Stoltenberg warns of security crisis

Coronavirus outbreak central theme at NATO leadership summit

NATO leadership summit

Photo courtesy of NATO
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a virtual press conference following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers’ session via teleconference on April 2.


The corona outbreak was the central theme at NATO’s summit of foreign ministers held via teleconference on April 2. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that it is important that we do not let the health crisis become a security crisis.

“We will discuss measures that NATO and member states are carrying out in the ongoing crisis. We are in this crisis together, and it is most effective to confront it together,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels on April 1.

He referred to NATO’s contributions in the crisis, such as its assistance in transporting medical equipment between the member states, including a plane that departed for Turkey on April 1 carrying equipment for Italy and Spain. The alliance has also airlifted coronavirus patients to Germany for treatment.

“It is good to see that those who have the extra resources can contribute,” said Stoltenberg.

Continuing operations

Stoltenberg had already assured that the COVID-19 pandemic will not affect NATO’s operative capacity. He still stands behind that assessment, even though there are now confirmed cases of infection among personnel in several of the alliance’s operations.

“Everything from air patrols to marine forces in the Norwegian Sea and the fight against terror in Afghanistan continues. NATO’s central task is to ensure that the health crisis does not become a security crisis. Therefore, we must continue to protect the nearly 1 billion citizens of the member states. We will continue normal activity, but in an abnormal way,” he continued in a statement to NTB.

First of its kind

The April 2  meeting was a part of the exception. For the first time, the foreign ministers were gathered in a video conference over secure lines.

“We are using equipment that we use daily, in operations like military exercises and intelligence-sharing. Now this technology is being used for a civilian summit of government ministers,” said Stoltenberg, adding that it is important to know that the alliance can also function in times of crisis.

“We are a crisis-preparation organization. The handling of crises is something that we have rehearsed and developed through several decades,” he said.

Not only coronavirus

At the same time, Stoltenberg reminded listeners that other crises in the world don’t disappear, even though it is the pandemic that now dominates the news cycle. Although a two-day meeting was condensed to a couple hours in a video conference, NATO had several items on the agenda.

Among the agenda items, the foreign ministers discussed the operation in Iraq. The plan is that NATO will, over time, assume some of the duties of the broader coalition against ISIS.

In Afghanistan, the alliance is on the verge of scaling down somewhat, after the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in February. According to the plan, by the end of summer, NATO will have around 12,000 soldiers in the country.

“There has been no decision about further reductions yet, and that will need to be requested before it can happen. All parties must stand by their promises and ensure that dialogue can begin,” said Stoltenberg.

Looking forward

There was also a discussion of the reflection process that was adopted at the December summit in order to strengthen the political aspect of the alliance. 

“Even in difficult times, we continue to look forward,” Stoltenberg emphasized at the earlier press conference.

Additionally, for the first time, North Macedonia participated as a full member. The country was formally accepted in the alliance as the 30th member on April 3.

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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