by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference

  • 15 Feb. 2019 -
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  • Last updated 25-Feb-2019 10:31

(As delivered)

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference

Thank you so much. It’s really a great pleasure to be back here at the Munich Security Conference, especially because the focus this year is on the need for global institutions, for global order.

And we all know that these institutions, this rules-based order is under pressure. And therefore we also know that when these institutions are under pressure, we also see more uncertainty and more unpredictability.

And therefore today, I will actually focus a bit on how we can deal with that unpredictability and the more uncertain security environment that surrounds us.

I will do that of course out of the perspective of NATO. And I will also do that knowing that one way of dealing with uncertainty is to try to predict the future.

At the same time, we know that to predict the future is extremely difficult.

We were not able to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall.

We were not able to predict the 9/11 attacks.

And we were not able to predict the rise of ISIS.

And I can also confess to you that I know it’s not only in the realm of international security that it is hard to predict the future.

Because for many years – well, not so many years – but in my first job, as an economist in the Central Bureau of Statistics in Norway, we tried to predict the oil price.

And we were wrong all the time.

So to predict the future is not easy.

What is therefore needed is not only to try to predict the future, but to develop strategies to deal with uncertainty, to be prepared for the unexpected.

And when it comes to security, there are at least three essential things we need to address when we try to develop a strategy to deal with and be able to tackle uncertainty.

One is strong multilateral frameworks;

Second, strong defence;

And third, strong transatlantic cooperation.

All of these help us to reduce risks.

And to cope with surprises when they happen.

And they will happen.

So first, we need strong and effective multilateral frameworks.

After the destruction of World War Two, visionary leaders created institutions that enabled countries to compete and cooperate peacefully.

That covered everything from European security and arms control. 

To monetary policy and international trade.

They protected the weak from the strong.

They ensured our peace and prosperity.

And they have benefitted us all, and they have been incredibly effective in meeting the needs of the people they served.

Yet today, these institutions are under pressure.

If we want them to remain effective.

We need to continue to reform and modernize them.

That is why one of my main objectives in NATO has been reform.

To make sure the Alliance remains fit for the future.

One important framework that has served us all very well is the nuclear arms control regime.

Which, over many decades has dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons.

In the early 1990’s, the United States and the Soviet Union each deployed 12,000 long-range strategic nuclear warheads.

Today there is a limit of 1,550 warheads for each country.

There were also almost three thousand intermediate range nuclear weapons in Europe. 

The INF Treaty banned them all,

And brought that number down to zero.

But now, the whole nuclear arms control regime is under assault.

Russia has deployed several battalions of its new SSC-8 missile system, in breach of the Treaty.  

These missiles are mobile.

Easy to hide.

And nuclear-capable.

They can reach European cities, like Munich, with little warning.

They lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

It was on this very stage, at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, this was the place that President Putin first publically expressed his desire for Russia to leave the INF Treaty.

A treaty that is only respected by one side will not keep us safe.

Then it is just a piece of paper.

That is why, with the full support of all NATO Allies, the United States has announced its intention to withdraw from the Treaty.

This will take effect in six months.

So Russia still has a window of opportunity to return to compliance.

We call on Russia to take that opportunity.

And to verifiably destroy its intermediate range missiles.

The clock is ticking.

We want Russia to return to compliance.

But we are also preparing for a world without the INF Treaty.

And a world with more Russian missiles in Europe.

NATO has already started this work.

And I will not predict the outcome.

But what I can say is that we will do this as an Alliance.

United and measured.

And that NATO has no intention of deploying new land-based nuclear weapons in Europe.

NATO will always take the necessary steps to provide credible and effective deterrence.

While we remain determined to avoid a new arms race, we cannot afford to be complacent, and we cannot afford to be naïve.

And that brings me to my second point, the second thing we must do to deal with uncertainty.

To continue investing in our defence.

For centuries in Europe, conflict was our constant companion.

The last 70 years of peace have been the exception, and not the rule.

We must never take peace for granted.

After the Cold War, NATO Allies cut their defence budgets.

And that was understandable, as tensions had fallen.

But today, tensions are increasing again.

And so for the first time in many years, we have started to significantly increase our defence budgets.

This is the right thing to do to keep our people secure in today’s world.

