NATO Engages: Innovating the Alliance

NATO in the 21st Century: A View from Ottawa and the Hague

Introducer: Ambassador Rastislav Káčer, chairman, GLOBSEC

Speakers: His Excellency Justin Trudeau, prime minister, Canada

His Excellency Mark Rutte, prime minister, The Netherlands

Moderator: Deborah Haynes

Location: London, United Kingdom

Time: 2:15 p.m. GMT

Date: Tuesday, December 3, 2019


AMBASSADOR RASTISLAV KÁČER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m honored and very pleased to greet you all on behalf of GLOBSEC, one of the members of this fantastic consortium running this evening.  GLOBSEC is a leading think tank in Central Europe and the organizer of many events down there and partnering on events like this all around the world.

I see in the room a lot of familiar faces who come to our strategy forum in spring Tatra summit in the autumn, and it’s very nice to see you all here.

We are getting to the point to get on the stage two important prime ministers and look into whether 70 years of NATO is a reason to celebrate or remind ourselves where we are.  We were already told 70 years in human life is enough.  And we look back and, you know, there are still a lot of plans; new 40, as we heard.

There are those who say NATO is an organization – is a dinosaur which should have been gone already by the explosion or implosion caused by the Berlin Wall.  There are those who even today would say NATO is a brain death because it cannot cope with the challenges and shouldn’t be here or should change some substantial in the way that we’ve gone.  There are those, like me, who are true believers in NATO.  You know, I was opening NATO office 25 years ago, Slovakia, and I still believe committed – I’m still committed to its vision.  I think there is a purpose.  And it’s a success story.

However, 70 years of any type of success doesn’t guarantee that in the upcoming years we will be fit to survive this Darwinistic survival fight.  We need the old capabilities.  When you look at the Article 5, it says armed attack.  Today we look at the things in security where armed attack, OK, you know, it’s still the risk, but there are many other things which can come in our face and are threatening our security.

So two prime ministers.  I would like to welcome – I’d like you to welcome them on the stage to see how fit we are, how willing we are to commit ourselves to the old principle of musketeer – one for all, all for one – what are our capabilities, and how are we going to survive this Darwinistic fight, which is spinning faster and faster.

Let me welcome, ladies and gentlemen, Deborah Haynes, our moderator, and prime minister of Canada and the Netherlands on the stage.  (Applause.)

DEBORAH HAYNES:  Thank you very much.  So really warm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Rutte.  I’m going to ask a couple of questions.  Timing is quite tight.  And then I’ll open up to the audience for questions.  We’re looking hopefully for younger members of the audience, under 35, to ask some questions, if that’s possible.

So, gentlemen, you’re here to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary.  How do you see the future for NATO?  Does it even have a future?  Will it be here in 70 years’ time?

PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE:  I’m convinced it will be there in 70 years’ time.  It is the strongest, most powerful defense organization in world history.  It’s crucial for the safety of Europe, but it’s also crucial for the safety of Canada and the U.S., because it’s very important that this part of the world stay stable, but also that Canada and the U.S. know that they have partners here on the European side anchored in that relationship, be it on the defense side, but of course also broader on the other political issues.  So I’m absolutely convinced this is there to stay.  NATO is there to stay.

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU:  But I think we recognize that, of course, the world has changed over 70 years.  And it hasn’t just suddenly just changed now after 69 years of being the same.  It has always evolved and has always seen new challenges come up and new configurations come forward.  And we’ve adjusted and adapted and stayed true to the original values that brought us together.

I mean, Canada shares a history with the Netherlands in the liberation after World War II that brought us together and has us looking at the world in a very similar way.  And throughout the NATO alliance, yes, you have different people coming from different places, but the way we look at the very real security challenges we’re facing now and the way we know we can overcome them means that I think the future for this alliance is bright.

MS. HAYNES:  Prime Minister Trudeau, what do you think is the biggest threat to NATO?  Is it internal infighting or is it an external threat?  And if the latter, is it terrorism, Russia, China, or something else?

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  That’s such a journalistic question that – is the internal threats bigger than the external threats?  You know, NATO has survived for 70 years because we’ve always had frank, real conversations.  There have been disagreements that we’ve worked through.  There have been differences and prospective differences in priorities that have ended up with a more resilient, more flexible, more agile organization that has adapted to the times we’ve had.

