by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
Today, we will take decisions to strengthen our collective defence and we will do that because NATO has to deal with a new and more challenging security environment.
I expect that we will increase further the strength and the capability of the NATO Response Force including its air, sea and special forces components. All together, we expect this force to be up to 40,000 strong. This is substantial increase compare to the previous level of 13,000 troops.
We will also improve our advance planning. And speed up political and military decision-making.
This will enable us to deploy our forces as quickly as we need when crises arise, while maintaining full political control.
We will also review defence investment figures. They show that this year five Allies are expected to spend two per cent of GDP, or more, on defence. Eighteen Allies have increased defence expenditures, but overall NATO defence investment is expecting to fall by one point five per cent in 2015.
So we must do more to increase investment in our defence as the challenges to our security have increased.
We will not be dragged into an arms race, but we must keep our countries safe.
We will also work more closely with partners, to help keep our neighbourhood stable.
I expect that we will endorse a defence capacity building package to help Moldova enhance its defence and security institutions.
Tomorrow, we will meet the Ukrainian defence minister to review the challenges that the country faces. And at the same time we will also review the support we are providing for a strong and sovereign Ukraine.
We will also meet the acting Afghan defence minister to discuss our continued support for Afghanistan now, and in the longer term.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
QUESTION: Wall Street Journal. On Monday, the United States announced an array of support measures for the VJTF and I was just wondering what would that enable the force to do that it would not have been able to do. How important is it? What difference will it make?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The US announcement is highly valued and I welcome it very much because it is of great importance and the US announcement made by Secretary Carter this week is of great importance because it increases the readiness, the preparedness of our forces. Both the fact that the United States will now provide us with key capabilities to our very high readiness joint task force, the spearhead force, for instance strategic air lift, air-to-air refuelling, special operations forces. This is of great importance for our high readiness forces.
In addition we very much welcome that the United States will also preposition heavy equipment. This is important for exercises, for doing more exercises with US troops, and I think what you now see is a transatlantic united effort and resolve when it comes to strengthening our collective defence. The European allies are stepping up and they are providing the lead nations, so seven European allies are now the lead nations for the high readiness force, the spearhead force, and then the United States provides the key capabilities and also prepositioning of equipment. And all together this is a strong example of how NATO is adapting to a more demanding security environment.
QUESTION: AFP. Secretary General, you are saying we are not going to be dragged in to arms race. But Russia argues the contrary. Russia argues that the pre-positioning of heavy weapons on the borders, the increase of the NRF, exercises, those are provocations and NATO is dragging Russia into arms race. Your response?
SECRETARY GENERAL: NATO is a defensive Alliance. And what we do is defensive. And we are responding to a new and more challenging security environment. But everything we do is defensive, it is proportionate, and it’s fully in line with our international commitments.
NATO has to respond when we see new challenges, and we have seen new challenges emanating both in the south, with violence, turmoil, in Iraq, Syria, North Africa, ISIL. But we also see challenges coming from the east. And what we do is to adapt. And I think that when we see these fundamental changes in the security environment surrounding NATO, if we hadn’t done anything, then that would be a reason for concern.
We are sticking to our international commitments; we are respecting arms control agreements; and we continue to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia. All NATO Allies are united in our common view that arms control is important. We don’t seek a new arms race but we have to keep our nations safe and we have to adapt when the world is changing.
QUESTION: Is the announcement of the United States installing heavy weaponry in the Baltic countries a new provocation, and a new step up in escalation towards Russia?
SECRETARY GENERAL: These are heavy weapons for exercises. We decided last autumn to increase the number of exercises because we have to increase the preparedness and the readiness of our forces. And I welcome the decision by the United States both to preposition equipment but also to provide key capabilities as for instance, air-to-air refuelling, special operation forces, strategic airlift.
As I said this is defensive, this is something which is prudent and necessary response to what we have seen from Russia over a long period of time. Russia has over many years invested heavily in defence, they have increased defence spending over many years, at the same time NATO allies have decreased defence spending and they have conducted many snap exercises and they have used these snap exercises as a disguise for instance moving forces into Crimea, destabilising eastern Ukraine and they are also using now nuclear rhetoric and more nuclear exercises as part of their defence posturing.
