by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers on deterrence and defence
NATO faces challenges which are more complex than at any time since the end of the Cold War and the Alliance is responding. Countering threats stemming from the Middle East and North Africa is an essential part of that response. We have just discussed what more NATO can do to project stability beyond our borders and to fight terrorism. We have agreed to create a Hub for the South at our Joint Force Command in Naples. This will be a focal point for increasing our understanding of the challenges stemming from the region and our ability to address them. We expect around 100 people will work at the Hub, assessing potential threats and engaging with partner nations and organisations. But the Hub is only one part of NATO’s Framework for the South.
We are also improving our advance planning and stepping up training and exercises, so that we can better conduct operations in the region if necessary. Including with the NATO Response Force.
We also discussed our Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability. This is key for our ability to anticipate and prevent crises. It brings together data from sources like NATO AWACS aircraft, as well as national assets on land, in the air, at sea, and in space.
And soon, NATO surveillance drones based in Sicily will also contribute to the bigger picture, helping us make quick and informed decisions.
To ensure we stay ahead of the curve, ministers agreed today to develop a follow-on capability for our AWACS planes after they retire around the year 2035. This will help deal with challenges from our southern neighbourhood, and support our defence and deterrence against any threat.
With that, I am ready for your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Reuters.
Q: Secretary General, I wanted to come back to Secretary Mattis’ speech. I wanted to press you a little bit because he’s essentially saying to European allies increase spending or we may moderate support for NATO. Do you see that as a threat, a warning, an ultimatum?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO SECRETARY GENERAL): I see it as a very firm message. Secretary Mattis conveyed a very firm message to all allies and that message is about the importance of fair burden sharing and it reflects a political reality in the United States and I have seen that myself in different meetings with politicians from both parties underlining the importance of a more balanced and fair burden sharing in the alliance and I think that was appreciated by the ministers, the clarity of the message by Secretary Mattis and actually the allies, the other ministers responded by conveying a very firm message back and that is that they are ready now to step up, they are ready to do more, not only as a favour to the United States but because they see that it is in the interest of Europe and Canada to invest more in defence. This is in the interest of Europe because Europe need stronger defence, more investments in our security and they also pointed at the fact that several allies have started to increase defence spending. We had close to 4% real increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada in 2016 and several allies in the debate after Secretary Mattis conveyed this very firm message stated that they will reach the 2% soon. Estonia, Lithuania, sorry Estonia is only at 2% but Latvia and Lithuania stated clearly that they will be at 2% very soon and also Romania stated that they will be at 2% very soon and of course many other allies stated that they have started to increase, will increase and actually said that the message from Secretary Mattis is a fair message, it’s a fair demand that we need fair burden sharing in the alliance.
OANA LUNGESCU: The gentleman over there.
Q: Sunday Express. I’d like to ask you about Libya please. You’ve talked about this new hub in Naples. If reports are to believed, there’s every chance that Russia will gain a bigger foothold in Libya if it’s allowed to. Has NATO discussed that today and its repercussions?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO strongly supports the UN efforts to strengthen the government of national accord, the UN recognized the government. NATO stands also ready to provide help and assistance in close coordination with other international organizations like the UN and the European Union. I recently met with Prime Minister al-Sarraj and we discussed how NATO could provide assistance. What we are looking into is how NATO can provide assistance when it comes to building security institutions: a minister of defence, a joint chief of staff and these other institutions which are so vital if Libya is going to be able to develop forces and capabilities that are able to stabilize their country. So we will continue to support the efforts of the UN, we will continue to support the UN recognized government and we call on all countries and especially all members of the UN Security Council to support the efforts of the UN and support the UN recognized government of national accord.
OANA LUNGESCU: AP?
Q: Lorne Cook, Associated Press. You’ve had a chance now with a second meeting with Secretary Mattis, looking toward counter-terrorism, something that the US Administration is demanding that more be done on, is the hub the kind of thing you think that’s going to satisfy those requirements or is there more and what specifically might that be? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: The hub is only one element but it is, it provides us with a tool that can be used addressing different challenges and different situations because it increases our situational awareness, it increases our ability to coordinate, to collect information and to understand information but this has to be seen in connection with other things we are doing. We are strengthening our intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities, we have established a new division where we merge civil and military intelligence in a new NATO division for intelligence, we are improving our intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, we will soon have the drones in Sicily and we are improving the way we are analyzing and understanding intelligence and we’re also going to modernize the AWACS capabilities. So we’re doing many different things and all this is relevant for the south. At the same time, I believe strongly that it’s more and more support now in NATO for the idea that the best way we can project stability is by building local capacity. That is what we have been able to do in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan in different circumstances and the best weapon we have against terrorism is to train local forces and therefore, I think we should use the untapped potential of NATO, which has proven and tested capabilities in doing exactly that, train local forces but we should use that untapped potential more to project stability by training local forces in the wider Middle East region as we have done for instance in Afghanistan. Just to illustrate, in Afghanistan, NATO has been able to build together, with Afghans of course, an army from close to nothing to a national army and security forces of 350,000 personnel, which is able to take responsibility for the security in their own country. We help them, we assist them but they do the combat operations, we assist them and that’s a great success story in building local capacity.
OANA LUNGESCU: Second row, Digi24.
