Watch the NATO Public Forum
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President and CEO, Atlantic Council
Speaker, US House of Representatives (D-CA)
US Senator (D-NH)
US Senator (R-NC)
Foreign Minister, Latvia
International Correspondent for London, National Public Radio
FREDERICK KEMPE: Greetings. If you could all take your seats, please, I think we’re going to get started with this session on “The Transatlantic Bond.”
I want to say to the Klitschkos, thank you for being here. Thank you so much. We’re on your side, but I want you to know I want you on our side too. I talked to Mayor Klitschko, and I said, you know, your brother, you’re both boxers, which one of you wins? And he says, well, we don’t get in fights. But he’s younger than me, so maybe he would, though. I don’t know. But in any case, thank you so much. Thank you for your all you’re doing for the world. Bless you. They want Ukraine, but they don’t want Ukrainians. Nothing could have been said better than that.
So in the strategic concept, and it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. This is about the transatlantic bond. The second item in the new Strategic Concept reads, quote, “The transatlantic bond between our nations is indispensable to our security. We are bound together by common values, individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We remain fully committed to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations North Atlantic Treaty.” So that’s what we’re opening now as this session.
It’s such an honor and pleasure to be here. It’s even more an honor and a pleasure because of the history that was made last evening. The MOU of Turkey, Finland, and Sweden, where Sweden and Finland got their path forward and Turkey’s strategic interests were addressed. You’ve heard from an incredible lineup of speakers the last two days. I’ll just draw a couple of throughlines before I pass to a special message from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and then straight from there to our panel.
Throughline number one: With Putin’s war in Ukraine, we face what Christoph Heusgen, my colleague at the Munich Security Conference, called a “zeitenwende.” We call it an inflection point at the Atlantic Council. Christoph, from the German perspective, said this is a moment as important as 1945/1989. At the Atlantic Council, we think this is the fourth shot at shaping global order since World War I.
The first shot we got tragically wrong—League of Nations, Treaty of Versailles, millions of dead, rise of fascism, World War II.
After World War II, we got it more right than wrong—liberal international order, the United Nations, European Coal and Steel Community, NATO, the Bretton Woods institutions. Aberrational for the United States to build international institutions at that time and then to stay the course in Europe, as the United States did.
At the end of the Cold War, there was a feeling that it might be the end of history. Even China seemed to be taking on capitalist characteristics, and there was a hope that that would lead to the rise of a middle class and some change in the—in how China would shape itself. We did get an enlargement of NATO. We did get an enlargement of the European Union.
But now we are, with Putin’s war in Ukraine, at a fourth shot at shaping global order. And that’s the context for this summit, and it’s also the context for Putin’s war in Russia.
And that brings me to another throughline, and that is a recognition that one is hearing from all parties that Ukraine must win, from most parties that Putin must lose, but there’s not a lot of consensus about what that means or how to get there. And even as we have a G7 meeting in Bavaria and a NATO meeting in Madrid, missiles are landing on a shopping mall in Kyiv and hundreds continue to die every day.
And that gets me to the next throughline, which is we’ve talked a lot about the staying power of the West against economic headwinds—now 8 percent inflation in Europe, growing possibility of recession. And with these economic headwinds, will our staying power be as great as Putin’s conviction in his war of attrition?
So, with that, it’s my honor to kick off this session on “The Transatlantic Bond” by passing the virtual stage to the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and then we’ll move on to our panel.
NANCY PELOSI: As speaker of the House of Representatives, it is my great privilege to bring greetings from the United States Congress to the NATO Public Forum. Thank you to Fred Kempe and the NATO Public Forum Consortium for bringing together so many leading policymakers and opinion shapers.
This forum is an invaluable opportunity to not only celebrate, but strengthen the transatlantic bond. NATO is a pillar of international peace and security in the world. It is a strong bulwark against the dark forces of autocracy and it is a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people across the globe, particularly now as Putin wages his brutal war against Ukraine. Since day one, NATO has been an essential force in combating Putin’s premeditated, unjustified, and inhumane war, coming together with outstanding strength, speed, and unity.
