Pre-Ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers

  • 13 Jun. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 13 Jun. 2016 18:27

(As delivered)

Good afternoon. 

In less than four weeks, we will meet in Warsaw for our Summit.

The Summit takes place at a defining moment for our security. NATO has taken robust action to protect our nations, and to contribute to stability in our neighbourhood. But the challenges we face are enduring. So we need to be prepared for the long-haul.

Over the next two days, NATO Defence Ministers will pave the way for the decisions we will take at the Warsaw Summit.

First, we will bolster our deterrence and defence across the Alliance against threats from any direction.

In February, we agreed to enhance our forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We are now discussing the size, the scope and the composition of that force. Based on the advice of our military planners, we will agree to deploy by rotation four robust multinational battalions in the Baltic states and in Poland. This will send a clear signal that NATO stands ready to defend any Ally.  

But of course, our defence and deterrence does not rely on just four battalions. These are part of a much bigger shift in our posture, in response to the challenges we face.

We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, to 40,000 troops. We have put a new Spearhead Force at its core. Around 5,000 troops ready to move within days. And we have set up 8 new small headquarters in the eastern part of our Alliance, to coordinate planning, exercises, and reinforcements.   

There will also be more pre-positioned equipment and supplies.All together this strikes the right balance between a greater ability to reinforce, and a boost to our forward presence.

We have also taken action so that our troops can move faster across Europe. For exercises and reinforcements, if needed. National governments and parliaments have worked very hard to update procedures and remove hurdles. And we have made significant progress.

Last month, the Spearhead Force conducted an exercise which showed how far we have come. One thousand troops and four hundred military vehicles moved from Spain to Poland - within four days. We will continue to work to improve freedom of movement for our troops and equipment. Because when a crisis emerges, speed can make a difference.                                

So we have boosted our forces and increased our speed. But to sustain this shift, we must also spend more on our defence. 

Two years ago, our nations made a pledge. To stop defence cuts, increase defence spending, and move towards our benchmark of investing 2 % of GDP in defence within a decade. On the spending front, the news is mixed. But today, we have some good news. I’m able to share with you our final figures for 2015, and our estimates for 2016.


After the end of the Cold War, there was a long decline in defence spending across European Allies and Canada. 2015 was the first, after many years, when we saw a small increase in defence spending and you can see that form our slide. And our estimates for 2016 show a further increase across NATO’s European Allies and Canada.

These are only estimates. But they are encouraging. The annual real change currently stands at around 1.5 percent. An increase of over 3 billion US dollars. Twenty Allies plan to spend more on defence in real terms this year. So this is real progress. After many years of going in the wrong direction, we are starting to go into the right direction. I will report on this to ministers, and at the Summit in Warsaw.

But we are still far from where we need to be. And we clearly need to do more. Both to increase the level of defence spending towards 2 percent. And to spend on the priorities we have identified as an Alliance. 

Second, we will focus on projecting stability beyond our borders, by supporting our neighbours and partners. Because a stable neighbourhood will help to keep us safe.

At our ministerial meeting, we will discuss how we can expand our efforts to strengthen local forces, enabling them to stabilise their own countries and fight terrorism.

For instance in Iraq.

We will also consider providing AWACS surveillance planes to support the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.

And we will assess what more NATO could do in the wider Mediterranean Sea.

For instance in support of the European Union’s Operation Sophia.

Our cooperation is proving very effective in the Aegean, where NATO ships contribute to cutting the lines of human smuggling. 

We will discuss the future of our cooperation and the cooperation between NATO and the European Union, together with High Representative Mogherini and Ministers from Finland and Sweden.  

Projecting stability is equally important in our eastern neighbourhood.

So we will explore additional assistance for Ukraine and Georgia.

On Wednesday, we will meet the Ukrainian Defence Minister in the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

We are concerned about the security situation, amid continued ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine.

We will also discuss the pace of Ukraine’s reforms, and the support provided by NATO.  

So over the next two days, we will take a series of important decisions.