Now, yes, you’ve listed a number of the threats that are out there.  We’re in transforming global circumstances right now where poles of power are shifting, where citizens are really anxious about their own futures, about what the world is going to look like for their kids.  And institutions like NATO that are actually tackling these complex problems in sophisticated and nuanced ways are really, really important.  And that’s what we’re going to keep doing.

MS. HAYNES:  Prime Minister, Donald Trump this morning has come out and said that President Macron was disrespectful when he described NATO as experiencing brain death.  Is President Trump correct, or does President Macron have a point?

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  That’s an interesting question.  (Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  You asked him.  You asked him.  (Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  And here I believe you need a nuanced answer.  I do think that Emmanuel Macron made some valid points in his Economist article where he talked about the need for Europe to step up, the need for Europe and the U.S. and Canada to stay engaged.

I remember all the discussions we both had with President Obama about his pivot to Asia.  And I was always trying to convince him that he can be more successful in the pivot if he would work together with Europe, and then collectively we would have to pivot towards Asia and not just the American side.

So there are a few issues which Emmanuel Macron rightly addressed.  I was not in agreement with his assessment of brain death.  I thought that was taking this whole thing a step too far.  So I didn’t agree with that particular way of expressing it.  But I do acknowledge that there are a few issues we have to discuss.  And this goes back to what Justin was just saying.  This is an organization of fundamentally democratic countries.  That means that we can differ.  We can have differences of opinion.

The worst thing we can do is not to discuss them, because that will be the end of NATO.  The fact that we are able to sit together now for two days and hammer out these issues and then come to collective agreements is the best proof that this alliance will stay there for the next 70 years.  And this is the big difference from some of the more autocratic systems in the rest of the world and what makes us different from them.  It makes us strong.

MS. HAYNES:  Do you both, therefore, agree with the idea of this wise group, this group of wise experts that France and Germany separately suggested to talk about the future purpose of NATO for the next two years?

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  I don’t think you survive 70 years as an alliance without regularly reflecting on what is the best way for us to help.  Where are the strategic priorities?  What is it that we need to do to together to have the best impact, not just on our members but on the world itself?  I think it’s great that we’re going to be doing a reflection about how we can, you know, respond and lead in complicated times.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Then it’s crucial – I completely agree – it is crucial that we agree beforehand that some of the fundamentals are not at stake; for example, this one-for-all-and-all-for-one idea, Article 5, that that is still the cornerstone, and through this reflection will stay as the cornerstone of NATO.  That is crucial.

At the same time, we have so many issues to discuss – how to deal with Russia, pressure and dialogue; how to deal with China, which is presenting lots of challenges, but also lots of opportunities; how to deal with the issue of space so that, next to air, sea, land and cyber, we have this fifth dimension and how to deal with it; how to deal with new technologies.  So there are many issues which –

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  Cyber, terrorism.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Cyber, terrorism.  So these all require a fundamental rethink, without losing the cornerstones of NATO.  They have to stay there.

MS. HAYNES:  And a final question from me for both of you.  Both your countries are falling way behind on the 2 percent target for defense spending.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Is it that late already?  I have to go.  (Laughter.)

MS. HAYNES:  When will you both individually – when will your countries meet that target, bearing in mind that 2024 aim that people are going towards?  And also could you just explain to people, how do you look Donald Trump in the face, given what he’s been saying, how much he’s been berating allies for not meeting that minimum threshold?

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  When my government first got elected in 2015, we took a hard look at how Canada can best help in the world.  And that is the frame that we took.  We talked about Canada being back.  We knew that investments in defense was going to be an essential part of it.  The previous government had cut defense spending, and we knew that we needed to do more.

I’ve got my defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, and our foreign minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, and we came together as a team and we said, OK, we need to spend more on defense.  We’re spending 70 percent more on defense over these 10 years.  That means stepping up in purchasing massive upgrades to our ships, to our new fighter-jet fleets.  It means leading a battle group in Latvia on the eastern front of NATO Canada has taken on.  We’re now leading the mission in Baghdad, the NATO training mission there.

We’re engaged in substantive ways, but also ways that reflect our leadership.  Three of our top NATO leaders that are Canadians are actually women, incredibly qualified women, both in Rome, in the maritime fleet, and leading in Iraq.  This is – these are the kinds of things that Canada does by stepping up.  Yes, we’re going to continually invest more, but we’re going to do it in a way that is right for Canada and right for the alliance.

