by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead off meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
Good morning and thank you for joining us so early!
Today NATO Defence Ministers will meet and they will address a wide range of issues, ranging from the mission in Afghanistan to full-spectrum deterrence, from fighting terrorism to cyber defence. Last month, NATO’s Heads of State and Government took decisions to increase our role in the fight against terrorism and to improve burden-sharing in our Alliance. We are making progress on both. Since joining the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in May, we have already increased the flight time for our AWACS surveillance aircraft supporting the Coalition and our Senior Civilian Representative has taken up office in Baghdad. Here at NATO Headquarters, I have just appointed Rose Gottemoeller, my Deputy Secretary General, to coordinate the Alliance’s efforts in the fight against terrorism. And within our Intelligence Division, a new Terrorism Intelligence Cell is now operational.
On burden-sharing, I’m glad to say that we expect this will be the third consecutive year of accelerating defence spending increases across European Allies and Canada, with a 4.3% real increase in defence spending. This means that over the last three years, European Allies and Canada spent almost 46 billion US dollars more on defence. So this is a significant increase which means that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to burden-sharing and defence spending. Today, we will discuss not only cash, but capabilities and contributions to NATO missions and operations and I expect we will make advances here as well.
We will meet with the EU High Representative over lunch, as well as with the ministers from Finland and Sweden. Together, we will address many different issues and we will take stock of the deepening ties between NATO and the European Union – particularly when it comes to cyber defence and the fight against terrorism. We will discuss how we take our cooperation even further in the future.
We will also address our strengthened deterrence and defence posture. And we welcome the fact that we are making progress both when it comes to our enhanced forward presence in the Baltic States and Poland. And we continue to strengthen our presence in the Black Sea region.
We will end the day with a meeting of all nations contributing to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and we will discuss the future of NATO’s presence in the country. Our military authorities have requested a few thousand more troops for the Mission in Afghanistan and today, I can confirm that we will increase our presence in Afghanistan. Fifteen nations have already pledged additional contributions to Resolute Support Mission. And I look forward to further announcements from other nations.
So we have a very full agenda for our meeting today. And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Question: Mr Secretary General what do you think sending more troops to Afghanistan will help Afghan security?
Secretary General: We have to put this into context and understand that this is about training, assisting and advising the Afghan forces. NATO has ended our combat operation in Afghanistan. What we do now is not to conduct combat operations but to help the Afghans fight and to help the Afghans take full responsibility for the security in their own country. We see a need for some more effort and some more support from NATO to the Afghans, especially in three areas; strengthening their special operations forces. We have seen that the Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan have been very professional and very important in the fight against the Taliban and we are now working on how we can further strengthen the Special Operations Forces of the Afghan Army. The second area were we want to do more is supporting the development of the Afghan air force. Air forces are important both in the fight against terrorist groups and Taliban but also for Medivac, for supporting the armed forces on the ground. And the third area were we are stepping up our efforts is when it comes to leadership and education of officers. We are also going to do more when it comes to the different military academies. Again, this is not about turning back into a combat mission, but this is about adjusting, strengthening the train, assist and advice mission we have in Afghanistan, supporting and helping the Afghans.
Question: On Afghanistan. What do you need to know from Secretary Mattis? What would you like to hear from him today when you discuss Afghanistan?
Secretary General: I do not expect any specific troop numbers, but I expect that we can exchange views and assess the situation in Afghanistan. And then look into how we together, all NATO Allies, including the United States of course, can strengthen and make sure that we have a sufficient number of troops in the nato mission to continue to support the Afghans and to make sure we are able to break the stalemate so we can make advances on the battlefield which will then pave the ground for a political solution. Because it is a very close relationship between what is going on on the battlefield and the possibility of reaching a political negotiated solution. We welcome that President Ghani has taken the initiative to a political process – the Kabul process. We all agree that in the long run what we need, the only sustainable and lasting solution in Afghanistan is a political and negotiated solution. Of course, we look forward to the final decisions by the US when it comes to the US troop contributions to our mission in Afghanistan.
Question: What could you say about the security situation in the Baltic Sea? Are there any achievements in avoiding an accident with Russian and NATO planes there? Maybe usage there some special technical devices to avoid it? Thank you.
Secretary General: What we see in the Baltic Sea is increased military activity and we see it on land, at sea and in the air. And that just underlines the importance of transparency, predictability to prevent incidents and accidents and if they happen to make sure that they don’t spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations. That’s the reason why NATO underscores the importance of respecting different arrangements, for instance what we call the Vienna Document, which requires transparency, predictability, but also international observations of military exercises. We are transparent when it comes to our exercises and we call on Russia to be transparent on their exercises. We are also focused on the issue of air safety. And first I would like to underline that the vast majority of the intercepts in the Baltic Sea region, or over the Baltic Sea, is or are done in a professional and safe manner on both sides. So I think it is important not to mix intercepts, which is a normal procedure to identify unidentified planes, with dangerous situations. To intercept planes is a normal activity. Some are conducted in a not professional and sometimes dangerous way. And therefore we are focused on how can we improve air safety over the Baltic region. We welcome the initiative taken by Finland to convene meetings and a group of experts which encompasses Sweden, Finland, the Baltic States, NATO and some other organisations and countries, so they are now sitting together working on how we can develop better or improved air safety over the Baltic region which includes issues as the use of transponders and also of course good airmanship, how to behave, how to make sure that when we have more military planes in the air, when we have more exercises and when we have more intercepts, then it has to be done in a safe and secure way and that’s exactly what this expert group is looking into and I welcome the work of the group and I look forward to the conclusions from the group.