Atlantic Council
NATO Engages 2019
“Opening: The Alliance at 70”
Rose Gottemoeller,
Deputy Secretary General,
Jessica Donati,
State Department and National Security Reporter,
The Wall Street Journal
Location:  Washington, D.C.
Time:  9:05 a.m. EDT
Date:  Wednesday, April 3, 2019



JESSICA DONATI:  Thank you.  Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 70th anniversary of NATO.

I am delighted to introduce the deputy secretary-general of NATO, Rose Gottemoeller, who will be joining us for a conversation.  (Applause.)

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER:  Good morning.  Good morning, everyone.

DONATI: Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

GOTTEMOELLER: Good to be here.

DONATI: So I want to start with a question, historical question, because NATO, when it was founded, it was a – it was a key step in history. It was the start of the Cold War.  The next great step that happened was the fall of the Soviet Union, and that is marked as another key event when you look at the NATO chart.  And next after that we have 2001, which was the first time that Article 5 was invoked.

And so I wanted to start with a question.  What is the great step now?  I mean, is President Trump the great step?

GOTTEMOELLER: (Laughs.) Great question.  But before we get into that, I wanted to show a picture.  Could we put the picture up of where we were on April 4th of 1949?  Ah.  It’s up on a couple of – so take a close look at this picture.  And it has a certain air to it, wouldn’t you say, of men in suits?  (Laughter.)

And I want you to look around the room today and understand that this is NATO today.  We have, for one thing, more members than we had on that day.  We’ve gone from 12 to 29.  And soon, with the accession process complete, we hope to have our 30th member, the Republic of North Macedonia.  But we also have multiple generations involved and we have many women involved, and we have many different nationalities involved at NATO as well.

So I want you to bear that in mind as we launch into this discussion today that NATO is evolving and NATO is adapting, and NATO looks a little bit different than it did on April 4th of 1949.

But, to get back to your question, is this a Trump moment at NATO?  I would say yes.  And many of you saw the reporting from the Oval Office yesterday.  The secretary general had his meeting with President Trump, and also then an extended period with the press.  And from the point of view of the secretary general and me and the other leaders in NATO headquarters, I think that we feel that President Trump has been an important catalyst to push, especially on the burden-sharing front, but also to push in other areas as well.

And so it is a bit of a Trump moment as a catalyst.  But in terms of NATO changing and adapting to tough circumstances – and I heard what Nik Gowing had to say at the outset – NATO is already confronting those tough circumstances.  And I know we’ll talk about them some more.

DONATI: OK. So before I move on to my next question, I would like to say that we will have time for questions from all of you, because this is NATO Engages.  So start thinking.  And we would like to hear from a diverse crowd.  So put up your hand.  We’ll start in about five minutes or so.  And I’ll start asking questions.

First of all, I’d like to – my question would be about something that we don’t talk about enough, which is Afghanistan.  Almost 20 years ago, Article 5 was invoked.  The situation now – 45,000 Afghan security forces dead since 2014; just last year, almost 4,000 civilian deaths, including almost a thousand children.  There are still 16,000 NATO soldiers.

Last week I spoke to a widow who had lost her husband in Helmand.  Her baby – their first baby was 10 weeks old.  And she told me my husband is not the last guy that died there in Helmand and he wasn’t the first.  It’s still happening.  And one of her widow friends is another woman who lost her husband in Helmand a year later, leaving her alone with twins.

So my question is, why don’t we talk about Afghanistan as a war?  Why do we talk about it as a training mission?

And the second part of my question is what is the role of NATO there now?  Six months ago you said, in front of an audience like this, that the future of the Resolute Support mission was an easy one to answer, because there’s a commitment for five more years.  But now we know that the U.S. is discussing a plan to withdraw at least half of their forces in exchange for security assurances on terrorism.  And it doesn’t appear that NATO is being consulted on this drawdown.  And it’s not clear that NATO is willing to stay if the U.S. leaves.