Since 2016, NATO allies in Europe and Canada have spent an additional 41 billion dollars on defence.

And by the end of next year, that will rise to one hundred billion US dollars.

The money matters.

And what we do with that money matters too.

We have deployed combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance for the first time.

Increased the readiness of our forces.

Modernised our command structure.

Stepped up in the fight against terrorism.

And we are doing more to address hybrid and cyber threats.

By doing all this, we ensure we can continue to protect all Allies against any threat.

Not to provoke a conflict, but to preserve the peace.

Europe and North America are doing this together, through NATO.

And the unprecedented cooperation between NATO and the European Union also contributes to our security and to transatlantic burden-sharing.

And we just had a Defence Ministerial meeting in Brussels, and High Representative Federica Mogherini was there, as she always is. Showing that we are working more and more closely together, NATO and the European Union.

Therefore, the third essential element to manage uncertainty is strong transatlantic cooperation.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, Europe and North America brought the Cold War to an end without a shot being fired on European soil.

We underpinned stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

We helped bring peace to the Balkans.

And fought side-by-side against terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The bond between our two continents is historical, cultural and personal.

But the real reason this bond endures is even more fundamental.

Standing together is in our shared interest.

It is in the national interest of each and every one of our nations.

The cooperation between North America and Europe is more important than ever.

As the balance of power is shifting.

A key driver for this shift is the rise of China.

There is genuine potential for partnership and political dialogue.

NATO and China have already worked together to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

And our militaries are in regular contact.

But China’s rise also presents a challenge.

One example is of course the concern many Allies have expressed about China’s increasing investment in critical infrastructure, such as 5G.

We have to better understand the size and the scale of China’s influence,

What it means for our security.

And we have to address it together.

Europe and North America are stronger together – economically, politically and militarily.

We represent almost one billion people.

Half of the world’s economic might.

And half of the world’s military might. 

A strong NATO is good for global security.

It is good for the security of Europe.

And it is good for the security of North America.

NATO provides the United States with 28 friends and Allies.

And many more partners across the globe.

Nobody else can count on that.

Indeed, as you all know, the only time that we have invoked Article 5, our collective defence clause, was after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of troops from European Allies and Canada have served alongside America in Afghanistan.

And more than a thousand have paid the ultimate price.

The strength of a nation depends on the size of its economy.

And the size of its military.

But it also depends on the number of its friends.

So it is vital that we continue to stand together to maintain our security in an uncertain world.

If we maintain robust and relevant international institutions;

If we continue to invest in our defence;

And if we remain united,

We will be ready to face the future.

Whatever the future may bring. 

MODERATOR: Thank you very much Secretary General Stoltenberg, I think you made a powerful case there for NATO being premised upon the principles of unity, of cooperation, but also of, of investment and responsibility. And if I may perhaps kick off this debate with a question to you. It really drives at the balance between that unity and cooperation on the one hand, and responsibility and investment on the other. Now, the term ‘unnecessary duplication’ has really been at the heart of the discussion about the broader EU-NATO relationship for years, in fact, for decades now. And as Europeans though we assume, and we have to assume, greater responsibility, because that, indeed, is the premise for a stronger NATO. The question that I ask myself, and in fact I pose, I pose to you is: is there a level of necessary duplication that we have to endure, and if so, how do we make that necessary duplication not autarkic, not protectionist, and eventually to the benefit of unity and cooperation?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: My starting point is the following: is that I have welcomed, I think, clearer than any other Secretary General of NATO ever has done, the EU initiatives, the EU efforts on defence. Because I really believe that by developing new capabilities, by addressing the fragmentation of the European defence industry, by, by increasing defence spending, that will be good, of course, for European Allies, for Europe, for the European Union and for NATO. There is no contradiction. So, and therefore I also welcome, of course, close cooperation between NATO and the European Union. And Federica is here, we have worked hard on how to we can really lift that to a new level. And I think EU NATO member states, Allies, have been able to do that, that’s great. 

But my message, and that answers also the question about duplication, is that we have only single set forces, we have limited resources, and we cannot duplicate each other. 

The other message is that I welcome stronger EU efforts on defence, and I actually welcome stronger European unity. But European unity cannot substitute for transatlantic unity. And sometimes there is this misperception out there, that EU efforts, or European efforts on defence is something which is an alternative, can replace NATO. That’s not the case. 

