NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomes Romania's contribution as a key NATO ally in the sectors of cyber security and intelligence, but also for its decision to invest 2% of the GDP in defence. In an interview for HotNews.ro, he announces that 10 NATO member countries will contribute with troops to the Craiova-based multinational brigade. He also warns "that corruption is undermining the trust in our democratic institutions".
Three days before his visit to Romania, Jens Stoltenberg talked to HotNews.ro about Russian hybrid threats. He says NATO received information from several allies about Russian attempts to interfere in domestic processes.
But he says "Russia is our neighbour, Russia is here to stay, NATO doesn't want a new Cold War, a new arms race. So we are striving for a more constructive relationship with Russia, trying to reduce tensions and our response, our measures are defensive and proportionate."
VIDEO - Part of the interview with NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Interview in full:
HotNews.ro: Secretary General, you will visit Romania next week. Do you think Romania is fulfilling the commitments to develop the strength of the eastern flank of NATO, in line with decisions taken in Wales and Poland, last year?
Jens Stoltenberg: I look very much forward to visiting Romania, a key ally which is contributing significantly to NATO's collective defence or shared security. Not least, by now investing 2 percent of the GDP in defence. By doing so and by promising to do that in the next decade you are leading by examble. But also by being host nation for key NATO capabilities as the multinational brigade in Romania and our ballistic missile defence site. You also contribute to NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo so altogether is an ally which is contributing significantly to NATO.
HotNews.ro: You will visit elements of NATO tailored forward presence in Craiova, Romania. How many troops will this base have and from which countries?
Jens Stoltenberg: The number of troops will vary. This is what we call a framework brigade, which is a framework for training and exercises to increase the readiness or the preparedness of troops. But also to have a multinational presence and by that sending a signal to any potential adversary that an attack on an ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.
There are ten nations, ten NATO allies which have pledged and announced they would send troops. So this will be a truly multinational brigade. And just the fact they are working, training together increases not only the readiness but also the preparedness and the ability of these forces to work together - what we call interoperability.
Then you have to remember that NATO deterrence defence is not only based on troops we have for instance in Romania, but also on our ability to reinforce, if there is a need to do so. To move troops into Romania. Therefore we have tripled the size of the NATO response force to 40,000 troops. We have as part of that a higher readiness joint taskforce which can move within days. And we also increased our presence in Romania with more air policing - Italian and Portuguese jets are patrolling the skies in the Black Sea region and also with more naval presence in the Black Sea. So NATO is present and we have the ability to quickly reinforce if there is a need.
HotNews.ro: You mentioned NATO's missile shield which is based in Deveselu, Romania. Given the growing threats from North Korea, do you think NATO should add more capabilities or adapt this shield that is based in Romania?
Jens Stoltenberg: I was present when we inaugurated the missile defence site in Deveselu. And this is a key capability of NATO. It helps us to protect against ballistic missile. But it is only a part of our response, our deterrence. We are monitoring the developments in North Korea very closely. NATO will always do what is necessary to defend all allies against any threats and I welcome the fact that Romania is hosting such a key capability for NATO.
HotNews.ro: Back to my question, are there any discussions within NATO that there should be added more capabilities to this facility in Romania?
Jens Stoltenberg: I cannot go in operational details, I can only say that the missile defence system is only part of our response. We also have strong deterrence in NATO and NATO is always ready to defend and protect allies against any potential threat.
HotNews.ro: On Military spending: Romania pledged to spend a percentage of its GDP this year, but we are already in October and the actual spending is, as the Romanian PM said, quite small. Will Romania's credibility be damaged if its government doesn't meet its promises?
Jens Stoltenberg: I have seen the budget and the pledge to spend 2% of the GDP on defence. I welcome that. Then we have to see what the actual numbers are when the year is over. I know that the plan is to spend much of the money on acquisitions of new F-16s fighter jets and also you are now working on investments in air defence systems, in buying Patriot batteries. These are key capabilities that are important for Romania and NATO and of course I very much hope that Romania is able to follow up and implement the commitments and the pledges Romania made investing 2% of the GDP on defence.
HotNews.ro: You spoke several times about Russia's assertiveness. Given next year's presidential elections in Russia, do you expect more moves targeted at NATO allies and its partners in Eastern Europe?
