Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Marjan Šarec
Prime Minister, thank you for your warm welcome, for hosting me and my delegation here. And also congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister of Slovenia. I very much look forward to working with you but also with your Foreign Minister and your Defence Minister, two politicians I know very well from their previous positions. So I really appreciate it to be here and to meet with all of you and to discuss the challenges we face as an Alliance.
But I also appreciate to come to Ljubljana because as a child I lived in Yugoslavia in the 60s and we came back many times in the 1970s and I remember very well that when we went to Ljubljana I already then loved the city, mostly because my father always gave me sladoled in Ljubljana, so that was so to say the first time I started to like this city. This time I didn’t get sladoled but I got a very good lunch so thank you also for that lunch.
We are grateful for Slovenia’s contributions to our shared security to the NATO Alliance. You contribute forces to our presence mission in Afghanistan, helping to fight terrorism and make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for international terrorists once again.
You are present, you contribute forces to our mission in Kosovo, which is key to make sure that we keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo. And we just saw the quality of your special operations forces with the display they had outside this building when we arrived, the high quality of your forces, and especially of your special operations forces. I’m also glad that you have contributed to and have been part of the Enhanced Forward Presence of NATO troops in the Baltics, with your presence in Latvia. And I also welcome you to the big NATO exercise later on in October, Trident Juncture, in Norway, which will be the biggest NATO exercise in many many years, showing that NATO is adapting, showing that NATO is responding to a more demanding and difficult security environment.
Then, we had a very good discussion during lunch and we addressed how NATO is adapting to a new and more challenging security environment and how we are both strengthening our collective defence at home in Europe, but at the same time projecting stability beyond our borders, through our missions and operations in the fight against terrorism but also to help partners in Europe like Ukraine, like Georgia, and other partners in Europe, which are important for us, because when our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure.
We also mentioned the importance of NATO-EU cooperation. We welcome the strengthened cooperation between NATO and the EU, and I also welcome EU efforts on defence as long as they are complementing and strengthening the European pillar within NATO and not duplicating or competing with NATO. So done in the right way, I really believe that stronger EU efforts on defence can improve burden sharing within the Alliance, and therefore I also welcome the close cooperation between our two organisations.
But of course, burden sharing is about capabilities, it’s about contributions, it’s about NATO-EU cooperation, but it’s also about spending and investing in defence. And NATO Allies reduced defence spending after the end of the Cold War when tensions went down. I was then a politician in Norway and I was also responsible for reducing defence spending in Norway but when we are reducing defence spending when tensions go down, we have to be able to increase defence spending when tensions are going up as they are now. Therefore I welcome that you so clearly have stated that you will increase the defence investments of Slovenia. Slovenia is currently spending just about 1% of GDP on defence, so I encourage you to do more to increase, and as you said, this is in our security interest, it’s something we need to make sure we are safe, and therefore I expect all Allies, also including Slovenia, to make good on the promise we made together back in 2014, to stop the cuts and start to increase defence spending.
I look very much forward to working with you and to address many different challenges including how NATO can help to address the challenges we see in the south east of Europe, working with our members there. We have a new member Montenegro. We have welcomed the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 as our 30th member if they can implement the name agreement with Greece. And we also work with partners like for instance Serbia to make sure that NATO continues to contribute to stability in this part of Europe.
So once again, thank you so much for receiving me.
Moderator [Interpreted]: Thank you, Mr Stoltenberg. Now the floor is yours. Both the Prime Minister and Secretary General are available for your questions. But please first of all introduce yourself and state the name of your media.
Question [Radio Slovenia] [Interpreted]: Špela Novak, Radio Slovenia. Mr Prime Minister, so considering your words, will Slovenia now more quickly increase the defence funds, and the commentary of the Secretary General, other Allies also do not comply with their commitments. And the second question for Mr Stoltenberg. Considering the climate change and the yesterday's report of the climate panel warns us that we must really take action, because the climate change is probably now the biggest threat to security, don’t you think that those funds that go for climate change should also be considered as funds being spent on defence, or security?
