Press conference

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

  • 15 Feb. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Feb. 2017 13:30

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

We have just finished a meeting where NATO Defence Ministers discussed how NATO is adapting to a more demanding security environment. At no time since the end of the Cold War have we faced greater challenges to our security. Neither Europe nor North America can effectively deal with this on their own. Our Alliance is as much needed as ever. NATO is good for Europe. And it is good for North America. We are all safer when we stand together. Today Ministers all agreed on the importance of the Trans-Atlantic relationship for meeting the key challenges to our security.

And I welcome the clear message from Secretary Mattis, on the importance of the Trans-Atlantic partnership and the message from all the other Allies that we need to strengthen the Alliance in times of turmoil.

Since 2014 NATO’s deterrence and defence posture has significantly adapted. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000. We have established a 5,000 strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. Ready to move in a matter of days. And we have set up 8 small headquarters in the eastern part of our Alliance. Stepped up our air policing, our training and exercises. Strengthened our maritime presence. Bolstered our cyber defences. And, as we speak, we are deploying four multinational battlegroups to the Baltic countries and Poland.

We are also increasing our presence in the south east of the Alliance. So our deterrence and defence posture is solid. Today we discussed the importance of sustaining this effort over time. This will be crucial.

Defence is not just about what we do at home. It is as much about what happens beyond our borders. So we have agreed to strengthen our contributions to projecting stability. To enable local forces to protect their countries and to fight terrorism. We have moved from a large combat operation to a train, assist and advise mission in Afghanistan. We started to support the Coalition fighting ISIL through AWACS air surveillance. We have established a training and capacity building programme in Iraq. Increased our support to partners across North Africa and the Middle East. And opened a regional centre in Kuwait, together with our partners in the Gulf.

We have deployed ships to the Aegean Sea to help curb the flow of migrants and refugees. We will set up a hub for the south in Naples. And we have established comprehensive packages in support of Georgia and Ukraine. 

We continue a significant presence in the Western Balkans to ensure stability in the region. And we are working more closely with the European Union than ever before.

But we also agree that NATO has untapped potential when it comes to training local forces and building local capacity. We have experience, tried and tested capabilities, staying power and a network of 41 partners around the world who are ready to help and work with us. So we discussed how we can better use NATO for the future.

All this, all these efforts, must be underpinned by adequate resources and fair burden sharing. In 2014, we decided to stop the cuts in defence spending, gradually increase and move towards spending 2 % of GDP on defence within a decade. Our progress so far has been good. In 2015, we stopped the cuts. In 2016, 22 Allies increased their defence budgets. This is significant. And the figures we published yesterday showed a healthy increase of 3.8% in real terms across Europe and Canada when it comes to defence spending. This means $10 billion US dollars more for defence. Step by step, we are moving in the right direction. But, there is still a very long way to go. And you know that the picture is mixed, some Allies have really started to increase, some Allies are still struggling with any increase of their defence budgets. Only 5 Allies meet our guideline of spending 2 % of GDP on defence. So we discussed how we can sustain the positive momentum, and speed up national efforts to meet our commitments. For instance, through national plans and milestones to ensure steady progress. This is a discussion that we are starting today and expect the discussion to continue and also be an issue that will be addressed by Heads of State and Government when they meet in Brussels in May. Our aim is to give our ambition for fairer burden-sharing a strong boost when we meet in Brussels in May.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Secretary Mattis in his intervention said America will meet its responsibilities but if your nations do not want to see American moderate its commitment to this Alliance each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defence. Do you interpret that as a threat? Do you see that as America making its support conditional and how do you read that language?

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): Secretary Mattis expressed a very strong commitment to NATO and to the Trans-Atlantic bond and to the importance of strengthening it and that was very much welcomed in the meeting because all the other Ministers expressed the same commitment to the Trans-Atlantic bond because we all understand that we are safer and stronger together. Strong NATO is good for Europe and good for the United States and Canada and especially in times of turmoil, uncertainty, we need the strong ... a strong Trans-Atlantic partnership and strong NATO. And that was the message from Secretary Mattis.

