by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the last meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers’ session
We have just finished a meeting of NATO’s Foreign Ministers with a discussion about fair burden sharing in the Alliance.
We are making major progress, including with four consecutive years of rising defence investments.
Since 2016, European Allies and Canada have added $41 billion dollars to their defence spending. By the end of next year, this will rise to $100 billion.
So Allies are spending more.
Investing in new capabilities, like missile defence and drones.
And deploying more forces for NATO – with more than 20,000 troops serving in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq.
And tens of thousands more deployed across the Alliance to support our collective defence.
But there is more work to do.
Ministers also addressed the threat of terrorism, and what more NATO can do to fight it.
And we discussed the efforts of the United States to seek a political settlement in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Khalilzad held consultations with Allies at NATO Headquarters last week on his progress.
So we continue to coordinate closely.
We went in to Afghanistan together, and we agree that we will take any decisions on our future presence together.
We also discussed our enormous progress in the fight against ISIS.
Millions have been freed from oppression.
And ISIS has lost all of the territory it once controlled.
NATO is committed to working with partners in the region, like Iraq, to ensure that ISIS can never return.
Training local forces is one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism.
So we are also helping Tunisia with training for Special Operation Forces, and working with Jordan on countering improvised explosive devices.
Ministers also discussed how NATO is adapting to new terrorist threats and tactics, like the use of small drones.
I want to thank Secretary Pompeo for hosting this meeting of Foreign Ministers on NATO’s 70th anniversary.
Over seven decades, NATO has stepped up time and again to keep our people safe.
And we will continue to stand together to prevent conflict and preserve peace.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu [NATO spokesperson]: Okay, we’ll go to the gentleman in the front row.
Question [Kurdistan TV]: Thank you very much, Rahim Rashidi... from Kurdistan TV. How do you see the threat of ISIS in future, and any comments about Peshmerga role in fight terrorism and ISIS? Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So we have made enormous progress in the fight against ISIS. Just some months ago ISIS controlled vast territories in Iraq and Syria. At some point they controlled a territory equal the size of the United Kingdom and millions of people. Now they have lost control over all the territory they controlled. But the ISIS is still a threat. ISIL has gone underground, and we, we need to continue our efforts to make sure that ISIS never returns in the way we saw ISIS a few months ago.
And that’s exactly the reason why we need to continue our efforts in the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS. And also the reason why NATO is not reducing but actually stepping up our efforts to provide training, capacity building, help to the Iraqi security forces so they can stabilise their own country.
As I said, one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism is to build local capacity. NATO is also doing many other things. We are also working together to address the threat related to foreign fighters, including sharing of biometric data, which is important for many, or all, our NATO Allies.
Oana Lungescu: Okay, with Rustavi 2? Can you put up your hand please?
Question [Rustavi 2] Thank you very much. [inaudible]
Jens Stoltenberg: So we are stepping up our efforts in the Black Sea region, we just agreed a package with more surveillance exercises and other issues which we strongly believe are relevant for the Black Sea region. And, of course, also then working with our partners Georgia and Ukraine. Three NATO Allies are littoral states to the Black Sea: Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, but also two close partners, Georgia and Ukraine, are Black Sea countries.
We work with them. Now, as we speak, one of NATO’s Naval Standing Groups is deployed in the Black Sea and are actually exercising both together with Georgia, Georgian naval forces and with Ukrainian naval forces. So this just shows that NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea region with more naval presence. We have the multinational brigade in Romania and we have also air policing in the region. So NATO is present and NATO I s strengthening the cooperation with our close partners, Georgia and Ukraine.
Oana Lungescu: Okay, we had New York Times at the back, yeah.
Question [New York Times]. [inaudible] that with Afghanistan it would... Okay. Sorry. Technical difficulties. You mentioned with Afghanistan it would be ‘in together, out together.’ We are looking at a possible peace agreement that would end the international presence in some point of time, whether that is one year, two years or three years. How should NATO ensure that the gains, the training it’s done over the last 18 years stay in place and that the partner forces that have been built up do not dissolve, as has happened in other countries?
Jens Stoltenberg: Ambassador Khalilzad has stated many times that what he is negotiating is not at a leave agreement but a peace agreement. And, of course, the overall aim of the negotiations which are going now is to reach a political agreement, which makes it possible to have peace in Afghanistan for the first time in many, many years.
But as we have all stated many, many times, also, of course, in the consultations with Ambassador Khalilzad, is that we need to make sure that any peace deal ensures that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists, and has also to build on the achievements we have made, not least in in promoting the rights of women and girls related to education, basic human rights.
A part of any sustainable peace in Afghanistan has also to include Afghan reconciliation. So, the talks which are going on now is, in a way, the first step towards a broader peace process which also include, of course, the Afghan government because that’s the only way to have a sustainable peace.
Then the presence of international forces is part of these negotiations. So what kind of presence under what kind of framework? Well, that remains to be decided. That will be part of the agreement. In NATO we are now looking into different options for how NATO can support a potential peace agreement. But it’s far too early to conclude. The main issues now is to provide as much support as possible to the ongoing talks and then, based on that, we will make decisions on our future presence and in what form NATO Allies will or will not be part of any future international presence.
Oana Lungescu: Okay, BBC over there. Yeah, lady over there, yeah.
Question [BBC]: There is an argument to be made, Secretary General, that the tensions in the past [inaudible] Russia have partly been because NATO have [inaudible] Russian border, can you hear me?
Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah, I can, [inaudible] yeah.
Question [BBC]: So, so I’ll repeat the question. There’s an argument that NATO was partly responsible for the tensions with Russia, because it has expanded right up to the borders of Russia, despite promises made to the contrary by officials when this was under discussion. Do you think it’s the right approach to constantly and publicly advertise open invitations to Georgia and Ukraine under those circumstances? Doesn’t that just make the tensions worse?
Jens Stoltenberg: I think we all have to understand that Georgia and Ukraine are independent sovereign nations, which has the sovereign right to choose their own path. So just the idea that it is a provocation against Russia that Georgia aspires for membership, or that Ukraine does the same, is really, really dangerous. Because as soon as you accept that that’s a provocation against Russia, then you accept that Russia has the right to decide what neighbours can do. And that is the same as to accept a world order where big powers can decide well, what neighbours can do or cannot do. And that is to re-establish the whole idea of spheres of influence.
And coming from Norway, actually a small country bordering Russia, I’m very glad that back in 1949 when we joined NATO, that the United States and the United Kingdom and the other founding members of NATO did never accept that the Soviet Union could decide what Norway could do.
So in exactly the same way, of course, Georgia and Ukraine has the right to choose their own path. It’s not provocation. It’s not directed against anyone. It’s a sovereign right of every sovereign nation to decide the direction of their own country. And it’s only for, then, the aspirant countries and for NATO to decide, at the end, whether they or when they can become members.
So I say this because, first of all, NATO has always been bordering the Soviet Union or Russia. Norway has done that since we were a founding member. Second, the enlargement is not, in a way, NATO moving east, it’s actually those countries, Central and Eastern European countries, who strongly wanted to join NATO and have decided so, through democratic processes. And we have to respect that and not regard that as a provocation, because then we say that sovereign democratic decisions by sovereign democratic nations is not acceptable because a big neighbour doesn’t like it.
Oana Lungescu: Okay, I know we have lots more questions, unfortunately we need to wrap now. And Secretary Pompeo will be coming right after. Thank you very much.