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Outgoing NATO chief says ‘unity’ is key as full-scale war continues in Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Washington.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Washington.

Unity between North America and its allies across the Atlantic Ocean is key as Europe faces a full-scale war and tensions rise around the globe, says outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The intergovernmental military alliance will mark its 75th anniversary next month at a Washington Summit with President Biden as it prepares for a change in leadership.

Stoltenberg will step down after a decade in the role. Later this year, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whom Stoltenberg says is an “excellent person to take on the task,” will take over.

Rutte will have to contend with an intensifying war between Russia and Ukraine and the rise of politicians in Europe and the U.S. who may question NATO’s need.

“The most important task for any Secretary General [of] NATO is to ensure that North America and Europe stand together and are ready to protect each other,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with NPR’s Leila Fadel. “And that's even more so now when we live in a more dangerous world with a full scale war in Europe, and a new war in the Middle East and a global rivalry.”

Stoltenberg also spoke to Morning Edition about NATO’s future, China’s role in global affairs and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Interview Highlights:

Leila Fadel: You spoke about this growing global global rivalry. The big news this week was a mutual defense pact signed by Russia and North Korea. Couple that with the growing alignment of Russia, China and Iran. Is the world order shifting and is that unity more difficult?

Jens Stoltenberg: The unity is more important, and the world order is shifting in a way that authoritarian powers, that don't believe in the rules based international order, they are more and more aligned. They are supporting each other more and more. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran. And this is very clearly demonstrated in the war in Ukraine, where China is propping up the Russian war economy, and Iran is delivering thousands of drones, and North Korea has delivered over a million rounds of artillery shells.

And that makes it even more important that we stand together as NATO allies, but also work with our partners in the Asia-Pacific, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. And they will be at the NATO summit in Washington next month.

Fadel: Now, you've warned of consequences for China over its support of Russia in the war in Ukraine. What might those consequences look like?

Stoltenberg: Those consequences have to be connected to trade, economic relations. But it's not yet decided. But I have stated that China is now the main supporter of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, and China cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue to have normal trade relationships with European allies and at the same time fuel the biggest and most dangerous conflict we have seen in Europe since the Second World War.

Fadel: As you've talked about the importance of unity in this moment, there's also the rise of the far right in Europe and the United States with leaders of these more and more populist movements questioning their nation's commitment to an alliance like NATO. What does that mean for the future of this alliance if these movements rise to the top?

Stoltenberg: Well, NATO has been and continues to be an alliance of 32 democracies on both sides of the Atlantic with different parties. And also sometimes the questions are being asked about the relevance, the importance of NATO. But again and again, NATO's proven extremely resilient. And then different parties have over the years decided to support NATO. And I am confident that that will also be the case regardless of the outcome of different elections on both sides of the Atlantic.

Fadel: So you don't see the unity beginning to fray over Ukraine?

Stoltenberg: No, I don't see that. If anything, what I've seen is a record-high support across Europe for Ukraine, both in opinion polls, but also in decisions made by different parliaments. So again, in democracies you can never have 100 percent guarantees, but so far we haven't seen any changes or any allies stepping down. There is a strong support for Ukraine.

This article was edited by Treye Green. Destinee Adams contributed.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Obed Manuel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]