by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a conference organized by the Polish Institute of International Affairs with the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Minister Czaputowicz, friends, it’s really a great pleasure to be here and to be able to address you on this occasion where we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, and especially to be here together with you, and seeing some people who were actually very active and instrumental in making that happen back in 1999. I see Madeleine Albright at the front row, so there are people in this room who actually made that happen.
It is hard to understand the impact of the enlargement of NATO, the importance, how it has transformed Europe. Because I remember, as a very young , active politician in Norway, we actually travelled to what we then called East Europe, during the Cold War, and that was a total different world. I was from Norway, we went into East Germany and Poland, and it was like, you know, going to a total different world. And if anyone had told me back then that, not so much later, Poland and many other of the former Warsaw Pact members were going to be members of NATO, I would have regarded that as absolutely impossible.
Then, today, this is the fact, and it shows that change is possible, and the enlargement of the European Union and the enlargement of NATO has really transformed Europe. And therefore, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Poland joining NATO is really something worth celebrating. And therefore it is also great to be together with you, and to say that what we have seen over the last two decades, with Poland as a member, is that Poland is a very committed Ally, an Ally which is contributing to our shared security, to our collective defence in many different ways. And it helps to strengthen NATO and helps to build the transatlantic partnership. And that’s something which we really welcome.
Poland is contributing to NATO in many different ways. Poland is present in one of our battlegroups in Latvia, Enhanced Forward Presence. Poland is conducting air policing out from Lithuania. Poland is part of our Tailored Forward Presence in Romania, the NATO presence there. And Poland is also contributing to different NATO missions and operations, including in Afghanistan, our training mission in Iraq and also in Kosovo. And then, Poland is also leading by example by investing 2 percent of GDP on defence.
So, by doing all this, Poland is helping to strengthen our Alliance. At the same time, we see that NATO is also committed to Poland, by the fact that now Poland is covered by NATO’s security guarantees and NATO has increased its presence in Poland with one of the battlegroups; we have four battlegroups, three in the Baltic countries and one in Poland. That’s the first time we have combat-ready troops in this part of the Alliance. Then the United States has a rotational armoured brigade. And then we have the site for missile defence in Poland, we have more exercises, we have investments in infrastructure, and we have also other kinds of NATO presence in Poland. So I think what we see is that Poland joining NATO has been good for Poland and, of course, also good for the NATO Alliance.
It was a sovereign decision to join the Alliance. And it is an important message from NATO that our door is open. And this year we signed the accession protocol for North Macedonia. In 2017 Montenegro joined. And as you know, after Poland joined, together with Hungary and the Czech Republic in ’99, many other countries have joined – so we have actually almost doubled in size, more than doubled since our founding in 1949: 12 members to now 29. Most likely it will be 30 within not so many months, when the accession protocol with North Macedonia is ratified in all the Allied countries. So this enlargement has been a decision by sovereign nations and NATO respects those decisions and we send a very clear signal to all those who are protesting and saying that the enlargement of NATO is a provocation. It’s not a provocation. It is the sovereign decision of a sovereign nation and we respect those sovereign decisions, because every nation has the right to make its own decisions on its own path. And that’s exactly what Poland did when they decided to join NATO, and the NATO Allies welcomed them back in ’99.
But, as you know, this year we are not only celebrating the 20th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, but also the 15th anniversary of a lot of other Allies joining NATO in 2004, and the 10th anniversary of Croatia and Albania, joining in 2009. And then we celebrate the 70th anniversary of NATO, the founding of NATO. The paradox is that despite that we are growing bigger, more countries are joining the Alliance, despite that we have been the most successful alliance in history, we see questions being asked about the strength and the relevance of the transatlantic bond, both in Europe and in North America.
And this is a paradox, because I have to admit that, of course, we see differences. We see disagreements between NATO Allies on important issues such as trade, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, burden sharing and other issues. And we have to admit that these are differences on important issues. But the paradox is that despite these differences, North America and Europe are doing more together within NATO and on security and defence than they have done for many years.
We see that we have, for the first time, deployed battlegroups, increased our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We have significantly, together, with North America, the United States, increased the readiness of our forces, tripled the size of the NATO Response Force and now we are adding even more.
We want what we call the ‘Four Thirties’ initiative: 30 battalions, 30 warships and 30 air squadrons ready within 30 days, adding to the high readiness forces of NATO.
We are transforming, adapting the command structure with a new Command in Norfolk Virginia for the Atlantic, a new Command in Ulm in Germany for European mobility and logistics and the movement of equipment and forces throughout Europe.
