Pre-ministerial press conference
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Over the next two days, NATO Defence Ministers will address the Alliance’s response to a more challenging security environment.
This is a pivotal time for NATO. We face great security challenges. But the strength and the unity of our Alliance are greater.
NATO is founded on the bond between North America and Europe, and in good times and bad, that bond has been unbreakable. We stand together. We defend each other. And that is good both for Europe, and for North America. I’m confident that Defence Ministers at our meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow once again are going to reconfirm the enduring importance of the Transatlantic bond.
NATO has responded to global challenges by adapting to meet them. We are now delivering on the decisions we took at the Warsaw Summit in July. We are in the process of deploying four multinational battlegroups to the eastern part of our Alliance to strengthen our deterrence and our defence. We are also stepping up our ability to anticipate and respond to crises in the South in order to project stability in our neighbourhood.
NATO’s continuous adaptation requires responsibilities to be shared fairly among Allies. Fair burden-sharing and increased defence spending underpins the transatlantic Alliance. So we will at our meeting stress the importance of fair burden-sharing and higher defence spending for the Alliance.
After many years with steep cuts in defence spending, we have turned a corner. Today, I can present to you new updated figures for 2016. Defence spending in real terms has increased by 3.8% among European Allies and Canada. This is significantly higher than what we had originally foreseen. And it amounts to roughly 10 billion dollars more for our defence. This makes a difference but it is absolutely vital that we keep up the momentum.
During this ministerial, we will also focus on the fight against terrorism, and threats stemming from the Middle East and North Africa. NATO is providing support to the Counter-ISIL Coalition and working to train partners like Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia. But we can and should do more.
We will also launch a review of the NATO Command Structure, to ensure we have the right tools to deal with the challenges we face. And we will agree further steps to resist hybrid warfare, hybrid threats, including with strengthened cyber defences.
We will conclude the ministerial with a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission, where we will discuss the security situation in the region and Georgia’s reforms, which are bringing the country closer to NATO.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Please put up your hands and mention your name and affiliation. We’ll start with AP, over there.
Q: Lorne Cook from, from Associated Press. Just a question on the 2 % figure. When it comes to spending issues at this ministerial are you convinced that we’re just talking about 2 % defence spending, that there’s no appetite anywhere to open up common funding or any other kind of money?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I’m absolutely certain that defence spending will be an important issue at the defence ministerial meeting and it’ll be one of the main topics we will address at the summit later on this year in Brussels. And the reason why I believe so is that there is such a strong commitment from all 28 allies that we need to respond to a more challenging security environment, to a more dangerous world. And most NATO allies reduced defence spending after the end of the Cold War and I think it’s possible to understand that when tensions are going down as they did during the 1990s after the end of the Cold War also defence spending is going down. But if we are going to …, but when we do reduce defence spending in times when tensions are going down we have to be able to increase defence spending when tensions are going up as they are now. And that’s the reason why we made this very clear commitment back in 2014 to stop the cuts, to gradually increase defence spending towards the aim of 2 % of GDP for defence. And this has been my top priority since I became Secretary General; I have raised it in all my meetings with foreign ministers, with defence ministers, but perhaps even more important with the ministers of finance and of course with the heads of state and government. And the good thing is that since 2014 we have actually made two important steps. In 2015 we stopped the cuts for the first time after many years of decline and 2016 the numbers I just told you about confirms that in 2016 we made the first significant step towards increased defence spending with 3.8 % increase in the defence spending in new terms. That’s around $10 billion U.S. dollars which is much more than the total Norwegian defence budget. And Norway contributes with many important capabilities to the alliance and just the increase in 2016 is much more than the total Norwegian defence budget. So it illustrates that we are making a significant step forward but we have a long way to go, much remains and the common funding of the NATO is funded by the 2 %. So there’s actually … there’s not either 2 % or common funding, the 2 % is the aim for total defence spending in all NATO allied countries and that’s used for financing national defence capabilities but also to finance NATO budgets and the common funding. So that’s two sides of the same coin.
OANA LUNGESCU: Financial Times.
