Jens Stoltenberg: Dialogue with Russia is not easy, but it is essential
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has given an interview to Interfax ahead of the alliance‘s summit in Brussels on July 11-12, in which he about Russia’s place on the summit‘s agenda and how NATO is going to build relations with Russia.Question: What will be Russia’s place on the agenda of the NATO summit?
Answer: NATO summits are an important opportunity for allied leaders to meet and provide strategic direction for the alliance. At the Brussels Summit, we will take the next steps to adapt NATO in the face of evolving challenges. We will focus on several key themes: strengthening our deterrence and defense, stepping up in the fight against terrorism, achieving fairer burden-sharing, working with partners like the European Union and keeping our door open to new members.
As part of these discussions, I expect allies will reconfirm NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia: strong deterrence and defense, combined with meaningful dialogue. This approach is part of our response to a changed security environment. In 2014, we saw Russia change European borders by force – illegally annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine, which continues to this day. In response, NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia and we took steps to strengthen our deterrence and defense. At the same time, we have kept channels for communication open. In May, I chaired the latest meeting of the NATO-Russia Council – the seventh in the past two years. Our dialogue is not easy, but it is essential. We need to reduce the risk of misunderstandings and accidents. That’s why my deputy and I also engage regularly with our Russian counterparts. In February, for example, I met with Foreign Minister Lavrov during the Munich Security Conference. Military lines of communication are also open – General Scaparrotti and General Gerasimov met in April in Baku. As I often say, we don’t want to isolate Russia. As long as we’re strong and united, we can engage in dialogue with Russia.
Q.: NATO has been taking measures "to deter" Russia since 2014. Is this the peak of the confrontation now past? Have these measures reached their limit, or do you still see Russia as a threat to your security and are you going to make additional military steps?
A.: First, let me set the record straight. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia and we see no imminent threat to any NATO ally. As a former Norwegian Prime Minister, I know that it’s possible to talk and work with Russia. In Norway, we talked to Russia on energy and border issues, among others. This was beneficial both for Russia and for Norway. I believe in the same kind of approach. As long as there’s no doubt that NATO allies will protect each other, then dialogue with Russia is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.
At the same time, NATO cannot ignore Russia breaking international rules, and undermining our security. What we have seen, over the last few years, is a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its military capabilities, willing to use military force against its neighbors, and demonstrating a lack of military transparency.
In 2014, we decided it was necessary to strengthen our deterrence because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, its continued destabilization of eastern Ukraine, and its military build-up close to the borders of NATO allies. We deployed four multinational battlegroups to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. These forces are made up of around 4,500 troops. They are defensive and proportionate, but they send a clear message that an attack on one NATO ally is attack on all allies. NATO’s aim is not to provoke conflict, but to preserve peace.
We will continue adapting to keep our countries safe. At the same time, we will aspire to a constructive relationship with Russia, with open dialogue to communicate our positions and to minimize the risks stemming from military incidents or accidents. This is in our mutual interest and in the interest of European security.
Q.: The decision to create a cyber operations center is expected to be taken at the NATO Summit. Is this related to fear of cyber threats coming from Russia?
A.: In recent years, we have seen many large-scale cyber-attacks, which pose a security challenge to our allies and partners, and to NATO as a whole. Different actors stand behind these attacks – governments, criminal gangs, terrorist groups and lone individuals. We are taking necessary measures to make sure that NATO can defend its networks against cyber-attacks from any source.
NATO’s cyber defenses are designed to protect us from a range of threats, wherever they may come from. And our actions in cyberspace are defensive and in line with our international obligations. The future Cyber Operations Centre is part of our efforts to ensure that our cyber defenses are robust. The center will further integrate cyber aspects into our operational planning, training, education and exercises, to ensure that our military commanders are equipped for the operations and missions of the 21st century.
