Opening remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Youth Summit 2022 followed by Q&A – NATO HQ

LAUREN SPERANZA [Director at CEPA]: And so great to see you, thank you so much. Mr Secretary General, thank you so much for making the time to be with us. It’s such an important opportunity for the next generation of leaders to hear from you at this critical moment for transatlantic security.

JENS STOLTENBERG [Secretary General of NATO]: Thank you so much for having me and it’s a great pleasure to be here and to meet this young audience, and also to meet with you, Lauren, and many thanks to CEPA for organising this event. It’s really a pleasure to be here.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Well, it is our pleasure and an honour to have you and I wondered if maybe we could start with just, I think the biggest issue on the table now, what’s on everyone’s mind is the fact that we have a major war going on in the heart of Europe. I don’t think that our generation has ever seen anything like this, and I think indeed, it’s something many of our predecessors thought they would never see again in their lifetime in Europe. I mean we’re talking about tanks on a battlefield, but also the possible risk of nuclear war and also this humanitarian tragedy for so many Ukrainians. So what does this mean for an organisation like NATO that was created to preserve peace in Europe? I mean, is it doing its job?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So fundamentally, it means that NATO is more important than ever because it really demonstrates the need for 30 allies from both sides of the Atlantic to stand together. Fundamentally, NATO has two tasks in this conflict. One is to support Ukraine and NATO Allies are supporting Ukraine. The second task is to make sure that this conflict doesn’t escalate and become a full fledged war involving NATO and Russia and that the NATO Allies are attacked, and both tasks are important.

As you know, NATO Allies are now providing a lot of different types of weapons to Ukraine to help them uphold their fundamental right for self defence. This is a war of aggression. This is President Putin attacking another country in a blatant way and Ukraine of course has the right to defend themselves. We help them with that, but the second task is of course to make sure that the Baltic countries, Romania, Poland, all of the NATO Allies are not attacked and are not directly involved in the conflict, and therefore we have increased our NATO presence in eastern, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance.

More than 40,000 troops now under direct NATO command in Poland, Romania, the Baltic countries, to send a clear message to President Putin that if one ally is attacked, the whole Alliance will respond. That’s deterrence, that’s collected defence, and the reason to do that is not to provoke a conflict, but actually to prevent the conflict by standing together.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Yeah.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So briefly, that’s what NATO does. This is NATO’s responsibility, support our close partner, Ukraine, protect all NATO Allies.

LAUREN SPERANZA: That’s great to hear, and it’s a big job for sure. I know we’ll come back to the war in Ukraine because I can already see some questions coming in from the app. So please feel free to our crowd here and at home to send in your questions and I’ll be looking for those there, but Mr Secretary General, to your point. I mean NATO is now something that we hear about in the news all the time because of the war in Ukraine. It’s in the daily headlines, and I think for a lot of us young people, that’s something kind of new and so surrounded by all of these young leaders, I wanted to ask you a little bit about why NATO matters for them particularly and their future.

A few minutes ago, we just took a poll to ask what do all of us think is the most pressing challenge for the future of global security. Interestingly, the majority said disinformation. So these are some of the non traditional issues that I know NATO has been working to adapt to and to incorporate some of the priorities of young people. Could you just tell us a little bit about how NATO has been adapting to incorporate the concerns of the next generation?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well first of all, I think NATO matters for everyone, including young people because NATO preserve peace and of course, peace is fundamental for everything else. If you don’t have peace, then you cannot have prosperity, you cannot have jobs, you cannot have a proper location, you cannot fight climate change. So these are there in a way, peace only matters for elderly people and something else matters for young people I think is absolutely wrong.

Peace is important for everyone and NATO’s core task, main responsibility is to preserve peace and we have done that successfully for more than 70 years and we are going to continue to do that for decades to come to enable people to live the lives they want, to enable people to do a lot of different things, be it on climate change or technology or whatever it is. So that’s my first response to why NATO matters for young people.

Then of course, many young people or young people in NATO allied countries today have not experienced war.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Right.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So for them, they sometimes to speak about that people live in deep peace, which in one way is good because it reflects that people have not really experienced war in their own countries, but in one way, it’s also dangerous because if you take peace for granted, if you believe that peace will always be there, then you may make those mistakes that create the conditions for a new war. So therefore, NATO’s responsibility is to take actions to prevent conflict, to have this, the core message of NATO that an attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all and by doing that in a credible way, preventing any attack on any NATO Allied country, as we have done for many years.