Q: Hi Arthur Beesley from the Financial Times. Is the 2024 deadline which is a good many years away, is that sufficient for President Trump judging from your own conversations with the President? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: In my two phone calls with President Trump defence spending has been a main topic and he has strongly expressed his strong commitment to NATO, to the transatlantic bond but at the same time President Trump has in both the phone calls also underlined the importance of a fairer burden sharing. And that those countries that spends less than 2 % have to meet the 2 % target. And I agree with him. And that’s the reason why I welcome that we are now are making progress but also the reason why I’m stressing and underlining so much that we still have a long way to go. It’s not enough. We will discuss at the defence ministerial meeting what more we can do to make sure that we are delivering, that we are implementing as soon as possible and I also look forward to have President Trump here in Brussels together with other NATO leaders sitting around the table and discussing how can we deliver on fairer burden sharing. More details about exactly how we will make sure that we continue to deliver, make sure that we continue to move towards fair burden sharing, I think we have to wait and see after the different meetings where decisions are going to be discussed.
OANA LUNGESCU: Wall Street Journal.
Q: Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. Is there an appetite or is there demand to change the Wales language on the 2 % to make it instead of moving to a goal to a much harder figure, a much stronger demand for 2 %? And secondly what have allies told you they want to hear from Mr. Mattis when he makes his appearance here? What sort of reassurance are they looking for?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are all looking forward to receive Secretary Mattis here at NATO tomorrow and to be able to sit down with him and to discuss many different topics including burden sharing but also NATO’s role in fighting terrorism. And I think that all the other NATO defence ministers are looking forward to listening to him and to meet him in person to discuss how NATO in the best possible way can continue to adapt to a more challenging security environment which includes then defence spending and the fight against terrorism. Again defence spending, burden sharing is on the top of our agenda, it will be one of the main items discussed at the defence ministerial meeting. It is strongly conveyed from the new U.S. administration, the new U.S. president that this is important for them and it will be one of the issues we will discuss at the summit in, later on this year in May. But exact what kind of language, exactly what kind of proposals I think we have to wait and to address at the different meetings before I’m able to report anything back to you. What I can say is that regardless of language the most important thing is that we deliver, regardless of language the most important thing is that we increase defence spending and that’s exactly what we are doing. $10 million more for defence in 2016 across Europe and Canada is an important step in the right direction but it’s not enough, we have to do more and my main responsibility is to make sure that we continue to deliver as 28 heads of state and government promised back in 2014.
OANA LUNGESCU: Washington Post.
Q: Hi Michael Birnbaum, the Washington Post. Have you heard any concrete proposals yet or concrete demands from the Trump administration beyond the need to spend 2 %? But have they made proposals about counter terrorism for example or specifics about what they’d like to see that spending on? And secondly just looking at defence spending across the alliance, of course it is increasing now but it’s been a political challenge over many years, do you see that with the new Trump administration and concerns about Trump’s attitudes towards NATO that you really turned a corner, that countries are willing to step up and significantly change their policies because they’re worried that the United States won’t back them if they don’t?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The meeting we will have tomorrow is the first meeting with the new Secretary of Defence Mattis. So I think that’s when we can sit down and discuss more in detail what the United States wants. When the United States is for instance highlighting the importance of using NATO as a tool to fight terrorism and when it comes to defence spending I think it’s obvious, defence spending is about that those allies who spend less than 2 % have to spend more. And, as I said we are now moving in the right direction, some allies, we have five allies already meeting the 2 % target but we have also for instance the two Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania now moving very fast towards the 2 % target. Romania is also moving towards the 2 %, so there are also other countries which are now approaching the 2 % target. So again defence spending is important because we have to invest in our security when the world has become more dangerous and that is of course a strong message from President Trump and from the new U.S. administration but it’s actually also the message from 28 allies because they all have agreed and therefore I expect them also to deliver.
OANA LUNGESCU: NTV.
Q: Secretary General you’re going to Munich later this week, so is the Russian Foreign Minister. Will you meeting him and if you do what will you talk about?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I will meet Foreign Minister Lavrov when I go to Munich and we have met before on the margins of the Munich Security Conference and I think that provides a useful platform to continue the dialogue with Russia. And I look forward to the meeting because NATO pursue a dual track towards Russia. We need to be firm and predictable and we are increasing our presence in the eastern part of the alliance to deliver the necessary credible deterrence but at the same time we are underlining the importance of keeping channels for political dialogue open, especially in difficult times as these; we need open political dialogue with Russia and we have been able to convene three meetings of the NATO Russia Council last year. We … I have met with Foreign Minister Lavrov several times and I’m looking forward to meet him again. We will … I expect that we will discuss a wide range of issues including the situation in Ukraine but of course also how we can avoid increased tensions, how we can avoid misunderstandings, how we can improve transparency, predictability. Because with more military presence in Europe, with more exercises and with increased tensions there is always a risk that incidents, accidents may happen and that they can spiral out of control. So to prevent that from happening we are constantly working on how can we improve transparency, predictability in our relationship with Russia and I expect also that to be one of the issues we will discuss when Minister Lavrov and I meet in Munich.