MS. HAYNES:  When will you hit that 2 percent?

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  We’re continuing to move forward and investing in the right way.  (Laughter.)


PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  And that is what we will keep saying.  And that’s what we’ll keep doing.  That’s exactly what we’ll keep doing.

MS. HAYNES:  And for you?

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  For us, the Wales pledge was clear:  we have to move – we have to move towards 2 percent by 2024.  That’s still our aim.  We are spending billions and billions more than a couple of years ago, the whole of our alliance outside U.S.  So the European and Canadian partners are spending $130 billion more now since 2016.  There are now nine countries – last year it was only four – now nine countries achieving the 2 percent target.

So in that sense you’re making a lot of progress.  And we will continue investing more over the next years.  And there will be elections in 2021 and then a new government, and it will mean – again, I’m absolutely convinced, if my party is part of that new government, investing extra money to move towards the targets.  We flexed ourselves – (inaudible).

MS. HAYNES:  And that’s enough?  Do you think you’ve done enough to satisfy Trump, given his threats to walk away?

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  I think he is – he can point at the fact that since he’s president of the U.S., the investments in NATO on the non-U.S. side – so, again, Canada and Europe have come up with this incredible number, this huge number.  So that will help.  And he’s right.  I mean, we cannot have the U.S. shoulder all the burden.  And he’s completely right when he requires from all of us that we do what we need to do.

MS. HAYNES:  So questions from the floor.  Oh, the lady in the front there with the blonde hair, the second row back, third row back; just there.  Thank you.  If you could introduce yourself.

Q:  Yes.  Professor Katarzyna Pisarska.  I’m the co-founder and director of the Warsaw Security Forum.

I know the age limit is super-strict, so I will not tell my age and defend myself this way and go straight to the question.

I wanted to ask you, because we talk so much about the defense, the military part of NATO, but NATO is also about values.  How worried are both of you, coming from Canada and the Netherlands, about the democratic recession that we see throughout not only Europe, but the Western world?

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Well, of course, this is also issue which is – we are dealing with within the European Union, which is also a community of values as NATO is.  So we do have some (authority base ?) within the EU about state of play in some of our member states in terms of what it means in terms of democracy, rule of law, independent judiciary, independent press.  And all of these are crucial for a rich, diverse democracy we want to have.  So I think Canada and the U.S. are well-functioning democracies.  I have no critique there.

But on the European side, this is the debate we are having inside European Union, as well, of course, as in NATO.  But I think we, first of all, should deal with this within the EU.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  Much of the reasons we see backsliding in democratic values and principles, rise of extreme populism, things like that, in the Western world is because people are really anxious about the state of the world, about their future.  They don’t know if they can see their future and their children’s future in the way the world is going.  And they’re uncertain that the institutions that have served our societies, governments, various institutions, over the past decades are actually paying attention to the things that will reassure them about the future.

So what we have to do is try and allay those fears by showing that we are listening, that we are responding to those concerns and we are empowering people to see themselves in the future in a transformed future, which, through migration, globalization, climate change, you know, security issues, is going to look different than the past.  Bur our ability to come together as an alliance or as various alliances and say, these values underpin what we do, and we are working really, really hard both to listen and work with you to build a better future, that allays the fears rather than some corners that want to exacerbate and exaggerate those fears.

MS. HAYNES:  Thank you.  And the gentleman in the back.

Q:  Robert Baines, president of the NATO Association of Canada.

This is for Prime Minister Trudeau.  Canadians have always seen themselves – certainly for the past 30 or 40 years, and certainly since a certain historical minute – they’ve seen themselves as peacekeepers largely.

You have poured a tremendous amount of effort, leadership – and specific leadership of –

MS. HAYNES:  Sorry – can you keep your question short?

Q:  – NATO missions.

I’m interested in how you’ve changed the story of peacekeeping – to just traditional U.N. engagement to peace through strength with NATO.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  Well, I think, you know, there is this story that we tell out there – Canadians and others – about Canadians being peacekeepers because we were peaceful people, and we – you know, we’re polite, and we’re nice, and we always look for conciliation.

