NATO Chief: “Great Powers Have No Right to “Spheres of Influence” Against Small Neighboring Countries"

Jens Stoltenberg

NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in conversation with Harald Stanghelle during the Arendal week. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Arendal (High North News): "It would be life-threatening to Norway," says NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. However, he did not want to elaborate on the security situation in the Arctic.

Norsk versjon.

On Thursday, during the Arendal Week in Norway, NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met the program director, Harald Stanghelle. He was very clear on the role NATO plays in Europe's peacetime.

"European history is a history of war between those who are now NATO members, but we have succeeded in preserving peace for all NATO countries for 75 years. Just look at the Nordic regions, which fought for years. They are best friends now," says Stoltenberg from the stage of Arendal Culture House.

Regarding the war in Ukraine, Stoltenberg says that NATO will continue to support the country "for better or for worse" and that it is important not to confuse defeat with peace.

"Norway could have had peace on the 9th of April 1940 if they had not stood up against the German invasion," comments the Secretary General.

Ready to respond with military power

"It is because we want lasting peace that we must stand up for democracy. Sometimes, weapons are the path to peace, as it was the 24th of February in Ukraine. Freedom and democracy must sometimes be defended by power, and the purpose of NATO is to prevent war. That is what deterrence is about," says Stoltenberg.

There must be no doubt in Moscow that we are defending all NATO countries.

NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

But when deterrence fails, NATO must be ready to respond with military power.

"Then it is important that democracy has stronger and better weapons than tyranny, and the deterrence must be credible. There must be no doubt in Moscow that we are defending all NATO countries," says a crystal clear NATO chief.

No Arctic focus

The hour-long conversation mainly revolved around Ukraine and Russia, with an unwanted – judging by the Secretary General's short replies – mentioning of the Director of the Private Office, Stian Jenssen's statement on Ukraine's territory, as well as anecdotes from Stoltenberg's upbringing in a military and political family.

The new security situation which arises in the Arctic as Sweden and Finland joins Norway in forming a Nordic NATO against a belligerent neighbor was not a topic.

Except when Stoltenberg compared Norway's situation with former Soviet small states in response to a question from Stanghelle about whether Russia has the right to a certain influence in its immediate neighbor countries.

Jens Stoltenberg

Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, met the press after the Arendal Week event. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

A dangerous place

"If Russia makes the misjudgment of believing that they can take back what they consider a former Soviet state, such as the Baltic states, the security guarantees of NATO will be triggered. It does not have that," says the Secretary General and elaborates:

"Russia wants to gain control over what they call close neighbors, countries that once were part of either the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire. And when these countries move toward the EU or NATO, Russia uses military force to prevent it," says Stoltenberg.

"Great powers do not have the right to "spheres of influence". Small countries such as Latvia and Lithuania cannot accept that Russia is to decide over them because they are small neighboring countries," the Secretary General elaborated and added:

"The idea that it is a provocation against Russia that Lithuania and Latvia are members of NATO, which some believe to excuse Russia's behavior, is a very dangerous thought. It would be life-threatening to Norway. If Norwya began to say that small countries that border with Russia do not have the right to sovereignty, then one must take another look at the map – because that is a dangerous place to be."

About security

"If we are to somehow be understanding of Moscow's unacceptance, then that would be a tragedy for Lithuania, Latvia, and other small neighboring countries, but it would also be life-threatening for Norway," says the Secretary General.

"These principles are about our security as well," he emphasizes.

Otherwise, the subject of the High North was absent from the Secretary General's visit to Arendal.

No comment

During the press meeting after the event, Jens Stoltenberg avoided answering HNN's question about the new security policy situation in the Arctic.

He did not want to answer the same question later either and replied with what can only be interpreted as "No comment".

However, the Secretary General emphasizes that NATO is trying to avoid a war between Russia and NATO. This is done by having forces east in the alliance, increasing preparedness, and by supporting Ukraine. The aim is to deter Russia. Stoltenberg believes that NATO has succeeded in doing so.

Putin utilizes threats and nuclear rhetorics to divide us. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

The nuclear threat

Stoltenberg was also asked if there is reason to fear that the conflict could develop into a nuclear war.

He says it is no coincidence that we are discussing nuclear weapons and Russia.

"We must not be afraid, but we must be aware. Putin uses threats and nuclear rhetoric to divide us. The West must not be deterred from helping Ukraine because of Russia's threats to use nuclear weapons. We have not seen any changes in their nuclear forces that would cause us to change our forces and how we have arranged them," Stoltenberg emphasized.

"It may well be that Moscow is reflecting on having less military progress than they planned and thought. But I am sure that if they see a possibility to win militarily so that they control the whole of Ukraine, they will."

Stoltenberg says there is no indication that Russia has given up on the aim of total control in Ukraine.

"But NATO's policy has not changed, and NATO supports Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders that Ukraine has."

Also read

This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.