AP NEWS

NATO chief pitches value of alliance to Congress amid tensions

April 3, 2019

Amid tensions the Trump administration and its allies, the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gave a strong and at times strongly personal defense of the value of the military alliance in a milestone address to a joint session of Congress.

Mr. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister who has headed NATO since 2014, told lawmakers that despite differences between NATO’s 29 countries, “we’ve always been able to defend each other, protect each other and to keep our people safe.”

The NATO chief called on Russia to return to compliance with Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banning shorter-range nuclear weapons. President Trump announced his intention to pull out of the INF in February, saying Moscow has been cheating for years on the 1987 pact.

“We do not want to isolate Russia,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding he favors working with Moscow to “reduce risks, to avoid incidents, accidents and miscalculations,”

“But so far,” he said. “Russia has taken no steps to do so.”

In a three-day tour in Washington to commemorate the alliance’s 70th anniversary, Mr. Stoltenberg met with Mr. Trump Tuesday. Although he has had a sometimes rocky relationship with leading NATO allies, Mr. Trump hailed what he called “tremendous progress” on his push to spur other members to pay more for the defense alliance. “When I came in, it wasn’t so good, and now they’re catching up,” Mr. Trump contended.

In his address to Congress, Mr. Stoltenberg called on allies to spend more on defense. “That has been the clear message from President Trump, and this message is having a clear impact.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to Mr. Stoltenberg, the first time a NATO secretary-general has addressed both houses of Congress, was seen in part as a shot by lawmakers unhappy with Mr. Trump’s sometimes adversarial relations with key U.S. allies. The new Democratic House in January approved with significant Republican support a “NATO Support Act” that would prohibit the use of funds to withdraw from the alliance and states that it is U.S. policy to remain a member of NATO.

Events in Washington this week to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary were markedly more low-key than commemorations of past alliance milestones, with foreign ministers rather than heads of government gathering to mark the occasion.

But during his address to Congress, Mr. Stoltenberg maintained that “the NATO alliance is not only the longest lasting alliance in history, it is also the most successful alliance in history. ... NATO is a strong alliance.”