Highlights from the 2019 Diplomat of the Year Ceremony

Foreign Policy’s eighth annual Diplomat of the Year Award Gala was held November 12, honoring NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The dinner took place at the Park Hyatt Washington with guests from the public and private sectors, government officials, media influencers, and the diplomatic community.

Jens Stoltenberg

2019 Diplomat of the Year


Foreign Policy is honored to host and present the 2019 Diplomat of the Year award to NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg for his exceptional direction at a time of uncertainty regarding NATO’s future. His leadership has continued to strengthen the coalition’s commitment to freedom, democracy, and cooperation against tensions over the fundamental values underpinning trans-Atlantic relations.

Stoltenberg has served as the secretary-general of NATO since 2014, during which time the organization has been buffeted by challenges from Russia, the Middle East, and even its own members. For his exemplary service, earlier this year, his leadership of the organization was extended to 2022.

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Before becoming secretary-general, Stoltenberg served two stints as prime minister of Norway, from 2000-2001 and 2005-2013, during which he proved his strong support for enhanced trans-Atlantic cooperation, including through better burden-sharing across the Atlantic.

During his tenure, Norway’s defense spending increased steadily, with the result that Norway is today one of the NATO allies with the highest per capita defense expenditures. Under his leadership, the Norwegian government also contributed forces to various NATO operations.

Stoltenberg has fulfilled a number of other international assignments, including chairing the U.N. High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence in 2006 and the High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing in 2010. He was also U.N. special envoy on climate change and in 2011 received the U.N. Foundation’s Champion of Global Change Award, for his efforts toward helping countries meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Stoltenberg was born in Oslo in 1959. He spent his childhood years abroad, with his diplomat father, mother, and two sisters. He holds a postgraduate degree in economics from the University of Oslo and is married to Ingrid Schulerud. Together they have two grown-up children.


Many thanks to Ambassador Hutchison and Sir Stuart Peach for your very kind words. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. It is great to see so many friends in the audience. It is really great to be here tonight because Foreign Policy magazine is a key outlet for decision-makers around the world, including for me. So it is really a great honor to be here tonight and to receive this prestigious Diplomat of the Year award.

It is also a nice surprise, because to be honest, I’ve never regarded myself as a diplomat. You know, I’m a politician, but it is good for everyone, including politicians, to have diplomatic skills, and to me personally, diplomacy has always been very close to my heart. My father was a diplomat. He had postings in San Francisco, Belgrade, in Yugoslavia was the name at that time, and Copenhagen. He taught me to listen, to be patient and to embrace different points of view. Above all, he taught me the importance of compromise.

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These were all very valuable lessons on the art of diplomacy—lessons that I have embraced fully throughout my life and my political career and that I put to a whole new level … when I married a diplomat. As we know, there is no greater test of your diplomatic skills than marriage!

For the past five years, I have had the privilege to serve as the secretary-general of NATO. This is a political and military alliance of 29 countries, soon to be thirty. All decisions are taken by consensus, so diplomacy is in action every day, from high-level summits and ministerial meetings and our day-to-day negotiations.

Getting 29 nations to reach consensus takes a great deal of astute diplomacy, because allies don’t always see eye-to-eye. We are democracies. We have our differences. And this sometimes leads to tough talks. But we do not shy away from having frank and open discussions, because that is the only way we can build common positions. And when all twenty-nine of us agree, our decisions are stronger.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all want our countries and our people to be safe. But we also know that peace and security can never be taken for granted and that our rules-based international order is under increased pressure. So tonight, I want to make a case for relentless transatlantic diplomacy, backed by credible transatlantic defense—in other words, a case for NATO.

Our alliance is unmatched. We protect close to 1 billion citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, so what we say and what we do carries a great deal of weight. To navigate this unpredictable and challenging world, we must remain and militarily strong and politically united.

We all know Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” This combination of diplomacy backed by military power has formed the basis of NATO’s strength and success over the years, because our security cannot rely only on the size and strength of our armed forces only. Security also requires engaging in a dialogue with our potential adversaries to defuse tensions.

It is often said that there is no military solution to conflict. At the same time, history shows that military strength is often required to find a sustainable political solution. Indeed, it was the combination of strong deterrence and frank dialogue with the Soviet Union that eventually led to reductions in nuclear weapons in the 1980s. And reductions in conventional military forces in Europe after the Cold War.

It was political unity combined with determined military force that stopped the bloodshed in the Balkans in the 1990s. And NATO’s military power together with its diplomatic outreach were a catalyst for momentous political change across central and eastern Europe, after the fall of Communism.

To this day, we continue to combine meaningful dialogue with credible deterrence and defense, including when it comes to dealing with Russia. We see a more assertive Russia—illegally annexing Crimea, destabilizing Ukraine, meddling in our political processes, and investing in modern military equipment, including in new intermediate-range missiles which led to the demise of the INF treaty.

In these difficult times, we must avoid miscalculations and misunderstandings, and we need to rebuild trust where possible. We aspire for a constructive relationship with Russia. All of this is why we keep our diplomatic channels to Moscow open.

