North Korea, Russia and ISIS Make World Most Dangerous in a Generation, Says NATO Chief

Estonia’s Prime Minister Juri Ratas listens to the speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a visit to the NATO battle group soldiers at Tapa Army Base, in Estonia, on September 6. Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

With North Korea's nuclear ambition, Islamist extremism and Russia's military dreams of recapturing Soviet prestige in world politics, the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation, NATO's top diplomat has warned.

Jens Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway and now NATO's secretary general, told The Guardian he has not known a more precarious time in his 30-year career.

"It is more unpredictable, and it's more difficult because we have so many challenges at the same time," he said in an exclusive interview. "We have proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, we have terrorists, instability, and we have a more assertive Russia," Stoltenberg said on the sidelines of his visit to Estonia. "It is a more dangerous world."

Estonia and its fellow Baltics, Latvia and Lithuania, are some of the NATO members most concerned by Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The event triggered a fallout in relations between Russia and the West from which there has yet to be recovery.

NATO has formed four multinational battalions to the region and a mission of fewer than a dozen jets to keep an eye out for any potential Russian incursions. Russia has accused the alliance of carrying out aggressive action and will this month participate in simulated warfare in bordering Belarus.

Russia has long claimed that the drill, which it occurs once every four years, will only involve 13,000 troops. But a handful of NATO allies have expressed serious doubt that this will be the case, especially since Moscow has a track record of expanding the scope of such drills through chicanery.

"Russia has said it is below 13,000. They briefed that on the NATO-Russia council a few weeks ago," Stoltenberg said. "That was useful, but at the same time, we have seen when Russia says that an exercise has less than 13,000 troops that's not always the case. We have seen that in Zapad 2009 and 2013, the two previous Zapad exercises: There were many more troops participating."

Stoltenberg also cited the rising threat of North Korea extending its nuclear missile capabilities and trading inflammatory rhetoric with U.S. President Donald Trump. Speaking at an Estonian airbase only 75 miles from the Russian border, Stoltenberg gave a cagey retort when asked if he supported Trump's threats of "fire and fury" to North Korea.

"If I started to speculate about potential military options, I would only add to the uncertainty and difficulty of the situation, so I think my task is not to be contribute to that," he said. "I will support efforts to find a political, negotiated solution," he said.

He stressed that the priority now was to seek a "political solution to the crisis."

"At the same time I fully understand and support the military message that has been implemented in the region by South Korea and to some extent Japan, as they have the right to defend themselves. They have a right to respond when they see these very aggressive actions. I also support the presence of U.S. troops and capabilities in Korea."