In this episode of The Global Conversation Euronews’ Darren McCaffrey speaks to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about a host of issues, including the ongoing coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump’s demand to pull thousands of troops out of Germany, the rise of China and whether Europe needs an army.
Trump troop withdrawal from Germany
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “Can I just first of all, start off with the news that we’ve seen emerge in the last couple of days. That is the confirmation from Donald Trump that he is going to withdraw nine thousand troops from Germany. Now, this was first revealed, I think, in The Wall Street Journal on June 5th. When did you first hear about this news?”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “This was an issue I discussed with President Trump when we had a phone call last week. And in that phone call, I stated very clearly that the presence of North America, both the US troops, but also Canadian troops in Europe, is of importance for all of us, for Europe, but also for North America. And therefore, what I welcome is that we have seen over the last years an increased US presence in Europe with more troops in Poland, leading a battlegroup there with more presence in the Baltic countries, the Black Sea region and also elsewhere.”
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “But doesn’t it sound quite extraordinary that you, as Secretary-General of NATO, find out in the press about these pretty dramatic cuts to troop numbers in Germany, rather than either being told in advance or indeed consulted about it? It’s pretty insulting in some ways, isn’t it?”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “Well, the issue of US presence in Europe is an issue that we haven’t discussed over a long period of time within NATO and in particular in my dialogue with the United States, as our NATO allies. What the United States has made clear now is that no final decision has been taken about how and when this intention will be implemented.”
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “But it doesn’t send the best message, does it, about the alliance, this move? And it’s part of an ongoing campaign, it almost seems like, by the US president to have a go at NATO. Don’t you think that, actually, Donald Trump’s presidency has done damage to NATO’s reputation and indeed to the alliance?”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “My message is also that US presence in Europe is not only about protecting Europe, but it is also about projecting US power beyond Europe. We know that many of the US operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Africa, they come out from bases, US bases in Europe. The US Africa Command is not in Africa. It’s in Stuttgart, in Germany. So again, now we have to have a conversation about this in NATO and what matters for me is that we maintain a significant presence of North America in Europe because that’s important both for Europe and North America.”
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “NATO was founded in many ways to keep the USSR in check. Do you not think though that China poses a greater military threat in many ways, a greater threat to the Western world order than Russia does?”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “The rise of China is fundamentally changing the global balance of power. China will soon have the biggest economy in the world, and they already have the second-largest defence budget and China is investing heavily in new long-range military capabilities, missiles that can reach all NATO allies in Europe, modernising their nuclear forces. And this is not about NATO moving into the South China Sea, but it is about the fact that China is coming closer to us with weapons systems that can reach us all with the increased Chinese presence in cyberspace, in the Arctic, in Africa, but also investing heavily in infrastructure in Europe, and NATO has to respond to that. And, it’s extremely important that North America and Europe stand together because together we are half of the world’s military might and economic might. So if anything, the rise of China makes it even more important to maintain the bond between North America and Europe, the transatlantic bonds.”
A regional alliance with a global approach
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “You talk about not moving there, into the South China Sea, but why not? I mean, as you pointed out, NATO are involved in parts of Africa, in Afghanistan. Why not in some ways meet that threat head-on, if it is potentially in the South China Sea, and see NATO expand its capabilities in East Asia?”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “Because NATO is a regional alliance, our responsibility is to protect what we call the North Atlantic area – Europe and North America. But we need the global approach and we need to fully understand the consequences of the rise of China. Some NATO allies, of course, operate in the South China Sea. United States, United Kingdom, France. It’s also a Pacific Nation. So there are several allies which are operating there. But I think it’s good for everyone that it’s not a NATO mission, under NATO command. But we need to adapt our presence here in Europe to be able to respond in a coordinated way.”
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “Now the coronavirus pandemic, in many ways, has caused enormous damage in terms of deaths, and indeed damage to economies across the world. And it’s a reminder, isn’t it, that something like coronavirus or COVID-19, could be used as a weapon? We’ve heard about biological warfare in the past. Do you think that threat is still there?
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “So first of all, we have no indications that the coronavirus is manmade. But, of course, the pandemic itself is a reminder of the potential danger related to biological warfare and as we now invest more in modernising our military capabilities, we have also invested more in capabilities that can deal with chemical, biological attacks. We are doing more exercises and we are stepping up the efforts to deal with these kinds of crisis or warfare.”
What about an EU army?
Darren McCaffrey, Euronews: “And just very finally, shouldn’t this be the moment in which NATO steps aside and the EU steps in with its own army, with its own military capability to actually see off these threats?
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General: “I welcome EU efforts on defence. But they cannot replace NATO. We have to remember that of 80 per cent of NATO’s defence expenditure comes from non-EU allies. So, yes, we welcome more EU efforts on defence but also knowing that close to 60 per cent of the population in NATO don’t live in an EU country. Of course, the EU cannot replace NATO, but NATO and the EU can complement each other. And we welcome more EU efforts on defence.”