NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg talks about alliance, Russia to open Aspen Security Forum
While NATO’s secretary-general touched on Russia, Turkey and Afghanistan during his opening remarks Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum, Jens Stoltenberg kept coming back to the underlying concept behind the organization he leads.
“You have to understand: We deter any attempt to attack (the 29 allied countries in NATO),” said Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway. “We were able to protect West Berlin, not because of the presence of (NATO) forces but because an attack would trigger a whole response (from all 29 allies).”
Asked by moderator and NBC News correspondent Courtney Kube if that collective defense concept — outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s founding treaty — remains strong today, Stoltenberg did not hesitate.
“Yes,” he said. “It is our intent to stay together. NATO contains 50% of the world’s military might. We are stronger than any other adversary if we stay together.
“Deterrence is working.”
Russia and China don’t have the benefit of a similar collective defense, he pointed out.
Article 5 has only been invoked once in the history of NATO — in defense of the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Collective defense, however, isn’t cheap. Stoltenberg confirmed that NATO members will increase their defense spending by more than $100 billion by the end of 2020, and he gave President Donald Trump credit for demanding other members contribute more.
“The message from Trump is having an impact,” he said.
Russia was a main topic in Wednesday’s Security Forum opener.
Kube’s first question to Stoltenberg was about Trump’s decision to withdraw from 1987’s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because of alleged Russian violations, and the looming Aug. 2 deadline for the treaty to be declared dead. The treaty banned ground-based nuclear missiles — those launched from air or sea are not included — and Stoltenberg said most NATO allies believe Russia has been violating the treaty for years.
“Any indications they’re moving toward compliance?” Kube asked.
“No,” Stoltenberg said immediately, provoking laughter in the Greenwald Pavilion Tent. “There is no indication that Russia is moving back into compliance.”
If the treaty — which Stoltenberg called “the cornerstone of arms control” — falls apart in two weeks and Russia continues to deploy ground-based nuclear missiles capable of reaching European cities in minutes, NATO has options, he said. The alliance would strengthen the already existing European missile defense system and continue to pursue arms control treaties, Stoltenberg said.
The secretary-general didn’t want to get too specific about those options because he said he still hoped to prompt Russia into compliance. However, Stoltenberg pointed out that NATO has combat-ready battalions stationed in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland that will respond if those countries are attacked.
Kube then prodded Stoltenberg about whether NATO has air- or sea-based nuclear weapons deployed in Europe for Russian deterrence. Stoltenberg first waxed poetic about NATO’s “all for one and one for all” concept, then began talking about Norway’s mountains and skiing and how he’d like to return to ski and hike around Aspen.
“Are you talking about skiing to avoid my question about nuclear weapons in Europe?” Kube asked.
Stoltenberg then admitted that U.S.-owned nuclear weapons, which could be delivered by NATO-member planes, are in Europe.
“That’s no secret,” he said, adding that he doesn’t comment on how many or where they are deployed. “Deterrence must be credible and when NATO is together, he won’t attack.”
The challenge, Stoltenberg said, is new threats, like Russian cyber-meddling in Democratic elections.
“Those attacks blur the line between peace and war,” he said.
Turkey’s recent addition of a sophisticated Russian-made surface-to-air missile system, known as the S-400, is also a problem for NATO, Stoltenberg said. The technology cannot be integrated with other NATO hardware and has prompted U.S. concerns that Russian engineers setting up the Turkish missile system will learn details about the American-made F-35 stealth fighter jet also in Turkey’s arsenal, he said.
Stoltenberg said he wanted to avoid the current situation and is concerned about Turkey’s decision to acquire the Russian technology.
“That’s not good,” he said. “It’s bad for all of us.”
Still, he declined to call Turkey’s move a turn toward Russia and away from NATO. He said Turkey is a “key ally” in the fight against ISIS and also is talking to Italy, France and the U.S. about buying their missile systems.
“They are contributing to many different NATO missions,” he said. “Turkey as a NATO member is more than the S-400.”
As for Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said he is hopeful that peace talks with the Taliban are fruitful, though it is too early to tell. He said NATO is working closely with U.S. representatives to ensure the investments and gains made in the country are preserved and that Afghanistan doesn’t become a terrorist haven again. Still, the Afghan government and forces will likely continue to need foreign money to operate if U.S. and NATO troops leave the country, Stoltenberg said.
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