The underwater battle between four powerful NATO countries threatens to create divisions in the defense alliance. Jens Stoltenberg will not take sides in the case.
Australia recently destroyed a French submarine contract worth several hundred billion crowns. It has sent shockwaves through NATO.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia announced a new strategic partnership on Wednesday. The deal secures Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines from the United States and the United Kingdom in lieu of France’s diesel-powered submarines.
France was not informed on the way, neither about the cooperation nor the rejection of the sale of submarines. The French feel betrayed and EU leaders have taken a hard line against the United States.
However, the NATO secretary general will not take sides.
– I understand the disappointment of France. At the same time, NATO countries agree on the big picture of the challenges we face. We must agree on that, says Stoltenberg in an interview with the AP news agency.
France has called its US ambassador home, and several experts believe that NATO has weakened again after the submarine dispute.
– We need to be together
Stoltenberg says he is confident that France, Britain and the United States will find a solution that does not create problems for the alliance.
– Because we all see the need for allies to come together and continue to modernize and adapt NATO, he says.
However, the submarine case has created disturbances in defense cooperation for 72 years. French Defense Minister Florence Parly has described the case as “a breach of trust between the allies and a strategic turning point.” Several EU foreign ministers have supported France in the case.
Australia says the deal was aimed at protecting its own strategic interests. Britain and the United States insist that the submarine dispute will not affect the countries’ relations with France. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the deal is “not something anyone and especially our French friends should worry about.”
More military independence in the EU?
The episode has once again made the question of greater military independence in Europe relevant.
EU ministers recently discussed creating a force of some 5,000 soldiers that could be dispatched in crisis situations, such as the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan.
Similar proposals from Germany and France have previously faced opposition from some other NATO members and EU countries.
Stoltenberg welcomes significant investment in defense by European countries, but “not as something that happens outside of NATO, but inside.”
– Any attempt to weaken the transatlantic link between Europe and North America will only weaken NATO, it will divide Europe. We have a general force and we must put most of it at the disposal of NATO, says Stoltenberg.
Will continue to fight terrorism
In October 2001, a few weeks after the September 11 attacks, the United States and other Western countries helped an alliance of warlords and rebels to power in Afghanistan.
The Taliban were overthrown, but 20 years later the Islamist group regained control. During the chaotic retreat in August, more than 100,000 people were expelled from Afghanistan. Several terrorist attacks against evacuation work killed at least 160 Afghans and 13 US soldiers.
As NATO discusses what the alliance can learn from the war and its end, Stoltenberg says the alliance must also be prepared to fight international terrorism. But NATO must “think carefully about the objectives of the mission,” he adds.
– And also understand that the more we are able to stabilize countries without sending thousands of soldiers on a combat mission, the better.
Biden: NATO is sacred
US President Joe Biden described NATO as “sacred” in his speech at the UN on Tuesday.
He is trying to improve relations with the alliance after several years with Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy approach.
Stoltenberg says he welcomes the “greater participation” of the United States in the alliance.