Five Questions to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Challenges for European Security
Interview with Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Brussels
Körber-Stiftung: Secretary General Stoltenberg, what would you respond to a room full of fierce German opponents of increased military spending?
Stoltenberg: I know what it’s like to be in rooms like these. It reminds me of some meetings when I was a Norwegian politician.
Increasing defense spending is not easy. There are always competing demands for government resources, and many politicians would prefer to spend on education, health and infrastructure. As Norway’s Minister of Finance in the 1990s, I myself was responsible for reducing defense spending. After the Cold War, many NATO countries were able to cut defense spending because tensions lowered. We benefited from what we saw as a peace dividend. But the security situation in Europe has fundamentally changed.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and aggressive actions in eastern Ukraine – along with its wider military build-up – should serve as a wake-up call. We also see turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East, rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to suffer terrorist attacks in the streets of Europe and North America. All of these challenges come on top of threats like proliferation and cyber-attacks. Responding to this new security environment does not come for free. Of course, defense spending cannot be the only answer to an unstable world, but it is an important part. If we were able to cut defense spending when tensions went down, we need to be able to increase spending when tensions are rising.
Also, transatlantic security is a transatlantic responsibility, and Europe must do more to share the burden. All NATO allies pledged at our Wales Summit in 2014 to move towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. This remains our goal. Peace is our mission. We don’t want a new Cold War and we don’t want a new arms race. We continue to strive for a more constructive relationship and strengthened political dialogue with Russia.
Körber-Stiftung: What role does Germany play for European defense?
Stoltenberg: Germany is at the heart of Europe, its largest economy, and at the heart of our Alliance. What Germany does matters for NATO, for Europe, and for international security. I strongly welcome Germany’s recent decisions to boost defense spending and increase the number of troops serving in the Bundeswehr.
Germany makes significant contributions to NATO’s missions and operations, including in Kosovoand Afghanistan, where an outstanding German diplomat serves as my Senior Civilian Representative, as well as to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Germany leads NATO’s multinational battlegroup in Lithuania, and contributes to keeping the skies safe over the Baltic Sea. These are concrete demonstrations of Germany’s leadership in addressing the security challenges we face, and I welcome Germany’s vital role.
Körber-Stiftung: Which steps need to be taken in order to ensure that increased European defense spending also results in increased defense capabilities?
Stoltenberg: I commend all efforts to increase defense spending and defense capabilities in Europe. Within NATO, we should work more closely together on defense investment, focusing on multinational cooperation.
It is also essential that NATO and the European Union cooperate more closely. Duplication is a luxury we cannot afford. I am pleased that European allies have started to invest more in our collective defense. But we will need to continue investing in modern equipment. For example, we need more air-to-air refuelling aircraft, more drones, and more strategic airlift. On defense spending, we are starting to move in the right direction. We expect 2017 to be the third consecutive year of accelerating defense spending. But it’s not enough to spend more – we need to spend better.
At our meeting of NATO leaders in May, allies therefore decided to develop national plans setting out how they intend to meet the investment pledge we made in Wales. These plans will be reviewed annually and cover three major areas: cash, capabilities, and contributions. The first set of reports on national plans will be reviewed by defense ministers in February. This will help us to invest more and better in our defense.
Körber-Stiftung: What is the main obstacle to European defense procurement?
Stoltenberg: Defense spending decisions are taken at the national level. The European defense market is fragmented, and this is a challenge. For instance, European allies have 29 different types of frigates. The United States of America has just four. The US manufactures one infantry-fighting vehicle, while in Europe we build 19 different types. This fragmentation problem exists for many types of military equipment: on land, in the air, and at sea. So I welcome the European Union’s initiatives to consolidate the European defense industry. Through its defense planning process, NATO is also encouraging greater multinational collaboration and more joint investment among allies in order to spend smarter on defense. This will mean greater economies of scale, and enhanced capabilities for everyone.
Körber-Stiftung: What kind of defense actor should the EU be and how should it divide labor with NATO?
Stoltenberg: NATO and the European Union are complementary. Neither of us has all the tools to deal with the complex security challenges we face. But together, we have the full tool-kit – and by working more closely together, we are more effective.
If Europe is more capable of providing effective and collective crisis responses, this is good for our security, and good for NATO. So a stronger Europe will also make NATO stronger. Nonetheless, cooperation instead of duplication is key.
NATO is the primary framework and ultimate guarantor of Europe’s collective defense, as recognized by the EU’s own Global Strategy. This will not change. This will be even more so when the UK leaves the EU. The UK has the biggest defense budget in Europe. After Brexit, 80 percent of NATO defense spending will be from non-EU allies. Three out of the four battle groups we have deployed in the Baltic countries and Poland will be led by non-EU allies – Canada, UK and the US.
In the past year, we have made a major improvement in our level of cooperation. The EU and NATO are now implementing 42 concrete proposals to cooperate further. For example, NATO has deployed ships to the Aegean Sea, helping to implement the agreement between the EU and Turkey on migration. We have enhanced cooperation between NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian and the EU’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean through logistical support and information sharing. We are also strengthening our mutual participation in cyber exercises. We have committed to greater coherence on capability development efforts. And we work more closely together to build the capacities of our partners.
When we focus on complementarity, there is no contradiction between strong European defense and a strong NATO. Together we can help secure lasting peace and prosperity in Europe and beyond.