by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the Munich Security Conference
First of all I would like to say that it’s always good to be in Munich and to be at the Security Conference and especially this year because we live at a pivotal moment for our security and in times of turmoil and unpredictability we need a strong Trans-Atlantic bond more than ever and a very clear message from the Defence Minister’s meeting in Brussels which ended yesterday was that we all stand behind the strong Trans-Atlantic partnership and it was a very strong commitment to the Trans-Atlantic partnership from both Europe and North America because we all know that alone we cannot cope with all the challenges, we have to cope with the security environment, the new challenges, standing together.
And of course, one of the issues that was stressed by the Defence Ministers but also in my meetings with Secretary Mattis was the importance of burden sharing, increased defence spending across Europe and Canada and fair burden sharing.
And this was strongly stressed by all the countries, all the 28 Allies, and I will, in my remarks tomorrow, address the need for burden sharing, for a strong Trans-Atlantic bond and for the importance of standing together in times of uncertainty.
Q: Mr. Secretary General today you are meeting with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister here in Munich; what would be your main message to him and what are you waiting?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I’m in favour of dialogue with Russia and NATO has a very clear position that we seek dialogue with Russia. We strive for a more constructive relationship with Russia. Russia is our biggest neighbour and especially in times with more military activity along our borders with high tensions I strongly believe there is a need for dialogue between NATO and Russia addressing many different issues but especially addressing the need for predictability, transparency, risk reduction to avoid any incidents and accidents from happening and to reduce tensions. And I’m looking forward to the meeting with Minister Lavrov. I have met him before here at the Munich Security Conference and I think this Security Conference provides an excellent platform for also bilateral engagements, for instance with Minister Lavrov.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Lady over there.
Q: Can you explain to us what Secretary Mattis meant by saying he was going to moderate U.S. support for NATO and for the Trans-Atlantic Alliance unless everybody steps up to their 2 percent? What does that mean?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Secretary Mattis spoke as a friend of NATO as a leader that wants a strong NATO and all allies agreed on the message of the importance of increased defense spending that European allies and Canada have to invest more in defense in our shared security. This is not only a message from the United States but this is actually a message that was agreed by 28 Heads of State and Government of all the 28 NATO allied countries back in 2014 and of course I expect all of them to deliver and what we agreed in 2014 was to stop the cuts, to gradually increase defense spending and then to move towards the target of spending 2 percent within the decade. We have a long way to go but the good news is that we are moving in the right direction. After years of cuts in defense spending NATO allies have now started to increase defense spending. And just yesterday Romania announced that they will meet the 2 percent target this year, which add one more country to the number of countries spending 2 percent or more on defense.
Q: Secretary General, the European Commission President said that Europe should not be bullied by the United States on defense spending. Is the United States bullying the allies? How do you react to that comment?
JENS STOLTENBERG: This is not a request from the United States; this is a decision made by 28 NATO allies, 26 European and 2 North Americans - Canada and the United States. So this is something we all agreed to that we have to do together. Several European NATO allies already meet the 2 percent target and yesterday Romania announced they will meet the target of spending 2 percent on defense already this year adding one more European nation meeting the 2 percent target. Also the European Union has agreed to support that all E.U. members which are also members of NATO should meet the 2 percent target. And we do so because we know that it is in the interest of Europe to invest more in our defense to preserve the peace, to be able to provide the necessary deterrence and to preserve the solidarity within the North Atlantic Alliance. So this is not the U.S. demanding something from Europe; this is 28 allies agreeing and of course all allies expecting that we all deliver on that commitment.
Q: Given your conversations with Secretary Mattis and your pending conversations with Vice President Pence how quickly do you want the other NATO members like your own country Norway which is currently only spending 1.6 percent on defense. How could (inaudible) Norway your own country and other countries step up and start paying 2 percent? Is it (inaudible) to do it within the decade?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I expect all allies to deliver on what they promised in 2014 and that is to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then to meet the 2 percent target within a decade. Some allies are very close to be able to meet that target already. We have countries like Lithuania and Latvia that will meet the 2 percent target very soon and Romania announced yesterday that they will meet the 2 percent target. So I expect of course different allies to reach the target, what should I say, in different time not all reach the target at the same or in the same year but I expect all of them to move in the right direction to increase defense spending and to meet the 2 percent target within a decade.
