by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers
Today we will prepare the ground for the meeting of NATO leaders here in Brussels in May.
Our transatlantic bond has been rock-solid for almost seventy years. It is vital for Europe, and vital for North America and it is especially important now, in times of serious challenges. When our Heads of State and Government meet in eight weeks, their agenda will include two key points.
First, fair burden-sharing to keep the transatlantic bond strong. We have started to increase defence spending, but we need to keep up the momentum and meet the pledge we have all made. This is about more funding, but it is not just about cash. It is also about investing in the capabilities we need and committing forces to NATO deployments. So it is about cash, capabilities, and commitments.
The second major topic will be stepping up NATO’s efforts to project stability and fight terrorism. We have made significant contributions for many years - from Afghanistan to the Balkans. But NATO has untapped potential to do more. In Iraq, we are already building the capacity of local forces. Including with life-saving training to counter improvised explosive devices and I hope we will be able to expand our support to new areas. As part of our broad international effort, NATO can and must make a real difference.
Over lunch, we will turn to NATO’s relations with Russia. Our key partners – the European Union, Finland and Sweden – will join our talks. We have a united position on Russia: strong defence and deterrence combined with dialogue and we are delivering on both.
We will close the ministerial meeting with a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. A strong sign of our continued commitment to Ukraine. Our support is both political and practical.
And we are providing assistance in areas including cyber defence, command and control, and medical rehabilitation.
And with that, I’m ready for your questions.
Q (WSJ): Mr Secretary General, do you think Americans are pushing too much on defence spending? Do they need to listen to the European explanations about capabilities being just as important? And secondly, do you think Mr Tillerson ruffled feathers here with the scheduling snafu? Are there doubts about the value he places on the Alliance?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We have to remember that defence spending, increased defence spending, is something 28 Allies agreed together in 2014. We were together – the US, Canada and all the NATO Allies from Europe – sitting around the same table, and we decided to stop the cuts in defence spending, gradually increase and then move towards 2% within a decade. So increased defence spending is not about pleasing the United States. It is about investing more in European security because it is important for Europe. Europe is close to the turmoil, the violence we see in North Africa, in the Middle East, Iraq, Syria. And Europe is close to a more assertive Russia, willing to use force against a neighbour, in Ukraine. So investing in defence is in the interest of Europe, and therefore all European Allies agreed when we decided in 2014 to invest more in our collective security.
Then on the rescheduling, I would just say that Foreign Ministers are busy people. And it happens that planned dates don’t work. And I’m happy that we were able to reschedule the meeting, and to have a meeting today, to actually advance the meeting. And I think that the fact that we were able to reschedule the meeting on such a short notice illustrates the flexibility of the Alliance. But perhaps more importantly, it illustrates the commitment of all Allies to NATO and the transatlantic bond. And it is important that we meet, especially now when we see greater security challenges and we need to strengthen the transatlantic bond.
I’m looking forward to welcoming Secretary Tillerson here at the Foreign Ministerial meeting later today, as I was able to welcome Vice President Pence to NATO some weeks ago, and also Secretary Mattis to the defence ministerial meeting. So we see a strong US commitments to NATO, to the transatlantic bond. Not only in words, but also in deeds – by participating in NATO meetings but more importantly by deploying more US forces in Europe.
Q (CNN): Can you speed up the 2% of spending on defence of the GDP?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We have already turned a corner when it comes to defence spending. Because we have to remember that we decided in 2014 was not to spend 2% of GDP on defence next year. We decided to stop the cuts, to gradually increase and then to move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade. Some Allies already do that. But the good news is for instance that this year, Romania has declared that already in 2017 they will meet the 2% target, adding to those countries which already meet the target. Then next year, Lithuania and Latvia have declared that they will meet the 2% target. And we have seen a significant increase in European spending since we made the decision in the autumn of 2014. In 2015, the cuts stopped. And in 2016, we saw a significant increase in defence spending by 3.8% or 10 billion US dollars in real terms. So we have started to move in the right direction. We still have a long way to go. But I welcome the fact that when we made the decision, we saw that European Allies and Canada started to move in the right direction by stopping the cuts and starting to increase defence spending.
Q (AFP): One of the options would be to have national plans where countries will have a bit more pressure, because they’ll have to explain every year how they make progress. Is this something that can be decided today?
SECRETARY GENERAL: I expect national plans to be an important topic to be discussed today. Because the idea of developing national plans for all NATO Allies is something we’ve started to look into among Allies. And the plan is to make decisions when Heads of State and Government meet in May. But because this meeting is an important building block or preparation for the meeting in May, I expect national plans for how to meet the defence investment pledge that will be an important topic today.
The idea of national plans is to outline how we will implement what we decided on defence spending back in 2014. But it’s more than defence spending. It’s about investing more in defence, - defence spending – but it’s also about capabilities. Outlining how we will fill the capability gaps, deliver the capabilities we need, and how NATO Allies can deliver or commit forces to NATO missions and operations. So the idea is to have national plans that cover spending, capabilities and commitments to NATO operations and missions. Exactly how that will be done, exactly how we will develop these plans, it’s a bit too early. But we are now looking into it, there’s an ongoing discussion. And I think it’s also obvious that the design of the plans has to be a bit different from country to country. But the most important thing is to have a document which illustrates and outlines how we will implement what we agreed on defence spending and capabilities and force commitments in 2014.
Q (AP): The new US administration’s also looking for more action on counterterrorism work from NATO. NATO’s deploying troops to the Baltics and Poland as deterrence. Why can’t NATO send out troops to combat terrorists, because that’s a concern that a lot of citizens have.
SECRETARY GENERAL: NATO already plays a key role in the fight against terrorism. We have to remember that our biggest military operation ever, our presence in Afghanistan, is about fighting terrorism. It’s about preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. And we are there to help and support the Afghan forces in fighting many different terrorist groups and fighting the Taliban.
We provide support to the US-led Coalition fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria. We train Iraqi officers. We are also providing direct support with our AWACS surveillance planes to the air operations of the Coalition. And we work with different countries like Jordan and Tunisia and other countries to help to build their capacity to fight terrorism themselves. And then I’d like to add that NATO’s presence also in the Balkans is related to fighting terrorism. Because a stable Balkans is important to address the threats coming from foreign fighters. I recently visited Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, and I’m encouraged to see how focused they are on countering the threat of foreign fighters. Then we are looking into what more we can do. And I expect that to be an important issue to be discussed today, but also an issue to be discussed at the meeting in May when President Trump and other Heads of State and Government will meet here in Brussels at the NATO headquarters. Let me add one more thing – and that is that I think an important lesson learned from Kosovo, from Bosnia Herzegovina and from Afghanistan, is that in the long run, it is much better to fight terrorism and project stability by training local forces, building local security institutions, instead of NATO deploying large numbers of our own combat troops in combat operations. That’s exactly what we do in Afghanistan – we have ended our combat operation, but we build local capacity by training the Afghan forces so they can fight the Taliban themselves. And that’s also what we do in Iraq by training local forces there.