On Friday NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave a key speech on Europe's nuclear defense posture before a security conference in Germany. His comments are subject of multiple Russian state media reports, particularly as his suggestion that US-supplied nuclear warheads could be positioned on the military bloc's eastern frontier are driving outrage among Kremlin officials.
Highlighting threats from both China and Russia during his German Atlantic Association 'NATO Talk' Conference 2021, Stoltenberg especially highlighted Russia's "aggressive actions" and that "it interferes in other countries' affairs." With this in mind, he spelled out: "Our aim is a world free of nuclear weapons, but as long as others have them, NATO must have them too."
That's when he invoked countries in the alliance which border Russia, saying provocatively: "The nuclear weapons we share in NATO provide European Allies with an effective nuclear umbrella. This, of course, also includes our eastern Allies."
This has set off fury in Russia. For example, RT News quickly wrote within hours of Stoltenberg's speech that he effectively "urged member states to remain committed to plans that could see deadly American nuclear weapons shared across the US-led military bloc’s eastern frontier, close to the border with Russia.
And Sputnik interpreted his words as an ultimatum to Germany: "If Berlin refuses to station NATO nuclear weapons, then it can be moved to other European countries, including in the Eastern part of the continent, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday." However, the commentary might be reading too much implied intent into his actual words.
Stoltenberg said Germany remains at the forefront of NATO security in Europe, and urged German leaders to maintain strong defense, further calling on the EU in general not to establish "parallel structures":
So Germany has a special responsibility to keep NATO strong. This means providing more and new capabilities. Soldiers that are well-trained and well-equipped. Planes that can fly. And ships that can sail.
And I count on Germany to remain committed to NATO’s nuclear sharing. It is our ultimate security guarantee.
The Secretary General of NATO has urged member states to remain committed to plans that could see deadly American nuclear weapons shared across the US-led military bloc’s eastern frontier, close to the border with Russia.— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) November 19, 2021
Moscow ain't happy. https://t.co/mJjO3W7lKM
On the European Union in particular, the NATO chief said, "So I am now working with President Von der Leyen and President Michel on a new Joint Declaration between the two EU presidents and myself to chart the way forward for further strengthening NATO-EU cooperation." He added: "As I have said many times, I welcome European efforts on defense. NATO has been calling on European Allies for many years to invest more, and provide more capabilities."
As Brookings reviews:
Germany has no nuclear weapons of its own, but it stores 20 or fewer U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs at Büchel air base, and maintains a fleet of aging Tornado fighter bombers to deliver them. This gives it a seat in NATO’s nuclear planning group. The SPD and the Green election platforms demanded the removal of the U.S. bombs from German soil. They also want Germany to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as an observer.
The section where Stoltenberg calls out a litany of Russia and China threats that NATO must stand up to is also worth noting. He said as follows:
Russia carries out aggressive actions. It interferes in other countries' affairs. It has invested significantly in military capabilities, including new, advanced nuclear weapons.
And Russia continues its massive military build-up, as we see now around the borders of Ukraine. And it has shown a willingness to use military force against its neighbors.
Meanwhile, China is using its might to coerce other countries and control its own people. It is investing heavily in new technologies, like hypersonic glide vehicles. Expanding its global economic and military footprint in Africa, in the Arctic and in cyber-space.
And China is suppressing democracy and human rights at home. We don’t regard China as an adversary but we need to take into account the consequences for our security, the rise of China.
In addition, we face more frequent and sophisticated cyber-attacks. Hybrid tactics, as we see today from Belarus on the border with Poland. We also face persistent terrorist threats. The proliferation of nuclear weapons. And the security implications of climate change.
If a brief, quick reaction to the speech Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Russia will no longer turn a blind eye by such "provocations".
Just the day prior, on Thursday, Putin himself warned that Western powers must stop dismissing Russia's "red lines". "We’re constantly voicing our concerns about this, talking about red lines, but we understand our partners — how shall I put it mildly — have a very superficial attitude to all our warnings and talk of red lines," Putin told a foreign policy conference.