Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Foreign Ministers

  • 31 Mar. 2017 -
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  • Last updated 03-Apr-2017 09:27

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Good afternoon.

We have just finished an excellent meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers here in Brussels. And it was a very good atmosphere around the table and we made good progress in the preparations for the meeting of Heads of State and Government which is going to take place on the 25th May here at NATO HQ. The meeting in May will focus on two main topics.

First, we will discuss how we can strengthen the transatlantic bond through fair burden sharing. We all agree that we have to implement what we agreed in 2014 on defence investment. We have already made progress, with a 10 billion dollar rise in defence spending among European Allies and Canada last year. But we must keep up the momentum. One option we are examining is national plans to deliver on the commitments we have made. These national plans could have three elements: how nations intend to meet the 2014 pledge on defence investment; how to invest additional funding in the military capabilities that we need; and how nations intend to contribute to NATO’s operations, missions and other engagements. So this is about cash, capabilities and commitment to deployments – all three are important.

Second, we discussed NATO’s response to terrorism. Last week’s attack in London killed and wounded people from eleven different nations. It was one of many attacks Allies have seen in recent months. It was again an attack on us all and a reminder that we must all step up our efforts.

NATO is helping stabilise our neighbourhood. In Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Aegean Sea, and in supporting our partners. We are also establishing a Hub for the South in Naples. But NATO has untapped potential to do more. One of our best tools in the fight against terrorism is training local forces, helping them to build up their own capabilities, to counter and contain terrorist threats. In Iraq, we are helping local forces to better counter ISIL, including with training to counter improvised explosive devices – or IEDs.

In the last few days, NATO supplied 160 sets of counter-IED equipment to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. This equipment will help save lives. And today we decided to step up our efforts inside Iraq. Including with military medicine courses to train new paramedics, and help to maintain tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles. We can provide real expertise which makes a real difference. This is good for Iraq’s security and it is good for NATO’s security.

Ahead of our meeting in May, we will also examine a range of other ideas to tap NATO’s potential in fighting terrorism. We also assessed the situation in the Western Balkans. We agree that we must maintain our presence, our focus, and our engagement in this region, which is key to Europe’s security.

Montenegro is about to become the 29th member of our Alliance - and already has a seat at the table. I welcome this week’s ratification vote in the US Senate. Montenegro’s accession to the NATO family of democratic nations will contribute to the stability of the region and the whole of Europe, and I expect all nations to fully complete ratification in June.

The High Representative, Federica Mogherini, as well as the Ministers from Finland and Sweden, also joined us today to discuss our united approach to Russia. Credible defence and deterrence provide a strong foundation for our dialogue with Russia and yesterday’s meeting of the NATO-Russia Council was a clear demonstration of our commitment to dialogue. 

We closed the ministerial with a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. NATO is providing strong political and practical support to Ukraine. Through six active Trust Funds, around thirty five million Euros have been allocated, providing training and advice to over two thousand Ukrainian civilian and military personnel. And just today, a rehabilitation facility for wounded service personnel opens in Kharkiv, paid for by NATO’s Medical Rehabilitation Trust Fund. And NATO Allies also provide significant support. I welcome that several Allies announced today they will offer assistance to Ukraine following the explosions at the Balaklia arms depot. This is yet another clear demonstration of NATO solidarity with Ukraine.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu (Moderator): Let’s start with the BBC over there.

Q: Thank you Secretary General. Jonathan Marcus with the BBC. You say you’re looking at the option of national plans, this is clearly something that the Americans believe very strongly in, that there must be time tables and commitments on paper that people could be held to. Do you actually assume that come the May Summit there will be firm agreement on these national plans? And secondly on the counter terror obviously there’s going to be a great vacuum in Iraq as and when Mosul finally falls. Do you foresee a significant NATO role in helping to stabilize post-war Iraq?

Jens Stoltenberg: We are now working on the national plans and it’s a bit too early to say what will be the decision in May. But that is one proposal that is now on the table and we’re looking into how we can develop national plans to become a tool to implement what we agreed in 2014. And the plans as I see them can address in a way the three pillars both the need for more spending, investments in defense, but also the need to address the capabilities we need and also the need to have commitments and contributions from all allies to NATO operations, missions and different, other activities. The important thing is that we all agree on the importance of what we decided in 2014. Meaning that we have to stop the cuts, gradual increase defense spending and then move towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.

