Joint press point

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

  • 11 May. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 11 May. 2017 14:50

(As delivered)

Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Thank you very much, Chancellor Merkel.

And let me start by thanking Germany for your outstanding contributions to international peace and security. You contribute to NATO operations in many different ways, from Afghanistan to Kosovo to the Aegean Sea. And over the past few months, Germany has taken the leadership over one of our battlegroups in the Baltic region. Your troops are now leading our battlegroup in Lithuania and this is yet another example of how much NATO welcomes the contributions of Germany to our Alliance. And you are providing troops for NATO’s quick reaction forces.

Let me also thank you for your strong commitment to engaging with Russia Defence and dialogue are both essential if we are to have a constructive relationship.

We just had an excellent discussion to prepare for the meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels on the 25th May. At the meeting we will address two main topics. That is the transatlantic relationship/burden sharing and NATO’s efforts to fight international terrorism. 

First, on burden sharing;

In 2014, at our Summit in Wales, we all agreed to stop the cuts in defence spending, gradually increase and move towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defence within a decade. We are doing this for the security of our own citizens. And for the security of Europe in a more uncertain world. Germany has increased its defence budget.

And I very much welcome that. Burden sharing is not just about money. Burden sharing is also about capabilities and contributions to NATO missions and operations. And Germany makes key contributions on all these aspects.

The other main issue we are going to discuss at the meeting in May is NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism. NATO has been an active partner in the international fight against terrorism for many years. Our mission in Afghanistan was a direct consequence of the 9/11 attacks against the United States. And we continue training the Afghan security forces with Germany in lead in the north of Afghanistan.  We are currently reviewing our training mission in Afghanistan and we will take decisions on its future scope, including on troop numbers within weeks. Afghan forces will continue to do the fighting to secure their own country. And NATO will continue to provide training, advice and assistance to the Afghan forces.

At the same time, all NATO Allies are members of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIL. NATO is supporting the Coalition with AWACS surveillance planes. And we also train Iraqi forces and we help them build defence institutions. We also work with partners in the region, like Jordan and Tunisia, because we strongly believe that to build local capacity, to train local forces is a key tool in the fight against international terrorism.

So there are many issues we are going to address when we meet in Brussels on 25th May. And I look very much forward to welcome you to Brussels, so I look forward to see you there.

Thank you.

Q:  Kristina Dunz, Deutsche Presse. [Speaking through interpreter]. Kristina Dunz, DPA. A question to both of you. Do you support the wish expressed by the Americans that NATO becomes an official member of the anti ISIS coalition? And Madame Chancellor a question regarding the scandal in the Federal Armed Forces in Germany, demands have been made to go back to conscription. What is your view of that?

ANGELA MERKEL (German Chancellor):  [Speaking through interpreter]. To begin with your second question, I think a general fundamental decision has been taken and we should continue in that continuity to carry out the necessary reforms as proposed by the Federal Minister for Defence yesterday. What the Federal Armed Forces now need is predictability regarding its development so as to make sure that the service that is generally speaking done in very good terms is continued. And the reforms mentioned by the Minister of Defence are correct and right as I see and appropriate. Now your first question, we are right now engaged in talks about the extent to which NATO can contribute in an official manner to the efforts of the coalition, talks are ongoing as I said and I encourage the Secretary General to continue these talks and to perhaps to conclude them by the 25th of May.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General):  As the Chancellor just said this is a discussion which is now ongoing in NATO and hopefully we’ll be able to make decisions by the 25th of May when we meet together all the NATO leaders. But let me just underline a few aspects related to that issue. First if NATO joins the coalition it will not change the role of NATO because NATO will continue to provide support, we will continue to focus on training, NATO will not be engaged in the combat operations. So, no one has asked for a NATO role in the combat operations neither in Syria nor in Iraq but what NATO has started to do is to provide some support to the coalition with our AWACS surveillance planes and also to do some training in Iraq. And I strongly believe that NATO has an untapped potential when it comes to building local capacity, training local forces. Because I think that one lesson we have learned from Afghanistan but also actually from Iraq is that in the long run the only viable solution is to enable local governments, local forces to stabilize their own country and to fight terrorism themselves. And if anything we can learn from Afghanistan is that perhaps we should have started earlier to train the Afghans. Now we have been able to end the combat operations in Afghanistan, the Afghans are responsible for the combat operations, they are at the front line, we are helping them with training, assistance and advice. And I really believe that that’s the kind of long term ambition that NATO should be much more engaged in, training, capacity building and not so much focused on big military combat operations beyond our borders.

