Adapting to a changed security environment

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. (incl. Q&A session)

  • 27 May. 2015 -
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  • Last updated 05-Feb-2016 14:53

(As delivered)

Ladies and gentlemen,
Doctor Hamre, dear John,

It’s really a great honour and pleasure to be here and to address this distinguished audience, and to be in this beautiful building.

And you told me, John, when we were sitting in the room behind there that your family is from Norway, and that’s great. But you told me more than that: you told me that your family is from Voss and Granvin. And Voss and Granvin are perhaps the two most beautiful places in Norway, at the west coast – at least Granvin.

The only problem is that when I was Prime Minister, I was responsible for building a power line to Granvin.


And that was one of the big, big, how to say, conflicts I had during my time... So I have never been back in Granvin since I built the power line.


But if you go together with me, I will dare go back to Granvin.

And I also know that you are very proud of your Viking roots, and there are many reasons to be proud of that. And in addition to that, you have received the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. And that is the highest honour my country can bestow on a foreign citizen. And combined with the fact that you, for many, many years have worked so hard to develop the bonds and the cooperation between North America and Europe – the transatlantic bonds which are so vital for our security – I think the fact that you have these Viking roots, and that you have the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and your engagement there at CSIS – all of that makes you a perfect host to a Norwegian NATO Secretary General to speak about our changed security environment. And what we as a transatlantic community need to do about it – about the changing security environment we are facing.

So we are at a turning-point for Euro-Atlantic security. We face rising challenges. The very fabric of our security order is at stake.  And we must be prepared for the long haul. 

And that is why we need to adapt.

To the south, the challenges are complex and diverse. The Arab Spring has turned to brutal winter. Failed and weak states are fuelling regional instability and sectarian strife. ISIL and other extremist groups spread terror and intolerance, and inspire attacks from Paris to Texas. And people move in large numbers – many to flee, others to fight.

NATO is playing its part in addressing these challenges in the Middle East and in North Africa. And I am ready to set out what we are doing in greater detail during our discussion. But let me, in my opening remarks, not address the challenges we see to the south, but focus on the challenges we are facing coming from the east. And then I promise to answer questions related to the south afterwards.           


The challenges we see coming from the east are clear, and they are coming from a resurgent Russia.  Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and its continued destabilisation of Ukraine have brought armed conflict back to Europe. This conflict has already cost over 6,000 lives. There are continuous ceasefire violations, and heavy fighting could flare up at any moment.

That is why I fully support the efforts of the United States, as well as Germany and France, to find a political solution in Ukraine. The path to peace is the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.  So, I urge all parties to take that path.

Russia has a special responsibility. It supports the separatists in Eastern Ukraine with training, weapons and forces. And it maintains a large number of troops on Ukraine’s border.

But we cannot look at Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine in isolation.  They are part of a disturbing pattern of Russian behaviour that goes well beyond Ukraine.

And this pattern undermines key principles of European security:

Respect for borders. 

The independence of states. 

Transparency and predictability of military activities. 

And a commitment to resolve differences through diplomacy, not force. 


First, let’s look at respect for borders.  The UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act are clear.  Russia actually helped to draft these documents, and signed them.  But it has broken its commitments.

Crimea has been part of Ukraine since the country became independent.  But Russia sent in troops without insignia; organized a so-called referendum, which met no international standard; and seized part of another country.  President Putin even admitted publicly that Crimea’s annexation had been planned in advance.  

After the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, Russia recognised two Georgian regions as independent states. It has taken almost full control over both. And built fences between them and the rest of Georgia. 

It also has sent troops into Moldova that Moldova wants out. And which Russia pledged to withdraw in 1999.   

So Russia has been violating the territorial integrity of its neighbours for years. And continues to do so. 

That brings me to my second principle:  the independence of states.

Ukraine’s desire to move closer to the European Union was met by force. So was Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO.  Moldova has also received clear warnings about closer moves towards Europe. 

Russia’s leaders claim that its neighbourhood represents a “zone of privileged interests”.  But its efforts to create a sphere of influence risk taking us back in time. To when great powers drew lines on the map at the expense of smaller states, and nations were not free to decide their own destiny. This could create a sphere of instability for us all.  And it’s not the sort of Europe we will accept 25 years after the end of the Cold War.

The third principle is:  transparency and predictability in military activities.

For decades, we built a stable European security system, based on fewer forces, fewer weapons, and fewer large exercises.  On more information sharing, and on arms control agreements to build trust and confidence across former dividing lines.

These agreements reduced the risk of conflict and miscalculation. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty put limits on the number and movement of equipment like tanks and fighter planes. But Russia unilaterally suspended implementation.

