Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture With Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Secretary General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)


Chair, Commission on the National Defense Strategy; Chair, Board of Trustees, Freedom House; Former U.S. Representative from California; CFR Member

Introductory Remarks

President, Council on Foreign Relations

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discusses Russia’s war against Ukraine, including the importance of NATO and the transatlantic bond to peace and stability.

Inaugurated in 1969, the Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture was named for Russell C. Leffingwell, a charter member of the Council who served as its president from 1944 to 1946 and as its chairman from 1946 to 1953. The lecture is given by distinguished foreign officials, who are invited to address Council members on a topic of major international significance.

FROMAN: Well, good morning, everybody. My name is Mike Froman. I’m president of the Council on Foreign Relations. And I am delighted to welcome you to today’s Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture featuring NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 

I want to begin first by thanking the Leffingwell family for their generosity in endowing this annual lectureship, especially Tom and Ted Leffingwell Pulling, who are joining us virtually today. This lecture was inaugurated in 1969 and is named for Russell Leffingwell, who previously was—led CFR first as a charter member of the Council. He was president of the Council—a very important role—(laughter)—in 1944 to 1946 and chairman from 1946 to 1953. And the lectureship is for a distinguished foreign official who’s invited to address our members on a topic of major significance. Previous speakers have been the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Indian Prime Minister Singh. 

And in addition to his roles at CFR, Russell Leffingwell was also assistant secretary of treasury during the Woodrow Wilson administration, where he helped lead the bond issues that financed the U.S. military efforts in World War I. Then there was a robust debate about European security and America’s commitment to it, and today we see both the strengthening of the alliance and the testing of that alliance by the war in Ukraine. And we’re privileged to have a firsthand view of that today with Secretary General Stoltenberg. 

It's been a very important few years for NATO—the expansion to Finland and Sweden, more countries living up to their 2 percent defense commitment goal, more energy and coherence than has been there for a number of years. And that’s really due to two men, Vladimir Putin and Jens Stoltenberg. (Laughter.) Vladimir Putin couldn’t be with us today. (Laughter.) We’re delighted to have Secretary General Stoltenberg. 

We’re also delighted to have Jane Harman presiding at this event today. Jane is a nine-term member of Congress— 


FROMAN: Was a nine-term member of Congress, including being ranking member of the Intel Committee and on the Armed Services Committee; the author of eight important laws, key laws, I’m sure many others as well, including the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. And her highest and most distinguished role, of course, was being president of a think tank, the Woodrow—the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. She’s been a great source of wisdom and support for me personally in government and outside, and we’re—great to have her back on the CFR stage. 

I turn it over to Congresswoman Harman. Thank you. 

HARMAN: Thank you, Mike. (Applause.) Thank you. 

So, first, back at you, Mike. I have belonged to CFR for three decades and I want to congratulate CFR in making a stellar choice of Mike Froman as the new president. (Applause.) 

I am also delighted to welcome a man I have come to know in conferences all over Europe, at NATO, in Washington, et cetera. His tenure has just been extended for one more term. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news to him—(laughter)—but I’ll tell you I wish he would follow the “Hotel California” rule—I’m from California—which is you can check in anytime but you can never leave. (Laughter.) 

So a bit of personal history in a—in a hurry. In 1995, I was in my second term in Congress serving on the Armed Services Committee and my daughter—my son, Brian, is in the front row. His sister, Hilary, called. She was a senior at Princeton and she was writing her honors thesis on the future of NATO. She said: Mom, tell me about this. I have to think carefully about the future of NATO. To which I responded: Honey, I haven’t been thinking about the future of NATO. And you know, I should have been, but when the Cold War ended NATO had a new mission. And to remind, there were a number of studies, including one by the late, great Madeliene Albright. But NATO really came into its own—this future, post-Cold War NATO—following the Russian invasion of Crimea and following—guess who joined NATO that year, six months later?—Jens Stoltenberg. 

So he has said that, you know, on his watch NATO has implanted the biggest reinforcement of its collective defense since the Cold War. Before coming to NATO—Mike did not mention this—you were U.N. special envoy for climate and you were prime minister of Norway, among other things, so you bring enormous experience. And there is so much to ask and so much for the audience, both here and virtual, to ask, and we’ll get your questions in. My first question is: What is your agenda this week at UNGA? 

STOLTENBERG: First of all, let me just thank you for inviting me. It’s a great pleasure to be here, and to meet this Council and this audience, and also to meet with you, Jane, Congresswoman, because you are right; we met many places across Europe. I think this is actually the first time we do something together here in New York. And that’s one reason, actually, why I’m here, is that the UNGA week is a perfect platform to engage and to meet and to—and to have a wide range of meetings. And that’s exactly what I have done. 

Of course, the main purpose, the main task for me during this week is to mobilize support for Ukraine. So that’s what I’ve done in almost all of my things. The good news is that I feel that across NATO and also with partner nations, they realize that to support Ukraine is something we do because it’s in our security interests to ensure that Ukraine remains as a sovereign, independent nation. It would be a tragedy for Ukraine if President Putin wins, but it will also be extremely dangerous for us. It would make the world more dangerous and us more vulnerable, because then the message to President Putin but also to President Xi is that when they use military force, when they violate international law, when they invade another country, they get what they want. 

