Opinion | Editorial Board interviews NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Jens Stoltenberg is NATO’s 13th Secretary-General, a position he has held since 2014. He had previously served as Prime Minister of Norway twice for a total of nine years. The Post editorial board asked him about the war in Ukraine and other important issues for the alliance. The interview took place last week at NATO headquarters in Brussels and has been edited for length and clarity.

Lee Hockstadder, Washington Post Editorial Board Member: How did the war lead to a realignment of NATO’s defense posture and doctrine?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: The Ukraine War fundamentally changed NATO, but we must remember that the war did not start in 2022. The war started in 2014. And since then, NATO has implemented the largest collective defense buildup since the end of the Cold War. war.

For the first time in our country’s history, we have combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the alliance, in the Polish, Lithuanian and Baltic battle groups, in fact across eight battle groups from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Our military will be more responsive. And increase defense spending. By 2014, NATO allies had cut their defense budgets. Since 2014, all European and Canadian allies have significantly increased their defense spending. And we’ve modernized our command structure, increased our exercises, and established new military domains like cyber. So, all in all, this is a major transformation of NATO that started in 2014.

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Hook studder: Nevertheless, only seven NATO members have met the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defense.

Stoltenberg: First, compared to 2014, there are significant differences. Until 2014, it was in a slump. Well, let’s go up.

Second, the combined NATO allies of Europe and Canada have added $350 billion to defense spending since 2014, which is a significant amount. More and more allies are meeting the 2% target, and almost all plan to do so within a few years. And, of course, the Ukrainian war proved the importance of investment.

Hook studder: What would be the most plausible way forward for Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership?

Stoltenberg: First of all, all NATO allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance. All allies agree that Ukraine has the right to choose its own path and that it is Kiev, not Moscow, that decides. And third, all allies agree that NATO’s doors remain open. The question is when that will be, but I can’t give you a timeline for that.

All I can say is that we are currently working with them to help transition from Soviet-era equipment, doctrines and standards to NATO doctrines and standards, to make their forces interoperable with NATO forces, It’s about enabling them to support further reforms and standards. Modernize defense and security institutions.

The urgent task now is to ensure Ukraine’s victory as a sovereign and independent state. Because if Ukraine does not win, there will be no issues at all to discuss.

Hook studder: No real move toward nuclear deployment by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, China has warned against this and should have some leverage in Moscow. Should the world still view these nuclear threats as credible?

Stoltenberg: NATO has basically two tasks in war. One is to help Ukraine like we do. Another is to prevent escalation. And we will make it absolutely clear that we are not parties to any conflict, and that we have 40,000 troops under NATO command and substantial naval and air support, as we have done so far. Prevent escalation by increasing military presence in the East of the Alliance.

In addition, there are constant discussions about what kind of weapons should be provided, and the issue of fighter aircraft is also being discussed among allies. As important as it is to discuss new systems, it is also very important to focus on maintaining all the systems we have already delivered, including ammunition, spare parts and maintenance.

Hook studder: A Discord leak has revealed that US intelligence agencies have assessed that a future Ukrainian attack is unlikely to result in a major territorial change. Would you like to share that rating too?

Stoltenberg: So first, I’m not going to verify the information in those leaks, but at least some of them are manipulated and I know they’re not correct.

Second, the Ukrainians have proven that they can retake territory.

Third, there has been an unprecedented supply of new weapons, ammunition, spare parts and training since the winter of these alleged leaks. As such, NATO allies and partners trained more than nine brigades this winter and are now fully equipped, fully manned and well trained. And that’s a fair amount of combat power, including 230 tanks and heavy armor. and many modern weapon systems.

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Hook studder: Is it possible for China to play a diplomatic role in negotiations to end the war?

Stoltenberg: So far, we have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine, but welcome the meeting between President Zelensky and President Xi Jinping.

What happens in Europe matters to Asia, and what happens in Asia matters to Europe. Because if Putin wins in Ukraine, it will be a tragedy for Ukrainians. But it’s also dangerous for all of us. Because that would send a message to President Putin as well as to President Xi that with the use of force, you can get what you want. And it will make us even more vulnerable.