The US is proud to work with our NATO partners in this mission. Our commitment to Article 5 is ironclad and we look forward to warmly welcoming Finland and Sweden into this alliance.
Because it is our unity that gives us strength as we support the brave people of Ukraine and it is our common values that guide us in upholding liberty wherever it is threatened, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not only an attack on their democracy; it is an attack on democracy everywhere. Such a vile act requires universal condemnation.
As you address the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, it is also important to note that China has refused to speak out, instead questioning NATO’s fundamental right to self-determination. This alarming challenge to national sovereignty must be met by a unified global commitment to peace and security from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
As Secretary General Stoltenberg noted earlier this year, global challenges demand global solutions. As we move forward from this year’s summit, let us continue strengthening cooperation with our Asia-Pacific partners to bolster cybersecurity, counter disinformation, and preserve our collective defense.
When President Truman signed the NATO Treaty, he spoke of a, quote, “long step toward permanent peace in the whole world.” Standing together, our alliance will never waver in defending that dream of permanent peace for all.
Thank you and best wishes for a productive summit.
FRANK LANGFITT: Good afternoon. My name is Frank Langfitt. I am the London correspondent for National Public Radio from the United States. And I think Fred summed up the challenges of—and the way this has all unfolded over the decades beautifully.
And today we’re going to talk in this session about how to keep a public commitment to NATO, given rising inflation, recession. We already had food shortages in the global south, lots of challenges. And we have a terrific panel today. We have two senators from the United States. Senator Jeanne Shaheen to the far left of me, from New Hampshire. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. They’re both co-chairs of the Senate NATO Observer Group, and they have just been in Finland and Sweden. And then immediately to my left is Foreign Affairs Minister Rinkēvičs of the Republic of Latvia.
And so I’d like to have a chat for a little while, and then we’d love to go to questions. And there are microphones, for those who have just arrived, in the back. And there’s also a possibility to pose questions online. But I’d just like to start off with the question as Fed posed it. And that is, given all of these challenges—and I would just start with Senator Shaheen—how do NATO allies persuade the public to stay the course in the war in Ukraine and maintain sanctions against Russia?
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Well, as you and Fred both pointed out, this is a challenging time. And in my home state of New Hampshire, we have people who are paying higher gas prices, they’re paying higher prices for their food at the grocery store, and they’re sacrificing. And I think I have a responsibility as an elected official to talk about why this is worth the cost for Americans. And what I talk about is the fact that, as you’ve heard from so many of the speakers, that courageous Ukrainians are giving life’s blood to have their freedom. I mean, that’s—in the United States, we’re a country that’s founded on freedom and democracy. And we believe that’s important for all people around the world who want to achieve it. And if we support the Ukrainians, then hopefully we won’t have to send our soldiers to Ukraine, because they will be successful.
And so I try and make that point, that this is—this is for democracies around the world. It’s for the United States, but it’s also for all of us who believe every human being should have the right for—to determine their own future, that countries should have the right to determine their own future, and that freedom should be part of that future if that’s what people want. And I believe what we’re seeing in Ukraine is true for people around the world. They overwhelmingly want their own freedom. They want to determine their own right to their futures. And so that’s why we’ve got to continue to support this effort.
FRANK LANGFITT: Senator Tillis, what do you say to your constituents back in North Carolina when they’re dealing with a lot of big domestic issues. We have midterms coming up in the United States. People are very focused on the United States and domestic politics. What do you say to them?
THOM TILLIS: What I’ve said to them is that our freedom, our economic security, our future is intrinsically linked to what happens in Ukraine. And they need to understand that Vladimir Putin is playing a chess game. He actually started his first move by thinking he was going to threaten NATO—stress-test NATO. And he failed. Now he’s continuing to carry the fight, killing thousands of men, women, and children in Ukraine.