So if the United States is concerned about China and wants to pivot towards Asia, then you have to ensure that Putin doesn’t win in Ukraine. Because if Ukraine wins, then you will have the second-biggest army in Europe, the Ukrainian army, battle-hardened on our side, and we have a weakened Russian army, and we have also now a Europe really stepping up for defense spending. That will make it easier for you to focus also on China and not only or be less concerned about the situation in Europe. And opposite if Putin wins. So it is in the security interest of the United States to ensure that Ukraine wins and make it easier to deal with China. 

HARMAN: So we’ll talk about China in a moment and some of the things you’re doing to pull in Asian countries, but let’s talk about Ukraine a little bit more. Ukraine wants to be a member of NATO. There was a meeting and I think the words were Ukraine’s future belongs in NATO. What does that mean? And how should Ukraine think about NATO? And how does Ukraine think about Ukraine’s membership in NATO? 

STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, Ukraine, of course, very much want to join NATO. They have stated that very clearly. The sentence you just quoted means that Ukraine will become a member of this alliance, and that was stated very clearly at the summit in Vilnius—the NATO summit in Vilnius in July. 

But to be honest, the most important thing we did was not to state that because NATO has said that before. The most important thing we did in Vilnius was actually to move Ukraine closer to that goal, to move them closer to NATO membership. And we did that by deciding three things which moved them closer to becoming a full member. 

One, the first thing we did was to remove the requirement for Membership Action Plan because, for many, many years, it has been a requirement to join NATO that before you are invited you are—you will be part of what we call a Membership Action Plan, some kind of preparations for becoming a member on a later stage; meaning that there’s a two-step process to join NATO, first Membership Action Plan then invitation. We said in Vilnius there is no need for Membership Action Plan. So this two-step process has been turned into a one-step process, so we can go direct for a while today with Ukraine to an invitation. That’s actually also the same we did with Finland and Sweden, but different from what we have done for the past decades for all the other new members. So that’s the first good news for Ukraine on membership. 

The other good news was that we agreed a very comprehensive program for ensuring that Ukrainian armed forces are fully interoperable with NATO. And we set aside around roughly at 500 million U.S.—no, sorry, euros for that annually. And by ensuring that Ukrainian forces can work together and are fully operational with NATO forces moves them in very practical terms closer to NATO. That’s also the fact—the fact that they have now a lot of NATO weapons. So when we train them on HIMARS or on Patriots on Leopard battle tanks or soon those F-16s, of course, that moves Ukraine closer to NATO in very practical terms. 

And the third thing we did, also establish something called the NATO-Ukraine Council, which is a decision—as a council that can make decisions, can organize different joint activities, and is an extremely important tool to integrate Ukraine and NATO even closer. 

So, yes, we said that Ukraine will become a member. But I would say it’s even more important that we actually charted a way for how to achieve that goal so Ukraine is closer to NATO membership now than ever before. 

HARMAN: Well, two sticking points on that and then we’ll turn to—I’d like to turn to Sweden. 

One is that Ukraine is in an active war against Russia. So if Ukraine were to join NATO now, wouldn’t that trigger Article 5? That’s one question. 

Second question is about corruption. Not that Ukraine is the only—(laughs)—country on the planet, certainly in its neighborhood, to have some corruption, but Volodymyr Zelensky has been eliminating corruption in a very brave way—firing a number of generals, et cetera. So is the corruption problem still a sticking point? And what about the fact that there’s an active war going on? 

STOLTENBERG: Well, the fact there’s an active war makes it impossible to just invite them tomorrow or today. So in one way or another, we need to deal with that situation. And of course, it’s easier to foresee membership when this war ends in one way or another. So that’s also a reason why I think even those who are most eager to have Ukraine as a member as soon as possible realize that this is not something that will happen now. 

But at the same time, we need to, in a way, look beyond the active war which is ongoing, because when this war ends in one way or another—in the distant or the near future—we need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Because we have to remember that this is a pattern of Russian behavior over many years. First, they annexed Crimea, and we said that was unacceptable. And then a few—a couple of months later, they went into Donbas in 2014. And then we had these Minsk Agreements with a—with ceasefire and ceasefire lines and so on. They violated them again and again over the years. And then, certainly, we had the full-fledged invasion in 2022, last year. So it has been step by step they are trying to take more and more territory from Ukraine. And the war didn’t start in February last year; it started in 2014. 

So if there is—when there is an end now to the fighting, we need to ensure that this is a real end, it stops there. And therefore, it means that there has to be a framework in place to guarantee the security, the territorial integrity, the borders of Ukraine. And of course, NATO membership is one way of achieving that. There are also ideas on more bilateral arrangements. But in one way or another, there is a need for guarantees. So there is a link between the membership issue and how to enlist an end to the war, and to secure an enduring and lasting peace after the war. 

Then, on corruption, President Zelensky has been very tough on that also before the war or before the full-scale invasion. That was one of his top issues when he was elected. He has and his administration has made progress. And some—and many of the programs we are conducting are also related to what you call transparency and better governance and reform of the defense and security institutions to fight corruption. 

