Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Heads of State and/or Government in Brussels on 25 May

  • 25 May. 2017 -
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  • Last updated 29-May-2017 09:45

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Good evening. It’s good to see you at such a late hour.

We have just concluded a very good meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government. We took important decisions on burden sharing, and stepping up the fight against terrorism. Belgium handed over to NATO our new headquarters – a 21st century home for a 21st century Alliance. Chancellor Merkel dedicated the Berlin Wall Memorial, a symbol of our freedom, which NATO exists to defend. President Trump dedicated the 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial.

A powerful reminder of NATO solidarity and the importance of our common fight against terrorism. 

One of the main issues we discussed was the fight against terrorism. This fight requires a wide range of instruments: national law enforcement agencies, the coalition to defeat ISIS, the European Union, as well as Allies individually, are all making invaluable contributions. Today we agreed an action plan for NATO to step up its efforts in the fight against terrorism.

We reviewed our training mission in Afghanistan, and we agreed that we will continue to sustain our mission. I welcome that several Allies came forward today with new troop contributions. And on the basis of our review, we will take further decisions in the coming weeks.

We also decided to expand our support to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Our AWACS surveillance planes will help improve airspace management for the Coalition. And several Allies have committed air-to-air refuelling capabilities for those AWACS. So we will share more information, there will be more flying hours and we will also have air-to-air refueling. At the same time, we agreed that NATO will become a full member of the Global Coalition, in which all 28 Allies already take part. Being in the coalition does not mean that NATO will engage in combat. But it does send a strong signal of our commitment to fight global terrorism. And it will enable NATO to take part in political deliberations, including on the coordination of training and capacity building.

We will continue our training for Iraqi forces. Iraqi troops trained by NATO to defuse improvised explosive devices are, right now, putting their skills to use in the battle for Mosul. We also decided to establish a terrorism intelligence cell within our new Intelligence Division. This will improve the sharing of information among Allies. Including on the threat of foreign fighters. Work is also underway to establish a Hub for the South at our Joint Force Command in Naples. It will constantly monitor and assess regional threats, including terrorism.

We are also looking into making greater use of NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters, which already offers tailored counter-terrorism training for Allies and partners. This could involve more mobile training teams deploying to countries at risk.

So the Alliance is doing a lot in the fight against terrorism. That is why I have decided to designate a senior NATO official as coordinator, to ensure that our new action plan is implemented swiftly and effectively. To keep our nations safe in a more unpredictable world, we need to continue investing in our defence. And to ensure fairer burden-sharing across the Alliance. This was the other main theme we discussed. We have already made progress. With billions more invested in defence last year, after a long period of decline. Today, we decided to develop annual national plans, setting out how Allies intend to meet the defence investment pledge we made together in 2014.The national plans will cover three major areas: cash, capabilities, and contributions.

First – how nations intend to meet their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, of which 20% should be invested in major equipment.

Second – how to invest additional funding in key military capabilities that we need.

And third – how Allies intend to contribute to NATO missions, operations and other engagements.  I welcome that many Allies set out tonight how they intend to meet these goals. The first set of reports on national plans will be completed by December this year. And will be reviewed by defence ministers in February. The annual national plans will help us keep up the momentum, to invest more and better in our defence. So that all Allies contribute their fair share to our common security.

NATO’s relationship with Russia was another topic of discussion. Today we reaffirmed our dual-track approach: strong defence, combined with meaningful dialogue, and we are delivering on both tracks. Allies stand strong together not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict and to preserve peace. At the same time, we remain open to dialogue with Russia, to increase transparency and reduce risks.

We welcomed Prime Minister Marković of Montenegro to our table today. Montenegro will become the twenty-ninth member of our family in just a few weeks. A clear sign that NATO’s door remains open to nations which share our values and wish to contribute to the most successful alliance in history. 

Finally, we agreed that we will meet again at a NATO Summit in 2018.

The decisions we have taken today will make the Alliance stronger and safer as we continue to adapt to new challenges.

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

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): And with that I’m ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay the Wall Street Journal.

Q: Mr. Stoltenberg, last July you said after Donald Trump questioned Article 5, you said solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO, good for European security, good for U.S. security, we defend one another. Are you disappointed that Donald Trump did not explicitly affirm U.S. support for Article 5, did not say that there is an unwavering U.S. commitment to defend all allies no matter what?