So my second question is, what is NATO’s role there?

GOTTEMOELLER: Well, let me start by just taking a bit of exception with your statement that NATO is not being consulted, because, in fact, NATO is being consulted. We’ve been talking frequently with Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy who is negotiating.  Yes, he’s negotiating with the Taliban, and at the moment focusing on the issues that have to do with establishing an inter-Afghan dialogue.  So he has been multiple times to NATO.  We just talked to him again last week. 

And the point that he has stressed again and again and again is that he is not negotiating a withdrawal agreement.  He is negotiating a peace agreement, a peace and reconciliation process.  And so NATO is there to do everything we can to support his efforts, and when the time comes, to support the peace and reconciliation process.  Why?  Of course, it’s a course it’s a war in Afghanistan, and sadly it has been for almost 40 years now, since the Soviets invaded in Christmastime of 1979. 

But as a matter of fact, we have long felt at NATO that the best way to help for developing security in places like Afghanistan is to train the Afghan security forces, the Afghan army to be able to operate effectively themselves, and so that’s why we’re there as a train and advise and assist mission, same way we’ve started up a mission now in Iraq to help the Iraqi armed forces to move in the direction of greater effectiveness for their own defense and security.  So that’s how we think about it.

But I wanted to pick up on your point about women.  It’s so very important.  You know, a point that’s come home to us at NATO headquarters, on March 8th we had Miriam Salman (ph) come and address us.  She’s a prominent NGO leader in Afghanistan, and she was talking about how things have changed for women in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and particularly the facts that now there are 40 percent of students in school are women or girls, and 20 years ago that number was zero.  Zero.  So, so many things have changed for women.

I particularly liked the fact that the two ambassadors now, one at the U.N. and one here in Washington, are women.  That’s a big change.  So they obviously have got to be part of this peace and reconciliation process.  That’s why I think the emphasis that Khalilzad is putting now on the inter-Afghan dialogue and getting all interested parties to the table, all stakeholders to the table, including women, is so important.  And I know it’s his priority.  That’s what he’s been talking about.

DONATI: So my next question is about Russia. We’ve seen Russia has been extending its territory, and recently there were incidents in the Kerch Strait where there have been for the last four months 24 Ukrainian sailors have been held.  There’s 13,000 dead in the Russian-occupied Donbass since the conflict started there.  And so is this a test for NATO now?  And if so, does NATO get a passing grade?

And the second part of my question is, as a solution, there’s sanction packages, and we’re expecting to see more come out of this event.  But what if sanctions don’t work?  What next?  Is there any other option for NATO at this point?

GOTTEMOELLER: Yeah, well, you know we support sanctions. We’ve long supported sanctions, but they tend to flow from nation states, and particularly the EU has placed the emphasis on sanctions addressed to Russia following their – and that’s where it started.  It started with the seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the destabilization of the Donbass.  So NATO’s been engaged in working this problem for a long time. 

And in fact, the reemphasis we’ve placed on the core mission related to deterrence and defense has to do precisely with the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 and really what’s been happening in the Donbass ever since.  It has made allies, especially allies up against Russian borders, very, very aware of the necessity of strong deterrence and defense mission, joined of course by all allies in their support.  That’s why we have four battle groups in the Baltic states and in Poland that engage almost all NATO allies in that forward deployment.  So that kind of attention has been going on for a long time. 

Now we have a situation with the Kerch Strait, quite obviously very problematic.  This was the first time – you know, when November 25th came, first time we saw actual uniformed identified Russian military and the navy firing on the Ukrainians.  That’s always been this hybrid action, right?  The little green men never quite identified.  So this was a major, major problem and a major, major step, in our view, from the perspective of how the Kremlin was thinking about this.  But in addition, then, seizing the 24 sailors – they’re still in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, and the three ships – this is all very, very problematic from our perspective and, clearly, a step forward in the kinds of challenges that Russia is imposing as it – as it extends its – attempts to extend control in that area.

