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NATO – the Bedrock of European and Transatlantic Security

Merkel and Stoltenberg Meet in Berlin

The Atlantic Alliance is and will remain the robust bedrock of European and transatlantic security, despite global crises and conflicts. This political commitment was reiterated by Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin on 7 November. Mrs Merkel reaffirmed Germany’s intention to increase its annual defence expenditures as agreed at the Wales Summit and thanked Mr Stoltenberg for expressing NATO’s concerns during his recent visit to Turkey, which continues its military operations in Northern Syria. The Secretary General, in Berlin 6-9 November, welcomed Germany’s ongoing efforts to increase its defence budget but also called on the government to do more for its defence because such expenditure will enhance the country‘s own security.

Both individuals were irritated when a journalist asked for a comment on a statement by French President Emmanuel Macron. In an interview with The Economist, he said he could foresee the “brain death of NATO,“ because, for instance, there would be no coordination of strategic decisions between the US and its allies. Both politicians rejected the French viewpoint, Mrs Merkel remaining cool and replying that Macron’s assessment does not correspond with her view of NATO.

Just before his departure to Berlin, the Secretary General had joined Germany’s Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador Hans-Dieter Lucas, in front of the Berlin Wall Memorial at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Both commemorated the 30th anniversary of the wall’s fall on 9 November 1989. Mr Stoltenberg emphasised the importance of this milestone saying that “The Berlin Wall was a scar on the face of Europe. Through gun towers and guard dogs, it tried to keep people in and ideas out. But it failed. Because our vision and values were stronger: freedom, democracy, and human dignity.”

On 6 November, Mr. Stoltenberg was awarded with the Manfred Wörner medal during a ceremony organised by the German Ministry of Defence (MoD). Mr. Wörner had been German Defence Minister from 1982-1988 and was the first German to become NATO Secretary General (1988 to 1994). The current German Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, handed the medal to Mr Stoltenberg and thanked him for leading NATO, which is able to act when neceessary. According to the German MoD, Mr Stoltenberg believes in the European Union as a strong partner of NATO in securing peace and freedom around the world. The Secretary General said that he was honoured to receive this award, while the Alliance celebrates its 70th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Mr Stoltenberg praised the former German Defence Minister saying that “from the moment I stepped into office as Secretary General of NATO, I knew I was standing on the shoulders of giants. And Manfred Wörner was one of those giants. A passionate visionary and a committed multilateralist. With our first German Secretary General in NATO, we truly had the right leader, in the right job, at the right time.” Mr Stoltenberg reminded the audience that Manfred Wörner was the first NATO Secretary General ever to cross Moscow’s Red Square. He also quoted Wörner’s summary of NATO’s historic achievements six months after the fall of the Berlin Wall: “Without the Atlantic Alliance there can be no cohesion and no unity throughout the free world. No transatlantic partnership. No security and no stability.”

On 7 November, Mr Stoltenberg delivered a keynote speech at the Global Leaders Dialogue forum of the Körber Foundation, entitled “NATO at 70 – the Bedrock of European and Transatlantic Security.“ He warned that “any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken the transatlantic Alliance, it is also risking dividing Europe itself. European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. I strongly welcome efforts to strengthen European defence, which can enhance capabilities and burden-sharing within NATO.” But he made it crystal clear that “The European Union cannot defend Europe.”

The Secretary General stated he was aware that many observers are thinking about the disagreements, differences and divisions among NATO Allies over trade, energy, climate change, Iran and the situation in northeast Syria. Therefore, he concluded, “We all have a responsibility to overcome our differences today, as we have done in the past. Because we are faced with a more unpredictable world. We need strong multilateral institutions like NATO.” He also addressed the demise of the INF Treaty and said that NATO’s position is clear. “We will not mirror what Russia is doing. We do not want a new arms race. We do not want another Cold War.”

Dr Theodor Benien

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