NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned against any attempts to “divide Europe from North America” and said that the European Union “cannot defend” the continent alone amid the threat of terrorism and Russia's "destabilizing behavior."
“Any attempt to divide Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO, it will also divide Europe,” he said in a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, on March 4.
“So I do not believe in Europe alone, or North America alone. I believe in North America and Europe together, in NATO, in strategic solidarity. Whatever challenges we face, we are stronger together,” he added.
Stoltenberg, in a separate interview with AFP, added that while he welcomed Brussels' efforts to boost spending and streamline its defense industry, he was dubious about calls for Europe to develop "strategic autonomy" of the type being pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
"I support EU efforts on defense, because more defense spending, new military capabilities, and addressing the fragmentation of the European defense industry -- all of that will be good for European security, for transatlantic security, for all of us," he told AFP.
"So all these efforts -- as long as they complement NATO -- we welcome them, but the EU cannot defend Europe."
In his speech, he said a strong transatlantic bond is the “bedrock” of Europe’s security.
“For more than 70 years, NATO has embodied this unique relationship. Our alliance is the only place that brings North America and Europe together every day to discuss common security challenges,” he said.
"More than 90 percent of the people in the European Union, they live in a NATO country. But only 20 percent of NATO's defense spending comes from NATO EU members," Stoltenberg said.
Previous U.S. President Donald Trump had strained relations with NATO’s European members, claiming they were not contributing enough to their own defense, leaving it to U.S. taxpayers to pick up the bill, and at times questioning the relevance of the long-standing alliance.
However, President Joe Biden has called for closer cooperation with NATO allies and is seen as a much friendlier partner for Europe, although he, too, has expressed the need for Europe to meet spending commitments. Biden is expected to attend a summit of NATO nations later this year.
Stoltenberg cited NATO’s renewed importance in the face “brutal forms of terrorism” and of Russia’s "destabilizing behavior."
“Through the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Islamic State), we have helped liberate vast territory and millions of people in Iraq and Syria.
“Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defense in a generation. Deploying combat-ready troops in the east of our alliance, to deter any aggression,” he said.
“This attempt to redraw borders by force, as we saw in Ukraine and Crimea, happened only a few years ago,” rendering the need to prevent conflict and to defend Europe “very real,” he said.