Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the NATO Defence Ministers meetings

  • 22 Jun. 2015
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  • Last updated: 22 Jun. 2015 18:26

(As delivered)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg previews upcoming meeting of NATO Defence Ministers during a press conference given at NATO headquarters

Good afternoon.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the NATO defence ministers will meet. And the main issue will be how NATO is adapting to a new and more challenging security environment. This is an environment which is more complex and more demanding than it has been for a long time.

NATO is responding to this new security environment with solidarity and with resolve.

And just a few days ago I visited Poland, and there I saw the new Spearhead Force exercising. And this is the first deployment on an exercise of this newly established, very high readiness joint task force or Spearhead force of NATO.

And the establishment of this new Spearhead Force and the exercise in Poland, sends a very clear signal about that NATO is here. And NATO is ready.

Seven European Allies will lead the force over the coming years. Six new small headquarters across the eastern part of the Alliance are being set up. And all Allies are making substantial contributions to our strengthened presence in the air, at sea and on the ground.

At our defence ministerial this week, we will take new steps to strengthen our collective defence. So we can respond to the challenges even faster and more effectively.

First, we will take decisions to further increase the strength and the capability of the NATO Response Force. All together, it will amount to between 30,000 and 40,000 troops – more than double its previous size.

The centerpiece of this enhanced NATO Response Force is the Spearhead Force. Its land component was decided in February to be a brigade. At the meeting this week, we will approve the air, sea and special forces components of the new Spearhead Force.

The second decision I expect ministers to make related to how we are increasing the readiness and the responsiveness of our forces, is that we will speed up our political and military decision-making to enable a rapid deployment of the NATO Response Force, while maintaining full political control.

To further promote faster decisions, we will have more detailed and advanced plans which is key to be able to deploy forces quickly.

We are giving our Supreme Commander, SACEUR, more authority to prepare our troops for deployment and get them ready to go once the political decision is made.

And third, we will set up a new logistics headquarters within the NATO command structure, better to coordinate and manage the movement of our forces across Alliance territory and their central supplies.

So these are some of the decisions which we are going to take and I expect the ministers to take. And they are important decisions for NATO’s adaptation to a new and more challenging security environment.

But adaptation requires an increased investment in defence.

We have just published the Allies’ defence spending figures for 2014, and we have also published estimates for 2015.

This year, we expect five Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence and these Allies are Estonia, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Eighteen Allies are expected to increase their defence expenditure in real terms.

This is good news. But the picture is mixed. Overall, we expect total NATO defence expenditure to continue to decrease in 2015 by 1.5 percent. And this comes on top of a steady decline in especially European NATO Allies defence expenditure during a long period of time.

So we need to redouble our efforts to reverse this trend. Because we are facing more challenges, and we cannot do more with less indefinitely. I will take the question of defence expenditure up with the ministers when we meet on Wednesday and Thursday because this is key when it comes to both following up the decisions we made at our Summit last fall in Wales, but also preparing for the next Summit which will take place in Warsaw in July 2016.

On Thursday, the second day of the ministerial meeting we will also meet with Ukraine’s new defence minister in the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

We will there reaffirm our strong commitment to an independent, peaceful and prosperous Ukraine. And to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Finally, we will review progress made since the launch of our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan at the start of the year. And the evolution of this mission.

And we will look at how we will continue to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in the longer term.

They continue to face considerable challenges. I strongly condemn the attack on the Afghan parliament today. This is an attack on democracy.

The Afghan forces stand their ground. They, and the Afghan people, deserve our full support.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR [Oana Lungescu – NATO Spokesperson]:  We’ll start with the gentlemen over there from Japanese media, second row, second row.

Q:  Thank you Mr Secretary General, this is Asadullah Ludin from RFE Afghanistan service. My question is about your commitment to Afghan National Security Forces, nowadays Afghan National Security Forces are faced with a deficit of equipment, heavy equipment in their forces and nowadays the fighting is getting increased in Afghanistan, not in provinces out of some districts out of control of ANSF. What’s your commitment for the equipment of Afghan National Security Forces? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO SECRETARY GENERAL):  We will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces and we do that along three strands. First of all we have the train, assist and advise mission, the Resolute Support Mission which is training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces. And we will assess the progress we have made since this mission started at the beginning of this year. The second strand is that we have decided to after the end of the Resolute Support Mission to move into what we call a long- term partnership or an enduring partnership. We have just started to address the content of this partnership but we aim at civilian-led mission but it’s going to be a military component of this new enduring partnership and of course the purpose of the enduring partnership with Afghanistan is to continue to support Afghanistan and also the Afghan National Security Forces. And the third commitment we have made is to continue to fund, to provide financial support for the Afghan National Security Forces. Of course in the long run every nation has to be able to take responsibility for its own security, I think also in the long run that’s better for everyone, but we will continue to support and we have decided to continue with a long-term partnership and therefore NATO is going to be there and to help the Afghans with protecting themselves and protecting Afghanistan as a democratic and unified country.