To strengthen our collective defence, and enhance our cooperation with partners.

So with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):  We’ll start with Reuters in the fourth row.

Q:  Thanks. Secretary General, over here. I’m just back from the Baltics where I spoke with officials and they would like to see the air policing changed into air defence system. Obviously they’re, they’re willing to do a lot of that on their own but they would like NATO support. What’s your view on that? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  NATO conducts strong air policing in the Baltic Sea region already and allies are committed to continuing to do so and allies contribute forces planes to the Baltic air policing mission. We are constantly assessing the requirements for this mission, we are constantly assessing how we can make sure that our presence in the Baltic region is the best possible presence and we are also at this meeting actually going to take decisions which is increasing our presence in the Baltic region with a more forward presence of NATO troops. We will have a robust battalion, multi-national battalion in each of the Baltic countries. So NATO allies are committed to the air policing mission, we provide the necessary forces, capabilities and we will constantly assess the requirements for the mission into the future.

Oana Lungescu:  New York Times, in the third row. Yes just behind there, behind, thank you.

Q:  Yes James Kanter, New York Times. Secretary General NATO is of course a defence, defensive organization so I, in light of what happened in Orlando is there anything concrete that NATO can say at this point about what it might do given indications of a rising threat from this form of terrorism? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  First of all I would like to express my condolences and my sympathy to all those who lost their loved ones, all those who were wounded and I would also like to express my support and my sympathy to the LGBT community and the people of the United States. I think it’s important to underline that terrorism will not change who we are and we will stand up for our open free societies and exactly the values which NATO is protecting are the values that are attacked by terror, by extremism again and again. To fight violence, to fight terrorism requires many different measures and much of it is about domestic police, domestic intelligence.

What NATO can do is to help focus on the root causes and to work with other allies to stabilize our neighbourhood, to address the instability, the turmoil, the violence we see in our neighbourhood because we have seen again and again that this violence, this extremism inspired terrorist attacks in our own streets. We have seen that in Paris, we have seen it in Ankara, we’ve seen it in Brussels, we have seen it in many other places in NATO alliance. The investigation is ongoing after the horrific attacks in Orlando so I cannot comment on that but I can tell you that NATO and NATO allies stand together, we stand committed in our efforts to fight terrorism, to fight extremism and to stand up for our values of open free societies.

Oana Lungescu:  NTV Turkey, yeah, no behind, thank you.

Q:  Secretary General, Secretary General in the last foreign affairs meeting you have underlined that it’s obviously important to ensure security at the borders of the alliance and therefore I was wondering whether there was somehow an idea to help for example the Iraqi Government on a training mission or in order to reinforce their security or the training of their troops so that they could easily fight in a better way against DAESH and other threats? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  One of the main themes at the Defence Ministerial which starts tomorrow and one of the main themes at the summit which starts in Warsaw the 8th of July will be what we call projecting stability. And projecting stability is how NATO can work with partners, with forces in the south, in our neighbourhood to help them stabilize their own countries, to help them fight terrorism and to help them fight extremism. And of course this has to be done in a tailored way in different countries, that’s exactly actually what we do in Afghanistan now. We have ended our combat mission there but we do train, assist and advise, we help the Afghan National Security Forces fight extremism, terrorism themselves. We help them to be able to take full responsibility for security in their own country themselves.

We have also started to do that in Iraq meaning that we have started to train Iraqi officers in Jordan. Now we are looking into whether we can expand that training activity into Iraq itself and we have sent an assessment team to Iraq. The team came back some days ago and we’re now looking into the report from this team and we are discussing with the Iraqi Government how NATO can provide more support for them, enabling them to fight ISIL and to step up their efforts to fight ISIL and to stabilize their own country. I met with Prime Minister Al-Abadi, he asked for more help from NATO, he sent a letter also to ask for help. So we are now in the process where we have started to assist them but we are looking into what more we can do because if they are more stable we are more secure. So it’s our interest that they succeed in fighting extremism, terrorism in their own country.

