NATO Secretary General's round table with media at the Munich Security Conference

  • 15 Feb. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Feb. 2019 17:12

(As delivered)

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I just had a professional exchange with Minister Lavrov, where we covered a wide range of different issues, including the INF Treaty, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and also the general need for dialogue NATO-Russia, which covers issues as risk reduction, transparency and how to brief each other on, for instance, upcoming exercises.  So, this is part of the dialogue NATO and Russia has at different levels, in the NATO-Russia Council, bilateral meetings and now also this meeting with Minister Lavrov.  I think I will stop there and then I give you time to ask questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: And please introduce yourselves.  Politico.

Question [Politico]: David Herszenhorn, Politico. Secretary General, did you encourage him to send a new Ambassador to NATO?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: There…. nothing new about that.  We are able to work with Russia, with the chargé d'affaires that is there now and also, for instance, during the NATO-Russia Council.  In the last meeting, the Russian side sent Deputy Minister Ryabov to present… or to represent Russia and that was useful because he works with the INF issues and of course then we had the Deputy Minister in Moscow, responsible for the INF issues, present at the meeting.  So, we are able to conduct our dialogue with Russia also without an ambassador

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: DPA?

Question [DPA]: Ansgar Hasse from DPA.  Secretary General, are there any proposals from the Russian side on the INF issues?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: There were no new signals from the Russian side.  I continue to call on them to come back into compliance.  I highlighted this window of opportunity because the withdrawal process will take six months and, during this time of course, Russia has the possibility to come back into compliance.  They continue to deny that they violated the Treaty but the reality is that there are no new US missiles in Europe, there are new Russian missiles in Europe, nuclear capable, and all Allies agree, and several Allies have independently determined that Russia is in violation.  So, this is also not only dependent on the intelligence from the United States, but also from other Allies.  So, there is no doubt that Russia is violating the Treaty.  We call on them to come back into compliance and they still have an opportunity to do so.  And we will continue to engage with them, yeah.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: National [inaudible]

Question: [inaudible]

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Sorry?

Question: Are there still [inaudible]

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: You know, there are a lot of verification mechanisms in the treaty and we have tried to use them again and again and again.  There is a specific verification committee and there are specific - how shall I say - guidelines/rules on how to inspect.  So, a static display is not an inspection, is not verification, according to the Treaty.  Because to have real and effective inspection, you need to fulfil some criterias about, you know, how you measure, how you control, and a lot of details, which are very specifically regulated in the Treaty.  So, the problem is that they don’t adhere to the Treaty, they don’t… we have engaged with them over years; this started with Obama Administration.  And the United States have actually had 30 high level meetings, including using the special verification committee.  So far, no change in the Russian behaviour.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Financial Times.

Question: Secretary General, the German Defence Minister just warned of your tit for tat approach on arms and missiles in Europe wouldn’t work now.  That obviously reflects a concern in Europe about what could come next.  Do you agree with that?  And is this now the next stage; that this is a concern that perhaps this is something that could happen?  Secondly, the British Defence Secretary just accused the Kremlin of using private security firms, such as Wagner Group, as a way of getting away with murder while denying it had blood on its hands.  I wondered if that was a concern more widely shared at NATO.  And if so, how does that square with other NATO Allies use of such companies.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Our main priority, first priority is to get Russia back into compliance, because it's still possible to save the INF Treaty.  At the same time, we of course realise that for every day they are not coming back into compliance, the likelihood of saving the Treaty is reduced.  And therefore, we are also planning for a world without the Treaty and with more Russian missiles.  We don’t have to mirror what Russia does, meaning that we don’t need what some people call… or what Ursula von der Leyen referred to as tit for tat, meaning mirror what they do.  We have started the process of looking into how to deal with the Russian… how to respond to a world without the treaty and with more Russian missiles.  This is about military options, but also of course political issues: how to take new initiatives, for instances within arms control.  I will not prejudge or pre-empt the conclusion of this ongoing work in NATO, but the important message is that NATO is and will be united, we will respond as an Alliance.  This has been clearly stated by all Allies, but especially by the United States.  It was a clear message from the Defence Ministerial meeting this week and we have to remember that NATO has been very united on this issue, back to the 1980s.  We have also been united ever since the Obama Administration raised the concerns six years ago.  We were united in December, when all Allies agreed that Russia is in violation and called on Russia to come back into compliance.  We were united in the beginning of February, where we supported the US decision and again called on Russia to come back into compliance.  So, I cannot pre-empt the conclusion, but what I can say is that we will maintain that unity and act as an Alliance.  Our response will be measured; it will be coordinated as an Alliance.  And then, we don’t have any intentions of deploying new land based nuclear systems in Europe, meaning there is no need to mirror what Russia does, because they deploy new land based nuclear missiles in Europe.

