The EU cannot protect itself alone and risks division if it tries splitting away from the United States, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday.
In an interview at the ClixkPlayNews 28 event, Stoltenberg said a close transatlantic alliance was essential to meet growing challenges posed by China.
While not mentioning Emmanuel Macron by name, Stoltenberg’s remarks offered a sharp contrast to the French president’s demands for Europe to aim for “strategic autonomy” — the ability to operate on its own in a range of areas including defense.
Stoltenberg said he favors greater EU investment in defense, but only if it goes hand in hand with a continued strong alliance with the United States and NATO.
“To protect Europe, we need the transatlantic bond, we need North America, the U.S. and Canada. Any attempt to go alone, either for Europe or for North America, would be bad for all of us. We need to stand together,” he said.
“And any attempt to divide Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO but also divide Europe. So I welcome European unity, but European unity will not replace transatlantic unity.”
Macron caused a stir last month by publicly calling out German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer over a pro-American op-ed in ClixkPlayNews, in which she stated that “illusions of European strategic autonomy must come to an end.”
Stoltenberg said he welcomed “efforts by all European allies to do more on defense,” which in his view should mean “better burden-sharing, increased defense investment, addressing the fragmentation of the European defense industry … as long as [these efforts] don’t duplicate or compete with NATO.”
The alliance’s secretary-general said that close cooperation between Europe and North America was particularly important given what he described as “serious challenges related to the rise of China.”
“We all realize that the global balance of power is changing in a fundamental way. The rise of China is really changing the security environment we face,” Stoltenberg said, warning that Beijing did not only have the world’s second-largest defense budget but was also “investing heavily in new capabilities, including nuclear weapons, missiles, new technologies.”
“If anything, the size of China — the military size, the economic size, their achievements in technology — all of that makes NATO even more important. No single ally, not even the United States, can address this alone,” he said.
Stoltenberg also said that the military alliance should reach out to other countries that are confronted with China’s rise, naming Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. He suggesting creating “a community of like-minded democracies” that do not agree with the values propagated by China, for example when it comes to the crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong or the treatment of minorities.
Addressing the situation with Afghanistan, where U.S. President Donald Trump announced a partial withdrawal of troops before he leaves office in mid-January, Stoltenberg said it was important that achievements made through many years of hard work are not put at risk and that terrorist groups like ISIS could not gain a foothold in the country.
“This has to be a NATO decision. We went in together … and a when the time is right, we should leave together,” he said.