December 9, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares At the NATO Public Forum – United States Department of State

14 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Madrid, Spain

IFEMA

MS MARTIN:  All right, great.  Everyone ready and settled?  On behalf of the Atlantic Council and all of the other partners to this – to this event, I welcome you and I thank you for spending this time with us after a very long day.  I’m so delighted to have with us the Foreign Minister of Spain, José Manuel Albares, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.  We’re just going to get right into our conversation.  And I’m Michel Martin; I’m the – one of the hosts of All Things Considered from National Public Radio in the United States, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and we do hope you’re all supporters and contributors.  (Laughter.)  All of you who can.

Foreign Minister, if I may start with you.  Obviously, the war in Ukraine has focused the world’s attention on NATO, if it needed any more attention.  But there are NATO member partners who are far away from the action.  How do you maintain urgency and focus on the issues that are important to NATO members when their – your populations who are far away from the conflict are mainly experiencing the conflict as inflation, increased gas prices, increased food prices?  I mean, how do you maintain a sense of urgency around resolving that conflict when most people really aren’t experiencing it excepting secondary considerations which are very important to them?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Yeah, all public opinions in Europe, and clearly here in Spain – we are very, very far from the eastern flank and from Russia – understood very quickly, starting in February 24, that something had changed dramatically that day.  War – conventional war and full to scale – was back on European soil.  And we were heading towards a new security Euro-Atlantic order, and therefore what was happening there really concerned us.  And it was also a threat to us.  So, the public opinion is supportive – we see the polls in Spain – to ask joining all the other European partners and our natural allies, the United States, are very, very high.  And I think that this summit is showing that that’s not uncompatible with taking also a look to other threats coming from the south or hybrid threats that can happen in the east or in the south.

So, at the same time, there is this awareness that what’s going on in the east concerns us very directly because it’s a change in the European order of avoiding war as a way of solving conflicts; and at the same time all concerns – east and south – are really, really under the Madrid Strategic Concept.

MS MARTIN:  Mr. Secretary, easy for me to say because I haven’t been in all those meetings, but one could make an argument that this has been the easy part, funneling weapons to Ukraine, maintaining solidarity around helping Ukraine maintain a defense.  One can make an argument that the hard part is yet to come, pivoting to a diplomatic solution which at some point has to take place.  Are there any meaningful negotiations going on?  If so, who’s taking part in them?  And if there aren’t, what would trigger them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Michel, first I think we have to recognize that the hard part is every single day for people in Ukraine.  The death, the destruction being wrought by the Russian aggression – some of which we see on our screens, much of which we don’t – is extraordinary, and the Ukrainians are living this every single day.  So that’s the hard part.  And —

MS MARTIN:  Agreed.  But for people who are not directly —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

MS MARTIN:  — affected by the conflict, for other member nations like your two.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So – but I just wanted to start with that because I think it’s so important that we don’t lose sight of that basic fact.

Second, José Manuel is exactly right:  I think that what we’ve seen is a recognition throughout Europe and beyond that the aggression against Ukraine is also an aggression against some very basic principles that do underlie the international order.  And if we allow them to be challenged with impunity, then we risk opening a Pandora’s box.  And I think people feel that, and of course this is the worst aggression in Europe since World War II.  So, all of that is felt.

But to your question, I’d also say a tremendous amount of work went into building, together, the capacity to support the Ukrainians, put pressure on the Russians, and reinforce our Alliance.  That didn’t just happen.  It was the result of a tremendous amount of engagement, including by the United States, over many, many months to do this work together.  Now it has to be sustained; it has to be sustained in terms of the support for the Ukrainians.  We heard from President Zelenskyy today.  It has to be sustained in terms of continuing to keep the pressure on Russia, and President Biden was clear from the start that that would impose some costs on us, but the stakes required it.  And it requires us to do what we’ve done today and will do tomorrow at NATO, which is to, in ways we haven’t seen in a generation, reinforce our own Alliance – a defensive Alliance, not an Alliance threatening anyone, not an Alliance designed to be against Russia, but to make sure that its members can adequately defend themselves.

MS MARTIN:  Agreed.  When will a diplomatic solution be on the table —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So —

MS MARTIN:  — and is one in the offing?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — to use a very —

MS MARTIN:  Whose – what would – what would (inaudible)?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  To use a very hackneyed expression, it takes two to tango.  And we have not seen any interest on the part of Vladimir Putin in engaging in any kind of meaningful diplomatic initiative.  But in any event, as we’ve said from the start, it’s really important that the Ukrainians define the terms of any potential negotiation.  Our role right now is to make sure that they have the means in their hands to continue to repel the Russian aggression, and when a negotiating table eventually does emerge, which at some point it will, that they have the strongest possible hand to play at the negotiating table.

