by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
Good morning – and thanks for coming so early!
Today we will have a very busy day . We are going to start with a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group. Then we will have a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission. And then we will have a meeting of the North Atlantic Council with ministers.And we have many important decisions to take.
Decisions related to how we can strengthen our collective defence. And build the stability with our partners.
This is a very critical time for security in Europe, and across the world.
In Ukraine, violence is getting worse and the crisis is deepening. Russia continues to disregard international rules and to support the separatists with advanced weapons, training and forces.
In North Africa and the Middle East, violent extremism is spreading. And this turmoil fuels terrorism in our own countries.
So we are adapting our posture and our forces to this changing security environment. To conduct NATO’s full range of missions. And to deal with challenges from any direction.
We have already increased our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.
Today, we will take further steps to make our forces more ready and more responsive.
We will decide on the size and the composition of the new spearhead force. And ensure that it can be deployed in a matter of days.
We will strengthen our existing NATO Response Force.
And we will decide on establishing command and control units in six of our eastern Allied countries.
These units will make it easier to deploy NATO forces rapidly.
They will support collective defence planning. And help coordinate multinational exercises.
Our decisions make clear that NATO is determined to defend all Allies against any threats from any direction.
We will also meet in the NATO-Georgia Commission. To discuss current security challenges. And priorities for our cooperation.
We are working with Georgia to implement a substantial package which strengthens Georgia’s defence and ability to work with NATO.
With this, I am ready to take your questions.
QUESTION: BFBS_ JAMES HURST: Can you give us a little more idea about the scale and composition of the spearhead and the changes to the reaction force and your thoughts on whether its the start of an inevitable build-up to a new cold war?
SECRETARY GENERAL: I will not prejudge the conclusions of the council today, but I expect that the ministers will agree on several important elements of a package that increases our collective defence. And that is about enhancing our NATO Response Force. The current size is around13,000. I expect that they will decide on a force which will be around 30,000 and part of that enhanced NATO Response Force, I expect will be the establishment of this Spearhead Force, which I expect will be of a size of around 5,000. And this Spearhead Force will have some lead elements which will be able to deploy within a very very short notice. We speak about a few days. So these are two important elements. The establishment of a Spearhead Force, expected to be around 5,000 and the enhanced NATO Response Force of about 30,000. But this is going to be decided later on today and its too early to tell the final conclusions.
In addition, we are going to, I expect also the ministers to decide on these six command and control units which are going to be established in six of our eastern allies. And as I said they are important units, because they are the link between national defence and multinational NATO forces. They will plan, they will organise exercises. And they will be key for connecting national forces with NATO reinforcements. And we are also working on enhancing the multinational command northeast in Szczecin and we are also looking into developing something similar or parallel thing in the southern part of , the eastern part of the alliance. So these are among the elements which are now on the table. Its, the decisions are going to be taken later today. But I expect this will be the main elements.
QUESTION (AP): Secretary General what do you expect the Russian reaction to be to the decisions that NATO will make today, and if I may ask what do you intend to tell Foreign Minister Lavrov when you meet him in Munich later this week?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Everything we do, when it comes to increasing our own collective defence, by establishing an enhanced NATO Response Force and establishing the very high readiness force, the Spearhead Force, is something which is defensive, it is a response to what we are seeing from Russia over a period of time, and it is in full accordance with our international obligations. So this is something we do it as a response to the aggressive actions we have seen of Russia violating international law and annexing Crimea. And I very much underline that this is something we do because we have to adapt our forces when we see that the world is changing. We see challenges to the east, but in addition we have to adapt, and develop our forces also related to the challenges we see to the south. So the NATO Response Force, the Spearhead Force is the answer to both the changes, challenges we see developing in the east but also to the south.
I going to have several meetings in Munich. I’m going to meet with Vice President Biden, with President Poroshenko, and also with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and others. And my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov is a part of the political contacts we have with Russia. And we decided last April after the crisis in Crimea that we suspended, NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia. But we decided to keep channels for political contact open. And my meeting with Lavrov is part of this decision to maintain channels for political dialogue. And we are both participating at the same meeting or conference in Munich, and therefore its a convenient way to meet at the margins of the conference.
The important thing for NATO is to underline that Russia is responsible for violating international law, for violating the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Ukraine, annexing Crimea, destabilising eastern Ukraine. And we are calling on Russia to stop support for the separatists, and to respect the Minsk agreement, and use all its influence on the separatists to respect the ceasefire.
QUESTION: (ARD): Yesterday you had the opportunity to meet the new Greek Minister of Defence. Which impression do you have and do you think he will support you in defending the eastern borders of NATO?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The new Greek minister of defence he underlined very strongly for me that they are going to continue to be a committed partner, ally in NATO and I’m looking forward to work with him and the new government in Greece. Because Greece has for many, many years been a very committed partner of the NATO alliance and I’m looking forward to see Greece continue to be so and the new defence minister underlined that very strongly for me that they are going to remain and continue to be a committed partner in NATO. So I’m looking forward to work with him. And I would like to also underline that one of the strengths, one of the strong signs of NATO is that NATO is an alliance of 28 democracies. Meaning we elect different governments of different political colours but we are united and stand together in the alliance protecting and defending each other. And Greece is going to continue to do that. That was very much underlined by the new Greek defence minister.