Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): Thank you so much, Prime Minister. And thank you, Mark, for inviting me to come here to Den Haag so early in my time as Secretary General over NATO, and I appreciate very much this opportunity to meet with you.
But let me start by expressing my deepest sympathies with you and the Dutch nation for the loss of lives in connection with the downing of the MH-17. My thoughts are with the families of the victims, and I know all too well the impact of such terrible events and the need for time and how long it takes to grieve and to heal after these kinds of tragedies.
It is important that the ongoing investigation sheds full light on what happened to the flight MH-17. Those responsible should be held accountable and brought to justice as soon as possible.
Then I would like to underline that The Netherlands has been for many, many years a valuable and very reliable ally within the Alliance. And I would like to take this opportunity to commend you for your contributions in so many parts of the work we are doing together within the Alliance: contributing troops to our mission in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, fighter jets over the Baltic states.
And actually on Thursday I went from Brussels to Estonia, and I was escorted by two F-16s, Dutch F-16s, extremely close, but let's just say it was safe. At least they told me so.
And I also seen the Dutch patriot batteries in Turkey augmenting the air defence of Turkey. And as you said, The Netherlands is also offering troops to the spearhead force which we are going to establish in NATO.
So we are really grateful for your solidarity and your efforts to improve defence capabilities by cooperating with other allies, and we all gain from this.
Our meeting and our lunch today was very constructive. We addressed a wide range of issues, but we focused on the security challenges we face in the east and to the south.
To the east, Russia continues to destabilize Ukraine. And we call on Russia to pull back all its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk agreements.
To the south, ISIL terrorists are carrying out horrific attacks and threatening to export the terror beyond the Middle East. We have to be ready to respond to these challenges. That is why we, at our summit in Wales in September, agreed on a readiness action plan.
We are working hard to implement the plan on time and in full so that we can deal with any threat from anywhere. This requires investments. It is crucial that all allies stop the cuts to their defence budgets, as we pledged… as we pledged and decided in Wales, and start increasing defence investments. Your commitment to meeting our defence spending pledge reflects your commitment to NATO and to keeping the Alliance strong.
So Prime Minister, thank you for your contributions, thank you for being a staunch and strong ally, and thank you for an excellent meeting today.
MARK RUTTE (Dutch Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs): Thank you.
MODERATOR: First question to Natalie Wright in (inaudible)…
QUESTION: I have the same question, but in a little bit different way, for both of you. The first is to Mr. Rutte. The NATO members have agreed to spend at least two percent of their income on defence. How much extra money are you planning to invest in defence, and when?
MARK RUTTE: Well, as you know, we have introduced a structural increase of a hundred million euros in the defence budget in the coming years. And that is also needed to enhance our military capability and address a number of urgent challenges. These extra funds signal a break with the past also at the national level, although the budget will still drop a little in the coming years as a result of previous cutbacks. And therefore we want to continue this new trend, where possible and needed, in the coming years.
And as you know, there's also a motion being adopted by the Parliament on this, and we will engage with Parliament in the next year and in the run-up to the new budget on how to deal with this.
QUESTION: Can you also briefly (inaudible)…
MODERATOR: Sorry, have to be short.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Off microphone): (Inaudible)…
MODERATOR: OK. Just for him to repeat, sorry, in Dutch.
MARK RUTTE: (Speaks in Dutch without interpretation.)
QUESTION: Mr. Stoltenberg, can I ask you as well, the fact is that The Netherlands, until now, has only softened its budget cuts without really invested more in defence. Is that according to your wishes?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I would like to underline that I welcome that Netherlands… that The Netherlands is at least starting to reverse the trend. And the decision we made in Wales was a decision to move towards the two percent goal within a decade. And that will of course take some time.
But what we also decided was to stop the cuts and to start to increase our investments in defence in real terms as our economies grows. So I welcome that The Netherlands is starting to reverse the trend of declining defence budgets because we need to invest more in defence since the security environment has changed.
We reduced defence spending after the Cold War. It was even more cuts as… as… as a result of the financial crisis. But now we have seen that new threats are developing, and that we are seeing a more aggressive Russia, responsible for aggressive actions in Ukraine, and we are seeing ISIL, we are seeing instability, insecurity close to our NATO borders in the south. And the… this has changed the security environment in a way which requires us to invest more in defence.
MODERATOR: Corinne Rue (ph), Bloomberg.
QUESTION: A question for Mr. Rutte and Mr. Stoltenberg. Mr. Stoltenberg, you said earlier today that the Russian air activity on NATO's borders increases the risk of accidents or uncontrollable situations. How close have the two sides come to an accident in recent months, and have there been any near misses involving civilian airliners?
JENS STOLTENBERG: What I can say is that there has been a substantial increase in Russian military air activity along NATO borders. We have had more than hundred intercepts by NATO aircrafts the… in the Baltic Sea this year, and that's more than three times as much as the total number of intercepts of Russian aircrafts in the whole of last year.
And we see the same trend, with the increasing number of Russian military aircrafts around other parts of the NATO borders.
And NATO do what we are supposed to do. We stay vigilant. We have increased the numbers of NATO planes in the air, and we have also several Dutch planes participating in air policing. And then that enable us to intercept when we see that Russian planes are approaching NATO airspace.
When it comes to… and.. .and the… and the challenge is not only the numbers of… and the increased numbers of Russian planes in the air along NATO borders, but the challenge is the way they are conducting the flights. They are not turning on the transponders, they are not filing their flight planes, and they are not communicating with civilian air traffic control. That poses a risk on civilian air traffic.
But it's not possible for me to go into all details related to how close we have been. I'm only saying that increased number of Russian military aircrafts in the airspace around NATO borders, flying in a way which makes it difficult to communicate with civilian air traffic, poses a risk on civilian air traffic.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can -- (inaudible)…
MARK RUTTE: I fully concur with the an-- the answer.
QUESTION: OK, thank you.
MODERATOR: Next question, Neils (inaudible) The Telegraph.
MARK RUTTE: Same reaction.
QUESTION: Mr. Stoltenberg, I want to ask you about the downing of Flight MH-17. Do you acknowledge that this disaster was the result of an intended attack, and what do you reckon to be Russia's role in this?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it's very important that this is dealt with in a very, how shall I say, orderly and correct way. And I would like to commend the Government of… the Dutch government, commend them and the Prime Minister in the way he has handled the whole situation.
And now I think it's very important to leave this to the independent investigation which is established, and this is not something which is a NATO responsibility. This is something which the Dutch government and other involved governments are working on.
And I will just commend the work which has been done so far by the Dutch government, and have full support in the Prime Minister and the government that they are conducting this in the best possible way, and making what is possible when it comes to providing all the facts and to have a independent assessment when the independent investigation is finished.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you.