Question: [inaudible] private security firms?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, what we have seen is that Russia is responsible for actions, like for instance the Skripal case, the use of a chemical agent in Salisbury.  They have also been working with different private security firms.  In regards of how Russia organised these kind of actions, this is something we strongly oppose and we have been very clear in our messaging about this, at several occasions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: [inaudible]

Question: So, you talked to the Russians in the NRC format just a few weeks ago, and after you said they were in denial.  And now it happens again with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who also still denies they are conflict with the INF Treaty.  So, is there any point of having ongoing discussions with the Russians, unless they come back to the table?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: It is absolutely important to continue to try to save the treaty.  I will not speculate about the likelihood of succeeding in doing that, but I think to just give up and to say that this treaty is impossible to save, is wrong, as long as it is a window of opportunity for Russia to come back into compliance and we have this six month window before the withdrawal process is completed.  So, we will continue to engage with Russia, we will continue to call on Russia, and we will do that as an Alliance.  NATO Allies will do it and of course United States, which is a signatory to the treaty, will also call on Russia.  At the same time, we need to realise that this treaty may breakdown and of course a treaty which is not respected, is only a piece of a paper, doesn’t keep us safe.  And therefore, we have started the planning, the preparations also for a world without that treaty.  So, we do these two things in parallel.  We have to try to save the Treaty, but at the same time we cannot be naïve, we need to realise that this treaty is really in jeopardy and there is a danger that, in a few months, we don’t have the Treaty anymore.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Kyiv Post.

Question [Kyiv Post]: Secretary General, can you please give some details on Ukrainian discussion?  Did you agree on something or again agree to disagree?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, we discussed Ukraine.  I expressed the NATO positions, they are well known; we have expressed them many times.  NATO positions are well known because, you know, we have so clearly, over many years, stated that we don’t accept the illegal annexation of Crimea.  We call on Russia to stop destabilising Donbass, Eastern Ukraine, and I also said that we call on Russia to release the sailors and the ships they seized near the Strait of Kerch not so many weeks ago.  Again, I see that this is a really difficult situation, especially for the people living in Ukraine.  At the same time, we need to continue to raise this issue or… not least because of that, we need to continue to raise these issues, including Ukraine, with Russia, because Russia is our neighbour and Russia is violating the sovereignty and the integrity of neighbours, as for instance Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Washington Post.

Question [Washington Post]: Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post.  Mr Secretary General, a year ago the message from the US delegates here at the Munich Security Conference was basically, "Ignore the tweets, pay attention to the policies", when it came to what the United States was doing in the world.  Based on what has happened in the year since, how do you balance the tweets with the often contradictory things that come from President Trump's associates and representatives, in terms of how you understand what US policy is in security affairs?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, President Trump has been very clear on that he is committed to NATO - he has stated that several times; he said it just a few days ago, that he is 100% behind NATO.  He said it, for instance, last summer at the NATO Summit.  So, the message from him has been that he's committed to NATO.  But he has also clearly stated that European Allies have to step up and invest more.  And that’s exactly what is happening; European Allies are investing more.  Just from 2016, they added 41billion (US $) extra for defence spending and we expect that number to 100billion (US $) by the end of next year.  President Trump has a direct style.  He use Twitter more than many other presidents have done and he is very direct when he speaks, also with Allied leaders as he did at the Summit last July.  We had a very open and - how should I say - interesting discussion there.  And there was no misunderstanding… no-one in that room were able to misunderstand the message from President Trump.  That was that he is committed to NATO, but we need fairer burden sharing.  And the reality is that all Allies agree on that fundamental message; that we need fairer burden sharer in an Alliance where United States have paid too much of the total costs.  And therefore, we see that this is now changing and not only are European Allies doing more, but United States is increasing their presence in Europe.  So, what I see, I see a lot of disagreement between Allies on issues like trade, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, and also on other issues, but I also see that when it comes to NATO and security, North America and Europe are actually doing more together than we have done for many years; we train more together, we have stepped in the fight against terrorism together, we have the new training mission in Iraq, and United States is increasing, not decreasing, their military presence in Europe.  So, yeah, the tweets are different, the language is different, but the core message is that United States is committed to NATO, and we see that both in words and in deeds, and that’s the important thing for me and for NATO.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: New York Times.