The Open Skies Treaty allows us to look at each other’s territory from the air to increase transparency. But Russia is obstructing these activities.

The Vienna Document sets out rules for reporting large military exercises, and allows for inspections.  But Russia has found ways around it to avoid notifying the largest military exercises in the post-Cold War era.

Three of these snap exercises have included over 80,000 troops. Moving over great distances and at great speed. One such snap exercise in February of last year was used to deploy forces to annex Crimea. Others masked support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and led to the build-up of forces on Ukraine’s border. 

As I speak, Russia is conducting yet another snap exercise, with 250 aircraft and 700 pieces of heavy equipment.

NATO, on the other hand, strives to create transparency and predictability.

Our largest exercise in twenty years will take place next fall in Italy, Portugal and Spain.  It was announced one year ago.  It was not a snap exercise. International observers, including Russia, will have access to our exercise. And you can find the schedule of our planned exercises on NATO’s website. 

Because we have nothing to hide.  Whereas Russia is doing all it can to minimize the transparency of what its forces are doing. 

This brings me to my final principle: resolving differences through dialogue, not forces.

Through the pattern I have described, in Ukraine, in Georgia and in Moldova, Russia has shown the will to use force, or the threat of it, to coerce its neighbours.

And Russia’s recent use of nuclear rhetoric, exercises and operations are deeply troubling. As are concerns regarding its compliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.

President Putin’s admission that he considered putting Russia’s nuclear forces on alert while Russia was annexing Crimea is but one example.

Russia has also significantly increased the scale, number and range of provocative flights by nuclear-capable bombers across much of the globe. From Japan to Gibraltar. From Crete to California. And from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

Russian officials announced plans to base modern nuclear-capable missile systems in Kaliningrad. And they claim that Russia has the right to deploy nuclear forces to Crimea. 

This will fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe. 


We learned during the Cold War that when it comes to nuclear weapons, caution, predictability and transparency are vital.

Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous.

All of this takes place against the background of Russia’s significant rearmament programme. Some of its new military systems were put on parade during this year’s Victory Day celebration. And Russia is deploying many of its most modern systems and basing military units near NATO borders. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are not random events.  They form a bigger picture, which is of great concern. Russia is a global actor that is asserting its military power. Stirring up aggressive nationalism. Claiming the right to impose its will on its neighbours. And grabbing land.

We regret that Russia is taking this course.  Because when might becomes right, the consequences are grave.

For twenty-five years, we have worked hard to include, not isolate, Russia. Our aim was a strategic partnership. Borders were opened. Trade went up. And trust increased. The G-7 expanded to become the G-8, and Russia was invited into the World Trade Organisation.

We created the NATO-Russia Council, and offered to work together on missile defence. We cooperated in many areas: from countering terrorism and piracy, to helping Afghanistan.

All of this benefitted us, and it benefitted Russia. 

But today, the choices made by Moscow have taken our relations with Russia to their lowest point in decades. 

We are not back to the Cold War. But we are far from a strategic partnership. 

So we need to adapt to deal with challenges that may be with us for a long time.

This adaptation – we are doing it in three ways: 

Reinforcing our collective defence; reinforcing our deterrence and defence. 

Managing our relations with a resurgent Russia.

And supporting our European neighbours.

First: strong defence.  

NATO’s core task is collective defence. Our commitment to defend each other, enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, is as strong and as relevant today as ever before.

That is why we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.  We have increased our presence in the eastern part of Europe in the air, on land, and at sea.  Boosting our Air Policing. And beefing up our exercise programmes.

We are doubling the size of the NATO Response Force. Its centrepiece is the “Spearhead Force,” with lead elements ready to move in as little as 48 hours. Seven European Allies have volunteered to lead the Spearhead Force, over the coming years.

And we are establishing new NATO command units across the eastern part of our Alliance. To make it easier for our forces to exercise, deploy and reinforce.

Yesterday, I thanked President Obama for his leadership and for America’s quick and substantial contribution to reinforcing our collective defence.  Through the one billion dollar European Reassurance Initiative and Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Everywhere I go across the Alliance, I meet US service men and women.  Their presence sends a clear signal.

America stands with Europe. And European Allies are in lock-step with the United States. This is transatlantic teamwork.

But for all of us, there is more to do. Before the NATO Summit in Warsaw next year, and beyond.

We are enhancing our cyber-defences, and making clear that a cyber attack could trigger a collective response. 

We are actively developing how we deal with hybrid threats.  Including by working closely with the European Union. 

