NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has first-hand experience in dealing with a crisis that forced him out of his office. Now he’s been working from home again along with millions of others all over the world, tackling an attack not from a terrorist this time but from a virus.
“My life is affected like everyone else’s,” Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten after releasing NATO’s annual report last week. “I follow the rules that are recommended. If I do work from NATO headquarters, they take my temperature and make sure I stay at a distance from people.”
His usually hectic travel schedule has been cut to a minimum, as have meetings, and he’s worked from an albeit elegant home in Brussels, but he’s been alone there. His wife, Norwegian diplomat Ingrid Schulerud, is stuck in quarantine in Oslo and Stoltenberg thinks it will be a long time before he’ll see his family again.
“I’m prepared that it will be more difficult to travel home (to Oslo),” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. “I’ve already cancelled one trip and I don’t know when I can get to Norway next time.” His sister, Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, has also been in quarantine after close colleagues at the Norwegian public health institute she leads, tested positive for the virus.
“Camilla is my big sister and has always taken care of me,” Stoltenberg mused. “She’s a fundamentally responsible person, and I’m certain she can still take care of her job and the great responsibility she has right now.”
“There are lots of people who are much worse off than me, though, I can’t complain,” Stoltenberg said. “This is a difficult situation for many people now.” He said he misses his family and grown children but they keep in touch over various digital platforms.
Proud of how most people react
The former Norwegian prime minister also had to quickly adjust to working under radically altered circumstance and handling a crisis after a right-ring Norwegian terrorist bombed government offices in Oslo, and then massacred 69 young members of Stoltenberg’s Labour Party in July 2011. He was proud of how the Norwegian people then, and he’s proud now, too.
“All crises are different,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. “July 22 was a national crisis, the Corona crisis is global and of course completely different, but the common factor is how such crises bring out the best in us. I’m really touched by all the solidarity and how folks take care of each other.” He didn’t want to get into a political debate, but said he had “great respect” for how Norwegian authorities are “handling a difficult situation.”
NATO itself has had to cancel or abort some major military exercises because of the Corona crisis, including the Cold Response winter exercises held in Northern Norway. He claimed NATO’s ability to carry out operations, though, has not been undermined, stressing that the Corona crisis has not weakened preparedness.
Put to the test
That preparedness was tested earlier this month, when seven Russian warships suddenly sailed into the North Sea. Norwegian Broadasting (NRK) reported Friday on how a NATO force led by the Norwegian frigate KNM Otto Sverdrup responded by sending nine British vessels from the Royal Navy plus a Danish frigate and a German supply ship. The Russian vessels were kept under surveillance for several days.
“It was absolutely necessary for us to go into the area where the Russian ships were,” Ynge Skoglund, flag commander and leder of NATO’s standing maritime force in the area, told NRK. It remains unclear what the Russians were up to, but some speculate it was a response to the Cold Response exercises in Norway.
NATO members remain under commitments to boost defense spending to at least 2 percent of gross national product, but it’s proceeding slowly. Two more NATO countries, Romania and Bulgaria, reached the goal last year, bringing the total to nine with 20 more members still failing to do so.
Norway edged up from 1.73 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent last year and has vowed to reach the 2 percent goal by 2024 deadline. With many NATO countries including Norway suddenly facing huge expenses from the Corona crisis, though, state funds are also having to be channeled into many other areas such as health care and covering skyrocketing unemployment expenses.