MODERATOR:  We’ll take three more questions over there because I know lots of people had their hands up so we’ll go to the second row, first there.

Q:  Japanese Daily Mainichi, my name is Saito. I have two questions if I may. One question is, I missed the point, you suggested that something changed your command structure, headquarter, could you elaborate a little bit? And second question, [inaudible] for discussion, but with partners, does some partners already took part in the NATO Response Force but is there any discussion to invite some partners to take part in the [inaudible], namely the enhanced opportunity partner five countries especially?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  So what I said was that we are going to establish a new logistic headquarters within the NATO command structure. And the reason why we are going to do that is that that will increase our capability and our capacity to coordinate and manage the movement of our forces across the territory of our Allied countries. And especially to manage supplies which is key when it comes to both the readiness and but also the sustainability of military forces. So everything related to logistics, supplies, transportation is key and we are going to then establish this new headquarters within the existing command structure which is going to address this issue in particular. When it comes to partners you are very right that partners have contributed to the NATO Response Force before and we are planning for that they can also do that in the future. Exactly how we are going to do that, well we have to discuss with partners but we are very positive and I’m very committed myself to make sure that we will find ways of making sure that partners can contribute to the NATO Response Force in the future. And you have to remember that the Spearhead Force, the very high-readiness joint task force, is part of the NATO Response Force. I’m certain that we will find practical ways of doing this so we can still invite partner countries to contribute to the NATO Response Force also in the future.

MODERATOR:  Gentleman over there, second row.

Q: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary.  I am Noorzad from Afghanistan Noorin TV.  In these days the insecurity and Taliban attack increased in Afghanistan very much. Today, as you mentioned, there was a group attack on Afghanistan Parliament and also Taliban overran two district and northern Kunduz provinces. Would these attack change the timeline of NATO mission in Afghanistan? If needed would NATO extend the current resolute support beyond 2016?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  As we haven’t made any final decision related to the duration of the Resolute Support Mission, so that is among the decisions which we have to make but it’s not made yet. But of course it has to be discussed within the Alliance and then we will make the final decision. But we have already decided that even after we end the Resolute Support Mission we will move into a new enduring partnership and we have started to discuss with the Afghan Government the content of this new partnership and it’s going to be a partnership, enduring partnership where we will continue to find ways of supporting and helping Afghanistan in protecting itself against terrorists and maintaining, make sure that Afghanistan remains a unified, united and democratic society. I think we all were aware of that, that there were many challenges, it was not going to be easy for Afghanistan to take the full responsibility for its own security, helped and supported by NATO, but still having the main responsibility when NATO ended its combat mission. But as some stage after 13 years I think the time had come to end the combat mission and to give more of the direct responsibility of managing the challenges in Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. And the Afghan National Security Forces is a capable, big strong force of 350,000 soldiers and police and we will continue to help them and then we will stay in close dialogue with Afghanistan, I’m looking forward also to meet the acting new Minister of Defence who is coming from Afghanistan to participate at the meeting we have here later on this week and then we can address the challenges in Afghanistan.

MODERATOR:  Second row left.

Q: Thank you very much. Thank you Secretary General. Since you know that ISIS activators are in crisis in Afghanistan do you think it’s a big threat for Afghanistan and for the region? And also if Afghan Government ask you, ask NATO to help them to secure the election which is ahead in 2016, maybe end of 2016, will you help them or what? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Again I think that the fundamental idea is that we have been in Afghanistan for many, many years. It’s by far the largest NATO operation ever, at some, at the peak we were around 140,000 troops and NATO Allies and many, many partner countries have contributed a lot. So there has not been any NATO operation that has been bigger, longer lasting than the operation in Afghanistan. We decided some years ago to end the, last year to end the, we decided to end the combat mission and the combat mission ended at the end of this, of last year. And we did so because we believed that in the long run it’s better for Afghanistan and it’s better for all of us that the Afghans themselves take responsibility for their own security. We will continue to support and help. We are now focusing on the Resolute Support Mission which I think is important, it’s about training, advise and assist. And I also believe that in the long run it’s better to project stability by helping local forces, in this case Afghan Forces, instead of always deploying large number of foreign forces into a country like Afghanistan. And as I said we will continue to, we will continue to support Afghanistan financially, with advice, with training, exactly how we’ll do it and exactly how we will move from the Resolute Support Mission to the enduring partnership well that remains to be decided. We will make those decisions in close dialogue with the Afghan Government and I’m looking forward to discuss exactly those issues with the acting Afghan Defence Minister who’s coming here on Thursday.