And I explain to them that it doesn’t stop there. It goes elsewhere. We were in the west Balkans about two months ago. We hear the chatter, and we hear the threat of Russia in that area. We hear it. He’s trying to reestablish an empire. And it only starts with a success in Ukraine, and it continues. So, yes, that constituent of mine in North Carolina, they may seem an ocean away but they’re not. And every time we turn our backs, we live to regret it.
FRANK LANGFITT: Let me ask one follow-up before I go to Minister Rinkēvičs, and that is, I was in Ukraine at the beginning of the war. And the interest of the United States was greater than I’ve seen it in almost any international story. You posted photos of people—I was in Odesa, and we were fleeing and getting out of Odesa at the time, and you would post pictures and be tremendous interest.
If you look at social media, it has plummeted in recent months. And so I’m just wondering, as senators, what do you do to continue to try to engage Americans and make them focus on this and the role of NATO?
THOM TILLIS: Well, we have to continue to remind them. I’m always reminded in North Carolina, our geography makes us vulnerable to hurricanes. And when I go out to the coast after a hurricane and after devastation over there, the minds are glued to the TV set for about two weeks. And then they think that the storm is over and things have gotten back to normal. We have people who have had hurricanes twenty years ago who are still struggling.
So it’s on us, on a bipartisan basis, to remind the American people the situation is every bit as threatening today as it was on February 24, and we have to continue to have the resolve. The decision we made to provide additional support to Ukraine is important. And, yes, we have to take care of economic challenges. But we also have to understand, if Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it puts us further away from settling the economy and getting back to where we were before inflation, supply chains, a number of other things that happened long before Russia invaded Ukraine. We’ve got to get back to that business. But this is absolutely linked to us being able to restore order and restore economic security.
FRANK LANGFITT: Mr. Rinkēvičs, for a different point of view from Latvia, first of all—a very different history and geography than the United States—two questions. One is, what has support been like historically and most recently for NATO in your country? And also, is there a role that you and others in Europe can play to try to communicate to other countries in NATO, particularly the United States, of the importance of why it’s important to be protecting Latvia?
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Well, first of all, I would say that since beginning of independence, the support for NATO in Latvia has been always very high because of our history, because of our experience with communists, Soviets, the Russians. And I still remember that twenty years ago—actually, exactly twenty years ago—at Prague, during Prague summit, seven countries, including Latvia, were invited to join NATO.
At that point we saw this is the end of the history. Now we are completely safe, secure, and we can live, you know, struggling about very different, boring problems. I was then state secretary in the Ministry of Defense and we saw that now we are going to have a very boring time. Twenty years later, I think that we have everything but boring time. Now, of course, with the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the support of NATO has again very high. But as I said, it has been. Also the support to the European Union has been considerably good.
But now, when it comes to the second question, I think that to some extent—I’ve been traveling to the United States in different capacities since end of 1990s, meeting with different administrations, with representatives in the House of Representatives and also with senators, and frankly also talking with more general public. We have always heard and seen this kind of understanding that you protect allies. There is a kind of historic and moral also responsibility.
But I do believe the point you just said is very important. Unfortunately, in the twenty-first century we live in a kind of global and social-media village. You cannot keep a lot of attention of the people, because things change. Prices are increasing. You have to get your kids to the school. You start to calculate how expensive that or another thing is.
So it is important that we engage with all of our allies, especially not only in the region, because there is no point preaching to Poles or to Lithuanians. But the farther we are from Ukraine, the farther we are from Russia, the more basic things sometimes we need to explain about some things. But I do believe that when I meet with different officials, but also journalists and also representatives of the public, that understanding actually is there.
FRANK LANGFITT: Terrific. You were just talking about all the distractions. There are a lot of huge issues facing all of our countries. They’re global issues.
And I’m interested in knowing, first from the senators, in terms of big issues that are important to the domestic audience of the United States—I’m thinking about the role of China. I’m thinking about climate change. For Senator Shaheen, I was at COP26 in Glasgow eight months ago, and there was a lot of talk, certainly of activists, keeping fuel on the ground. Boy, that is not the kind of conversation you hear right now publicly and certainly from politicians because of what’s happening economically and in terms of energy.