And I’ve used the number many, many, many times, but after Brexit, 80 percent, 80 percent of NATO’s defence expenditure will come from non-EU Allies. So it’s in a way obvious that, yes, stronger EU efforts on defence are great, but it’s not an alternative, cannot replace, and should not be presented as something which is, in a way, reducing the importance of the transatlantic bond, because we need strong EU efforts but we cannot... Europe, the European Union cannot take the role of NATO in providing collective security and protecting Europe. 

This is partly about money – 80 percent of the defence budget outside EU – but partly about geography. With all respect for Norway, it’s not a very big country, but an important country, up in the north, for, you know, the Arctic and the submarines and all that. In the south, Turkey is a key NATO ally in the fight against Daesh / ISIL; and in the West you have then US, Canada and United Kingdom. So this is partly about money, partly about geography and the message is just to avoid any misunderstanding about the purpose of EU efforts on defence. 

Then, I think, duplication – as long as we don’t do things which are undermining the strength of the transatlantic bond, as long as we complement the efforts of NATO, then everything is fine. 

MODERATOR: Absolutely clear. Let me open this up to the floor, asking you also to introduce yourself before asking your question.

KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV: Thank you. Thank you very much. Konstantin Kosachev, the Russian parliament. I will go back to the issue of the INF Treaty. Mr Secretary General, we have reported the position of NATO on that, we should describe it as a unanimous support towards the United States of America against Russia. The agreement is a bilateral one, bilateral one, between Russia and the United States of America. And theoretically, NATO as a military alliance should have been, at least in the beginning, neutral, taking into account arguments and positions of both sides, both participants in the agreement. Because you are a serious Alliance and you need to act with responsibility. My question to you would be: how many times and at what level the military, the technical experts from the NATO have consulted the Russian experts, military experts, studying their arguments, taking into account their positions or you as an alliance, as the Alliance, have just based your position on the recommendation coming from the second state, which is a member state of NATO, and politically it is quite natural that you support that. But again, my question to you is that: how many times and at what level you have been studying the Russian argumentation in favour of the Russian position and against the American position before you have taken this unilateral approach in the Alliance. Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: Our concern about the INF Treaty is dating back almost six years, because that was the first time the United States, but in close consultation with NATO Allies, raised that issue with Russia. And it was the Obama administration that first raised it and they used the different verification mechanisms, the different mechanisms in the Treaty, to make sure that there is full compliance, to raise their concerns. And all the way they consulted with NATO Allies, the Obama administration. 

Then we had the Trump administration, they continued. The problem was that what also continued was the deployment of new Russian missiles. And at some stage this is not working, because if we have a treaty which is violated by one side and respected by the other, then that treaty doesn’t deliver security. Then it’s not a real arms control treaty. And therefore we have raised it with Russia, at different levels. 

There have been 30 high-level meetings between the US and Russia. Many European Allies have raised the issue with Russia several times. We had a meeting now just recently in the NATO-Russia Council where we raised the issue with all Allies present. 

And I think we have to understand that . . . that, not only United States, but several Allies, have independently determined that Russia is in violation. There are no new US missiles in Europe but there are more and more Russian missiles in Europe. And I am extremely concerned, also partly because I am part of a generation that was shaped by the debate about intermediate-range forces in Europe. That was, in a way, the big issue in the 70s and the 80s. And regardless of what people thought about the NATO dual track decision back in ’79, I know some people who were in favour and some who were against. But regardless of what they thought about that, we all agreed that the INF Treaty in 1987, that banned all those missiles, was a great achievement. And that’s the reason why we are so extremely concerned and actually also why we have given Russia so much time to come back into compliance. This has been an issue for six years. 

In December all Allies agreed that Russia was in violation. All Allies supported the US decision to start the withdrawal process within 60 days, if Russia didn’t come back. Now they haven’t come back and United States have started the withdrawal process. That leaves then, six months for Russia to come back. So, again, come back to compliance with the INF Treaty. That’s the best way to reduce tensions and to avoid an arms race. 

MODERATOR: Well, could not be said clearer than that. Steve Erlanger, New York Times. 

