by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
I think we are ready to start, it’s good to see you all.
This is a crucial time for transatlantic security. So this meeting of Defence Ministers is timely and significant. We will take decisions to ensure our Alliance stays strong and flexible in the face of evolving challenges. Because a strong NATO is good for Europe and a strong NATO is good for North America.
Over the past two years, we have implemented the greatest increase in our collective defence since the Cold War. We are working more closely with our partners in the Middle East and elsewhere. We are increasing defence spending after many years of cuts.
Today, we will review our progress in the eastern part of the Alliance. We are deploying four multinational battlegroups to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, to send a clear signal of NATO’s resolve and readiness to defend any Ally.
We will also discuss what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. We have been engaged in this effort for many years, and today our work continues. From Afghanistan to Iraq and Tunisia. With support for the Counter-ISIL Coalition and with improved intelligence-sharing.
Today, we will decide to set up a Hub for the South at our Joint Force Command in Naples. This will help us to coordinate information on crisis countries such as Libya and Iraq, and help us address terrorism and other challenges stemming from the region.
Cyber defence is also a top priority for NATO. Last year, NATO experienced an average of 500 cyber incidents per month which required our experts to respond. An increase of 60% over 2015.
At the same time, we have strengthened the protection of our networks, set up Rapid Reaction teams, and are helping Allies improve their national defences. And tomorrow, we will approve an updated Cyber Defence Plan.
We will close with a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission, where we will review the security situation and the government’s ongoing reforms.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Question: Mr Secretary General, are you aware of the reports of Russian deployments of cruise missiles in violation of the INF treaty? Where do you think these missile are being deployed? Is this a threat to NATO and what does it say about Russia’s intentions?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I will not comment on intelligence issues. What I can say is that any non-compliance of Russia with the INF treaty would be a serious concern for the Alliance. The INF treaty is very important, because the INF treaty eliminated a whole category of nuclear weapons, weapons which could threaten Europe and NATO Allies until they were eliminated by the INF Treaty at the end of the 1980s. Compliance with arms control agreements is of great importance, especially when it comes to treaties concerning nuclear weapons. Any non-compliance with the INF treaty would be of great concern for the Alliance.
Question: Can you tell us more details about Iraqi training, [inaudible] and Kurdish Peshmerga,
Secretary General: NATO has trained Iraqi officers for some time but that training has taken place in Jordan. We have also trained some in Turkey. But now we have started to train Iraqi officers in Iraq. It’s taking place in and around Baghdad. It’s a modest start but it is scalable activity and of course this is just one of the ways that NATO helps and supports the efforts of the Counter-ISIL Coalition. I met with President Abadi. We discussed the importance of NATO’s support and there has also been a formal request from the Iraqi government and we are now responding to that formal request by the training which has started inside Iraq in January. This is in addition to what we do in Jordan, where we also train Iraqi officers.
Question: Good day, I’d like to ask, there was a recent Gallup poll showing that 35% of Ukrainians view NATO as a threat , only 29% as protection. One interpretation people are making is that Ukrainians have lost faith or are losing faith in NATO’s ability to help them resolve Russia’s war. How do you interpret the results? And based on those results do you see additional practical or public relations steps you would take to send a clear message of NATO’s partnership?
Secretary General: Ukraine is a partner of NATO. And we have developed a strong partnership over the last years. NATO provides strong political support for Ukraine and strong practical support for Ukraine. We support territorial integrity of Ukraine and we fully support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements to solve the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Prime Minister visited NATO last week. And I have regular meetings with President Poroshenko and other representatives of the Ukrainian leadership. So we will continue to work, we will continue to provide support. And also many NATO Allies provide support on a bilateral level. So we will continue to support Ukraine. But Ukraine is a democratic society, with different views, different opinions and an open political debate. So that’s the fact that there different opinions about NATO. That’s part of an open and democratic debate which is ongoing in Ukraine. We will be committed. We will stay strongly committed to Ukraine and to the partnership with Ukraine.
Question: There still remains a great deal of chaos and uncertainty at the very heart of the machine that is supposed to formulate US policy. Are you happy with the way things are going in Washington or do you think many Allies still need a lot more reassurance from the incoming US administration?
Secretary General: The message on NATO has been very consistent from the new US administration. I have spoken with the President twice on the phone. I have spoken with the Secretary of Defence, Secretary of State. And they have all conveyed the same message to me as they have conveyed to other leaders in NATO countries. And that is that the United States will stay committed to the transatlantic partnership, to the transatlantic bond. And I’m looking forward to welcoming the Secretary of Defence, Mattis, later on today, and to meet with all the other Defence Ministers of NATO. And I’m absolutely certain that the message from this meeting will be a message of transatlantic unity, of the importance that we stand together and protect each other, and a very strong commitment of the United States to NATO. I’m also looking forward to welcoming President Trump to our next Summit here in Brussels, which will provide an excellent platform also to once again reconfirm the strong transatlantic unity. So this has been a consistent message from the new US administration.