NATO Secretary General Touts Trans-Atlantic Unity at Slovakian Convocation

As NATO approaches its 70th anniversary, the alliance sustains its relevance by maintaining the trans-Atlantic bonds in the face of different challenges, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today in Kosic, Slovakia.

The alliance was founded after World War II to prevent World War III. “For 40 years since NATO was established back in 1949, until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, NATO did actually only one thing: and that was to deter the Soviet Union,” the secretary general said at a “Bucharest 9” meeting, an initiative begun by Romania in 2014 as a platform for strengthening cooperation among Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

The mission to deter the Soviet Union was serious, and it was the only priority for the Western alliance, Stoltenberg said. “We were able then to end the Cold War without one single shot being fired on European soil,” he added.

The fall of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact led to calls for the alliance to disband on the grounds that NATO was outdated and unneeded in a post-Soviet Europe.

NATO turned its attention toward the Balkans and helped end the unrest that threatened the continent. “We helped to end two wars in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia-Kosovo,” the secretary general said. “We started to also address the global fight against terrorism with our mission in Afghanistan.”

Beyond NATO’s Borders

For 25 years, the alliance’s focus was “beyond NATO territory, beyond Europe, fighting terrorism, managing crises beyond our borders,” he said.

Then came Russia’s actions in Georgia, followed by its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. A more aggressive Russia is now using force in Eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the alliance still has to continue its part in the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The alliance still supports training Afghan security forces, and alliance service members have missions to the south.

“We don’t have the luxury of either fighting terrorism or focusing on collective defense in Europe. We have to do both things at the same time,” Stoltenberg said. “I am actually quite impressed by NATO, by the way we have been able to … adapt — again — to respond to a changing and more unpredictable security environment.”

Changing Security Environment

The security environment is changing again. “We see Russia using force against neighbors as they have done in Ukraine,” he said. “But what really is also of concern now is that Russia is violating a cornerstone arms control agreement, the [Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty].”

That treaty bans all intermediate-range weapons and has served the people of Europe well, he said. Russia is again developing and deploying these intermediate-range weapons in Europe. “We continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance with this treaty,” the secretary general said. “We don’t want a new arms race. We don’t want a new Cold War. We actually want dialogue with Russia, because Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay.”

The NATO allies responded as one to Russia’s INF provocation, he said, and have also united around the eastern partners. Still, he added, NATO upholds the values of the member states.

“We see differences on trade issues, on climate change, on issues like, for instance, the Iran nuclear deal. We have seen internal discussions in NATO about burden-sharing, defense investments,” Stoltenberg said. “But the lesson we have learned is that … NATO has always been able to overcome them and to unite and stand together, again, around our core task, to defend and protect each other — because we know that we are stronger together than alone, and by preserving peace, we create a foundation for stability.”