NATO Secretary General expresses shock at events in Washington and outlines key areas for alliance in 2021

10 January 2020

As a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed shock at the images coming out of Washington, tweeting: “Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected”.

The BBC’s diplomatic analyst, Jonathon Marcus, commented “Who could ever have imagined such a comment, coming from the alliance's top official addressed to its leading member state? It is the sort of thing you would expect Mr Stoltenberg to be sending to a Belarus or a Venezuela”.

The same day the NATO Secretary General outlined key areas for the alliance in 2021 during a virtual address to the Christian Social Union (CSU) Parliamentary Group meeting in the German parliament. He said the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO’s military presence in Afghanistan, arms control and transatlantic relations will occupy the agenda of the alliance this year.

He said the new year will provide an opportunity to “re-energise” transatlantic cooperation between North America and Europe. “So we need to stand together, North America and Europe, and I really count on Germany in playing a key role in these efforts”, he said. He also reiterated his support for “fair burden-sharing” and welcomed “the increased defence spending by Germany and the commitment to meet the 2% target, the guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence”.

“2021 will also be a pivotal year for NATO because we need to decide on our presence in Afghanistan,” noted Stoltenberg, saying the alliance welcomed the peace talks between Taliban and the government in Kabul. He also said that NATO defence ministers will meet in February to discuss the decision of whether to stay or leave Afghanistan.

If NATO leaves, it will risk that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists, and if it stays, then it will risk being engaged in a prolonged military presence, Stoltenberg said. “This is a very difficult decision we need to make together. Because whatever we do, we need to do it in a coordinated and well-planned way”, he added.

On arms control Stoltenberg said: “We need to make sure when the New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] agreement expires next month, that we don't end up in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads”.

On the pandemic, the Secretary General said: “2021 is a year we all have hopes that we will be able to turn a corner in the fight against the pandemic”.