Hook studder: Obviously, NATO is aimed at the North Atlantic, not the Pacific, but a war over Taiwan could easily target US military bases in the Pacific. Can you imagine a scenario in which NATO is embroiled in conflict with China?

Stoltenberg: Yes, NATO is a North American-European alliance, not a global alliance with Asian members, and our collective security applies to NATO territories. Second, any conflict in and around Taiwan will have grave consequences for all of us. Her 50% of vessels for trade and container cargo pass through the Taiwan Strait. A significant amount of the world’s semiconductors are produced in Taiwan. Therefore, the economic and trade implications of the conflict in Taiwan would be immediate and devastating. And, of course, military conflict will be important for NATO and NATO allies.

Hook studder: What is your assessment of French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions for European strategic autonomy?

Stoltenberg: We welcome the European Union’s defense efforts. What we must avoid is duplication and competition. One reason is that the EU cannot protect Europe. 80% of NATO’s defense spending comes from non-EU allies. It also has to do with geography. If you look at the NATO map, not only Norway to the north and Turkey to the south, but of course the USA, Canada and Great Britain are also important to Europe’s defense.

And politically, any attempt to weaken the ties between North America and Europe does more than split NATO. It would divide Europe. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Ukraine war, it’s that North America and Europe must come together. Non-EU NATO allies such as the US, Canada and the UK have been training Ukrainian forces since 2014. And, of course, they provide a good portion, with 78 percent of the aid to Ukraine coming from non-EU NATO allies.

Hook studder: What will a second Trump administration mean for US leadership and NATO?

Stoltenberg: I was Secretary General when Donald Trump was President of the United States. Of course, there have been disagreements among NATO allies on issues ranging from climate change to the Iran nuclear deal.

But the reality is that we could actually cooperate more on NATO issues. And again, this shows the strength of NATO that we have always been able to unite around our core values.

Hook studder: Polls show that support for Ukraine is declining, especially among Republicans.

Stoltenberg: I am absolutely convinced that strong bipartisan support for Ukraine in the United States will continue, especially because it serves the security interests of the United States. A strong NATO is good for Europe, and support for Ukraine is good for the United States, especially given the security challenges China poses.

No other power has more than 30 friends and allies in NATO like the United States. Neither Russia nor China has anything like it. And NATO allies together represent 50 percent of the world’s military power and 50 percent of the world’s economic power. So, of course, even our biggest ally, the United States, needs friends. If Putin wins, it will be a tragedy for Ukrainians and a danger to all of us, including the United States.

Hook studder: Would a Russian attack on critical infrastructure, such as submarine cables owned by NATO member states or companies, trigger the invocation of NATO Article 5?

Stoltenberg: That’s for NATO to decide. We are now looking at what we can do more about sharing intelligence, including with the private sector, to detect potential threats. it is one. The other is military presence, not only as a means of deterrence but also as a means of surveillance.

Not all internet cables can be end-to-end protected, but their presence reduces risk and reduces the likelihood of Russian denial. Over the last few years, we have seen Russia not calling for an all-out confrontation with NATO by invoking Article 5, but trying to act below the standards of Article 5. I mean hybrid, cyber, covert action. And, of course, attacks on undersea infrastructure are also easy to deny because they are difficult to monitor.

Contributor’s Views | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of the Post as an institution, determined through discussion among members of the Editorial Board, and are based on the Opinion Section, separate from the Newsroom.

Editorial board members and areas of focus: Thought Editor David Shipley; Opinion Editor-in-Chief Karen Tamarti. Deputy Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (National Politics and Policy). Lee Hochstadder (Paris, Europe); David E. Hoffman (Global Public Health); James Homan (Domestic Policy and Electoral Politics, including the White House, Congress and Governors). Charles Lane (Diplomatic Affairs, National Security, International Economics). Heather Long (Economics); Deputy Editor-in-Chief Ruth Marcus. Mili Mitra (Public Policy Solutions and Audience Development); Keith B. Richberg (Diplomacy); and Molly Roberts (Technology and Society).

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