by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting of NATO Heads of State and/or Government
In a few hours, NATO leaders will gather here in Brussels for an important meeting at our new Headquarters.
We have two major items on our agenda: Stepping up NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism and fairer burden sharing in our Alliance. We are making progress on both. NATO has been actively engaged in the fight against terrorism for many years. Today, we will adopt an action plan to enhance NATO’s contributions. Our largest military operation ever was launched in Afghanistan in a direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. 13,000 NATO troops continue to train Afghan forces. We will assess our level of support and the future of the mission. Training local forces is one of the best weapons in the fight against terrorism. We are already training Iraqi forces. And our AWACS surveillance planes provide information to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Today, we will decide to expand our support to the Coalition. With more AWACS flight-time, more information sharing and air-to-air refuelling. All 28 Allies are members of the Global Coalition and today, we will agree on NATO’s membership in the Coalition. This will send a strong political message of NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism. And improve coordination within the Coalition. But it does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations.
At the same time, we will agree to establish a new terrorism intelligence cell here at NATO headquarters. Improving how we share intelligence, including on foreign fighters. And we will decide to appoint a coordinator to oversee NATO’s efforts in the fight against terrorism.
The other major topic we will discuss is fairer burden sharing. In 2014, all Allies agreed to spend more and better on defence. Including moving towards investing 2 percent of GDP on defence within a decade. In 2015, cuts came to a stop. And in 2016, total spending across Europe and Canada increased by billions of dollars. This is not just about cash. But also modern capabilities. And meaningful contributions to NATO’s missions, operations and engagements. Today, we will take steps to keep up the momentum. We will agree to develop national plans every year. These will set out how NATO Allies intend to meet their pledge. So that we continue to match words with action.
The stakes are high. This is about our security in a more uncertain world. So I look forward to welcoming all NATO leaders, as well as the Prime Minister of Montenegro, soon to be our 29th Ally.
With that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal: In the wake of the Manchester attack, how do the changes you are making improve the fight against terrorism, improve security in Europe and what is the real benefit?
Secretary General: We will agree an Action Plan today on how to step up NATO’s efforts fighting terrorism. And in that Action Plan, there are many elements. One of the elements is to join the Global Coalition fighting ISIS. This will send a strong political signal, a strong signal and message of unity in the fight against terrorism, but also provide a better practical platform for coordination on NATO efforts and the efforts of the rest of the Coalition. We are going to step up our practical support with more AWACS support, more flying time and more information sharing and air-to-air refuelling. We will also do more when it comes to other issues. I announced that we will now establish a new intelligence fusion cell at the headquarters addressing terrorism, including foreign fighters. And we will also appoint a special coordinator for NATO’s efforts fighting terrorism. So this is both a strong political message of unity in the fight against terrorism, but also a part of an Action Plan where we are providing more practical support to the efforts fighting global terrorism, including addressing our mission in Afghanistan.
CNBC News: You mentioned intelligence sharing. How concerned are you by what we’re seeing in the United States? Not just in identifying the Manchester bomber, there’s also of course Israeli intelligence. Are you concerned by that? And also when we talk about what’s happening in terms of Russia. Russia isn’t directly on this agenda. Why is that?
Secretary General: Russia is on NATO’s agenda always and Russia will be discussed during the meeting later on today. Also as part of our discussions related to the transatlantic bond and burden sharing. Because one of the reasons why we are investing more in our collective defence, why we are increasing our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance is of course as a response to the aggressive actions of Russia we have seen in Ukraine. So Russia is on NATO’s agenda. We have a strong and clear message. And that is that we need both credible deterrence, defence and dialogue. And NATO has a long-standing policy and that is that we need both dialogue and credible deterrence and defence in our approach to Russia. That will be addressed during the meeting later on today. On intelligence, I will say that issue raised on the Manchester attack, it’s a bilateral issue between the UK and the US. It’s not for me to comment on that. What I can say in general is that intelligence is of great importance for NATO. We are stepping up our efforts and our work when it comes to sharing intelligence. We are just establishing a new intelligence division here at the headquarters so we can better analyse, better understand and better share intelligence. And we are also today announcing that we will establish a new fusion cell related to fighting terrorism, especially addressing also issues such as foreign fighters. So this is an area where NATO really plays a key role, enabling Allies to share intelligence, also related to fighting terrorism.
Al-Arabiya: If we see what NATO provided to Afghanistan for more than a decade and still the country is not stable yet. How long NATO will be committed to assist Iraqi forces? Is there any progress in your discussion with [inaudible]?
Secretary General: There are many challenges in Afghanistan and no one said that the situation in Afghanistan was going to be easy when NATO ended its combat operation back at the end of 2014. But we have achieved a lot. We have been able to train and build Afghan forces which are now able to take responsibility for security in their own countries themselves. That’s a great and important achievement. And the Afghans show professionalism and bravery in the way that they handle the security situation in Afghanistan. We don’t have any end date for our activities in Iraq. We are focused on how we can build local capacity, how we can build local institutions, train local forces. Because in the long-run, it’s much better that local forces, local institutions are able to take care of the security, stability in their own country instead of NATO or NATO Allies deploying forces in the country. The last question was on Libya. We are in dialogue with Libya. I recently met with Prime Minister al-Sarraj, where we discussed how NATO can provide support for institution building, really building a modem Ministry of Defence, Joint Chief of Staff and establishing better intelligence systems. All of this is of great importance because they need the structures to be able to gradually stabilise Libya. It’s not about any sort of combat presence or military training. This is about institution building and our expert teams met recently and they continue to discuss how NATO can provide that kind of support.
