Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers

  • 29 Jun. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Jun. 2017 20:34

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of NATO Defence Ministers

Good afternoon.

We have just finished three working sessions of NATO Defence Ministers. The Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture is full-spectrum, ranging from conventional capabilities and missile defence to cyber defence and the nuclear dimension. So we began today with a regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group, to consider the safety, security and effectiveness of NATO’s nuclear deterrent.

Over lunch, we took stock of our work towards fairer burden-sharing across the Alliance and we are making major progress. This will be the third consecutive year of accelerating defence investment across European Allies and Canada. This means an increase of almost 46 billion US dollars more for defence since 2015. Today, we are releasing further detailed information on defence spending. In 2017, twenty-five Allies will increase defence spending in real terms. This year, we expect Romania to spend 2% of GDP on defence, joining the five countries already meeting this benchmark, and next year, Latvia and Lithuania will join them, spending 2% or more on defence. Burden-sharing involves cash, capabilities and contributions too. Here also, the trend is up. Today, Allies have agreed to accept new NATO capability targets. Meaning that we have committed to step up in key areas, including heavy equipment, air-to-air refuelling, and more forces to move at even shorter notice.

We were joined at lunch by the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, as well as the ministers of Finland and Sweden. And I presented a progress report on NATO-EU cooperation to ministers, jointly authored by myself and the EU High Representative. One area where our cooperation has been particularly useful is cyber defence. The NATO and EU emergency cyber response teams are now able to share information and warnings in real time. And that’s exactly what they did during the global ransomware attacks earlier this week. Today, we agreed to look into ways to expand our cooperation even further, including in the fight against terrorism.

NATO’s efforts to fight terrorism were high on the agenda at this afternoon’s working session. The Alliance joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS last month and we have already increased the flight-time and information sharing of our AWACS surveillance aircraft supporting the Coalition. Here at NATO Headquarters, a new Terrorism Intelligence Cell has been established, allowing us to more effectively share information and analysis on terrorist threats, work to set up our Hub for the South is also on track. It will be a focal point for increasing our understanding of the challenges stemming from that region. And it will be fully operational by the end of the year.

In our working session, we also took stock of our strengthened deterrence and defence posture. As I saw for myself a few days ago, our enhanced forward presence is now fully operational in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.  And our Multinational Division Headquarters in Poland is now active. This sends a clear message to any possible aggressor: we are determined, we are united, we are NATO.

Our presence in the Black Sea region is also developing. Earlier this week, the Headquarters of our Multinational Brigade South East in Romania was activated as a NATO military body. The brigade is conducting exercises and UK jets are currently patrolling the region’s skies.

So NATO is stepping up across all domains: air, land, sea, and cyber. As determined as ever to keep our people safe.

Finally, NATO leaders decided last month to hold a Summit next year. I expect the 2018 Summit will take place here in Brussels next summer.

With that, I’m ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Okay, and when you ask your questions if I could ask you please just to say which outlet you’re from. Julian.

Q: Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. I want you to talk a little bit about the capability packages that the Defence Ministers approved today. NATO has been criticised for having hollow forces, essentially units that have been undermanned or less than ready. Do the capability packages that were endorsed today by the Defence Ministers, will they address this? Will they make NATO forces, particularly heavy NATO forces, more ready? And as a related point how can you ensure the sort of new money that is coming in is directed to build the kind of capabilities you outlined today?

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): There is a very close link between the defence investment pledge and the pledge to invest more in defence and the capability targets. Because we need extra funding to finance and pay for the new capabilities and therefore it is actually very encouraging to see that we are delivering both on spending, cash, and on capabilities. Because we have seen a significant increase, $46 billion US dollars over three years is significant, it makes a difference and this additional money is then spent on also the new capabilities. You are right that it’s partly about creating totally new capabilities but partly it is also about strengthening existing capabilities, making sure that battalions, brigades, divisions, military units of NATO are fully manned, fully equipped, trained and have the necessary readiness to be able to deliver the needed deterrence of the alliance. So this is partly about manning, equipping, training existing military units and partly about delivering additional units, land formations, sea, air, cyber. And this is, ... just to give you some examples ... there are many, many, many capability targets but this is partly about providing more heavier, more ready forces, more high end capabilities but for instance we are going to increase our air defence capabilities, we are going to provide more aircraft which are able to operate in heavily defended areas meaning able to operate in areas which are covered by A2AD, and also we are going to increase the number of air defence ships and many other capabilities which are needed in the new and more demanding security environment.