And I know Secretary General Stoltenberg has talked a lot about this yesterday, but I wonder what kind of role do you seeing NATO play in addressing climate change and its impact? And what kind of message would you give to younger people in the United States for whom this issue really resonates? To what degree could you connect that to the role of NATO?
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Well, we have a short-term challenge because of what’s happening with the war in Ukraine, in terms of oil and gas, and making sure that people who depend on oil and gas—the businesses, the countries—have the energy that they need. But boy, you don’t need any stronger argument for why we need to get off of our dependence on fossil fuels—whether you believe in climate change or not. Look at the security challenge that’s happening because Europe and parts of the United States and too much of the world is too dependent on Russian gas and oil.
And if we can develop our alternative energy sector so that there are other choices—and for me, a big piece of that is also the demand side—how do we ensure that countries are more energy efficient—because that will reduce the consumption in a way that’s important. This is a security issue and much more than just an environmental issue, but as we know, it’s also about whether we’re going to be able to continue to live on our planet.
When we landed in Helsinki Sunday night, the temperature was actually hotter there than it was when we landed in Madrid last night. Now, it shouldn’t be that way. We all know that. This is not the way climate should be operating, and so, we’ve got to think about—in the short term, we’ve got to deal with the current crisis, but long term, we’ve got to address the longer-term challenge that we’re all facing because, you know, it’s not just about our weather changing, it’s about what that means for our food supply—what does it mean for water, what does it mean for migration, what does it mean for conflict around the world—and all of that are affected by climate change. And boy, we better do something about it because time is running out.
FRANK LANGFITT: Senator Tillis, I’d like to talk to you about another big issue that’s here and globally and that’s of course China—one that’s near and dear to your heart—and I want to read something from the Strategic Concept: “The People’s Republic of China stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” As, of course, everybody here knows, this is first time we see the word China in the Strategic Concept, and I have a couple of questions for you.
What role do you see European allies playing in addressing the challenge of China, and especially given the distance and limits of naval force projection, what do you think NATO can realistically and, sort of, in a concrete way bring to the table?
THOM TILLIS: Well, I think a part of it is recognizing the economic investment across the globe that China has made and coming up with a strategy to counter it. We are aiding and abetting the ascendancy of China as the world economic and military power if we don’t look at how they’re using economic policy and investment as a strategic weapon. So, we—and I’m glad to see China recognized as an emerging threat by our NATO partners and our allies.
What we need to do is have the same options on the table that China uses today. Their investments—I’ll be traveling to South America in August to talk about the investments that they’re making in our hemisphere and Africa after that visit—or days after that visit—and to start educating the American people on—and, I think, our NATO allies—on how those investments are a direct threat ultimately to NATO and the rest of the free world. And we have to be able to counter them.
I think we also have to recognize that China’s silence and support for what’s occurring in Ukraine is a message to the rest of the world about what could occur in the South China Sea, and so that, again, it’s just another—hopefully a motivator to get the free nations, members of NATO and free nations around the world, like the AP4, who are here at the summit today, to recognize the global long-term threat that China represents.
FRANK LANGFITT: Can I ask you about the AP4? What kind of role do you see them playing? I mean, it’s very interesting to have them here in Madrid. What kind of role do you think that they’re going to play here and in the future for NATO?
THOM TILLIS: Well, you know, we’ll see as things evolve. Right now, when we get back to Washington—I think Senator Shaheen and I agree; what we want to do is make history with respect to ratifying the treaty that will have Sweden and Finland be members of NATO. Longer term, we have to take a look at what other alliances—one thing that China clearly—China’s working on strategies to increase standoff distances and create military superiority. One thing that China doesn’t have and they won’t have are alliances, so we have to continue to strengthen those alliances: military alliances and economic relationships. I, for one, think that the TPP and other agreements are critically important to integrate our free economies as a weapon against China’s investments across the world. And then we’ll have to see what future alliances at a military level with countries we’re already working closely with—what role they will play in countering the military and economic threat of China. And I think that they go hand in hand.