But I would like to say one more thing, and that is that the best proof that our aid, our military support actually makes a difference and ends up at the frontline is the military progress that Ukraine has made. There’s no way they could have been able to push back the Russian invaders, first around Kyiv and then in the—in the north, and then in the east around Kharkiv, and then in the south around Kherson, and now also conducting a full-scale big counteroffensive if all the support has just disappeared in corruption. They are shooting down Russian drones. They are—they are liberating territory with the equipment we provide. So the proof is in actually the actions. 

HARMAN: And I would add to that I think our military has been very careful to track where that equipment goes, and it’s not part of the corruption enterprise, at least hopefully is not and won’t be. 

But, OK, let’s turn now to Sweden. It was impressive, certainly to me and I think all of us, that Finland, which had been neutral for so many years—Finlandization was the term; which the Finns hate, but anyway that was the term—and has a(n) eight-hundred-mile border with Russia, wanted to be admitted and was admitted to NATO recently. Sweden, too, wants to be admitted. My impression is that the Turks have backed off their objection, but now Hungary is objecting. What is that about? 

STOLTENBERG: Well, first of all, it is a great historic achievement that Finland is already a member and, you know, Sweden will soon be a member of NATO, and we need to put this in perspective. We have to remember that in December 2021, so a couple of months before the invasion, President Putin put forward what he also—and he called it security treaties. He wanted the United States and NATO to sign documents that were sent to Brussels and to Washington. There were several demands. They demanded that we should remove all NATO infrastructure from the eastern part of the alliance. They demanded some buffer zones, especially in the Baltic region, meaning that most of the Baltic countries could not be protected with NATO forces. And they demanded as a kind of ultimatum for not invading Ukraine that NATO should guarantee no further enlargement. That was about no further enlargement, so with Ukraine but also Finland and Sweden. It was not possible—so we—actually, we were able—we invited Russia to a dialogue; we said it’s not possible for us to accept those ultimatums. But we made real diplomatic efforts to see if it was possible to sit down and find a diplomatic solution to the crisis that was scaling up in the fall of 2021. 

But the declared purpose of the invasion of Ukraine was to stop further NATO enlargement and to have less NATO with these buffer zones and the removal of NATO infrastructure from all those countries that joined NATO since 1997. So the main—one of the main purposes was, then, to have less NATO—less NATO members and less NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance. President Putin has got exactly the opposite, because the day of the invasion NATO activated its defense plans—meaning we handed over more authorities to our supreme allied commander, SACEUR, General Cavoli, and he used that to deploy more forces in the eastern part of the alliance. So there are more NATO forces, more NATO infrastructure, more NATO planes, more NATO ships, more NATO troops in the eastern part of the alliance now than ever before. 

The other thing was that Finland and Sweden applied. They applied in May. And already in June, they were invited. So that’s extremely quickly, so I was quite impressed by—(laughs)—but the speed of— 

HARMAN: Well, I think NATO has a good leader. Though I’d point that out. (Laughter.) 

STOLTENBERG: OK. Now, that’s—yeah, but the—so the—(laughter)—now, this was the allies. The allies—(inaudible)—position. 


STOLTENBERG: And then—and then we have the application process, and then Finland joined in April, also, last year—no, this year. This year. This year. This year. 

HARMAN: This year. 

STOLTENBERG: Yeah, this year. I mean, and that’s the quickest-ever accession process in NATO’s modern history. 

Then Sweden has not yet been fully ratified. But if we get all this in place, let’s say, as of this fall, it will still be the second-quickest ratification process—membership process in NATO’s modern history, so it’s not that slow. It’s quite—still quite fast. 

In Vilnius, President Erdoğan agreed to a statement where it’s stated clearly that he will submit the ratification papers to the Turkish parliament. And he also stated clearly that he will work with the parliament to ensure ratification. And he also stated in meetings with me, with the president—no, sorry—Prime Minister Kristersson of Sweden, and also publicly in different press conferences that this will happen as soon as possible, meaning that when the Turkish parliament, the Grand National Assembly, convenes later this fall I expect that to happen then. And that’s what I assume. And that’s what I expect. And that will be in line with what President Erdogan has said. 

HARMAN: And Hungary is not a problem? 

STOLTENBERG: Oh, sorry. Yeah, Hungary—(laughter)—so Hungary has stated that they will not be the last. And if there are two who are not ratified, and Turkey ratifies, then I think the problem is solved. 

HARMAN: OK. Good work. (Laughter.) So at Vilnius, among other things, you invited four countries, from Asia—the Asia-Pacific—Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea to attend. And they did attend. And you have made the point that— and you just made it again, that—and you made it in a Foreign Affairs article—you have to shill for the local place—that there’s a global threat from Russia, not just a threat in Europe and a threat to the existing NATO countries. So you’ve done outreach to these four countries. You have considered setting up a liaison office in Japan. Can you explain why you’re doing this and where this is going to go—this initiative? 