But our diplomatic efforts can only be effective if we engage Russia from a position of credible deterrence and credible defense. In recent years, we have implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. We have strengthened our military posture from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and increased the readiness of our forces. For the first time in our history, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of our Alliance. American forces are there too.

We are also responding in a defensive and measured way to Russia’s violation of the INF treaty, and to the presence of new Russian missiles in Europe—missiles that are mobile, easy to hide and able to reach major European cities with little warning time.

We will not mirror what Russia is doing. We have no intention to deploy new ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe. But we will reconsider our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, our air and missile defenses, and our conventional capabilities. Ultimately, it is our military strength that provides the conditions for our diplomatic achievements.

The same is true when it comes to dealing with international terrorism. In Afghanistan, our military presence supports the Afghan security forces, so they can create the conditions for peace. We need to show the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield, and so they must come to the negotiating table. NATO supported the U.S.-led peace talks earlier this year, and I would welcome them being resumed. But in order to make that possible, the Taliban need to demonstrate real willingness to make real compromises to reach a credible peace deal.

We do not negotiate with the terrorist organization ISIS. We fight them. It was the military force of the U.S.-led global coalition that has enabled enormous progress against ISIS. NATO and all NATO Allies are part of the coalition. Together, we succeeded in liberating the vast territory and the millions of people that ISIS had captured. The situation in northeast Syria remains fragile and it’s no secret that NATO allies have different views. But we agree on the need to preserve the gains made by the global coalition. This includes continuing to partner with Iraqis to help them build, train, and educate the security forces they need so they can ensure that ISIS does not return.

We are also working with other countries in the region, such as Jordan and Tunisia, helping them build their local counter-terrorism capacity. We need to use political tools alongside military ones. We will continue to support the U.N.-led efforts to achieve a sustainable political solution in Syria.

Diplomacy combined with military strength is also important as we adapt to a shifting global balance of power. A key driver for this is China. China will soon have the world’s biggest economy, and it already has the second-largest defense budget, investing heavily in new capabilities. Only in the last five years, China has added 80 ships and submarines to its navy – the equivalent of the whole U.K. Royal Navy. It has hundreds of missiles with a range that would have been prohibited by the INF treaty. And it recently displayed an advanced intercontinental nuclear missile able to reach the United States and Europe, as well as a new supersonic cruise missiles, an assortment of new drones, anti-ship missiles, and hypersonic gliders.

China is becoming a leader in the development of new technology—from 5G to facial recognition—and from quantum computing to gathering vast amounts of global data. We need to better understand the rise of China and what it means for our security in terms of opportunities and challenges. We have to remember that as long as NATO allies stand together, we represent half the world’s economic might and half of the world’s military might. So as the global balance of power is shifting, it’s even more important to keep your allies and friends close.

Ladies and gentlemen, it takes a lot of hard work every day to keep our alliance strong, to preserve our military superiority and to protect our way of life. None of this comes for free. All NATO Allies are increasing defense spending. More allies are meeting the guideline of spending 2 percent of GDP on their defense, and the majority of allies have plans in place to spend 2 percent of GDP by 2024. By the end of next year, European allies and Canada will have added 100 billion U.S. dollars to their defense budgets since 2016.

This is making NATO stronger. It is a great success, and we are determined to keep up the momentum. Our unity is our greatest strength, so we must work through our differences and find the way forward together as we have successfully been doing for 70 years, and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to uphold that unity.

I probably would not be receiving this award if all allies always agreed on everything, as my job would be a lot easier, but just like my father, I believe in the power of compromise. Reaching compromise can be difficult, and it can take time, but ultimately, when 29 nations speak with one voice, their voice is more powerful than any other in the world.

NATO is a military powerhouse, and a unique diplomatic force multiplier. To keep our nations safe we need credible defense combined with relentless diplomacy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what NATO is all about. Thank you.

2019 Sponsors

For more information on sponsorship opportunities at future Diplomat of the Year events, contact Andrew Sollinger at andrew.sollinger@foreignpolicy.com.

About Diplomat of the Year

Each year, the editors of Foreign Policy review the accomplishments of leading officials and diplomats worldwide to identify those who have made the greatest contribution to international relations and honor them at our annual Diplomat of the Year Awards in Washington, D.C.

Previous Recipients


Chrystia Freeland

Diplomat of the Year

Foreign minister of Canada

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Career Diplomat of the Year

Former U.N. high commissioner for human rights


Amina J. Mohammed

Diplomat of the Year

Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman

Career Diplomat of the Year

Senior Counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group

Becca Heller

Citizen Diplomat of the Year

Co-Founder and Director, International Refugee Assistance Project



Diplomat of the Year

Presented to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc.

C40 Cities

Green Diplomat of the Year

Presented to Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair of C40 Cities

Hafsat Abiola

Citizen Diplomat of the Year

Founder, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy


John Kerry

Diplomat of the Year

Former Secretary of State

Vital Voices

Citizen Diplomat of the Year

Accepted by Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices

Penny Pritzker

Commercial Diplomat of the Year

Chairman of PSP Partners and former secretary of commerce


Christine Lagarde

Diplomat of the Year

Managing Director, International Monetary Fund


Bill Burns

Diplomat of the Year

President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Chan Heng Chee

Diplomat of the Year

Singapore’s former ambassador to the United States

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