by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers session
We have just taken steps to make NATO’s collective defence stronger. We have given the green light to the completed plan for our enhanced NATO Response Force, including its command and control arrangements. We now have everything in place to make the Response Force stronger, faster and more capable. This force will count up to 40,000 troops. That’s twice as many troops as the current level of troops in the NATO Response Force. And the ‘Spearhead Force’ will be able to start deploying in as little as 48 hours. This force will be able to go wherever it is needed to deter and defend against threats.
We have already set up six force integration units in Eastern Europe. These small headquarters in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania will make it easier for our forces to deploy. Whether it is to conduct an exercise or to confront a threat.
Today, we approved plans to establish two more NATO force integration units, in Hungary and in Slovakia.
We have increased our presence in the eastern part of our Alliance.
Allies are working on the required infrastructure to support prepositioning and storage of military equipment and supplies. This is essential to enhance our ability to reinforce allies in the East quickly and effectively, if needed.
I welcome Germany’s decision and announcement to lead our Spearhead Force in 2019. This means that we will have lead nations for the Very High Readiness Force, or the Spearhead force, up to 2022.
I also welcome the United Kingdom’s contribution, to provide more troops and to rotate to the Baltic countries and to Poland.
Our work on countering hybrid warfare is on track and should be endorsed by Foreign Ministers in their meeting in December. All of this sends a clear message to all NATO citizens:
NATO will defend you. NATO is on the ground. NATO is ready.
This is not just about the east. We face threats from many directions, and in many different forms.
Our military commanders have confirmed that we already have what we need to deploy the NATO Response Force to the South. We have the capabilities and infrastructure to sustain it there.
In the coming months, we will also consider further needs along our southern borders. At the same time, our troops will be practising to increase their readiness. To make sure that they can work seamlessly together.
Later this month, we will hold Exercise Trident Juncture - the biggest and most ambitious NATO exercise in more than a decade. This exercise will bring together more than 30,000 troops. From more than 30 nations. With forces by land, sea and air. Across Spain, Portugal and Italy.
Exercise Trident Juncture shows that NATO can go wherever we are needed. Whenever we are needed.
And to do whatever job we are needed for. That has always been our mission. And we will continue to live up to it.
This morning, we also discussed the situation in Syria and in Afghanistan. We see an escalation of Russian military activity in Syria. And the ministers agreed that Russia’s military escalation in Syria raises serious concerns. I call on Russia to play a constructive role in the fight against ISIL. But Russian actions and the support to the regime are not helpful.
The recent violations of Turkish airspace are unacceptable. NATO will continue to follow the developments closely. And we stand in strong solidarity with Turkey. A political solution to the crisis in Syria is more needed than ever. And NATO supports the efforts by the UN and others to try and find a political negotiated solution to the crisis.
Ministers also discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan. We addressed the situation in Kunduz, including the tragic loss of lives in the Doctors Without Borders hospital. We underlined the importance of a full and thorough and transparent investigation. We need to have all the facts on the table. The security situation in Afghanistan remains challenging. Afghan security forces are leading security efforts across the country. And we continue to support them. We will further assess the security situation as we prepare to take decisions on the future of the Resolute Support Mission. Later this year, we will decide on the troop levels and where they will be based. This will be done on the basis of a detailed security assessment, which we expect in the coming weeks.
And with that I’m ready to take your questions.
MODERATOR: So please identify yourselves, we go to KUNA first. KUNA?
Q: Nawad Kahn from the Kuwait News Agency. Sir was there any discussion that NATO could send some ground troops to Turkey? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): NATO is ready to defend and protect all Allies against any threat and that of course also goes for, or is valid for Turkey. And we have seen increased turmoil, increased uncertainty, violence to the south of NATO borders in Turkey … in Syria and Iraq bordering Turkey and this is one of the reasons why we have increased the readiness and the preparedness of our forces so we shall, so we can be able to deploy forces if needed. And that’s exactly why we have doubled the size of the NATO Response Force and established the Enhanced NATO Response Force. And that’s the reason why we have established a Spearhead Force and that’s the reason why we also have increased and improved the way we do decision-making in the Alliance. So the whole idea is that by increasing the preparedness and the readiness we are able to deploy forces to the south or to the east if and when needed. That’s the reason why we are responding by investing in our collective defence as a response to what we are seeing both to the south and to the east.