And the good news is that we have already started to implement that pledge, because in 2015 the first year after the decision was taken we actually stopped the cuts. After many years of decline in defense spending across Europe and Canada, we had a small increase in defense spending in 2015. Then in 2016 we had a significant increase of 3.8 percent in real terms or $10 billion dollars. And this is the first time in many years we see this kind of increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada. So, it has started to move in the right direction, we have some allies which are now able to announce that they will reach the 2 percent target this year. Romania announced that they will reach the 2 percent target this year, Lithuania and Latvia said they will reach it next year and other allies are following. So, we are moving in the right direction.

Then on Iraq. Well NATO is already training Iraqi officers. We have done that for some time in Jordan and we have started a modest but scalable training activity in Iraq this year and today I announced that we will step up our efforts in Iraq with training, so medical personnel and also to help maintain armoured vehicles and tanks in Iraq. And we will then examine before May and look into what more we can agree by May. My main message on this issue is that I think that the best way to fight terrorism is to build local capacity, defense institutions, security institutions but also of course train local forces.

Oana Lungescu: Washington Post.

Q: Hi, Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel today said that or he made the point that the NATO spending guidelines are not binding and he said that for Germany to live up to that 2 percent pledge would be totally unrealistic. Is the Trump Administration misinterpreting the 2014 pledges and how are you going to bridge the gap between the American and German positions?

Jens Stoltenberg: All allies understand and accept the need for fair burden sharing and respect the decision we made in 2014. And Germany has started to increase after years of decline in German defense spending we have seen now an increase and actually a significant increase in German defense spending in 2016 and they also announced further increases in German defense spending. So, Germany has started to move in the right direction and that makes a difference because the German economy is so big compared to other, the biggest economy in Europe.

And then we are now looking into how we can develop tools to make sure that we deliver, that we implement and that’s exactly why we are now looking into the proposal of developing individual national plans for all allies. The national plans may vary a bit. I don’t think we have exactly the same kind of national plans for all allies because some allies have enacted in law that they will spend 2 percent, other allies will not do that but they may for instance have a cross-party agreement in the Parliament on increased defense spending. Exactly how this will be done is something we are now working on but the important thing for me is that all allies accept and understand and respect the decision we made in 2014. And we have started to implement and Germany has also started to increase defense spending.

Oana Lungescu: Okay. Wall Street Journal, just behind you.

Q: On the counter-terrorism you know Secretary of State Tillerson talked about, he raised the issue the cyber domain and perhaps suggesting that NATO could do more to counter terrorism in cyber. You made the Iraq announcement; I wonder what other areas you’ll be looking at between now and in May for increasing NATO’s counter-terrorism efforts and whether that does include the cyber domain?

Jens Stoltenberg: We are increasing and strengthening our cyber defenses to be able to protect us against many different kinds of cyber attacks, also as a part of our response to terrorism and therefore we have strengthened our cyber defenses both in strengthening our ability to defend NATO networks and sometimes we use NATO networks in our operations against terrorism. For instance, to be able to protect our networks in Afghanistan it’s of great importance for our operation in Afghanistan which is a key contribution of NATO to the fight against terrorism. Then we are of course working with nations to help to help them to improve their cyber networks or to defend their cyber networks.

We have a Centre of Excellence we have established cyber as, we are in the process of establishing cyber as a military domain so we have sea, land, air, and sea and cyber as military domains and all of this is of course contributing to what should I say the general improvement of our cyber defenses which is relevant also for the fight against terrorism. So, we are examining different tools including cyber on how we can do even more when it comes to contributing to the fight against terrorism. We will work on different issues; cyber is one but also special operation forces. NATO has a Headquarter, Special Operation Forces Headquarters and they do some training already, they have some deployable training teams. The issue is whether we can do more of that in stepping up our efforts to provide support for the fight against terrorism.

Oana Lungescu: CBS, in the second row. Here, second row.

Q: I’m Elizabeth Palmer with CBS. Can you tell us whether there is any sort of a sanction for countries that don’t come up with a plan in May? What’s your “or else” in other words if it just doesn’t happen, if there are persistent shirkers? And secondly can you tell us where the discussions are with Russia on implementing the Minsk Accords?
Jens Stoltenberg: The meeting we had today was important because it demonstrated Trans-Atlantic unity and it was important because it was one meeting in a series of meetings where the new U.S. Administration has come to Europe and committed a strong as I expressed strong commitment to NATO to the Trans-Atlantic bond but also where European allies and Canada has committed to more investments in our shared security, increased defense spending.

