NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO planning for future without INF Treaty and with more Russian nuclear missiles in Europe
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has given an interview to Interfax ahead of the Alliance‘s 70th anniversary that is to be celebrated on April 4. He speaks in the interview about the NATO‘s vision of future relations with Russia, its attitude to the situation surrounding the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty and the New START Treaty, as well as further plans of expanding the Alliance.Question: NATO was formed during the Cold War era as an instrument of countering the Soviet Union and later the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a brief ‘thaw‘ in the NATO-Russia relationship and the question even arose of Russia‘s membership in the alliance. Now it seems that countering the threat of Russia has become the essence of NATO‘s existence, or at least its military element. If there was no Russia, would NATO be still relevant? Do you think that one day Russia may become a member of the alliance, and if yes, then under what conditions?
Answer: NATO is a defensive organization that protects nearly one billion people. For seventy years it has kept peace in Europe. However, today we face the most unpredictable security situation in many years. NATO is responding across the board, including to a more assertive Russia, cyber and hybrid threats, instability across the Middle East and North Africa, and a continued terrorist threat.
For more than two decades, NATO consistently worked to build a cooperative relationship with Russia, but in March 2014, NATO suspended practical cooperation because of Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea fr om Ukraine. At the same time, NATO has kept channels for communication with Russia open, including the NATO-Russia Council. We want a better relationship with Russia, but for that to be possible, Russia must respect international rules, and play a constructive role in international security.
Q.: NATO froze all official contacts with Russia in 2014. Isn‘t it time to reanimate and intensify them, before it is too late and the point of no return is passed? This crisis has already gone too far?
A.: It is important to remember why NATO froze practical cooperation with Russia in 2014. We took this decision because of Russia‘s actions against Ukraine, including the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea – which we do not and will not recognize. And most recently, the aggressive Russian behavior in the Kerch strait.
We also have other serious concerns about Russia’s behavior, including its ongoing violation of the INF Treaty, support for the brutal Syrian regime, cyber-attacks and propaganda, and the use of a military-grade nerve agent in the United Kingdom.
NATO does not want to isolate Russia. We do not want a new arms race or a new Cold War. However, for our relationship to improve, Moscow has to respect international law. NATO has a dual-track approach to Russia: strong defense, and meaningful dialogue. I chaired a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in January – our ninth since 2016 – and I regularly meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov, most recently at the Munich Security Conference in February. Dialogue with Russia can be difficult, but that is exactly why it is so important: to reduce risks and misunderstandings.
Q.: One of the elements of the crisis is the possible dismantling of the INF Treaty. The Russian side has warned that the countries wh ere U.S. missiles will be stationed will become targets of Russia‘s missiles. How seriously has NATO treated these warnings? Is the alliance ready to become Russia‘s military target? Could this result in applying Article 5 of the Washington Treaty?
A.: Russian statements threatening to target Allies are unacceptable and counterproductive. The SSC-8 missile system developed and deployed by Russia violates the INF Treaty, and poses a significant risk to our security. These missiles are mobile and hard to detect. They can reach European cities with little warning, carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, and they lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.
The United States and other Allies have engaged with Russia about this missile system for several years. Unfortunately, Russia has not shown any willingness to return to compliance. That is why the United States, with the full support of all NATO Allies, has announced its intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. This will take several months, so Russia still has a chance to come back into compliance. We call on Russia to take this opportunity.
At the same time, NATO is preparing for a world without the INF Treaty. Any steps we take, we will take together. NATO will continue to maintain credible and effective deterrence and defense. However, we do not intend to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.
Q.: What steps does NATO intend to make in order to avoid repeating the European missile crisis of 1980s? Or is NATO perceiving military means only through the lens of the further countering Russia‘s threat even in the absence of the INF Treaty?
A.: Russia is responsible for putting the INF Treaty in jeopardy by developing and deploying its SSC-8 missile system. NATO’s focus is to preserve the INF Treaty and there is a window of opportunity for Russia to come back into compliance. At the same time, we are planning for a future without the INF Treaty, and with more Russian nuclear missiles in Europe. We continue to closely review the security implications of Russian intermediate-range missiles. We will not pre-empt the outcome of this analysis or work at NATO. Any response will be developed collectively, by all Allies, in a measured and defensive way.