STOLTENBERG: We are doing this in NATO because we realize that security is not regional security. It’s global. This idea that we can have European or transatlantic security regardless what happens in Asia is just wrong, for many reasons. Not least because we see that Beijing and Moscow are coming more and more closer together. Just two weeks before the invasion, China and Russia signed this agreement stating that their partnership is without any limits. We see how Russia and China are conducting more air and naval patrols together, exercises, and how they support each other diplomatically, politically, and many other ways. And the reality is that China is propping up Russia’s war efforts by—or, supporting the war efforts by propping up the economy, and also by spreading the false narrative—the Russian false narrative of what this war is about. And of course, the war of aggression against Ukraine. 

So what happens in Europe matters for Asia, and what happens in Asia matters for Europe. That’s also a reason why countries like South Korea and Japan are extremely concerned about the war in Ukraine. Because they know that if President Putin wins, it lowers the threshold for President Xi to use force. And they watch this very closely. NATO will remain a regional alliance. Meaning that NATO will remain an alliance of North America and Europe. And if there is an enlargement, it will be European countries. So NATO will not become a global Article 5 collective defense organization. But this North Atlantic region, which is quite big—one billion people—faces global threats. And that’s actually nothing new. 

Terrorism is global. It brought it brought NATO to Afghanistan, on the borders of China. The piracy was something we fought not so many years ago and brought us to the Horn of Africa, with our naval forces. Cyber is, by nature, global. Space is becoming more and more important for our security. All the satellites and all the things which are up there which are so fundamental for our lives here at Earth. So we have faced global threats and challenges for many years. It has adapted NATO for many years. Then China also matters for our security in the North Atlantic region. 

So therefore, we need to work with our partners in that region, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand. Their leaders participated for the second time at the NATO summit in July this year in Vilnius. And we are working on how we can do more together with them, ranging from cyber, to exercises, and all—many other things. 

HARMAN: Well, I’d just point out too that you also have liaison relationships in the Middle East, and you have one in the Global South with Colombia. But one more question about what you’re trying to do in Asia, especially with this office in Japan. Rumor has it that the president of France is not happy with this idea. Is that true? And what are his objections? 

STOLTENBERG: Well, we have not yet established at the office. We are looking into it. We’re working on how we can have a liaison office Tokyo. As you said, we have liaison offices in many other places in the world. It’s nothing new. And again, it doesn’t mean that NATO will become a global Article 5 alliance. It means that we realize that Japan, Asia is a highly valued—a highly valued partner for us. We need to work more closely together and just to facilitate practical cooperation, and also political dialogue. It’s helpful to have a liaison office in Tokyo. 

HARMAN: So that was an answer about Macron? 

STOLTENBERG: No, I didn’t—(laughter)—so, well, I think I will make my work as secretary-general more difficult if I told you everything about every ally. 

HARMAN: OK. You know, as a recovering politician, I’ll give you a pass. (Laughter.) But also NATO—the NATO force was a huge part of the force in Afghanistan, let’s remember. So NATO has been very much present outside of the European region.  

So one more question from me, and then we’ll take all of your questions. Last time I was in Brussels I remember going to the new—it’s not new anymore—cyber command or—I think that’s what it was called—center at NATO, which is very impressive and long overdue. NATO has made major moves on technology. And you mentioned that what we call the new domains of cyber and space, and the U.S. needs to shore up its assets in space, something I care a lot about. But my question is—well, let me back up. I mean, my background is in intelligence and security. And I have watched our intelligence agencies do something unprecedented in the last month as the Ukraine war has progressed. And that is to selectively declassify some of our intelligence, which, of course, was very accurate, and very helpful. What do you think of that practice, of selectively declassifing? 

STOLTENBERG: I think it was—it was absolutely the right thing to do. And it was a way to warn the Russians that we knew what they were planning. So when the war or when the invasion happened, we were well prepared, and we knew exactly what to do. And we—as I said, we activated our defense bands and we deployed more forces in eastern part of the alliance. But the fact that the United States, but also some other NATO allies and NATO, declassified intelligence was a way to tell the Russians that, so, don’t do it. And then they decided to invade, regardless. But this declassification of intelligence also made it easier for us to prepare and to increase awareness around this among our own, also, nations and allies. So I think that was absolutely the right thing to do. 

HARMAN: Well, I agree with you. I think it’s, in hindsight, a bit of a shame that Zelensky didn’t absolutely believe it, that it would happen, because we could have prepositioned some equipment earlier and maybe had an even more impressive rebuff to the Russian advance. 

OK, people, now it’s your turn. I know some people in this audience, but I’m just going to recognize you by hand so I don’t embarrass myself. And we have people listening in, and Sam is going to tell me when some of the folks on the line want to speak. We’ll start with the man right here in the third row. Please identify yourself. A mic is coming. Stand up. There we go. Short question, so we can get to everybody. 

Q: John Hess. Secretary-General, we know each other from Norway in years past. Thank you for your outstanding leadership.  