FRANK LANGFITT: Minister Rinkēvičs, first question is, how do you respond to that language in the Strategic Concept, and what do you think it really means? And second is, how have attitudes in the Baltics and in your country changed over time regarding China and as we look at sort of the approach that Lithuania has taken? Are there any lessons there?
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Well, first of all, the Strategic Concept is commonly agreed language, so this is now the position of my country and we very much support this.
Let me say, what we see—actually, what is very important when it comes to addressing China also through the alliance. I think that what China currently does, it very carefully monitors our response vis-à-vis Russia and its war in Ukraine. If we are successful and if Russia is defeated, as in the introductory remarks Fred Kempe just said, of course we still need to define what victory or what the defeat means, what victory for Ukrainians mean and for Russians. But if they see that the transatlantic unity is there, that we have a very strong partnership with the nations in Asia and Indo-Pacific region, then most probably it is also going to ease some pressures from the security situation also in that region. So that is critically important that we look at China not in an isolated way but actually in a more global way.
Second, you know, I think that there was a kind of period of romanticism, Belt and Road Initiative, so-called 16+1, then it was 17+1, now it’s again 16+1 initiative where there was a kind of high hopes for investments and trade relations, but what happened? A couple years ago, all the investment proposals by China—for instance, in the port infrastructure, in IT sector came with a lot of strings attached, and they were actually directly affecting already the security interests of the Baltic states, so that was the first flashing red line. Then, of course, all the 5G networks investments in IT and, of course, also human rights situation, the Hong Kong, all the protests in Hong Kong. They very much actually resembled also what we had thirty-plus years ago, so-called Baltic freedom way. And I think that now, especially after what happened between Lithuania and China, the people are very, very cautious. I would say that also this tacit support of China through voting the United Nations Security Council through all those announcements have actually changed both political and public attitude. And I do believe that we still can work within NATO but also, when it comes to the EU-US cooperation on more economic sanctions, sometimes it needed human rights sanctions. And also, we can work with Indo-Pacific partners. For instance, Australia is sending a payment to Ukraine. Japan is introducing almost the same sanctions vis-à-vis G7 as we are introducing.
So I think that this is already creating a platform where we can also work to some specifics, also how to address some of China’s aggressive behavior. So there is a change and that change actually happened in the last five, six years.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Can I add to that as well?
FRANK LANGFITT: Sure.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Because you ask about Lithuanian. I know the minister knows very clearly the challenges that the Baltic nations have faced.
But when a small country like Lithuania is willing to stand up and say this is—you know, this is not right what China is doing and it’s important for us in the United States and for Europe to back up Lithuania, to back up small countries when they’re willing to stand up for the values that—the transatlantic values that we all support.
FRANK LANGFITT: Thank you.
I have kind of a cultural question. I can remember just two or three years ago speaking with a member of the British parliament and he was talking about the future of the transatlantic relationship and the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and that, obviously, the roots of the United States are in Europe and, particularly, in the U.K.
But it is an increasingly diverse and polarized country, and other people—you know, a lot of people in the United States might look more to the south to Latin America, or to the east to China and Asia, and he raised the question of how do you keep up this alliance that had—is founded in some cultural connection as the United States becomes increasingly diverse?
And I’m just wondering if you have thoughts about that because I thought he made a good point.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Well, he does make a good point. But the United States is diverse and we have people who—I mean, my family, really, migrated to the United States before the revolution from someplace in what is now the United Kingdom. We’re not sure exactly where.
But, you know, we also have a lot of Americans who migrated to the country from Latin America, from Central America, who came from Africa. In my home state of New Hampshire, we’re not as diverse as North Carolina but we have a lot of people from all over the world and they have an interest in the transatlantic alliance because of the security relationship we have with NATO and why that’s important to us.