Jens Stoltenberg: I think it is very dangerous to start to speculate about potential moves. The thing is, we have seen a pattern over several years, with Russia investing heavily on defence, modernizing their military capabilities and also using force against a neighbour - Ukraine, annexing Crimea and destabilising Eastern Ukraine. At the same time, Russia is our neighbour, Russia is here to stay, NATO doesn't want a new Cold War, a new arms race. So we are striving for a more constructive relationship with Russia, trying to reduce tensions and our response, our measures are defensive and proportionate. And we made sure we have kept lines of political communication with Russia open because we believe that we really have to strive for a better relationship with Russia, that will reduce tensions and improve the security situation in Europe.
HotNews.ro: You just opened a center of excellence for countering hybrid threats in Finland. What exactly will it do?
Jens Stoltenberg: That center will be a hub for sharing information for learning from each other, organizing training and improving our capabilities to respond to hybrid threats. It will also be a center that is a part of a broader effort by NATO allies and EU members. We have a center of excellence on cyber threats in Estonia, one on energy security in Lithuania and one on strategic communications in Latvia. They are close to Finland. All of these together will form a group of centers of excellence in NATO countries and Finland which are planning to work very close together. The directors of the four centers have met, they have just inaugurated the center early this week. And the hybrid threats are actually a wide range of different threats - everything from cyber, propaganda, what you call "little green men". And it's very often the covert operations aiming at having the possibility of deniability. So we have to respond with a wide range of measures to a threat that goes from tweets to tanks. And therefore we also have to study and work with all the allies and partners on how to respond in the best possible way.
HotNews.ro: It's not a secret that Russia's hybrid warfare is the one that Eastern allies are looking at and seeking help from NATO to respond to. Which are the most attractive targets for Russia, based on your information, when this country is trying to influence the internal debate in a European country? Is it the media, or the politics, or NGOs, the economy, the energy sector?
Jens Stoltenberg: We are seeing reports from several NATO allies that they have seen different attempts to interfere in domestic processes, especially political processes. And of course any attempt to undermine the credibility of our democratic institutions are extremely serious and therefore we have to respond and protect our political processes, our democratic institutions. We are very vigilant, we are ready to counter when we see attempts of interference in our processes or to use disinformation to try to manipulate the media. This is part the responsibility for governments and we are doing so by improving the protection of our sub-networks, by responding to hybrid threats, but it is also a responsibility for all citizens living in NATO countries and not least the media, the free media. We need free and independent newspapers - TV channels, radio stations. And journalists play a key role, to do their work as independent critical journalists, asking the difficult questions, checking the facts as the best way to avoid any kind of manipulated interference in other countries and domestic political processes.
HotNews.ro: Before becoming the secretary general of NATO, you had a long political career - you were a finance minister, a prime minister and so on. Do you think corruption in politics, corrupt politicians are a vulnerability for a country that is targeted by Russia?
Jens Stoltenberg: We always have to fight corruption and we always have to strengthen the credibility and the trust in our democratic institutions. And anything that can undermine the trust in our democratic institutions is also undermining the security of our society. So I trust all NATO allies are really focused on how they can fight corruption. Because corruption is undermining the trust in our democratic institutions.
HotNews.ro: But do you think that Russia can take advantage of corrupt politicians? Are they a door for Russian interests?
Jens Stoltenberg: I will not speculate. I am just underlying the importance of making sure that we have strong, healthy institutions, strong, healthy democratic institutions and of course corruption is undermining that and we always have to be vigilant in the fight against corruption. That's the case of NATO countries, but that's also the case for partner countries. And we are working with many partners on programs on how to fight corruption.
HotNews.ro: You mentioned earlier Russian propaganda and the need for powerful press and journalism. But we see Russian media outlets like Sputnik News, like RT and thousands of websites in all the European countries that are used to spread fake news and disinformation. And we don't see many efforts to stop them spreading those lies and fake news. But at the same time we see censorship getting stronger and stronger in Russia. Do you have any solution for this propaganda that is spreading all around Europe?
