NATO Needs ‘Frank Conversations’ at Leaders Meeting


  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: NATO has survived because we’ve always had frank conversations.”
  • UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘‘NATO is a civilian-led alliance of democratic states.”
  • Polish President Duda’s message to Macron: “Don’t talk about the brain of NATO … please propose to us what can we do to improve our cooperation in NATO, in European Union.”
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “I’m a politician, and I’m used to being criticised for good rhetoric but bad substance. In the case of NATO it is the opposite. We have had bad rhetoric but extremely good substance.”

Held in NATO’s inaugural home of London, and ahead of the NATO Leaders Meeting, ‘NATO Engages: Innovating the Alliance’ brought together some 1600 policy makers, officials from think tanks and universities, and members of the public – over 50% of whom were under 30 – at Westminster Central Hall.  

The event examined NATO’s enduring future, facilitating broader conversation and examining how the Alliance deals with geopolitical uncertainty, changing threats and new opportunities. 

Among the highlights of the day:

  • UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace cited the need for a threefold approach to sustaining the alliance, comprising investment, innovation and solidarity, noting that ‘NATO is civilian led alliance of democratic states – we succeed through trusting that we have each other’s back. This is our strength’.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda said, ‘We know there are tensions in the EU and NATO, but can you show me the greatest successes of the entire world in a place other than those two alliances? No.’
  • Responding to President Macron’s controversial comments on a ‘brain death’ of NATO, President Duda said: ‘If you hear the voice of Mr. President Macron, yes, I would like to ask him: Mr. President, don’t talk about the brain of the – of the NATO and et cetera, et cetera.  Let’s please propose us what can we do to improve our cooperation in NATO, in European Union, yes?’
  • The PM of North Macedonia described how his country had ‘so much belief in NATO, in unity, in stability. So much that we changed our constitutional name, we became The Republic of North Macedonia’.
  • Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described recent public discord among member states as natural for a politically led alliance, noting, ‘I’m a politician, and I’m used to being criticised for good rhetoric but bad substance. In the case of NATO it is the opposite. We have had bad rhetoric but extremely good substance’.
  • On the question of a ‘wise persons’ steering group, the Secretary-General commented that ‘I expect we will agree a process to strengthen the political dimension of NATO’, while noting that on the potential addition of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO, ‘the decision’ taken in 2008 for them to be invited to join ‘still stands’.
  • Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg acknowledged the security challenges of climate change, calling it ‘the big insecurity creator these days. Climate change will lead to more migration, to more conflicts, the greater instability. That fuels extremism, and extremism is a global problem.’
  • In a joint session with the Dutch and Canadian Prime Ministers, PM Justin Trudeau described NATO’s future as ‘bright’, saying that ‘NATO has survived because we’ve always had frank conversations’. He added, ‘Institutions like NATO that can tackle complex problems in sophisticated and nuanced ways are really important in the modern world’.
  • Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of The Netherlands agreed: ‘There are a few issues that Emmanuel Macron addressed that are valid, but I disagree with his overall assessment that NATO is braindead. ‘ He added, ‘Article V is still the cornerstone and through this period of reflection will remain the cornerstone of NATO. How to deal with Russia? Pressure and dialogue!’
  • Former NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson recalled the significance of invoking Article V after the 9/11 attacks on New York, noting how the founders of NATO had inserted a 10 year break clause, not expecting it to endure as it had through such evolving circumstances.
  • In a session on security on ‘NATO’s frontlines’, Jurik Luik, Estonian Minister of Defence, said ‘If we are consistent in our messages and actions the threat from Russia is low, but if we are weak, divided or wobbly the threat is very real’, while Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said ‘Since Russia is the only existential threat to Lithuania, we cannot agree with [President Macron’s characterisation of the threat].’
  • Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani called for Georgia to be admitted to NATO, saying ‘Georgia is already acting like an ally, meeting NATO requirements and spending targets, sending troops to Afghanistan. When a country like Georgia delivers it should be reciprocated. We continue our efforts towards membership, not discouraged.’
  • In a session on disinformation and societal resilience, Carl Miller, Research Director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, acknowledged that ‘we haven’t even begun to explore what could be effective at countering these [disinformation] campaigns’, while Rand Waltzman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at Rand Corporation, said ‘Nobody is protecting us – it’s time to stop admiring the problem and start doing something. Disinformation requires proactive measures – you can’t counter disinformation, you have to displace it. But who decides on the narratives?’

Many more followed online, with a reach of over 40 million users via more than 99 million impressions so far on Twitter across 6,500 mentions of the #NATOEngages hashtag by over 3,400 users. Over 5,000 users watched livestreams of the event and the hashtag was listed as trending on Twitter all day.

NATO Engages was organised by the Atlantic Council, GLOBSEC, the Royal United Services Institute, King’s College London, and the Munich Security Conference, in partnership with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division and the UK Government. 

Full details, clips and transcripts can be found at: 




See also @RUSI_org, @AtlanticCouncil, @MunSecConf, @GLOBSEC,@warstudies on Twitter.


NATO ENGAGES is the only outreach event held on the eve of the NATO Leaders’ Meeting. It is organised by the Atlantic Council, GLOBSEC, King’s College London, the Munich Security Conference and the Royal United Services Institute, in partnership with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division and the UK Government.

Contact: Jack Haines: [email protected] +44 20 7747 2620

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