Stoltenberg’s Show of Unity

Tensions at NATO’s anniversary gathering aside, the secretary-general defends the alliance’s record.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg talks at a press conference during the NATO summit in Hertford, England, on Dec. 4.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg talks at a press conference during the NATO summit in Hertford, England, on Dec. 4. Leon Neal/Getty Images

NATO’s 70th anniversary gathering was supposed to be a time to highlight the alliance’s success in bringing its members together over the last many decades. But it kicked off with a flurry of controversy over criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with leaked video that showed a group of European leaders commenting on Trump’s behavior at the first day of the gathering. In remarks on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tried to paper over the tensions between the organization’s members and point to its progress in protecting Eastern Europe, raising defense spending among its members, and grappling with a rising China.

A full transcript of his remarks is below.

Good morning.

Thank you for joining me so early.

[The] United Kingdom was NATO’s first home, so it’s only fitting that we meet here to mark and celebrate 70 years of our alliance.

I expect [the] leaders to address a wide range of issues when they meet here later on today: the fight against terrorism, arms control, our relationship with Russia, and for the first time in NATO’s history, we will also sit down with the NATO leaders and address the rise of China.

This provides both opportunities but also challenges, and we have seen the rise of China, including their investment in defense capabilities.

China is the second-largest defense spender in the world next to the United States and recently displayed new modern capabilities including nuclear weapons.

So we have to address the rise of China together, and I look forward to the allies doing that at this leaders’ meeting for the first time.

We will also recognize the progress that our allies are making when it comes to burden-sharing. Since 2016, European allies and Canada have added $130 billion to the defense budget. This number will increase to $400 billion by 2024. This is unprecedented. This is making NATO stronger.

And of course … [the] leaders will address many other issues, including readiness of our forces, space as [an] operational domain, and also resilience of our critical infrastructure, including 5G.

So there is a wide range of issues that will be addressed and I am looking forward to welcoming all the leaders later on today.

Question: How can you make sure that the Turkish … [inaudible] agree to the conclusion to … [inaudible] the engagement of NATO [inaudible]?

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, we have plans in place to protect all NATO allies, including, of course, the Baltic countries and Poland. And more than that, we have not only plans but also forces. And for the first time in our history, we have combat-ready troops deployed to the Baltic region, one of the battlegroups being led by Germany in Lithuania. Second, I am confident that we will be able to also find a solution to the issue related to updating the revised defense plans. And I also discussed this issue with [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan last night, and we are working on the issue as we speak.

Q: Sir, what do you make of [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s comments, that he said yesterday about NATO now being brain-dead?

JS: That’s not the case. NATO is agile, NATO is active, NATO is … is adapting. And that NATO is the most successful alliance in history, because we have been able to change again and again when the world is changing. And we have just implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defense in a generation, with a higher readiness of forces, with [a] presence in the eastern part of the alliance for the first time in our history, and with European allies now investing more in defense. After years of cutting budgets, they are now increasing budgets. We have modernized the NATO command structure, and we see also the [United States] is increasing their military presence in Europe.

So what we see is actually that North America and Europe are doing more together than we have done for many, many years. And we have to remember that NATO is the only place where North America, Europe meets every day, discuss, decide, and take actions together every day—addressing security issues, strategic issues, which are important for our security. So it’s nothing new that there are differences in this alliance. Going back to the Suez crisis in ’56 or to the Iraq War in 2003, there has always been differences. What we have proven, and what we also show today, is that NATO is able to overcome these differences and then be united around core task: to protect and defend each other.

Q: [Inaudible].

JS: What we will do is that we will show that NATO is delivering, that we are doing more together … than we have done for decades. And as long as we are able to deliver substance, both stronger deterrence and defense; address new issues like declaring space as a domain; strengthening our cyber-defenses or making sure that we have resilient critical infrastructure, including 5G; and also addressing the impact of the rise of China—there are opportunities but also the challenges—then NATO proves once again that we are able to respond to a shifting security landscape, and that’s the best way to also provide unity of this alliance.

This transcript is taken from the NATO website.

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