Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the opening of the NATO seminar ‘Stronger Together – NATO’s Partnerships’

Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the opening of the NATO seminar ‘Stronger Together – NATO’s Partnerships’, World Forum, The Hague, 23 February 2022.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my home town, The Hague. 
Welcome to the World Forum, and this seminar on NATO’s partnerships. 
I’d especially like to thank Secretary-General Stoltenberg for joining us via video link. 
Jens, it’s good to see you.

One of your distant predecessors, Dirk Stikker, was NATO’s third Secretary-General. 
As Dutch foreign minister he was one of the architects of the Alliance, and in his memoirs he explained why NATO was established. 

‘As long as international law is subject to the whims of individual states, as long as there is no higher system of justice or international ethics that all states honour, we cannot build international policy on the quicksand of idealistic hope. 
We must accept the hard truth: we must do everything possible to ensure that we are strong enough economically and militarily to be able to defend our freedom.’

Stikker wrote those words more than 55 years ago, but they seem just as relevant today. 
In an unprecedented move, Russia is threatening war on Europe’s eastern border. 
Its recognition of the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk and its deployment of a so-called peacekeeping mission constitute a serious escalation and a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 
Back in 2014, we witnessed the occupation of Crimea, and now Russia has shown it is prepared to take further aggressive steps. 
This is unacceptable, and it cannot go unchallenged.

It’s a threat to Ukraine, certainly. 
But it’s also a threat to our European and transatlantic security. 
Russia is trying to deny sovereign nations the right to choose their own path. 
It is trying to turn back the clock with absurd demands about withdrawing troops and equipment from countries that became part of NATO after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 
We must be very clear: there are no old or new, or eastern or western, or first-class or second-class member countries: we are all just NATO Allies. 
And we stand as one.

Recent events prove that NATO is essential to defending our security and freedom. 
This bolsters my conviction that transatlantic military cooperation is still the cornerstone of our collective defence, and the foundation of our collective security policy. 
And that we should therefore keep working to ensure a strong and united NATO. 
Not least in a new global reality. 

With that in mind, it’s vital that we talk about the next Strategic Concept. 
About how to adapt our Alliance to meet today’s threats. 
And tomorrow’s as well. 
Threats that may be hybrid in nature, or may not even be easily recognisable. 
This calls for a fresh approach, new instruments and smarter strategies. 
A robust plan for the next 10 years.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, we are looking at one crucial element of that plan: our partnerships. 
Because, if we’ve learned one thing in the past few years, it’s that these can determine our success or failure. 
We saw this, for example, as a raging pandemic exposed how vulnerable and interdependent we are. 
We see it in the growing security risks posed by climate change. 
And right now in Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. 
Our partnerships, old and new, have proved crucial. 
With the OSCE and the UN. 
With Ukraine and Georgia, with the Western Balkan countries and our Indo-Pacific partners Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
And above all, the relationship between NATO and the EU. 
The current Strategic Concept called the EU a ‘unique and essential partner for NATO’. 
We need to deepen that partnership: in the text of the next Strategic Concept, but also – and especially – in practice. 
That will require a major effort. 
Because the reality is that the EU depends heavily on NATO and the transatlantic bond for its own security. 
We’re certainly not in a position to create an equal and independent alternative, and nor should we try to. 
But we do need to ensure that the EU can do more itself. 
That it can show more readiness and resolve when it comes to security and defence.

Former Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is also here with us today. 
He recently said, ‘There’s no power politics in Europe’s DNA.’ 
He argued that we ‘badly need’ that component in today’s geopolitical environment.

So the challenge is to make sure that European countries develop more military capabilities which can be deployed in different contexts, such as NATO, the EU and coalitions of the willing. 
We also need to make the EU stronger militarily throughPESCO and the European Peace Facility. 
This will make us more self-reliant when it comes to guaranteeing security in and around our own territory. 
And that will also make NATO as a whole stronger.

We certainly have a lot to do. 
And not only in the area of defence cooperation within the EU, but also in the cooperation between the EU and NATO. 
That’s why the Netherlands is pressing for an ambitious new NATO-EU Joint Declaration setting out how we will make this a reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, the current situation makes one thing clear: We need a solid, united NATO, and we’re all responsible for ensuring that. 
Our starting point should of course be strong member countries that do their share and have their armed forces in order. 
The Netherlands takes that duty seriously. 
Earlier this month, together with Germany and Norway, we marked the five-year anniversary of our joint contribution of military personnel to the Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. 
And we’ve just committed to providing F35 fighter jets that will perform Quick Reaction Alert duties from Bulgaria in response to the Russian threat.  

In addition, the new Dutch government has agreed a major increase to our defence budget: 10.7 billion euros during this term in office, and a structural increase of three billion euros a year. 
This will bring us a lot closer to the target of two per cent of GDP. 
And not only us: defence spending across the Alliance has increased considerably. 

So all in all, we can say that NATO is in good shape. 
And that’s largely thanks to your excellent work as Secretary-General, Jens. 
Under your leadership, NATO has begun an ambitious modernisation process to make us stronger politically and militarily. 
Our Allied family has grown to include new members and partners. 
And that means we can take firm, united action in times of crisis and danger. 
As is the case today.

Jens, we owe you a big debt of gratitude. 
I look forward to working with you closely in your final six months as Secretary-General. 
And now, it’s my pleasure to give you the virtual floor. 

Thank you.