover in my remarks. But I am very happy to take your questions afterwards.
Technology has shaped warfare for centuries. In the late 18th century, the rifle meant that soldiers could shoot with unprecedented accuracy and range. It proved pivotal in many of the battles of the American Revolutionary War. Such as the Battle of Saratoga, just north of here. Where sharp-shooting American riflemen helped defeat a superior British force by picking off their officers and artillerymen. Further innovations came. From steam-powered, iron-clad ships to breech-loading artillery. New technology – combined with new thinking – that changed the way that wars were fought.
The 20th century saw the invention of aircraft, tanks and nuclear weapons. Again, forcing nations to think differently about how to defend themselves and how to deter others.
We are again living in an age of disruptive technological change. At the opening ceremony of last year’s Winter Olympics, we saw one pilot control more than twelve hundred drones in a stunning light show.
The display was beautiful.
But that same technology could be used for a military purpose. For example to overwhelm and cripple a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier. Or even to destroy a seat of government. Further developments are increasing the pace of change. Artificial Intelligence, autonomous systems, facial recognition, big data, biotech. Each with the potential to revolutionise our societies… and warfare.
In many ways, we are entering uncharted territory. The United States and its Allies are already leaders in many of these areas. America’s ‘Offset Strategy’ is aimed at maintaining that lead. And the US national security strategy focuses on ‘aggressively pursuing technological innovation’.
Because technological superiority ensures dominance on the battlefield.
For 70 years, NATO’s deterrence and defence has relied upon maintaining our technological edge. On being better and more advanced than our opponents. We have done this by investing more in research and development than anyone else.
But times are changing. We face increasing competition. So today, we have to re-double our efforts. To make sure we are not outgunned.
Patterns of innovation are also changing. Traditionally, developments in defence technology have been driven by governments. Such as nuclear, GPS and the internet.
Today it is often the private sector that leads the way. With things such as smart phones and 3D printing. But private sector-led innovation can also mean that new technologies are available to everyone at the same time. We’ve seen this with terrorist groups exchanging encrypted information on WhatsApp and Signal. And using off-the-shelf drones for surveillance and for attacks.
We also know how countries like North Korea and Iran are using cyber, drone and missile technology to threaten neighbours and further their interests.
Moreover, some of the new technologies are not always developed in NATO countries. But in authoritarian nations. Chinese companies are leading the development of new 5G networks. Russia is developing its own internet and investing heavily in next generation weapons, such as hypersonic missiles. We simply cannot take our technological edge for granted. Our future security depends on our ability to understand, adopt and implement emerging and disruptive technologies. And NATO has a key role in driving this change.
Not least by making sure that Allies are investing enough in defence. And the good news is that all Allies are now increasing their defence budgets. More Allies are meeting their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The majority of Allies are investing 20% of that money in research and development, and in new equipment. And NATO’s coordinated defence planning ensures that Allies are developing and investing in the latest technologies.
Another of NATO’s key tasks is to make sure that the technologies that different Allies develop and adopt do not undermine our ability to work together.
So developing common standards, procedures and other means of maintaining our interoperability is essential for NATO. And NATO also serves as a forum for Allies and partners to consider the difficult ethical and legal questions that will inevitably arise from adopting new technologies.
For example, how do we approach the advent of entirely autonomous weapons systems that can locate, identify and kill with no human interaction? And how do we do arms control when the challenge is not to count warheads but to measure algorithms? This is why we need to discuss these issues based on our values.
When Thomas Jefferson established the United States Military Academy, it was because he knew the vital importance of having educated, innovative soldiers. And from its earliest days, West Point has been dedicated to furthering the art and science of warfare. It was engineers from West Point that helped create the roads, railways and bridges that built this great nation. The knowledge and experience of past cadets have helped the United States to be the strongest military power on earth.
You inherit their legacy. You will be the ones who will lead our Alliance into the future. A future where your expertise, your discipline and your strategic vision will help maintain our security, our prosperity and our freedom.
So let me leave you with the words of General McArthur when he addressed the Cadets here almost 60 years ago.
Words that said should “reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”
“Duty, honour, and country.”