Opening remarks

by the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the meeting of the Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence

  • 16 May. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 16 May. 2024 10:40

(As delivered)

Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer:

Secretary General, Admirals, Generals, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

Mesdames et Messieurs, bienvenue à la cent quatre-vingt-onzième session du Comité militaire des chefs d’état-major de la défense.

Welcome to this 191st Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session.

Mr Secretary General, dear Jens, we highly value your presence at this meeting. In this time of unprecedented turmoil… in this time when NATO’s position is under a magnifying glass and the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher… you are showing the world what true democratic leadership looks like. You show what it means to have an unfaltering moral compass. What it means to fight for universal values.

You show restraint, when you know it will lead to a better outcome for all. You inspire confidence, when it’s most needed. And you have an unparalleled ability to bring nations together so that they can become bigger than themselves.

This is not a farewell, but because it is likely the last time that you will sit around the table with the Allied Chiefs of Defence (although with you, you never know); please accept our highest respect and our deepest gratitude for all you have done for our Alliance. You are a General amongst generals. And after debating which rank would suit you best (5 stars or more) we have decided that you are: our North star.

Speaking of Generals, please allow me to welcome for the first time at our table in their new capacity as Chief of Defence:

  • General Tihomir Kundid, Chief of Defence from Croatia.
  • General Michael Hyldgaard, Acting Chief of Defence from Denmark,
  • General Janne Jaakkola, Chief of Defence from Finland,
  • and General Dimitrios Choupis, Chief of Defence from Greece.

And we are all immensely proud to have our friend the Swedish Chief of Defence, General Micael Bydèn, at our table for the first time as a NATO Ally: a brother amongst brothers and sisters in arms.

And….we have a small gift for you.

[Hand over NATO flag.]

Let me also welcome our Strategic Commands: General Philippe Lavigne, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation; and Admiral Keith Blount, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

We are proud to count on both of you for your strategic vision, as we work together on strengthening NATO’s Deterrence and Defence.

Later this morning we will meet with the Ukrainian military leadership in the new NATO-Ukraine Council format. They will join us via a secured line, and will brief us on the current situation in Ukraine. Together, we will discuss our continued support to Ukraine in this monumental fight.

Today is the 813th (!) day of what Russia thought would be a 3-day war.

Ukraine has demonstrated to the world that it has the ability to achieve unprecedented success on the battlefield. There is nothing they cannot do. All they need… is our help. 

Luckily, more help is on the way. And that cannot come a moment too soon.

Because time in Ukraine is not measured in days, weeks or months. It is measured in human lives. 

In Allied nations, a week is a week. In Ukraine, a week is a mother…father… child… friend… lover… lost forever. 

Ukraine will have our support for every day that is to come. And just as you, Mr Secretary General, have rightly stated: it is not too late for Ukraine to prevail. Ukraine’s freedom cannot, must not, and will not die.

And Allies, if faced with a choice between meeting the NATO capability targets or supporting Ukraine…  should support Ukraine. Stocks can and will be replenished. Lives lost, are lost forever.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is on a historical crossroads, not only between democracy and autocracy. This is very much also about impunity versus accountability.

The Russian leadership has made it very clear that they chose impunity. They are acting on an either perceived or conceived existential threat.

All to justify their relentless quest to gain power abroad, in order not to lose power at home.

And for that, they are willing to sacrifice not only hundreds of thousands of their own people – not even bothering to pick up their corpses on the battlefield.

But what’s more: they are willing to jeopardise the wellbeing of many more millions around the world: using food, energy and migration as weapons.

It is up to all of us in this room to make sure that does not continue. That the Russian quest to destroy the rules based international order is halted.

Our most valuable assets here are our unity and our deterrence.

That is why today, we will not only discuss NATO’s transformation path, but also discuss how Allied Armed Forces can make NATO’s new defence plans fully executable, which includes the progress we are making on:

  • putting more troops on higher readiness;
  • capability building and development;
  • adaptation of NATO’s command and control structures;
  • creating and sustaining more enablement: logistics, host nation support, maintenance, military mobility, and replenishment and prepositioning of stocks;
  • and crucially: more collective defence exercises and training against these new plans.

As Exercise Steadfast Defender has recently shown: NATO is stronger and readier than it has ever been. And it’s growing stronger by the day.

We have it within ourselves to build on the ground-breaking work that has already been done.

The integration of NATO and national military planning will enable us to do exactly what the NATO flag symbolises: all Allies will follow the same compass.

And with that Mr Secretary General, I kindly invite you to provide your opening remarks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:

Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Admiral Bauer, dear Rob. 

Thank you also for your kind words. 

It is an honour and a privilege to serve as Secretary General of NATO, not least because I have the privilege of working with first class military leaders like the Chiefs of Defence I meet in this audience.

And therefore I always look forward to these meetings because it gives me an opportunity to update you on what we are working on here at the political headquarters.

And then it's always useful and very important for me to listen to you, to your reflections on the way forward.

Let me also, as you did Admiral Bauer, welcome General Bydén from Sweden. 

It is great to have Sweden as a full member. 

You have been in these meetings many times before, but this is the first time as a full-fledged member of the Alliance. So a warm welcome to you too. 

Then let me also express my solidarity with Slovakia. Because we are all appalled by the shooting of the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Robert Fico.

I worked with him for almost 20 years. We were colleagues together when we were prime ministers many years ago.

And we are shocked and appalled by the shooting. It violates every idea of democracy. 

In democracies we can disagree, we can have different opinions, but violence is absolutely unacceptable. 

So our thoughts are with the Prime Minister Robert Fico, his family and the people of Slovakia. 

Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer:

Mr Secretary General, thank you for your inspiring words.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our sacred task is to support and enable the work of our band of 3.5 million brothers and sisters in uniform who defend our great Alliance.

Let us recognise their service and sacrifice… for they are defending the democratic values and the rule of law that form the fabric of our societies. 

On behalf of the Military Committee, I want to express our gratitude and respect for their courage, their professionalism, and their dedication.

Our thoughts are especially with the loved ones of those men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

And with all those who are dealing with the physical and mental effects of their time in service. And who are looking for ways to continue serving, beyond their service.

We honour them. As they have honoured our great Alliance. 

Please stand.

[Moment of silence]

Thank you. We will now discuss with the Secretary General the current political objectives and guidance ahead of the Washington D.C. Summit in July.

I would like to ask the media to depart the room.