This is also about disinformation, or adapting, because NATO is the most successful alliance in history for two reasons. Reason number one is that we have been able to unite North America and Europe. Together we represent 50% of the world’s military might, 50% of the world’s economic might, and of course as long as North America and Europe stand together in NATO, we are safe because we are by far the strongest and most successful alliance in history and in the world today. So the one, what was I say, reason for our success is the unity.

The second reason for our success is that we have been able to adapt to change when the world is changing. We did that during the Cold War, after the Cold War, fighting terrorism, helping to end the ethnic wars in the Balkans and many other things. Now, we have to focus again fully on the collective offence in Europe. We do that, but also realising that the threats are not always traditional military threats. They are still there, we see that in Ukraine, but for instance, disinformation is part of that, and NATO is pushing back.

In the long run, I strongly believe that facts, the truth, will prevail, so we are sharing facts. We are pushing back when we see fake news, disinformation. I think actually the most important tool we have is a free and independent press, journalists that are asking the difficult questions, checking their sources and criticising people like me. Being critical towards everyone, but by having a free and independent press reflecting different views and different positions, we are also creating the best ground for countering disinformation. So protecting those core values is perhaps the most important thing we do to counter disinformation.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Absolutely, and we’ll talk a lot about that more today, so thank you for the great preview. I know a lot of you have questions, so I’ll ask our production team to get our mic out, so we can get ready for those, but before I open it up for audience questions, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your own career path because obviously, we’re surrounded by a bunch of superstars here and also online, maybe even a future Secretary General out there.

So some of them might be following in your footsteps and I wondered if you could just tell us a little bit about your own professional development. I understand you got involved in politics back when you were a teenager and so could you just tell us, did you always know that you wanted to work in this field and what is some advice that you might offer to these young leaders in their career journeys?

JENS STOLTENBERG: The one, I’m very careful about giving advice to young people about their careers, partly because I think it’s a bit pathetic when people who are in my age give advice to you. Many potential Secretary Generals sitting around here and second, the reality is that I never planned. I, seriously, I didn’t plan anything, it only just happened. It’s hard to believe, but that’s the brutal reality, but if there’s one advice it’s that you should focus on what you do today.

Don’t think too much about the future. Don’t think too much about career planning, but just if you’re a student, focus on your studies. Study hard, deliver a good thesis, do the real work as a student. If you’re just starting in a new job, focus on that job and then I am certain that new opportunities will open and then go for them. Because, if you are too eager to plan too much into the future, I think you get a bit confused, and people may also see that you are more focused on the next job than on the job you have.

So that’s perhaps my simplest advice. I didn’t plan to become a politician. I actually, I was engaged in politics as a young teenager, but I decided not to become a politician because I decided to be something real, something serious. So I studied economics and mathematics and statistics, and I started to work in the Central Bureau of Statistics in Norway as a statistician with a lot of mathematics and macroeconomic planning models and that was my life.

Politics, dirty stuff. Science, that was me. Then I was asked after the two years to become the Deputy Minister for Environment and I promised myself and my wife, only for a couple of years. Now I’ve been there for 40 years in politics. I don’t regret that, but that was not my plan. My plan was to be something completely different. So yeah, so do as I have done. Don’t plan, work hard, and then something nice will happen.

LAUREN SPERANZA: That’s a good, maybe unexpected advice, but I like it.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah.

LAUREN SPERANZA: OK well I’ll ask our, there’s a few people that I’d like to go to for some questions. I’ll ask Irina Divionia to start us off, and maybe you can stand up and go to the mic. We have a couple lined up here behind her, Frederico Bursari, Emily Susman, so if you all could get ready to ask your questions, but Irina, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much first of all for this thought provoking talk. As Lauren said, I’m Irina Divionia. Currently, I am a trainee in the European Commission, and I come from Ukraine and my question is the following. In thinking about what could keep Ukrainians safe after Russian war, in your view, what might be a security guarantee that could be sufficient for Ukraine on the one hand, and also that the North Atlantic partners are ready to offer on the other side. Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well then first of all, it is important to end the war and it’s President Putin who started the war and he can end the war tomorrow. So we will continue to put maximum pressure on President Putin to end the war by imposing sanctions, by providing economic support, but also military support to Ukraine and we need to be prepared for the long term. It’s a very unpredictable and fragile situation in Ukraine, but there is absolutely the possibility that this war will drag on and lost for months and years.

