Press conference

by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the launch of his Annual Report for 2017

  • 15 Mar. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Mar. 2018 18:11

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Today, I am very pleased to be able to launch my Annual Report for 2017.

The Report shows that, in an unpredictable world, the Alliance is stepping up to keep our nations safe.

In 2017, we continued to invest more and better in our defence. We deployed four multinational battlegroups to the eastern of the Alliance. And strengthened our forward presence in the Black Sea region. We increased our resilience against hybrid warfare. And strengthened our cyber defences. We joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with our AWACS planes. And began training in Iraq. We raised our cooperation with the European Union to unprecedented levels. And we welcomed Montenegro as the 29th member of the Alliance. 2017 was a busy year.And, in 2018, we will continue to do what it takes to preserve the peace.

A more uncertain security environment means NATO Allies need to invest more in defence. Develop the right capabilities. And contribute to our missions and operations. In 2014, Allies pledged to stop cuts to their defence budgets. Increase defence spending. And move towards spending 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade. Since then, we have seen three consecutive years of increased defence spending in Europe and Canada. Adding a total of 46 billion dollars.

In 2017, European Allies and Canada increased their defence expenditure by almost 5% in real terms. And you can find the specific national figures in the Report.

All NATO members have pledged to continue to increase defence spending in real terms. The majority have already put in place plans on how to meet the 2% guideline by 2024. And we expect others to follow.

Allies are investing in major new capabilities. Since 2014, we have added 18 billion dollars to spending on major equipment. In 2017, 26 Allies spent more in real terms on major equipment than in the previous year. And they are also contributing more to operations and missions. For instance, in 2017 we decided to increase contributions to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. And Allies have contributed thousands of troops to our increased presence in the east of the Alliance.

At the end of 2017, there were over 23,000 troops serving in NATO deployments. Up from just under 18,000 in 2014 – before Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the rise of ISIS. This is an increase of around 30%. So all Allies are stepping up: doing more, in more places,in more ways. To strengthen our deterrence and defence in response to the challenging security environment. 

One of those challenges is Russia’s behaviour. Including in recent weeks.The United Kingdom has determined that Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. The British government has also concluded that this represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom. The substance used is one of the most toxic ever developed. This is the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation. All Allies agree that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. This is unacceptable. It has no place in a civilised world. The North Atlantic Council addressed this horrific incident yesterday. Allies expressed their solidarity with the UK. They offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation. And called on Russia to address the UK’s questions. NATO regards any use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security. We will be briefed by the UK’s National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill later today. I am in touch with Foreign Secretary Johnson and we are meeting here at NATO on Monday. The attack in Salisbury has taken place against the backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behaviour. Over many years. The illegal annexation of Crimea and military support to separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The military presence in Moldova and Georgia against these countries’ will. Meddling in Montenegro and elsewhere in the Western Balkans. Attempts to subvert democratic elections and institutions. And the military build-up from the North of Europe to the Middle East.

Russia has been modernising its armed forces over the last decade. And investing significantly. Developing new weapons. Including with nuclear capabilities. And Russia has integrated conventional and nuclear warfare in its military doctrine and exercises. This blurring of the line between nuclear and conventional lowers the threshold for Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. And the blurring of the line between peace, crisis and war is destabilising and dangerous. NATO’s approach remains firm, defensive, and proportionate. NATO will not mirror Russia tank for tank, missile for missile or drone for drone.

We do not want a new Cold War. And we do not want to be dragged into a new arms race. An arms race has no winners. It is expensive, it is risky, it is in nobody’s interest. But let there be no doubt. NATO will defend all Allies against any threat. We will maintain strong conventional forces. As well as a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. At the same time, we will continue to strive for effective arms control. We welcome the implementation of the new START Treaty. And we will protect the INF Treaty. And we will also continue to seek a meaningful dialogue with Russia. We had three meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in 2017.  And we are working to hold another. This dialogue is difficult. But it is vital to increase transparency and to reduce risk.

NATO does not have the luxury of choosing just one challenge. That is why in 2017, we also stepped up our efforts to project stability beyond our borders and to contribute to the fight against terrorism. Our mission in Afghanistan, NATO’s largest, is helping to train Afghan forces.

So that they can fight terrorism and secure their own country.