MS MARTIN:  Just a brief follow-up on – just on that point.  There have been obviously sort of very disturbing military actions taking place while you all were meeting.  There was a missile attack on a shopping center, for example.  Do you interpret that in any particular way?  Do you think that that was a signal of some sort?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Well, as Tony was saying, for me it’s a signal that on the other side, on Vladimir Putin’s mind, the idea of a dialogue, even of a ceasefire, is very, very far.  It’s a way of saying, this is a full-scale conventional war.  And I want to remind everyone, because this is something that is known but we have a tendency to forget it, for many months we said in all formats – OECD, Russia-NATO Council, Normandy Format, bilateral dialogue – to try to solve —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  — any problem that Russia could have concerning its security.  And right now, what we are seeing is that there is no one day in which civilians are killed or bombed.

So, for me, we all agree that dialogue would have been the best way to discuss anything, but unfortunately, Vladimir Putin doesn’t agree with us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to add one thing because this is important.

MS MARTIN:  Sure, of course.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  José Manuel makes a really important point, especially because we’re here at NATO.  There was a fiction that Vladimir Putin tried to advance that this was somehow about a threat that NATO posed to Russia or that Ukraine posed to Russia.  It was never about that, and it remains clear that it never will be.

What this is about is Vladimir Putin’s conviction that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country.  It’s not about a threat that NATO poses.  It’s not about a threat that Ukraine poses.  And unless and until he gives up on this fixation on trying to end Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere.

MS MARTIN:  So, the stated goal of this conversation was NATO after Madrid, and I want to talk about some of those issues.

Another issue – there were two significant recent disasters affecting both of your countries, both related to irregular immigration, just in the last couple of weeks.  In Melilla, at least 37 people died attempting to cross; in the United States, at least 50 people died who were being smuggled into the country.  Given that both of your countries, our countries, are natural – they’re national borders, but they’re also NATO borders.  I mean, is it time for NATO to turn its attention to mass migration in some meaningful way and to put some urgency behind that?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Yeah.  Well, the two – the two specific events that you pointed out is a human tragedy, and it’s appalling to all of us.  And what that points out is the complexity of the phenomenon of irregular migration and how both the origin and transit countries and the countries that we are receiving illegal migrants, we must cooperate as strongly as possible to try to channel and to deal with the challenge in the best way.

And at the same time, we are talking about borders in which inequality is probably at its most.  The Melilla border is a border between European Union and Africa, probably the most unequal and imbalanced border wherever reference you take – GDP, youth, whatever.  And it’s very complicated to try to channel those irregular flows.

So, we have to go also to the root causes, which is underdevelopment.  That’s why we have also to cooperate with all those countries.  And of course, the risk is always, as we saw in the Belarus border with Poland, that someone can use that as a weapon against our territorial integrity or our sovereignty.  That’s why, in the Strategic Concept of Madrid, irregular migration, if it’s used as a political tool, it can be a threat to our sovereignty.

MS MARTIN:  Agreed, but is NATO a vehicle to address this with urgency, to apply the same kind of urgency and focused attention to?  I think we would all agree it is a humanitarian disaster.  It’s a moral disaster.  And it also has claimed many, many lives, probably more than we even know.

So, Mr. Secretary, is this – is NATO an appropriate vehicle to address this as well?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The first thing we have to recognize is we are living a historic moment when it comes to irregular migration and migration of all sorts.  There are more people on the move around the world – 100 million forcibly displaced in one way or another from their homes – more than at any time since we’ve actually recorded these facts and this information.  And it is happening across the world, in our own hemisphere, on our own border.

One of the interesting things, Michel, is that the United States and Spain – I’ll leave aside NATO for the minute – are working closely together, including in the Western Hemisphere, to try to deal with the irregular migration that we’re seeing there.  We just came back together – before coming to NATO, we were at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.  For the first time, the countries in our hemisphere, through what’s called the Los Angeles Declaration, said we have shared responsibilities when it comes to trying to deal with migration because not a single one of us alone can deal with it effectively.  And we are following through on a number of things that we’ve agreed to to try to work on this collectively.

Spain is a partner in this effort with other countries in the hemisphere, with the United States.  So for sure we need collective approaches to this.

MS MARTIN:  So, another question for both of you.  China.  I mean, is it your hopes that steps taken here will send a message to China?  And if so, what is it?  What’s the message?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  China is a permanently member of the Security Council, so their role must be to preserve world peace and stability.  That’s what we expect from China.  So that’s the main message from this summit to China.  What NATO wants is peace and stability in the world, and we hope to cooperate with them.  So, it’s to China to tell us if they want to engage with us in that way.