At the same time he underlined the importance of fair burden sharing and the importance of that those countries who or which are not meeting the target of 2 percent that they have to increase defence spending. And all those who had the floor during the meeting expressed strong support to the same commitment and many of those countries spending less than 2 percent expressed ambitions, plans, commitments to now really start to increase defence spending and we have seen the first steps because we have seen that the cuts stopped in 2015 and in 2016 we had a significant increase.

And now we are discussing how can we make sure that that continues because we have a long way to go. This has been my top priority since I became Secretary General of NATO. I raised the issue of burden sharing, defence spending in all my meetings in all the capitals. I will continue to do so and I look forward to working together with Secretary Mattis on addressing the importance of burden sharing across the whole Alliance.

Oana Lungescu: Jane’s.

Q: Ah, yes Brooks Tigner, Jane’s Defence. On the budgetary issue is there any argument for the European allies to accelerate their ten year pledge at Warsaw to reach the 2 percent goal or should some other supplementary arrangement be agreed? And secondly when you say national milestones are you referring specifically to a national military expenditure milestone? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We have started to move and we have taken two important steps. In 2015 we stopped the cuts, in 2016 we started to increase so we have in that sense started already to implement on what we decided in 2014 to stop the cuts, gradually increase and to move towards the 2 percent. The big question is now how can we can make sure that we continue ... that we maintain the momentum and that’s exactly why I welcome ideas like for instance national plans.

Some allies already have national plans, very clear commitments, road maps on how to move from the current spending level to 2 percent. Then it’s possible to measure, it’s possible to discuss the progress against the national plans and the national milestones on how to increase defence spending. Other allies do not have that kind of plans so the question is whether we should, we shall agree that all allies need those kind ... these kind of plans describing how they’ll meet the commitment ... increased defence spending, meet defence pledge we agreed in 2014 and also enabling us to review the progress in NATO. But exactly what kind of plans what kind of review and so on is just an idea that has been discussed today. We will need some time to assess the idea, to develop the idea and then agree later on. But the milestones they will be connected to defence spending in one way or another.

Q: Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. I wanted to ask what is your specific understanding of what it would mean for America to moderate its commitment to NATO as Secretary Mattis said today.

Jens Stoltenberg: For me this is about that the U.S. commitment to NATO is more than words; it is also deeds, and the U.S. is delivering and stepping up its support for European security because these days we see the deployment of new U.S. forces in Europe for the first time in many, many years. We will have a new armoured brigade, a new armoured brigade is deploying these days and we will have more U.S. equipment, more U.S. exercises, more U.S. supplies pre-positioned in Europe. So my takeaway from this meeting is that there’s a strong U.S. commitment to NATO in words and in deeds. The presence of U.S. soldiers in Europe is going up not down and there’s also willingness from the U.S. side to continue to strengthen and to support especially in the area, including, for instance, when it comes to the fight against terrorism - how NATO can be used more as a tool in the fight against terrorism.

Oana Lungescu: Kommersant.

Q: Thank you. My question is tomorrow morning there will be a discussion about cyber-security issues. Is it, will it be related to Russia too? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: So we are in the process of strengthening our cyber-defences. We have been working on that for some time and we are constantly adapting our cyber defences because the cyber threats is evolving and changing all the time. We have seen a sharp increase in the number of cyber-attacks and cyber incidents. The attacks are more sophisticated, more intense and we have seen reports also from many NATO allied countries about different kinds of cyber incidents and cyber threats. We have seen reports about Russia being behind several of them and we see the same pattern when it comes to cyber-attacks against NATO and NATO networks. We have seen an increase by 60 percent in the number of incidents, cyber incidents against NATO networks from 2015 to 2016 and that’s the reason why we are strengthening our cyber defences.

We are sharing best practices, we are developing technologies, we are helping allies with strengthening their cyber defences, we are doing more exercises and we are also in the process of establishing cyber as a military domain alongside air, land and and sea. Some of these attacks are sophisticated and the information they are targeting makes it clear that States, governments have to be behind and as I said there are several reports from different allies about Russia being behind at least many of those attacks.

Oana Lungescu: Gentleman in the front.

Q: Philip (inaudible) from Norwegian Broadcasting. Given today’s meeting with Mattis and also him implying that they will have to reduce the commitment if Europe does not step up, do you think it’s necessary to not only keep the momentum but increase the momentum and reach 2 percent before ten years, maybe within 5 or 6 years to actually live up to the expectations of the new U.S. Administration?

