By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization warned the U.S. Congress on Wednesday of the threat posed by “a more assertive Russia,” including a massive military buildup, threats to sovereign states, the use of nerve agents and cyberattacks.
“We must overcome our differences now because we will need our alliance even more in the future. We face unprecedented challenges – challenges no one nation can face alone,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg, saying “time is running out,” also called on Russia to return to compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which Trump plans to withdraw the United States this summer.
“NATO has no intention of deploying land-based nuclear missiles in Europe,” Stoltenberg said in a speech that was an impassioned defence of the 70-year-old alliance. “But NATO will always take the necessary steps to provide credible and effective deterrence.”
Stoltenberg used his speech to give a ringing defence of “the most successful alliance in history,” which has often been derided by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Members of Congress, who greeted Stoltenberg with repeated cheers and standing ovations, said they viewed his address to the joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate as a chance to reaffirm the American commitment to the NATO alliance.
Stoltenberg was the first Norwegian to be accorded the rare honour of such an address.
“NATO has been good for Europe, but NATO has also been good for the United States,” Stoltenberg said.
“The strength of a nation is not only measured by the size of its economy or the number of its soldiers, but also by the number of its friends,” Stoltenberg added. “And through NATO the United States has more friends and allies than any other power. This has made the United States stronger, safer and more secure.”
Trump has ruffled feathers among European allies by repeatedly saying NATO nations need to pay more for their militaries and ease the burden on the United States.
Earlier this year, before inviting Stoltenberg to Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of her fellow Democrats to Brussels, where they sought to reassure European allies that differences over Trump’s policies were mere “family squabbles” and that transatlantic ties remained strong.
Stoltenberg met on Tuesday with Trump, who said his pressure on NATO nations to pay more for their defence is leading to tens of billions of dollars more in contributions, but the allies may need to boost their budgets even more.
Stoltenberg said NATO member countries are boosting defence spending.
“All allies have increased their defence spending. Before they were cutting billions. Now they are adding billions,” he said.
“In just the last two years, European allies and Canada have spent an additional $41 billion on defence. By the end of next year, that figure will rise to $100 billion,” Stoltenberg said.
“This is making NATO stronger,” he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)