Q.: Is NATO considering the option of further strengthening the European missile defense segment over the INF Treaty situation?
A.: NATO‘s Ballistic Missile Defense is purely defensive and not directed against Russia. The system defends against ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO has attempted many times to cooperate with Russia on missile defense. I stress again that Russia still has an opportunity to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty. This is Russia’s responsibility because Russia is in violation of the Treaty.
Q.: The United States explains its decision to suspend, and then withdraw from the INF Treaty due to the situation surrounding Russia‘s 9M729 (NATO reporting name SSC-8) missile. Why is NATO, which sees eye to eye with the U.S. on this issue, reluctant to study in detail the characteristics of this missile with the participation of experts on both sides, relying only on its own data?
A.: All 29 NATO Allies agree that Russia is violating the INF Treaty. This shared position is based on intelligence from Allies, including the United States. The United States has also been very clear that Russia’s attempts to demonstrate compliance with the Treaty are not credible and fall short of what is required. None of Russia’s proposals would allow observers to verify the range of the missile system.
Q.: Washington believes that the INF Treaty is morally outdated and that new, more comprehensive multilateral agreements on the missile control are needed. Is NATO prepared to join such multilateral negotiations? Which players do you see sitting at the negotiating table?
A.: Several countries, including China, India, Pakistan and Iran, are developing and deploying intermediate-range weapons that are within the ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty. Effective arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation are essential for international security, so Allies remain open to further arms control initiatives. At the same time, efforts to broaden the arms control regime are in no way an excuse for Russia to continue to violate the INF Treaty.
Q.: After the de-facto dismantlement of the INF Treaty, the New START Treaty has remained the only mechanism ensuring mutual transparency in the sphere of nuclear arms control. Washington is not giving a definite answer about whether this treaty will be extended beyond 2021. Experts believe that if this treaty is also dismantled, neither Russia, nor the U.S. will know what is happening to the nuclear stock on either side. Aren‘t you afraid of this prospect? Are you going to convince Washington to preserve the New START Treaty?
A.: NATO has a long-standing commitment to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Russia‘s violation of the INF Treaty erodes the foundations of effective arms control and undermines Allied security. The New START Treaty has achieved a lot. Last year marked an important milestone when the U.S. and Russia met the Treaty’s central limits in February 2018, representing a significant reduction in strategic nuclear systems from Cold War highs. This shows disarmament efforts can deliver real results.
The New START Treaty and the INF Treaty regulate two different types of weapon systems. Both the U.S. and Russia agree the New START Treaty is being respected. This is not the case with the INF Treaty. Allies will not allow the INF Treaty to be violated with impunity, because that would undermine trust in arms control in general. The onus is on Russia to return to full compliance.
Q.: How do you view NATO‘s future after the 70th anniversary? Is the alliance going to keep its policy of expansion, and if yes, then in what directions: south, north or east? Who is the next in line to join the alliance? Does NATO plan to expand its sphere of influence? What regions do you view as priorities?
A.: NATO does not believe in the outdated notion of ‘spheres of influence’. NATO is made up of democratic countries that have each made the sovereign decision to join the Alliance. Every nation is entitled to determine its own future; no other country has the right to interfere. NATO’s open door policy is one of our great success stories. Welcoming new members into the NATO family has made Europe and North America more secure. Together, we stand in defense of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. In February, NATO Allies signed the Accession Protocol for North Macedonia. Once all Allies have ratified the Accession Protocol, the country will become the 30th member of our Alliance.
Q.: After Georgia and Ukraine join NATO as is planned, the alliance will actually have built Roman lines along Russia‘s southwestern borders. Is this not sufficient reason for Moscow to boost its defense capabilities as an organization that considers Russia its strategic adversary encircles it?
A.: This myth of encirclement ignores geography. Russia‘s land border is just over 20,000 kilometers long. Of that, less than one-sixteenth (1,215 kilometers), is shared with NATO members. Russia has land borders with fourteen countries. Only five of them are NATO members. Outside NATO territory, the Alliance only has a military presence in two places: Kosovo and Afghanistan. Both missions are carried out under a United Nations mandate, endorsed by the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member. In contrast, Russia has military bases and soldiers in three countries – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – without the consent of their elected governments.