by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers
We have just addressed how our Alliance is responding to a changed security environment.
Europe is facing the greatest refugee and migrant crisis since the end of the Second World War.
Driven by conflict and instability on our southern borders, as well as the criminal networks that traffic in human suffering.
We have just agreed that NATO will provide support to assist with the refugee and migrant crisis.
This is based on a joint request by Germany, Greece and Turkey.
The goal is to participate in the international efforts to stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, is currently deployed in the region under German command.
It will be tasked to conduct reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of the illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea in cooperation with relevant authorities.
And to establish a direct link with the European Union’s border management agency Frontex.
As part of the agreement, Greek and Turkish armed forces will not operate in each other’s territorial waters or air space.
Our top military commander SACEUR is now directing the Standing NATO Maritime Group to move into the Aegean without delay.
And to start maritime surveillance activities.
Our military authorities will work out all the other details as soon as possible.
And Allies will be looking to reinforce this mission.
This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.
NATO will contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.
We will do so in cooperation with national coastguards, and working closely with the European Union.
We have also decided to intensify intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkey is on the front line of this crisis and this will complement the NATO assurance measures for Turkey which we decided in December.
It is important to respond swiftly. Because this crisis affects us all.
And all of us have to contribute in finding solutions.
Today, we also agreed to step up our support for the international coalition to counter ISIL.
We agreed in principle to use NATO AWACS surveillance planes to backfill national AWACS capabilities.
This is in response to the US request.
Our military planners are now working out the details.
The decision will increase the ability of the coalition to degrade and destroy the terrorist group ISIL, which is our common enemy.
Enhanced intelligence and surveillance is a key part of NATO’s response to hybrid threats, from the south and from the east.
We now have a detailed implementation plan for our hybrid strategy.
NATO is improving its ability to identify, recognise and attribute hybrid actions and to respond quickly.
We also took steps to increase our Allies’ resilience in areas that are vital in any crisis.
By setting baseline requirements in areas such as:
- continuity of government;
- energy supplies;
- food and water resources;
- telecoms and cyber networks;
- and transportation systems.
Resilience is primarily a national responsibility.
But both NATO and the European Union have a role in providing tools and advice in specific areas.
So to be more effective in countering hybrid threats, we are committed to working even more closely with the European Union.
We also discussed during our meeting today the situation in Afghanistan.
Ministers assessed the work of the Resolute Support mission.
They agreed that our training, advice, and assistance for the Afghan forces remains essential for stability in Afghanistan.
And they confirmed that the mission should continue to be kept under review, to ensure its effectiveness.
So with this I am now ready to take your questions.
QUESTION (BBC): On the support for the migrants and dealing with that, NATO Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is moving to the Aegean. Does it need reinforcing? Will other boats be required to go work where it currently is? And the question of support for the US-led coalition, Secretary Carter said you have been discussing how NATO can make an appropriate contribution. What do you think over and above AWACS is an appropriate contribution? And why is it being discussed 18 months after the coalition launched?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The Standing NATO Maritime Group number 2, which is in the region, will start to move now. And they will also start to collect information, to do surveillance, and thereby provide important information for the coast guards in Turkey, in Greece, and for also other authorities. So this will be something which will also come into effect immediately and where NATO will provide essential information and support.
Then we have to work on important issues and also to clarify some formal issues when it comes to, for instance, sharing information with Frontex. And we have also started that work immediately.
The Standing Maritime Group consists today of 3 ships, but several Allies have already announced that they are ready to reinforce this group. So I expect it to be increased in the near future.
So this is something we do, and we start to act immediately. But then we have to work on important issues related to, for instance, how we arrange the concrete cooperation with Frontex and the European Union.
And this is about helping Greece, Turkey, the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation. And helping them to manage a human tragedy in a better way than we have been able to do far
When it comes to the support of NATO to the counter-ISIL coalition. I think we have to remember that all NATO Allies already participate and contribute to the coalition. And for the coalition it is of great importance the interoperability, the experience which NATO Allies have developed over years to work together in military operations, as we now see in Syria and Iraq.
And this is also important because many NATO partners are also part of this coalition. So it is a great advantage for the coalition to be able to utilize the experience of NATO Allies and partners.
Second, NATO is also contributing to the efforts of the coalition to fight ISIL by our efforts to stabilize countries in the region. We work with Tunisia, we work with Jordan, we do capacity-building there. But we also will start very soon training of Iraqi forces.