They have an interest because of the economic relationship and they also have an interest in seeing how we can all work together, and I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. It’s not if you support the transatlantic alliance then you can’t support relationships with other parts of the world, and more and more we have to recognize, as NATO is doing in this strategic concept, that the relationships are interconnected.
That’s why we’ve got to pay attention because China’s a threat, why it’s important to have Indo-Pacific countries here, and why we’ve got to look at the potential for economic and cyber and other threats to affect our future security.
FRANK LANGFITT: Thank you.
So we have a question online. We’d also like to go to any questions in the back. There are, I believe, microphones in the back so if people want to stand up here.
I’ll ask one question online that we’ve got here. Between the 1997 NATO Russia Act and today, what has gone wrong? Is there more NATO can do to encourage productive relations with Russia?
I know, in some ways, this is probably a very unpopular question. But I wonder, looking back historically, what people think.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Minister?
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Well—
JEANNE SHAHEEN: You have the closest relationship.
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Yeah. Whenever it’s Russia, then everything comes at me.
But look, everything went wrong. But it was not NATO’s fault because, you know, from time to time, even now after Russia’s invasion in Georgia in 2008, then 2014 occupation of Crimea, now, since 24 of February, I very often hear this argument, look, NATO expansion—I prefer to speak about enlargement, not expansion, because countries were willingly joining NATO, not kind of somebody was coming in and expanding—that this provoked Russia to the current aggressive behavior.
Actually, knowing Russia very well, the whole neighborhood wanted to join NATO as quickly as possible. The first wave was 1999, 2004. Then we had some smaller kind of additions. And now you see that countries that we were long hoping, we were kind of praying that at point they will join, like Finland and Sweden. And they said, no, well, it’s fine. We can—we can wait a little bit. Now they are also joining, because that aggressive kind of foreign policy, bullying of its neighbors, actually pushed all the countries to apply for NATO’s membership.
I don’t want to speculate what would happen if, let’s say, in Bucharest they were in a different language, they were in a different situation. But I would say that I do believe that Russia still does not dare to attack any of NATO members. And again, Ukraine is, to some extent, litmus test. But I do believe that this kind of ingrained feeling that they need to restore either Soviet or tsarist empire, you hear different versions, was all the time here. Since very beginning of 1990s there were kind of frozen conflicts created, and so on. So that’s where we are.
And when it comes to what we could have done differently, I don’t believe that we really had major mistakes, because there was one huge issue. And President Putin decided that democracy is not something that he wants to pursue. And he started to push for an authoritarian rule. Then, actually, our efforts were doomed.
FRANK LANGFITT: I don’t want to go down the historical rabbit hole, but I do want to ask if you think in the post-Cold War period, could the West have done more to take into account Russia’s security concerns? Because some people in Europe talk about that.
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: The interesting question is then what are those legitimate security concerns? For instance, what we have seen—and I think that many countries in my region have seen, that Russia was trying to impose its kind of way of living. More corruption, more control of resources, controlling political parties. And that is not something that you want in a democratic society. If there would be the kind of non-enlargement of NATO, would that, let’s say at this current situation, save this kind of military invasion?
No, I do believe that at some point Russians would decide that they now want to recreate some kind of Russian Federation-plus, or empire. And they would push those countries, including they would try my own country, to join some kind of greater Russia, in that or another way. So that is why back in 1993, 1994, there was a very conscious decision in the Baltics to push as much as we can, to knock on all doors in the United States, in Canada, in all the European capitals, trying to explain our concerns. And actually, as many colleagues are saying, to some extent we were right. But really, I would wish we were wrong.
FRANK LANGFITT: Thank you.
Questions from the floor, please. And please introduce yourself, if you don’t mind, and direct the question where you would wish.
Q: Hi. My name is Sierra Quitiquit. I’m here on behalf of the NATO Youth Protect the Future Campaign from the United States.