We have decided to increase the size of our Resolute Support training mission. From 13,000 to around 16,000. With our assistance, Afghan forces have increased military pressure on the Taliban. Ensuring they did not achieve their strategic objective of capturing a provincial capital in 2017. And we strongly support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. I commend President Ghani for his courageous leadership. His offer to the Taliban is the clearest invitation to peace yet. So I call on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

There is an opportunity – now – to end the conflict. And build a more secure and prosperous Afghanistan. An opportunity that must be seized. 

In 2017, NATO became a full member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. We are working to strengthen the Iraqi Armed Forces to fight terrorism. Training almost 500 Iraqi trainers. So they can share their new skills with thousands of others. This year, we will further boost our contribution. By launching a new training mission in Iraq to build on our efforts. And by providing more support to our partners in the region. Such as Jordan and Tunisia.

Last year, we raised our strategic partnership with the European Union to unprecedented levels.

NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian provided critical support to the EU’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. NATO and EU cyber teams exchange warnings about cyberattacks and malware in real time. And together, High Representative Federica Mogherini and I opened the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki.

This is the last Annual Report I will launch at this headquarters. Next week, we begin the final stage of the move to our new Headquarters across the road. A cutting-edge and environmentally-friendly building which makes a fitting home for the Alliance in the 21st century.

The world does not stand still. And neither does NATO.

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

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we'll go to the BBC in the middle.  Further down, gentleman with the beard.

Question [BBC]: Thank you very much, Oana.  Thank you, Secretary General.  You have echoed the British Prime Minister's comments that this use of a nerve agent was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.  There has been a lot of sympathetic and strong words backing Britain in this predicament, but what practical steps can NATO offer?  What negotiations are underway?  What practical measures might we see to respond to this attack against a member state on their own territory?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First of all, I think it's extremely important to express strong political support to the United Kingdom, sending a clear message that the United Kingdom is not alone.  We stand together with them.  And this is a serious attack, on individuals in the United Kingdom, but it's also a blatant and serious violation of norms and rules, which are important for the security of all of us.  So therefore, the strong expression of solidarity, support, is important in itself.  Britain is not alone.  Second, Allies have offered practical support and we are ready to provide support, if so requested by the United Kingdom.  And thirdly, we have to understand that this is happening on the backdrop of a pattern of reckless behaviour which has taken place over many years, and NATO is responding to that and the UK is part of that response.  We have deployed four battlegroups to the east of the Alliance.  The UK is leading one of them in Estonia.  We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force and we are starting to invest more in defence, to be able to send a clear message to Russia that we are able to defend ourselves against any threat, including hybrid, cyber and other kinds of aggression.  We will continue to adapt the Alliance.  We are constantly assessing what more we can do and I expect also heads of state and government to make important decisions on this when they meet here in Brussels in July.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION [Wall Street Journal]: Mr Secretary General, I wanted to follow up on that, you know, how… is there specific steps that NATO should consider to deter chemical weapons attacks, deter covert activity by Russia, inside Alliance territory?  Is there something that can be done to bolster defences against… or detection of chemical weapons attacks?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: We are now investing more in our defences and that gives us more resources also to develop a system to protect us against chemical attacks, and biological attacks, and chemical attacks, and we have a centre of excellence in the Czech Republic, and that centre is a tool to share experience, to share technology, and to share best practices, and also to help Allies to train how to protect themselves against chemical weapons.  So, part of the adaptation of NATO is also to strengthen our ability to detect and to protect against chemical weapons.  We are strengthening our intelligence cooperation, which is also in part important to detect potential chemical attacks, and we are also of course increasing the readiness of our forces, so we can quickly respond if there is any need for a military response.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, Reuters, third row.

Question [Reuters]: Thank you.  Secretary General, you said that this British attack is part of pattern of Russian behaviour.  Would you now characterise the situation of a hybrid war against the West conducted by Russia?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, we have seen the use of hybrid tactics in many different ways, which is this combination of overt and covert operations, military and non-military means of aggression.  We have seen cyber-attacks and so on.  So, this is something which has been going on for many years, in different ways, and very often we use the phrase "hybrid" to describe this blurred line between different means of aggression.  And that’s one of the reasons why NATO is responding.  We responded when Russia used hybrid tactics in Crimea, we are responding when we see cyber-attacks and we are responding in many different ways.  So yes, this is part… this is happening on the backdrop of a series of reckless actions and that’s the reason why we will continue to respond.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: At the back there, NRK.

