by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Willa Park Hotel in Żagań, Poland
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I have just visited the soldiers which are conducting the exercise of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force of the Spearhead Force of NATO, and I am impressed by what I have seen. I have seen soldiers from nine different nations acting as one and showing that NATO is able to provide the readiness and the preparedness which we need in a new and more challenging security environment. I have seen highly professional soldiers from different nations working together. And this is, as you know, the first time the Spearhead Force is deployed on an exercise in another country, as the exercise which is taking place in Poland now is. And it important that we have this kind of forces because NATO is facing a new security environment both caused by violence, turmoil, instability in the South, ISIL in Iraq, Syria, North Africa, but also caused by the behaviour of a more assertive Russia which has used force to change borders, to annex Crimea and to destabilize Eastern Ukraine.
And therefore NATO has to respond. We are responding and we are doing so by implementing the biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War, and the Spearhead Force is a key element of this reinforcement and it's great to see that it's functional and that it's exercising here in Poland.
I think I will stop there and then answer your questions.
Q: Secretary General, since Sunday it seems to be clear that the U.S. planned to deploy heavy arms, heavy weapons in Eastern European countries. What is your opinion on that?
Does that stabilize or destabilize the situation? I mean, since yesterday we do have the first reaction of President Putin.
JENS STOLTENBERG: The pre-positioning is part of the Readiness Action Plan which NATO decided last year, and we are going to address the question of pre-positioning at our defence ministerial meeting next week. So that is an issue we are going to discuss, to address. And I welcome all efforts by all Allies to protect each other because the core task of NATO is to protect and defend all Allies against any threats, and we need to be able to have the right forces in the right place at the right time. And the question of pre-positioning is one element of this which we are going to then work on and to address when we now are step by step implementing the Readiness Action Plan of NATO.
Q: Is that in line with the Founding Act signed with Russia?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Everything we do is defensive, it's proportionate and it's fully in line with our international commitments. Pre-positioning will not violate any of our international commitments and, therefore, we will discuss the question of pre-positioning. I am not saying that we will make any decisions next week but I am saying that this is one of the elements in the broad approach we now have aiming at increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces.
Let me just underline that the Spearhead Force or the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is an important element. It's a brigade-sized force and we have now established the land element, but we will also go further and address, for instance, sea and air and special operation forces.
We are also increasing the size of the NATO Response Force. We are doubling the size of the NATO Response Force from 13,000 to more than 30,000. And in addition to that, we are also now establishing small headquarters in Poland, in the three Baltic countries, Romania and Bulgaria.
So this is broad… this is part of a broad approach, the Readiness Action Plan, which is increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Hi.
Q: Teri Schultz of NPR and CBS. As my colleague mentioned, President Putin has responded by saying he is going to add nuclear ballistic missiles to the arsenal and even today Estonia and Latvia have reported that Russian planes have been buzzing the air space like they do so frequently. So do you think that this operation, that the Spearhead Force, that any of this is really a deterrent to President Putin? It seems that he is just escalating alongside what you say are defensive measures. Is this really making the situation any more safe for anyone?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think if NATO hadn't reacted at all, I think that would have been a cause of criticism. Because NATO is today able to defend and protect all Allies, but we have to keep NATO strong so we are sure that we can also do that in the future. And when we see over a long period of time, over many years, that Russia is increasing its defence spending, it's modernizing its armed forces, it's conducting a lot of exercises including more and more snap exercises, and snap exercises is something which Russia has used as a disguise, for instance, annexing Crimea or supporting the separatists, moving forces into eastern Ukraine, and the snap exercise is therefore completely undermining predictability and transparency related to exercises.
And in addition to this, they have over a long period of time also invested heavily in nuclear forces, in more exercises, new capabilities, and also using a nuclear rhetoric as part of their defence posture. All of this, and also the announcement yesterday that they are going to deploy more nuclear forces, is just part of a broad pattern which we have seen developing over a long period, requires that NATO is responding.
We are not doing any snap exercises. All our exercises are transparent. They are published on our website and we invite inspectors to inspect them, to observe them when that's required, and the size of our Spearhead Force is 5000, an approximately 5,000 brigade-sized force, while NATO… while Russia has conducted snap exercises with the forces of around 80,000.
So there can be no doubt that what we are doing is defensive, it's proportionate, and it's fully in line with our international obligations. And if we hadn't reacted, if we haven't… if NATO hadn't increased the readiness and the preparedness of our forces, then I think we… there was reason for criticism. But what we are doing now is reasonable and proportionate and defensive.
Q: Thank you. I don't want to add to any criticism, but at the Wroclaw Global Forum, the members of the Atlantic Council also spoke about delivery of heavy weapons by the U.S. to western Ukraine. So if you add up everything you have mentioned that has been done, all the measures that are done and add up what has being done by the U.S., isn't that actually forming an escalation instead of a de-escalation? So what could be the way out of this?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. Actually we continue to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia. And we don't seek a new arms race. Actually we are implementing the agreements we have. Also, for instance, the Agreement on Conventional Forces in Europe is respected by NATO Allies.
It's Russia that has withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. They did so several years ago. And recently they also withdrew from the group where we are doing… where we consult with the different nations within this framework. So Russia is actually undermining the treaties we have had in place for several years which are providing… which are important for arms control.
So we don't seek confrontation. We seek and strive for a more cooperative relationship. But the precondition for that is that Russia is respecting the borders of its neighbours and the fundamental rules which have been so important for peace and stability in Europe for many years.
For me, there is no contradiction between defence and dialogue. Actually I believe that strong defence, firm policies, predictability, is important as a foundation for political dialogue. And NATO will continue to strive for dialogue, for cooperation, but that cannot be based on weakness or uncertainty. It has to be certain that we are able to defend and protect all Allies. Based on that, we can engage with Russia in political dialogue, trying to reduce tensions and avoid an arms race.
Q: Thank you very much [inaudible] with the Polish Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary General will be there. Thank you very much and have a good night.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you and have a good night.