Oana Lungescu:  Second row, Polityka Insight.

Q:  Marek Swierczynski, Polityka Insight, Poland. Secretary General you did not mention Russia in your remarks whereas at the previous Foreign Ministers Meeting it was, it was emphasized that there’s, there was a need to convene in the NATO Russia Council. Does it mean that there are more issues to be discussed before it could be, it could happen? And on the eastern flank for how long ahead are those four battalions or already scheduled?

Jens Stoltenberg:  We are looking into the possibility of convening a new meeting of the NATO Russia Council before the summit. Of course we have to agree with Russia on the agenda, on the modalities and therefore I’m not able to confirm any exact dates or when a meeting will take place. But on the general note I can just underline that for NATO it is important to both be strong but at the same time be open for dialogue and for us there is no contradiction between defence and dialogue, actually we believe that as long as NATO remains strong, as long as we provide deterrence and defence then we can also engage in a political dialogue with Russia.

And especially when tensions are high as they are now I think it is of particular importance that we keep channels of political dialogue open with Russia, military lines of communication open to at least be able to prevent incidents and accidents and if they happen make sure that they don’t spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations. We will continue to strive for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia and we will do so based on the united and the strength of our alliance and we have to adapt when we see that our security environment is changing and that’s exactly what we are doing now.

When it comes to the duration of the battalions there is, they’re open ended, there’s no particular decision on how long we will have the four battalions in the Baltic countries and in Poland we, the thing is that, is that this is one element of a more comprehensive adaptation of our defence posture where we have some more forward presence with the battalions, we have more pre-positioned equipment and supplies and we have significantly increased our ability to reinforce if needed with tripling the size of the NATO Response Force. So all this together is the response, the adaptation of our defence posture as a response to the more demanding security challenges we are facing.

Oana Lungescu:  Go to the gentleman in the front row.

Q:  Thank you very much Mikhail [Inaudible] Kommersant Newspaper. As you mentioned at the beginning of your speech NATO has already done a lot to enhance its presence on the eastern flank but still some countries of Eastern Europe, for example Estonia and Poland and most of the Baltic States, they claim that there must be more NATO troops, more exercises and more of well generally a NATO presence in the region. Do you have any self-imposed limits of this enhancement of presence? Or you will just follow the, all the demands of these East European NATO members? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  What NATO does is defence, it is proportionate and it’s fully in line with our international obligations and commitments including the NATO Russia Founding Act. We will constantly assess the requirements, we will constantly assess our defence posture but there can be no doubt that what we have done is a response to the actions of Russia in Crimea and in Ukraine. Because before the illegal annexation of Crimea and before Russia’s destabilizing policies towards Eastern Ukraine there was no one talking about any military presence in the kind we now will have in the eastern part of our alliance, in the Baltic countries and Poland.

So what we do is response to the Russian actions but we don’t want confrontation with Russia, we don’t want a new cold war and we will continue to strive for dialogue and more constructive relationship because we think that is important for us but in the long run also will benefit Russia and all of us living here in the Euro Atlantic area.

Oana Lungescu:  Belga, in the second row.

Q:  [Inaudible] from the Belgian Television. I have a question concerning Belgium and our spending in defence. It is pretty low, we’re very far from the 2 % that you’re hoping. Can you give us a comment on that and do you think that we’re going in the right direction in the long term or do we need to be more active in the short term to actually increase our spending? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  As I said when it comes to defence spending the picture is mixed but the picture is better, meaning that we have different allies spending on defence on very different levels. Some allies spend more than 2 %, the United States for instance spends more than 3 % of their GDP on defence. The UK, Estonia, Poland are examples of European NATO allies which spend more than 2 % on defence and I welcome that. And then we have an increasing number of allies which spend less than 2 % but which have started to increase and move towards the 2 % benchmark. But it is a very mixed picture.

