by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the Meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government - Secretary General's opening remarks
Tomorrow Heads of State and Government in NATO will meet here in Brussels. It will be a short but it will be an important meeting. It will bring together Allied leaders, all Allied leaders from all the 28 Allied countries, and send a strong message of unity and solidarity.
We will mark the handover of our new headquarters from Belgium to NATO with a flag-raising ceremony. This will be a historic milestone: a new home for a modern Alliance.
The site where the new HQ is located was a military airfield during both World Wars and during the construction, we found four unexploded bombs in the ground. So once a place of battle, it will become a venue for dialogue and cooperation between Allies.
We will also dedicate two memorials at our new headquarters. Chancellor Merkel will dedicate the Berlin Wall Memorial. The segment of the wall represents the victory of freedom over oppression. The freedom that Allies continue to preserve every day. And President Trump will dedicate the 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial. This fragment of the World Trade Center recalls the first time Allies invoked our collective defence clause. Symbolising solidarity and our common fight against terrorism.
Terrorists struck again this week in Manchester. This was a barbaric attack, which deliberately targeted children, young people and their families. Our meeting will show that all NATO Allies remain united in the fight against terrorism in all its forms. And in defence of our open societies. Countering terrorism is a complex challenge. It requires a coordinated response. From our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence services, our judicial systems, and sometimes our military. So it is important that we use all the tools that we have to the full.
That is why one of the two main topics we are going to discuss tomorrow will be stepping up NATO’s contribution to the fight against terrorism. To deal with the root causes of terrorism, training local forces is one of the best tools that we have.
And NATO has the expertise, partnerships and staying power to make a real difference.
Today, nearly 13,000 troops from NATO and partner countries contribute to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Training the Afghan forces to secure their country and deny safe haven to international terrorists.
But the security situation remains challenging. We have recently completed our regular review of our training mission. And our military commanders have asked for a few thousand more troops. We are currently in the process of force generation and I expect final decisions to be taken next month.
All NATO Allies already contribute to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. And NATO supports the Coalition with information collected by our AWACS surveillance aircraft. I expect we will agree to expand our AWACS support for the Coalition. This will contribute to airspace management, making the skies safer. I also welcome that several Allies have committed air-to-air refuelling capabilities for NATO AWACS supporting the Coalition. We are still discussion whether NATO should become a full member of the Global Coalition.
The other major topic for our meeting is burden sharing. This means meeting the pledge we all made in 2014: to stop the cuts, gradually increase and move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade.
And we are making progress. After many years of decline, total defence spending by European Allies and Canada rose by billions of dollars last year. But burden-sharing is not just about spending. It’s also about capabilities and contributions to NATO missions, operations and other engagements.
I expect Allies will agree to develop national plans. And to report on them every year. These plans will set out how they intend to meet all three aspects of the pledge: cash, capabilities and contributions.
We will decide that Allies will share and report on their progress every year. This will be a new tool. To ensure we keep up the momentum and live up to our commitments.
Prime Minister Markovic of Montenegro will join us tomorrow. The parliaments of all 28 Allies and Montenegro have now ratified the country’s accession to NATO. This is a step forward for Montenegro, for stability in the Western Balkans and for our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. We look forward to formally welcoming Montenegro as our 29th Ally in early June.
Tomorrow’s meeting will demonstrate NATO’s ability to change as the world changes. To keep all our nations safe, as we have done since our Alliance was founded almost 70 years ago. What we decide tomorrow will build on what we have achieved in recent years. We have turned the decisions we made at the Wales and Warsaw Summits into reality. Since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. Including tripling the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000 troops. With a 5,000-strong Spearhead Force at its core. Eight new headquarters in the eastern part of the Alliance. Four multinational battlegroups now deploying to the Baltic States and Poland. An enhanced presence in the Black Sea region. And strengthened cyber defences. We have also stepped up our cooperation with the European Union.
I welcome yesterday’s US budget proposal to significantly further increase the US presence in Europe with more troops, infrastructure and exercises. I welcome this strong sign of US continued commitment to NATO and to European security. NATO is adapting to deter any possible aggression. And preserve the peace.
At the same time, we have delivered on our commitment to dialogue with Russia. With four meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in the last year. So we are delivering on both tracks of defence, and dialogue.
We have also transformed our approach to fighting terrorism. In Afghanistan, we have moved from a combat role to a training role. This has shown us the value of supporting local forces in their fight against terrorism.
NATO’s strength allows us to defend our nations at home, to train partners abroad and to engage in difficult but important dialogue.
So - we have accomplished a lot. And we continue to adapt to the future. This is what tomorrow’s meeting is all about.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.