Energy has been fundamental to the political and economic relationship between Europe and Russia. Forty percent of Europe’s gas, as you know, and 30 percent of the oil Russia supplies to Europe. That’s been ripped apart. So as you look forward, when Ukraine prevails, will that relationship be restored? Or do you think it’s going to be fundamentally changed forever? Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, I have to tell you I have a lot of these Hess cars—(laughter)—in my—I think I have, like, twenty of them, or something. 

Q: They’re our most important—(off mic). (Laughter.) 

STOLTENBERG: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s really an honor. And my son wanted to take them away when he moved, but I kept them, so. (Laughter.) So these are—that’s great cars. 

Then, on energy, it is fundamentally changed. The big policies, that many experts warned against being too dependent on Russian gas. But many Europeans thought it was absolutely OK. And they were wrong. And we cannot repeat that mistake by once again being too dependent on gas from—or, energy from Russia.  

This is also a lesson to be learned when it comes to China. We need to find a balance between continuing to trade and engage, which I know that there is no way to not trade with China, but not to be too dependent on the rare earth minerals, on key commodities. So that’s one of the big challenges we have, to find that balance. But now we’ll not turn back. And the other reason why we’ll not turn back is that there is the energy transition going on. So at some stage—so I’m from Norway. We are big oil and gas producers. Hess has been big in oil and gas. But we have to just realize that there is a transition. So we cannot go back to being so dependent on fossil fuels from Russia. 

HARMAN: OK, the woman here in the white jacket, third row. 

Q: Thank you. Cynthia Roberts. 

You frequently point to the great strides that NATO is making in collective defense capabilities, particularly on the eastern flank. But you rarely speak about—you do speak about it, but rarely talk about modernizing, or changing, or improving NATO as a nuclear alliance. And I wonder what’s your perspective on this, given Putin’s nuclear threats and also that the U.S., as you know, in 2020 decided to deploy the W76-2 to low yield SLBM to bolster, as it said in the press briefing, especially extended deterrence missions. So do you think NATO needs to do more in the nuclear area? Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: Look, NATO—as long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. We have stated, actually, that our goal is a world without nuclear weapons. But, of course, a world where NATO gets rid of its nuclear weapons and China, Russia, and North Korea retain their weapons is not a safer world. So any attempt to reduce the number of nuclear weapons has to be balanced and verifiable. So therefore, NATO is in favor of arms control. We supported strongly New START, and the other—INF and other arms control agreements. That has reduced and even abolished different types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. And therefore, we also regret strongly that Russia has walked away from the INF Treaty and other agreements. And, yes, we need we need to balance. 

That doesn’t mean that NATO necessarily will mirror exactly what Russia does. So when Russia started to deploy this new SSC-8, which are intermediate-range nuclear weapons of violating the previous INF Treaty, we didn’t respond by deploying exactly the same weapons. But we ensure, and are constantly adapting, that our nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective. And we have exercises. NATO has actually also for the first time actually been more transparent and open about their nuclear exercises. And we make the necessary investments in our nuclear capability to ensure that it is safe, secure, and effective. 

I think one of the main challenges we faced in the nuclear domain is that, for decades, it was mainly the United States and Russia that had nuclear weapons. We had—also, we had the U.K. and France. But, of course, the big numbers were in Russia and the United States. And they also had these different agreements of ceilings and arms control arrangements. Now, most of those arrangements are not effective anymore. Russia has suspended the START agreement, violated the INF agreement. And then we have China with zero transparency, no agreements whatsoever. So I think the next generation of arms control agreements on nuclear weapons has to be, in one way or another, agreements that also includes China. And that’s a big, big challenge. 

HARMAN: I would just add to that, that Russia and Korea—and North Korea just met. And Russia is going to transfer, it seems, some nuclear technology to North Korea, which will make that rogue country even more dangerous. 

Let’s see here. That’s—oh, we have—that’s right. We have a caller online. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Heidi Hardt. 

Q: Hello, Secretary-General. My name is Professor Heidi Hardt from the University of California, Irvine. 

I wanted to follow up on the energy transition question. In line with NATO’s Climate Change and Security Action Plan, I know that allies’ militaries has been continuing to adopt different green technologies. And I’m wondering, from your perspective, as these changes are occurring to what extent is NATO thinking about interoperability? How is NATO helping ensure that allied militaries are remaining interoperable? And to what extent are we seeing defense planning change itself? Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: NATO has put climate change high on our agenda. And that has happened over the last few years, couple years. Because we clearly see that climate change matters for our security, and therefore climate change matters for NATO. Because NATO is about security. Climate change is a crisis multiplier. It fuels conflicts over water, territory, land farming areas, and forces millions of people to move. And, of course, that’s a crisis multiplier.  

Climate change also affects how we can conduct military operations. Because the military operates out there in nature. And more wilder and wetter weather, more extreme weather, more flooding, more heat waves, of course, matters for everything from uniforms, from equipment, from how we conduct exercises. We have a NATO presence in Iraq. The soldiers there have experienced more than 50 degrees Celsius many, many times. And flooding and rising sea levels matters for a large number of our naval bases. So it has a direct impact on actually how we conduct military operations. 