And that was reiterated at the meeting today. And we all respect, agree that we have to implement the decision we made in 2014. So, that’s the important message from this meeting. And this is not only words but also in deeds because allies have actually started to increase defense spending $10 billion in one year 2016 is a significant step in the right direction. Then we are working on the plans, so it’s a bit to early too say exactly how they will be designed and we haven’t made any final decision on them but that’s one of the proposals. We’re not changing the decision we made in 2014 but developing a tool to implement what we made, the decision we made in 2014. So, the plans is not changing the decision the plans are only a tool to implement the decision in 2014. And therefore, the message is that is the plans will help us but the decision stands and exactly how the plans will look like it’s too early to say because we will work on them and then I will hope that we will have an agreement by May so we can have a clear decision by May on the national plans.

Q: [away from microphone] Russia.

Jens Stoltenberg: And, sorry Russia and Minsk. First of all they had a very good discussion. Russia because NATO and NATO allies agree on what we call the dual track approach meaning we need to a strong NATO, we need credible deterrence and defense as a platform for engaging with Russia in a political dialogue. And that’s exactly what we are doing now. We have implemented the biggest re-enforcement to our collected defense since the end of the Cold War. We have tripled the size of the NATO response force, we have started to deploy four battle groups to Poland and the Baltic countries. We have established eight new headquarters in the eastern part of the Alliance and we are increasing defense spending. So, we are delivering on deterrence and defense, the strength pillar.

But at the same time we have been able to convene four meetings of the NATO Russia Council starting last summer after two years without any meetings and of course that dialogue is not easy, that dialogue is very often very difficult. For instance yesterday we had a meeting on the NATO Russia Council where we discussed Ukraine, and that was a difficult discussion but I think it is important that we sit around the same table exchange views and arguments also on the issues or especially on the issues where we disagree like for instance Ukraine. We have been able to make some progress on what we call transparency, predictability, risk reduction, for instance we are addressing now with experts measures to improve air safety in the Baltic Region.

There was a meeting recently in Finland and I welcome the work which is now ongoing on addressing air safety in the Baltic region. On Ukraine, the main message is that the only way to a peaceful solution is full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and that has to start with a ceasefire which is respected. And the way to make sure that the ceasefire is respected is to make sure that the international monitors are allowed access to the area, unhindered safe access, so they can monitor the ceasefire and make sure that the heavy weapons are withdrawn. NATO continues to provide strong support to Ukraine. Allies announced more support during the meeting today. We stand in solidarity with Ukraine, a sovereign, democratic, prosperous Ukraine is of course good for the people of Ukraine but it’s also good for all NATO allies because this is about our values protecting them in Europe, in Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu: Second row.

Q: Marcus Becker, Der Spiegel in Germany. The German Minister, Gabriel said that at the core of the conflict between the United States and Germany is not the issue of defense spending alone but the question if the security ideas should be narrowed down to defense spending and he said that maybe even things like expenditures for refugees should be taken into account because many refugees come from countries where military interventions have failed. So, is there any discussion in NATO about taking such things like development or humanitarian aid into account when talking about burden sharing for security on a broader scale?

Jens Stoltenberg: Diplomacy, development aid, economic cooperation, all that can be important to try to help stabilize the region and therefore we need many different tools and there are international targets, guidelines for instance development aid .7 percent of GDP and then we have a NATO agreement on moving towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defense but that’s two different things, even if both are important. And we have some allies, for instance the United Kingdom they meet both the .7 percent target of GDP for development aid and spending 2 percent on defense. So, it’s possible to do both. And I welcome the fact that the United Kingdom is actually able to do that but there’s no way we can say that that in a way, for instance the United Kingdom which then meets the development aid target .7 percent they are not in a way saying that then we don’t have to spend 2 percent on defense.

The United Kingdom actually says we spend 2 percent on defense which we have agreed to in NATO and we spend .7 percent on development as we agreed to in the U.N. And there are different, we need many different tools to stabilize our neighbourhood. In Afghanistan for instance we have you know NATO allies together with the European Union and the U.N. are funding many different kinds of development programs, that is important. But there is no way we can implement those development programs without security, without safety and without training, assisting, advising the Afghan security forces. So, it’s not either development or security it is development and security and the foundation for development is that you have to have peace and security as a platform.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, we’ll go to the front now.