So we are now at NATO, NATO Allies are preparing to provide support over a long period of time and also help Ukraine to transit or move from old Soviet era equipment to more modern NATO standard weapons and systems. That will also require more training and we also welcome the US led effort which took place on the area’s base at Ramstein this week to coordinate better among NATO Allies and partners and how to provide the support. So that’s in all, one way their most immediate task.

Then of course, Ukraine is and will remain a highly valued partner of NATO and we have worked with Ukraine for many years on its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and supported Ukraine’s move towards NATO membership and we will continue to support those efforts, but that’s in a situation where we have peace, where we have been able to end the war and then of course, what kind of security arrangements, what kind of frameworks is something else we need to sit down and discuss with Ukraine when the war has ended.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Yeah, that’s great. I’d like to bundle our next two questions because they’re both related to tech, so Frederico, I’ll ask you to come up first, but also Emily Susman, if you could get ready to ask just after Frederico because Secretary General, maybe you can take these both at the same time. Frederico.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Frederico Bursari from Italy working for CEPA. My question relates to technological improvements and how is the Alliance working to sharpen its technological edge given the improvements of major adversaries such as Russia and China and especially if you can give us some hints on how the Alliance is also considering the use of armoured drones in conflicts, and recent conflicts. Thanks.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Thank you Frederic, and Emily?

QUESTION: Thank you for having us. I’m Emily Susman, I’m a policy analyst at Amazon Webservices and I was hoping that you could speak to the upcoming release of the Strategic Concept and how you would like to see emerging and disruptive technologies represented in the planning document and if you could also speak to the role that private sector technology could be used to harness EDTs for NATO’s mission. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: As technology has always been key to NATO, and for NATO it’s extremely important that we maintain what we call our technological edge, meaning that we have the most advanced technologies in the world, and of course, we’re in a more competitive world, we also see of course especially China investing heavily in new technologies. We need to keep up the pace and make sure that we develop and invest more in technology as individual Allies and as an Alliance.

So we have just established an innovation accelerator for the North Atlantic, we call it DIANA. We also established, or are in the process of establishing, an Innovation Fund and these are mechanisms to make sure that we work together with the private sector to look into how we can develop but also use new disruptive emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and many other technologies as part of the effort to make sure that we have the most modern systems and modern technologies.

This is of course something we do as nations, as states, but also the big advantage of NATO is that we have a very dynamic, vibrant private sector and both the innovation accelerator and the investment fund is about linking the state sector with the private sector to develop these technologies.

Then on armed drones, so just to say that armed drones is one type of weapons and as for all weapons they need to be used within the limitations of international law. So it’s not as if armed drones is very different than cruise missiles or planes or artillery. Weapons can be used to protect freedom, democracy, self defence, as we see in Ukraine, but they can also be used for destruction, for aggression, for oppression. And of course weapons can be used for defending human lives, but also to commit atrocities, war crimes. So regardless of what kind of weapon we speak about, for NATO, that is always the fundamental thing that we are a defensive Alliance ready to defend NATO Allies and protect our values, and armed drones is one of many weapons which have been used to, for instance, protect NATO soldiers in NATO missions and operations.

LAUREN SPERANZA: That’s really helpful and I think you’re right that it’s not just about one type of technology, it’s about being able to capture a suite of technologies for a capability and I think relying on the private sector is key given that they’re driving so much of that innovation. I’d like to take one question from our app here and then I’ll ask Ben Wheeler to get ready because I know he has a question brewing, so Ben, if you’re in the room with us I’ll ask you to come up to the mic. But the question here from the app, that I think is very timely, is ‘will Finland and Sweden potentially joining the Alliance, if that happens, will that boost the security of Allies or would it risk conflict with Russia becoming even more likely’?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, it is for Finland and Sweden to decide whether they will apply for membership in NATO or not, and NATO will respect the decision regardless or whether it’s ‘yes, we will apply’ or ‘no, we will not apply’. That’s exactly the opposite of what Russia does because they try to intimidate, they try to coerce, they try to threaten countries to do what Russia wants. We actually respect the sovereign right of every independent nation to choose its own path.