MODERATOR: Turkish TV and then we come to this one.
Q: Secretary General, Sonamut from NTV Turkey. My question is although there is a serious footprint of NATO in Turkey with for example patriot missiles and although Turkey did not ask yet any further support from NATO, just political, do you think that there is reasonable unanimity with the Alliance to support further Turkey if needed? And the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia didn’t just violate the air space, it was done just to protect Turkey and its border. Do you think that we really need Russia to protect Turkey and its border?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Excuse me, I didn’t understand the last question.
Q: Say it’s that, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian incursion into Turkish air space was not hostile, it was done to also protect Turkey from ISIS and from the terrorists and it was also done to secure Turkish border. Do you think that it would need Russia to protect our border?
JENS STOLTENBERG: No I don’t think so and Turkey is a strong Ally and Turkey has the second largest army in the Alliance and I have visited the border, the border of Turkey close to Syria I visited that some months ago and I also visited the patriot batteries. Turkey is a very strong and capable Ally but NATO of course is always ready to augment and to support and we are in constant dialogue with Turkey looking into if there is any need to do more and again the reason why we have increased the readiness, the reason why we have a Spearhead Force which is able to deploy in, within as little as 48 hours, the reason why we have for instance also focused on special operation forces as part of this Spearhead Force and the reason why we for instance today have focused a lot of maritime capabilities is to increase our ability to support and help all Allies but of course also including those who are really close to the violence, close to the turmoil we see to the south, in this case Turkey. So if needed we deploy and we are in constant dialogue with Turkey addressing all the challenges they are facing.
MODERATOR: Here please.
Q: Mr. Secretary General, Greg Palkot with Fox News Channel. NATO seemed to have better success containing the then Soviet Union than dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia beyond those offers of support for member Turkey, beyond the strong words, beyond even technical liaison. What can you do to change the policy of Russia? Because it is diametrically opposed to what is the policy, maybe not of NATO, but of the west - the US, that is to get rid of Bashar Assad rather than defend Bashar Al-Assad.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO’s main task, core task is to be able to defend and protect all Allies and our response to the behaviour of Russia, a more assertive Russia and the aggressive actions of Russia which we have seen for instance in Ukraine, destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, annexing Crimea, is exactly what I’ve addressed. This is the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence since the end of the cold war and by doing that we provide a deterrence which is so essential to make sure that all NATO countries are safe and that they can rely on NATO. So the most important way to measure the success of NATO is that all NATO Allies feel safe, can trust that NATO is there to protect them and they know that we are there to protect them and they know that we are investing our collective defence and they know that we will deploy and do what is needed if needed. And we have increased our presence in the east as a response.
GREG PALKOT: But you can’t impact the facts on the ground in Syria.
JENS STOLTENBERG: As I said our main responsibility is to protect all Allies. NATO is not present in the operations taking place in Syria, it’s a US-led coalition. All NATO Allies contribute in one way or another to the coalition and I think it’s of great importance for the coalition that NATO Allies have developed interoperability, have increased their ability to work together through training exercises, operations in the NATO context, this is now something which is of great importance for the coalition when they operate in Syria but this is not a NATO operation this is a US-led operation. At the same time what is going on in Syria of course is of importance for NATO because we see that Russia is testing some of their most modern weapons, we see that the increased Russian presence in Syria is linked to the violation of Turkish NATO air space. And of course also because they have increased their presence not only on land in Syria but also in the eastern part of the Mediterranean and all of this is of course challenges for NATO, that’s the reason we have discussed it and addressed it today and that’s also the reason why it just underlines the importance that we are delivering on everything we promised at our summit last fall to increase the readiness and preparedness of our forces.
MODERATOR: Wall Street Journal.