MODERATOR: Ana, in the second row.

Q: Thank you. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency, Europa Press.  Could you give us a bit more flavour of what the cooperation with the EU and the fight against terrorism will look like? Did you go into any kind of details? And I’m specifically thinking maybe of Iraq where the EU is thinking of setting up also a training mission for the [inaudible] forces. And a second quick question, when you say the summer for next summit that means July? That is July? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: In Norway July is regarded as summer. So, so that’s a good candidate. But we haven’t made a final decision on the exact dates so we have started in a way to plan for next summer but some final decision making has to take place. We have decided that it will take place and there is support for not only having a summit next year but also have it in Brussels. But we will have to work on the date and the formal decision still remains. 

Then NATO has worked with the EU on the fight against terrorism for many years because we were together and we have been together in for instance Afghanistan where NATO has done work, you know in a very non-permissive environment with our ISAF Operation and now with the Resolute Support Mission, train, assist and advise the armed forces. The European Union has worked on police, so helping them and building police capacity in Afghanistan and they also worked, you know on development aid and civil society and many other areas. So we have done this before but I think we can do more. We also worked in other areas like for instance Kosovo where we have worked on different tasks and also partly worked very closely together also in Bosnia-Herzegovina. So we have a long experience of working together but we think, but we strongly believe that we can do more of this kind of cooperation in countries like for instance Iraq.  EU has announced that they will increase their presence there and NATO has decided to increase our activities in Iraq with more training, more capacity building, building defence security institutions but also training Iraqi forces. So then we need coordination, so it’s very much about partnerships, very much related to capacity building but also I think that for instance our presence in the Mediterranean with Operation Sea Guardian, the NATO maritime operation, working together with EU is another example of how we are working together. So there are many examples.  Cyber is also related to the fight against terrorism and I think the important thing to understand when it comes to cyber attacks is that there’s absolutely zero warning time so the necessity, the need to be able to react immediately together is very high and therefore I welcome that we have this technical arrangements which enable us to then work together and at the technical level to respond to different kinds of cyber attacks.

MODERATOR: The lady in the fifth row.

Q: Estonian Television. Have you discussed also Russian training Zapad and what kind of preparations NATO needs to do for that period of time?

JENS STOLTENBERG: The Zapad exercise has been mentioned by several allies and it was also mentioned when I visited Latvia and Lithuania last week. It is a big exercise and it’s yet another example of increased military activity close to NATO borders. Every nation has the right to exercise its forces, the important thing is that this is done in a predictable, transparent way and in accordance with international agreements like for instance the Vienna Document which requires international notification and also international observation if the exercise is bigger than specific thresholds. And we expect Russia to follow those obligations, they haven’t done that so far but we expect them to adhere to the international obligations related to transparency and international inspections of the Zapad exercise. NATO is transparent when it comes to our exercises.  We are not mirroring exactly what Russia is doing but we are responding to a more assertive Russia, that’s one of the reasons why we have deployed four battery groups in the eastern part of the alliance and that’s also one of the reasons why we are exercising our forces more and why we have increased the readiness of our forces.

MODERATOR: Teri, second row.

Q: Hi, Teri Schultz with NPR and Deutsche Welle. On, on Zapad, you expect Russia to adhere to these norms but what are the implications if they don’t? And what’s the status of your conversations about a possible NRC here before the summer? And a second question on everything from intelligence sharing to cyber cooperation and basically all of the counter terrorism efforts that you’re making, what are you doing to increase the trust between allies so that they are more willing to share intelligence? This is always something that hamstrings any of these efforts, that governments want to protect their own intelligence and it’s difficult to get very actionable items that will be shared. So how, are those also some of the efforts that you’re making? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So on intelligence we have just established a new intelligence division which has as its main aim and purpose to improve the way we share intelligence in the alliance and also to improve the way we analyse and understand intelligence and we’re also establishing a cell which is going to specifically address the risks of terrorist threats. So we are improving the way we are sharing intelligence and of course we are totally dependent on also that allies share intelligence with each other. 