JENS STOLTENBERG: President Donald Trump dedicated a 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial and just by doing that he sent a strong signal. Second, he has strongly committed and strongly stated his commitment and the commitment of the United States to NATO, to our collective security, to our collective defence, and to the security guarantees. He has done so in meetings with me, but he also expressed his commitment when we met in Washington some weeks ago. So we have had a clear message from the U.S. administration, from the President, from the Vice-President when he was in Brussels, from Secretary Tillerson, from Secretary Mattis, that United States is committed to NATO; and it’s not possible to be committed to NATO without being committed to Article 5 and our collective defence clause because NATO is about collective defence and security guarantees. But perhaps even more important than the words and the statements is what we see that is taking place on the ground. So the U.S. commitment to our security guarantees, to Article 5, to collective defence is not only in words but also in deeds. Just a few days ago the Trump administration presented a budget proposal with 40% increase in funding for U.S. military presence in Europe. And I think that’s the strongest possible sign of commitment to our alliance and to NATO.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Reuters, first row.

Q: Thanks. Secretary General, even though you’ve said all that, there was some disappointment expressed by people who watch NATO closely and some of the allies. I mean what would you say to people who feel that Trump is not clear on this issue?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Trump has been clear on his commitment to NATO but President Trump has also been clear in the message to all allies that we have to deliver on the pledge we made to increase defence spending. He was blunt on that message today, and we have seen this plain speaking from President Trump also before, so he has a clear message on U.S. commitment to the alliance, but he also has a very plain and clear message on the expectations when it comes to burden-sharing, fair burden-sharing in the alliance. It is absolutely possible to have an ambitious message on defence spending and at the same time have a positive message, because NATO is delivering. We still have a long way to go, much remains, but it is extremely important that after years of decline in defence spending across Europe and Canada we turned the corner in 2015, we stopped the cuts, and in 2016 we had significant increase. And the decisions we made today especially on the national plans are the best tools we have to make sure that we continue to deliver, that we keep up the momentum. So yes, the President was clear on his commitment but also clear on his expectations when it comes to … that we all carry a fair share of the burden.

OANA LUNGESCU: Lady in the second row.

Q: Kurdistan media. My question is about how could NATO support more the Peshmerga in the fight against Daesh in north of Iraq. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Several NATO allies are training, providing support to the Peshmerga and of course NATO being part of the coalition, we will also take part in the deliberations and the coordination of different activities providing support to the Peshmerga. NATO has not so far provided any training for the Peshmerga. What we have done is to be focused on training Iraqi government forces. So it’s too early to say whether that can be an issue. The important thing is I think for the Peshmerga, is that several NATO allies, as part of the coalition efforts, which NATO will now become a member of, are providing training support for the Peshmerga.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay we’ll go to RIA Novosti second row.

Q: Russian agency RIA Novosti. Secretary General, don’t you think that the high military spending will lead to the new arms race and how will you explain it to Russia? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. Actually we recognize that Russia is our biggest neighbour, Russia is here to stay, and we are striving for a better and more constructive relationship with Russia. At the same time, NATO has to deliver credible deterrence and defence. Because by delivering credible deterrence and defence we are preventing conflict. We are preventing war. That has been the key to the success of NATO since we were founded almost 70 years ago. And when we see that Russia is willing not only to invest heavily in defence but to actually use military force to change borders in Europe with its aggressive actions against Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea and continuing to undermine, to destabilize eastern Ukraine, then of course NATO has to react. No one was thinking about deploying four battle groups to the Baltic countries and Poland before Russia annexed Crimea and started to destabilize eastern Ukraine. So what NATO does is measured, defensive, proportionate response to the actions of Russia. At the same time, we are working for dialogue. After two years of no meetings in the NATO-Russia Council we were able to agree with Russia on how we could meet again, and we have met in the NATO-Russia Council. We discussed difficult issues like Ukraine, but also transparency, risk reduction, our military posture, exercises; and the dialogue with Russia is sometimes difficult but that’s exactly why it is important. So we have responded in a measured and defensive way to make sure that we still convey a strong and clear message of deterrence to prevent conflict and preserve peace.