Q: Secretary General, I have a question also about defense spending and I would like to ask you, do you think it’s possible for all member states to increase their defense spending by the end of this year, to have a project about this issue?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I expect all allies to make good on the promise they made in 2014 and that was to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards the 2% target within a decade and of course I expect all allies to make good on the decision they have made themselves. This is not something that someone else has invented for NATO. This is 28 leaders of NATO that sat around the same table and agreed. So of course I expect all of them to do that. That doesn’t mean that all of them have to meet the 2% target next year but I expect no cuts and then, a gradual increase towards the 2%. What we will discuss also during our dinner session tonight is how can we develop tools, mechanisms to make sure that we are delivering, that all allies are making good on their promise. We have seen some encouraging signs, some very important steps in the right directions but we need more, we have a long way to go and therefore, I welcome the idea, for instance, to develop national plans addressing how each individual ally shall move from the current spending level to the 2%. Of course, some allies are already there, so then a national plan should address how can they remain above 2%.
OANA LUNGESCU: Swiss Radio, third row.
Q: Secretary General, some of the countries that cut military expenditures in the European Union are on a very tight rope from the European Union when it comes to public expenditures. So, even that you have now close and constant contact with the EU, do you think there is a case for raising the matter with the European Union or maybe you have done this already and also as a former Social Democrat Prime Minister, you’ll fully grasp the difficulties that some might have in delivering the message that you have to cut everywhere but you have to increase military spending.
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I know that some European, members of the European Union have raised this issue with the European Union, I will not go into an internal European debate in the European Union but what I can say is that this is always a question of priority because most European countries, they have a public expenditure between 40 or 50% of GDP and they spend at least 1% on defense, so of course it is possible to go from 1 to 2% even with the current spending levels in the different European countries. This is about what you prioritize in your budgets. I’m not saying it’s easy but I’m saying it’s possible. Second, and that refers to my own experience, I know, of course, that almost all politicians, they would prefer to spend money on education, on health, on roads and some of them also like to spend money on tax cuts and that’s a political decision but sometimes we have to be able to say that security, investing in our security, in our shared security has higher priority than all the other areas we’d like to spend money and that has been the case for Europe for many, many years. I know, for instance, that my own country, Norway, we were at 3% in the 50s and the 60s and I think also most of the 70s, then we were at 2% until 1995 and in Europe, the average was 2% until the year 2000, so it’s not that long ago that Europe was able to deliver 2% with both conservative governments and social democratic governments, governments from different political camps and at that time in 2000, the GDP was smaller than today. So it is possible to deliver 2% if that is something which is needed to invest in our shared security.
OANA LUNGESCU: OK, Europa Press just behind you.
Q: Thank you. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish news agency Europa Press and a quick question going back on the hub. By when do you think it will be up and running since I think that half of the resources will be already available within Naples? I didn’t quite get if eventually we would need to launch an operation if it would be Naples that would have the command or if it would be still back to SHAPE and then, if I may, a quick question, another one, on the 2% expenditure. Certain allies, particularly Spain and Italy, are saying that it’s very well to have to make progress on the 2% but they would like NATO to take into account the national contributions that they make for operation submissions. I mean, we see that countries like Spain are very active in missions of NATO, both in the east and both in the south. So is this something that … is this a case to not relax the 2% target in 10 years but maybe intermediate targets or how could this be taken into account? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We will activate the hub for the south as soon as possible and as you mention, we have a lot of staff already in place and several nations also made commitments, contributing, that they will contribute with additional staff at the meeting today. I’m not able to give you an exact date but we will as swiftly as possible activate the hub for the south. Of course, it is the kind of operation that will decide who is going to command the different operations. So whether that is JFC Naples or another command of NATO depends totally on what kind of operation. The hub is not going to command big military operations. The hub is a hub for collecting information, for improving situational awareness and for coordinating efforts and activities but not the sort of big command structure but we have, for instance, JFC, Joint Force Command Naples, which is one of our big command structures. Then, fair burden sharing is not only about spending. Of course, fair burden sharing is also about contributions to NATO missions and operations and you’re right, Italy and Spain, they’re really contributing in many different ways, to our presence in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, Spain has deployed Patriot batteries to Turkey, Italy is contributing in many different ways to our maritime operations and so on and also, for instance to our Enhanced Forward Presence in the east and we are very grateful for all those contributions and in the broad picture of burden sharing, of course, committing and sending soldiers to operations is part of that picture and I commend Italy and Spain for what they are doing and I also would like to underline that many European allies contribute a lot also in operations which are of great importance for the United States. I mentioned several times that the only time we have invoked Article 5 was after an attack on the United States and hundreds of thousands of European soldiers have served alongside US soldiers in Afghanistan in the military operation which was a direct response to a military attack on the United States and this just reflects that we are together, we are protecting each other, this is good for Europe and but also, of course, good for the United States. At the moment, half of the soldiers in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan are non-US soldiers. So there’s a substantial European contribution.
OANA LUNGESCU: Over there, second row.
Q: Good evening. Could you specify further which kind of assets will be deployed in Naples and in Sigonella in the following years and which is the timeline you have in mind for deploying such assets or develop them? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: To Naples, we will deploy people but that’s a very, very, very important asset. So that will be people in the hub, people sharing information, analyzing the situation and coordinating activities. So the hub for the south in Naples will be part or will be integrated in the big NATO command which is already there, Joint Force Command in Naples. So that will be one element in a bigger NATO command structure, which is already in Naples. Then, in Sicily, we are going to deploy drones, surveillance drones, which will add very much to our capacity of being able to conduct surveillance, to have a better picture of activities and what’s going on on the ground by using them different places but their home base will be in Sicily.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. That’s all we have time for now and we’ll see you tomorrow.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.