The head of NATO has expressed concern at Donald Trump’s plans to put troops on the streets of US cities to control protests, saying that decision should only ever be “a last resort”.
In an interview with Sky News, Jens Stoltenberg said “the right of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful demonstrations, that’s a fundamental part of our open free democratic societies and these are core”.
“When it comes to the use of military there is different legislation across NATO allied countries, but in all NATO allied countries it’s always regarded an effort of last resort, the use of military personnel,” he said.
“So this is fundamentally an issue that has to be decided by the US institutions, but across NATO it has always been a very high threshold for any use of military force in your own country.
“I am shocked, we are all shocked, by the death of George Floyd and I would like to express my condolences to his family, to his community.”
Mr Stoltenberg echoes Mr Trump‘s own defense secretary, Dr Mark Esper, who earlier this week said troops should only be used “in the most urgent and dire of situations”.
The White House was reported to be furious with the comments and Mr Trump reportedly later “excoriated” Dr Esper.
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Mr Stoltenberg’s words are notable because he is typically reserved and diplomatic when asked about allies, and is known to have a good working relationship with Mr Trump.
However, he joins a growing list of senior military officers and politicians who have spoken out against the US president.
Former US defense secretary James Mattis accused Mr Trump of trying to divide America in a letter published on Wednesday. Then Mr Trump’s former Chief of Staff General John Kelly described the President as “nasty” and “confused”.
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Mr Stoltenberg also admitted in the interview that lessons will be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and that NATO is already preparing for a second wave:
“There are lessons to be learned, there are of course things that can be improved, and that is the reason why we are now starting to look into the more long-term lessons learned from this crisis to make sure the next time we are able to react faster and more than we did this time,” he said.
“We are now actually working on a plan for a second wave of the coronavirus to be able to speed up and step up our efforts.”
Mr Stoltenberg was also critical of countries who have used the pandemic to attack NATO.
“What we have seen is that both China and Russia have publicly tried to utilise the pandemic, the coronavirus crisis, to sow discord and disunity among NATO allies,” he said.
“They have tried to blame NATO allies for the coronavirus, they have tried to send a message about lack of support between NATO allies and so on.
“The rise of China is fundamentally a shift in the global balance of power. NATO has to be able to respond to this and the COVID-19 pandemic can only increase the reason for us having to deal with the rise of China.”