We are stepping up the fight against terror.
We have made enormous progress in the fight against Daesh. The global coalition, NATO is part of that, all NATO Allies are part of that, it’s a transatlantic effort.
And we have seen some progress in Afghanistan, meaning that we have transformed our operation there from a combat operation to a train, assistant and advise operation, based on the idea that in the long run it’s better that we are able to train local forces, help them to stabilise their own country, instead of NATO being engaged in big or large combat operations. And hopefully we can see some outcome of the peace talks, which are now taking place between United States and Taliban, closely consulted with NATO.
So we do more together in that sense, but we also see that, contrary to what many people believe, or to a kind of public perception, the United States is not reducing their presence in Europe. The United States is committed to the security of Europe. It’s right that after the end of the Cold War, the United States reduced its military presence in Europe – and that was quite natural because tensions went down.
But over the last years we have seen that United States is again increasing its military presence in Europe. The last US battle tank left Europe in December 2013. Now the United States is back with a full armoured brigade, many battle tanks, in Europe, actually rotational, based here in Poland. That’s not a sign of weakened commitment, that’s a sign of strengthened commitment. The funding for the European Deterrence Initiative has been increased by 40 percent, the US funding for US military activities in Europe. More exercises, we had the Trident Juncture exercise, with a lot of participation from North America, Canada and the United States, the biggest exercise NATO has conducted since the end of the Cold War, last fall in Norway.
We have four battlegroups, as I said, two of them are led by North American Allies: one by the United States in Poland, and the other led by Canada in Latvia. That’s not less North American commitment to Europe, that’s more North American commitment to Europe. Then the European Allies are stepping up, because after years of cutting defence spending, they’re now increasing. All European Allies have stopped the cuts. All European Allies and Canada have started to increase.
And since 2016 they will have added 100 billion extra for defence spending by the end of next year. This is also recognised in Washington. So, yes, there are differences, yes there are disagreements on many issues. But yes, when it comes to NATO, security, we’re actually strengthening our partnership. And, for me, it is important to convey this because perception matters. If the perception is that we are not strong, if the perception is that we are not standing together, then we reduce deterrence. And the strength of NATO, the deterrence we are delivering every day, the purpose of that is to prevent conflict, is to preserve the peace. And if there is any misunderstanding about that, we are actually increasing the risk of conflict, miscalculations and attack against a NATO Ally.
So therefore I’m focused on the reality, but also how we are presenting the reality because deterrence is in the mind of your potential adversary. Then I would like to say that we see the need for transatlantic cooperation in many areas: the fight against terrorism that has been a transatlantic effort. Addressing some of the big new challenges – cyber, new technology – transatlantic.
We see China as a rising power, there’s a great potential for cooperation, for partnership, but there are also some challenges we have to address together. But then we see a very urgent challenge, which really is a transatlantic challenge. And that is the Intermediate Range Forces. It’s the US that signed the INF Treaty back in 1987, so it’s a US-Russia agreement, but it has direct impact on European security. So there’s no way we can deal with it without being a transatlantic alliance.
And you know how important that INF Treaty has been. It’s shaped understanding of security issues for a whole generation of politicians. The deployment of the Russian SS-20 missiles in the ’70s, and then the NATO response with the Pershing and Cruise missiles. And I think we . . . it was hard to imagine how much we welcomed and appreciated the INF agreement signed in 1987, not only reducing or limiting the number of missiles, but banning all of them. All intermediate range missiles were banned by the INF Treaty. Now Russia is violating that treaty. It was the Obama administration, almost six years ago, that first raised that concern with Russia. All Allies have expressed their concerns and all Allies have agreed, and many of them independently, based on their own information that Russia is in violation. The new SSC-8 missile is nuclear capable, hard to detect, can reach European cities and reduce the warning time – and by that, also, it is reducing the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict. So this is really serious. Russia still has the opportunity to come back into compliance. We call on them to do so. But, at the same time, we have started to plan for a world without the INF Treaty, with more Russian missiles in Europe. It’s far too early to say what the outcome will be of that process in NATO, but what I can say is that we will be measured, we will be coordinated, it will be a NATO response, and we don’t have any intention of deploying new nuclear ground launch missile systems in Europe. My message about this is that the INF issue is a serious challenge.
But my message is also that it highlights and once again reminds us of the importance of the transatlantic bond, because the only way we can deal with this as a transatlantic alliance, North America and Europe standing together.
So, 70 years of NATO, a great success; 20 years of Polish membership, a great success. And there are many more successful years to come. Thank you so much for the attention.