OANA LUNGESCU: Afghan media, first row.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, now that Afghan is … now that you are planning to send more troops to Afghanistan … NATO is planning to send more troops to Afghanistan, in the wake of growing unrests throughout the country and at the time that the Taliban are launching, their spring offensives, what sort of concrete results are you expecting any time? And then my second question is the Afghan national … the Afghan security forces. They have flaws at all levels including senior leadership. So what sort of conditions are you expecting or demanding from the Afghan government in return for the generous pledges? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all we haven’t decided exact troop levels for 2018.  The current troop level is around 13,000 NATO troops in our Train Assist and Advise mission. All allies supported the sustainment of our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Some allies also announced that they’re willing to increase their force contributions. But the exact force or troop levels will be decided later on this year. What we are aiming at and the purpose of our training mission in Afghanistan is to strengthen the capabilities and the capacities of the Afghan National Security Forces to fight Taliban and to fight the different terrorist groups in Afghanistan. And we are in particular working with the Afghan special operation forces. We are helping them to develop their own air forces - they are key in the fight in Afghanistan – and we are also helping them to improve command and control; and one of the issues we are now looking into, whether we can expand what we do in the different military academies. We have never said that it is an easy situation in Afghanistan. It’s a difficult situation in Afghanistan. There will be more violence, more challenges, and still many, many unsolved problems in Afghanistan including the issue of corruption. But we have made progress especially in building a strong national Afghan army and security force which has proven capable, professional and able to take over responsibility for the security in Afghanistan, without NATO forces conducting combat operations, but with our support.

OANA LUNGESCU: Financial Times. Second row.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, was there any sense of unease in the room amongst leaders at the force of Donald Trump’s rebuke to them over their defence expenditure, particularly after they had agreed that NATO as NATO would be joining the coalition against ISIS? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well we have heard President Trump before being very blunt on the message about fair burden-sharing, and I think all allies are aware of the importance of burden-sharing in the alliance, and we have to remember that fair burden-sharing was something we addressed at our summit in 2014. And several NATO allies also expressed that we have to invest in defence not just to please the United States but we have to invest in European defence because it is in our own interest to do so. And therefore we all welcome the fact that we are now moving in the right direction. The United States is committed to NATO, is committed to collective defence, and we see that not only in words but also in deeds. The U.S. is now increasing its military presence in Europe with a new armored brigade, with more exercises, with more infrastructure, with more prepositioned equipment and supplies. So we see it really on the ground in Europe, the commitment of the United States to NATO and to our collective defence. But at the same time the United States of course expects that all allies contribute and that’s exactly what we decided in 2014 and we have started to move in the right direction.

OANA LUNGESCU: (inaudible).

Q: Thank you. President Trump when addressing the burden-sharing on the outside, he said, he talked about the chronic underpayment from NATO member states and he also said that many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years. Is that the reason they will claim for the other NATO members? Will that be payable bills in the future and do you agree on this analysis about the due payments from the past?

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we are talking about is the implementation of the pledge that we all made in 2014. And the language there is clear. We committed to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence. And I know that President Trump has been and still is very clear, blunt and plain when he is conveying that message to European allies. That was what – and Canada – we saw that again today. But at the same time I know that President Trump recognizes that European allies and Canada are really moving in the right direction. I remember he told the U.S. Congress that the money is pouring in. So he is aware of that after years of decline we are now starting to increase. We still have a long way to go. There is still a need to continue to increase defence spending, but that’s exactly why we made the decisions we made today to develop a tool that helps us to deliver on the pledge we made, the national plans which will provide more transparency, reports on how different allies are implementing not only the spending pledge but also the pledge we made on capabilities and contributions to NATO operations and missions. So again it is possible to have an ambitious message on defence spending but at the same time having a positive message on defence spending. And in one way I think it’s, what shall I say, not surprising that President Trump has a direct way to convey that message.

OANA LUNGESCU: Gentleman in the front row.