So we have been very attentive to this.  Clearly, there already is a lot of NATO work, together with Ukraine and Georgia, to build up their militaries, particularly, now their maritime forces, both the navies and the coast guards.  We’re working with them.  Our foreign ministers in the coming day are going to be agreeing to, looking at, a package of measures that will include further port visits and further training activities and exercises.  Even today, the standing naval force of NATO as an MG-2 is in the Black Sea.  It’s been dividing its time between Poti, Odessa, and doing exercises with both the Georgians and the Ukrainians today.

So, as we like to say, there’s a lot of NATO in the Black Sea and we will continue to be there in support of our partners there.

DONATI: OK. So I think it’s now time to open up to the audience.  So if you have a question, raise your hand and introduce yourself, and please keep the questions tight because we’re on TV.

Q:  Laura Kennedy, former State Department, where I had the pleasure of working for the deputy secretary when she was the undersecretary for arms control.

And in that capacity, of course, you knew the INF issue as well as anyone in the U.S. government. 


Q: So with the treaty expected to expire or end in August, what can the – well, I guess not the U.S. but NATO do aside from calling on Russia to come back into compliance to prevent the situation from spinning out of control, destabilizing the area and in Asia and what ideas might there be to prevent a new arms control race?

Thank you.

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you. Yeah, that’s a question that’s been out there a lot – what can we do now to prevent a new arms race with these destabilizing systems that are able.  Because they are fast flyers or very stealthy flyers, highly accurate systems, ground-launched, cruise or ballistic missiles, they can attack strategic targets, particularly, command and control targets in a way that can be, as we call it, a decapitating strike, so very destabilizing.  That’s why we worry about intermediate-range nuclear systems so much.

But let me stress a couple things about NATO’s reaction.  First of all, the entire NATO alliance has really agreed and NATO allies have been able to independently assess that the Russians are in violation of the treaty.  So this is not something where the United States said this is the way it’s going to be and all the allies said yes. 

What they did was take a careful look themselves, and independently the entire alliance has come to the agreement that these systems that the Russians are deploying – the 9M729 it’s called in the Russian parlance, or the SSC-8 in NATO parlance – is a violation of the INF treaty.  So there’s no disagreement about that.  But now comes the question, what next.  I’ve seen many, many old NATO hands in the audience and there are a lot of people who remember the dual-track decisions that have emanated from the Harmel Report in the late ’60s  and then later as the INF threat was first rearing its head. 

So dual-track means we’ve pursued deterrence and defense measures, and that’s what we’re looking at now and studying very carefully what we do to respond to this new Russian capability.  But the second part always has to be dialogue and that means continuing to work the arms control track as well. 

So let me just stress that in terms of deterrence and defense what we are looking at is going to be restrained and it is going to be balanced in terms of how we pursue a response.  We are not going to, in essence, engage in an arms race and that is the core point.  That’s something that we have control of.  We can take care of our own deterrence and defense without having to engage in arms race and that’s what NATO is all about.  We defend.  We are not aggressors.

DONATI: Anyone else, the next question? I’m looking for two questions?  So one from you and from that gentleman over there.

Q: Thank you very much.  Steve Shapiro.  I’m a director at the Atlantic Council.

Madam Deputy Secretary General, back to the Black Sea question.  And it’s just a – it’s an issue with respect to the Montreux Convention which, of course, has a tonnage and a duration on point restriction.  And I wonder if consideration has been given to a significant shipbuilding program in Bulgaria and/or Romania, such that the restrictions of Montreux can be avoided.

