There have been disagreements throughout the history of the North Atlantic Alliance, but the member states have always been able to work together for collective defense, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in London today.
The secretary general previewed the NATO summit in Brussels next month during an address at the Lancaster House. He stressed the necessity of the trans-Atlantic alliance and urged the nations to stand together.
The United States has disagreements with NATO allies on economic aspects such as the Iran deal and climate change. There are disagreements within Europe, too, Stoltenberg said. European allies disagree other over the future of the European Union, what makes up European values, and the growth of populism.
But NATO must overcome the divisions, the secretary general said, adding that he believes the nations will deal with them as they have throughout to 70 years of peace alliance enabled in Europe.
“Our bond is strong, but today, some are doubting the strength of that bond,” Stoltenberg said. “It is not written in stone that the trans-Atlantic bond will survive forever, but I believe we will preserve it.”
The alliance is not a monolithic entity like the Warsaw Pact once was. It was and is made up of democracies that have had legitimate differences throughout the history of the alliance. “We have overcome disagreements before — differences of opinion is nothing new,” the secretary general said. “Some of them have been substantial.” Stoltenberg listed the Suez Crisis of 1956, the French withdrawal from NATO’s command structure in 1966 and the Iraq War in 2003.
“We are 29 democracies with different history, geography and culture,” he said. “So of course, sometimes there are disagreements.”
But that has not stopped the most successful alliance in history, he said. “Again and again, we unite around our common goal. We stand together. We protect each other,” he added.
But beyond the disagreements, one aspect stands alone: it is in each country’s strategic interest to maintain the trans-Atlantic alliance, the secretary general said, noting that history is a harsh teacher.
“Two world wars and a Cold War have taught us that Europe and North America are stronger, safer and more prosperous together,” Stoltenberg said. “That is why young American and Canadian soldiers fought on the Western Front in the First World War, and why their sons fought their way across the beaches of Normandy almost 30 years later.”
The United States fought in World War I and then washed its hands of the continent, he pointed out. “That was not a success,” Stoltenberg said. “After World War II, they stayed – in NATO — and that was a success.”
Stronger and Safer
All Western nations are stronger and safer under the alliance, he said. “It is why hundreds of thousands of European and Canadian troops have served shoulder to shoulder with American troops in Afghanistan, to defeat international terrorism, and with more than a thousand paying the ultimate price,” said he added. “It is – and has always been – in our fundamental interest to stand together. That is as true now as it has been ever before.”
The security environment is more complicated now than it has been in a generation, the secretary general said. International terrorism, missile and nuclear proliferation, cyberattacks and a resurgent Russia, which uses intimidation and force against its neighbors, are just some of the challenges of this new security environment. “It is in our common interest to face them together,” he said.
And alliance nations are facing these common challenges. “There are many different ties that bind Europe and North America together,” he said. “We may have seen the weakening of some of them lately, but our ties on defense have grown stronger. After the Cold War, the U.S. and Canada gradually reduced their military presence in Europe, and European allies cut defense spending.”
But that has changed. U.S. armored forces are back in Europe. The number of American service members on the continent has risen. Since coming to office, the Trump administration has increased funding for the U.S. presence in Europe by 40 percent. Canada has also increased its commitment to the defense of Europe.
“At the same time, Europeans are stepping up too, spending billions more on defense and taking greater responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security alongside their North American allies,” Stoltenberg said. “All allies have stopped the cuts to defense. All allies are increasing their defense spending in real terms.”
European allies and Canada have added an extra $87 billion since 2014, and more are investing 2 percent of gross domestic product – the NATO goal — on defense. “This has underpinned the biggest increase in our collective defense since the Cold War,” the secretary general said.
And there are concrete capabilities to show for the money, including the deployment of multinational battlegroups to the Baltic countries and Poland. The alliance also has tripled the size of the NATO Response Force and established a task force ready to move in 48 hours, and NATO has joined the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The alliance will do more, Stoltenberg said, and he expects leaders to approve new capabilities during the Brussels summit. “They will agree to increase the readiness of our forces with 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat ships ready to use within 30 days or less,” he said. “They will decide on a new NATO command structure with two new commands.”
NATO leaders will make decisions of integrating national cyber capabilities into the alliance’s operations, and will agree a new training mission in Iraq, he said.
Finally, he said, alliance leaders will extend funding for the Afghan forces and deepen cooperation with the European Union.
“All of this shows our determination to provide for our common defense, ready to respond to any attack from any direction,” he said. “We face a difficult security environment, but when NATO is challenged, when others would divide us, weaken us undermine us; we must stay united and rise to the challenge with strength, solidarity and resolve, just as we always have.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)