Question [New York Times]: Mr Secretary General, David Sanger for the New York Times.  Two quick questions for you. On Afghanistan, the phraseology you used to use in NATO was, "All in together and all out together".  I'm wondering, does that live to this day?  And secondly, I was wondering if you could bring us up to date a little bit on your effort to begin to understand and develop an offensive cyber capability for NATO.  Until now, you’ve had cyber, been pretty well just defending your own networks, but you're heading into a series of elections, which I think you'll be vulnerable to more of the kind of activity we saw in 2016, a little bit in 2018, and I'm wondering what your efforts are taking, not just to defend against it, but also to counter it and create some sense of deterrence.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First on Afghanistan, we went into Afghanistan together and we will make decisions on our future posture together, and of course, when the time is right, we will also leave together.  So, that still stands.  And that was actually one of the main messages from the Defence Ministerial meeting in Brussels this week, because we discussed Afghanistan.  No decision has been taken about a withdrawal, but of course we strongly support the efforts of Ambassador Khalilzad to reach an agreement with Taliban, because the aim is not to stay in Afghanistan forever, the aim is to fight terrorism, to prevent that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists, and to create the conditions for a political, peaceful solution.  When that will happen, nobody is able to tell.  But we are close to that, to such a deal now than we have been for a long time, because there are some encouraging signs from the Khalilzad talks with Taliban - still many unsolved problems, but at least some encouraging signs.  And we also have to remember that President Ghani showed courage when he took the peace initiative, or initiated the peace process last summer, and also had the ceasefire last summer.  So, we will continue as an Alliance, with our partners, to coordinate and to decide together.  And that was clearly stated by the United States, by all NATO Allies, at the Defence Ministerial meeting this week.  So, together still is valid, when it comes to Afghanistan.

On cyber, what we call national sovereign cyber effects, but many others refer to them as offensive cyber, is something we are now integrating into NATO.  We have created the framework for NATO Allies to integrate or to contribute their national sovereign cyber effects into NATO missions and operations.  Several Allies have already done that, some actually new Allies announced at the Defence Ministerial meeting.  NATO Allies also have, in the context…

Question: Who has done it?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: No, I cannot announce those names.  Some of them…

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Some are public.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yeah, some are public.  They have to do it themselves.  Also, if I start, I think I risk announcing names on Allies who have not done it yet publically but some of them are already public, that they have integrated or made their sovereign cyber effects available for NATO missions and operations.  We have seen the importance of this in the fight against Daesh/ISIL.  Because offensive cyber was used against Daesh, has been used against Daesh, with great success.  Taking down their, you know, networks, which has been extremely important for them to finance, to communicate and also to recruit.  We are of course aware of that cyber is a challenge, in many ways.  There is no military operation, no military conflict without a cyber dimension today.  We are also aware that cyber has been used to try to meddle in our political democratic processes - that’s one of the reasons why we have significantly increased our cyber defences, the resilience of our cyber networks, increased awareness among Allies, while we are exercising; we recently had the biggest ever exercise in the world on cyber defence, and why we also have decided actually that cyber can trigger Article 5.  So… and why we have established cyber as a domain, alongside air, sea and land.  So, we are strengthening cyber in many different ways.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: [inaudible]

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, actually there are some current… there are those Allies that have made public, that they have announced that they are contributing with their sovereign cyber effects, is US, UK, Netherlands, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Germany.  So, we thank them.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: NPR?

Question [NPR]: Secretary General, in the last week, Norway has said yet again that Russia is till jamming its GPS signals, and also said that 11 fighter jets made a fake raid on the radar centre, and then turned around at the last minute.  Did this come up in your meeting and to what do you attribute this continued brazenness in Russia's behaviour?  And also, [inaudible] Belgian angle on all this, but have you been apprised of this story that there was a Belgian security service, the Head of Belgian Security Services has been accused of spying?  Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First, the jamming.  Yes, that was raised during the meeting.  I raised it, because we are very concerned about the jamming of GPS signals.  This is a risk for civil aviation.  It poses a risk for emergency services, search and rescue.  And I know that, for instance, up in the High North, this is not only a risk for Norwegians, but also for Russians actually, because we work together with Russia when it comes to search and rescue up in the High North.  So, any interference, any jamming of GPS signals, is extremely serious, it's irresponsible behaviour and something which NATO takes very seriously.  Norway as a NATO Ally, Finland as a NATO partner, have raised with Russia, and I raised it in the meeting now with Minister Lavrov.  We also, as part of the NATO-Russia dialogue, we also regularly raise issues related to air safety, more in general, we didn’t raise those specific events outside Vardø, but we have seen similar - what should I say - activity, in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.  So, we have had work going on especially related to the Baltic Sea, to develop guidelines to improve air safety and the way pilots are behaving, to avoid any dangerous situations.

