by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at joint press point with incoming SACEUR General Curtis Scaparrotti
Today we have come to honour two great men, General Breedlove and General Scaparrotti.
Men who personify the enduring bond between Europe and the United States.
General Eisenhower was the first to hold the post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
He, perhaps more than anyone, understood the importance of defending our nations’ people and our values.
The fundamental need for nations to come together in collective defence of their freedom.
For almost seventy years, the nations of North America and Europe have stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
For we know that we are always stronger when we stand together.
After a period of relative stability, we have entered a new era of uncertainty.
We face challenges to the east and to our south.
Different, but both serious and enduring.
And NATO is ready and up to the challenge.
Since our Wales Summit, we have implemented the largest increase in our collective defence since the Cold War.
We have tripled the size of the NATO’s Response Force, with a brigade-sized high readiness Spearhead Force at its core.
We have increased our presence in the eastern part of our Alliance.
We have increased the number and size of our exercises, sped up our decision making, and developed the strategy to deal with hybrid threats.
General Breedlove’s advice and leadership has been essential in implementing all this.
And in paving the way for our next Summit in Warsaw in July, where we will further strengthen our collective defence and deterrence.
Today, the baton of responsibility has been passed to General Scaparrotti.
Throughout his career, General Scaparrotti has demonstrated the dedication to duty and the leadership skills that are needed as Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
He will now lead our militaries during the next phase of our long-term adaptation.
Enhancing our forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.
Projecting stability beyond our borders.
Improving our resilience to hybrid warfare and strengthening Allied cyber defences.
There is a great deal to do.
I am delighted that we have a man like General Scaparrotti to help take us forward.
Our Alliance exists for one reason.
To keep our people safe.
Ultimately, that job falls on the men and women of our armed forces.
They are the bedrock of our Alliance and I pay tribute to each and every one of them.
And I pay tribute to those who lead them.
To General Breedlove and to General Scaparrotti, thank you. Thank you so much.
Secretary General Stoltenberg, thank you for your comments, and for attending today’s ceremony. It’s a tremendous honour, and I’m humbled to be the 18th SACEUR.
When looking at the Alliance, there’s one constant theme, and that’s unity. An Alliance that is founded on values, committed to the principles of democracy, individual liberty and rule of law. An Alliance that bolsters our collective defence through an evolution of speed, responsiveness, and interoperability, and is a provider of security.
These are the traits which carried us through the Cold War. And in today’s challenging security environment, transatlantic cooperation is needed more than ever. We will continue to defend together on the basis of solidarity, shared purpose, and fair burden-sharing.
And it is the men and women of this Alliance that defend our freedom, that embody cooperation and bring to bear the strength and unity of North America and Europe.
Because of the dedication of our military personnel, NATO is ready and able to defend any Ally against threat, from any direction – both north, south and east.
The Alliance continues to make important adaptations, and we are not yet done. And we will continue to adapt at the Warsaw Summit and beyond. Over the next few months, I will engage with nations and all military commands across Allied Command Operations. As the Alliance continues to make important adaptations in the face of fundamental changes in our security environment, this will enable relevant and timely discussions at the Warsaw Summit and beyond.
With that we’ll be happy to take your questions.
Q & A
QUESTION (AFP): [Inaudible] Libya. Active Endeavour end is now foreseen. There are some Allies that would like NATO to cooperate more with EU Operation Sophia on the Libyan coasts, because migration is one of their main big issues, and it’s going to continue. So how will [inaudible] change? Concrete examples of what it can carry out? And how it can contribute to the [inaudible] migration.
SECRETARY GENERAL: When it comes to Libya, then the important thing is to underline that NATO stands ready, we stand ready to help and assist the new Libyan government.
I spoke with the new Prime Minister just a couple of weeks ago. And we have a very clear mandate from our Heads of State and Government that NATO should be ready to help the new government. In addition, we are now in dialogue with the European Union. I attended the European Union Defence Ministerial meeting a few days ago, and one of the items we discussed there is how NATO and the European Union can better coordinate their efforts to deal with the challenges we see in the Mediterranean and off the coast of Libya.
And part of this is our work to now transform the Active Endeavour, NATO’s presence, or operation in the Mediterranean, into a broader security operation. The final decisions have not yet made, but we are working on establishing a broader security presence, which can deal with counter-terrorism, which can help dealing with migrant crisis, which can make sure that we’re able to have freedom of navigation, which can have many kinds of surveillance, monitoring. Many different kinds of tasks.
And then we have to sit down with European Union and find out how we can best and assist the European Union.
I think that what we have learned is that NATO can play an important role working together with the European Union. We have seen that in the Aegean where NATO now has 8 ships, which provides key information both to the Turkish coastguard ,to the Greek coastguard, and to the EU border agency Frontex. And then we have seen that, for instance, the Turkish coast guard take action based on information they have received from NATO ships.
Then I think also the importance of the NATO presence in the Aegean is also connected to that we provide an additional platform for enhanced platform for cooperation between Turkey and Greece, and between NATO and the European Union.