And I want to thank the organizers. This has been incredible, as a young woman, to be engaged on these very important topics. I sincerely appreciate NATO’s conversation and leadership on women, peace, security, and climate change. We know that empowering women, educating, and providing safe health care to women leads to a more peaceful world. The United States Supreme Court has just overturned our constitutional right to access legal and safe abortions. Senator Tillis, you’ve been quoted saying this is both historic and monumental. If you could please expand on how you feel this is historic and monumental, as well as you how you think this kind of leadership and sentiment towards women’s rights from the United States resonates with the rest of the NATO alliance? Thank you.
THOM TILLIS: Well, first off, the Supreme Court decision doesn’t change a single law in the United States. It leaves it to the states to decide. And states like North Carolina, where it may differ from what the citizens of Nebraska—or, not Nebraska. Nebraska, New Hampshire, I’m thinking about some of the members that are in this delegation. It’s going to be a discussion that’s going to have to be held with governors and state legislatures.
The issue that the Supreme Court settled is whether or not it was a constitutional right or something that was a legal decision, a legislative decision, that the states can make. And we’ll see how that plays out over time.
FRANK LANGFITT: Another question related to the American domestic political situation we have online… President Trump had previously discussed withdrawing from NATO. What is your message to the transatlantic community about the US commitment to NATO after the 2024 presidential election?
THOM TILLIS: Well, I think it’s interesting. When Senator Shaheen and I went to the NATO summit in Brussels, I believe that President Trump, I believe when we were flying over, made the statement that we should withdraw from NATO. And we came to this forum in Brussels and we said we’re a nation with three equal branches, and the US Congress fully supports NATO and will continue to support NATO.
Just take a look at what happened in less than thirty-six hours. We met in the Swedish embassy with the ambassador and the minister of defense. And we were talking about what we could do to be helpful to expand NATO, to have them be a part of it. They said we would like to see what the American Congress’s position is on it. In thirty-six hours, we had eighty-one senators sign on to a letter. And quite honestly, if we hadn’t wanted to get the letter out in a communication sooner, we’d have probably had ninety-eight.
That’s a very clear indication that the Article 1 branch, the Congress, is solidly behind this historic and transformational alliance, the greatest alliance that’s ever existed and one that needs to be maintained. And I, for one, think that there’s some discussion about whether or not any future change in the Article 2 branch should be even legally able to contemplate the idea that they could withdraw from NATO. And I think that’s a discussion that we’ll have in Congress and potentially find ways to have Congress be actively involved in any future administration that would even contemplate that.
This is an important alliance. It’s an alliance that needs to exist for centuries, in my opinion, and continue to expand.
FRANK LANGFITT: Senator Shaheen.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: And we actually have a bill right now in the Senate that would require congressional approval or Senate approval to withdraw from NATO. Right now the Senate needs to ratify treaties. Well, this would say not all treaties, actually, with respect to this legislation, but just NATO, because we think it’s so important to make that kind of strong bipartisan statement about the significance of NATO.
FRANK LANGFITT: Do we have any other questions from the floor? Not seeing anyone at the moment. Oh, please. And please introduce yourself.
Q: Hi. My name is Cori Fleser. I am one of the NATO 2030 young leaders and the US representative. And this is a follow-up question related to the one earlier on the Women, Peace, and Security agenda.
Senator Shaheen, you are a staunch supporter of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. And in light of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week, many colleagues have come up to me and asked, you know, can the US act credibly within NATO to advance gender equality within NATO to advance gender equality when we have this domestic-policy challenge going on? From your perspective, ma’am, how would you reassure allies that we can still advance this important agenda item within our support to the alliance? Thank you.
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Look, I’m pro-choice. I don’t support the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe. And I think that’s a debate that will be an ongoing debate in the United States, in my state of New Hampshire as well as across the country. But I think what is important, as we think about our foreign policy and look at NATO, is what is the role of women in our societies? What is the role of women as we think about security issues, as we think about economic issues?
