Nato head tells Davos elite that freedom more important than profit

Stoltenberg calls Nord Stream 2 fiasco a ‘key lesson’ and cautions against Chinese control of 5G networks

The secretary general of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, has warned political and business leaders gathered in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos against trading their security for short-term economic interests, saying the Ukraine war has shown how economic relations with authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China can create "vulnerabilities".

"We must recognise that our economic choices have consequences for our security," Mr Stoltenberg said in an address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday. "Freedom is more important than free trade."

While the Nato chief said globalisation and the breaking down of trade barriers has had many economic benefits in recent decades, it had also left Europe, for example, highly dependent on Russian oil and gas.

Efforts to impose an EU-wide phasing out of Russian oil imports are currently being resisted by Hungary. While the EU is also trying to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, which accounted for 40 per cent of demand across the union before the war, a ban is not on the table.


Key lesson

Mr Stoltenberg said the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which was designed to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany, was a key lesson. Germany halted the certification of the line on February 22nd, days before Russia attacked its neighbour.

Mr Stoltenberg said he was not arguing against trade with China, "but I am saying, for instance, the control over 5G networks is of vital security importance", he said. "We cannot say that in the interest of profits and free trade, we just open up those networks also for suppliers that actually are not reliable when it comes to our security."

Mr Stoltenberg described Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “game-changer” for the global order, adding that Nato’s role is to avoid the conflict from spreading while continuing to help Ukraine defend itself.

The decisions by Finland and Sweden last week to seek Nato membership demonstrated that "European security will not be dictated by violence and intimidation", he added.

Elsewhere at the WEF, Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, said at a panel discussion on geopolitics that voices "in the west" calling for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia to end the war "are deeply mistaken".


“They will fight until their last breath,” said Mr Duda, who travelled to Kyiv over the weekend to become the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war. He added that Ukraine cannot make territorial concessions after “so much blood” of its citizens had been spilled.

His comments came a day after former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said at the WEF that Ukraine should accept giving up part of its territory to reach a peace deal with Russia.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said earlier this month that French president Emmanuel Macron had also urged him to give up land in exchange for peace and avoid backing Russian president Vladimir Putin into a corner.

Italy's prime minister, Mario Draghi, and the Germany chancellor, Olaf Scholz, have also recently talked of seeking a "ceasefire", something that would likely increase the chances of the Kremlin retaining captured land during peace talks.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times