I expect all NATO allies to make good on what we agreed at Wales as 28 allies meeting in Wales in September 2014 where all the heads of state and government present there agreed to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards the 2 %. And the first step is to stop cuts and then start to increase and of course I expect also Belgium to do so, I discussed this with the Belgian Prime Minister recently and I actually raised this issue in all the capitals I visit. Defence spending is very high on my political agenda and I discuss this with all the heads of state, governments, ministers I meet because there is no way we can provide the necessary capabilities, the necessary forces to both provide collective defence but also address the security challenges, the turmoil we see to the south of our alliance with the turmoil, the violence in Iraq, Syria and widely the Middle East region and so on.

So defence spending is very high on my political agenda, I’m welcome that we are moving in the right direction because after many, many, many years of cuts 2015 was the first year with increase. It was not a big increase but it was some increase and it’s better to go up and down and especially when we continue to increase defence spending in 2016 according to our latest estimates.

Oana Lungescu:  Okay we had the lady over there in the second row.

Q:  Mr. Stoltenberg you announced that NATO members are supposed to increase their givings for the defence, up to 2 % of their GDP, will Montenegro have to be one of them when it becomes NATO member? And what are other obligations at this moment regarding the issue?

Jens Stoltenberg:  Sorry?

Q:  What are our obligations at this moment regarding the issue, have we got any obligations regarding finding, fundings and is that going to be our obligation when we become NATO member?

Jens Stoltenberg:  Montenegro will become a member of NATO as soon as all 28 allies have ratified the accession protocol which we signed a few weeks ago. And some allies have already ratified the accession protocol so Montenegro is moving closer and closer to full membership. Of course Montenegro will be committed to the same goals, the same obligations as all other NATO allies meaning that also Montenegro has to increase its defence spending and move towards the 2 % guideline. Some NATO allies are very big, some are smaller but 2 % is the way we measure, so that’s a fair way of making all allies responsible to contributing their part. So it matters also what Montenegro does and therefore I expect Montenegro to deliver as I expect Belgium to deliver or all other NATO allies to deliver on the pledge we made.

Oana Lungescu:  Okay. Lady in the third row, the centre, yeah.

Q:  Olana Moscow [sp?] Radio Liberty Kiev Bureau. The Government of Ukraine expects that maybe on Wednesday on the 15th of June NATO will approve the final package of aid. Is there any progress on this issue and can you specify what will this package include? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  We will have a meeting on Wednesday in the NATO Ukraine Commission and one of the main issues there will be how NATO can continue to provide both political and practical support for Ukraine and a part of that will be the, the comprehensive package and I expect the ministers to agree this package and that will be yet another example of how NATO and NATO allies provide support for Ukraine. Both political support, support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty but also practical support and we provide that in many different ways, advice but also helping Ukraine with implementing reforms and I think to implement reforms to fight corruption, to modernize Ukraine’s defence institutions is of great importance for Ukraine and therefore NATO will continue to help and assist Ukraine with that. More details on the package will be possible for me to address when we have agreed on Wednesday.

Oana Lungescu:  Wall Street Journal.

Q:  Mr. Secretary General two questions for you. One is what was, what can you tell us about the command and control of the eastern deterrent force? Will this be under the host nation commands, each battalion, or will this be under the NIFUSE [sp?] or some other NATO structure? And you spoke about the freedom of movement issues in Europe and I wonder what you’ve identified as a sort of next, the remaining challenges that NATO needs to tackle in order to be able to move troops and material across the continent more expeditiously?

Jens Stoltenberg:  The NATO, the multi-national robust battalions which we are going to have on a rotational basis in the three Baltic countries and Poland will be under NATO command. And, and they will not then be under national command so they will be under NATO command and we are also as I say strengthening our command related to these forces. We have, we’re in the process of making the, both the multi-national headquarters, divisional headquarters northeast and also the multi-national headquarters southeast for both of them the core headquarters in northeast and the divisional headquarters southeast are both part of this command which we need to also command the multi-national presence of NATO forces in both the southeast part of Europe but also the northeast part of Europe. The second question was about?

Q:  Freedom of movement and the challenges.