Moreover, I would like to add that what we do in Afghanistan is also relevant. Because to keep, to maintain and to continue to support Afghanistan is part of a global effort to fight terror, and also to fight ISIL. So now we are looking into how we can step up our support. We will provide AWACS that will increase the capabilities of the coalition to fight ISIL and we will of course assess constantly if we should do more.
QUESTION (WSJ): Mr Secretary General, if a NATO vessel was to encounter a, a ship of migrants boat of migrants that was sinking, it would have a legal obligation to rescue those people. How do you make sure that the NATO mission deters crossings as opposed to encourages them? And do you have more insight into how NATO will attack the smuggling networks to help Turkey break them down?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The important thing here is that what we will do is that we will provide critical information. By using our capabilities when it comes to surveillance, reconnaissance, and monitoring the situation, and thereby provide high-quality information to the Coast Guard of Turkey, the Coast Guard of Greece, and also to the efforts of the European Union.
This is important. And I think that just our presence and that we are providing this information will help them and enable them to step up their efforts to cope with the crisis we see in the Aegean Sea.
And as I said, we will also increase our surveillance along the Turkish-Syrian border, which is also then a part of this broader picture. We will then sit down with the European Union and to sort out more in detail exactly how we can support them.
But we will start immediately with moving the Standing Maritime Group under German command into the Aegean Sea, and then to start to collect information, reconnaissance and surveillance immediately. And I feel very certain that this kind of support to those countries in the region which are most affected, and to the European Union, is something they highly value and is also a response to a request from Greece, Turkey, and Germany.
QUESTION (NPR/CBS): Back on the coalition efforts, before now you said that because all NATO Allies were already members of the coalition, you seem to not feel it was necessary that NATO take a role, that joint capabilities were called into the operation. What has changed now that NATO capabilities, that joint capabilities are going to be used for coalition purposes?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We are we are going to do is that we are going to backfill national capabilities and thereby freeing up capabilities which these nations or the nation can use in the efforts of the coalition.
I think this is a practical, pragmatic way of providing support from NATO to the coalition – enabling them to step up their airstrikes against ISIL and to step up their fight against ISIL.
I have all the time underlined the importance of NATO supporting the coalition. But we do that in different ways. When we do defence capacity-building for Iraqi officers, then of course that’s a part of, that’s an element in providing support for the coalition. And also I very much believe that everything we do to project stability into the region by working with partners as Tunisia, Jordan, is also part of supporting the efforts of the coalition.
And this is a global coalition fighting ISIL. So also our efforts in Afghanistan are relevant. So it’s nothing new that we provide support for the coalition; the new thing is that we will now provide support for the coalition also with making AWACS capabilities available for national backfill.
QUESTION (CBC): We have the United States calling for an intensification of the fight against ISIL. NATO is now offering assets. And at the same time, Canada has decided to withdraw its 6 CF-18 fighters. I wonder if you think that is the wrong message to be sending right now. Do you worry that other partners might be tempted to do the same?
SECRETARY GENERAL: I met with Minister Sajjan in connection with our ministerial yesterday. He had a very strong message, and I very much welcome that. About that Canada will remain a very strong and committed member of the coalition fighting ISIL. And Canada provides many different kinds of assets and support for the coalition. And we discussed, for instance, the importance of what Canada is doing and will continue to do. And that is to train and assist local forces.
So not least the efforts of Canada to build local capacity, to train forces in the region, as part of the efforts of global coalition is something which I welcome very much. So for me, Canada is very clear, the message is very clear that Canada will continue to support the efforts of the global coalition fighting ISIL.
QUESTION (Kommersant): Secretary General, let me go back to what you have said yesterday. You announced the largest military build-up of NATO force in Eastern Europe along the Russian border. And you have also mentioned that is because you need the Alliance to counter any threat. So could you please be more specific – what kind of threat are you talking about? And what kind of scenario does NATO expect? Do you really believe for example Russia can invade Baltic States?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO Ally. But what we see is a more demanding security environment. Both caused by the instability, the violence we see to the south, but also caused by a more assertive Russia in the east. Which has invested heavily in defence over many years, which has conducted a wide range of snap military exercises, and thereby reducing predictability and transparency. And not least which has been willing to use military force to intimidate neighbours and to change borders in Europe. So it’s this pattern.
And both challenges to the south and to the east that has required a response from NATO. And we are responding by implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. Partly by increased forward presence, partly by increasing our ability to reinforce. By, for instance, tripling the size of the NATO Response Force.
So we don’t see any imminent threat, but we see a need for adapting to a more challenging security environment, and that’s exactly what we are doing.