Press conference

by the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, for the launch of the Annual Report 2014, NATO HQ, Brussels

  • 30 Jan. 2015 -
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  • Last updated 02-Feb-2015 08:25

Good morning. Welcome to this launch of the Annual Report and let me wish you all the best for the year ahead.    

2014 was not a good year for European security. In fact, it was a black year.

To the south, violent extremism is at our borders.  Spreading turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East, and fuelling terrorism in our own streets.  

To the east, Russia follows a disturbing pattern.  Using military force to annex Crimea, destabilise Eastern Ukraine, and intimidate its neighbours.  In disregard of international law. So our security environment has fundamentally changed.

This Annual Report demonstrates that we are adapting to deal with these changes, and to keep NATO strong.

Let me give you some facts and figures in some key areas.

And the first figure is 200.  Last year, we held over 200 NATO and national exercises.  One exercise started every two days – on the ground, at sea, and in the air.  And they will continue.  So we are raising the readiness of our forces.

The next figure is 400.   Last year, Allied aircraft intercepted Russian planes over 400 times. 

Over 150 of these intercepts were conducted by NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.

That’s about four times as many as in 2013.  So we are staying vigilant.

The next number is 6.  We are maintaining a continuous presence of our forces, by rotation, in the eastern part of our Alliance.

When defence ministers meet next week, we will also decide on the size and the composition of our new Spearhead Force.  And setting up NATO command and control units in six of our eastern Allies.

So we are turning the Readiness Action Plan we decided in Wales into reality.  This will be the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. 

Then the number is 5,000.  The NATO-led force, KFOR, with close to 5,000 soldiers from Allies and Partner countries provides a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement in Kosovo.  The general elections held in Kosovo last year, show the improvements achieved by Kosovo security forces which provided for secure proceedings avoiding the violence which had disrupted previous elections.

352,000. We have started a new chapter in Afghanistan. In 2014, we completed the largest combat operation in Alliance history.  352,000 Afghan soldiers and police that we have trained took full charge of their country’s security. And we launched a new mission to train, advise and assist them.  

The next figure is one. Last year, there was just one piracy attack off the Horn of Africa, compared with over 150 in 2011.    So we continue to work with international partners to counter threats such as piracy and terrorism. And the final figure is 852. We estimate that NATO Allies spent 852 billion dollars on defence last year.   NATO remains the strongest military Alliance in the world.

But as you can see from our Annual Report, there has been a steady decline in European defense spending since 1990. And the decline continued last year.

In 2014, European Allies spent around 250 billion dollars on defence.  A reduction of 7 billion dollars or about 3 percent.    Yet last year, we also made an important pledge.  To stop the cuts in defence spending, to aim to spend 2% of Gross Domestic Product on defence within a decade, and to spend that money more efficiently.

So, we need to spend more and we need to spend better.  To keep our forces ready to deal with any threat.  We have seen some steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.

We still have a serious mismatch between the security challenges we face, and the resources we are dedicating to our defence.  And continuing imbalances - both across the Atlantic, and within Europe itself. 

Just over four months ago, I stood here on my first day as Secretary General and then I outlined my three priorities; to keep NATO strong; to help keep our neighbourhood stable by working with our partners and to keep the bond between Europe and North America rock solid.

These priorities remain as important as ever. 

Last year, the Euro-Atlantic order came under threat.  But as our Annual Report shows and makes clear, NATO is adapting and looking forward. We stand determined to protect our values and keep our nations safe.

Thank you.

Oana Lungescu:  I can see we’ve got quite a few questions. I’ll start from this side and then I’ll proceed over to my left. Start with Wall Street Journal.

