NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg – a former Norwegian prime minister – told an audience in Washignton that the alliance that has overseen decades of security following the Second World War must adapt to address future threats. The challenges that NATO allies face from renewed Russian aggression and “nuclear saber-rattling”, as well as its intervention in Ukraine, is dangerous and destabilizing said Stoletenberg.
Speaking to a May 27 gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Stoltenberg said of the historic alliance, “We are at a turning point for Euro-Atlantic security. We face rising challenges: the very fabric of our security order is at stake and we must be prepared for the long haul.” Outside of the European region, said Stoltenberg, the so-called Arab Spring has turned into a brutal winter where failed states and terrorism are spreading intolerance and attacks “from Paris to Texas.” The instability and strife caused by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups are causing a significant out-migration from the areas directly affected in the Mideast and North Africa, he said.
Besides the security threat posed by instability to the south of Europe, the threat posed by a “resurgent” Russia are also of concern, said Stoltenberg.”Russia’s illegitimate annexation of Crimea and its continued destabilization of Ukraine brought armed conflict back to Europe,” that have cost more than 6,000 lives. He expressed support for the efforts of the United States and NATO allies to find a political solution. He said, “The path to peace is the full implementation of the Minks Agreement,” while pointing out Russia’s support of separatists in the form of arms and troops.
But Russia’s behavior in Ukraine should not be analyzed in isolation, said Stolenberg. The maintenance of a large number of troops on Ukraine’s border, along with the training, weapons and materiel it provides to the separtists are “part of a disturbing pattern of Russian behavior that goes well beyond Ukraine.” He added, “This pattern undermines states, transparency, unpredictability of military activities, and a commitment to resolve differences through diplomacy, not force.”
Russia has broken its commitments to the United Nations Charter, said Stoltenberg. Unlike NATO, Russia minimizes transparency of its military exercises. In fact, Russia was conducting a “snap exercise” on the very day that Stoltenberg was speaking. These exercises involve 80,000 troops each, said Stoltenberg. It was such an exercise that was used to conceal the annexation of Crimea in February 2014. In the case of Ukraine and Georgia, Russian intervention came when each of the two countries had sought closer relations with Europe: Ukraine sought to join the EU and Georgia sought to join NATO.
Turning to Russia’s nuclear threat, the NATO leader reminded his listeners that Russia has declared it has a right to deploying nuclear forces in Crimea. Russia also displayed new nuclear weapons systems during its May Day parade this year. “We learned during the Cold War that when it comes to nuclear weapons, caution, predictability and transparency are vital. Russia’s saber-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous. Russia, said Stoltenberg, is deploying modern weapons sytems and troops near NATO borders. “These are not random events,” said Stoltenberg, “They form a bigger picture which is of great concern. Russia is a global actor that is asserting its military power, stirring up aggressive nationalism, claiming the right to impose its will on its neighbors, and grabbing land.”
Stoltenberg asserted that “the choices made by Moscow have taken our relations with Russia to their lowest point in decades. We are not back to the Cold War, but we are far from a strategic relationship, so we need to deal with the challenges that may be with us for a long time.” This can be done, said Stoltenberg, by reinforcing NATO’s “collective brands”: collective defense, managing Russia, and supporting Europe. To this end, NATO is engaged in the biggest collective defense reinforcement since the end of the Cold War. NATO now has an increased presence in Eastern Europe, including beefed-up air policing and military exercises, and doubling the size of NATO’s rapid response force.
While NATO is carefully assessing Russia’s aggression, including its nuclear threat, Stoltenberg is calling for an end to defense spending cuts, followed by a gradual increase to 2 percent of GDP for each member country. “We do not seek confrontation with Russia, nor do we seek its isolation,” he said. NATO seeks a constructive relationship with Russia that would foster worldwide security. “But Russia has changed,” said Stoltenberg, who added “and we must adapt. We will not change who we are. We are sticking to our principles and to our international commitments.” Constructive dialogue with Russia, e.g. military to military contacts and using information instead of disinformation or propaganda, must be coupled with strengthening collective defense. Having stability in Europe, and trustworthy neighbors, are NATO’s goals. It is therefore, Stoltenberg said, that NATO is assisting Georgia and Moldova with reforms as sovereign nations that choose their own path.
Stoltenberg finished up by saying that NATO has erased divisions in Europe and built regional order. However, he said, “We must adapt to ensure our security, to protect the values of our open and democratic society and to support our partners…The world is changing, and we are changing. But one thing that will not change is our determination to stay united.”
According to NATO guidelines, member countries should spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. However, as of 2013 only four member countries spent at that level: Estonia, Greece, the USA and the UK. China and Russia are projected to significantly increase their defense spending by this year. According to IHS, four of the top five fastest growing defense markets in 2013 were in the Middle East, as spending grew especially in the East and South:
Saudi Arabia’s budget has tripled in 10 years; 2013 marked its largest rise since 2007
Non-NATO spending is forecast to overtake NATO spend in 2021
China is projected to outspend the UK, France and Germany combined by 2015
Russia grabbed third place, pushing the UK to fourth and Japan to fifth
By 2015, the sum of Russia and China’s defense budgets are projected to overtake spending by the EU
Sub-Saharan Africa budgets rose 18% in 2013 and present long-term opportunities for defense companies