So if they apply, we welcome, we sit down and we negotiate. And we have the NATO enlargement of the last decades has been a great success across the whole of Europe and has helped to spread democracy, rule of law and freedom across Europe. Back when the Cold War ended in, as in 1989 or at the beginning of 1990s, NATO had 16 members, Western Europe, North America. Now we have 30 members, almost twice as many and of course, with Central Eastern Europe former Warsaw Pact countries and of course that helped to spread democracy and freedom across Europe.

So the right for every nation to choose its own path is fundamental for NATO, so we respect Finland and Sweden regardless of the conclusion. Then if the conclusion is that they will apply, then we will welcome them with open arms because we believe that that will strengthen Euro-Atlantic security. Finland and Sweden are already contributing to Euro-Atlantic security. We know them well, they are our closest partners. They are strong, mature democracies. They are NATO’s closest partners, we have worked for them for many, many years. They are EU members, so I strongly believe that an accession process can go very quickly and that we will welcome Finland and Sweden.

And it will demonstrate to President Putin that he gets exactly the opposite of what he wants. He invaded Ukraine because he wants less NATO at Russia’s borders. What he gets is more NATO. It is the aggressive actions, the threatening rhetoric by Russia that has made so many nations in Europe decide to go for NATO membership. And if Finland and Sweden applies, then that will be yet another example of exactly that.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Right, and it’s ironic because you know, part of President Putin’s aims has been to divide the Alliance and to weaken it by pitting Allies against each other, but actually all of his actions have made NATO stronger and more united. So it’s really the opposite. OK so I know Ben is here with a question, so Ben over to you.

QUESTION: So yeah, on the topic of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, it is definitely a long term trend of Russia starting low intensity conflicts with those who seek to join the Alliance. Is NATO willing to offer any security assurances during the application process to Sweden and Finland?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I’m absolutely certain that we will find ways of handling and assure them during that transition period from a potential application to the final ratification throughout the Alliance. And just the fact that they apply and that we sit down with them and negotiate an accession protocol will send a very strong message of commitment. We are all very close to Finland and Sweden, so we are talking with Finland and Sweden on how also to deal with and to provide the necessary assurances in that interim period.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Great, I have one more question from the app here, and I think it would be great to get your thoughts on because I know, as you mentioned in your, earlier in your career, you spent a lot of time working on climate and environmental issues and I know this has been one of the top priorities for you in terms of working this into NATO’s agenda. Could you talk a little bit about how NATO plays a role in combatting the security implications of climate change?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well as you said, in my previous life before I became Secretary General of NATO, I was very much engaged in climate change issues. Actually since I was that statistician in the Centre Bureau of Statistics, because our first task was then – and this is in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s – was just to develop proper statistics to count emissions of greenhouse gases and also to integrate emissions into macroeconomic planning models which were used in Norway and many other countries.

So if you have increased consumption or increased investments, how will that affect emissions of greenhouse gases. So that is something I worked with, on for many, many years and just before I was appointed as Secretary General of NATO, I was the UN Special Envoy on climate change working on the preparations for the upcoming Paris climate change meeting that led to the Paris Accord.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Right, right.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Then of course, when I moved to NATO, then climate change was not longer my main responsibility, it was peace and security. But climate change matters for peace and security because global warming, climate change has security implications. It fuels conflicts, it forces people to move, more droughts, more extreme weather, more windier, wetter, wilder weather creates the breeding ground for conflicts, more competition about scarce resources, water.

So climate change fuels conflicts. Conflicts fuels war and therefore it matters for NATO. And we need to understand and we are starting also the work in NATO to fully understand the link between climate change and security. Second, NATO has to be able to adapt because we operate, for instance, in Iraq and the last summer they had several days more than 50 degrees Celsius, and of course, what kind of equipment, what kind of uniform, what kind of supplies of water, everything you do is impacted by the climate that surrounds the soldiers which are operating there out in nature, without air conditioning, but in nature.

And second, melting of the ice in the Arctic matters for the whole strategic situation up there with the opening up of new sea routes and it affects the way our military can operate in the High North. So the heat in the south and the melting ice in the north matters for our security and we need to… Rising sea levels will impact our naval bases, so how we operate, where we have located our bases, what kind of equipment, all of that will be impacted by climate change and we need to adapt NATO so we can exercise, do our job in more extreme weather.