STEVE ERLANGER [New York Times]: Yes. Thanks very much. Thank you, madam moderator. Secretary General, you have a President of the United States who clearly doesn’t like NATO, doesn’t believe in NATO, doesn’t care about NATO, isn’t committed to NATO, keeps talking it down and says privately, ‘maybe we should pull out’. Is it best for you to ignore what the President of the United States believes and feels? Have you given up trying to convince him? Are you hoping it just goes away? What kind of damage does it do to an Alliance that already has sufficient strains from antidemocratic members in Hungary and, increasingly, Poland? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: Every time I meet President Donald Trump, he tells me that he likes NATO. Not only that he likes NATO, but he’s a hundred percent in favour of NATO. But at the same time he also tells me that the European Allies and Canada have to spend more; that we need fair burden-sharing and he... at our first press conference, when I met him, also, just after he became President, in the White House, he actually said that, ‘I used to say that NATO was obsolete, but NATO is no longer obsolete.’ Quote. That was what he actually said. 

So President Trump has a different style than most other Presidents. He tweets more, he is more direct, but he has clearly stated again and again and again, for instance, at the NATO summit which was very... at the NATO summit we had all the 29 Allies together, sitting around the table. We had a very, I should say, open and frank debate. Different debate than we normally have at NATO summits. I was at my first in 2001. This was very different. 

But no one was in doubt about the message from the President. And that was that he was in favour of NATO, but he wanted fair burden-sharing. And he actually pointed out some specific Allies and asked them to pay more. So the message is that, yes NATO is good, but we need to share the burden more fairly. And then let me add one more thing about that. And that is that: not only... European Allies are spending more – I refer the figures now, 100 billion – he actually liked that figure, it’s a good figure, a good number, good real money; but second, second, the United States is increasing their presence in Europe, now. The United States is not, not leaving Europe; the United States have increased their presence over the last years with more troops, more exercises, more investments in infrastructure. 

So, yes, there are differences between NATO Allies on different issues, on trade, on climate change, we have had our discussions about burden-sharing in NATO, but actually the reality is that Europe and North America are doing more together than we have done for many years. We are 29 allies. We disagree. We are different. We come from different parties. Some are liberal, some are conservatives, some are social democrats some are Christian democrats, some are different things. But we have always been able to unite around our core tasks to protect each other. So that’s the main message. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. I had a question at the back. Yeah? There should be a mic coming. 

ROGER COHEN [New York Times]: Yeah actually. Well, I’m also from the New York Times, Roger Cohen, columnist for The Times. Steve, actually, has asked the question, the main question I was going to ask. I admire your faith in President Trump, Mr Secretary General. I think his true belief is the one he expresses consistently, which is tremendous scepticism over multilateralism, over Atlanticism, over American values as personified in this conference. When Secretary Pompeo was in Montenegro recently, he was asked if Article 5 would apply. In other words, if Montenegro were attacked, would all the NATO Allies comes to its defence. And the Secretary General punted . . . he did not reaffirm the validity of Article 5. This suggests that NATO is fraying at its core. What do you think?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So partly the answer is the same, meaning that what we see now... again, I understand that, that there are differences and political disagreements within NATO Allies and, and also about different positions by the United States. That’s fair enough. I’m not denying that there are disagreements. 

My message is that despite those disagreements, we have been able to deliver a strong NATO, that Europe and North America are doing more, more, more together. And the US is, of course, part of that with President Trump. Because for me, actions speak even louder than words. Meaning that: if you don’t believe what he says, let’s look at... study what the United States is doing and what they are doing is that you have to remember that, for instance . . . so, after the end of the Cold War, the United States reduced their presence in Europe. That’s true. The last US battle tank left Europe in December 2013. Now, the United States is back with . . . not with one battle tank, but with a full armoured brigade. Not seen that for many years in Europe. Now it’s there. So for me, that’s a very strong expression of US commitment to NATO and to Article 5 and to the willingness to protect all Allies. 

If they were not committed to NATO to Article 5, why do they then increase funding for US presence in Europe by 40 percent since he took office? Why do they send in a new armoured brigade? Why do they exercise up in the north of Norway and in the Baltics and, and... in all NATO territory? So, well, I accept that you have your opinions about President Trump, but there is an undeniable fact that there are more US forces now in Europe than has been for many, many years. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. Pierre Lellouche.