ANGELA MERKEL:  If I may just briefly add that, as regards to the interpretation given by the Secretary General, I am very much in agreement with what he said and I want to send out a very clear message that given the fact that we’re engaged in negotiations right now or discussions and if a decision is taken this is not to be understood that any activity like the AWACS operations already ongoing is going to be enhanced. We’ve been very clear on that.

Q:  [Speaking through interpreter]. Madame Chancellor, Secretary General mentioned that thought is being given about increasing the numbers of forces in Afghanistan. Would Germany be willing to up its numbers, the troops already in Afghanistan beyond the ceiling of 800?  And if an additional German contribution in Afghanistan actually would be welcome by NATO?

ANGELA MERKEL:  [Speaking through interpreter]. The Federal Republic of Germany has been very clear on its view that the Afghanistan mission ought to continue, we’ve made it equally clear that we’re willing to take the lead in the north, we are also engaged in the process of coordination, the cooperation of roughly 20 member states on the ground engaged in the country. So I’m awaiting for the time being the decisions and I don’t think that we are the first to be called for when it comes to upping the figures. I think what we have to do is to maintain stability in the north and to make sure that that is guaranteed in order to make it a predictable mission or operation. I don’t think we are the ones that are mainly addressed when that request is made.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  First of all I would like to underline that no decision has been made. It’s correct that our military authorities, they have asked for a modest increase in the military presence of NATO in Afghanistan but there has been no decision taken. We are now assessing the request from the military and then we will make decisions within weeks. But it is extremely important again to underline that this is not about returning to a combat mission, we will continue to train, assist and advise, not combat operations in Afghanistan. Chancellor Merkel is right, Germany has played and is playing a very important role in Afghanistan being the lead nation in the north, contributing a significant number of troops to our mission and operation in Afghanistan and of course if there is any increase which is not yet decided then we will go out and ask all allies and partners and you have to remember that we speak about 28 allies but also many, many partner countries. So if there is any request for more troops that will be a request which is not specifically addressed to Germany. Let me just add one thing about the coalition, the previous question, and that is that we have to remember that all NATO allies are already members of the coalition. So NATO is in a way part of the coalition through our allies so the question is, in a way, whether NATO as an alliance should be at the table coordinating with the others or whether we should continue to provide support to the coalition and that’s a … I have a pragmatic approach but it will not change the fundamental role of NATO because we will not be engaged in combat operations. Neither in Syria nor in Iraq.

Q:  Andreas Rinker from Reuters [speaking through interpreter]. A question addressed to both the Chancellor and the Secretary General. I would like to ask again after the NATO commitments. What do you think of the proposal that instead of trying to achieve this 2 % goal one should rather go for a 3 % target which includes then development, economic figures and also diplomacy which may be just as important for stabilizing countries as the military? And Secretary General do you trust that Germany will be able to meet this 2 % target? Because one part of the government wants to meet it and the other part doesn’t want to.

ANGELA MERKEL [speaking through interpreter]:  Well the whole of the government has adopted this decision that was adopted in Cardiff, it subscribes to it, we will keep this target, abide by this target and the previous years as shown that we have indeed increased our defence expenditure. So for the 25th of May I don’t see any further necessity of any further commitments to be made.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I expect all allies to be able to meet the commitment we made in 2014 but we have to remember what we actually promised. We didn’t promise to spend 2 % tomorrow. What we promised was to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards 2 %. And actually Germany and many other European NATO allies have really started to do exactly that. Across Europe defence spending has now stopped … the cuts in defence spending have stopped and we have seen a gradual increase and we move towards spending more of our GDP on defence. And I welcome that because after many years of decline in defence spending, 2015 the first year after we made the pledge we saw a small increase in defence spending across Europe, also in Germany. And then in 2016 we saw a significant increase in defence spending, not least because of the increase in Germany. So, I really see Europe and also Germany which is now implementing the pledge we made together in 2014. On the 25th of May we are not going to address any changes in the pledge. The pledge we made in 2014 stands. What we’re going to address is how to implement the pledge and I am encouraged by what I see across Europe and Canada. I will also add one thing about the 3 %. I am strongly in favour of development aid and when Chancellor Merkel and I started to work together, when I was Prime Minister of Norway we worked on development aid, on child mortality, vaccines and also on climate change. So I have a past where I was pushing hard for more development aid. But there is no contradiction between security and development, actually you need security to provide development. So we cannot choose between either providing vaccines to children or safety, we need both. So for me there is not either development aid or defence spending, it’s both and we have a UN guideline of spending .7 % of GDP on development and a NATO guideline of moving towards spending 2 %. And Germany is actually now moving to both … towards both of them, development aid is increasing and defence spending is increasing. So I thank Germany for both.