OANA LUNGESCU: UNIAN, front row.
Q: [Inaudible], Agency UNIAN from Ukraine. As far as I know Ukrainian authorities are looking forward to host the North Atlantic Council in Ukraine and in this regard NATO got an invitation from Ukrainian side to visit Ukraine. Is there any decision by the time taken that North Atlantic can visit Ukraine? And if it is when it going to happen and if it is not do you think that assertive action of Russia on the eastern part of Ukraine could be kind of threat to that idea, to hold this council in Ukraine? Thanks.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Ukraine is a very close partner of NATO and there has been many different visits both from NATO to Ukraine but also from Ukrainian officials to NATO. We have had regular meetings of the NATO Ukraine Commission. We just received the invitation to go to Ukraine, that the whole North Atlantic Council could visit Ukraine. We are grateful for the invitation, we are looking into when our schedules and how we can try to facilitate that. So there’s no final decision made but we are looking into the possibilities of having such a visit. What I can say is that NATO will continue to support Ukraine. We provide strong political support for Ukraine, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine and also practical support, we help Ukraine to modernize its armed forces, to implement reforms and many NATO allies also provide different kinds of support for Ukraine. And I meet regularly with President Poroshenko, with Foreign Minister Klimkin and others and I will continue to meet them in Brussels, in Kiev and in other places in the world. So we will continue our close partnership with Ukraine.
OANA LUNGESCU: Digi 24, second row.
Q: Secretary General I am Douglas [inaudible] from Digi 24 Romania. I would like to ask you if the NATO presence in the Black Sea issue will be on this ministerial agenda? Thank you very much.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO has already increased our presence in the southeast of our alliance including in Romania and we have made decisions to further increase and we are now in the process of establishing a … [inaudible] around a Romanian brigade to increase our presence in a multinational brigade framework hosted by Romania and we’re also looking into other elements of increased presence in the Black Sea region and Romania. We have increased the number of port visits and we are working closely with Romania and the other countries in the southeast of the alliance on how we can further increase our presence.
OANA LUNGESCU: ANSA.
Q: Good morning. About defence spending, you know very well that there are some country, Italy in front, that are struggling with the budget. How can Italy meet the 2 % target having the constraint, the European budget constraint, in your opinion?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are aware of that several NATO allies are struggling with the budgets, with deficits and with challenges related to how to increase defence spending. Having said that this is always a question of how to prioritize defence and when 28 allies agreed I expect all 28 allies to deliver. But as you know what we agreed was actually three steps, to stop the cuts, gradually move, gradually increase defence spending and then move towards the 2 % and therefore we don’t expect all allies to meet the 2 % target immediately but we expect all allies to stop the cuts and to start to increase defence spending. And that’s also the case for Italy. I think what … what you point at is that the picture is still mixed, some allies are really struggling with defence spending, others are now either at 2 % or close to 2 % and I will continue to underline that all allies have to meet the commitments.
OANA LUNGESCU: German Radio, just behind, behind here.
Q: Kai Kuestner, German Radio. Back to the U.S., is it from your point of view worrying that the new Trump administration now has to find already a new security advisor? And a follow up if I may on the administration question, is it from your point a view also worrying that the whole team seems to be still in the process of finding itself and trying to find a common position on NATO which doesn’t seem to be the case so far?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s not for me to comment on the resignation of the security advisor in the United States. Different allies appoint their different advisors and it happens that they also change people in different security positions. The important thing for me and for NATO is that the president, the secretary of defence, the secretary of state, they have all conveyed the same strong message about NATO. I have spoken to all three of them and they have all stated clearly that United States stays strongly committed to NATO, stays strongly committed to the transatlantic bond and that the United States fully see the strength of NATO both for European Security but also for the United States. We have to remember that a strong NATO is not only good for Europe but is also good for the United States because that provides the United States with allies, with friends which is of great importance for the United States. We saw that after the 911 terrorist attack, the only time NATO has invoked Article Five. So there is a common message from the President, from his security team, the secretary of state, the secretary of defence, that they stay strongly committed to NATO and I look forward to welcoming Defense Secretary Mattis and then later on President Trump and to hear that message from them in person here in Brussels later on.
OANA LUNGESCU: Gentleman in the fourth row there.
