From pandemics to infodemics, climate change to disruptive technologies, our world is more complex and contested than ever before. Neither America nor Europe can face global challenges alone. Together we can.
For more than 70 years, NATO allies’ solemn promise to protect and defend one another has kept our nations free — and safe. Today we see a more assertive Russia, more brutal forms of terrorism, sophisticated cyber-attacks and a shifting balance of global power with China’s rise. So it is more important than ever to have friends and allies.
NATO is the only place that brings North America and Europe together every day to defend our security. A nation’s strength is not just measured by its military and economic might, but also by the friends and allies willing to come to its aid. This is what we saw after 9/11. Within days, NATO aircraft were patrolling American skies. Hundreds of thousands of NATO troops have fought side-by-side in Afghanistan ever since to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Today in NATO, America has 29 allies and a network of 40 global partners. No other power has the same. Together, Europe and North America represent half of the world’s economic and military might. America’s alliances are a unique strategic asset. They provide the United States with additional military capabilities, intelligence and expertise, and a platform to project power around the world including in the Middle East and Africa.
I saw this strength and solidarity when I visited MacDill Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Special Operations Command. I met the highly professional U.S. and other allied troops based here in Florida. I saw the incredible work going on to tackle terrorist and hybrid threats, and to support our partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our efforts to project stability abroad are vital to our national security at home, because when our partners are more stable, we are more secure.
Strengthening the trans-Atlantic bond and future-proofing our Alliance will be at the center of the NATO Summit in Brussels later this year. Through the NATO 2030 initiative, we will set an ambitious and forward-looking trans-Atlantic agenda for our security.
As part of the NATO 2030 agenda, we will continue to strengthen our commitment to collective defense. This year will be the seventh consecutive year of increased defense spending by European allies and Canada. Since 2014, they have contributed a cumulative extra of $190 billion. So the trend is up, and it must continue to rise as the threats to our security increase.
We must also broaden our agenda and use NATO more to tackle the full spectrum of security threats, including climate change. You feel the effects of a changing climate keenly here in Florida, and it affects NATO too. The U.S. naval base in Norfolk, Va., for example, that hosts one of NATO’s strategic commands suffers regularly from extensive flooding. Climate change affects the way we operate, and it can fuel conflicts and exacerbate threats. So NATO should aim to become the leading international organization when it comes to addressing the security impacts of climate change, and setting the gold standard on reducing emissions from the military.
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We should also raise our level of ambition when it comes to innovation and resilience. Our strong militaries rely on strong and resilient societies. Our forces increasingly depend on civilian services and infrastructure, particularly in transport, telecoms, information technology, energy and the medical field. So we should aim to guarantee a minimum standard in these areas. We also need to invest more in innovation to maintain our technological edge in a more competitive world.
Finally, we must stand up for the international rules-based order, which is being challenged by authoritarian powers, including China. The rise of China offers opportunities for our economies, but it also poses challenges for our security and way of life. That is why we should deepen our partnerships with countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, and reach out to other like-minded nations to build a global community of democracies to protect our values and interests.
America is at its best when it leads from the front, and it is at is strongest when it stands among friends and allies. Together Europe and North America must continue to strengthen NATO and write a bold new chapter in trans-Atlantic relations. Together we will continue to keep our nations safe and free.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is Norwegian, wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times. He will join the University of South Florida for a special conversation on “The Future of NATO” on Thursday, March 25, from 11:00 a.m. to noon. This virtual event is free and open to the public. To join the event visit USF.TO/NATO