Marjan Šarec [Prime Minister of Slovenia] [Interpreted]: Thank you for your question. Let me start at the end; you have said that also other Allies do not deliver on their commitment. This is just like a child who comes from school and says, well others have also had the worst mark for their test, not just me. It's about an increase in the defence budget and not so much for the sake of NATO but, as I have emphasised, for the sake of ourselves. It is about ourselves, so that we can have a state that we can be proud of, so that’s why we have to fulfil the promises. The dynamic of an increase in the defence budget will follow the planned path. We have noted down what our objective is. Some Allies are already now paying 2% of GDP, of course this cannot happen overnight in Slovenia, but of course we'll make our utmost effort to attain our objective of at least 1.5% in a couple of years. If the situation will allow this of course.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First on defence spending; I think we have to understand that when we made the commitment in 2014 to invest more, we didn’t promise to spend 2% next year. What we said was that we should stop the cuts. After years of decline in defence budgets, we promised to stop that trend. Second, we promised to start to increase in real terms. And thirdly, we promised to move towards spending 2% of GDP within a decade, meaning within 2024.
The good news is that all Allies have stopped the cuts, all Allies have started to increase, in real terms, and the majority of Allies have put forward plans on how to reach 2% by 2024. When we made the pledge, it was only three Allies that spent 2% of GDP on defence. This year, we expect eight Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence. So, we are really making progress. I welcome also the fact that Slovenia has at least stopped the cuts and started to increase, but we have to remember that the average now in NATO - it varies how much different Allies spend - but the average, if we exclude the United States, is around 1.5%, a bit above 1.5%. Slovenia is around 1% and the difference between 1.5% and 1%, that’s 50%. So, that’s a significant difference. So, as I said, I encourage Slovenia to do more and I am encouraged by the strong messages from the Prime Minister and from the Foreign and Defence Ministers. So, as I said, this is something we need to because it's in our security interests, with a more assertive Russia and with all the turmoil and the violence we see in the Middle East, fighting Daesh/ISIL, and also to protect our cyber networks and address new threats and challenges.
Then you asked about climate change. Well, for me, there is no way we can choose between either addressing our security challenges or addressing climate change. We just need to do both. NATO has recognised that climate change is a security challenge and that’s also the reason why we have expressed concern about climate change, because it can lead to, you know, more migration, more instability. But we cannot say that we either spend on addressing climate change or defence, we just need to do both. And let me also add that, in my previous capacity, I worked with climate change - as Prime Minister of Norway.
And then I think we have to remember that to invest in new technologies, to invest in clean production, is that technology and the industry of the future. So, it's profitable. It's possible to earn money if you invest in clean and environmentally-friendly technology. On top of that, we have to remember that the principle we have agreed to, in the UN and in other fora is that we need to live by the principle polluter pay, or polluters pay principle, meaning that it's not just state budgets that are going to pay for the investments in green technology. It's the industries, it's you and me, and one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against climate change is carbon pricing, and that actually generates revenue to states' budgets, which can be used them to increase defence spending. So, this is a win/win for all of us.
Moderator [Interpreted]: Are there any other questions?
Question [TV Slovenia] [Interpreted]: Marta Razboršek, TV Slovenia. Did you also talk about the Port of Koper? Is NATO going to use the Port of Koper? There is a protest announced in front of the parliament today, so what is your comment?
Marjan Šarec [Prime Minister of Slovenia] [Interpreted]: About the Port of Koper, there's disinformation in the public about this and I am convinced that Slovenia must make use of its good geostrategic position in general. And since NATO is not solely a military organisation, but also a political organisation, this means that it is also creates cooperation, and Slovenia has a very good geostrategic position and can exploit this potential in the future, if it wishes so. We can see many opportunities for this, but of course this does not mean that there will be a base like in Aviano, what I have heard in the public, but this is not true.
But as I have said, Slovenia is a member of NATO and we should state openly that there's a number of people in Slovenia who believe that NATO is not an organisation the member of which Slovenia should be, but I always look back into the history and I look back at the 70 years of NATO's history, and I concluded this organisation is successful. And let me emphasise once again that we should not throw away the results of the work of our predecessors, 15 years ago. Let us not forget the huge success at the referendum, at that time. Of course these protests, I understand them, as in spirit of democracy, what kind of a democracy would we be if people wouldn’t protest? People have always protested and always will, but it should be the arguments that prevail and not power. Thank you very much.
Moderator [Interpreted]: Any other questions?
Question [TV Slovenia] [Interpreted]: The interest of NATO in the Port of Koper, for transport purposes.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, that’s something we leave to our military authorities to address and to assess what kind of infrastructure and what kind of infrastructure we are interested in. So, I will leave that to our military authorities to comment on that.
Question [Interpreted]: …some indicators, public support for NATO membership in Slovenia has significantly dropped since 2004. Are you concerned by this? You recently said in an interview that political debate over NATO should not be feared, but welcomed. Does that rule apply to all member states, including Slovenia?
