Mission, show that NATO is still alive. And warn skeptics about the future of the alliance, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, that the end of the transatlantic link could also lead Europe's unity. "The EU and NATO are two sides of the same coin," warns the secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, during an interview with THE COUNTRY held Tuesday at the agency's headquarters in Brussels.
The appointment takes place 24 hours before the first ministerial meeting, this Wednesday, held by NATO since the French president virtually gave up the Alliance for dead and claimed an independent European defense of the United States. "Any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO, but also divide Europe," warns the 60-year-old Norwegian, who plans to move to Paris next week to meet with Macron. Unspoken objective of the visit: to neutralize the risk that France undermines the transatlantic link and frightens European countries that rely more on Washington than on Brussels.
Question. On December 3 and 4, NATO will celebrate its 70th anniversary at a summit in London. Do you think it will continue to exist in five or 10 years?
Answer. Of course yes. Definitely. We are the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to change as the world changed. And we will continue to do so. We will continue to adapt in a moment of uncertainty in which strong multilateral institutions such as NATO are needed. The Alliance has preserved peace and avoided conflicts for 70 years. And we will continue to do so for many more decades.
P. But some key allies, such as the US or France, have questioned the principle of collective defense, Article 5, which stipulates that an attack against one of the allies will be considered an attack against all allies and that it is the essential foundation of The alliance.
P. I recently visited the US and both President Trump and both parties in Congress have clearly expressed a fireproof commitment to NATO. And we see that the commitment of the United States is not only in word. After the Cold War, the US reduced its presence in Europe. Now it is increasing. The last time he withdrew troops was in 2013. Now he expands them. And next year we will carry out maneuvers that will feature the largest deployment of US troops on European soil since the end of the Cold War.
P. Turkey has attacked Syria without consulting the allies. Does it jeopardize NATO coordination?
R. NATO is not present in northern Syria. And about the Turkish incursion into that territory there are different opinions. I have expressed my deep concern about the consequences of that incursion. And I hope it does not jeopardize the enormous progress of the global coalition against the terrorist group ISIS.
P. NATO is in Turkey. Spain specifically has a Patriot missile system deployed there. Do you think they should continue?
R. Yes. I welcome that deployment and would welcome any extension. These missiles have helped protect the civilian population and preserve peace.
P. What happens if Turkey is attacked by a third country? Would Article 5 be invoked?
R. Article 5 does not depend on a missile deployment of an ally or not. It is a political decision.
P. President Macron has said that the Alliance is "in brain death." How have you taken it, which is the visible head of the Alliance?
R. Next week I will go to Paris and I plan to discuss this issue with President Macron. What I can say today is that NATO is strong, agile and vital to our security. The European unit cannot replace the transatlantic unit. The EU is important, but cannot defend Europe.
P. Hasn't the time come for Europe to become an adult and can defend itself?
R. We live in a world in which we must be together. The reality is that there are so many challenges, so many threats, so many uncertainties, that the best way to defend a country is to be with other countries. When we are together, we are safer. And that is the success of NATO. As long as any potential adversary knows that an attack on an ally would provoke the response of the entire Alliance, there will be no attacks.
P. The new European Commission, with Josep Borrell as High Representative of Foreign Policy, has set itself the objective of developing a Europe of defense. How does that plan combine with NATO?
R. I am looking forward to working with Borrell, a long time friend. And I warmly welcome the European efforts in defense, which we had been claiming for a long time. But the European defense cannot be an alternative to NATO, as was clear during my recent visit to Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. The EU and NATO are two sides of the same coin. We cannot force ourselves to choose between the transatlantic unit and the European unit. We need both. And any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO, but also divide Europe. The EU is a great instrument to generate peace, stability and prosperity. But the EU cannot replace NATO, and less after Brexit, when 80% of the expenditure in defense of the Alliance will be from allies outside the EU.
R. Crimea is unacceptable and shows that, for the first time in Europe since World War II, Russia is willing to use military force to seize part of the territory of another country. But Crimea is not part of NATO. And that is why we have deployed combat troops on our borders, so that it is clear, without any doubt or risk of misunderstanding, that we will never accept the repetition of Crimea in a NATO country. It is a clear message. If any NATO ally is attacked, the entire Alliance will respond.
P. France seems willing to turn the page of the Ukrainian war and reconcile with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Do you favor that approach?
R. We need deterrence, defense and dialogue. And there is no contradiction between being strong and firm and offering dialogue. On the contrary, as long as we stand firm and united we can enter into a political dialogue with Russia. I strongly believe that we should aim for a better relationship with Moscow. But we cannot sacrifice our principles or our security.
P. You are one of the few Western leaders who seems to get along with Donald Trump. What is the secret?
R. For me it is important to have a good working relationship with all NATO leaders. When I meet with the leaders I focus on the issues that unite us, such as security, or the fact that European allies are taking a step forward. We had an unfair burden sharing, as Trump has made clear, but the evolution is positive. European allies will add 100,000 million euros in defense expenses between 2016 and the end of next year. An unprecedented increase in the history of our security.
P. Some analysts believe that the US complaints are exaggerated because only 5% of its Defense budget goes to Europe. The rest responds to other objectives.
R. It is true that the US is a global power. But, for example, nuclear deterrence is an automatic guarantee for NATO partners. And although these weapons, which are very expensive, are deployed in US territory, they are important for European defense. And in the 2015 maneuvers in Spain we saw how an American rapid reaction force was airborne in a matter of hours from North Carolina and landed by parachute in Spanish territory. So I think that figure [5%] refers to American troops stationed in Europe, but it is a bit artificial calculation. The reality is that the US is the backbone of the Alliance.
P. What's easier, dealing with Trump or Macron?
R. I don't compare leaders in those terms. What matters to me is that NATO is fulfilling its function. There have always been differences, since its creation. In 1956 we had the Suez Canal crisis. In 1966, the withdrawal of France from the military cooperation structure. In the 70s, the deployment of Turkish troops in Cyprus. And in 2003, the war in Iraq. Many issues have divided the allies, there is nothing new. But we have shown time and again that we can overcome these differences because we are interested in being together for our security, to fight terrorism, and to deter any attack against a NATO ally.