Diplomaatia was privileged that NATO’s Assistant Secretary General, Camille Grand, agreed to a written interview on the occasion of the Alliance’s 70th anniversary.
Diplomaatia: NATO is celebrating its 70th anniversary. What are the keywords for the Alliance in the 21st century?
Grand: For 70 years, the bond between Europe and North America has made NATO the strongest alliance in history. We are an alliance bound by shared history, values and goals, and together we work to prevent conflict and preserve peace for nearly one billion people.
NATO has kept our countries and our people safe by continuously adapting to new security challenges. For 40 years, NATO successfully deterred the Soviet Union from aggression against Western Europe. Then in the 1990s, we faced new security challenges in Europe, and helped to end conflicts in the Western Balkans. After 9/11, NATO took a leading role in the international response in Afghanistan, where we continue to train local forces so they can prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism and create the conditions for peace.
Today, the world still needs NATO, and as we face the most unpredictable security environment in a generation the Alliance is responding—including to Russia’s aggressive actions, cyber and hybrid threats, instability across the Middle East and North Africa, and a continuing terrorist threat. In response to these challenges, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the Cold War. We are increasing the readiness of our forces. We have also stepped up our role in the fight against terrorism, including with a new training mission in Iraq.
Furthermore, we are boosting our hybrid and cyber defences, and remain at the forefront of technological change, and we are very grateful for the leading role that Estonia plays in this area.
All of these steps demonstrate that NATO is still needed. And new countries want to join our family, because we deliver peace and security for so many people.
This April, we are marking the 70th anniversary with a special meeting of foreign ministers in Washington DC. In December, NATO heads of state and government will gather in London—the Alliance’s first home—to mark the anniversary. This will be an opportunity to reflect on what the Allies have achieved together over the last seven decades and to address the security challenges we face now and in the future.
How would you describe the relationship between the US and its European allies? Is it realistic to expect the European member states to pay more for their defence?
Two World Wars, a Cold War and the ongoing fight against terrorism show that North America and Europe are stronger when we stand together. Despite occasional differences, we have always been united in our core mission: collective defence. Standing together, defending each other.
Yes, it is realistic to achieve fairer burden-sharing, and it is already happening. Allies are delivering on the pledges they made at the Wales Summit; after many years of decline, the trend in defence spending has been reversed and we are adding billions to our defence budgets. Since 2016, European Allies and Canada have spent an extra 41 billion US dollars on defence, and we expect that figure to rise to 100 billion by the end of next year. In 2018, seven Allies reached the 2% [of GDP] defence spending guideline, up from three in 2014. And based on their national plans, we expect a majority of Allies to reach 2%. Even those that don’t yet have such plans are increasing spending substantially. So the trajectory is clear and we’re moving in the right direction.
What do you think of European strategic autonomy? And a European army?
NATO remains essential for Euro-Atlantic security, as the only organisation able to provide for the defence of Europe.
Strengthening European efforts on defence has the potential to help us provide new capabilities. So efforts to develop the EU’s role can be a good news story and can help improve the burden-sharing balance. At the same time, non-EU Allies play an important role in European security: Turkey in the east, the US and Canada across the Atlantic, Albania and Montenegro in the south, and Iceland and Norway in the north. A strong transatlantic bond and NATO’s military-strategic role will continue to be irreplaceable for the defence of Europe.
NATO has been supportive of the EU’s efforts in defence, on the understanding that it will enhance our capabilities and be fully coordinated. The cooperation between the two organisations has reached new levels in the last few years and needs to continue to deepen.
How do you see the future of NATO’s relationship with Russia? Is there any room for improvement at the moment?
For more than two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO worked to build a cooperative relationship with Russia, but in March 2014 we suspended practical cooperation because of Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. We also have other serious concerns about Russia’s behaviour, 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.
At the same time, NATO has kept channels for communication with Russia open, including through the NATO-Russia Council. NATO does not want to isolate Russia. We do not want a new arms race or a new Cold War. 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.
NATO has a twin-track approach to Russia: strong defence and meaningful dialogue. Dialogue with Russia can be difficult, but that is exactly why it is so important: to reduce risks and misunderstandings.
How serious is the demise of the INF Treaty for European security?
As all Allies have recognised, the SSC-8 missile system developed and deployed by Russia violates the INF Treaty, and poses a significant risk to our security. Moreover, these missiles are destabilising. They 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 US and other Allies have engaged with Russia about this missile system for several years, including in the NATO-Russia Council. Unfortunately, to date Russia has not shown any willingness to return to compliance.
A treaty that is only respected by one side is not credible and cannot keep us safe. That is why the US, with the full support of all its NATO Allies, has announced its intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. This will take until August 2019, so Russia still has a chance to come back into compliance. We call on Russia to take this opportunity. All Allies stand ready to engage further with Russia, as we have done, for instance, in the NATO-Russia Council. But we are also preparing for a world without the INF Treaty, and considering our next steps. We will not pre-empt the duration or outcome of this process, but any steps we take will be measured and coordinated.
As the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has made clear, NATO has no plans or intentions to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. At the same time, NATO will continue to maintain credible and effective deterrence and defence—this is the core of our mission.
What are the most important future steps for the NATO eFP?
NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence has already demonstrated its relevance and usefulness. Our four battlegroups are part of a broader posture that involves national home defence and other NATO forces. This includes NATO’s “spearhead force”, our Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, whose lead elements are ready to move within two to three days. It also includes NATO’s Response Force, our rapid reaction force, which has tripled in size to 40,000 troops in recent years. In order to further improve this posture, we are also working on a new Readiness Initiative, which we call the “Four Thirties”. This means that Allies will make available 30 combat ships, 30 land battalions and 30 air squadrons within 30 days or less. Taken together, these measures strike the right balance between a greater military deterrence in the east and the ability to quickly send reinforcements. This does not change the fact that what we do is strictly defensive and proportionate. Our aim is to prevent conflict and preserve the peace.
What is NATO’s role in the migrant crisis?
There is no military solution to problems posed by migration, but NATO is playing its part in the international response to this challenge. We have ships in the Aegean Sea in support of the agreement between the EU and Turkey. They provide critical information on a daily basis, helping Frontex [the EU’s European Border and Coast Guard Agency], as well as the Greek and Turkish coastguards, to take more effective action against human traffickers. We are also supporting the EU’s Operation Sophia [a military operation established as a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean]. And we work with partners in the Middle East and North Africa to increase their defence capacities. This can strengthen these countries to help them address turmoil in the region, which is at the root cause of this crisis.
North Macedonia will probably become the next member of NATO. Are any other countries joining NATO soon? Ukraine? Georgia?
This year NATO celebrates the anniversaries of three rounds of enlargement: the 20th anniversary of the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; the 15th of the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; and the tenth of the accession of Albania and Croatia.
By choosing to join NATO, Allies have shown their commitment to freedom, security and the values that are the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic community. Their accession and contributions have strengthened NATO and helped to advance democracy, stability and prosperity.
NATO’s open-door policy is one of our great success stories and remains our policy as we look forward to welcoming North Macedonia as our 30th Ally in the near future.
Together with the enlargement of the EU, NATO’s open door has helped spread freedom, democracy and human rights. That is why our door remains open to new members. We also continue to work with the three aspirant countries—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine—to bring them closer to NATO. We are already engaged in unprecedented partnership activities with Georgia and Ukraine, which demonstrate on a daily basis the closeness of our existing relationships.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.