Minister Paet – dear Urmas,
First of all thank you Urmas for the kind welcome. It’s great to be back in Estonia. And it’s a particular pleasure to be back here at Tallinn University. I have fond memories of speaking here during my last official visit as NATO Secretary General two years ago. But regrettably, our continent is less stable, less secure today than when I was last here. We
now face a new and worrying security situation in Europe.
President Putin and his government have shown complete contempt for international law. For international order. And for international institutions. Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine are outrageous. They are irresponsible, they are illegal, they are illegitimate. But the crisis we face today is not only about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
By demonstrating a willingness to use force to intimidate and invade its neighbours, and by declaring a doctrine of protecting Russian speakers everywhere, Russia has created uncertainty, instability and insecurity across our continent. And across the whole Euro-Atlantic area.
At the same time, in a feeble attempt to explain and excuse its behaviour, Russia has manipulated its media and pushed pathetic propaganda about NATO.
I have come here today to set the record straight. To de-bunk some of those Russian myths. To explain what we do in NATO. How we do it. And why we do it.
First, what we do in NATO. It is to safeguard every one of our 28 Allied countries. That commitment is enshrined in Article 5, the collective defence clause of our founding treaty. It is central to what we are as an Alliance, and to what we do together as Allies.
Let there be absolutely no mistake or misunderstanding – by anyone. Article 5 is a rock solid commitment. We will do whatever it takes to defend every part of our territory. And to protect every person among our populations. This is precisely what we have done.
Recently, we have taken a number of steps to react to Russia’s aggressive behaviour. And to clearly demonstrate our collective commitment and resolve.
Here in the Baltic region, we have already reinforced our air policing mission and our naval presence. We have also deployed AWACS surveillance planes over Poland and Romania. We will continue to keep a close eye on Russia’s actions near our borders. And we are prepared to take further steps if necessary.
This includes reinforcing our defence plans. Enhancing the readiness of our forces, including the NATO Response Force. Intensifying our exercises. And reviewing the posture and positioning of our forces. All with the aim of strengthening our collective defence.
In response to the measured defensive steps we have taken, President Putin and other Russian leaders have stated that NATO has no right to reinforce our Allies in this part of the world. Let me be crystal clear. That is simply wrong.
In the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, we agreed that, I quote “in the current and foreseeable security environment” end of quote, the Alliance would ensure the ability to carry out collective defence through reinforcement and adequate infrastructure, rather than the “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”.
NATO has fully lived up to this commitment. Working with our new Allies, we have ensured adequate infrastructure by upgrading, for example, air bases in this country and in Lithuania. Russia has no cause to complain about this.
Moreover, the Founding Act specifically states that “reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression”. That’s how we have stated it in the NATO-Russia Founding Act. And we clearly see such a threat now. The fact is the security environment has changed dramatically.
So NATO is taking legitimate defensive steps to deal with the instability created by Russia’s illegitimate aggressive actions.
So this is what we do in NATO – we guarantee the security of every Ally. How we meet that collective defence commitment is by demonstrating collective responsibility.
NATO is a community of democracies where every Ally plays its part. And every Ally contributes to our collective responsibility. This is what we call solidarity. And this is the true and real strength of our Alliance.
Because being a NATO member is not only a privilege. It’s also a duty. It’s not just all for one – it’s also one for all. It’s not just some Allies helping some other Allies. It’s all Allies being ready to help each and every Ally. That is what collective defence in NATO is all about.
Part of that collective responsibility is to be ready to respond to all the different risks and threats that we face today. And this includes not only Russia’s current behaviour. It also includes new weapons and weak states. Pirates and proliferation. And missiles as well as malware.
In order to deal with this wide range of challenges, our Strategic Concept identifies three core tasks for NATO. Collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. And all three tasks remain valid. Indeed, they reinforce each other. Because to strengthen our security at home, we must be prepared to tackle crises abroad. And we must be able to do more than one thing at a time.
This means we need to work closely with partners. It also means we must have a full spectrum of capabilities. Because assets like Special Forces, drones, and transport aircraft are relevant to all three tasks. They are all about being able to react quickly, together, and effectively to all threats – whenever and wherever they might occur. Including here in the Baltic region.
Each of our 28 Allies – whether big or small, old or new – needs to take responsibility. Not necessarily to develop all those different capabilities on its own. But to play its full part in making sure that we have access to all of them in NATO.
Estonia has been showing the way. You have made a strong contribution to our NATO operations, especially in Afghanistan. You have taken the lead in making cyber security a full part of our collective defence effort. And you have raised your defence spending to the NATO target of 2 per cent of your Gross Domestic Product.
By doing all this, Estonia has set an excellent example. And I am glad that Latvia, Lithuania and Romania have announced that they will also raise their spending. And I am confident that other Allies will do so too. Because, defence matters. Security is precious. Freedom is priceless – and it doesn’t come for free.
We are driven by a desire to protect our values as much as our territory and our people. Freedom. Democracy. The rule of international law. The inviolability of borders. And the right of nations to decide their own security arrangements.
These values and these norms are essential for our way of life. These values are at the heart of the United Nations charter of 1945, at the heart of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and the OSCE Charter for European Security of 1999. They are the foundation of peace and stability in the entire Euro-Atlantic area.
We have built a norms- and value-based cooperative international system. And Russia has been part of that. And Russia has benefited greatly from the transparency, the predictability, the stability that this system has delivered. But now, Russia is violating these very values.
In seeking to defend their illegal actions in Ukraine, Russian leaders have attacked the legitimacy of NATO’s operations in Libya and Kosovo. But there, as well, they have misrepresented the facts.
In Libya, our operation was launched under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. And we conducted our Kosovo operation in order to prevent genocide, in accordance with the principles of the United Nation’s Charter.
By contrast, in Crimea, with no evidence of a crisis and no attempt to negotiate any form of solution, Russia has simply occupied a part of Ukraine’s territory in a blatant breach of international rules and international commitments.
Russian leaders have also claimed that, by keeping its door open for new members, NATO has encircled and threatened Russia.
The reality is that NATO has grown from 12 members in 1949 when NATO was established to 28 today, not because we pushed to expand, but because 16 countries wanted to join. And because they exercised their sovereign right to make that choice.
Moreover, NATO’s enlargement has actually been good for Russia in terms of trade. Investment. Security. For over two decades, NATO has consistently worked to build a cooperative relationship with Russia on areas of mutual interest. With the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the Rome Declaration, and the NATO-Russian Council Summit in Lisbon, NATO has demonstrated our genuine desire to build a true strategic partnership with Russia.
My very first public speech as Secretary General was about the importance of building such a strong and mutually trusting relationship. And we have proposed numerous concrete and forward-leaning measures, such as cooperation on missile defence. At every step, we have tried to involve Russia. NATO’s long-term aspiration has been to develop a true strategic partnership with Russia.
But Russia has not responded constructively. I deeply regret that Russia currently seems to view NATO as an adversary rather than as a partner. This is not an approach we favour. But we are ready to meet the challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me finish with two clear messages.
My first message is to Russia. Step back from the brink. Rejoin the international system and fulfil your international commitments. Because these are critical to your future security and stability, as well as to that of our shared continent and the entire world.
I also have a message to Estonia and your Baltic neighbours: NATO stands with you. You may be on NATO’s border geographically, but you are right at the core of our Alliance politically. NATO will defend you and all Allies. We will do what it takes to defend our populations and societies against any threat. NATO’s commitment to collective defence is rock solid. And it will remain rock solid.
Disclaimer: The article and the photography are republished from NATO website.