Stephen Sackur is in Brussels to speak to Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. Will the ascent of Trump hasten the demise of Nato?
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Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on HARDtalk.
Welcome to HARDtalk from Nato headquarters in Brussels.
The job of Nato Secretary General isn't an easy one, this alliance
And achieving that consensus just got a whole lot
harder for my guest today, Jens Stoltenberg, Nato's chief.
The United States, Nato's dominant member, is now
being led by President Trump, who has voiced grave doubts
So, will Trump's assent hasten the demise of Nato?
Jens Stoltenberg, welcome to HARDtalk.
Would you agree the presidency of Donald Trump brings
an unprecedented amount of uncertainty into
Nato is an alliance of 28 democracies and in democracies,
With different ideas, different perspectives.
And Nato has been able to handle that for almost 70 years.
You have 28 members, one dominant member,
The United States of America now has a president who,
just a few days ago, declared Nato "obsolete".
Nato is the most successful alliance in history,
because we have been able to adapt to change.
For 40 years we did collective defence in Europe, deterring Russia.
Then we adapted after the end of the Cold War.
We projected stability beyond our borders and in conflicts
in the Balkans, Kosovo, Bosnia, fighting terrorism
in Afghanistan and we are adapting again.
Responding to a more assertive Russia in the east.
How do you adapt to a US president who believes Nato to be obsolete?
What I will tell him and what I already told him is that
is that Nato is changing because the world is changing.
When I spoke to him, he was very committed to Nato.
He expressed a strong support to Nato.
I look forward to working with him in continuing to adapt to Nato
because I don't see any contradiction between saying that
Nato is important but at the same time saying that Nato has to change,
I understand but let's engage with what he has actually said
to the Times newspaper just a few days ago he said that
I'm just wondering how you reacted to that.
Well, I will continue to tell the story about Nato
and an alliance which has proven, for almost 70 years, able to change
Then I will sit down with him and discuss concrete measures,
concrete issues where we can do more, where we can change more.
And then I agree with President Trump that
That is exactly what we have started to do.
And we are doing that by addressing issues like defence
spending and terrorism, the two main issues
We will get to the nitty-gritty of defence spending,
fighting terror and strategy, on that front, later.
Would you accept that Nato only works if the member states of Nato
share fundamental values about human rights, about freedom,
Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberties.
In our treaty, we mention democracy, individual liberties
That reflects the need to protect human rights.
Do you believe there is place for torture in a security policy?
No. I'm opposed to torture.
Torture is against international law.
All Nato missions and operations activities are conducted in
When Donald Trump says he absolutely believes that
waterboarding, for example, works, how do you respond to that?
I've seen his statements, but I've also seen that there is a debate
I also saw that President Trump stated clearly that he would consult
with the Defence Secretary and with the CIA director.
They have both expressed strong... Resistance.
In your view, was he right or wrong when he said waterboarding works,
he said that other people in his security establishment
I'm asking you about Donald Trump who is now the president
of the United States, he's the leader of the
most important member of the organisation.
And I express my opinion and the opinion of Nato
and I tell you what Nato do, what we do in our operations.
How damaging is it for Nato, which is a 28-strong alliance
which purports to represent key values, how damaging is it
when Donald Trump makes, it seems, a case for torture.
It has happened before that there are discussions between allies
How damaging is it, Secretary General?
But the important thing is what we decide, the conclusions
that we draw and President Trump made it clear that he would not make
any decisions about waterboarding or torture before he had consulted,
and he mentioned the Secretary of Defence and the CIA director.
They have expressed that they are against waterboarding and torture.
All of our operations are conducted in line with international law.
Torture is against international law.
That's my position and I will convey that position very clearly.
I'm wondering, again, how you respond to things
that the new United States President has said.
Donald Trump has said with regard to the American invasion of Iraq,
"It was a terrible mistake for the United States not
to commandeer the oilfields and take that resource from Iraq".
He's also said in the past that he will consider recognising
Are these values that you believe represent Nato's values?
To accept, for instance, the annexation of Crimea will be
against Nato values and clear Nato decisions.
Again, we have seen many times before that, especially
in election campaigns, but also after election campaigns
The important thing is that Nato, again and again, have been able
to reach a consensus, to make decisions together.
What you seem to be saying is that you desperately hope that
many of the clear statements Donald Trump has made about global
security policy are not what he's going to do.
Because if they are what he's going to do, you've got a grave problem.
We are still in the early days and the important thing
is now that we sit down, all the Nato leaders,
that we consult, that we discuss the issues where we have different
And, once again, proove that we are able to reach common conclusions
I maybe be misreading you, but in your answers to me,
I sense a certain degree of apprehension, worry,
about what Donald Trump is bringing to the table?
I am actually very confident that President Trump
and the new administration, they are strongly committed
Because they see that a strong Nato is not only good
for Europe but it is also good for the United States.
Two world wars and a Cold War have taught us that stability
in Europe is also important for the United States.