PIERRE LELLOUCHE [Former French Minister]: Thank you Natalie. Monsieur Secrétaire Général,  a question from a former French minister who is old enough to have remembered in this very room the debate about the deployment of INF back in the early 80s, and how difficult it was. This was a time when French President Mitterrand had to talk to the Bundestag and say that missiles should be deployed in Germany. Nuclear missiles in Germany. Saying that the peaceniks were on the west and the missiles were on the east. It was a very hard decision for the Germans, I remember this room at that time, and for the French as well, everybody. That decision was made in the name of ‘coupling’ – ‘coupling’ was a key word. Now, Mr Secretary General, despite all your efforts, how do you sell ‘coupling’ today when the US President says he wants to leave NATO? How do you sell it? Second. Where do you deploy the missiles? Assuming the Russian, who denies they violate the treaty, it is their position. So they will not go back to the table in the next six months, we all know it. They know it. We know it. What do we do next? And where do you deploy the missiles? 

Do you believe that there is going to be a crowd of countries ready to restart the debate of 40 years ago? Isn’t it more reasonable to . . . for NATO to attend more urgent issue for example, we have one member, called Turkey, who is now openly involved in the war in Syria. At the very time when the US President wants to move out of Syria. It was a great advantage to Russia and Iran. Now can you please tell me the coherence of all of this NATO stuff, which frankly I have difficulty in understanding? 

JENS STOLTENBERG: You are very right that one of the main issues that was discussed leading to the NATO decision in ’79 was the issue of decoupling European security from US security. And, of course, if that happens then Article 5, NATO, is not credible. So to link European security with European security [sic] has been, in a way, the core purpose of NATO since we were established, and you are right that that was an issue discussed back in the 70s and 80s. I believe that to link European security to North American security, that’s partly about paragraphs, the NATO Treaty, Article 5, but as I already have also said, it’s also very much about actually what you do on the ground. And the best way of linking European security to North American security is to have Canadian and US troops in Europe. 

And I mentioned in my speech that for the first time in our history we have battle-ready combat troops in the Baltic countries and Poland. We have never had that before. They’re not very big, around a thousand. But the strength of them is the following: is that they are combat-ready. And one battlegroup is led by the United States the battlegroup we have in Poland. And then the other, one other, is led by by Canada in Latvia. So if some of these countries are attacked, NATO will be there immediately. It’s not a question of whether to have NATO involved. We will be involved immediately, because we are already there. So for me it’s hard to find any stronger message of coupling, or not delinking, than to do exactly what we have done the last years, to deploy NATO multinational troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. 

So that’s part of the answer. The other answer is the following, is that: it is, of course, in the interest of Europe to have a strong NATO, because US, Canada provide support. But it’s also in the interest of the United States to have a strong NATO. I refer to the 9/11 attacks. All Allies came and helped US in Afghanistan. 

But the US presence in Europe is not only to protect Europe. The US military presence in Europe is also about projecting power beyond Europe, which has been in the interest of the United States for years. If a US soldier is wounded seriously in Afghanistan, Iraq, he’s brought to Ramstein, in Germany. The US-Africa Command is not in Africa – it’s in Stuttgart in Germany. 

So there is no doubt that the US presence in Europe is not only to protect Europe, it is also to, in a way, provide the platform for US security interests. So . . . and I mentioned also in my speech that NATO provides the United States with 28 – soon 29, because the Republic of North Macedonia is now becoming member – friends and Allies. 

And last time I was in United States, they were very concerned about the size of China. Well, if you are concerned about the size of China, then it’s a great advantage to have 29 Allies and friends, adding up to close to one billion people and half of the world’s GDP. So we are good for United States. And I think the Americans understand that, at least they tell me so. 

The last thing you asked me about was, where are we going to deploy the missiles? Well, as I told... my message is the following: is that we will now assess what we will do. But I can tell you something about what we are going to do, meaning that we are going to do it together, not a bilateral arrangement, it will be something that NATO does as an Alliance. Secondly, it will be measured, we will be careful, because we need to find a balance between being strong, providing credible deterrence and defence, but not triggering an arms race. So we need to find that balance. And the third thing is that we don’t intend to deploy new nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. And therefore we don’t need to find that country. 

MODERATOR: Thank you, Secretary General. I really think this has been a fantastically clear, frank and candid debate. And above all, an extremely persuasive one. Thank you Secretary General.