Q:  Ah yes [inaudible] I wanted to ask you, I wanted to ask a little bit more about next week’s Defence Ministerial and what exact decisions and accomplishments you expect and hope for there. And if you could talk a little bit more in detail about the High Readiness Force and sort of what parameters you’re working within in terms of numbers and composition and how the whole thing would work. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  The Defence Ministerial is going to be an important Ministerial because it’s going to be the first Defence Ministerial after the Wales Summit. So that’s the Ministerial where we’re going to make the decisions related to the size, the composition of the spearhead force which is in a way, perhaps the most important part of the Readiness Action Plan. And what I expect is that we will be able to then announce which countries that are going to be the framework countries which are going to be responsible for providing the forces to the new spearhead force. I’m not able to tell you exactly which countries that will be today but I expect to be able to do that within a few days. And then you will also have more exact figures but we are speaking about a brigade-sized force which we plan that the parts of it could be ready within two days and the rest within, ready few days, ready to move, ready to deploy. And we’re going to then decide more on the details next week. In addition we are, I expect that the Defence Ministers will be able to decide on the establishment of what we call the NATO Force Integration Units. The NATO Force Integration Units, its command and control elements which are going to be established in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria. And this is important because this command element will be in a way the first of this kind in these six eastern European Allies, they’re going to be key because they’re going to be the link between national forces and NATO forces. They are going to plan, they’re going to organize exercises, they’re going to be in a way the liaison between national forces and NATO forces and to, and to enable or to provide the planning and some key command elements for re-enforcement. In addition to the spearhead force the command elements we are also then working on enhancing the NATO response force, making it bigger and more ready and this is all part of the general adaptation of NATO force posture which is the biggest enhancement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War.

Oana Lungescu:  Georgian National Broadcaster.

Q:   Mr. Secretary General, I was very happy to see Georgia in the part of the annual report where you are talking about open door policy about aspirant countries about defence and security capacity. And that’s why I want to ask you how NATO is going to support Georgia in 2015, what aspirant country needs now at this moment most of all and I want to hear from your also evaluation of implementation process of substantive package? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  So Georgia is a very highly valued partner and we are going to have a meeting next week with the NATO Defence Ministers and the Defence Minister from Georgia in the Georgia NATO Commission. And that’s just an expression of the close co-operation between NATO and Georgia and I’m looking forward to the meeting next week in the NATO Georgia Commission. We are implementing what we decided and that means that we are in the process, we have started implementation of the comprehensive package. That’s about defence capacity building, it’s about supporting Georgia, modernizing and reforming the armed forces and we are now setting up a training centre with the NATO trainers who are going to work with Georgians, officers, military personnel to train them, to educate them and that’s an important element of the, of the comprehensive package. Georgia is a, is a partner which is really contributing to our common efforts in Afghanistan, in other operations and I, I’m very grateful for the partnership and from, and for the strong contributions from Georgia to different NATO operations.

Oana Lungescu:  I’ll take two questions from here then we’ll move steadily across and then we’ll, we’ll come back. So question for Norwegian media over there, second row, yeah.

Q:  Danish Media, [laughing].

Jens Stoltenberg:  It’s almost the same, all right.

Q:  So Heidi Jensen, Jyllandsposten, Denmark. I just, I wanted to ask, the Russian Defence Minister has today said that he, that Russia would upgrade on strategic areas. How much would, does that worry you and just does that underline the need for the spearhead force?

Jens Stoltenberg:  So what we see in Russia is that there are, they have a really long period of, over a period of many years Russia has increased their investments in defence, so they, they have despite of the economic crisis, despite of the financial problems they are facing in Russia now they are still giving priority to defence spending. And during the same period NATO has reduced its defence spending substantially, especially in Europe. In addition to increased defence spending in Russia we see that they have developed capabilities that have increased their ability to conduct for instance snap exercises to deploy tens of thousands of forces within a very limited period or on very short notice, within hours or very few days. And we are also, so in addition to spending more, developing new capabilities, showing high readiness, we have also seen that Russia is willing to use force. We saw that in Georgia, we have seen it in Moldova and we have seen it in Ukraine, in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. And they are continuing to invest in defence and this is course, of course part of the changed security environment we are facing and that’s the reason why, at least part of the reason why we have decided to change our defence posture, to make our forces more prepared, more ready and to increase our presence on rotational basis in the eastern part of the Alliance. With the assurance measures, meaning that we have more planes in the air, more troops on the ground and more ships at the sea and the reason why we have, we are establishing the spearhead force and already this year actually we have established an interim solution for the spearhead force with Germany, the Netherlands and Norway as the main contributing countries.

Oana Lungescu:  We’ve got Russian media over there, news agency.

