International

NATO chief: ‘Freedom is more important than free trade’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday the protection of freedom is more important than free trade and expressed regret for the West’s reliance on Russian energy.

Stoltenberg emphasized that expanding international trade and globalization have brought great wealth and prosperity.

“But we must recognize that our economic choices had consequences for our security,” Stoltenberg said. “Freedom is more important than free trade. The protection of our values is more important than profit.”

In the 1990s, Stoltenberg, then Norway’s minister of energy, thought expanding the European gas market with supplies from North Africa and Russia would be beneficial. But he said partnerships like that, and the now-scrapped Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, gave Russia too much leverage.

He said relying on Moscow for such a crucial commodity “provides Russia with a tool to intimidate and to use against us.”

The U.S. and its NATO allies have imposed punishing sanctions on Russia’s leaders and its central bank, while dozens of multinational countries have shut down operations in the country — most recently McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

Stoltenberg called out China as well, which has been accused of systematically stealing intellectual property and other forms of commercial espionage. Stoltenberg said China’s role in building out 5G networks in Europe is a vital security consideration.

“We should not trade long-term security needs for short-term economic interests,” he added.

China remains the dominant player in the global 5G race, though the U.S. under former President Trump made it a priority to start catching up. 

Stoltenberg said that while he was not arguing against trade with China, it was crucial that mutual economic benefits do not come at the cost of undermining international order, and he stressed the importance of European and North American partnerships between like-minded countries. 

​​“In the spirit of Davos, I count on you, too,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg’s speech comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine is compounding global inflation, particularly in food and energy costs, and threatens to push millions around the world into hunger due to closing off Ukraine’s export markets. 

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, on Tuesday condemned Russia’s use of hunger and grain to gain power, calling their actions “blackmail” during a speech at the Davos forum. 

“Global cooperation is the antidote to Russia’s blackmail,” she added.

But despite the growing economic pressure to end the war, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova stressed during a speech in Washington on Monday that “peace at any cost is not in anyone’s interest.”

“Either you win and you can live peacefully in your own country, or you die, and it doesn’t matter whether you die quickly, right away from the shells, or you die slowly [from] occupation and torture,” she said.

Tags china trade Jens Stoltenberg Jens Stoltenberg NATO Oksana Markarova Russia-Ukraine war Ursula von der Leyen Ursula von der Leyen

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