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North Korean threat is 'most significant' change in 2017

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reflects on the increased threat from North Korea and US President Donald Trump's "different" style as significant developments in 2017.

Brussels (dpa) - North Korea's accelerated efforts to build nuclear weapons has been the most important security development in 2017, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told dpa in an interview, noting that he expected increased dialogue with Russia in 2018.

dpa: Secretary General, if you compare 2016 with 2017, how has the security situation developed?

Jens Stoltenberg: Perhaps the most significant new element in 2017 compared to 2016 is North Korea, which has stepped up its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long range missiles. They did so also before, but they are stepping up their efforts, more testing and they are testing more longer range missiles and bigger nuclear warheads.

dpa: Is deterrence a sufficient answer to the unpredictable threat from North Korea?

JS: NATO countries have responded to missile and nuclear weapon threats for decades, and the way we have done that is through deterrence. And it has proven an effective response. [...]

But that's not our only response. [...] We are putting maximum pressure on North Korea. Diplomatic political and economic. And I welcome that the economic sanctions on North Korea has been stepped up. And that they are now implemented to a higher degree than before. Especially the fact that China, a neighbour, is supporting stronger sanctions is of great importance. China and Russia have a special responsibility because there are members of the UN Security Council and they are neighbouring countries.

dpa: Germany is pushing for more direct dialogue with Russia, including at the military level. The US and other allies have been very critical of this. What chance do you see for this proposal?

JS: We need to address the fact that we see a more assertive Russia to the east. At the same time, NATO's message is that we don't want a new Cold War. We don't want a new arms race and we want political dialogue with Russia.

After years without any direct dialogue in the NATO-Russia framework, we have been able to reactivate that with NATO-Russia Council meetings where we address Ukraine, transparency. [...] We have also after a long period without any contact, without being able to use the military lines of communications, both, chairman of the military committee and SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe, one of NATO's two strategic commanders) - they talked with [Russian] General [Valery] Gerasimov (the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia).

And I expect there will be more meetings and also more use of these direct military lines of communications. So we are moving forward both on the political dialogue and the military lines of communications and the whole alliance is behind that.

dpa: At this year's NATO summit, US President Trump was openly critical of the EU for not meeting NATO defence targets, among other things. He also failed to endorse NATO's Article 5, guaranteeing mutual protection. How did you experience the summit?

JS: It's nothing new that the United States wants fairer burden sharing in the alliance. [...] President Trump expressed that clearly. He has language and a style which is different than that of many other political leaders. But the content of the message, that we need fairer burden sharing, is a message that has been expressed also by previous administrations. The good thing is that Europe is now stepping up. [...]

If we want stronger European defence, of course, we have to invest more in Europe. There's no way you can get stronger European defence without spending more. It's very hard to be in favour of a stronger European defence and not in favour of increased European defence spending. That's two sides of the same coin.

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