Question [NRK]: Thank you.  Secretary General, would you describe the situation now, compared to a year ago, that Russia and the NATO Allies are further apart?  And if the situation is like you describe it, how can you possibly have a meaningful and constructive dialogue with Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: At least the relationship has not improved and that’s the reason why we will continue to pursue our dual-track approach to Russia, which combines deterrence defence with political dialogue.  And the dialogue is not easy, but that’s exactly why it is important.  Because when tensions are high, when there are increased risks for incidents, accidents and miscalculations, then it's even more important to have a political dialogue, because we don’t want a new Cold War, we don’t want a new arms race.  That’s costly, it's expensive and there are no winners in an arms race.  After the end of the Cold War, we worked for a strategic partnership with Russia, but then Russia decided to use force against neighbours.  We saw it in Georgia, but we saw it also in Ukraine.  And this is Russia's decision that they have chosen not to cooperate, but to confront.  We will still strive for a better relationship with Russia.  Russia is our neighbour, Russia is there to stay, but we have to combine the message of dialogue with the message of that we are predictable and strong.  And that’s the way we will continue and then it's up to Russia to change behaviour and to see that we all will gain if they are willing to engage in a more constructive relationship with NATO.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: TASS in the second row

Question [TASS]: Denis Dubrovin, TASS News Agency.  Mr Secretary General, yesterday North Atlantic Council made a strong statement on the Salisbury case, but I wanted to clarify one point.  In this statement, it was said that the nerve gas that was used in United Kingdom was developed by Russia.  In fact, this nerve gas was developed by the Soviet Union over 30 years ago.  So, why there is such an inconsistency in this statement?  Is it made on purpose or is it just a mistake?  Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yesterday we were briefed and we will be updated and briefed again today by the National Security Adviser in the United Kingdom, and we were briefed both on the findings and also of the actions of the United Kingdom.  And we have no reason to doubt the findings and the assessments made by the United Kingdom.  We have seen before that Russia has been implicated in same kind of incidents and cases, and we know that this nerve agent has been produced in Russia and therefore we trust assessments by the United Kingdom.  I cannot go into intelligence, but I can just say that I trust the assessments which have been shared with us by the United Kingdom.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Washington Post, third row in the centre.

Question [Washington Post]: Hi, thank you.  Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post.  Two questions; one, is this attack in Britain, in your view, an appropriate moment… would it be appropriate for Britain to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter?  And second question, on spending, President Trump of course has put tremendous importance and weight on the 2% spending goals and in the United States they have become politically linked to all sorts of things, one of his advisers was even talking about perhaps offering exemptions to the aluminium and steel tariffs, based on whether countries are meeting their NATO goals.  Is that an appropriate use of these spending targets, in your view?  Does it make sense to have this broader political discussion about them in the United States?  Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Let me first comment on the spending and trade.  It's not for me to comment on trade tariffs and trade issues as Secretary General of NATO.  What I can say is that we have seen, throughout the history of NATO, that there has been differences between NATO Allies on different issues, including trade issues, but we have always been able to avoid that these differences have undermined the unity of the Alliance when it comes to the core task of NATO, and that is that we protect and defend each other.  And I am absolutely certain that we will be able to do also that this time.  But yes, there are some differences when it comes to trade, but at the same time I am absolutely certain that NATO will stand united against… or around our core task, to defend and protect each other.  On spending, I think we have to understand that European Allies and Canada are now really stepping up.  After years of decline in defence spending, we have seen for the first time in many years, three consecutive years of increases.  More countries will meet the 2% target.  Back in 2014, when we made the pledge, it was only three countries that met the 3%... sorry, the 2% guideline.  This year, we expect eight Allies to meet the 2% guideline.  But perhaps as important as how many countries that will meet the 2% guideline this year, is the fact that also those countries that have yet a way to go before they reach the 2% guideline, they are also increasing significantly.  For instance, Germany increased defence spending last year by around 6% in real terms, and that’s really a big increase and it adds to the European defence spending in a significant way.  So Germany, as many other European Allies, are now stepping up, investing more, providing more funding for military and defence purposes.  Germany is also stepping up when it comes to contributions to NATO missions and operations.  They have just announced they will increase their presence in Afghanistan, from around 1,000 to 1,300, adding 300 more troops.  Germany has been there all the time, and I think this shows that European Allies and Canada are doing more, stepping up, contributing more to our shared security.