Q: Thank you. (inaudible). So when may we expect the North Atlantic Council in Ukraine? And could you please comment on General (inaudible) statement concerning providing (inaudible) to Ukraine? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We are grateful because we are invited, or the North Atlantic Council is invited to Ukraine and we are looking into the possibility to find time for that. But I’m not able to provide you with any exact dates. I have visited Ukraine myself, many NATO allies have visited Ukraine many times but we have not been able so far to find an exact date for a visit of the whole North Atlantic Council but we are looking into it and try to find a date. NATO and NATO allies provide support to Ukraine in many different ways. We help Ukraine with implementing reforms.

To fight corruption is important because a modern, well functioning Ukraine is also something that contributes to a more resilient Ukraine and makes Ukraine less vulnerable to outside interference. So when NATO allies and NATO helps or help Ukraine with implementing reforms with fighting corruption, with modernizing the security sector, that’s also important for the security of Ukraine. We train, we help with command and control, we help with many different trust funds in different areas but NATO as an Alliance do not possess weapons or equipment, that is something which is delivered by nations not by NATO, and therefore it’s not for NATO to make decisions on the delivery of specific equipment.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, Europa Press.

Q: Thank you Secretary General. You’ve mentioned the mobile teams when you were talking about special op’s HQ, would these special mobile teams would they be used for capacity building or are we talking for a specific role in the stabilization on Iraq or even possibly in the fight against terrorism like counter-terrorism proper (sic) if allies agree to it in May? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The mobile teams are already used to train and develop special operation forces in different countries in our neighbourhood. They have been used in Tunisia, I think we’ve used them in Jordan, I think we also trained special operation forces by special operation forces in other in several other countries in the region. They have not been used in Afghanistan, sorry, in Iraq but as I said the possible use of our special operation forces headquarters and the mobile training teams is one of the different options we are now looking into when we are looking into what more we can do in general to fight terrorism.

Oana Lungescu: And last question, lady over there.

Q: Secretary General, Anna Vvedenskaya from Brussels Diplomatic. You like to repeat always that Alliance is a union of values of democracies so what Alliance has done to liberate our colleagues in Turkey because now already almost 200 journalists there are behind the bars?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is based on some core values, democracy, the rule of law, individual liberties and I have stated that many times and I personally attach great importance to those values. At the same time we have to understand that Turkey is the ally most affected by the turmoil, the violence in Iraq and Syria. They have suffered many many terrorist attacks and they suffered a coup attempt where several hundred people were killed and the Parliament building was bombed while Parliamentarians were inside the building.

So of course Turkey has the right to defend itself and it has the right to prosecute those behind the failed coup attempt. But this has to be conducted in a way which is in accordance with the rule of law. That is something I have stated several times and I also welcomed that there is established contact between the Council of Europe and Turkey because it is the Council of Europe which is the European body where Turkey is a member that has the tools and responsibility for the European human rights convention and therefore I welcome that there is direct contact between the Council of Europe and Turkey addressing these issues.

Oana Lungescu: Last but not least, CNN second row.

Q: Our question is you have had a few hours with U.S. Secretary Tillerson. What other questions remain?

Jens Stoltenberg: Sorry, I didn’t fully understand. Other questions on defense spending or?

Q: When you met U.S. Secretary what kind of other questions remain?

Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah. We addressed in the meeting today which we have three sessions and we addressed many different issues but the main topics was in the first session was burden sharing, defense spending, the Trans-Atlantic unity and United States Secretary Tillerson expressed a strong commitment to NATO to the Trans-Atlantic bond but he also expressed a strong position from the United States on the importance of fair burden sharing and let me add that I believe its very important to remember that fair burden sharing or increased defense spending across Europe and Canada is not just something we have to do to please the United States. It’s not just about pleasing the United States, it is about investing in our own security in the security of Europe because Europe is very close to the turmoil, the violence in North Africa, the Middle East, Iraq, Syria and we are close to a more assertive Russia.

But that was the main message or one of the two main messages in the first session was to address Trans-Atlantic bond, burden sharing and we also addressed and discussed what more NATO can do to fight terrorism especially how we can prevent, prevention is better than intervention and how we can build local capacity instead of deploying large number of our own troops in big combat operations, it is about training local forces, building local capacity enabling them to stabilize their own country and to fight terrorism themselves, as we have done for instance in Afghanistan for many years. Then we discussed Russia and the main message there is defense and dialogue and also to work with partners like Sweden, Finland, the European Union and others and then we had the meeting on the NATO Ukraine Commission where we expressed strong solidarity the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of Ukraine.

So, that sums up the whole meeting and that ends this press conference.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much.

Oana Lungescu: Wishing you a good weekend. Thank you.