And, you know, we, several years ago—more than a decade ago, the United States opened an Office of Global Women’s Issues to look at foreign policy through a gender lens. And we did that because what we know, if we look at the data, is how important it is to empower women around the world to—we know that women contribute more to their families generally. If we look at women in developing countries, they contribute more to their communities. And those countries that empower women are more stable.
So there are lots of good reasons why empowering women is important, particularly in the security realm. The United States was the first country in the world to legislatively pass a proposal that said women need to be part of the debate when we’re in conflict areas, when we’re looking at how we address security issues. And we passed this in 2017, and during the previous administration we were able to get an outline that is now being followed in our Department of Defense and Department of State and in our foreign policy.
Now, there’s a lot more we’ve got to do, and we need to work with other likeminded nations. I was really excited when we were in Sweden to hear them talk about their gender-focused foreign policy, and I think that’s something that they bring to NATO that’s really going to be exciting. But this is something that makes sense for all of us, and it’s important for NATO to look at ways in which they can better engage women across the NATO countries and looking at how we continue to promote stability around the world.
FRANK LANGFITT: And, Minister Rinkēvičs, we have a question online for you: From the perspective of an eastern flank ally, what does the recent deployment of Canadian troops to Latvia mean to you as evidence of NATO’s transatlantic bond?
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Thank you very much. Actually, since 2017 we keep reminding everyone the transatlantic bond includes both United States and Canada. And Canada has been a really great ally, and they have been providing a lot of help. And I think that as we speak, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Levits are witnessing also the signing of the declaration on how to implement the decisions of NATO Summit and how to bolster troops.
So what it means, first of all, it means that NATO is serious about its commitment.
Second, we have, I think, created extremely good multinational working environment. I think we currently have, what, about ten nations as part of Canadian-led multinational group. Believe me, it was not very easy for a start to create this kind of multinational environment, but actually now it works well. We now want to expand gradually from battalion size to, first of all, brigade-sized elements like command and control, logistics, enablers, and so on, and then hopefully also to go further than that. So from that point of view, this really provides real security but also a sense of security.
And the most important thing why we really love Canadians is that both Latvians and Canadians are great fans of the ice hockey. So whenever we have ice hockey championships, then, you know, that unites us even more. The trouble is when we play each against the other. Then it’s a bit problematic.
FRANK LANGFITT: We’re almost out of time here, but just a follow up on that. President Biden today talked about force posture for the United States and he talked about destroyers here in Spain. He also talked about a number of other things. Obviously, he talked about headquartering people in Poland. And there was nothing for the Baltic states from him. And I’m just wondering—
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Not true.
FRANK LANGFITT: No?
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Not true.
FRANK LANGFITT: Well, then please correct me. And just give me a sense, though, of what you’ve heard—your reaction to what you heard from President Biden today, and also what you’re looking for from other NATO allies going forward.
EDGARS RINKĒVIČS: Well, both I heard President Biden when he was addressing leaders and also re-read the statement in—on the webpage of the White House. We are talking about more of a rotational presence of the US troops—land, sea, air, more exercises—that’s true.
But look, we do believe, frankly, that nothing ends with decisions here in Madrid. It’s only beginning of transformation. I do believe that we will need to look how well we are proceeding within a year. Next summit is actually in our neighborhood—in Vilnius, in Lithuania. And then I think we will see where we need still to cover some deficit.
So we are grateful to the United States already for all the help—Congress providing money, administration and Department of Defense providing troops. But we also believe that this is actually beginning and that we will need to see where we need to address some of the deficiencies.
From other nations, look, in the first hours of the 24 of February many of our allies already sent reinforcements—Canadians, Danes, Spain—and we are grateful. And we will continue to work with them. So in general, yes, you always want to be—to have more immediately, because the public is a bit nervous. But then you understand all the practical things. And overall, we think that we are on the right track. We need to implement what has been decided, and then talk of the future.
FRANK LANGFITT: Thank you so much. We’re out of time. We could talk about this for a long time. But to Senators Shaheen, Tillis, and Foreign Minister Rinkēvičs, thank you so much. And thanks for the great questions.
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