Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference session ''Beyond the Alliance: Partnering up for European Security''

  • 18 Feb. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Feb. 2023 21:02

(As delivered)

Thank you so much Heather and it’s great to be back in Munich, and great to be here together with Mette, Sauli and Maia.
And I look forward to our conversation in just a few minutes. 

Russia’s war against Ukraine grinds on.
We may be shocked by its brutality.
But we should not be surprised.

This is part of a pattern of Russian aggression for several years.
And NATO Allies shared precise intelligence about Moscow’s plans for an invasion long in advance.

Over many months, we made every effort to engage Russia in diplomacy. 
And just days before, on this very stage in Munich,
I called on President Putin to step back from the brink. 

But despite our calls for peace, 
He chose to attack.

We can already draw some important lessons from the war.

First, we must sustain and step up our support to Ukraine.

Putin is not planning for peace.
He is planning for more war.
New offensives. 

And there are no indications he has changed his ambitions.

He is mobilising hundreds of thousands of troops.
Increasingly putting the Russian economy on a war footing.
And reaching out to other authoritarian regimes, such as Iran and North Korea, to get more weapons.

So we must give Ukraine what they need to win and prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe. 

Some worry that our support to Ukraine risks triggering escalation.  

Let me be clear.
There are no risk-free options. 
But, the biggest risk of all is if Putin wins. 

If Putin wins in Ukraine, the message to him and other authoritarian leaders will be that they can use force to get what they want.

This will make the world more dangerous.
And us more vulnerable.

So supporting Ukraine is not only the morally right thing to do. 
It is also in our own security interest. 

The second lesson is that we need to continue to strengthen our deterrence and defence.  
Wars are unpredictable.
And we do not know when or how this one will end.

But I do know this.
Even if the war ends tomorrow, our security environment has changed for the long-term.
There is no going back.

Kremlin wants a different Europe.
One where Russia controls neighbours.

We also know that Beijing is watching closely.
To see the price Russia pays.
Or the reward it receives for its aggression.

What is happening in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow.

So the war in Ukraine demonstrates that security is not regional, it is global.  

In this new and more contested world, we can no longer afford to treat defence as optional. 
It is a necessity. 

Yes, spending more on defence means less money for other important tasks. 
But nothing is more important than our security.
To preserve peace.

The third lesson is that we need to strengthen the resilience of our societies.  

Military forces are necessary to protect our security. 
But they are not sufficient. 

We must also secure our cyber space, our supply chains, and our infrastructure. 

The war in Ukraine has made clear the danger of over-reliance on authoritarian regimes. 

Not so long ago, many argued that importing Russian gas was purely an economic issue. 
It is not.
It is a political issue. 
It is about our security. 
Because Europe’s dependency on Russian gas made us vulnerable.

So we should not make the same mistakes with China and other authoritarian regimes. 

We must not become too dependent on products and raw materials we import.
Avoid exporting key technologies that could be used against us.
And protect our critical infrastructure at home.

Of course, we should continue to trade and engage economically with China.
But our economies and our economic interests cannot outweigh our security interests. 

So it is only right that we protect ourselves.
But in doing so, we must remember that trade among friends and Allies makes us stronger and more resilient.
We must not create new barriers between free and open economies.

The most important lesson from the war in Ukraine is that North America and Europe must stand together. 

In a more dangerous world, we need our transatlantic Alliance more than ever. 

Without NATO, there is no security in Europe. 

So, this is not the time to look beyond the Alliance.
This is the time to strengthen and enlarge our Alliance.

To promote peace.
Protect our shared security.
And defend a global system based on our values and international law. 

Thank you.
And then I look forward to our discussion.

Heather Conley (President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States): If Putin wins, NATO would have to incredibly strengthen the eastern flank, its NATO spending, 2% would be the absolute floor. How do we as an alliance prepare for the unthinkable? And what does that Alliance look like, for the next 10, 15, 20 years? 

NATO Secretary General: So first of all, President Putin must not win this war. And that's why NATO allies and partners all around the world have mobilised so much support to Ukraine, because it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians, but it will also be extremely dangerous for us. Because then the message is that when he uses force, then he gets what he wants. And we need to understand, this is not only a European challenge, this is a global challenge. I recently visited South Korea and Japan, two close supporters of NATO, and they see the link between what's going on in Europe and what's going on and may happen in Asia. So Beijing is watching closely the outcome of the war in Ukraine. And of course, if Putin wins in Ukraine, it will impact the decisions and the calculations that Beijing is doing in their part of the world. So this is about our global security. This is not about regional security. NATO has already adapted. The war didn't start in February last year, it started in 2014. And since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense, with more troops, higher readiness, presence in eastern part of the Alliance, new defense plans, and also increased defence spending. And when we will meet in Vilnius this year, I'm absolutely certain that we will reconfirm that message, both stronger partnerships with our partners in the Asia-Pacific, support for Ukraine, but also how to strengthen our deterrence and defence. 

Heather Conley: So in five months, the Allies will gather in Vilnius, an incredibly important Summit. At the end of that Summit, what does success look like for you and for the Alliance? 