Q: David Herszenhorn with Politico. In light of the resignation in Washington overnight, commenting specifically about NATO, are you concerned at all about the consistency and reliability of information that you’re hearing from the Trump administration, especially when it comes to conversations with Russia?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The message from the United States has been the same in all the meetings, all the phone calls I and other NATO leaders have had with different leaders in United States since election. And that is that United States stays committed to NATO and this is not only words but it’s also something that we see in deeds because in these days the United States is increasing its military presence in Europe for the first time in many years. We have a new brigade, a new armoured brigade of the United States being deployed, we have more training, more supplies, more pre-positioned equipment. So all of this is taking place now and it has a strong bipartisan support both from the Democrats and from the Republicans. So when the United States, the leadership there says that they are strongly … say that they are strongly in favour of NATO, strongly committed to NATO it’s also something we see not only words but also deeds with the increased U.S. military presence in Europe which is taking place now. Then when it comes to Russia, well the message has been in the phone calls I have had with the President and secretary of state and secretary of defense is that they fully support the dual track approach which is about defence and dialogue, not either defence or dialogue but as long as we are strong, as long as we are united, as long as we are predictable then we can also engage in a political dialogue with Russia. So I welcome a dialogue between NATO and Russia but also of course between NATO allies including the United States and Russia.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Arabiya.
Q: [Inaudible – starts speaking without microphone] ... concerning that they don’t seem to be telling each other the truth, within the administration?
JENS STOLTENBERG: As I said it’s nothing … it’s nothing new that NATO allies change people responsible for security issues, that has happened before, I will not comment on why that happened. The important thing for me is that those responsible, the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, they have clearly conveyed the message about support for NATO, support for the transatlantic partnership and support for the NATO approach to Russia, defence and dialogue, being united but also engaging with Russia.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Arabiya.
Q: Good morning Secretary General. Noureddine Fridhi from Al Arabiya. NATO is providing the AWACS assets, etc, supporting the coalition, anti-DAESH coalition, is NATO intending to increase its involvement in the war against DAESH in Syria and Iraq and more specifically in Libya? France for example, United Kingdome called for the participation or to deal with Mr. Haftar, General Haftar seems to be one of the main military actor, you received last week the Prime Minister of Libya, do you intend to deal with him as Russia did and as some member states are intending or are doing already?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Earlier this month I met with Prime Minister al-Sarraj of Libya and we discussed how we could provide support for Libya, how NATO could provide support and help Libya and NATO stands ready to assist Libya and if requested by the Government of National Accord we are ready to help them, especially when it comes to building defence institutions, implementing reforms and building the structures they need to stabilize the country. We are now in the process of discussing how we can do this with the Government of National Accord and a team around Prime Minister Sarraj. At the same time we are present in the Mediterranean with our Operation Sea Guardian which is also providing help to the Operation Sophia, the EU Operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean. So it’s a bit too early to say what more NATO will do but we are actually in dialogue … close dialogue with Libya on these issues now and also with the EU. When it comes to Iraq we have just … we have trained Iraqi officers in Jordan for some time but now we are … in January we started to also train Iraqi officers inside Iraq. It’s a modest start but it’s scalable and one of the issues we will discuss is whether we will then based on the experience of training inside Iraq not only in Jordan, whether we will expand and scale that up. That’s something we will be discussing later on.
OANA LUNGESCU: Europa Press.
Q: Thank you. Anna Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. It’s a quick follow up to an audience question. Do you see a combat role for NATO in the fight against ISIS? Especially after the new U.S. administration kicks in? And my second question is if you could give us any detail on the hub in Naples that will be created, it’s just I understand for now mainly just analysing the terrorist threat from Northern Africa and the Middle East but I guess some countries later down the line would like for the Naples headquarter to be able to command ops if necessary to fend off threats from the south. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We’re working on the establishment of a hub for the south at our Joint Force Command in Naples. The final decision has not yet been taken but we’re working on this concept and it’ll be addressed at the defence ministerial meeting which starts tomorrow. The idea with a hub is to increase our ability to coordinate, to get a better understanding, situational awareness of the threats and the challenges emanating from the south, from North Africa and the Middle East. Having said that I would like to underline that of course NATO and NATO capabilities, they are 360 degree available. So if there is a real threat, if there is a need for instance NATO Response Force or the NATO Spearhead Force in the south we will deploy to the south. So we have to remember that it’s not only the hub for the south that is relevant for the south, we have a wide range of capabilities that if needed can be used also in the south. But the hub will add some specific understanding, some specific tools to address the challenges we see emanating from the south and it will be located together with a Joint Force Command in Naples.