Pahjwok: NATO joining the IS Coalition. Will NATO join US in Afghanistan against IS and if yes, then NATO once again start combat mission?
Secretary General: NATO will continue its train, assist, and advise mission in Afghanistan. And we will address that during the meeting today. We will also later on this year decide on the exact troop levels. We will not return back to a combat operation. Our aim is to train the Afghan forces to enable them to step up their efforts in stabilising their own country, countering the Taliban, but also fighting different terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including ISIS. And again we have seen that Afghan forces, the special operations forces have been very effective in targeting and attacking ISIS and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. NATO troops are not doing that, but we help and we train and advise Afghans in their fight against ISIS.
BFBS: Secretary General, I’m aware that you see this largely as a bilateral issue, but with the US apparently leaking details of an ongoing British terrorist investigation, is it not going to be extremely difficult to put forward a convincing plan for intelligence sharing throughout NATO?
Secretary General: It’s not possible for me to go into an issue when I’m don’t know more about what actually happened and in details. And it’s a bilateral issue between the US and the UK. What I can say is that sharing intelligence is of great importance. Sharing intelligence is based on trust. And we have seen in NATO over many, many years that we have been able to share intelligence in a good way. And that has been of great importance for the Alliance and for all Allies. And we are doing more of that with the new division and now also with the establishment of the new cell, addressing specifically countering terrorism. So that’s the important thing for the Alliance. And then I will not go into the specific issue related to the Manchester attack.
Petra news agency: You say that NATO leaders are going to agree that NATO will join the Counter-ISIL Coalition. Can you tell us what this decision will entail in practical terms?
Secretary General: NATO joining the Coalition to Defeat ISIS is a strong political message of unity in the fight against terrorism. It additionally provides a better platform for coordinating the efforts of NATO and other Coalition members in the fight against ISIS. And NATO is also stepping up our practical support by more AWACS support, our surveillance planes improving the air picture for Coalition planes, with more flying hours, with more information sharing and also with air-to-air refuelling. And then we will also do more directed to intelligence. We are establishing a new intelligence cell here at the NATO headquarters, which also enables us to get more information about foreign fighters, and I will appoint a special coordinator for overseeing NATO’s efforts in the fight against terrorism. So joining the Coalition is both a strong political message and a practical tool to improve the way we coordinate our efforts to defeat ISIS.
Question: Mr. Stoltenberg, you said that you are going to travel to Washington on the 5th of June. You are going to be there when Montenegro’s protocol will be archived at the State Department. So what is your message of being present there, to Montenegro and NATO as well?
Secretary General: My message is that we welcome Montenegro as the 29th member of the Alliance. This is important for Montenegro, it’s important for the Western Balkans and it’s important for the whole of NATO. It also shows that NATO’s door is open, because Montenegro has reformed, has really implemented important reforms in Montenegro, which enables Montenegro to become a new member of the Alliance. And I’m looking forward to both welcoming the Prime Minister here today, but also then to be present when the documents related to joining the Alliance will be deposited in Washington.
Question: Yesterday, you talked about NATO support for Western sanctions against Russia. If the EU and the US adopted stronger sanctions, would you also support that as well? And do you think the time has come to have that dialogue until Russia gets the message to get out of Ukraine?
Secretary General: It’s for the EU and the US to decide on economic sanctions, but I have expressed support to this actions. And of course, 22 of the EU members and the US are members of NATO. [Inaudible] So I support the sanctions. I think the sanctions are extremely important as a reaction to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the lack of implementation of the Minsk agreements. And then I leave it to the EU and the US to make the specific decisions on sanctions.
Question: Your feelings on the deployment of the task force in eastern Europe. Next month, Canada will send its troops in Latvia. I just wonder about your feelings how it goes?
Secretary General: The deployment of the four battlegroups shows that NATO is able to adapt and change when the world is changing. The four battlegroups were decided in Warsaw, in July, at our last Summit. And we are now implementing and they will be in place, all of them, within weeks. It sends a strong signal of unity. It sends a strong signal of credible deterrence and defence. Because this is a multinational presence in the three Baltic countries and in Poland. Canada being the lead nation in Latvia. And other NATO Allies being the lead nations and contributing in the other Baltic countries and Poland. This is a defensive deployment. It’s proportionate, measured and it’s a direct reaction to the aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine.
Question: Is there a message for the people in the Middle East that this Summit is not only about bringing fighting and military action, but also about being peace and justice?
Secretary General: NATO is an Alliance which exists to preserve peace and to create stability. And also to help create stability beyond our borders, because when our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure. Therefore, NATO supports efforts to find political solutions, peaceful solutions, negotiated solutions to the different conflicts we see around in the Middle East and the Arab world. Sometimes it’s also necessary to use military means. And then NATO and NATO Allies have also shown that they’re willing to do that, as NATO Allies do now in Syria and Iraq fighting ISIS, and also supported by NATO. But in the long-run the aim is of course to find peaceful, negotiated solutions. [inaudible] We believe strongly that we have to be able to move forward to avoid the turmoil and violence we see in many parts of the Middle East.