Jens Stoltenberg: So far that has not been on the agenda. The focus has been on how can we make sure that we continue to increase defence spending and since we have seen a significant increase in 2016 I think that motivates all of us to do more. So the focus has been on how can we develop national commitments, national plans to make sure that we implement what we have already agreed. Then I think we should have an open mind and sit down and discuss exactly how do we develop these national plans, how can we establish different kinds of milestones.

I think it’s a bit too early to be too specific and too detailed exactly on how we develop that tool but I welcome a discussion to strengthen and to give even more support for the idea of implementing what we already have agreed. Let me just add that this is not the U.S. telling Europe to increase defence spending. This is 28 allies, heads of States and governments sitting around the same table in 2014 and looking into each other’s eyes and agreeing that we shall increase defence spending. So this is about implementing something which 28 heads of State and government has agreed that we will do together. And of course I welcome all pressure, all support to make sure that that happens.

Oana Lungescu: Lady in the front row.

Q: (inaudible) Business Daily Russia. I have two questions about terrorism. People here at NATO always saying that NATO is not that actively involved in Syria now because its members already participate in (inaudible) coalition so how what could NATO offer as a military organization to its members in Syria in fighting terrorism that they can’t do on their own? And my second question is about this new recently established hub in Naples, could you please elaborate on how much, how big so how much the Center is going to work on Syria issue? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all NATO supports the coalition, also in its air operations over Syria with our AWACS surveillance planes. But there has been no call for a NATO combat role or presence inside Syria. And when I envisage or argue in favour of a stronger NATO role in combating terrorism my main idea is not to have NATO in the high end combat operations. Of course NATO can do that if we are asked but that’s not my main focus. My main focus is how can NATO do more when it comes to training local forces, building local capacity so someone can take responsibility for their own security and fight terrorism themselves. And there are of course big differences but NATO has a lot of experience from Bosnia-Herzegovina, from Kosovo and from Afghanistan and in all these places the success of NATO has been that we have been able to end combat operations and enabling local forces to take responsibility for stability in their own region.

If there’s any lesson learned from Afghanistan it is that we should have started earlier to train the Afghans enabling them to take over responsibility for their own security. I visited recently Bosnia-Herzegovina, we have a national army there, very much trained and developed by NATO and of course that’s key for the stability for Bosnia-Herzegovina. We helped develop the Kosovo security force - key for the stability in Kosovo. So my answer is that there has not been any call for a NATO combat role in Syria but I believe that in the whole region we can do more to build local capacity because when ISIL is driven out of Mosul, when ISIL is defeated in Raqqa someone has to be there and to stabilize the country, to keep the terrorist down and to make sure that we can have a peaceful lasting solution. And that’s exactly why we need to train local forces and NATO has a lot of experience and potential to do more of that.

Q: [away from microphone – inaudible]

Jens Stoltenberg: The Center in Naples will be a cornerstone, important element in our, what should I say, efforts to assess, to coordinate, to understand the developments and (inaudible) the Middle East region, North Africa including of course the developments in Libya.

Oana Lungescu: Last question (inaudible).

Q: (inaudible) from Russia News Agency (inaudible). Secretary General today (inaudible) announced the meeting that will be held tomorrow in Baku between the top military officials from U.S. and Russia. General Dunford and General Gerasimov, could you tell us whether NATO has succeed in contacting Gerasimov or arranged a meeting with him and do you think that new attitude for U.S. Administration will make military to military contacts between Russia and NATO easier? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all I think it is important that this meeting in Baku takes place. The U.S. is the biggest NATO ally and I welcome also that NATO allies on bi-lateral basis develop military lines of communications and develop a dialogue with Russia. In NATO we have been able to convene two meetings of the NATO Russia Council where we also have addressed different military issues including exercises, briefing (sic) exercises, military transparency, risk reduction and other issues related to military issues including with some military briefers in the room so we have developed that kind of contact in the NATO Russia Council framework. So far there has been no direct contact between General Gerasimov and and General Petr Pavel but I know that there work going on to see if we can develop also that kind of dialogue with Russia.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. That’s all we have time for now but we’ll see you a bit later. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.