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NATO Secretary General Stresses Change, European Union Integration

December 20, 2017

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2017 — NATO is evolving and adapting to changing times, and part of that evolution must involve the European Union, the alliance secretary general said at the French Ecole Militaire yesterday.

Jens Stoltenberg told students at the illustrious university in Paris that NATO has proven its ability to evolve to face changing threats.

“Our history has taught us that our ability to adapt is crucial to our success,” the secretary general said. “Again and again, faced with a changing world, the alliance has evolved.”

The alliance formed to combat the Soviet Union and ensure Western Europe’s freedom and independence. It evolved when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

It evolved again with the al-Qaida attacks on 9/11, with NATO taking a lead role in Afghanistan.

Three years ago, the alliance had to change again when Russia illegally annexed Crimea — the only time since World War II that a European country has seized part of another by force. And in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria captured Mosul and Raqqa, and declared those cities as parts of its so-called caliphate.

“As a result, NATO has to both strengthen our collective defense at home and manage crises beyond our borders,” Stoltenberg said.

Deter, Defend

In Europe, NATO allies “have implemented the largest reinforcement of our deterrence and defense since the Cold War,” he said. The NATO Response Force tripled to 40,000 troops, including a high-readiness force, ready to move within days. The alliance also stepped up military exercises and enhanced air policing in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.

“We have deployed almost 5,000 troops in four multinational battle groups to the east of the alliance,” he said. Those battle groups are in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.

And the allies are continuing to increase defense spending, he said.

“NATO’s actions are defensive, proportionate and in line with our international commitments,” the secretary general said. “Our aim is not to provoke conflict, but to prevent conflict. We don’t want a new Cold War, and we don’t want a new arms race.”

Russia is a neighbor and the alliance approach to Russia combines strong defense with meaningful dialogue.

But Russia is only one problem that must be dealt with. “Since 9/11, NATO allies have stood together in solidarity against terrorism,” Stoltenberg said. “In Afghanistan we have transitioned from combat operations, to the training and advising of local Afghan forces. But we are now increasing the number of troops serving in our mission to 16,000 NATO soldiers in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.”

The alliance is also a full partner of the global coalition to defeat ISIS. NATO assets — such as the AWACS capability — and NATO expertise are on display throughout Iraq, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

NATO Stronger With EU

“NATO is strengthening its collective defense and, at the same time, projecting stability in its neighborhood,” Stoltenberg said. “Both of those are more effective when NATO and the European Union work together.”

Stoltenberg had one big statistic to back up his claim: About 94 percent of the EU’s population lives in a NATO member nation.

Talks continue and the two alliances have made progress. “We have boosted our cooperation on cyber defense, maritime security, fighting terrorism and countering hybrid warfare, among many other things,” the secretary general said. “Neither NATO nor the European Union have all the tools to tackle the challenges alone, but together we are a formidable force for good.”

He called on France, a founding member of both NATO and the EU, to play a key role to ensure the coherence of these efforts. “I am convinced a strong European defense is good for the European Union, it is good for Europe and it is good for NATO, as long as it respects three key principles,” he said.

Build, Strengthen, Compliment

The first is to build the necessary capabilities: spending more and spending better. That means tackling the fragmentation of the European defense industry. “The U.S. has one type of main battle tank, while Europe has 17 different types,” he said. “The U.S. has four types of frigates and destroyers; Europe has 29. The U.S. has six types of fighter planes; Europe has 20.”

He does not want to eliminate competition, but he does want to see some coherence, interoperability and cost savings in the process.

“Second, a stronger European defense also needs to involve non-EU allies to the fullest possible extent, of course respecting the autonomy and integrity of the European Union,” he said.

Stoltenberg said nations on both sides of the Atlantic continue to be engaged in European security. “For the first time in years, the United States and Canada are increasing their military presence on our continent,” he said. “And, after Brexit, non-EU allies will account for 80 percent of NATO defense spending, and three of the four battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance will be led by non-EU allies.”

There is no way the EU can replace NATO, he said, but it could strengthen the European pillar of the alliance.

Finally, a stronger European defense needs to compliment, not duplicate, NATO’s own efforts.

“On duplications, for instance, NATO already has a well-established defense planning process,” Stoltenberg said. “We’ve had it for decades, and as part of that process, we identify in detail the capabilities that each ally needs to deliver to ensure the alliance has the tools it needs to do its job. It would be a mistake for the EU to duplicate that process. Capitals should not be faced with two conflicting lists for capability requirements.”

“We share 22 members, so to compete would be like competing with ourselves,” he continued. “That makes no sense. Our roles are distinct but mutually reinforcing. We must work together in a coherent way.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)