I’m sorry; you know, we weren’t peaceful when we stormed the beaches at D-Day.  We weren’t peaceful in the trenches of World War I.  We stepped up with strength on the world stage and showed that we understand the sacrifices that need to come with protecting our values and creating a better world.

And yes, we were very much involved in peacekeeping – U.N. peacekeeping, but we also know that it is constantly going to be evolving.  And being there as U.N. peacekeepers, as we were recently in Mali, being strongly part of NATO missions is also a recognition that the world is changing from standing in a line between two opposing armies that will not shoot at each other because you might nick a Canadian.  That might have been peacekeeping, you know, a few generations ago.

Peacekeeping now is a very different thing, and Canada is on the forefront of it with so many of our NATO allies.  (Applause.)

MS. HAYNES:  Two questions over there – the lady with the blonde hair and the lady with the brown hair.  If you just take them together, one after the other.

Q:  Great.  Prime Minister Trudeau, you mentioned the incredible –

MS. HAYNES:  If you say who you are – sorry –

Q:  I’m sorry.  Stefanie von Hlatky.  I’m a professor at Queens University.

You mentioned earlier the contribution that Canada has made with strong female leadership at the helm of NATO missions.  When you look at the percentage of women in military operations, it’s really low for NATO, and Canada has spearheaded an initiative at the U.N. called the Elsie Initiative –


Q:  – to increase the number of women in military operations.  Can the same be done at NATO?  And Prime Minister Rutte, would you support that?

Q:  Hello.  My name is Byrant Minight (ph).  I’m a student at Newcastle University.

I would like to ask why you think it’s important for young people like myself to be at an event like this, and why we should engage further with NATO.  Thank you.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  Great.  On the first issue, yes, more women in military operations, more women in leadership positions in general, but also in military operations makes for better outcomes.  More diversity in general makes for better outcomes. When you have a whole bunch of people who went to the same school, have the same backgrounds, are the same gender, or the same – you’re going to get the same kinds of answers.

When you bring in people with a broader range of perspectives, you will get better solutions.  It starts with adding women, but there is much more in terms of inclusion that we need to do, and we are pushing on NATO – and I know Mark certainly supports.

On the second element, young people need to know that they can and must actively shape the future by the things they do today.  You’re not leaders of tomorrow; you are leaders today.  Being here today and making sure that this message is getting out to young people who want to see the world change and be a better place and are looking for levers to do it – well, coming out here today is a great piece of it; watching it online is a great piece of it.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  I agree with that, and it is difficult to get more women in senior positions in the military.  We are working on that but it is not easy.  We have – at least have now, the last three senior politicians were women, and the present minister and state secretary are women.  But you also want to have more women in senior military positions.

I also agree with Justin’s answer to your question.  I still – to put it a bit negatively, I still remember the outcome of the referendum here in the U.K., and you had all the young people who were shouting, this should never have happened, but many of them had not voted.  So it is crucial for the younger generation – you are here; I don’t have to address you because you are here so that’s great. 

But it is crucial for us as political leaders that a young generation is involves in current affairs, does understand why we need to protect ourselves, why we need forward defense, why we need to be active all over the world to help in countries where our help is needed and we can add something.  Because if we cannot support that collectively, then it is very difficult to do that and to keep the political momentum going.

So I think your referendum here in 2016 was the best example.  And I am not saying that I had a particular outcome in mind, of course.  (Laughter.)  I should not interfere in U.K. politics.  But for me it was an example that if young people don’t go to vote, don’t complain afterwards.  But it is not to give advice to you because you are here, and thank you for that.  (Applause.)

MS. HAYNES:  Thank you.  The gentlemen at the front.  The second in the front row, please.  And then also there’s a lady in the middle with her – with glasses on with – her hand’s up.  She can come afterwards.

Q:  My name is Vasil Mortosheko (ph).  I come from Ukraine.

I have a question for both of the prime ministers.  I would like to hear your views on the – President Macron’s idea about potential rapprochement with Russia.  I wonder, what do you think about a discussion about potential improvement of relations with Russia while still Russia has to be kept accountable for shooting down MH17, occupying parts of Ukraine and Georgia?  Thank you.