We are speeding up our decision making and we are deepening our intelligence sharing.

We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities. 

Keeping NATO strong does not come for free. So we must redouble our efforts to meet the defence investment pledge we made last year. To stop the cuts, and gradually increase spending to 2 percent of GDP. And spend better.   Because we cannot take our security for granted. 

And this brings me to my second point. 

A strong NATO is not only our best protection, but it also provides us with the best foundation to manage our relationship with Russia. 

We do not seek confrontation with Russia. Nor do we seek its isolation. 

We still aspire to a constructive relationship with Russia, because that would benefit Euro-Atlantic security and the whole international order.

But Russia has changed. And we must adapt. 

In doing so, we will not change who we are. We are sticking to our principles and to our international commitments. We are committed to preserving European security institutions and agreements.

We will remain transparent and predictable. We will continue to respond to disinformation with information, not propaganda.

And we will keep the channels of communication open with Russia – both military-to-military and diplomatic.

Because there is no contradiction in strengthening our collective defence and staying open for dialogue – a vigilant dialogue, where actions speak louder than words. And in this dialogue, we will firmly uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all European countries.

And this brings me to my third and final point: supporting our partners in Europe. 

It is in our interest, as a transatlantic community, to have neighbours that are stable and independent. 

That is why NATO is working with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to help them to carry out reforms and build strong institutions. 

These nations are not buffer zones.  They are independent, sovereign states. They have the right to choose their own path. And we will continue to help them on that path. 

Because if our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.


Ladies and gentlemen,

For decades, as a transatlantic community, we have kept our peoples safe. We have erased divisions in Europe. We built a rules-based order which benefits us all. 

But as our challenges increase, we must adapt. To ensure our security. To protect the values of our open and democratic societies. And to support our partners. 

This requires continued commitment and solidarity.

The world is changing, and we are changing.

But one thing that will not change is our determination to stay and stand united. 

Thank you.


HEATHER CONLEY  (Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and director of the Europe Program at CSIS): (...) Thank you, Secretary General.  OK, you have been warmed up. We're ready to unleash the audience.  We have about 15 minutes... if it's OK.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General):  Yes, yes, it's OK.

HEATHER CONLEY:  Can we bundle a few questions?


HEATHER CONLEY:  And perhaps that would be most efficient.  If you could please identify yourself and your affiliation.  We have microphones passing around.  Sometimes, you have to speak very directly into those microphones.  It can be a little hard to hear.  And so why don't we start in the back.  I see a question way in the back here, just wait for that microphone.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you Mister Stoltenberg.  My name is Melinda (?).  I'm really a fellow at National Endowment for Democracy.  First of all, I should recall that I had pleasure to meet you a few years in Oslo in (inaudible).  I always memorized the young activist of Social Democrat in Georgia.  And now my question... I applied with this question for the NATO Defence College Fellowship.  But I was denied.  Then I have hope now that you would help me to find an answer... I know to find an answer for this question.  So well, NATO … architecture [? Inaudible] after the collapse Soviet Union.  And enlargement helped the organization to maintain its strength.  And well my question is regarding Georgia and the upcoming Warsaw Summit.  Would you think that Georgia would make another step towards membership... I mean Membership Action Plan?  Or if not, what would you say would be for Georgia...?  Like what would Georgia benefit from long-term partnership versus membership, thank you?

HEATHER CONLEY:  It's really a good time to ask you for internships I bet?  It's Eric, back there.

Q: Thank you, Eric Pratt(?) from the McCain Institute. Thank you for your words, Secretary General.  I want to see if I could push you a little bit on the issue of Sweden and Finland.  Obviously, we've had a lot of developments taking place since the Wales Summit with enhanced partnership; an M.O.U. of host nations' support.  How do you see this relationship going forward as a partnership?  And in terms of the membership, we've heard new signals from the Finnish government about keeping the options open.  Just want to see if I could get your take on how useful would it be from a NATO perspective to have Sweden and Finland be a member.  Would that really help NATO defend the Baltics and reassure them.  And would it even be provocative to Russia?  Thank you.

HEATHER CONLEY:  And we'll take one more.  The ambassador right here please.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.  Claudio Bisogniero, the Italian ambassador and the former Deputy Secretary General of NATO until three years ago.  Italy is very proud of being providing air policing to the Baltic States as we speak.  We are one of those seven nations... one of the lead nations for the Rapid Reaction Force.  And we are actively contributing to the Estonian Cyber Centre in Estonia. 

At the same time, you did mention the complex challenges emanating from the South.  I'd be interested in your elaborating from... on that and also what the NATO role could be in those challenges.  Thank you.