OANA LUNGESCU: Gentleman over there, seventh row.
Q: Marko Vukajlovic, TV PRVA Montenegro. What are the latest updates on Montenegro notification protocol and can we talk about the final date of full membership? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We signed the accession protocol with Montenegro last spring and since then we have been working hard on the ratification process. The accession protocol for Montenegro has to be ratified by 28 parliaments. So far it has been ratified by 24 because yesterday I spoke with President Hollande, and yesterday the French Parliament made the decision to ratify the accession protocol for … I think actually it was the day before yesterday, but at least the French Parliament has now ratified the accession protocol for Montenegro making it 24 nations that have ratified, so there are four more to go. I am not able to tell you exactly when that’s going to happen, I hope it can happen as soon as possible but parliaments are sovereign so they decide themselves when they make the decisions. But I think we’re on a good track to have a membership of Montenegro relatively soon.
OANA LUNGESCU: Gentleman over there in white.
Q: Milos Rudovic from Montenegrin Daily Vijesti. You talked to President Trump twice, did you mention Montenegro? And did he formally say that he will sign and deposit accession protocol? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s of course the senate that has to make the … to ratify the accession protocol but there has been no sign that the U.S. administration is not supporting the ratification and it has a strong bipartisan support in the senate and the Foreign Nation Committee has supported it. So I think this is also a good track in the U.S. but I cannot speak on behalf of the U.S. Senate, you have to ask them because they are a sovereign parliament or a national assembly as all other national assemblies in NATO allied countries are.
OANA LUNGESCU: KUNA.
Q: Nawab Kahn from the Kuwait News Agency KUNA. Sir following your recent visit to Kuwait to inaugurate the regional training centre of the ICI, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and NATO, how do you see now the cooperation between NATO and the Gulf countries progressing in the fight against terrorism and against regional threats? Thank you sir.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO has played a key role in the fight against terrorism for many years. I think we have to remember that our biggest military operation ever, the operation in Afghanistan, the purpose of that operation is to fight terrorism. The reason why we are in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And there are many different international terrorist groups today in Afghanistan and the reason why we have decided to continue to stay in Afghanistan with 13,000 troops to train, assist and advise the Afghan National Army and Security Forces is to enable them to fight terrorism, is to enable them to stabilize their own country and I strongly believe that the best weapon we have in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces enabling them to fight terrorism. Of course NATO has to be ready to once again deploy our own troops in combat operations but in the long term I think it’s much better and much more viable and effective tool to enable local forces to fight terrorism. And that’s what we are doing in Afghanistan as part of the global effort to fight terrorism. That’s the reason why we train Iraqi officers, to help them to fight terrorism. And that’s also the reason why we are working closely with countries in the Gulf region, both in addressing for instance the challenges between Afghanistan and Iraq but also in the region itself and therefore I very much welcome that we just established this new regional centre which provides an excellent platform for enhanced cooperation but also support, capacity building for different partner countries in the region which is an important tool to fight terrorism.
OANA LUNGESCU: Le Soir.
Q: Philip [inaudible] Le Soir, thank you. Precisely on Afghanistan, do you expect a discussion on this because of recent U.S. military worries that the level of troops, of foreign troops, is no more sufficient taking into account of the, the deterioration of the situation there? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are firmly committed to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the heads of state and government made last year a decision to continue our military presence in Afghanistan, to continue to provide funding for the Afghan National Army and Security Forces and to develop the political partnership with Afghanistan. And thanks to this support from NATO and NATO partners over a long period of years we have been able to build up a national army and security force which is now responsible for security in Afghanistan themselves. And I think if there’s any lesson learned from Afghanistan we should perhaps have started even earlier to train the Afghans enabling them to take over responsibility for the security of Afghanistan themselves. We have ended the combat mission, what we … what NATO is doing is to train, assist and advise and I for instance met with some pilots in the Afghan Air Force and it was great to see them being trained by NATO trainers enabling them to develop their own air force. Our mission has some shortfalls; General Nicholson has pointed at some of them and we will constantly address and follow the situation closely and I discuss this regularly with General Nicholson and this spring we will begin to discuss the future of Resolute Support Mission based on a review and assessment of the mission, the challenges and the need for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, that’s all we have time for right now but of course there will be opportunities tomorrow and the day after so we’re looking forward to seeing you at the defence ministerial. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.