And thirdly, NATO has responsibility to reduce emissions because of course, heavy battle tanks, big naval ships, jet planes, all emit greenhouse gases or CO2. And if we’re going to reach global zero, we need also to reduce emissions from the military sector, but we need to do that without reducing our readiness, without reducing the capabilities of our armed forces. So the challenge is to find the technology, which is clean, but also effective.

I’m absolutely certain that that will happen because if we look at the civilian sector, you see that the most modern cars, the most modern vehicles are not fossil fuel, they are electric. So at some stage, it will be impossible for the military sector to continue with fossil fuel while the rest of society has turned to green technology. So but NATO has to be ahead of the curve, we have to be driving that process towards greener military technology, which is effective also from a military standpoint and a military approach.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Thank you so much. I know we had one more question. Is there someone in the audience, Alief, a young woman from Turkey. Perfect. I think you had a question on China and I’m sorry to our production team, we need our mic back for a second. Perfect, and I’ll just ask you to keep your question short because we’re running out of time.

QUESTION: Yes, of course. I’m Alief from Turkey, currently a student at the College of Europe, and my question was in regards to the rise of China as a power and how do you anticipate it to be mentioned in the new strategic concept? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well I expect that China will be reflected in the new Strategic Concept in a totally different way than today because in the current Strategic Concept, China is not mentioned with a single word as if China doesn’t matter for our security. The current Strategic Concept was agreed in 2010, now the world has changed and of course, China, we don’t regard China as an adversary, but the rise of China has consequences for our security.

China has the second largest defence budget. They have the biggest navy. They are investing heavily in new modern nuclear missiles, long range missiles, hypersonic missiles. China doesn’t share our values. We see the crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong, the Uyghurs, and how freedom of press and freedom of expression are values they don’t respect.

And then we also see that China is coming closer to us. We see them in the Arctic, we see them in Africa, and we see also China trying to control critical infrastructure, for instance, 5G in our own countries. All of this matters for our societies, for our security and therefore NATO has to address those, reflect that in a new Strategic Concept.

That includes technology, it was mentioned previously. It includes of course, resilience ofour infrastructure, electricity, roads, 5G, our critical infrastructure. And it also makes it even more important that NATO works together with partners like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, likeminded democracies to stand up for our democratic values, freedom of press, democratic values around the world. NATO will remain an Alliance of North America and Europe. We will not become a global NATO, but we need a global approach in this region, North America and Europe, because we are faced with global threats and challenges.

One of them is the rise of China, an authoritarian power working more and more closely with Russia, that matters for our security. That will be reflected in the new Strategic Concept. And therefore I would just end by saying this: hat reflects the success of NATO, that we change, and the world is changing, so we are young as an old organisation.

LAUREN SPERANZA: I love that, well we have just one minute left, so maybe I’ll ask you one final quick question because I know many of us here and maybe one day hope to serve at NATO or in government or in some other international institution. What is the most challenging part of your job and your favourite part of your job?

JENS STOLTENBERG: My main favourite is to meet people, I love people. I’m still a politician. I’ve tried to hide it, but that’s the reality. So to be a politician you need to like to be together with people, to advocate, to campaign as in my previous life I campaigned for my party. Now I campaign for another cause and that is the idea of North America and Europe standing together, and I believe in that. And I’m inspired by being allowed to do that and then to work together with a lot of excellent, dedicated people in my staff. So that’s a huge privilege. Then what I like… Of course what I don’t like is that we don’t always agree. So then-

LAUREN SPERANZA: That’s always tough.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Then it’s like a family, it’s better when we are, as I say, there’s a good family dinner than when you have bad family dinners. So sometimes we need to work on differences and there is no way to hide, no reason to hide that when we are 30 Allies from both sides of the Atlantic with different culture, different history, different geography, different political parties in power, there are sometimes differences. And to deal with them, to find a compromise, to reconcile different views is perhaps the most important part of my job, but also the most demanding part of my job. But what inspires me is that despite all these differences, we always are able to agree around the core task, to protect and defend each other and as long as we do that, we are safe, we preserve peace and you can continue to do what you want.

LAUREN SPERANZA: That’s a great note to end on, and thank you so much Mr Secretary General. Thank you to all of you for your questions. Thank you for all the work you’re leading, and I hope to see you soon.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.

LAUREN SPERANZA: Thank you.

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