They know that the only time Nato has invoked Article 5,
our defence clause, was after an attack
Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers, including many
from the United Kingdom, have been stationed and have been
fighting, in Afghanistan in a military operation
that was a direct response to an attack on the United States.
In the United States, they know that Nato is important also for them.
I'm sure you have seen Theresa May's words in the United States
just a short time ago where she said we...
She's talking about the US-UK relationship, "we will no longer
undertake foreign military interventions to remake
Now that, to me, sounds like a major strategic rethink,
Yes, and it is also in line with the thinking in Nato.
Because Nato has, of course, has to remain able to conduct big
combat operations out of our own area like we have done
But her words are precisely saying "no longer will we undertake
the sorts of foreign interventions like Afghanistan, like Iraq".
That is the history, that is not going to be
There is a big differs between Afghanistan and Iraq.
Afghanistan had a clear UN mandate and Nato operation.
With respect, hang on, hang on, she says "we will no longer remake
Right now, today, as we speak, you and Nato are spending billions
of dollars with hundreds of personnel continuing to be
to be in Afghanistan, to, as you put it, "train,
advise and assist the Afghan military in resolute
What on earth are you doing there if you are not trying
to remake Afghanistan in the image of Western values?
First of all, the UK is very committed to our
I've spoken with Prime Minister Theresa May and she and I,
we very much have the same approach to how we can strengthen Nato
and project stability beyond our borders,
without deploying Nato troops in big combat operations.
But deploying Nato troops to train, assist and advise local forces
Are you not, to use her phrase, trying to remake Afghanistan
Isn't that what the Afghan operation was about?
But the character of Nato's presence in Afghanistan has
completely changed from a combat operation to a train,
assist and advise, meaning that we are there now to enable
the Afghans themselves to fight terrorism.
To stabilise their own country and I really believe
that in the long run, the best weapon we have against
I know that the UK is absolutely behind that idea of fighting
terrorism not only by deploying our own forces but more by enabling
local forces to fight terrorism themselves.
This is the message she conveys and I absolutely agree with her.
A general point, did you see just a few days ago
that the Doomsday Clock, which is supervised by a very
reputable bunch of scientists, the Bulletin of Atomic
It's an indication of how close they believe us to be
They put that clock forward to two and a half minutes to midnight
because they said they had considered Donald Trump's election
comments, they considered his comments on nuclear weapons
in particular and they considered the global security situation.
And Trump's comments on climate change and all in all,
And I don't see any imminent threat for a large-scale war
The main reason why Nato is strong is that we are able
We have a strong, collective defence in Nato.
It is not to provoke a conflict, it's not to destabilise,
I understand it, I know what you want Nato to be doing
but I'm asking you, time and again, to consider
This is what the former Nato Ambassador from
the United States, said the other day.
"We are now entering an upside down world,
Donald Trump is more critical of Nato, the EU, Germany,
Germany, all close allies, then he is and has ever been
of Putin and Russia, that is an upside down world".
We are seeing clear statements from President Trump
but also his security team, that they will remain
You're ignoring all the other comments from Trump?
In addition to that, we see that words are followed by deeds.
They are now deploying forces, new US forces, to Europe,
Those were all decisions taken under Barack Obama.
But it has strong bipartisan support from both the Republicans
And they have promised to continue to follow up on, for instance,
I promised you we would talk specifics about some
of Donald Trump's particular grievances with Nato.
He says "we are getting ripped off by every other country in Nato".
He says "unless countries front up and pay the required 2% of GDP
on their military spending, the United States will consider
consider walking away from the Nato alliance".
Right now only five countries meet that 2% threshold,
that means Nato is in grave danger, doesn't it?
Well, what we have seen is that Nato allies in Europe
have started to increase defence spending.
How much is Germany going to be spending in the
next financial year on its military as a proportion of its GDP?
That's almost 50% below what Donald Trump says
they have to spend, if he's not to consider walking out of Nato.
I agree with President Trump that European Nato allies had to spend
I agree with President Trump that European Nato allies have to spend
more, that's the reason why I increased defence spending, more
investment in defence has been my main message since I took over.
What is your message to Chancellor Merkel?
It is that Germany has to spend more and that the good news is
that they have decided to increase defence spending
and had started to, and for the first time in years
we saw in 2015 that the cuts stopped, and 2016 we
These are being words for years and years,
I've been coming to Nato for years, and heard Secretary Generals
tell me that we will get to the 2% threshold any
If it doesn't happen now, Donald Trump is clear
that the US will not keep paying for other people's bills.
The big difference is that for many years we
have decreased tensions, and defence spending went down.
Now tensions are increasing again and we
need to prove that we are able to increase defence spending.
Nato leaders made the in September 2014 to stop the cuts, to
gradually increase funding and to
How worried are you by the Russian threat to
We see a more assertive Russia, we have seen
a significant military build-up but we don't see
Nato has responded, that is the reason why we have
for the first time had troops in the eastern part of the alliance.
We have increased forces so we can respond rapidly if needed.
We do more exercises, we respond also in cyber and other domains.