Q: […inaudible …You had been the prime minister of Norway for ten years?]
JENS STOLTENBERG: I expect the same for Norway that they will increase defense spending as I expect from all other NATO allies. Many NATO allies have started to increase defense spending including Norway, I welcome that but there’s a long way to go. So several NATO allies have to increase defense spending significantly over the years to come to be able to meet the 2 percent target but we have seen that more and more allies are now really stepping up and are now really starting to move in the right direction.
OANA LUNGESCU: German Television.
Q: America gave … [inaudible] one year of time; what happens if America stops engagement and who could play the role of America in NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I’m absolutely certain that the United States will stay committed to the Trans-Atlantic bond, to the NATO Alliance because that is also in the interest of the United States. We have to remember that two World Wars and a Cold War taught us that stability and peace in Europe is also important for the United States and the only time we have invoked our collective defense clause Article 5 was after an attack on the United States. And hundreds of thousands of European and Canadian soldiers have served in Afghanistan in a military operation that was a direct response to an attack on the United States. So it is in the interest of the United States to have a strong alliance and a strong Trans-Atlantic bond. Then of course we need fair burden sharing but that’s not only just a message from the United States; that’s a message from all allies including, for instance, countries like the United Kingdom which meets the 2 percent target, Poland, Estonia and others. So I feel strongly that the commitment to make good on what we promised is a commitment all allies take very seriously and have started to move because we have seen that after years of decline in 2015 we stopped the cuts and in 2016 we have made actually a quite significant increase in total defense spending across Europe and Canada, close to 4 percent in real terms.
Q: You still haven’t said whether General Mattis threatened, warned -whatever the right word is to reduce American support if you don’t do what you’re saying on burden sharing?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Secretary Mattis conveyed a very clear and firm and fair message and that was that he expected all allies to implement what we agreed and I totally agree with him. So I expect all allies to do what we promised to do. Many allies have already started to move and to significantly increase defense spending. Some will reach the 2 percent target soon, others need some more time. We promised to stop the cuts, to gradually increase and to reach the 2 percent within a decade and we are on track to doing so but of course we need to continue. It’s not enough with one year of increase; we need several years of increase in defense spending but we are, …we have started to move in that direction.
Q: … [inaudible] to the fake news concerning the so called rape in Lithuania?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen the reports but we have also seen the very quick reaction from the Lithuania authorities, from the police and we have seen the result of the investigation so this is not true - it hasn’t happened according to the results of the investigation. But I think what we have seen in Lithuania just reminds us of the importance of resilience against these kinds of stories; the importance of a free independent critical press; the importance of the work that journalists are doing asking all the difficult questions, checking all the facts so actually I trust you being critical independent journalists being able to check the facts and tell the truth.
Q: Secretary General please please…
JENS STOLTENBERG: The Black Sea is of great importance for the Alliance, Georgia also because Georgia is a Black Sea country and we have developed a strong partnership with Georgia, we have increased our support for Georgia and we are actually … we actually decided at the Defense Minister Meeting in NATO yesterday to increase our presence in the Black Sea with maritime presence, with presence in the air, more air activity more exercises and also land based brigade. And what we do in the Black Sea is proportionate, it’s defensive and we are not … we don’t want to provoke a conflict; we want to prevent a conflict. And we are developing our partnership with Georgia in many different ways. We have a substantial package, we have the joint training center and we have also established a school for defense building or education. And let me also add that NATO Military Committee will soon visit Georgia. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly will go to Georgia in May and also our Deputies Committee will soon go to Georgia to consult with Georgia and to have the input from Georgia on the assessments of the security situation in the Black Sea region. So partnership is important for NATO and Georgia is a highly valued partner. Thank you.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much colleagues.