On the Belgian issue, I don’t have anything to add.

Question [NPR]: And did the Russians offer any apologies?  Accidental?  Misstep?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: That’s not their style.  So…


Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, but I think it's important to raise it, because we need to have maximum attention on this, because this is dangerous.  And of course we risk that this may cause some serious incidents or accidents, and then it can become really dangerous.  So therefore, we have raised the issue of air safety, of safe behaviour, but also the issue of jamming GPS signals, with the Russian side, and we'll continue to do so.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: AFP.

Question [AFP]: Damon Wake, AFP.  Just going back to the INF issue; you said that there's no new sort of signals, information, proposals from the Russian side.  What's your reading of the mood of, you know, having now met with Ryabov a few weeks ago in the NRC and now with Lavrov today, do you sense any kind of hardening of their position?  Or any weakening?  Or is it just that you're just getting the same thing again and again?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I will say that we don’t see any change in any direction, it's very much the same and we regret that, because as I have stated again and again, this treaty is a cornerstone for our security, it's a cornerstone in arms control.  And I am part of a political generation that was… in many ways very much formed our… my understanding of security politics, security policy, was very much shaped by the discussion about intermediate range forces in Europe, in the '70s and the '80s.  And it was such a great relief, such a great achievement, when the INF Treaty was signed in 1987, and it was an arms control agreement that didn’t reduce the number of missiles, but actually banned them down to zero.  So, this has really been kind of gold standard for arms control.  And now, we see the demise of this treaty and we risk that within a few months we don’t have the treaty anymore.  So, this is really serious and, you know, all nuclear weapons are dangerous, but these nuclear weapons are, if possible, even more dangerous than many other nuclear weapons.  Because they are so easy to conceal, to hide, they are mobile, they are many, they are nuclear capable, and they reduce the warning time to, you know, extremely… sort of a few seconds or minutes.  And therefore, they reduce the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict.  And all of that make these missiles so dangerous.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: The Wall Street Journal?

Question [Wall Street Journal]: James Marson, Wall Street Journal.  Also on the INF, you’ve said on the one hand that you don’t want to pre-empt the results of discussions about what the response to the Russian missile system could be.  But on the other hand, you’ve also said there are no plans for new nuclear missiles in Europe.  Isn't that contradiction?  And doesn’t ruling that out risk looking weak?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: There is no contradiction, because what I do is that I establish in a way some kind of principles for the way we are approaching this issue.  It is extremely important a principle that we will address this as an Alliance.  We don’t discuss bilateral arrangements.  In theory, I've seen some commentary, just speaking about that there will be some bilateral arrangements, between United States or some European NATO Allies.  No, that’s not the plan.  The plan is that we will act as an Alliance.  That’s not to pre-empt a conclusion, but it's going to establish an important principle for the conclusions; that we will be united in our response.  The other principle is that we will be measured, meaning that we will take our time and we will be responsible, meaning that we need to find a mix, we need to find a way to response which preserve credible deterrence and defence, but at the same time do whatever we can to avoid a new arms race.  Exactly where that… how to do that, well that remains in a way to be decided, but that’s the idea, that’s the principle, that’s what we are trying to achieve.  So, we will take our time.  And the third is that we don’t have any intention of deploying new land based nuclear systems.  Within those - what should I say - broad guidelines, there are many options and many ways of compose a response.  And we speak about military options, but also of course different political initiatives, because we will continue to work for arms control; NATO has always been at the forefront for arms control since back to the 1960s.  So, that’s the reason why I say it.  And also to, in a way, reduce uncertainty and avoid unnecessary speculations about what we may do or may not to.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Lady at the back?

Question: Hi, Karina Moessbauer Bild newspaper.  Another question: Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran of planning another holocaust.  What do you say about that?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, all Allies are concerned about Iran's behaviour in many different ways.  We are concerned about their missile programme; they continue to test missiles.  We are concerned about the way they support destabilising activities in the region, support for different armed groups.  And of course, all Allies agree that Iran should not develop new nuclear weapons.  So, that’s the message from NATO on Iran.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very much.  This concludes this press point.  Thank you very much for coming.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.