Then on Article 5, well there has been no request for Article 5 and it's for nations to ask for that.  NATO is ready to provide support and we have expressed our political support to UK.  Allies are also ready to provide support in the conduct of the investigation and we call on Russia to answer the questions which have been posed by the United Kingdom.  But I think it's important that we react in a proportionate, measured and defensive way, and there has been no call for Article 5.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: ITV News, gentleman in the fourth row.

Question [ITV News]: Secretary General, Rageh Omaar, ITV News.  You spoke about Allies offering practical assistance and help to the United Kingdom.  Could you go into a bit more detail because the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been quite clear that if these tit-for-tat measures continue to expand, so, for the United Kingdom not to suffer disproportionately, its Allies need to stand with the United Kingdom.  How does NATO come into that standing practically side-by-side with Britain, if these tit-for-tat measures escalate?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: This is an evolving situation and with it comes the immediate task of conducting the investigation. UK is a nation with a lot of capabilities themselves.  So, so far, there has been no need, no request for any practical assistance in conducting the investigation.  If there is such a request, I am absolutely certain that Allies are ready to provide support, but so far the UK has not asked for any kind of practical support to the investigation.  But, as I said, the political support is important because we send a clear message that the UK is not alone.  And we have to see this in the broader picture, because the attack in Salisbury happens on the backdrop of a pattern which we have seen over many years, and there NATO plays a key role in the response, on behalf of all NATO Allies.  We have, for the first time in our history, deployed battlegroups to the eastern part of the Alliance:  four in the Balkan countries and Poland, and also increased our presence in the Black Sea region.  We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, we have established the High Readiness Joint Task Force, so we can quickly reinforce, and we have done a lot when it comes to strengthening our cooperation on intelligence, on cyber, but also in addressing hybrid threats.  And, as I said, we are now, for the first time in many years, investing more in defence capabilities in Europe, and NATO is organising that.  That’s part of the response, because that delivers the deterrence and defence, which is important also for the UK, when we see a more assertive Russia.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK.  Gentleman in the first row here. 

Question [Rai]: From Rai, Italy.  Thank you.  If I can ask if you are worried about the Italian election that were won actually by two parties that support more dialogue with Russia and are against the sanction?  Do you believe that there will be consequence with the Alliance, of Italy?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, first we have to see… so, we have seen the outcome of the elections, but it's too early to say exactly what kind of government we will have.  But I respect the decision by Italian voters.  I think we have seen, in the history of NATO, that voters have elected different political parties, with different political leaders, with different positions and opinions about many issues.  But again and again we have seen that we are able to unite and we are able to stay committed to the core task of NATO, and I am confident that Italy will be a committed NATO Ally, also with a new government, and I look forward to work with the new government in Italy.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Kabul Times, just behind.  Lady just behind you.  Thank you.

Question [Kabul Times]: Thank you, Secretary.  As you mention, and everybody's talking about, Russia, but I would like to ask about Afghanistan.  You said that, and the report also mention it about Afghanistan and also you said they strongly support peace… new peace plan in Afghanistan.  I would like to ask how does NATO support peace in a failed state and a terrible arranged national unity government?  Because, as we saw, the situation is always change and thousands of civilians died.  How does NATO support with this failed state?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, we strongly support the efforts to make progress in the efforts to have a political and peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and we do that in different ways.  Partly, we provide strong political support to the unity government, and for us this is very important that this is an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.  NATO participates, or participated, in the last meeting, in the Kabul Process, in the meeting in Kabul.  We are round the table, we participate in the meetings, but this is an Afghan-led process and that’s extremely important, that it continues to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.  We welcome that President Ghani so clearly has invited Taliban to the negotiating table without preconditions.  This is the strongest ever invitation to peace talks in Afghanistan and Taliban should seize that opportunity to sit down and find a political solution.  It may be that not the whole of Taliban is ready, but hopefully at least parts of the Taliban is ready to sit down, and we call on them to do so.  Second, we know that there is a close link between what's going on on the battlefield and what can take place at the negotiating table.  Because we have to strengthen the Afghan security forces, army and national security forces, so they can break the stalemate on the battlefield, sending a clear message to Taliban and other insurgents, that there is no way they can win on the battlefield.  And that’s the reason why we are increasing our military presence, with trainers in Afghanistan, to enable to the Afghan security forces to break the stalemate and to create the conditions for a political solution.  And thirdly, we provide economic support and we help Afghanistan with reforms, including fighting corruption, because we think that also can help and contribute to a peaceful and political solution.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Jane's.  First row.  Gentleman in the first row.