Jens Stoltenberg: What NATO does is that we every time we see examples of disinformation, propaganda which are aimed at NATO allies, NATO activities, NATO missions, we are very vigilent, we respond and we provide facts and the truth. And we are absolutely certain that in the long run truth will prevail over lies and propaganda. At the same time, we have to understand that this is partly the responsibility of NATO, but it is also a responsibility for each individual ally. Because they are closer to the situations which are addressed, they know the language, they know the situations which are described. We can help our member states and provide them with facts and of course we respond on our website and in different ways when we see propaganda and disinformation. But again, this is very much about that we have to make sure we have free, independent media. Because when they check the facts, the sources - that's the best way they have free, democratic debates. And I'm absolutely certain that on the long run open, free societies will win because of our values are just superior to the idea of not having open, free societies. And if you look at opinion polls, there is actually strong and increasing support for NATO among allied countries. There are different levels of support, there are picture of it is mixed, but overall the message is that according opinion polls there is an increasing support for NATO.
HotNews.ro: We've seen this evolution also in Romania. Speaking about it, do you think, based on information that you have, that Romania is also a target for Russia's propaganda and hybrid warfare?
Jens Stoltenberg: We've seen reports from several NATO allies about Russia trying to interfere in political processes, reports about cyber attacks sometimes actors, coming from Russia, but also sometimes from non-state actors. I will not too specific about what kind of intelligence we have about different countries, but in general it is important to be vigilant, to protect cyber networks and to protect the whole idea of open, free societies with independent, critical media.
HotNews.ro: What did NATO learn from studying Russian hybrid warfare techniques? What other institutional capacities do you see necessary to be developed at the NATO and EU level in order to counterbalance these techniques?
Jens Stoltenberg: What we saw, especially in Ukraine, was this attempt to disguise the real intentions, to have covert operations, to deny that they were present and to use propaganda, have soldiers without insignia and so on operating to avoid any reaction. And then, when they admitted that they were there, it was too late to react. Therefore, NATO is responding in many different ways. Partly we are increasing the readiness of our forces, so they can react quickly if needed, because the warning time may go down when we have more hybrid threats. Secondly, we are improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacities of NATO. We will have new capabilities soon, with new drones. We have established a new division for intelligence so we are improving the way we are sharing, analysing and understanding intelligence - that is extremely important. Also to be able to foresee, predict what kind of threats and challenges and if there's a hybrid, cyber attack going on. And of course we are also improving our cyber defences. So there is a wide range of measures we are implementing to be able to respond to a wide ranging challenge.
HotNews.ro: Speaking about gathering intelligence, how do you assess the activity of center of excellence on intelligence based in Oradea, Romania?
Jens Stoltenberg: We very much appreciate their work. And Romania has some key capabilities when it comes to intelligence, but it is also an important ally when it comes to cyber, and you are helping Ukraine with their cyber defences. That's yet another example - cyber and intelligence - of how Romania is a key and highly valued ally.
HotNews.ro: How are you assessing the strength of the Eastern flank? What more is there to be done?
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is able to defend and protect all allies, including of course the allies in the South East. We are able to do so because we have significantly adapted our posture, our collective defence since 2014, both to respond to the instability in the south, with the terrorist threats, but also to respond to a more assertive Russia, as we saw in Ukraine. We are always monitoring and assessing what more we need to do. At the same time, it is important for us that our response is defensive and proportionate. We don't want to increase tensions, we don't want a new Cold War, we seek to reduce tensions and to have a political dialogue with Russia. So we have to make sure the quality and the readiness of our forces are always on top and we will constantly assess what more we need to do.
HotNews.ro: There are voices in Romania who are saying that NATO pays more attention to the Northern part of the Eastern flank, namely the Baltic States and Poland, than to the Southern part of this flank. Do you intend to change this, do you foresee more measures?
Jens Stoltenberg: The main message is that NATO needs a 360 degree approach. We cannot be concerned either about the northern part of the eastern flank or the southern part of the eastern flank or the north or the south or the West. We have to be able to respond and to react and to defend all allies against any threat, regardless of the direction where the threat or the challenges are coming. And we have to remember the only time we invoked the Art. 5 of our collective defence was after an attack on the United States, in the West, coming from Afghanistan. For me, that underlines that we have to be agile and we need a 360 degree approach at all time. Because surprises, attacks, threats from any direction are always a challenge and we have to be able to respond regardless from where it comes.