by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
Today and tomorrow, we will take decisions to prepare the NATO Summit next month.
We will begin with a meeting focused on strengthening our deterrence and defence.
We are now adapting the NATO Command Structure for the challenges of the future.
And today, we will decide on an increase in personnel numbers, and on the locations for two new commands. One for the Atlantic, in Norfolk, Virginia; and one in Ulm, Germany to support military mobility in Europe.
I expect we will also agree a NATO Readiness Initiative – the “Four Thirties”. To ensure that by 2020, we have 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels ready within 30 days or less. Because in a more unpredictable world, we need to be sure we have the right forces in the right places at the right time.
We will discuss our progress in many areas, including cyber defence and maritime security. And we will also take stock of our efforts to achieve more defence spending and better burden-sharing among Allies.
Later today we will focus on the Alliance’s efforts to project stability and fight terrorism, including in Iraq. NATO contributes to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with AWACS surveillance planes and training for Iraqi forces. And at our Summit next month, we will launch a new training mission in Iraq.
Today we will review our planning and ensure our support will be as effective as possible. We will also assess additional support to our partners Jordan and Tunisia.
Tomorrow we will meet with High Representative / Vice President Federica Mogherini. As well as our colleagues from Finland and Sweden. Together we will discuss NATO-EU cooperation – which will be a key theme for our Brussels Summit.
Military mobility could also become an important feature of NATO-EU cooperation. And we are working together to identify and remove obstacles to the rapid deployment of forces in Europe.
We will conclude by meeting with our Resolute Support partners to discuss our mission in Afghanistan. Despite continuing challenges, the Afghan forces are doing an outstanding job and developing their capabilities. We are stepping up our support – with both forces and funding. We have added 3,000 more trainers to our mission.
And at the Summit next month, I expect Allies will agree to extend funding for the Afghan forces to 2024. Our presence in Afghanistan helps Afghans stabilise their country, fight international terrorism, and create the conditions for a peaceful solution.I welcome the announcement of a ceasefire made by President Ghani and the Government of National Unity. This is a positive step forward on the path to peace. NATO fully supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Q (RFE): Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. As you said, President Ghani announced a ceasefire with the Taliban for a short period of time. Will this move convince the Taliban to cease fighting and to come to the negotiating table? Thank you.
SECRETARY GENERAL: The announcement of the ceasefire shows the seriousness of President Ghani and the Afghan government when it comes to their efforts to find a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. And I welcome that strong commitment to peace by President Ghani.
At the same time, we have to continue to understand that the situation in Afghanistan is difficult. And that’s the reason why NATO will continue to provide support. We have stepped up our efforts to support the Afghans with trainers and with funding. And the message and the purpose of NATO’s presence is that Taliban will not win on the battlefield. The only way for them to achieve a solution is to sit down at the negotiating table. And therefore we will continue to provide support, and then I call on the Taliban to join the ceasefire and to lay down their arms and to engage in a constructive dialogue to find a peaceful, negotiated solution.
Q (ARD/ZDF): Hi, thank you. I’ve got two questions. In terms of burden-sharing, Germany recently offered 1.5% – is that enough? And my second question – you have the new Command Structure, the Readiness Initiative – who is NATO afraid of?
SECRETARY GENERAL: First, on burden-sharing. I welcome the fact that European Allies and Canada have turned the corner. After years of cutting defence spending, they have now started to increase. All Allies have stopped the cuts, all Allies have started to increase, and the majority of Allies have put forward plans on how to meet the 2 percent, or spend 2 percent on defence by 2024.
I welcome the fact that Germany has stopped cuts, Germany has started to increase, and also the plans to increase German defence spending by 80% over a decade. So these are steps in the right direction. I welcome them. And it’s part of a pattern we now see across Europe and Canada where Allies are spending more.
And I will later on today present to the Defence Ministers our latest figures – the first estimate for defence spending in 2018. And I will share it also with you at my next press conference where we will publish the figures for spending in 2018 across the Alliance.
Then on the command structure, NATO is not afraid. But NATO has to adapt, and NATO has to make sure that we continue to remain the most successful Alliance in history. And the only way to do that is to be able to respond when we see new challenges, change when the world is changing. And now the world is changing. We see a more assertive Russia, we see a lot of instability, violence in the Middle East and North Africa, close to our borders, we see proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and we see cyber threats. And that’s the reason why we are strengthening and adapting our Command Structure with a new Atlantic Command, with a new Support Command in Germany, and also with a new Cyber Centre.