MODERATOR:  Associated Press.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  So ISIS is of great concern and it just underlines the importance of continuing to support the Afghan National Security Forces.

MODERATOR:  Associated Press.

Q: John Dahlberg from the Associated Press. Secretary General if I could ask you to comment on the meetings taking place across town today, is NATO concerned that a failure for, between Greece and its creditors to come to an agreement on what to do with the Greek economy and a departure of Greece from the Eurozone might have consequences for European of Transatlantic Security? You mentioned Greece as one of the five countries to make its 2 % commitment.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  So I welcome very much the efforts made by the European Union, the Commission, the creditors and Greece to try to find a solution. And I think this is a very demanding and very difficult challenge and I think it will only become more difficult if I start to give them advice. So I will leave that to them and I think it’s up to the European Union and Greece to find a solution. But what I will underline is that of course it will be a great advantage for us all if they are able to find a solution and therefore I support all efforts to try to find a solution because that will contribute to a more predictable development in Europe that’s good for the, for Europe but is of course also good for the stability and the predictability surrounding NATO and I think that’s important also for NATO.

MODERATOR:  NPR/CBS.

Q: Terry Schultz with NPR and CBS. Secretary, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is saying that he won’t let Russia drag NATO and the Allies back to the past saying that this is looking more and more like a cold war scenario. Every reassurance, everything that you call a reassurance measure is met with a fairly aggressive response by Moscow, increasing the nuclear arsenal for example. Do you feel like things are moving back to a cold war mentality and how would you assess right now the status of the so-called Minks Ceasefire? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  We are not in a cold war situation, but we are not in a strategic partnership with Russia either. And therefore we are facing something which is in between. The historic experience of cold war and what we strived to establish the strategic partnership with Russia after the end of the Cold War. We are responding and I think that if NATO hadn’t adapted when the security environment is changing then it would have been fair to criticise us, because there is no doubt that, that the security environment surrounding NATO is fundamentally changed. Both with the violence, the turmoil we see to the south with ISIL, violence spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. But also with the challenges we see to the east caused by more aggressive actions in Russia in Ukraine, Russia’s long-term and heavy investments in defence but also the behaviour we see of Russia when it comes to for instance an increased number of snap exercises which have been used as a disguise for annexing Crimea, sending forces, supplies, support into Eastern Ukraine to destabilize Eastern Ukraine and also their increased use of nuclear rhetoric, as a part of the total defence posture and the way they are messaging to neighbours and NATO Allies. So all of this requires that we are adapting and what NATO does is defensive, it’s proportionate and it’s fully in line with our international commitments. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t seek an arms race, we continue to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia. We continue to work for more predictability, transparency, especially related to military activities, exercises, this has has always been important. But it is even more important now because the military presence along the borders have increased and therefore it is very important to avoid that any situation spirals out of control and therefore predictability, transparency and part of these also arms control is and remains a key goal for NATO. But as I’ve stated several times there is no contradiction between strong defence and dialogue, actually we need strong defence, collective defence to have the foundation for engaging Russia in a political dialogue.

Q: And how do you think Minsk is going?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Minsk, well it’s a very fragile ceasefire but I can’t see any other alternative that, other than to continue to support the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Meaning the full respect for a ceasefire, they withdraw all the heavy weapons and to let the international monitors have full access to the area so they can monitor the ceasefire and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. And Russia has a special responsibility because Russia continues to support their separatists, heavy equipment, training and forces and therefore we call on all parties to respect the Minsk Agreements but Russia has a special responsibility to stop destabilizing Eastern Ukraine.

MODERATOR:  Wall Street Journal.