All of this creates a new security environment and that is the reason why we are responding in a responsible, defensive way and we continue to make it very clear that we will do this in a balanced way and that we continue to strive for a dialogue with Russia and there is no contradiction between strong defence and dialogue. Actually I believe that strong defence, predictability, transparency is key for having the foundation we need to have a political dialogue with Russia.
QUESTION: Novaya Gazeta. Talking about dialogue with Russia – any plans for dialogue with Russia? Now it’s practically dried up, at least on the NATO level. Maybe there is bilateral dialogue with NATO member countries and Moscow, but there is no dialogue at all between NATO as an organisation and Moscow. Both sides are kind of saying defensive posture, and not talking to each other. That seems dangerous. Plans to begin or resume dialogue?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Let me first underline that what Russia has done in Ukraine is not defensive. To annex a part of another country is not defensive. That is an act of aggression. And that is the first time since the end of the Cold War one country in Europe takes or grabs part of another country. That’s not defensive. And Russia continues to send troops, forces, supplies into eastern Ukraine. And destabilising eastern Ukraine. That’s not defensive. So there can be no doubt that Russia is responsible for aggressive actions in Europe. And that’s the reason why we, NATO, is responding in a defensive way. And because our main responsibility is that we continue to be rock solid when it comes to our ability to protect and defend all Allies against any threat.
We decided last spring to suspend the practical cooperation with Russia but to keep the channels for political dialogue open. And I think that is very important. There are political dialogue on different levels also between NATO officials and Russian counterparts. I have met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov twice and I think it’s important that we keep these channels for political dialogue open. And we also keep the channels for military to military contact open.
And I think this is always important but particularly in times with increased tensions and increased military activity along the borders. I think it’s even more important now. Because we have to avoid that incidents, accidents, situations spiral out of control and create dangerous situations.
That’s also the reason why we are very focused on predictability, transparency. On the NATO side, when it comes to for instances military exercises. And we invite in observers and we are doing exercises in accordance with our international commitments. And that’s also the reason why we are concerned about the snap exercises conducted by Russia. Because they are reducing transparency, reducing predictability. And increasing new challenges in Europe.
So yes we have dialogue, yes we should continue to have dialogue. But a dialogue has to be based on a respect. And one of the most fundamental rules which our security is based on is of course to respect borders. And that’s the reason why we have to respond when we see that Russia is not respecting the borders of its neighbours.
QUESTION: Ukraine media. Except for the military responses, except for those preparation of the spearhead forces and other things that we have been long time aware of. What say, asymmetrical or rather symmetrical responses to the Russian hybrid warfare, like propaganda, like creation of NGOs, and corrupting politicians that do try to imbalance the situation in European states that have Russian minorities that have possible chance for Russian involvement. Do you suggest and do you discuss these days. And the second question, if you don’t mind, very short. Do you discuss the possible involvement of Russia into the insurgent Islamic activities like the ISIS, the ISIL or other different Iraq states that are here in the world right away.
SECRETARY GENERAL: I can take the last question first. NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with Russia. But of course many NATO allies continue to have dialogue and cooperate with Russia in different areas. For instance, related to the efforts that is now going on to try to reach a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, also political efforts to try to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya and also the crisis in Syria. And of course Russia being member of the security council in the UN is a global actor where several NATO allies in different capacities and different frameworks are working with Russia on these issues. That is also in a way part of the dialogue which is going on not between NATO as such but between different NATO allies and Russia.
Then on hybrid. So hybrid is one issue which we now are really focusing on and we are developing our strategy and I think we have to understand that hybrid warfare is the combination of military and non military means of overt and covert operations. Its a wide range of different tools which is used in hybrid warfare. And therefore we have to have a comprehensive response and we also work with other organisations, for instance with the European Union to increase our capability and capacity to counter hybrid warfare. We have already implemented several measures which are very relevant for countering hybrid warfare. Increased intelligence, increased surveillance, everything related to situational awareness is key because one of the challenges with hybrid warfare is that the adversary or the (inaudible) would like to do it in a way which gives us as little warning time, as reduced warning time as much as possible. So intelligence, surveillance is key. Special operations forces is key and we are also developing our capacity and capabilities when it comes to cyber defence. So we are already addressing several aspects related to hybrid warfare. In addition I will say what we do for instance, when it comes to increasing defence capacity building, reforms, resilience of enablers is also part of our strategy when it comes to make countries less vulnerable to hybrid warfare.