Q: To demonstrate deterrence do you actually need to use the Readiness Force? Do you need to actually not just talk about it but maybe send it to Turkey? And how worried are you about the possibility of miscalculation between the US- led coalition and Russia leading to something, a conflict that drags in the larger NATO Alliance?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We don’t have to deploy the NATO Response Force or the Spearhead Force to deliver deterrence. The important thing is that any adversary of NATO will know that we are able to deploy. And for instance we do that by exercising our forces and the Spearhead Force, the Spearhead Force was exercised for the first time in June this year. We are going to have the big Trident Juncture Exercise next month and the fact that we are able to exercise, to show the force is also of course contributing to the deterrent effect of the force. And again you have to remember that Turkey is a strong Ally, Turkey has the second largest army, it’s a capable Ally. The important thing for Turkey is that they know that they are part of NATO, that the security guarantees are a hundred per cent rock solid also for Turkey and they are and as long as we convey that message strongly then we are delivering on our main responsibility for Turkey and that is to be there to defend and protect them and to deliver the necessary deterrence. In addition we have the Patriot batteries there, we are in dialogue with Turkey whether we should do something, it’s a very constant dialogue and assessing the situation with Turkey but the main thing is we have the ability to reinforce, they have a strong army and we have a rock-fast or rock-solid commitment to protect and defend them. The other question was about miscalculations. Of course we are concerned about the risk of miscalculations and that’s the reason why we have been so focused on the need for predictability, transparency and that’s also the reason why I welcome the announcement by Secretary Carter at our meeting that they are now in dialogue with Russians when it comes to technical ways of avoiding misunderstandings, miscalculations to increase the safety of the pilots and the planes that are flying in the air space of Syria.
MODERATOR: Next question, at the back.
Q: Michael Fischer, German News Agency DPA. General Secretary two questions. The first, Germany and the US are withdrawing their Patriot systems from Turkey, do you think it’s the right time to do so? And the second question, after the fall of Kunduz will NATO stay longer in Afghanistan now?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are, we haven’t made any final decisions on the duration of the Resolute Support Mission. What we have said is that we will assess the situation, we will assess both the security situation in Afghanistan, we will assess the capabilities, the strength of the Afghan National Army and Security Forces and then make our decisions later. We are constantly assessing whether there is a need to change the posture or the geographical footprint of the mission and also the question of how long we are going to stay there in the Resolute Support format. But I would like to underline that all Allies agree that we will continue to support Afghans. So what we are discussing is not whether we are going to leave or to stay, of course we are going to stay, what we are discussing in what form, what format, how many troops and where in Afghanistan. We will continue to support the Afghans through the Resolute Support Mission and we have already agreed that when we end the Resolute Support Mission, the date is not yet fixed, but when we end the Resolute Support Mission then we will launch the new enduring partnership which will have a military component. So we will continue to support the Afghans and we will also continue to provide financial funding for the national Afghan security forces. In the long run there is no sustainable solution that you have a large number of foreign combat troops in Afghanistan being responsible for the security of the Afghans. So therefore I think it’s very right that we have transferred the responsibility for the security of the Afghans to the Afghans themselves. But we will continue to support them and we all, we are constantly addressing or assessing in what ways we should do that by advice, train and assist. The Patriot batteries, they were deployed to defend, to augment Turkey’s defence against missile threats. What we now see are, is more, is other kind of challenges but again we are discussing with different Allies with Turkey how and in what forms we can continue to support there.
MODERATOR: Last question, here in the front row please.
Q: James Hirst from BFBS and Forces TV. Secretary General what is the need for and value of deploying extra training troops to the Baltics when Russia will see it and certainly portray it as an aggravating action by NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG: What we do is a response to the actions we have seen by Russia in Ukraine, in Crimea but also in Georgia where they are occupying parts of the Georgian territory. And this is part of a pattern and there is absolutely agreement inside the Alliance that NATO has to respond. And therefore we are responding by increasing our ability to reinforce NATO Response Force, Spearhead Force, but we are also increasing our presence in the east with troops, rotational-based troops, and with increasing the defence capacity of the Baltic States and of Poland. We are helping them, working with them. Today there were several announcements that several countries, especially the Baltic countries, are now increasing defence spending and I think it’s part of the NATO solidarity that we, UK, US and others are working with them, train, help them to increase their own capacity to defend themselves. Everything NATO does is defensive and it is proportionate and it’s completely aligned with or in line with our international commitments but NATO has to respond when we see a more assertive Russia behaving the way it has behaved over the last period.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We see you at 6:30 again, so there is another chance to ask questions.