NATO Secretary General: Well, success is about demonstrating the unwavering support for Ukraine and I'm absolutely confident that that will be the case in Vilnius. It’s about reiterating our commitment to strengthening deterrence and defence, and it’s about building the partnership with our Asia Pacific partners because security is not regional, security is global. But then there is one other thing that will mark success, and that is that we will enlarge the Alliance. I really work hard and really hope that by the Vilnius Summit, we will have finalised the accession process and we have Finland and Sweden as the two new members of our Alliance. 

Heather Conley: How do we continue to provide that strong message of solidarity and security, particularly as we get closer to the Vilnius Summit? 

NATO Secretary General: First of all, NATO has made the decisions we need to make as an Alliance already. We made a historic decision at our Summit in July to invite Finland and Sweden to become members. And then we all made the decision to agree the accession protocols and all Allies have signed the accession protocols. So the NATO decisions have been made. What now remains is the ratification process of all those protocols in all the 30 Allied countries. So far 28 out of 30 have already ratified and then Türkiye and Hungary remains. Of course, my message has been and it was also my message earlier this week, that both Finland and Sweden are ready for ratification. They have met their obligations. They signed the trilateral memorandum with Türkiye at the NATO summit last July, and therefore I urge all Allies to finalise the ratification. But I also said that of course what matters is that both become members as soon as possible, not whether one becomes a member before the other. The most important is to get them both in as soon as possible. And I continue to work hard to ensure that they are members by the Vilnius Summit, if I can just add one more thing. This means that it is a Turkish decision, because they have two protocols. And I urge so to Türkiye to ratify both. But of course if they ratify one, then then then Finland will be a member of the Alliance. We have to remember that Sweden and Finland are in a very much better place now than before they applied. It is not as if nothing has happened. They are now invitees meaning that they're sitting at the NATO table. They participate in NATO meetings and they’re more integrated in NATO military structures, defense planning, civilian and military activities. NATO has increased its presence in the area. Allies, the United States and many other Allies have issued security assurance as part of the accession process. So it's inconceivable that there will be any military threat against Finland or Sweden without NATO reacting. So yes, we need to finalise the process but we've come a very long way already with both Finland and Sweden. 

Heather Conley: Do you feel the centre of gravity in Europe is now shifted East? And if you believe that, why? 

NATO Secretary General: It depends totally what you mean by the question. What has shifted east is NATO's presence as we have much more presence, military exercises in the east because we have seen over several years a more aggressive Russia. And to respond to that, especially since 2014, we have for the first time in our history deployed NATO troops and eastern part of the Alliance. But of course, many of those troops come from the Western part of the Alliance. So this demonstrates how NATO is together and how we support each other. And we do that to ensure that that Russia cannot continue its aggressive actions against the countries in Europe. And to send a very clear message to Moscow that NATO is there to protect and defend the NATO territory, every inch of NATO territory. 

Question from audience: At Vilnius, will there be a clear and strong signal that Ukraine will be a member of NATO?

NATO Secretary General: So NATO's position on membership for Ukraine is unchanged. We agreed back in 2008 that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance and that is still our position. Then, of course, what matters now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent state, because without having Ukraine as a sovereign, independent state, there's no way to discuss any kind of relationship between NATO and Ukraine in the future. So the urgent need is to provide military support as NATO Allies and partners are doing every day. In that context, I also welcomed the initiative from Prime Minister Sunak to actually have a discussion about the framework we need to ensure an enduring peace after this war ends. Because when the war ends, we need to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself, that Russia doesn't continue to invade Ukraine, because this is a pattern. It started in 2008 with the invasion of Georgia, and then in 2014, Crimea and Donbas and then in last year, the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. And we cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away European security and we need to break the cycle of Russian aggression against the European countries. And therefore we need, when this war ends, to establish some kind of framework that ensures that Russia's aggression doesn't continue.

Audience question: [Inaudible]

NATO Secretary General: We need to provide support and different types of support to Moldova as soon as possible. Georgia and Ukraine, two other countries which are vulnerable for Russian aggression, they aspire for NATO membership. Moldova has not made the decision to aspire for NATO membership. And of course, we totally respect that. But I think if there's any lesson or additional lessons to be learned from the war in Ukraine, is that we need to support countries which are vulnerable for Russian aggression as fast and as soon as possible now. Because the reality is that the main reason why Ukraine has been able to repel and to push back the Russian forces is of course the bravery, the courage of Ukrainian armed forces, the political leadership, the people of Ukraine, but one important element has also been the fact that NATO Allies actually trained and helped Ukraine since 2014. The United Kingdom, United States, Canada and others, provided significant training and capacity building and also equipment from 2014 meaning that Ukrainian army were much stronger, better equipped, better trained, better led last year than they were in 2014. And that's part of the explanation why they were able to withstand the Russian invasion now in a way that they were not able to do in 2014. So we are working on our partnership. We agreed at the NATO summit to step up the partnership and support for Ukraine because it is an urgent need to support those who are vulnerable for Russian aggression. 

Heather Conley: American Presidents have a tradition of writing a letter to their successor with their words of wisdom. At some point, we're going to choose your successor What words of wisdom in 30 seconds would you give your successor?

NATO Secretary General: To keep Europe and North America together. And I don't believe in Europe alone. I don't believe in North America alone. I believe in North America and Europe together, and that’s NATO.