HEATHER CONLEY:  OK... took you up on your kind offer of asking some questions on the South. So Georgia, Sweden-Finland and the complexities of the South.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Well, the first about Georgia.  First of all, it's good to see you again after I saw you at ... [? Inaudible].  Then, to be Secretary General of NATO gives me a lot of I would say power and mandates.  But I don't have the mandate to grant any scholarships for the NATO... I'd say it’s above my pay grade.  And so... but good luck.  But then on enlargement...  What we have is that we have a very close partnership with Georgia.  We have... we are in the processes of implementing the substantial package which is expanding further the cooperation and the partnership with Georgia. We're establishing a training centre.  And we are really doing a very substantial activity together with Georgia.  And I think that's important if...  And we also do defence capacity building in Georgia which increases Georgia's ability to defend itself.  And I think that's important for Georgia and to the stability in the region. 

So... But when it comes to membership, I think I have nothing more to say than what has been stated again and again.  And I was at the summit in Bucharest in 2008 where we made the decisions related to Georgia.  Those decisions are restated as late as our summit in Wales last year. 

But what we decided also in Wales was that the first applicant or aspirant country we're going to address is Montenegro. And as I said, we're going to address Montenegro later this year.

Then, on Sweden...  But anyway, I appreciate the very close cooperation we have with Georgia.  And Georgia is also contributing a lot to many different NATO operations.  So we already a very important partnership which we have to … I should say to develop; and which is of importance. 

Then, on Sweden and Finland, you said that you would try to push me a bit further.  You will not succeed.  I can talk for some minutes.  But I will not say anything more of substance about that. 

It's easy to joke about this.  But you know, I think it's so important that it has to be a Swedish and/or a Finnish decision.  I think that everything I say about, you know, about the advantages or the disadvantages and how different things can affect the debates within Sweden and Finland can only be misused and misunderstood. 

So if I was journalist or if I was a scientist or if I was anything else than the Secretary General of NATO, I could say a lot.  But because I'm the Secretary General of NATO I can say very little.  And then after that, I'm a Norwegian.  And then that's the reason why I'm saying so little. 

But I think there is a debate now in Sweden and Finland.  And we just have to follow that.  And it's a democratic decision in democratic nations... countries to decide whether they would like to apply.  And then of course, we will assess the application in the same way as any other applications.   

But let me add … and you also alluded to that.  We have a partnership with Sweden and Finland.  And we are developing that.  And they are enhanced opportunity partners.  And we are really doing more and more together with them. And actually, nowadays, we're exercising together with the Swedes and the Finns.  We are sharing information.  We are working more and more closely together with them.  And at the Foreign Ministerial Meeting of NATO in Antalya a few weeks ago, we decided to go further in developing our partnership with Sweden and Finland. So they are really close partners.   We do a lot of work together with them. And I welcome that. 


JENS STOLTENBERG:  The South, yes.  To the East, we see challenges, threats related to a state.  And we respond in a way which is familiar to what we've done before:  collective defence and so on.  

To the South, we meet and we are faced with non-state threats and challenges.  And that's a much more mixed and complicated picture. We see violence, turmoil in Iraq, Syria and North Africa.  We see people trying to cross the Mediterranean. And we also see terrorist attacks taking place in our streets inspired by some ISIL and other terrorist organizations in the South. 

I welcome that all NATO Allies contribute to the Coalition... the US-led Coalition fighting ISIL.  And I think we have to understand that one of the reasons why NATO Allies and NATO partners can contribute to this Coalition is that they have developed interoperability. They've learned how to work together through their cooperation in NATO and through, for instance, working together in Afghanistan and other NATO missions. 

So even though this is not a NATO operation, a NATO-led operation, I think a lot of NATO experience, NATO knowledge, NATO interoperability is very useful for the Coalition fighting ISIL. 

Then, in addition, NATO decided in Wales, last year, to develop defence capacity building as a new important tool.  And I think the defence capacity building is key for the South; because I believe very much in the idea that we should try to project stability by building local forces, local institutions. So they can take more responsibility for their own security. And thereby, we can project stability without always deploying a large number of NATO forces.

And then, we are doing that in Jordan.  We have boosted substantially our cooperation with Jordan, doing defence capacity building in Jordan.  We are now in the process of assessing a request from the Government of Iraq to help them.  We'll build institutions; reform; increase their ability to also create stability. 

We stand ready to do that in Libya when the situation on the ground allows.  And actually, even if you don't call it defence capacity building, what we are doing in Afghanistan now is defence capacity building.  We are helping the Afghans building their capacity to take full responsibility also in the future for their own security. 