Jens Stoltenberg:  What we have done now is that we have addressed all the legal hurdles which we actually discovered were in place and which hampered our freedom of movement. So it was a lot of red tape, a lot of bureaucracy which we had to overcome to be able to move forces quickly across Europe. This has been removed and we have made a lot of progress so now it’s easy to move forces in a way that we are not faced with a lot of bureaucratic legal obstacles. What remains to be done, which is the next step, is to address actually whether we have all the infrastructure in place.

Because one thing is to have as I say the legal right to move tanks or heavy equipment on the plane but the other issue is whether that plane can land on a specific airfield and whether there are roads or railways connected to that airfield which makes it possible to then move that tank further. So there are a number of issues related to capabilities, infrastructure on, and the capabilities of for instance seaports, airports, roads which we now are looking into and where we are asking the nations to provide us with the relevant information so we can also remove those obstacles so we are certain that we can really move forces quickly if needed.

Oana Lungescu:  Gentleman in the first row.

Q:  Channel 24, Ukraine, Vladimir Onitz [sp?]. Mr. Secretary General the situation in the east of Ukraine has deteriorated greatly, especially the previous night was very hard. We, never mind how hard Kiev tries to deny that we had serious losses in the east of Ukraine. What is the NATO’s vision of the situation in the east of Ukraine and do you see a real war coming? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  So we are deeply concerned about all the violations, the continued violations of the ceasefire. And we are also of course concerned about the high number of people that have lost their lives in fighting in eastern Ukraine. And for me this just highlights the importance of doing whatever we can to make sure that the ceasefire is respected and also that the monitors are able to monitor the ceasefire and the implementation of the ceasefire. And we have seen that some of the drones they are using, they have been shut down again and again. So we have to use all our influence and all our, we have to support all efforts making sure that the ceasefire is respected and that the monitors can operate.

And therefore I welcome the efforts of many countries but in particular two NATO allies, France and Germany are working constantly on how we can implement, strengthen and make sure that the Minsk Agreements are fully respected and implemented. And Russia has a special responsibility because Russia continues to support the separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine with equipment, with other kinds of support and we need to see the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. There is no other way to a peaceful negotiated solution in Ukraine than the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Oana Lungescu:  Last question to NPR CBS.

Q:  Thanks. Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS. Could you just bring us up to date as we head into the meetings on discussions about appointing an intelligence chief? There have been some discussions, I don’t, I just don’t know where, what kind of progress can be made in the meeting. And also on helping Libya, violence continues, ISIS is losing ground but the status of a possible mission to help the new Libyan Government, where are we on that? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg:  NATO has already done a lot when it comes to strengthening the way we both are gathering intelligence but also the way we are processing and sharing that among NATO allies. So that’s something where we already do a lot and I think that one of the great advantages for NATO is that we have an alliance which has proven that we are able to share intelligence, classified information and that is a great advantage for all allies. Now we are looking into whether we can improve that work even more by establishing an Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence, a new position and there is a process going on, we are looking at different ways of doing that. I am, and that we also made some progress so I expect an agreement by the summit but this is not yet fully agreed and in place so I think that we have to see what is possible to reach by the summit but hopefully we’ll be able to have an agreement by the summit related to the establishment of a new Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence.

When it comes to Libya we are, we are continuing our dialogue with the new Government of National Accord. I spoke with Prime Minister Sarraj, they expressed interest in NATO support and we are looking into what kind of support we can provide them with. We are not discussing any combat as I say presence of NATO troops but what we are focused on is how NATO can help with institution building because they need institutions like a defence ministry, command structure and so on to be able to organize their work and their efforts to stabilize the country and to fight ISIL. But NATO will only provide assistance to the new Libyan Government if so requested and we will only do it as part of a broader international effort to help the Libyan Government.

Oana Lungescu:  Thank you very much, that’s all we have time for now. I know there were quite a few questions that you weren’t able to ask now but there will be opportunities over the next two days over the ministerial. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:  Thank you.