Safeguarding Peace in an Unpredictable World

Replay the Opening Session and read the summary below



Opening with a bang: a speech by the Secretary-General of NATO

Welcome Remarks

  • Frédéric Mion, President, Sciences Po
  • Enrico Letta, Dean, PSIA, Sciences Po; former Prime Minister, Italy

Keynote Speech: “NATO 2030 – Safeguarding Peace in an Unpredictable World”

  • Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General, NATO; Former Prime Minister of Norway 
  • Chaired by Enrico Letta, Dean, PSIA, Sciences Po; former Prime Minister, Italy


In times of uncertainty, we need to stick together and help each other out. That was the presiding message during the opening session of the Youth and Leaders Summit which kicked off on Monday the 18th of January. This years’ summit was like no other: not only because it was online, but because it had tripled in size. What used to be a summit with an average of 3 panels all in one day, was now a 3-day summit with 9 panels, some 50 speakers, and over 70 student volunteers. 

Frédéric Mion commenced the summit with a welcome address. After thanking all the staff, students, partnerships and sponsorships, he turned his attention to the leaders: “I would like to thank all the speakers for agreeing to take part in the summit, for sharing their thinking with us, and most importantly for their willingness to be challenged by our students.”

Enrico Letta expressed his thanks as well and then introduced the very first speaker of the summit: Jens Stoltenberg.

Safeguarding Peace in an Unpredictable World 

After thanking Sciences Po and highlighting the role that France has played in the NATO alliance for over 70 years, Stoltenberg dove right into his speech. “When I look back to my own years as a student, at the University of Oslo,” he said, “the world was a very different place.” He explained how, in 1987, he wrote his Bachelor Thesis on macro-economic planning under uncertainty. “Little did I know then about what uncertainty would look like today.” 

The world has changed since Stoltenberg’s days as a student in the Cold War. Threats are not only coming from multiple directions and various actors, but they are also of a different nature. “Our adversaries challenge us using bombs and aircrafts. But also using bots and algorithms,” explained Stoltenberg. In order to mitigate these threats, NATO needs to be prepared for anything. Defense spending has therefore been increased, combatting forces have been deployed to the East of the alliance in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, and increased cooperation is dealing with the security impact of the rise of China. “NATO is doing more, but the world is moving faster than ever before.” To deal with this, NATO must adapt. “It is why I launched the NATO 2030 initiative and why engaging with tomorrow’s leaders, like you, is so valuable.” He continued by adding: “You were born into this unpredictable world, you have the greatest stake in our security, and you must have your say in the future of NATO.”

NATO 2030 has three priorities. “Our first priority is to keep the alliance militarily strong.” Stoltenberg emphasized the need to invest in the right forces, the correct equipment and to maintain NATO’s technological advancement. 

A military alliance goes hand in hand with a stronger political alliance, which is the second priority. “NATO is a unique political platform – we should use this more to discuss the issues that affect our security,” Stoltenberg explained. The platform also presents a chance to address and discuss differences: 30 allies don’t always agree on everything. “We look for ways to solve our differences together, that is what we have always done, and that is what we are doing today.” 

Finally, there is the third priority: to ensure that the alliance takes a more global approach. “NATO should remain a regional organization, for Europe and North America,” Stoltenberg said, “but the challenges we face are global.” Terrorism, pandemics, climate change are all threats that transcend borders. Neither America nor Europe can deal with such challenges on their own.

Stoltenberg concludes by referring to his university thesis again. “The message of my thesis was that we cannot get rid of uncertainty, but we can find a way to manage uncertainty.” The same is true today as we do not know what the next crisis will be. But Stoltenberg has the answer: “We need a strategy to deal with uncertainty. We have one. That is NATO. All for one and one for all.” 

Rising powers: Europe, Russia and China

The first topic brought up during the Q&A session was rising powers. The audience asked Stoltenberg about an increasingly stronger Europe and their rise in defense spending. Stoltenberg seemed enthusiastic: “I strongly welcome these efforts.” He explained how it will lead to more investments and will create new capabilities. He was wary as well: “They should not compete with NATO, it can never be an alternative to NATO.” 

Another student was curious about Russia and its intervention with NATO enlargement. There was a mention that the expansion of NATO might somehow be fueling Russia nationalism. Stoltenberg denied these claims and explained that countries are within their full sovereign right to decide whether or not they want to join NATO. If other countries show interest and “if they meet the NATO standards, they should be allowed to be members… This is for NATO and the country to decide. Russia has no right to try to intervene.” 

When talking about Russia, questions about China are soon to follow, which they did. Stoltenberg provided the two sides of the debate: “The rise of China provides a lot of opportunities – for all of us.” China has fueled economic growth and has helped eliminate poverty. At the same time, however, there are some serious challenges. “China is a great power that doesn’t share our values,” Stoltenberg said. In purchasing power, it has already passed the US and will soon pass the EU. According to Stoltenberg, it is worrying that the soon-to-be largest economy in the world is one that monitors and controls its own population while also bullying other countries. In response, “we need to understand fundamental shifts in the balance of power which is caused by the rise of China,” he said. 

A new American administration 

Two days after Stoltenberg’s keynote speech, the US would be inaugurating a new President. Many students were therefore curious about Stoltenberg’s thoughts on this change in a major ally’s leadership. Although he seemed hesitant to answer at first, it did become clear that Stoltenberg respects Biden. “I look forward to working with Biden and Harris… I spoke with Biden after the elections and I know him as a very strong supporter of NATO… He knows Europe and he knows NATO.”

The already mentioned rise of China makes NATO even more important for the US. “The US needs friends. And in NATO they have 29 friends and allies!” If the US is indeed concerned about the rise of China, “then it’s even more important to keep these friends close,” Stoltenberg explained.  

Environmental and cyber threats 

As one of the more pertinent issues, environmental challenges and climate change were brought up as well. Stoltenberg’s take on it was rather straightforward: “Climate change is important because it affects our security.” It will also be a conflict multiplier, forcing people to move. He did add that: “NATO is not going to be the main platform for negotiations on climate agreements.” Instead, NATO’s responsibility “is to address the security consequences of climate change.” Addressing such consequences will add to the urgency and will, hopefully, make it easier for those who are negotiating climate agreements, he explained.

While environmental threats have been around for a while, the potential for a cyber-attack is relatively new. Yet, NATO seems prepared: “Not so long ago, we actually decided that a cyber-attack can trigger article 5 – meaning we regard a potential cyber-attack as damaging and as serious as a conventional attack.” According to Stoltenberg, it is absolutely impossible for future conflicts not to have a cyber dimension.

After answering the final question, Stoltenberg turned his attention to those watching again: “It’s been a great honor to address this distinguished audience,” he said.


(c) An article written by Meike Eijsberg, PSIA student in the Master in International Public Management, 2021


More information about the Youth & Leaders Summit 2021Watch all the sessions replays.

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