Q: Thank you very much. Voice of America Russian Service. I have two questions about NATO and Russia in particular. What are the main concerns of NATO about Russia and what was the – recently Minister of Defence of Russia, Mr. Shoigu explained Crimea as self-efficient defence and military region, which is capable to, you know, reject any attack. What was the military response of NATO or tactical something else on this formation of militarization of Crimea, because everybody’s speaking of this. And second question, what about, what was new, if any, in this summit of your relations … NATO relations with Ukraine, and what will be in the future, what we can expect in the future? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So first, we have seen a pattern over some time where Russia is more assertive, where Russia is willing to use military force to intimidate neighbours. We saw it in Georgia, we have seen it in Moldova, we have seen it in Ukraine with the illegal annexation of Crimea but also with the continuous destabilization of eastern Ukraine, and we have seen a significant military buildup in Russia, and we have seen rhetoric which is more, much stronger and more threatening than before. NATO has responded but we have responded in a balanced, proportionate way because we don’t want confrontation and a new Cold War, but we have to make sure that there is no misunderstanding of NATO’s willingness and resolve to defend all allies, and that’s the reason why we are deploying our battle groups to the eastern part of the alliance. We are also aware of the A2AD capabilities that Russia has deployed and developed and we are taking that into account in our military planning … in the development of our military capabilities, to be able to continue to provide the necessary support and deterrence which is core for the alliance. When it comes to Ukraine it was clearly stated by many allies and the whole alliance is behind the message that we are going to continue to strengthen our close partnership with Ukraine to provide practical support, political support; and there was a strong support of course for all efforts to try to make sure that we are really able to implement the Minsk Agreements and especially allowing the international monitors to be able to do their job.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, today Mr. Trump met Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. After the meeting, Mr. Tusk said we don’t share the same opinion on Russia, and my question is after the meeting today with the NATO allies, do the allies share the same opinion on Russia, today?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So I was not present at the meeting between President Trump and President Tusk but I know what NATO, what the NATO position is. And the NATO position is clear and we have a united alliance behind it, and I think it’s hard in a way. The unity in NATO on our approach to Russia is actually stronger than I’ve seen for many, many years. Because especially at the Warsaw Summit we were able to establish a common understanding and a trust in our approach among all allies, so the support for our approach is stronger than I’ve seen for a long time. And the message is the same: that we need credible deterrence and dialogue. And that’s exactly what we now are delivering on. We are delivering on credible deterrence with the strongest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. At the same time we’re engaged in political dialogue with Russia. It is not easy but it is important.

OANA LUNGESCU: Washington Post at the back.

Q: I’m Michael Birnbaum with the Washington Post. Thanks. Another question about Donald Trump and Article 5 commitments. You have been very clear and his subordinate Sean Spicer, his spokesman, after the speech today was very clear that the United States is committed to collective defence. Why then, I mean did Trump explain during the dinner, did he explain to you, do you have an explanation why he hasn’t then explicitly endorsed it with words as opposed to actions, and is this just a negotiating tactic? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: As I said, he has many times clearly stated in meetings, conversations with me that he and United States, is clearly committed to NATO and it’s no way possible to be committed to NATO without being committed to Article 5 and our collective defence clause. Because NATO is about collective defence. I remember that he also stated that publicly for instance when we met in Washington, then he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance and to our shared values. He also referred today to the commitments that bind us together, and the commitments that bind us together are collective defence and everything related to Article 5. And second, he inaugurated a 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial; and thirdly, he … the U.S. is now delivering on more U.S. presence in Europe, which I think is the strongest expression of the U.S. commitment to NATO and to the collective defence clause.

OANA LUNGESCU: Last question, Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Q: Secretary General, how do you explain the obviously conflicting messages coming out of this meeting? On one hand the decision of Wales was reconfirmed, on the other hand President Trump clearly stated that 2% is actually not enough; and maybe an additional question to that, is in your view the fight against migration a core task of NATO as President Trump actually said. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: When it comes to migration that’s not a core task of NATO but it is an area where NATO also plays a role. Because we for instance help the European Union in the Aegean Sea. We have deployed naval ships in the Aegean Sea to help implement the Turkish-E.U. agreement, and we have helped them to stem the flow of illegal migration over the Aegean Sea, especially with German presence in that naval activity. We are also helping in the Central Mediterranean, the E.U. Operation Sophia with our maritime Operation Sea Guardian, and we are also addressing some of the root causes for the migration and refugee crisis we see. Because by working with partners in the wider Middle East region, in North Africa, in Middle East, but also in Afghanistan, we are helping to stabilize many of the countries where many of the refugees are and migrants are coming from. So yes, NATO has a role to play. There are many other organizations, nations that are playing perhaps a more important role, but we are helping, assisting and playing our role in addressing the root causes. President Trump expressed that for him 2% is a minimum and some allies are spending more than 2%, and this is part of the clear, blunt message from President Trump. At the same time we all agree that the important thing now is to implement and to deliver and to make good on the promise we made in 2014, which is about stopping the cuts, gradual increase, and then moving towards spending 2% of GDP on defence. And as I’ve stated many times, we are moving on, we are moving forward because we have stopped the cuts, we have started to increase and this year Romania announced that they will reach the 2% target. Latvia and Lithuania have announced that next year they will reach the 2% target. So total defence spending is increasing and more countries are reaching the 2% guideline.  

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. I wish you a good night.