Stoltenberg 'confident' US will remain a committed NATO ally after presidential election

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Maria PsaraMared Gwyn Jones
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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is "confident" the US will stay committed to the military alliance after November's presidential election, despite Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's threat to allies.

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Speaking in an interview with Euronews on Monday hours after Sweden's NATO accession was celebrated in a flag-raising ceremony at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Stoltenberg insisted that NATO is "a good deal for the United States."

"NATO is important for Europe but also for the United States. They have 31 friends and allies, something Russia or China doesn't have at all," Stoltenberg, who is due to step down as NATO chief in October, said.

In February, Trump told a South Carolina rally he would "encourage" Russia to attack any NATO country that does not contribute 2% of its GDP to the alliance’s coffers.

The comments drew sharp criticism in Europe, with Stoltenberg himself warning against undermining the "credibility of NATO's deterrence" and reminding the US that a strong NATO is in its interest as the country has "never fought a war alone."

It came as some Republican lawmakers in the US Congress continue to block a package of aid to Ukraine, as some voices in the party favour peace negotiations over continuing to provide military and financial support to Kyiv.

The prospect of Donald Trump's return to the White House is seen as a catalyst for Europe's efforts to bolster its own defence capacities, with the EU recently unveiling new plans to strengthen its defence industry and NATO allies planning to swiftly meet the alliance's spending target of 2% of GDP.

"The criticism is not mainly against NATO, but the criticism has been against NATO allies not investing enough in NATO," Stoltenberg said in reference to Trump's comments. 

At least 18 of the alliance's 32 member countries are expected to meet the 2% spending target this year, as the war in Ukraine catapults defence and security to the top of European nations' priority lists.

Russia's full-scale invasion has also prompted Finland and Sweden to turn their backs on their historical positions of neutrality, with both nations requesting to join NATO just four months after Russia's invasion.

Sweden's accession became possible just last month, after Hungary lifted its veto on Stockholm's bid. It had also been previously vetoed by Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The move means Sweden is for the first time protected under NATO's collective defence clause, which means an armed attack on the country is considered an attack against all members and will allow the alliance to come to its aid.

"NATO membership makes Sweden safer and makes NATO stronger," Stoltenberg said. 

"We are also sending a very clear message to Moscow that NATO’s door remains open. It's not for Moscow or President Putin to close that door. It's for US and European countries to decide on membership."

NATO always 'vigilant' towards Russia

When asked whether he was concerned about President Putin's potential reaction to further NATO expansion, Stoltenberg said: "Of course, we always need to be vigilant, we always need to take the potential threat from Russia seriously."

"At the same time, we don't see any imminent military threat against Sweden, Finland, or any other NATO allies," he added.

NATO's policy on collective defence has managed to ensure peace for 75 years, Stoltenberg said, "removing any room for misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow, about our willingness, readiness, preparedness to protect all allies." 

"We do so not to provoke a war, but to prevent a war, to prevent an attack on a NATO ally," he explained.

Putin has in the past partly blamed NATO's eastern expansion for Russia's war in Ukraine, claiming that the alliance had promised it would not expand after the Cold War.

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Following Finland's accession in April 2023, NATO's land border with Russia more than doubled. But even after this, Russia shares just 11% of its land border with NATO countries. 

Stoltenberg also repeated his proclamation of Ukraine's right to strike "Russian military targets outside Ukraine" as part of its self-defence.

"Ukraine has the right to self-defence: that's enshrined in international law, enshrined in the UN charter. And NATO allies have the right to help Ukraine uphold the right for self-defence," he explained.

"And that includes also, strikes against legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine. That's that's a fact, it's international law."

The war on Europe's doorstep has reinvigorated the military alliance, but also forced it to clarify its red lines.

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Stoltenberg has previously said there are no plans to send military troops to Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron's suggested it should not be ruled out.

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