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Stoltenberg Urges NATO Unity Amid Challenges From China, Russia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (file photo)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (file photo)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the 30-member alliance must “stay strong militarily, be more united politically, and take a broader approach globally” in order to continue to “protect our democracies” in a “more competitive world.”

In a speech laying out his vision of NATO for 2030, Stoltenberg on June 8 called on the allies to continue to invest in their armed forces; use the alliance as the forum to discuss, and where necessary to act, on issues affecting their shared security; and work more closely with "like-minded" partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea to "defend the global rules and institutions that have kept us safe for decades.”

“Stand up for a world built on freedom and democracy. Not on bullying and coercion,” he said during an online event with the Atlantic Council and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Stoltenberg said that Russia “continues its military activities unabated,” while the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups are “emboldened” and state and non-state actors promote “disinformation and propaganda.”

'Threats To Open Societies'

He said that the rise of China was “fundamentally shifting the global balance of power, heating up the race for economic and technological supremacy, multiplying the threats to open societies and individual freedoms, and increasing the competition over our values and our way of life."

Stoltenberg’s speech comes as the the United States’ allies in Europe expressed dismay over a reported plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany.

Asked about the plans, he refused to comment directly on "leaks or media speculation" but he defended the United States’ military commitment to Europe, saying: "In the last few years we have actually seen an increase in the U.S. presence in Europe again."

"And this is not only about Germany. We have seen for instance a new U.S. brigade deployed to Europe, we have seen more rotational presence, we have seen the U.S. taking a lead function in the NATO battle group in Poland," Stoltenberg said.

The potential troop withdrawal from Germany was reported by The Wall Street Journal and Der Spiegel last week. It surprised some allies, who said the plan undermined NATO and boosted adversaries such as Russia, the Journal said on June 7.

The newspaper reported on June 5 that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to move forward with the withdrawal of up to 9,500 U.S. personnel, while Der Spiegel said between 5,000 and 15,000 could be withdrawn later this year. Around 34,000 U.S. troops in all are stationed in Germany.

The German government says it has yet to receive confirmation from Washington about the reports.

But Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also the leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), suggested that, if the United States goes ahead, it would do more harm to NATO as a whole than to Germany’s own defense.

"I don't want to speculate on something for which I have no confirmation," she told a news conference. "The fact is the presence of U.S. troops in Germany serves the entire security of the NATO alliance -- so American security too. That is the basis on which we work together."

Trump has long complained that Germany hasn’t fulfilled its NATO commitment to spend 2 percent of economic output on its military.

Merkel's government has pledged to increase military spending, but meeting the NATO target would likely not happen before 2030.

Poland, which last year met the 2 percent guideline, has expressed hope that some U.S. troops could be shifted from Germany to Poland.

Military Exercises

Stoltenberg’s speech also comes as two military exercises involving NATO partners are underway in Poland and the Baltic Sea.

One of them is taking place exclusively in Poland.

U.S. commanders who planned the exercise say it is important for a number of reasons but chiefly because it shows that the NATO partners have the capability to train safely “in this COVID environment.”

The exercise, which originally was scheduled to take place in May on a much larger scale, was postponed and scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now taking place exclusively in Poland and involves about 6,000 troops.

In April, Stoltenberg said the alliance must not allow the coronavirus to become a security threat and warned that adversaries like Russia and terrorist groups could try to exploit the situation and conduct hostile activities.

Stoltenberg made the statement after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested putting military activities on pause during the outbreak. But Stoltenberg said the exercises are defensive.

The other exercise is taking place in the Baltic Sea and began on June 7. It involves 3,000 military personnel, 29 ships, and 29 air assets of the alliance from 19 countries.

Known as Baltops, the exercise has been held annually since 1972 to increase the flexibility of participating countries in conducting joint land, air, and sea operations in the Baltic Sea region.

This year, the exercises will be exclusively maritime in nature to reduce the number of contacts between military personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

With reporting by AFP, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, dpa, and
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