Q:  [Inaudible], from Russian News Agency Ria Novosti.  Secretary General you said last week that you are going to meet, that you are ready to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week maybe. Are you still going to meet with him maybe in the, during the Munich conference? And what kind of context will you have with your Russian counterparts to discuss the Ukrainian crisis? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  So I can confirm what Sergei Lavrov said some days ago and that is that we are working to have a meeting in Munich in the margins of the security conference in Munich. Both Sergei Lavrov and I will be there and then I think it’s natural that we meet because what we have decided in NATO is to suspend the practical co-operation with Russia but to keep the channels of political dialogue open. And I think that especially when times are difficult, as they are now, it is of importance to meet, to discuss, also the difficult issues and, and to keep channels of political dialogue open.

Oana Lungescu:  German media over there, in the centre.

Q:  I’ve got a question on Greece. Does the position of the new Greek government concern you in any way regarding the unity of the Alliance and the Russia position they have?

Jens Stoltenberg:  NATO is an alliance of 28 democracies. We have elections, governments are changed because voters tend to vote different from election to election and that’s part of democracy and that’s one of the strengths of NATO, that we for so many years have been able to be a strong alliance with democratic elected governments working together. Coming from different political camps, having different political views on many issues but being able to stay together, common security and work together as one. And I’m looking forward to work together with the new Greek government. I expect to meet the new Greek Defence Minister next week, he will most probably be here at the NATO headquarters and then I look forward to sit down with him and to discuss how we can continue to work with Greece as a staunch Ally which has been contributing to NATO, to our collective defence for so many years and I expect them to continue to do so.

Q:  Good morning sir and happy New Year.

Jens Stoltenberg:  Happy New Year.

Q:  I would like to ask you about, you spoke about the, enhancing the partnerships, so what plans have you to enhance the partnership with your partners in the Arab world to bring peace and stability in the region? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  I will start by underlining the importance of partnerships, because for NATO it is of great importance that we are able to work with partners all over the world but also in our neighbourhood to be able to create stability in our neighbourhood together with partners. That’s important to the east with partners as Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and others but it’s also very important to the south and including the Arabic world. And just before Christmas I went together with the North Atlantic Council to Jordan, we met with the countries in what we call the Mediterranean dialogue and then also we went to Doha where we met with several nations from the Gulf region. And the aim is to work together, defence capacity building, reform interoperability, connecting our armed forces, working against terrorism to improve their ability to strengthen our partners’ ability to create stability in their own region. The idea is that it’s much better in the long run to be able to project stability by working with partners instead of deploying large number of forces. We have to be ready to deploy large number of forces also in the future but the more we can work with partners the better and for instance a country like Jordan we have a close relationship, we work with them on many different areas and that’s an Arabic country which is a partner of NATO and I value that very much.

Oana Lungescu: Swiss media.

Q:  Swiss Television. Secretary General NATO has always been very much in favour of what the Allies were doing with economic sanctions on Russia and so on, will that remain the line?

Jens Stoltenberg:  We support the economic sanctions because we think it is important that Russia sees that it has consequences when they are violating international law, using force to change borders to annex parts of another country. It’s not NATO that decides the economic sanctions that the European, that’s the European Union, United States and other countries, but I welcome the sanctions, especially because if the only alternative to sanctions is either to do nothing or military means then I think everyone understands that sanctions is the best alternative because there is no military solution to the crisis we see in Ukraine. What we need is a negotiated peaceful solution based on the Minsk agreements. And to make that happen Russia has to stop supporting the separatists.

Oana Lungescu:  NPR, over here. We’re working backwards, if you come forward Terry.