Then there’s another aspect of climate change and NATO, and you refer to that, and that is, of course, if you really want zero emissions, a net zero, we also need to include our military forces in one way or another. And I’m a great supporter of big naval ships, and aircraft carriers, and fighters, and so on. But they’re not very climate friendly. (Laughs.) They are—they are—they really consuming a lot of fossil fuels. And at some stage, we need to start to switch also these heavy military vehicles, and ships, and planes to some kind of environmentally friendly energy sources. That’s not easy. Some of them actually nuclear driven. Some of the submarines and aircraft carriers. But most of them are based on fossil fuels. 

And that has started. There are some examples of biofuels for fighter jets, there are some more use of solar energy for fueling different kinds of military equipment, and so on. And the point is that at some stage this will be the best thing for the armed forces not only for the climate, because if we had to choose between a kind of a combat-effective battle tank or a green battle tank, of course, we will choose the combat effective. We cannot sacrifice our security. But at some stage, that will not be an issue. Because when we see the big energy transition which is taking place in the in the civil sector, where the most modern cars are electric cars, were the most effective engines are known not fossil, at some stage if the military sector remains fossil we will the last fossil sector in the society.  

And that will not be the best engines, it will not be the best weapons systems. So the question is when do we do the shift and how do we do the shift, and for how a long a time have both fossil and electricity driven also military vehicles? So it’s not an easy transition. It will happen. And the only way to ensure that we have the best, and most modern, and combat-effective equipment in the future is to ensure that it is also climate friendly, because that will be the best engines. 

The last thing I will say about this is that our armed forces have been through serious transitions before. The best example is Winston Churchill when he was the minister for the navy in just the beginning of the First World War. One or two years before that he decided to go from coal to oil. That was a big transition, because of course they had all the infrastructure for coal and all the harbors and the depots around the world. But he saw that oil was more effective and more power, higher speed. And then he made that decision for the British Navy. And that gave them a big advantage. So I don’t think Churchill did that for climate change reasons. (Laughter.) But it made the British Navy even more effective. 

HARMAN: But let me just add to that. I mentioned in your biography that you were the U.N. special envoy on climate a while back, a decade back. Yesterday the Secretary-General Guterres convened a climate panel here. Just asking, this may be another politically incorrect question, is the U.N. doing enough on climate? And could the U.N. be doing more on climate to help NATO? 

STOLTENBERG: Look, U.N. could, of course, do much more. But you cannot blame the U.N. We have to blame member states, because they have made some good agreements, the Paris accord. But we need a fast—a more speedy implementation of those decisions. And that will be good for NATO. Because, again, even if you don’t care about climate change, you have to realize what’s happening now with the heatwave, the wildfires, the flooding, matters for our security. And there’s an enormous transition—energy revolution, which has to be compared with the first industrial revolution. And if the armed forces are not part of that, we will lose. So I care about climate change and security. I’m twice—double interested in these issues. 

HARMAN: OK. The woman in front in black, right here. Oh, I confused you. I meant the woman holding the microphone, but we’ll get to you too. Thank you. 

Q: Yes, thank you very much. Raghida Dergham, chairman of Beirut Institute. 

You both mentioned the liaison relations with the Middle East. Would like to know how far you’d like to take that. What do you expect from Middle Eastern countries from the relationship you are trying to form with them? And what worries you when it comes to revenge by China and Russia? Medvedev keeps speaking of the nuclear option. You’re dismissive of it. Hopefully you’re right. But why are you so confident? 

STOLTENBERG: The first one, so when it comes to our relationship with the Middle East and also our Asia-Pacific partners, we just strongly believe that we can—we need to strengthen political dialogue with them, and need to strengthen the practical cooperation with them on exercises, cyber, maritime security, and many areas where we—are even— also climate change, there’s a wider—and technology. So there are many areas. We have started to work with them, and they’re eager to do more with us. 

The Russian nuclear rhetoric also from Medvedev is reckless and dangerous. And Russia must understand that the nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. That is something we have—we communicate again and again to the Russians. We, of course, monitor very closely what they do. We have seen the announcements about their deploying nuclear weapons to Belarus. We have seen some preparations for that going on. So we continue to be vigilant. We continue to monitor. But so far, we haven’t seen any changes in their nuclear posture that requires any changes in our nuclear posture. But rest assured, we this is something we follow very closely from the NATO side. 

HARMAN: I think we have another question online, and it will be followed by the question of the other woman in black in front. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Kashish Parpiani. 

Q: Hello, Secretary-General. This is Kashish Parpiani from Reliance Industries, India. 

In June, you announced a partnership program with Japan. If I can call it, that was your first foray in the Indo-Pacific region. I want to know, sir, which is the next priority nation in the Indo-Pacific, from NATO’s standpoint? Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Australia, there have been partners for many years. At NATO, what we announced—or, updated new individual partnership programs with the list of different activities that we’re going to conduct together. And that fills this partnership with the content and different joint activities. NATO is, in general, open for more partners in the Asia-Pacific. But, of course, and we have reached out and we are ready. My feeling is that still some countries in the Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific are a bit reluctant, because they’re afraid that anyway that that they will be become NATO allies and NATO partners. That’s not the issue. The issue is to work with NATO, not least to counterbalance what we see coming from China in the same region. 