Question [Jane's Defence Weekly]: Brookes Tigner, Jane's Defence Weekly.  I'd like to turn to an ostensibly boring part of your report, but which I think has strategic implications if it's not addressed, and that is expenditure on pensions and personnel.  More than 15 of the Allies spend well over 50% of their defence budget on personnel and pension cost, Belgium, Greece, are up over 75%, which would suggest that these are more employment machines than military machines.  My question to you… I mean NATO has guidelines on defence spending as a per cent of GDP, has a guideline on defence equipment, and R&D expenditure of 20%, isn’t it time now for NATO to have a guideline on pensions and on pension limit, and [inaudible] of personnel cost for each of the armies?  If you want to free up money for effective capability development, it seems to me that’s the only way you can do it, because otherwise spending more money each year on defence that goes into pension doesn’t really serve much purpose.  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.  No part of this report is boring … Including what we write about pensions because actually, we address the question of pensions in the report, meaning we describe exactly how defence expenditure is defined in this report, and that’s based on a well-established, agreed formula on how to measure defence expenditure, which also of course includes salaries and pensions to soldiers.  And in the long run, it's very hard to have good soldiers and good officers without paying them, and they also have to pay pensions.  So, that’s part of the cost of having an army.

Question: 75%?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, then we also have guidelines and we have targets for how to spend the money.  Meaning for instance that we have guidelines for spending 20% of defence budget on investments and technology.  We have guidelines when it comes to capabilities, meaning that we have a very specific capability targets for each and every nation, and of course we expect them to deliver on those capability targets, and they have agreed and they have started to deliver.  And we also have, of course, requests and guidelines for instance when it comes to deployments, being it in the battlegroups or the NATO Response Force, and so on.  I don’t… I will not recommend that NATO should start to provide guidelines on pension systems.  I was responsible for pension reform Norway and I will not recommend anyone to try to do that on a multinational basis or in NATO.  But what I will say is that as long as they deliver the capabilities, as long as they deliver the contributions to NATO missions and operations, and as long as they deliver the investments on technology, or in technology, the 20% and so on, then they deliver what we expect them to.  And then how much they pay in salaries and pensions, then I leave that to nations, as long as they deliver what we ask them to deliver.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Georgian TV, second row, lady.

Question: [inaudible] Georgian TV Company.  Secretary General, as you know, our citizen was killed in [inaudible] Valley and the occupated regime in Russia still refuse to hand over the body, so considering this and… situation in general, how do you estimate threat from Russia to our Euro-Atlantic integration?  And in this case, what can we expect from upcoming Summit in Brussels?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I expect upcoming Summit in Brussels to recognise Georgia for the progress Georgia is making when it comes to reforms and also to recognise the contribution, the highly valid contribution Georgia is making to NATO missions and operations, especially in Afghanistan.  Then I met with the President of Georgia last week; I expressed my condolences on the loss of the life of the man that was killed and also expressed… or reiterated the call on Russia to make sure that the two persons who are still abducted are released.  We will continue to provide political support to Georgia and practical support to Georgia:  training, capacity-building reforms, and we are impressed by the reforms that Georgia has been able to implement, including the fact that Georgia is able to engage in the dialogue with Russia on how to solve the issue related to South Abkhazia… South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we had Europa Press at the back.  Lady at the back.

Question [Europa Press]: Thank you, Secretary General.  There is some speculation the UK might hit back at Russia, whether in an electronic warfare form or maybe cyber.  Would you warn against this?  I mean you’ve just called also for a measured response.  Would this just get us into an escalating scenario?  Or do you think that it firmly still needs a joint response from NATO, to make clear to Russia that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable?  I mean what… where are the limits of the response that we should give to this kind of very serious incident, in your view?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, I welcome the very close consultation that has taken place and which continues to take place, today with the briefing of the National Security Adviser, the UK National Security Adviser, but also with the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, coming on Monday to meet with me.  This just reflects the close consultation between the UK and NATO, and NATO Allies, and I welcome that.  I am absolutely certain that the UK will respond and is responding in a proportionate and measured way.  At the same time, I fully support that there is a need for a response, because it has to have consequences when we see actions like we have seen in Salisbury.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very much.  I know there's quite a few questions left, however this concludes the launch of the Annual Report and the Secretary General will join you for the Annual Media Reception in that direction.  The Annual Report you can find on your way out.  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.