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NATO boss: ‘The Netherlands needs to invest more in defence’

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO, gave a guest lecture at Leiden University on 19 April. His message was clear: increased international tensions call for greater investments in defence. According to Stoltenberg, the Netherlands is not one of the big spenders in this area.

A war in East Ukraine and European Jihadists fighting for Islamic State. These are just two of the threats facing Europe and the rest of the Western world. And this conflict is coming ever closer to home, Stoltenberg believes. The Baltic States are afraid of their Russian neighbours and IS is staging attacks in the heart of Europe.

Invest

‘That calls for an increase in the defence budgets of the NATO member states,' Stoltenberg said in his lecture to students in the university building in The Hague's Schouwburgstraat. ‘The Dutch cabinet is again investing in defence, and I welcome that increase, but it isn't enough. If we want to be able to meet present-day threats, defence budgets need to be at the level of two per cent of the Gross National Product by 2024. That's what we have agreed within NATO, but so far there are only six member states who meet this requirement.'  

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

The NATO boss was visiting Prime Minister Rutte on 19 April, and, at the invitation of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Professor of International Relations and Diplomatic Practices at Leiden University, he made time in his programme to talk to students at Leiden University. De Hoop Scheffer was himself Secretary-General of NATO from 2004 to 2009, and Stoltenberg considered it an honour to be introduced by his predecessor. 'De Hoop Scheffer led NATO through a number of international crises, from the conflict in Georgia to Afghanistan.’

Move with the times

Stoltenberg stressed that NATO itself has to continue to adapt to changing circumstances. The threat of terrorism, for example, is almost impossible to get to grips with, with long periods of quiet and then sudden attacks on your own home territory. The difference between war and peace has become very diffuse. You cannot  compare it to the Second World War or the Cold War, the period when NATO was established. 'We need defence budgets that move with the times. Security doesn't come free.' 

Trump

As expected, much of the discussion was about the major powers: Russia and the US. One student asked whether Stoltenberg was afraid that American President Donald Trump attached less importance than his predecessors to NATO, and what did this mean for European security? 'He did indeed threaten to reduce the American commitment to NATO, but if you look at his actions, the picture is different. In 2013 the US withdrew the very last tank from Europe, but thanks to Trump, that's been replaced by a complete armoured division. He's actually increasing the American presence n Europe. Actions speak louder than words.’

Preventing war

Are these new tanks a precursor of a new Cold War? Stoltenburg  thinks not. 'We are looking for a measured and balanced response to the threats. We don't want to provoke anyone or react too strongly. Ultimately, NATO was formed to prevent war, not to win wars.' 

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