In an exclusive interview given to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA), NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, underlined the very positive role of Greece in the current crisis in Ukraine and in Europe in general, as a pillar of stability and as a highly valued NATO Ally, in the southeast wing of NATO.
The Secretary General NATO, however, does not fail to once again take a cautious stance on the issue of Greek-Turkish disputes, recommending dialogue, but at the same time emphasizing that under the current difficult circumstances, allies should not make provocative statements or actions.
On the other hand, he stressed the need to find a solution for the immediate accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, by finding appropriate answers to Turkey’s concerns about terrorism.
He concluded that NATO, through its new Strategic Concept, will seek to strengthen its unity and find solutions to the multiple complex problems and challenges of the new security age.
The full interview to Maria Aroni follows:
Over the last two years and culminating rapidly since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the geostrategic importance of Greece and its military infrastructure and installations have become a focus of interest both of the Alliance and the USA. How do you, Secretary General, perceive Greece’s current stabilizing role in the south-eastern wing of the Alliance?
Greece is a strong and highly-valued NATO Ally. You are strategically located on the Balkan Peninsula, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and Greece contributes to our shared security in many different ways.
Greek troops play an important role in NATO missions, including in Kosovo and Iraq. You make valuable contributions to our maritime missions, including our deployment in the Aegean Sea, helping to cut the lines of illegal human trafficking into Europe. In the air, your jets help the keep the skies over Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania safe.
Greece also leads by example when it comes to defence spending, meeting the 2 per cent guideline, and by investing in major new capabilities, including fifth-generation aircraft.
Greek ports are important hubs for Allied naval forces, as shown for example by the deployment of US and French aircraft carriers to Greek waters earlier this year. I also welcome Greece’s developing role as an energy hub, helping to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian supplies.
All of this shows Greece’s commitment to keep NATO strong as we continue to adapt our Alliance to respond to a changing security environment.
We have lately been witnessing an increasingly destabilising role played by one Ally, Türkiye, that is dangerously raising the tension in the region by repeated menacing statements against Greek sovereignty over Greek islands in the Aegean, by numerous provocative overflights of armed aircraft not only deep into Greek national airspace, but literally over inhabited Greek islands and by an increased flow of illegal migrant movements towards Greece’s borders once again. Would it not be reasonable to assume that NATO is currently employing every possible effort to dissuade Türkiye from continuing these incomprehensible and dangerous practices?
NATO is an Alliance of 30 countries, with different geography, history and political parties. We should not be surprised that there are sometimes strong disagreements among our countries. But diverse views and debate are an essential part of our democracies. Both Greece and Türkiye have been committed Allies for decades. And every day, Greece and Türkiye work together in NATO, along with 28 other Allies, to address the most pressing security challenges.
The Mediterranean is of vital importance for NATO. Greece, Türkiye, and many Allies and other countries operate there on a regular basis. In the past there have been accidents involving Greek and Turkish forces and we must do everything we can to help reduce the risk of such accidents in the future. It is in everyone’s interest to avoid such situations ever being repeated. In 2020, NATO helped establish a military deconfliction mechanism between Greece and Türkiye to reduce the risk of incidents in the Eastern Mediterranean. This includes a hotline between Greece and Türkiye, to facilitate deconfliction at sea or in the air.
We urge Greece and Türkiye to solve their differences in the Aegean in a spirit of trust and Allied solidarity. That means restraint and moderation, and refraining from any actions or rhetoric that could escalate the situation. At a time when Putin’s war on Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe, it is even more important for Allies to stand together.
The decision by Sweden and Finland to apply hastily to become new NATO members is at risk of remaining a pending issue for an indefinite period of time, in which these countries will be exposed to increased Russian hostility, if one Ally, Türkiye, does not lift its seemingly quite serious objections to their early admission. How does NATO contemplate, on one hand, that it will convince Türkiye to lift the obstacles it poses and, on the other, assist these two valuable NATO applicant partners to maintain an acceptable level of assurances about their safety in their new, unexpectedly delicate, current “ limbo” security situation?
The decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership are historic, and their membership will strengthen our Alliance. Now we have to address the security concerns of all Allies, including Türkiye’s serious concerns about the terrorist group PKK, and find a united way forward. Türkiye has suffered grievously at the hands of the PKK, and has suffered more from terrorism than any other Ally has. So Türkiye has legitimate concerns, which all Allies should take seriously.
My staff and I remain in close dialogue with representatives of Türkiye, Finland and Sweden in order to address Turkish concerns and move forward on Finnish and Swedish accession.
The security of Finland and Sweden matters to NATO, and many Allies have already made clear commitments to their security. NATO remains vigilant and we have increased our presence in the region, including with more exercises.
Finland and Sweden have been involved in several Allied exercises in recent days, including BALTOPS, bringing together 7,500 personnel from 14 Allies – Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This is a powerful demonstration of NATO’s commitment to this region.
How can the new Strategic Concept of NATO, to be presented in the upcoming Madrid Summit, contribute to the reinforcement of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture and the restoration of an international world order based on values and the rule of Law? Can a more substantial NATO-EU cooperation promote the overall security situation in Europe?
We will take important decisions at the NATO Summit in Madrid, including the adoption of a new Strategic Concept. Next to the North Atlantic Treaty, the Strategic Concept is NATO’s most important document. It reaffirms NATO’s values, purpose and tasks. It will provide a collective assessment of the security environment, and will serve as a blueprint for the future adaptation of the Alliance.
The 2010 Concept states that Europe is at peace. But Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered that peace. The 2010 Concept does not mention China once. Today, China’s growing influence is reshaping the world, with direct consequences for our security and democracies. Other challenges like cyber threats and climate change were hardly mentioned in 2010, while now they are impossible to ignore.
NATO stands for the rules-based international order. In an era of strategic competition, preserving this order will require working even more closely with like-minded partner countries and with the European Union. NATO-EU cooperation is already at unprecedented levels on a range of issues, including support for Ukraine, keeping peace in the Western Balkans and maritime security. I also welcome the European Union’s efforts on defence, which can lead to greater defence investment and capabilities. In response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, we need even stronger multilateral institutions and even deeper cooperation in Europe and across the Atlantic.
Climate change, energy and the food crisis as a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine, extremist ideologies resulting in terrorist movements and heinous violent acts and irregular massive migration, are some of the issues that will inevitably soon translate into severe security challenges for all Allies. Is NATO in a position to tackle the serious challenges looming over the horizon, like those possibly emanating from China and Iran, or other autocratic states? Will the new Strategic Concept be addressing these issues in a convincing and forward-looking, long term strategic manner?
We now face an increasingly complex security environment, with many challenges at the same time. We don’t have the luxury to choose which one of them to deal with first. Russia’s brutal and illegal war against Ukraine has created the most serious security crisis in Europe since World War Two. At the same time, we face threats and challenges from terrorism, cyber-attacks, China’s coercive policies, disruptive technologies, and the security impact of climate change.
Together, these challenges are greater than any country – or any continent – can face alone. But in NATO, Greece is not alone. Together in the Alliance, our nations in Europe and North America are adapting as one to a more dangerous world. The transatlantic bond has preserved our freedom and security for over seventy years, and by standing together, we will continue to preserve peace, prevent conflict, and protect our people and our values.