Q:  I’ve got it. Ready? Speaking about, sorry Terry Schultz with NPR and CBS. Speaking about Russian exercises, you had the disruption of British air traffic yesterday because of Russian flights, we’ve talked about this many times, about what a danger these sort of intrusions are to civilian air traffic and also in the Baltics, President Putin has announced that the entire Baltic fleet will conduct both land and sea exercises this weekend in Kaliningrad which makes your Baltic Allies quite nervous. Is this is a provocation and do you think that, do you think that this is something that President Putin is looking to make Allies nervous? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg:  When it comes to exercises I think it’s important to underline that every nation has the right to conduct exercises, as long as they do it within their international obligations and I expect Russia to do that. And exercises is something our armed forces, the military, is doing. But the exercises and also the increased air traffic or air presence of Russian military airplanes close to NATO borders is part of a pattern where we see a more assertive Russia conducting more exercises, more snap exercises and where they’re also increasing their presence in the air with military airplanes. And this more assertive behaviour in many different ways just underlines the importance that NATO stays vigilant and that’s the reason why we have increased our air policing, that’s the reason why we have three times as many intercepts in the Baltic region as we had in 2013 and that’s also the reason why we are adapting our armed forces to the changes we see in the east. So I think that exercises is something which is part of something which all countries have the right to do but the pattern, the size and the increased activities in many different areas just underlines the importance of, that NATO is adapting to a changed security environment.

Oana Lungescu:  We go now to the Norwegian media in the front row.

Q:  [Inaudible], Aftenposten. Is it possible to implement all the, this great enhancement of the collective defence at the same time as the expenditure to defence is falling?

Jens Stoltenberg:  We are always able to do, or to say at least something more by doing things in a more efficient way, by being more able to co-operate, by being able to do things in more smart ways by, by being more efficient. So that’s the reason why we are always focusing on smart defence, efficiency, spending better. But in the long run it is not possible to get more out of less indefinitely. So that’s the reason why we have to stop the cuts and gradually start to increase defence spending as our economies grows. And that’s then part of this adaptation, this change of NATO defence posture, is partly about the Readiness Action Plan but also partly about increased defence spending. So we can do, what we have done so far has been, has been something we have been able to do without increased defence spending but we cannot continue to increase our capacities, increase the numbers of exercises, invest in new equipment and then continue to cut defence spending. So that’s the reason why we have to stop the cuts and start to increase gradually defence spending.

Oana Lungescu:  Japanese media.

Q:  Japanese Daily Mianichi, my name is Sito. I’d like to ask about ISIL, Islamic State so called, Japanese hostage has been captured and killed and you described in this annual report ISIL is a serious challenge to NATO and you don’t hesitate to take the necessary step. Could you elaborate such a step including a possibility to deploy NATO troops in Iraq to train against such Islamic State?

Jens Stoltenberg:  All NATO Allies contribute in one way or another to the broad US led coalition which is fighting ISIL and I welcome that and I think that is important even though I don’t believe that air strikes alone can, can solve the problem. But the military actions undertaken by the coalition is of great importance. In addition training of local forces is important and several NATO Allies are also doing that. Then we had a request from the Government of Iraq a few weeks ago where they asked for our help to help them improve their defence capacity. We are looking into that request now, when we met with a delegation from Iraq recently and we are considering how we can do that in a way which is in, which I say helpful for them and we are in dialogue with Iraq, with the Government of Iraq now. In addition I would like to underline that NATO is playing its part in the fight against terror. Partly by exchanging information related to foreign fighters, foreign fighters is a real threat to all NATO Allied countries and therefore it is important that we continue to improve our co-operation, exchange of information related to foreign fighters. We work together in the Alliance to develop technology, to fund the development of technology which can increase our ability to detect and protect us against for instance explosives. That’s part of the counter terror activities of NATO. And then I also have to underline that our missions for instance, or the biggest operation, military operation we have ever conducted, the Afghanistan Operation was a direct answer to a terrorist attack, 9/11 2001. So the biggest ever operation we have conducted was also part of a broad answer response to the increased terror that we have seen globally and defence capacity building, working with partners in North Africa, the Arabic world, Jordan, is also part of our joint efforts to fight terror.

Oana Lungescu:  We had two, I think three questions over here. We’ll start with Ukrainian media, over there, yeah.