Q: Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal. A few times in recent weeks you’ve mentioned the growing use of nuclear rhetoric by Russia and I know it’s something that’s of concern to you and I wanted to ask, what exactly is NATO doing in response to this increased use of nuclear messaging?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  The nuclear messaging of Russia is destabilizing, it’s unjustified and I also characterized it as dangerous. Because what we learned during the Cold War is that everything related to nuclear weapons has to be dealt with in a very cautious way, in a predictable way and this nuclear sabre rattling is not the right way of addressing the challenges we face, especially today with increased tensions. The nuclear sabre rattling is part of the picture which has made it necessary for NATO to adapt, to increase the readiness of our forces, the preparedness of our forces, to have increased military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance with more ships at sea, planes in the air and troops on the ground on a rotational basis. And it’s also the reason why we are establishing the new small headquarters, the high readiness of our forces, to respond to the overall picture and the nuclear rhetoric is part of this overall picture. As we have stated many times we will still rely on deterrence in NATO which is a mix of conventional forces, missile defence and nuclear forces and that will also be the case in the future.

MODERATOR:  We had the Ukrainian TV, over there.

Q: Thanks. Alex Bobrovnick of One Plus One Media Ukraine. Sir, so you have the, you have specific section on Ukraine this week, that’s clear, you have our new Defence Minister coming to Brussels so could you please update on us on, on some exact agenda that you plan to discuss with those folks here? We have our Foreign Ministry remarks, some representatives of our Foreign Minister remarks these days saying that they, they plan, they dream of some, I don’t know some massive bundle of mutual projects that you plan to announce this week, well I just want to hear what do you, what you could please update us on that. That’s one thing and the other is, if you don’t mind, is how do you feel, how do you see the, the impact of western sanctions upon Russia on the military build-up of Russia? Does it, do you see any, any corresponding signals that may show that they do have some impact on that? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  So first the main purpose of the NATO Ukraine Council Commission meeting on Thursday is to confirm and to show NATO solidarity with Ukraine. And we are supporting Ukraine politically and in practical terms. We provide strong political support for Ukraine for its territorial integrity and sovereignty and we of course support the political efforts to try to find a peaceful solution based on the Minsk Agreements. And we will reaffirm that and express strong political support for Ukraine and for the efforts to find a peaceful solution based on the Minsk Agreements. Second we provide practical support for Ukraine, we have established different trust funds and we help them with cyber, with logistics, with command and control and in different other areas we provide practical support for them to improve, to modernize, to reform their defence forces. In addition of course several Allies, NATO Allies, provide practical support on the bilateral level and I also welcome efforts by several Allies to support Ukraine in different ways. The second question was about?

Q: It was about military build-up of Russia.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Yeah, and sanctions yeah. So first of all I welcome these sanctions and I also welcome the decision by the European Union to prolong the sanctions, the decision taken today, and I think that’s a good thing because the sanctions are a strong signal and a clear message that it has consequences when a country behaves in the way Russia has done in Ukraine, illegally and violating international law when it annexed Crimea and continuing to destabilize Eastern Ukraine. And I think it’s very important that this has consequences and the economic sanctions have impact on the Russian economy and together with the European Union, United States, they have imposed, and some other countries have imposed economic sanctions, NATO has provided deterrents, increased readiness of our forces and in combination I’m certain that this contribute to an understanding that sooner or later will also change the behaviour of Russia and they have to understand that they will gain more from cooperating with NATO instead of continuing to confront NATO and violate international law.

MODERATOR:  Russian media, on the third row.

Q: I’m [inaudible], Kommersant Daily Russia. My question is about the information that the USA is planning to store some heavy weaponry in the Baltic region and in some Eastern European countries. First will this topic be discussed during the meeting? And second how could you answer it to the Russian authorities what they say that this decision will be a violation of the Russian NATO Founding Act of 1997? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Prepositioning of equipment is, as planned by and discussed by NATO and NATO Allies is in no way violating the NATO Russia Founding Act. Everything we do is defensive, it’s proportionate and it’s fully in line with our international commitments. We addressed the question of pre-positioning when we made our decisions last fall at the NATO Summit. We decided there to increase the readiness and the preparedness of our forces and we are doing that step by step. I mentioned some elements which we’re going to discuss at our meeting later on, later on this week related to the air, the sea and the special operation forces and the more rapid decision-making and better planning. Pre-positioning was addressed at our Wales Summit, we, we believe that pre-positioning is one element in, in increasing our readiness and increasing our ability to reinforce if needed. And I welcome also efforts by Allies and by the United States to support each other and I’m certain that we’re also going to discuss the question of pre-positioning at our Defence Ministerial Meeting later on this week.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much that’s all we have time for now but we will see you later this week. Thank you.