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Standing Up for NATO

A Conversation with Jens Stoltenberg

Jens Stoltenberg

  • Country: Norway
  • Title: NATO Secretary General

Jens Stoltenberg became secretary general of NATO in 2014. Earlier, he served as prime minister of Norway, from 2005 until 2013. Earlier this week, Stoltenberg met at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss, among other things, NATO’s role in the fight against ISIS and the alliance’s ongoing response to increased Russian assertiveness. For Stoltenberg, the timing of the meeting was propitious: intentionally or not, it served as a very public rebuke to Donald Trump, the front-runner in the Republican presidential campaign, who has recently begun to harshly criticize NATO, even suggesting that it might be best for the United States if the alliance were to break up. A few hours after meeting with Obama, Stoltenberg spoke with Foreign Affairs deputy managing editor Justin Vogt.

It's been a long time since NATO was a contentious issue in American politics—or in a U.S. presidential campaign, at least. But Donald Trump has made it one. Trump has claimed that NATO is “obsolete” and that the alliance represents a bad bargain for the United States. A few days ago, Trump said the following at a rally in Wisconsin: "We are protecting [the other alliance members] and they are getting all sorts of military protection and other things and they're ripping off the United States and they're ripping you off. I don't want to do that. Either they pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO."

What’s your response to that line of criticism, and what do you make of the fact that NATO has become an issue in this campaign?

I cannot comment on the U.S. election campaign and I will not comment on any election campaign in any NATO allied country. It's up to the American people to decide who's going to be the next president. I will not be part of that decision. But I can tell you that NATO is in Afghanistanwas a direct response to [the 9/11 attacks] on the United States. And the only time we have invoked Article VNATO’s collective defense clausewas after that attack on the United States.

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