GOTTEMOELLER: Well, let me stress one point I did not make talking about the Black Sea a few minutes ago. And that is, we have three NATO states who are littoral states of the Black Sea – Romania, Bulgaria and, of course, Turkey, who is the guardian of the Montreux Convention.  So all of those states – when we talk about what NATO’s doing in the Black Sea, and I mentioned SNMG2, our naval group that’s there now, but that’s not all that’s going on.  All three of those navies are very much involved – very much involved not only in deployment but also in ISR, intelligence, surveillance and warning, making sure our situational awareness in the alliance is what it should be.

And that’s – by the way, that’s another part of this package we’re looking at for the foreign ministerial is to have better information sharing so that we are all the time improving our situational awareness in the Black Sea.  So from the perspective of, you know, is there enough NATO in the Black Sea, I say there is plenty of NATO in the Black Sea.  And it helps that we do have three states who are littoral states.  So I think we’re going to go on from there.

DONATI: One more question?

Q:  Hi, there.  I’m Alex Tiersky from the United States Helsinki Commission on Capitol Hill.

I first wanted to say, on this 70th anniversary of the alliance, I’m an American who is descended on one side from Ukrainian immigrants, on the other side from a French family whose whom was occupied by the Nazis.  I don’t think there’s any question that the alliance should be celebrated today and that it continues to have relevance on that basis.  And I’d like to thank you for your efforts


Q:  – at the alliance to ensure the continued strength of the transatlantic bond.

I want to ask you about a – I’ll lean on the analysis of Ambassadors Burns and Lute who recently published a report on NATO at 70.  And one of the challenges that they pointed out was the challenges within the alliance, having to do with the fundamental commitments that underpin the North Atlantic Treaty and all of the declarations at summits, including democracy, rule of law.  They have some pretty forward-thinking recommendations on how the alliance might start to think about these challenges from within its own membership to its core values.  I wondered if you had any thoughts on those.  Thank you.

GOTTEMOELLER: I do. I talked to both of them and to their research team when they were working on the reports.  Some of you may have heard my comments on this at the Munich Security Conference a few months ago.  My firm view – and it’s a very strongly held view – oh, but one thing before I get started.  Thank you for wishing us happy birthday.  Not enough people have been wishing us happy birthday.  Come one, gang, this is a happy time.  We should be enjoying ourselves.  (Cheers, applause.)  But, no, I thank you for that.

But these are – these are serious matters.  And honestly, my view of this situation is that, first of all, NATO member states, it’s not kumbaya every day at NATO headquarters.  Believe you me, we have knock-down, drag-out fights all the time about serious operational and policy issues.  That’s how you forge consensus.  That’s the basis on which consensus is forged.  And that’s the strength of the alliance.  So that’s number one.

Number two, there are big differences at the strategic level that have emerged over the years.  The Iraq War in 2003.  I wasn’t there at the time, but I’m sure some of you were.  And there were shouting matches in the NAC session.  When I sat in the NAC session today, yes, we do have fights in the NAC, but I haven’t heard a shouting match since I’ve been there.  And so there are many examples in NATO’s history of some big differences also at the strategic level.  But when it comes right down to it, we agree on our core missions – deterrence and defense front and center.  Also now pursuing the fight against terrorism.

So to come back to your question, though, about values, we have many different governments represented in the alliance with many different political parties across the spectrum.  All of them, though, must – as they remain members of NATO – continue to confront our core values and embrace them.  They must take them seriously.

But the other thing I like to say is that the way NATO looks at ensuring that those core values are advanced, it’s from the inside out.  And I think targeting is a great example of this.  Those are trained at NATO, whether military officers or those participating in military operations.  When they are trained about targeting, they are trained about the most basic necessity of protection of civilians, for example.

So that’s a good example of how we try to imbue the values from inside out.  And it pays off.  It pays off then in the long run.

So that’s my view of this matter.  We will continue to work this issue from the inside out every single day at NATO.  But every single NATO member must confront and embrace our core values.

DONATI: Thank you.

Well, it looks like we’ve run out of time.  So thank you so much for joining us.


DONATI: Thank you. (Applause.)