And I think that to develop the ability of countries in the region to take more responsibility for their own security is important for the countries in the region; but also for NATO.  And we have to do more of that.

HEATHER CONLEY: Fantastic, I think we'll take a lightening round of the next three questions.  We have to go to this side.  One in the back right there. Please.

Q:  Thank you, Rudi Mallon(?), Voice of American News.  I would like to ask... We hear in the United States... We hear more voices now in the media and on the Internet that crisis in Ukraine and the standoff with Russia is mostly a European problem.  And what would you say to those people who say that it should be European countries putting most efforts into resolving the crisis and it should be Germany or France leading the way?  Thank you.

HEATHER CONLEY:  Thank you.  We'll take one more.  I see one in the back.  In that corner, please. 

Q:  Sir, good morning.  My name, Paul Tanis(?).  I'm a British Exchange officer here in DC.  There was a fascinating exercise here, last year, in CSIS, which considered a Russia scenario.  One of the most interesting things was an interaction with the audience in which there was almost no agreement on what constituted a breach of Article 5.

 I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the challenge of defining the threshold at which Article 5 is breeched, particularly in a domain like cyber; and also maybe speak slightly to dealing with an adversary who determinately stays below that threshold.

HEATHER CONLEY: Fantastic question.  I think I am going to have you respond to those two questions.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  First, about Ukraine.  Ukraine is in Europe.  But of course, it's a problem or a crisis which affects not only European countries.  Because when international law is violated, it undermines the whole idea of a world order which is based on rules.  So of course, it's important for the global order when... when international law is violated in the way we have seen in Ukraine and when it comes to the annexation of... the illegal annexation of Crimea. 

Europeans are in the lead when it comes to trying to find a solution. Because France and Germany in particular; but also all the European countries are really in the lead.  But of course, it's great to also have the United States taking part in the efforts. And the United States is doing that. Canada is providing support for Ukraine.  And the whole NATO Alliance is providing both a strong political and practical support to Ukraine.  In addition, several NATO Allies provide for instance training and direct support to Ukraine.  So I think this is a European challenge.  But it's also a global challenge. And it's a challenge which NATO as an alliance, a transatlantic alliance is addressing. 

Then, when it comes to Article 5, the important thing is that NATO stands ready to protect and defend all Allies against any threat.  And when it comes to for instance cyber, I think the important thing we did last year was to decide that also a cyber-attack can trigger Article 5 collective defence; because we regard cyber as potentially as dangerous as a conventional attack.  And therefore we are developing our capabilities to respond partly to detect who is behind.  Our main responsibility is to defend our own NATO networks.  We are developing teams, capabilities.  We are doing more exercises.  I recently visited a cyber-defence exercise.  So we are increasing our readiness to do cyber defence.  But we are also assisting and helping Allies in developing their own capabilities to do cyber-defence. 

And as always, every situation, every attack is unique.  But I think we ought just trust that NATO will respond in the proportionate way if and when, needed, whatever kind of attack we are also... which are launched against us.

HEATHER CONLEY:  I think the one thing we've learned from that... that particular simulation that we did here was that political leaders need to exercise how they make those decisions when they're below threshold levels.  It actually has to be practised and understood; because attribution will never be perfect.  And when political will is perhaps not there, it's really leaders sitting around the table exploring what would that mean, what would we need, what is the intelligence required.  And I think that is one area where we see NATO's political leadership could gain some value when practising how that decision-making process works?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  First of all, I really much believe in exercises.  Second, I believe in the importance of exercising also political leaders.  Third, I think we have to trust political leaders; because we have elected them.  And related to that, I think is that...  we have in NATO, said if "x" happens, then "y" will be our response   [? Inaudible].  So at some stage, you have to prepare your strategies, your planning.  You have to exercise.  You have to imagine different scenarios.  But at the end, it will be a decision taken by political leaders how to respond.  Therefore, we need the capabilities.  We need the capacity to respond.  We need to exercise. And we have to understand that Cyber is also a real threat.  We can never have a specific list on exactly how we are going to respond to every possible and impossible threat; because the world and the future is too complex.  So as long as we have the capacities, the capabilities and we exercise it.  And we have to trust that our political leaders are able to take the right decisions, even when we have lost elections. 

HEATHER CONLEY:  And that is very positive note to end on.  Secretary General Stoltenberg, thank you so much for your clarity of message.  And we look forward to watching how NATO evolves in the next year on the road to our next summit in Warsaw in July of next year.  Please join me in thanking Secretary General Stoltenberg.