I expect the Cyber Operations Centre will be endorsed by allied leaders at the NATO Summit, as part of the adapted NATO Command Structure. The command structure is the military backbone of our alliance, and we are strengthening it at all levels: adding more than 1,200 personnel, and setting up two new commands – a Joint Force Command for the Atlantic, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and an Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany. Cyber defense, logistics support for military mobility and reinforcement capabilities are integrated at all levels in the new command structure, which is part of NATO’s efforts to stay strong for the challenges we face, and be ready for new threats wherever they arise.
Q.: Is conducting a dialogue with Russia on cyber security in order to allay NATO’s concerns a possibility?
A: Meaningful dialogue is an integral part of NATO’s approach to Russia. For us, dialogue is important to avoid misunderstandings and incidents, and if they happen, to prevent them from spiraling out of control.
As part of our dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, in May allies addressed Russia’s attempts to destabilize NATO members and partners through cyber and other hybrid activities. Allies expressed their concern over cyber-attacks originating from Russia, as well as disinformation campaigns and interference in national elections. It is now up to Russia to address these concerns in a credible way. That would be a sign that Russia is also committed to constructive dialogue.
Meanwhile, NATO will continue to strengthen its cyber defenses and its ability to defend all allies against any threat, including in cyberspace. As I already said, this is not directed against any state, but a response to the growing challenges we face.
Q.: Will the threat of collapse of the JCPOA after the U.S. withdrawal from the deal and Iran’s development of its missile program revive the phantom of the Iranian threat and push NATO and the U.S. to return to the fourth stage of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, or take other additional steps in the sphere of European missile defense?
A: The JCPOA deals with Iran’s nuclear weapons, and not with its ballistic missiles. The United States has ceased participation in the JCPOA, but all allies agree that Iran should never develop a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s ballistic missiles remain a concern for the alliance. Iran continues to develop and test increasingly capable ballistic missiles that can reach NATO’s European allies. NATO will continue to develop its missile defense capabilities to defend its allies against the increasing threat posed by ballistic missile proliferation.
It‘s not for me to speculate on future plans by the current U.S. administration on the European Phased Adaptive Approach. What I can say is that NATO will continue to invest in our missile defense capabilities – this is our obligation as a defensive alliance. It is a long-term investment to address a long-term security threat.
Q.: Russia thinks that Aegis systems being deployed in Romania and Poland are potential violations of the INF Treaty. Do you see the collapse of this treaty as a real threat? What is your attitude to U.S. statements that Moscow is violating the INF Treaty and that Washington plans to introduce military measures and sanctions against Russia?
A.: The Aegis sites in Romania and, in the future, Poland, are not directed against Russia and will not affect or undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence capabilities. These sites are part of NATO‘s ballistic missile defense, which is a defensive system to protect ourselves against limited attacks launched from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
The North Atlantic Council underlined last December that the United States is in compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty and committed to strictly implementing it. The United States has clearly stated that the missile defense site in Romania is fully compliant with the INF Treaty. The interceptors employed at the site have no offensive purpose and are not armed with explosive warheads. The site is not designed to launch cruise missiles. Furthermore, legal agreements between United States and Romania stipulate that the site cannot be used for any purposes other than missile defense.
We take compliance with the INF Treaty very seriously. All allies agree that this treaty remains a key component of our European and global security. It eliminated an entire category of nuclear missiles that threatened security and stability in Europe – intermediate range missiles capable of hitting command and control centers and other critical targets with little warning. We remain fully committed to the preservation of this historic and still-vital arms control Treaty.
The United States has been clear that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty, and continues to seek to bring Russia back into compliance. Together, allies have called on Russia to address the U.S. concerns in a substantial and verifiable way and demonstrate that it remains committed to arms control in Europe.
Q.: What is your attitude to the possible purchase by Turkey of Russia’s S-400 air defense missile systems?
A.: It is up to allies to decide what military equipment they buy. What matters for NATO is that the equipment allies acquire is able to operate together. This is fundamental to NATO for the conduct of our missions and operations. In most cases, allies purchase equipment from other allies, which enhances the interoperability of our equipment, and ultimately our security.