HARMAN: Thank you. Right here. 

Q: Thank you. My name is Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist. 

So I like to go back to where things begin. And talking about the declassified documents, there was declassified the memo between Baker and Gorbachev where they agreed NATO would not do one step further east. And then when it started to happen, George Kennan predicted it would be a disaster, which has turned out to be true. However you want to parse it, it’s not wonderful what’s going on. Then there was the U.S.-supported coup in 2014 against an elected head of the Ukrainian government, because he was not considered to be enough pro-American. Are you satisfied with how these things have turned out? Has this protected anybody? Or have you, in a sense, bated the Russian bear in a way that perhaps you didn’t expect how it was going to turn out? Could anything have done differently so that Putin was not persuaded that the defensive alliance that NATO was started out to be has become a defensive—an offensive alliance, with troops and weapons on its border? What could have been done differently? Are you satisfied with how things are turning out in Ukraine now?  

HAMAN: Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: No, I’m not satisfied with how things are turning out in Ukraine. But that’s Russia’s fault. It’s Russia that has decided, by choice, to invade another country. And regardless of what do you think about NATO enlargement, that doesn’t give Russia any excuse to invade another democratic, independent nation. So I think there’s a—there’s a—(inaudible)—that even if you agree that NATO may have made some mistakes, done the wrong things in the past, that doesn’t give Russia an excuse to invade another country. It’s like saying that, you know, maybe the Versailles Treaty was a bit too tough on Germany. I’m not saying it was, but I’m saying that some experts say. But when Germany invaded Norway on the ninth of April 1940, you couldn’t say, oh, that’s—we understand it, because the Versailles Treaty was a bit too harsh. (Laughter, applause.)  

So it’s—but it is important, because actually many people are thinking these ways. That in a way, because NATO and NATO allies did something wrong that five, ten, twenty years ago, right or wrong, it doesn’t give an excuse to invade another country and kill tens of thousands of people. And if you don’t understand that, then you really don’t understand a fundamental principle and fundamental values, which is about the relationship between countries but those between people. This is about killing people. And there is no excuse for doing that. That’s the first thing.  

The only thing, just to say, is that this idea that it is a provocation, a threat to Russia that countries through democratic free decision-making join NATO is also very dangerous. Because what you say then is that small countries in Europe cannot choose their own path. And I come from Norway, a small country bordering Russia, or the Soviet Union. And in 1949, Norway is the only country bordering the Soviet Union joining NATO. Stalin said that was a provocation, a threat. But I’m very glad that Washington, Paris, and all the other big countries in NATO said: It’s for Norway to decide it, not for Stalin. So we joined NATO. 

And if you had to—if you accept that Latvia, Lithuania joining NATO is a threat to Russia, then you take away the right of the people in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to decide their own future. And they have the right to try to decide. It’s not Moscow. It is the people in Lithuania that decides about Lithuania. And this idea that NATO is aggressively going in, no. It’s the east and countries that are going into NATO, democratic free decisions. So these are fundamental ideas, we should respect them. And that’s what NATO is about. 

HARMAN: I would just add that we’re at the U.N. General Assembly. And the basic tenet of the U.N. Charter is respect for the sovereignty of other states. Russia was an original signatory to that charter. And in 2014, I don’t think there was a U.S. coup. I think the Ukrainians voted in a democratic election to select someone else. There were protests on the Maidan. I was there. And I was an observer of that election on a delegation led by Madeleine Albright. And it was a free and fair election.  

So let’s see. Let’s go in the way back on the aisle on the left side, my left side. 

Q: Andrew Nagorski, formerly—recovering journalist, author. (Laughter.) 

A quick question. I mean, I think you’ve been making a very eloquent case for maintaining very strong support for Ukraine, as others have. But in this country, there’s also a strong debate on that. There are definitely people wavering or opposing. And one of—one of the bits of ammunition they use is the fact that the largest European country, Germany, is not living up to its pledge of 2 percent, and seems to have even lost any desire to do so. How do you respond to that? And are you able in any way to make the German government reconsider its current stance? 

STOLTENBERG: First of all, the issue you raise is extremely important. And that is about burden sharing in NATO. Of course, when you stand together, when you promise to protect each other, and attack on one will be regardless an attack on all, you need to also invest together in our shared security. And therefore, I think is absolutely fair that different U.S. administrations over the last years have raised the need for European allies and Canada to invest more. And we made an important decision at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 that we should spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.  

At that time, three allies met that 2 percent the guideline—the United States, the United Kingdom, and Greece. Since then, all allies have increased defense spending significantly. More and more allies meet the 2 percent guideline. And now it’s eleven allies. Next year, we expect even more. And even those allies who are not yet a 2 percent, have moved closer to 2 percent. In total, European allies and Canada added 450 billion (dollars) extra. So I’m not saying that everything is fine. But I’m saying that compared to where we were just a few years ago, we’re in a totally different place regarding how much European allies and Canada are investing in defense compared to United States. And that’s extremely important. And obviously, the war in Ukraine demonstrates that. 