Question [Interpreted]: And the question for the Prime Minister; is the Slovenian membership of NATO still legitimate, considering the public opinion polls, where we can see that we have less… or half of the citizens' support for this? Some people who say that they wouldn’t like to be members of this organisation also sit in the parliament, government, so what is your opinion?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: NATO is an Alliance of 29 democracies, and in democracies there are always different opinions about many issues, and sometimes also about NATO, and that just reflects the fact that we are democratic societies. So, we have seen in different countries, including my own, Norway, that there is discussion about NATO, and also some parties… some political movements want the country to leave NATO. But that has always been the case, for decades.
And I think that history has shown us that, despite those different opinions, despite those different views, within NATO Allies and between NATO Allies, we have always been able to gather and to mobilise the necessary support from all Allies, and to unite around our core task to protect and defend each other. So, the fact that there is debate, the fact that there is discussion, is something I welcome, because I believe in open democratic processes. We should not be afraid of that. In totalitarian regimes they are afraid of debate. In totalitarian regimes they are hysterical about different views. I actually believe it is a sign of strength, not weakness, that we have open debates in our countries, including about NATO.
Having said that, I know that the general trend now is actually increased support for NATO. It varies between different NATO Allies, but the support for NATO has increased, because people see that we live in a more dangerous world. We see a much more assertive Russia, using violence against neighbours - Ukraine and Georgia. A Russia which is responsible for attempts to meddle in our democratic processes, undermine our democratic institutions. And we saw last week how Russian intelligence officers tried to hack the International Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an important international institution which is responsible for the convention that prohibits chemical weapons.
So, I think that not only the use of military force, but also what we call hybrid tactics, cyber, highlights the importance of having a strong NATO, defending not only our territories, but also our cyber networks and our democratic institutions. And then we have terrorism, we have ISIL, we have instability, and all that also requires a strong NATO. The Prime Minister mentioned during the lunch that he is a firefighter and that firefighters are not always very popular, except for when there are fires, and that’s exactly when we need them. And that’s also the case with NATO. When there are threats and challenges, then we need a strong NATO. And now there are more threats and challenges and then the support for NATO has increased.
Marjan Šarec [Prime Minister of Slovenia] [Interpreted]: About the public support, I would like to tell you that also in the UK, the public has expressed its opinion, at the referendum, that they would like to exit the European Union, but today we can see that this is not the case because some parties that kept convincing the public prior to the referendum that they should exit the EU, this has led to the problems for the entire European Union. The public opinion was also, here in Slovenia, that they will not be able to constitute the government.
So, the public opinion is very intangible and, as the Secretary General stated, in democracies we always have different opinions, and if the Left wouldn’t have a different opinion then we would maybe be today be in the same political party, but we are not today, we are different political parties with different opinions, and this is democracy, and this is what they were fighting for in the 1990, later with independence. And the public opinion also tells that there is no sense in going to the elections and that’s why the turnout is constantly diminishing. I have attended all the referenda and all the elections here, because I believe that this is my duty.
So, it's not just about the rights, it's also about the duties. And if we have become members of NATO, then when the time comes and we don’t like something in NATO, we should say that we must exit NATO. But I'm asking all those NATO sceptics, what is the alternative? So, what else is left there? Maybe these concerns were in place at that time, but not anymore now. So, whether we should stay a member of NATO or not was an issue before, but now we should ask ourselves what can we do to improve NATO, how can we make sure that our voice is heard in NATO. And the same goes for the EU, because I consider that these two structures/organisations are linked and, as the Secretary General stressed, this is a group of democracies, and I hope that we will continue to be a member for a long time. And as I have said, it is completely legitimate to have different opinions.
Where all are of equal opinion, this means that nobody's using the brains anymore and I think it is our task, the task of the politics, to prevail with arguments, to convince with arguments those who think that there is no place in the world for this organisation. So, we need to persuade them so that they will change their minds. As the Secretary General said, the firefighters in Slovenia have been considered drunks, and I can say this because I am a firefighter, we were just considered to be good to organise a party of firefighters, but when we had the natural disasters, like the sleet and others, then the public opinion up to 80% stated that firefighters are heroes suddenly. And I very much agree with this. If there are no such incidents, such events, of course then the awareness about the significance of such an organisation diminishes, and I am confident that this organisation will work towards this end in the future, so that Slovenia will be able to say that it does not regret it's membership. And then, by way of conclusion, what is the alternative?
Moderator [Interpreted]: Thank you very much and this concludes the press conference.
1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.