On Zapad perhaps it’s too much to say that I expect but at least I call on Russia to respect the Vienna Document, because that is an important document whose main aim is to make sure that we have predictability and transparency related to military exercises. And therefore we respect the Vienna Document but we have seen that Russia has used different loopholes and not notified and not facilitated international inspections of their exercises for many, many years but the more exercises the more important it is that the Vienna Document is fully respected. We have also called for or asked for a briefing on Zapad 2017 in the NATO Russia Council and we are working for a meeting of the NATO Russia Council before the summer break. We have suggested some dates to Russia and we hope that we will be able to agree both on the agenda and dates so we can have a meeting of the NATO Russia Council. We have already have had meetings where we have had briefings on military posture and also exercises but now we would like to have briefings on upcoming exercises and Zapad 17 is one of the exercises we would like to be briefed on in the NRC.

MODERATOR: Yes please gentleman here in the centre.

Q: Daniel [inaudible], TASS News Agency. Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Lavrov will be in Brussels on the 11th and 12th of July. Do you expect to have any discussions with him here at NATO? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I met Foreign Minister Lavrov on different occasions, I met him several times but we don’t have any plans now to meet while he’s in Brussels.

Q: [Inaudible], Le Soir. You already mentioned cyber attack two days ago. Could you say something more about your assessment about what happened? Who is behind, was Ukraine the real target? And what is also the real concrete added value of the cooperation with the EU on that field? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The added value is that our experts, our teams are able to work together with and share information with the EU teams and the EU experts and they can do it in real time and they can do it immediately when we see a cyber attack is coming. Then of course much of the practical measures are responsibilities of the different member states, both of the European Union and of NATO, but the importance of especially NATO when it comes to NATO allies is that we help them with improving their cyber defences. And we also work together with partners.  For instance Ukraine was severely hit by the cyber attack this week.   NATO has activities, programs, we have a trust fund financing, NATO help; N ATO support to improving Ukrainian cyber defences. We have a Centre of Excellence for Cyber Defence where we share best practices, where we are addressing technologies and we have also several allies which have developed you know extremely advanced technologies in different areas and we are helping each other. So this is partly about sharing best practices, sharing technology but also about exercises and sharing information when we see concrete attacks as we have seen in the last weeks.

MODERATOR: We have time for one last question. Gentleman towards the back there.

Q: Kai Kuestner, ARD German Radio. I know the Afghanistan session is coming up but having a general question you will easily answer I’m sure. What makes you sure the extra troops you announced will turn around the trend of Taliban expansion in Afghanistan? And would you retrospectively say it was a mistake to withdraw combat troops in 2014?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, that was a right decision, if anything we should have done it before. We should have started earlier to train the Afghans, earlier to enable them to take full responsibility for their own security. So it was not a wrong decision to end the NATO combat operation and to move into a train, assist and advise mission because I strongly believe that in the long run it is much more sustainable to enable the Afghans themselves to take care of their own security, to fight Taliban and terrorist groups themselves instead of having a large number of German, UK, Norwegian, other troops from NATO allied countries fighting in Afghanistan. So I strongly believe that it’s better to enable local forces to stabilize their own country instead of NATO combat troops doing that job in many different countries. So if anything we should have done it before, so gone from a combat operation to a train, assist and advise operation. What we are aiming at now is to not go back to a combat operation but to adjust, strengthen the existing train, assist and advise mission. And there are in particular three areas where we see a need to strengthen the support for the Afghans. Special operation forces, they are proven key and critical in the fight against Taliban and terrorist groups. Air forces, they need more planes and more helicopters both for close air support but also for medivac. And more and better leadership, so we are also looking into how we can strengthen military academies so we can help them with better command and control and leadership. We don’t think the situation in Afghanistan is going to be easy, we don’t think it’s going to be peaceful and no conflicts and no violence there this year or next year or in the near future but we believe that the Afghans have proven ... or we not only believe it -  we have seen that the Afghans have proven professional, determined and committed to fight Taliban and to stabilize their own country and we also strongly believe that in the long run there has to be a political negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. It has to be an Afghan led and Afghan owned political process but there is a close relationship between what’s going on the battlefield and what we can achieve at the negotiating table. As long as the Taliban believes that they can win the war then they will not negotiate. So we have to break the stalemate, we have to enable the Afghans to make advances, to regain territory and to break the stalemate and by that forcing Taliban to really give real concessions at the negotiating table and that provides their best possible foundation for a political solution.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much.