MS MARTIN:  What about you, Mr. Secretary?  Thoughts?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I very much agree.  The relationship that we all have with China is among the most complex and consequential of any relationship that we have with another country.  And there are aspects of the relationship that are clearly competitive, and we need to make sure that that competition is fair and engage in it very, very strongly.

At the same time, there are aspects increasingly where we have to contest what China is doing.  And one of the things that it’s doing is seeking to undermine the rules-based international order that we adhere to, that we believe in, that we helped build.  And in that sense, NATO has come together and said in its Strategic Concept this is the – basically the blueprint that we have for how we’re going to approach the world together.  For the first time, we have China as a feature of that Strategic Concept, a concern that all of the countries in NATO have.  Not looking for conflict but trying to make sure that together we’re upholding the rules-based international order – wherever it’s being challenged.  And if China’s challenging it in one way or another, we will stand up to that.

At the same time, as José Manuel said, there are areas where we hope to pursue cooperation.  But in 2010, the last time we had a Strategic Concept – a document that I know maybe some people’s eyes will glaze over, but it’s actually, really important to look at it, because it does define the road ahead for NATO, what it is this Alliance will be doing.  Yes, defending itself and trying to deter aggression from countries like Russia, dealing with all sorts of new transnational threats that didn’t even exist at the time the last Strategic Concept, in 2010, was written.

Back then, by the way, NATO was looking at Russia as a potential partner.  China was not even mentioned.  And of course, cyber security, outer space, challenges – hybrid challenges short of actual physical conflict, none of those things really featured in what we were thinking about.  Now, they are; now, they do.  And China’s a part of that.

MS MARTIN:  Just a very brief follow-up on this.  There were four Asia-Pacific countries that are partners – I think that’s the right term, partners.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

MS MARTIN:  NATO partners; they’re not NATO members, they’re NATO partners.  What role do you see them playing going forward?  Can you just – and could you be a little bit specific?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Well, NATO – although the main threat now comes from the eastern flank, and we have to look at the southern flank because this is a direct threat – NATO, in order to promote peace and stability – that’s all we want, must have a global look and – look at global affairs.  And there is where those partners are very important for us.  As Jordan or Mauritania in the southern flank, where Asian partners help us to better understand, to engage with people on those parts of the world, and to promote that rule-based order.

MS MARTIN:  Okay.  Before we let you go, just a final question for each of you, an open-ended question:  What do you see as the biggest challenge for NATO going forward?  I mean, some say it’s those – these gray zone countries like Georgia or Moldova, possibly Ukraine going forward, where these countries are looking to the West for security guarantees but they’re probably not going to be members of NATO.  Some people say it’s the illiberal tendencies that are emerging in countries that we thought to be settled democracies.  I don’t think I need to name them.

So, what do you see as the biggest challenge for NATO going forward?  And let’s say – Minister, we gave you the first word, so I’ll give Mr. Blinken the last word.  So, will you go first?

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Let me turn a little bit your question.  Threats are going to appear, and they can transform.  The real challenge for us is to keep united, and to keep the cohesion.  If we do it, we are showing it concerning the Russian threat.  We will always overcome whatever happens.  If we start to have divisions and to try to get different approaches, then even very small challenges can be very, very disruptive for us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That really should have been the last word, because I think it was perfect.

MS MARTIN:  But go ahead.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, first of all, it really is the unity that José Manuel talked about.  Because virtually none of the challenges that we have, whether it’s in the Euro-Atlantic area or beyond – and by the way, I think he’s exactly right about why the partnerships with other countries are so important.  We tend to look at our security in different silos.  We’ve had a transatlantic silo, we had an Asian silo, we have a hemispheric silo; we have to break them down.  Because virtually all of these problems touch on each of us, and there are different competencies and different perspectives and different assets that countries can bring to bear, if they’re working together.

What is so powerful about what we’ve done in the last day, and we’ll do tomorrow, is to reaffirm – in ways that I can’t remember us doing – the solidarity among our countries.  NATO is emerging from this summit more united, more focused, and with more assets to deal with the multiplicity of challenges.  There’s not a single one.  The immediate threat posed by Russia and its aggression on Ukraine and against the principles of the international order; the longer-term challenge posed by China; a whole series of transnational threats, to include climate and the effect that that has, including on generating conflict – all of these things are in our Strategic Concept, all of these things are challenges we have to meet and face; but we know that we’re going to be more effective in doing it if we actually have a shared common approach, and we’re bringing our shared weight to bear against them.  That’s what we’re doing here over these two days.

MS MARTIN:  Secretary of State Blinken, Minister José Manuel Albares, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’m sorry we don’t have time for questions, so I was told.  Thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Michel.  (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER ALBARES:  Thank you.

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