But we don't seek confrontation with Russia,
we don't want to renew the
Cold War so we combine strength and a firm approach with open
Donald Trump has described Vladimir Putin as smart, talks
about his admiration for him and said I start off inclined
to trust both Putin and Merkel, but let's see
There is an equivalence in his view of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.
Do you see Putin as smart and admirable?
I met Putin many times, and I have been able to
do deals with the Russians and the Prime Minister and I think
one of the lessons I learned from being a
politician is that it is possible to have a pragmatic
It is possible to be a neighbour to Russia as long as you are strong,
as long as you are firm, as long as you are
And that is what Norway has been able to be,
not in spite of Nato but because of Nato.
So I believe this dual track approach,
strong, predictable, but at the same time open channels for political
communication, for dialogue, to try to find ways
The question is whether Nato is really offering a deterrent
A study by the Rand Corporation recently said Russia
could overrun Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in three days.
What kind of deterrent are you really offering?
I think that 70 years of Nato has proven that we are providing... Why
thank you talk about the past but I'm talking about the present and
future. But we have proven in almost 70 years we are able to provide
credible deterrence. Estonia's Prime Minister doesn't believe that, he
has demanded that Nato troops be permanently stationed in his
country, are you prepared to axe it to that request? We are now
deploying four battalions. Including one to Estonia led by the United
Kingdom. That will be a presence. That is a few hundred troops. Around
1000 troops. Do you know how may troops the Russians can call upon to
be in the Baltic states in no time at all? Hundreds of thousands. Why
invoking national presence in the Baltic countries, that sends a very
clear signal that an attack on one of the Baltic countries will trigger
a response from the entire alliance. On top of the increased military
presence, we have established new high readiness forces, which can be
deployed very quickly if needed, to reinforce. This is part of a chain
of different elements which all adds to much higher readiness and
increased collective defence, the biggest enforcement of collective
defence of the end of the Cold War. Cyber security, not least because of
allegations about Russian interference in the US election,
there is a big focus on cyber security, in Germany, too. Where
Angela Merkel said she believes the Russians are interfering in German
politics. Is Nato, in any sense, prepared for the systemic, organised
cyber security attacks would may come from countries hostile to the
Western alliance in the future? Yes, we are. Because we have invested a
lot. We have strengthened our cyber defences a lot over the past couple
of years. We have seen that the cyber threats poses a new challenge
for the Nato alliance. And for the member countries. Do you buy the
intelligence services in Russia or authorised from the very top,
according to US intelligence chiefs, Russia has been responsible for
systemic hacking in the United States? In Germany, as well? Of the
politics of those countries? Because if you do believe that, and
presumably, right now, your mindset is to view Russia on various
different fronts as "The enemy". I trust the reports we have seen from
many national intelligence services, including from Germany and the
United States and others, that Russia is behind many of the cyber
attacks. We have seen the same pattern against, for instance,
Nato's own cyber networks. That's the reason why we are stepping up,
for instance, we have decided to establish cyber as a domain military
operation, alongside air, land and sea. In a sense, these are hostile
acts from the Russian state against your members states and indeed
against Nato's organisation itself? Yes. And we have seen the same
pattern, we saw it in 2007. We saw a very big attack against Estonia.
That was one of the reasons why we started to strengthen our own cyber
defences. Which brings me back to where we began an Donald Trump host
of Donald Trump admires Putin, says he is smart, says that working
closely with Putin would be an asset to the United States. I come back to
Ivo Daaler's point, this is the world upside down. He has expressed
strong support for the transatlantic partnership, for Nato. We will sit
down and work with each other on how we can continue to strengthen and
adapt to change the security environment. The final point is more
philosophical, Donald Trump is quite plain in his approach. It is all
about America first. He is, and I don't think he would mind me saying
it, a nationalist politician. We've seen nationalism on the rise in many
different countries, one can certainly say Vladimir Putin is a
nationalist politician. In this contest context, the emergence of
nationalist leaders who put their countries first, what role is
therefore a collective cooperative organisation like Nato? -- in this
global context, the emergence. Strong Nato is in the interest of
the United States. To have stability and peace in Europe. We have seen
that for the United States it is a great advantage to have friends and
allies. I will tell all the Americans I meet that you have to
make sure that you see the value of having close and good friends and
allies as you have in the north Atlantic. And if they don't? I am
certain they will, partly because they have expressed strong support
of Nato and partly because they have learned the lessons from two world
wars and the Cold War that Nato is also important for the security of
North America. And partly because they are now increasing their
presence, the US presence, with troops, equipment, repositioned
supplies in Europe to make sure the transatlantic bond remains strong.
Jens Stoltenberg, thank you very much for being on HARDtalk. Thank
Stephen Sackur is in Brussels to speak to Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. He's chief of an alliance of 28 nations that's supposed to work by consensus, but his job just got a whole lot harder. Donald Trump is now in charge of Nato's dominant member, the United States, and he's been very public with his grave doubts about Nato's future. Will the ascent of Trump hasten the demise of Nato?