Q (Rudaw): Thank you very much. My question is about Turkey. What’s the reaction, response to what Turkey intervention inside Syria territory? You know Turkey will begin the Manbij operation [inaudible]. My second question is about Iraq – what’s exactly your plan in Iraq? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY GENERAL: Our plan in Iraq is to step up our training. Because we strongly believe that the best weapon we have in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces. NATO has deployed in big combat operations, and it may happen again that we need to do that. But in the long run, we strongly believe that the much better strategy is to enable local forces to stabilize their own country and fight terrorism themselves.
That’s actually what we do in Afghanistan, where we train the Afghan forces, and that’s what we also now are doing in Iraq. And the plan is to step up the training activities there, to make sure that we preserve the gains in the fight against Daesh. That ISIL/Daesh is not able to come back. And therefore we have to enable the Iraqis to stabilize their own country and to prevent Daesh from coming back.
The other question was about Turkey and northern Syria, Manbij. NATO is part of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, or ISIS, but NATO is not present on the ground in northern Syria. Some Allies are, for instance the United States and Turkey. We welcome the fact that the United States and Turkey, two NATO Allies, have agreed on a roadmap on how to deal with the challenges, for instance, related to Manbij.
The situation in Manbij was one of the issues I discussed with President Erdogan when I met him in Ankara recently, and also one of the issues I discussed with President Trump in the White House a couple of weeks ago.
So NATO is not directly involved, but NATO Allies are – and I welcome the fact that Turkey and the United States are now working together to address the challenges in northern Syria.
Q (Al-Arabiya): The Defence Minister of Qatar said in an interview that his country is looking for full membership, and he was not joking about that. It may require, let’s say, an official reaction from your side. And small question about the situation in Iraq. The political situation is becoming more complex after the election – the Election Committee members are forbidden to leave the country. Are you worried that the political circumstances may require you maybe to delay the mission? Or are you confident after your contact with Mr. Abadi and the Iraqi representatives that the mission will be launched at the Summit? Thank you.
SECRETARY GENERAL: So we are in Iraq with our current activities based on an invitation from the Iraqi government. And the elections – it’s too early to say what kind of new government we’ll have after the elections. But of course we will stay in Iraq, and we will only step up our training efforts in Iraq, if we are welcomed by the Iraqi government. But we have no indications that the new Iraqi government will not welcome continued support both from the Coalition to Defeat Daesh and from NATO. So our planning is going on, and the plan is to launch the new training mission at the Summit in July.
That was Iraq, and the other question was… Qatar is a partner of NATO and we welcome the partnership with Qatar. We have several partner nations in the Gulf region. And we welcome that partnership. But NATO is an Alliance for North America and for Europe. That is stated in Article 10 of our founding treaty. So members of the Alliance have to be countries in North America – US, Canada – and Europe. So NATO is not an Alliance that will go beyond North America and Europe.
Q (TV2 Denmark): It’s not a secret that today a lot of European countries and the EU is a sort of in-fight with President Trump on a number of very important international issues such as Iran and the ongoing trade war. So what makes you believe today that the 29 NATO countries can actually get something constructive out of today’s meeting and sort of put the differences aside?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We have disagreements between NATO Allies, but we stand together in NATO when it comes to the core task of NATO: and that is to protect each other and to strengthen our collective defence.
And I agree that there are differences related to issues like trade, like the Iran nuclear deal, or environmental issues, climate change. And we also see some differences within Europe regarding the future direction of Europe. But then we have to remember that it’s nothing new that there are differences between NATO Allies. Going back to the 1950s, the Suez Crisis, there were big differences between NATO Allies. Or all the way up to the Iraq war in 2003, different NATO Allies had different opinions.
And of course, I take this seriously. At the same time, I think what we have learned and seen from history is that NATO is able to stand united around our core task and to deliver collective defence, deterrence – that we protect each other. And that’s exactly what I expect also to happen today and tomorrow during this defence ministerial.
Because we are now implementing the biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War despite those differences. We are stepping up our fight against terrorism despite those differences. And we see that Allies are increasing defence spending despite those differences. The US is increasing their military presence in Europe and Canada is also coming back.
So the fact is that yes, there are differences between NATO Allies on issues like trade. But within NATO, we have actually been able to strengthen our cooperation and strengthen the transatlantic bond with more North American presence in Europe, and with European Allies stepping up investments in defence. So NATO is strong, and NATO has actually become stronger over the last couple of years despite those differences.