So we are now in the process of transforming Active Endeavour operation into a broader security mission or operation, and we are in the process of discussing both with the new Libyan government and the European Union how NATO can help contribute in the best possible way.
QUESTION (AP): General, welcome to Belgium. You’ve spoken of the need to be strong, clear and consistent in dealings with Russia. Now that you’re SACEUR I’m wondering if you can tell us when you intend to get in touch with your Russian opposite number, your Russian counterparts, and what you’ll be telling them? I’d also like to ask your reaction and that of Mr Stoltenberg to a development today – the Russian Defence Minister, General Shoigu announced the creation of 3 new divisions to counteract what he called “NATO build-up near the Russian borders”. Can I get your reaction to that, and perhaps your thoughts on what NATO needs to do to respond?
GENERAL SCAPARROTTI: Thank you. I’m pleased to be here in Belgium.
And as the SACEUR, you know, I think in terms of the Russians it is important to be very consistent and very clear in our communication. I do believe we should have communication, it’s how we ensure that we don’t have an accident or miscalculation.
But I would reinforce this by saying it’s expected that they adhere to international norms and international laws. And until such time, those communications will likely be limited.
In terms of their deployment, NATO has responded to their aggressive actions on the eastern border. They’ve made, and General Breedlove has led, I think, a very important force posture and exercise changes. My intent is to continue that. I think that is the response. As I go into this duty, I’ll review, you know, our plans, their posture, and recommend my military advice, the posture, the exercises that we need to continue to deter and also be able to respond.
SECRETARY GENERAL: Let me just comment on the question. I have seen the reports about increased Russian military build-up across NATO borders. And this is part of a broader picture, and of a pattern we have seen over many years now.
Since 2000, the Russian defence spending has increased by, it has tripled in real terms since 2000. We have seen lot of new advanced equipment, we have seen more exercises, and we have seen a significant military build-up over many years.
But most important, is that we have seen the willingness of Russia to use military force in Europe against an independent sovereign state – Ukraine – illegally annexing Crimea and destabilising eastern Ukraine. And that is the reason why we have responded. It is a reaction to the behaviour of a Russia which is more assertive and a Russia which has shown the will of using military force to change borders in Europe for the first time since the end of the Second World War.
There can be no doubt that what NATO does is a reaction to the Russian behaviour in Ukraine. We didn’t have any troops in Baltic countries, we didn’t have any assurance measures, and other kinds of actions which you’ve seen later on, before the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine.
So what we do is defensive, it’s proportionate, and it’s fully in line with our international obligations. We do that because we have to send a very clear signal that we stand together. We have a credible defence and deterrence. And therefore we will continue to respond.
And as I said we have decided to increase our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We will make the final decisions about the scale and the scope of our increased military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance at our Summit in July. But we are discussing how to do that now as part of the preparations for the Summit.
QUESTION (Polish National Television): I wanted to ask the General, because General Breedlove was a strong advocate of strong military presence of NATO troops in Poland and in Baltic states. And you already answered a little bit, but will you continue this way? And what is your message before the NATO Summit in Poland?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The NATO Summit in Poland is going to be a landmark Summit, where we’re going to address how NATO shall continue to adapt to a more challenging security environment, both with the turmoil, the instability we see in the south – Iraq, Syria, North Africa – but also caused by a more assertive Russia in the east.
We have already made a decision to increase our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We made that decision at our Defence Ministerial meeting in February. What we are doing now is we are looking into the advice we have got from our military planners, and then assessing those proposals.
And then we will make final decisions about the scale and the scope. What we have also agreed, is that our military presence will be multinational, sending a clear message that if you attack one country, you attack the whole alliance. And it will be rotational. And we have also – I can also confirm that we are discussing are proposals to have a battalion-sized presence in some of our eastern Allied countries. Exactly how many and where are some issues we are now discussing.
GENERAL SCAPARROTTI: I’ll just reinforce that I do believe General Breedlove was correct. I have great respect for his leadership and his assessment. And I plan to continue and strengthen his plans as we work together and move towards the Warsaw Summit.
QUESTION (UNIAN): General, during your testimony in Senate, you agreed that Russia will increase its military presence in Ukraine. I would like to know why do you think so? What give you a base to say so? And you also said, and I almost quote, we have to give weaponry to Ukrainians. I would like to know if you will you advocate this position within Allies? And a last one, short one, I would like to know your opinion – how this war can be solved?
GENERAL SCAPARROTTI: First of all, from everything I have seen, Russia has been very active in eastern Ukraine. I don’t see any indication that that’s going to change in the short term. And I don’t expect it will. And they’re active through many means, not just military but information, work to undermine the political fabric, etcetera. And I think that is very representative of the kinds of activities that they’re demonstrating in other areas as well.
Secondly, having to do with weaponry, I do believe we should support the Ukrainians with what they need to successfully defend their territory and their sovereignty. Now, I’ll take a look at that as the SACEUR, specifically because you need, I need to assess what weapons are best, what capabilities they can use, what capabilities are complementary to their forces today. And I’ll make a more refined decision here as I get into this job.