Then on top of that, there is also an issue related to burden sharing when it comes to support of Ukraine. And there are different figures and different numbers out there. And it’s not always easy to compare what is actually committed compared to what is actually also transferred, and so on. But I think that one of the best databases for measuring this is something called the Kiel Institute. And they track this on a regular basis. The latest figures they have published are showing that when you look at military support, the military support for United States to Ukraine is more or less exactly as big as the military support from non-U.S. NATO allies. Meaning that European allies and Canada are, in total, providing roughly the same amount of military support to Ukraine as United States.  

And their economies are roughly the same also, non-U.S. and U.S. So that’s—you can discuss details, but roughly, there is fair burden sharing when it comes to military support from U.S. and all the NATO allies to Ukraine. On top of that, of course, European allies also receiving millions of refugees, and also, of course, paying the price for the economic sanctions in a different way than the United States. So burden sharing is very important. The good news is that European allies are even now stepping up. 

HARMAN: Yeah. I hope a few members of Congress just heard that. (Laughter.) Let’s go to the back, in my far right. Yes, right there. 

Q: Thank you so much. Will Mauldin with the Wall Street Journal. And thanks for having us. 

I wanted to ask about the Black Sea. We had a story this week saying that Ukraine is kind of clawing back a safer zone in the northwest part of the sea for—to export grain, which is important economically for Ukraine and food for the world, of course. Wondering if NATO is playing a role in the Black Sea, if it should play a greater role or if it is playing a greater role than we realize, and what would be most helpful there. Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: Also, then NATO is playing a role, and NATO is present, and of course NATO allies are present. And, of course, we coordinate and work together as NATO and NATO allies. Partly because three of the littoral states in the Black Sea are NATO allies—Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. And then there are two very close partners, Georgia and Ukraine. We have maritime patrol aircrafts, we have more military presence on the ground, we have drones. There is a limit on ships. So the littoral states have ships, but the Bosporus Straits is closed for naval ships because of the war. But that also affects how much Russia can bring in their ships to the straits. 

And then I welcome the fact that, also, first of all, I regret that Russia has left the grain deal. But I welcome the fact that there are alternative routes. And I think we saw the report today or yesterday that the first big ship with grain has been able to use this alternative route along the coast of Romania and Bulgaria, and has now reached Turkey. So, of course, NATO allies are doing what they can to help to facilitate the transport of grain out of Ukraine, including on this alternative route. 

HARMAN: There’s another question online. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Daniel Pipes. 

Q: Thank you. I’m Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. 

Secretary-General, you mentioned New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. You did not mention Taiwan. Is there any possibility of Taiwan joining this affiliation? Thank you. 

STOLTENBERG: Joining NATO, or joining? 

HARMAN: Being added to the list of four Asian countries that you’re talking to. 

STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, I mentioned only those four countries which are partners of NATO today. It’s not an agenda for Taiwan to join or to become a formal NATO partner. 

HARMAN: We’re almost out of time, so what am I going to do? I have to call on Mike Abramowitz, who is the president of Freedom House. Full disclosure, I’m the chair of the board. (Laughter.) 

Q: Thank you, Jane.  

Secretary-General, I wanted to ask you just quickly, you alluded in your opening comments with Jane about Hungary and Turkey. I want to know in general—I mean, these are two countries that I think are diverging from the rest of NATO in terms of their adherence to democratic values. Do you feel that that’s going to be a long-term problem for the alliance? 

STOLTENBERG: Hm. So, first of all, I think you need to understand that NATO is based on some core values—freedom, democracy, the rule of law. And these are values which I attach great importance to. And I strongly also believe that when there are concerns about to what extent all allies live up to those values, NATO has a platform to raise those concerns, to have frank and open debates and discussions, and to express concerns, criticism, and then use that NATO as a platform to do that. NATO does not have the kind of mechanism that, for instance, the EU has in what is called Article Seven, because it reflects also that NATO was conducted—or, was established to face outside threats. And that’s what we do. 

Then I would like to say that there have always been differences among NATO allies. We have to remember that also NATO was founded in 1949. In 1956, we had the Suez Crisis, where two allies went into Egypt without the biggest one, the United States, knowing it. Then we had—in the 1960s, we had France and the United States, I would say, ending up in a difficult relationship. So NATO had its headquarters in Paris, and we were forced to leave Paris within a month. And we ended up in Brussels. And then—and then we had the Vietnam War, we had the Iraq War, and allied had different opinions of these big things. 

But throughout all these years, and all these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task, to protect and defend each other. And I’m confident that we will do that, regardless of differences, concerns about different aspects, about different members. As we now see, for instance, with those issues—with those countries you mentioned. 

HARMAN: So, Secretary-General Stoltenberg, Jens, I just want to close this by saying that as a resident of California, the Hotel California rule does apply. (Laughter.) And you can never leave. Raise your hand if you agree with me. (Laughter, applause.) And thank you very much. And to our audience, please note that the video and transcript of this session will be posted on CFR’s website. The meeting is adjourned. 

STOLTENBERG: Thank you, Jane. Thank you so much. 

HARMAN: It’s been a pleasure. 

STOLTENBERG: Thank you. 


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