NATO Talk 2018: Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin

Montag, 3. Dezember 2018

Unnecessary, obsolete, divided? Many adjectives have been used to describe NATO, and not many of them positive. But NATO is indispensable for Europe, as Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and international experts agreed during the NATO Talk 2018 conference.

Jens Stoltenberg

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, advocated increased defence spending and trust in the transatlantic partnership. Photo: Federal Academy for Security Policy/Sommerfeld.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is a busy man. In late October, he attended the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, in early November he visited soldiers in Afghanistan, and just a few days later he was in Paris to commemorate the victims of World War I. Despite his busy schedule, he took the time to open the NATO Talk around the Brandenburger Tor on 12 November with a keynote speech and to respond to questions from conference participants (click here for NATO’s documentation of the speech). He welcomed the about 600 participants attending the event, which was co-hosted by the German Atlantic Association and the Federal Academy for Security Policy, saying “I really feel that I’m among friends of NATO”. Yet he had much more to say about another kind of friendship: the sometimes difficult, sometimes gruelling, yet still absolutely essential partnership between Europe and the United States.

Stoltenberg remarked that “we have to be honest and admit that we see differences and disagreements. Over issues such as trade, the Iran nuclear deal and other issues”. At the conference, at least, there was little sense of discord. The general tenor was that Europe cannot ensure its security on its own and, for that very reason, needs to contribute more to collective defence. “Remain transatlantic and become more European” is an approach many are now calling for, and the NATO Talk had set out to discuss how that could be accomplished in the future.

U.S. NATO policy: changing the rhetoric but not the reality

Soldaten laufen durch die Heide.

Every second soldier at the Trident Juncture NATO exercise was an American. Photo: NATO

One of U.S. President Trump’s main demands since he took office has been for Europe to contribute more to defence – that is, when he is not busy calling the EU a foe or questioning multilateralism. “President Trump is a zero-sum player”, former ambassador Dr Klaus Scharioth said in his opening statement at the NATO Talk, adding that the U.S. president does not see working together to achieve more as an option in international politics. And what does that mean for the Alliance? At the NATO Talk, it soon became clear that there are differences between the U.S. president’s rhetoric and the United States’ alliance policy. As Secretary General Stoltenberg pointed out in his speech, the United States has actually increased its involvement in NATO. Stoltenberg said that, “In recent years, the U.S. has increased the funding for its military presence in Europe by 40 percent”. In his opinion, disagreements within an alliance of democracies are “natural” and have happened before. However, according to Stoltenberg, “the lesson of history is that we have been able to overcome our differences” – and need to ensure that we still can in the future.

“Two percent and that’s it?”

Ein geschäftlich gekleideter Mann gestikuliert.

We also have to bear civilian contributions in mind, says former ambassador Dr Klaus Scharioth. Photo: Federal Academy for Security Policy/Sommerfeld

For Stoltenberg and many participants in the conference, that does not change the fact that Europe needs to do more for its own security. “I need more defence spending, including from Germany”, the Secretary General said. Many other speakers emphasised that there is a consensus in the U.S. about this issue, and has been since Trump’s predecessor Obama was in office. “The president is saying two percent and that’s it”, Julianne Smith of the Robert Bosch Academy said. Smith, who previously worked in the Obama administration, underscored the fact that the Democrats had already been making the same demand for years. Klaus Scharioth, on the other hand, pointed out that we do not need to think solely along military lines: “Just because I have a hammer doesn’t mean every problem is a nail”, said Scharioth, who spent many years as German ambassador in Washington, D.C. In his view, it is also important to bear civilian contributions to common security in mind, for example through crisis prevention or integrating refugees.

The EU and NATO are not in competition

With regard to what the European Union could do in terms of burden-sharing in security and defence policy, Stoltenberg stressed the importance of avoiding competition between the EU and NATO. He welcomes European efforts to cooperate on defence – “But only if they are anchored within the transatlantic partnership”. Stoltenberg stated that it would be particularly unrealistic for Europe to try to replace the contributions made by the U.S., pointing out that “after Brexit, 80 percent of NATO defence spending will come from non-EU NATO allies”. With that in mind, his conclusion was that “European unity can never be a substitute for transatlantic unity”.

A European army vs an Army of Europeans

Ein geschäftlich gekleideter mann sitzt auf einem Stuhl und spricht in ein Mikrofon.

Dr Tobias Lindner, a member of the Bundestag from the Green Party, is open to the idea of employing German soldiers in European armed forces. Photo: Federal Academy for Security Policy/Sommerfeld

The conference also addressed the current discussion about a “European army” versus an “Army of Europeans”. Lieutenant General Hans-Werner Wiermann, who represents Germany in the NATO and EU military committees, referred to the idea of an EU army as an “idealised figure” that, however, could “definitely be useful” in continuing to increase cooperation among the armed forces on the continent. Nick Pickard, the British Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO, made similar remarks, stating that he had “no angst” regarding a European army – it could be “a castle in the air” in the positive sense. However, he expressed his doubts that the French and German parliaments would really be willing to support an army of this nature. Lieutenant General Wiermann, for his part, addressed the issue of legitimacy, saying that deploying armed forces is a matter “of life and death – who will take responsibility for it?” As he sees it, this question will have to be “answered politically in Brussels”. The requirement for approval by the German Bundestag has sometimes been criticised as an obstacle to greater integration of Europe’s armed forces, a position which the NATO Talk vehemently opposed. Dr Tobias Lindner, a member of the Bundestag from the Green Party, referred to the European Parliament as an authority that could ensure “the democratic legitimacy of the decision” if common EU armed forces are deployed someday.

Maintaining the INF Treaty

Eine startende Rakete

Travelling back in time? Since 1987, the INF Treaty has prohibited the U.S. and Russia from having intermediate-range missiles – now it is in jeopardy. Photo: ermaleksandr/Flickr/Public Domain

The NATO Talk was marked by U.S. President Trump’s recent announcement of his intention to withdraw from the U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which has prohibited intermediate-range ballistic missiles since 1987 and which U.S. experts in particular have long suspected Russia of violating. In his speech, Secretary General Stoltenberg called the treaty a “cornerstone of arms control” that was “born out of transatlantic efforts”. He argued in favour of maintaining the treaty, while calling for better compliance with it on Russia’s part: “We must not allow [...] treaties to be violated with impunity”. Ambassador Scharioth agreed: “We have to make it very clear to Russia that we cannot accept this infringement”. Otherwise, he believes that Europe is at risk of being cut off from the protection of nuclear deterrence within the framework of the nuclear balance between Russia and the U.S. For this reason, Scharioth advocated dialogue with Russia and referred to the potential solution of making the treaty multilateral by involving new signatories such as China.

The NATO Talk around the Brandenburger Tor

The German Atlantic Association initiated the NATO Talk around the Brandenburger Tor in 2008. Since 2014, it has been co-hosted by the Federal Academy for Security Policy. Once a year, this conference brings together national and international experts and decision-makers to discuss current issues involving NATO.

Authors: Katharina Münster and Sebastian Nieke