Q:  Secretary General, [inaudible]:  So my question is, several days ago you announced that Russia is still partner to fight against terrorism. But from another side several days ago Ukrainian Parliament declared Russia as an aggressor country and also applied to NATO and several other international institutions to recognize self-proclaimed republics in [inaudible] as a terroristic organizations, as Al-Qaida, ISIS, which has been also recognized by NATO as a terroristic organizations. Will you do it and have you looked, find a compromise to co-operate with Russia to fight against terrorism and to co-operate with Ukraine which is a victim of the aggression of Russia? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  What NATO has done is that have suspended practical co-operation with Russia. So there is no practical co-operation with Russia for instance related to terror. That’s something we have suspended since April. But what we have decided is to keep the channels for political dialogue open, I think that’s important because I think that especially when times are difficult as they are now I think it’s actually an increased need for political dialogue. So, so we are very strong when it comes to condemning the increased violence we have seen in eastern Ukraine by Russian backed separatist forces and as I have underlined several times these forces they are getting heavy equipment from Russia, they are getting different kinds of support and the Russian forces are present in eastern Ukraine.

Q:  Is there a way to recognize this Peoples Republic of Donetsk and Dunbar (sp?) as a terrorist organization? No?

Jens Stoltenberg:  There’s no way for us to, no, we, what we are doing is that we are condemning the violence we see in eastern Ukraine, we are calling on Russia to stop the support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine and we are calling on all parties to do whatever they can to uphold the Minsk Agreements and to reach a peaceful solution based on the Minsk Agreements.

Oana Lungescu:  German radio.

Q:  Kai Kustner here, German radio. Two quick questions on communication with Russia. There has been this German initiative to establish, I would call it an emergency hotline, military-military contacts to Russia, what is the state of affairs in this respect? And you mentioned you would meet the Foreign Minister of Russia next week, are there any plans to meet Mr. Putin himself or would you refrain from that at this point in time?

Jens Stoltenberg:  So when it comes to communication with Russia and military communication, military lines of communication I think it’s important to underline that existing lines remain open and NATO Foreign Ministers agreed in December that at this time of tension there is a need for regulation communication between NATO and Russian military to avoid any incidents and that NATO military authorities should keep channels of military communication open and use them when necessary to avoid any possible misunderstanding related to military activities. And the reason why I’m saying this is that we have seen increased military presence from the Russians close to NATO borders and also increased NATO presence close to Russian borders. And of course that increases the risks of misunderstanding, of situations coming out of control. So therefore it is so important that also military lines of communications remain open so we are able to avoid misunderstanding, to de-escalate any situation which is in the process of coming out of control and so I actually very much welcome the strong support of Germany to keep these lines of military communication open and we have decided to do so. As I said I’m ready to meet Lavrov on the margins of the Munich Conference and I think, I will not speculate on any more meetings, this is what I want to do now.

Oana Lungescu:  Last question, the gentleman over here.

Q:  Morning Mr. Secretary General and happy New Year. My name is Mass [sp?], I am from Senegal but I work for African media named Les Echos. As you know the African leaders are in a meeting right now in Addis Ababa and the summit will discuss about the situation in Nigeria, in particular with Boko Haram. Is NATO in position to give to help for material support to African troops who are engaged in the area to fight against terrorism, to fight against Boko Haram? And my second question is, when you mentioned your priorities I didn’t hear something about Africa.  As new Secretary General what do you intend to do to reinforce the relations, the partnership between NATO and African Union? Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg:  Thank you. I think I underlined in my introduction that I have three priorities and the first one is to keep NATO strong. The second is to help keep our neighbourhood stable by working with partners and that includes several countries in Africa. As I said just before Christmas we had a meeting in the Mediterranean dialogue group of countries and that’s several North African countries. And I think it is important to work with them to try to enable them to create stability, to fight terror, to increase their own defence capacity. So that’s part of our dialogue with countries in Africa, is how can we assist, help them to create stability in their own countries and in their own region. And I would welcome actually to develop more co-operation also with the African Union and that is something I am going to look into, how we can not only work with individual countries in Africa but also work more closely with the African Union. And north Africa is close to NATO borders and also I would like to underline that NATO Allies are participating in the fight against terrorism, extremism in Africa. French troops, French forces are there, some other NATO Allies are also contributing to the efforts to fight extremism, violence in Africa.

Oana Lungescu:  Thank you very much indeed. This concludes this press conference, there will be however an opportunity to have a, an informal exchange with the Secretary General for the next few minutes. That of course will be off the record. Thank you very much.