MS. HAYNES:  Let’s take that question first.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  We had this discussion around the G-7 just in Biarritz at the end of – end of August, and the consensus was fairly clear around the table.  Well, it wasn’t a full consensus, but it was a very clear sentiment that we left the table with, which is Russia was excluded from the G-8, which became the G-7 once again, because of unacceptable behaviors and action, and until Russia clearly demonstrates a willingness to reverse those unacceptable behaviors and behave in very different ways it’ll be very difficult to talk about genuine rapprochement.  We know that the incursion into the Donbas, the occupation of Crimea, the way Russia continues to interfere in democratic processes around the world, threat posed – which is why Canadians – we have close to 600 Canadians in Latvia right now as part of the NATO forward presence battle groups.  We know that Russia continues to be a significant challenge, and we need to understand that Putin responds to strength not to concessions, and we need to remain strong as an alliance and as allies.  (Applause.)

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Yes, I agree.  And because of that, the pressure has to be maintained.

At the same time, of course, there’s room for dialogue.  We cannot just ignore the phone call, and we should still also have that dialogue.  But it should start with pressure – Crimea, Donbas region, all the examples Justin just mentioned of what Russia is doing internationally, and that is running against what is acceptable between countries in this world and how we want to see the world functioning.  So given that factor – that fact, we have to keep the pressure on.  At the same time, of course, there is room for dialogue.  But let’s not be naïve.  This is – this is difficult.

MS. HAYNES:  We’ve got two minutes left.  There’s a lady there with glasses who’s been waiting patiently.

Q:  Hi.  My name is Carlotta and I work for One Young World.  First of all, thank you for such an interesting panel and for both of you of attending One Young World’s summit.

And talking about young leaders, because we work with them a lot, is we’re here engaging with the younger generation to address the world’s most important alliance.  But what does that contribution actually look like?  And what is it that you ask of us as young leaders when we leave here today?

MS. HAYNES:  And, sorry, when you’re answering this question, do you want to give a final thought as well?

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Well, first of all, thank you for coming and for organizing this event.  And you are sitting here the whole day listening to all these presentations and being active in the dialogue, and that is crucial, and it really gives a lot of support to all of us on the leaders side when we are sitting in that room tomorrow that we are not on our own.  So in that sense, that’s crucial.

And as I said earlier, we cannot function as politicians if there is no genuine dialogue about the issues the world is facing in which young people participate, be it the environment, be it how to fight terrorism, how to – how not to be naïve about our own defense, the need for an organization like NATO, including – and here we also need your help – the fact that it is a values-based organization; not only a military organization, but also based on values.  The Canadians liberated us after the war.

So my final thought would be that I hope you will have influence on as many people as possible around you to also get involved.  And that is what I find crucially important, be it in the Netherlands, be it in Europe, be it in Canada and the U.S., that in the Western world the next generation is involved, is engaged, and does understand that this is not free for all, just nice play.  No, this is to the core of who we are and what we want to achieve.

MS. HAYNES:  Twenty seconds.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  To follow up directly from what Mark said, I agree with him entirely.  You’ve got to remember, NATO countries and, you know, these Western countries, we’re democracies.  And in order to succeed as democracies, we need engaged, thoughtful citizens that push us in the right directions, ask us the right questions, hold us to account, and aspire to be part of building a better world. 

It’s not just about having the right leader set in all the motions; it’s making sure that the voices of citizens are part of the conversation, even at the highest levels, and that people, individuals, and young people specifically are engaged in imagining the future.  We know we have to be thinking responsibly, not just about the next four-year mandate, but about the next 40 years.  And the decisions we take in order to take that into account need to have young people folding into dialogue.

There are so many young people out there who want to change the world, who want to see the world change but don’t necessarily believe that politics or political activism is a very effective way of changing the world.  Well, the only people that can change that are voters and citizens themselves deciding to change that.  So the more you get engaged in various ways, the more you actually shape the future for the better.  We need young people to be involved.  We need all citizens to step up, get informed, and be part of the decisions that our countries are taking.

MS. HAYNES:  Well, thank you ever so much.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Applause for that.  (Applause.)

MS. HAYNES:  I think at a time when there are many people criticizing NATO and voicing concern about cracks in the alliance, I can’t think of two better champions for transatlantic defense.  So thank you very much.

PRIME MIN. RUTTE:  Thank you.

PRIME MIN. TRUDEAU:  Thank you.  (Applause.)