by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
Today and tomorrow, defence ministers will take decisions to pave the way for our Summit in July, here in Brussels.
Those decisions will ensure that NATO continues to adapt for the 21st century so that we can keep our people safe in a more challenging world.
Our command structure is the backbone of the Alliance. It has evolved through the decades, to reflect changing security conditions. And it must continue to evolve to remain robust, agile and fully fit for purpose. That is why today, Ministers will agree on an outline design for an adapted NATO Command Structure, with new commands to improve the movement of troops across the Atlantic, and within Europe. Military mobility is key to our deterrence and defence. But it’s not just about new commands. We also need to update our military requirements for civilian infrastructure, such as roads, railways and airports. This is vital for NATO.
National governments, the private sector and the European Union also have key roles to play, and we are working closely with them.
Cyber is another top priority for NATO, which will be reflected in our updated command structure. I expect ministers will decide on ways to integrate cyber into all NATO planning and operations. So we can be just as effective in the cyber domain, as we are in air, on land, and at sea.
This evening we will be joined for dinner by High Representative Vice-President, Federica Mogherini. We will discuss threats to international security, including North Korea. Pressure is required to find the path for peace. We will need full and transparent implementation of UN sanctions. Russia and China have a special role to play as neighbouring countries and as permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is a global threat which requires a global response.
Tomorrow, we will meet our Resolute Support partners to discuss our mission in Afghanistan. The security situation remains volatile. But Afghan forces are making progress and are denying the Taliban their strategic goals. The United States is already deploying more troops, and many other Allies and partners are making additional commitments. To continue to strengthen the Afghan forces so that they can fight international terrorists. And pave the way for a lasting political solution.
Finally, we look forward to hosting the meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, chaired by Secretary Mattis.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Q (Sky): Last week the British Defence Secretary was sacked for sleaze allegations. The British International Development Secretary is currently on her way back, in the air, from Africa - summoned by the British Prime Minister, again, we think to be sacked. The Foreign Secretary is on shaky ground because of misguided comments he made earlier this week about an issue back in the UK. Coupled in with Brexit, has UK become unreliable partner on the international stage for you right now?
A: Britain very reliable partner and ally, because Britain is contributing to the Alliance in so many different ways. And I welcome the strong commitment of the United Kingdom to NATO and to many different NATO missions and operations. We have to remember that the United Kingdom has the 2nd largest defence budget. Next to the United States, no-one else invests more in defence than the UK. And the UK is leading one of the battlegroups we have deployed in the Baltic countries. They are responsible for our Response Force, and they are present in Afghanistan.
So I look forward to welcoming the new Secretary of Defence to the meeting today, but also to have a bilateral meeting with him tomorrow. So Williamson is a man I look forward to work together with, and continue to adapt the alliance together with the United Kingdom.
Q (ARD): Could you explain once again how and why exactly the NATO Command Structure should be expanded, and what would be Germany’s role in that?
A: The NATO Command Structure is the backbone of the Alliance. The Command Structure is what enables us to work together, 29 nations, to deploy forces in operations and to deliver credible deterrence and defence in Europe every day. But to be able to do that, we need a Command Structure which can make sure that we have the right forces in the right place with the right equipment at the right time. And therefore we need the Command Structure to organise, to lead, to facilitate the deployment of NATO forces in missions and operations, but also of course, the fact that we are present in Europe in delivering deterrence every day.
The Command Structure has to change when the security environment is changing. So when the world is changing the Command Structure must change. That has been the case before, and that’s the case now. We reduced the Command Structure at the end of the Cold War, because tensions went down. And we went from being focused on collective defence in Europe to be focused on expeditionary operations outside Europe, like for instance in Afghanistan. Now we have to continue to be able to conduct expeditionary missions, or train, assist and advise missions, as in Afghanistan, but at the same time strengthen our focus, our presence in Europe, collective defence.
And for instance, address also new areas like for instance cyber. And that’s the reason why we are adapting, that’s the reason why we are focusing on issues like, for instance, military mobility. Because to make sure that our forces are able to deploy, we need higher preparedness, we need higher readiness; but we also need infrastructure, we need means of communications, we need secure sea lines of communications over the Atlantic. All of these issues are going to be addresed through the adaptation of the Command Structure.
Exactly where we are going to locate new commands is something we are going to decide later. We now have the proposal from our strategic commanders, that’s based on a tasking from the Summit in Warsaw in 2016, last year. And then I hope that defence ministers will be able to make final decisions at their meeting in February, but we’ll agree on the outline design today.
Q (BBC): Secretary General, you stressed Britain’s exemplary role in the alliance, its spending, the responsibilities it takes on. Do you share the concerns of the US European Commander, General Hodges, who told the BBC today that if Britain makes any further cuts in its defence spending, it will no longer be able to assume all these global roles?
A: The UK is increasing defence spending. Because the UK is spending more than 2% of GDP on defence, and GDP is increasing. So what we have seen over the last year is an increase, and I welcome that. And I welcome also the fact that the United Kingdom is meeting the NATO guideline of spending more than 2% on defence. And what I see is that the UK is delivering key capabilities to NATO. Being part of our mission in Afghanistan, but also leading one of the battlegroups in the Baltics, and also providing forces and different military capabilities in many other ways.
So the reality is that defence spending across Europe is now increasing. And more nations are also joining UK in spending more than 2% on defence. And UK is by that, also leading by example, because UK meets the target and now other Allies are following the example of the UK.
Q (Mitra TV): Considering the brutal and heinous attacks against civilians in Afghanistan, as you might have seen, you know, they are sparing nobody. They are attacking mosques, they are attacking schools, restaurants and a recent one - a TV station yesterday. So that is a clear and blunt message from the Taliban they are sparing no-one and they are not embracing the reconciliation or peace process. With the US strategy in place, what is NATO’s actually blunt and very message to the Taliban?
A: Our message is that we’re going to stay in Afghanistan to train and help and support the Afghan forces so they can fight Taliban. So they can fight terrorist organisations. So they can stabilise their own country. And we have seen a lot of progress. There are many challenges, we see a lot of violence; there is a lot of uncertainty.
But we have at the same time seen that the Afghan forces are becoming more and more capable, more and more professional, and stronger and stronger. So they are able to respond every time the Taliban and the terrorists are attacking. We have seen that the Taliban has failed in reaching their main strategic goal: to control provincial capitals. And actually I think one of the reasons why we now see more high-profile attacks against civilians is that they have failed in their main goal to take control over provincial capitals.
So our message is that we will continue to support Afghan forces with training, assistance and advice, but also with funding. We are not returning to a combat mission. We strongly believe that in the long run it is a better solution that Afghan forces are responsible for security in their own country themselves, and that we provide support to them. But we are stepping up our support. We are increasing the number of NATO trainers in Afghanistan from roughly 13,000 to around 16,000 next year. And we will especially focus on training special operations forces, improving the air force of the Afghans, and also schools, or education - military academies and schools.
Q (VG): Secretary General, this morning President Trump was addressing the parliament in Seoul and he was again mentioning the possible use of military force to stop Pyongyang. In your mind, what would be the most helpful language towards North Korea - would that be threats of use of military force or would that be a more diplomatic language?
A: All NATO Allies agree that we have to put strong pressure on North Korea. Because North Korea is responsible for reckless behaviour, irresponsible behaviour, by developing nuclear weapons, by developing missiles. And we have to put pressure on North Korea to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution. Pressure is the path to peace. We need political pressure, we need diplomatic pressure, but in particular we need economic pressure. We need the full implementation of the economic sanctions. And I welcome that the economic sanctions were strengthened by the UN Security Council in September, and I also welcome the fact that we see that the sanctions are now more thoroughly implemented than before. And we need the full implementation of the sanctions in a transparent way.
Russia and China have a special responsibility, because Russia and China are permanent members of the UN Security Council and they are neighbouring countries. So we need strong pressure on North Korea to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution, and the whole Alliance agrees on that strategy.
Q (WSJ): Secretary General, one of your discussions today is on maritime and beyond just the new Atlantic command. Is your message to Allies that they need to contribute more to the standing maritime forces? Is this, in part, because of increased Russian naval activity in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean? And finally, are you concerned at all about reports about cuts to Allied navies - the potential selling off of frigates from Allied navies?
A: We have a very substantial defence planning process in NATO. Where we identify all the different targets, the capability targets we need, and we allocate them to different nations. So we have specific requests or targets also in the maritime domain for all NATO Allies. And yes, there are some requirements for increased maritime capabilities. That may be ships, submarines, or Maritime Patrol Aircraft, or other maritime capabilities. So yes, there is a request for more maritime capabilities.
But when we discuss the new Atlantic joint force command, then we discuss not only whether we need new capabilities - that’s actually more part of the defence planning process. But then we are discussing how can we best organise, how can we best lead, how can we best plan for ensuring that we have safe and secure lines of communications across the Atlantic. That’s partly about capabilities, but it’s also partly how they work together, and to what extent nations contribute their national capabilities into a NATO framework. And exercises and planning. So all of these issues are now on the table and they will be addressed as part of the process related to adapting the NATO Command Structure, and in particular the Atlantic command.
Q (1TV Afghanistan): Mister Secretary General, this is Abdullah and I am from 1TV Afghanistan. My question is regarding the coming election, the parliamentary election and presidential elections in Afghanistan. The security stalemate in Afghanistan leads to a situation where Afghan government could not be able to hold the parliamentary election on time and there is increasing concerns among citizens in the country that the Afghan government would also not able to hold the next presidential election in Afghanistan on time. What’s your message for Afghan government politically and what would be the contribution to NATO for ensuring maybe the security of the next election in Afghanistan? Thank you, sir.
A: We are underlining again and again the importance of political reform. And building democratic institutions in Afghanistan, fighting corruption, and making sure that the democratic institutions are working as they should, for instance with, of course, elections which are a core element in any democratic society. So therefore elections are important, and we think it is important that Afghanistan do whatever it can to be able to hold elections - both presidential and parliamentary elections.
To do that, security is important, to be able to hold elections. What we are doing, NATO is doing to help, so it’s possible hold elections, or arrange elections in a secure environment, is to train the Afghan forces. We are not there in a combat operation anymore, but we are there to enable the Afghans. So the best thing we can do to help securing the elections is to step up our efforts to train Afghan police and security forces so they can make sure that it’s possible to hold elections in a secure environment. And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we now are increasing our presence in Afghanistan - to train more Afghan soldiers and police.