by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels
So good afternoon.
Today and tomorrow, NATO's Defence Ministers will address a wide range of important security issues.
We will start by addressing Russia's violation of the INF Treaty, and NATO responses.
Russia still has the opportunity to save the INF Treaty, there is a window of opportunity. The deadline ends on the 2nd of August and we continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance with the Treaty. If they don't come back into compliance, we need to respond. So we also need to prepare for a world without the INF Treaty.
We will also, at our meeting, address the progress we are making on burden sharing. I will share with the ministers our latest figures, new figures for 2019, and they show that across Europe and Canada there is a real increase in defence spending of 3.9%. This comes on top of the increase we have seen over the last years, meaning that we now have 5 consecutive years of increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada. This is good progress, we have to make sure that this progress continues.
We will also address and discuss how we can continue to modernise the Alliance, including on deterrence and defence.
Space policy, adapt a first ever framework for NATO's space policy.
And also issues related to technology, disruptive emerging technologies and NATO's way to handle the challenges we see related to that.
We will also meet our Resolute Support partners, the partners that are together with us in Afghanistan. We are closer to a peace deal now than we have ever been before in Afghanistan. And all NATO Allies strongly support the peace efforts. And the best way to do that is to stay committed to Afghanistan, to continue to provide political support but also to continue to support the Afghan army and security forces with trainers and with funding.
And with that I'm ready to take your questions.
Associated Press: The citizens of nato nations have been led to understand that the SSC-8 poses a very serious threat and we understand that this would require a very serious response from nato. A lot of taxpayer money has been invested in nato’s ballistic missile defence system. Wouldn’t that be the ideal system to use in response. Can you rule out that this would be used?
Secretary General: the deployment of the SSC-8, the Russian missile is a very serious issue. Because these missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, they can reach European cities within minutes. They are hard to detect, mobile and therefor they reduce the warning time and also the threshold of any potential use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict. And these new Russian missiles they violate the INF treaty which has been a cornerstone for arms control for decades. And that is the reason why it is so extremely serious that Russia is deploying new missiles in clear violation of this treaty, putting the whole treaty in jeopardy. That is also the reason why we continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance. There is still a possibility to safe the treaty because the deadline which has been set is 2 August. Time is running out and the likelihood of Russian coming back into compliance is of course going down every day. So far we have not seen any real intention or any change in behaviour from Russia indicating that they are going to come back into compliance. We will continue to call on them to respect the treaty. We are also planning a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in the near future to be able to address this issue directly with Russia once again. If they don’t come back into compliance then we need to respond. We will discuss NATO’s potential measures at this Defence Ministerial meeting. Of course we will not start to implement any of those responses until 2 August. We are preparing, we are discussing, we are considering different measures and then we will continue to call on Russia to safe the treaty. If they don’t do so, we will then respond.
Janes Defence Weekly: Let me reconfigure my colleagues question. NATO has spent billions on Ballistic Missile Defence to confront missile threats emanating from the southeast of Europe as we all know, from Iran and other places in this region. If circumstances change, if relations deteriorate to the point of Russia and if it is necessary can that system’s software and radars be reconfigured to deal with the growing Russian missile threat?
Secretary General: I accept that you asked questions about what concretely NATO will do if Russia does not come back into compliance. But I will not pre-empt the outcome of the discussion we will have today and tomorrow. And second, I will not now tell you what exactly we will do, because we are still focused on getting Russia back into compliance. And the deadline is 2 August. I look forward to the discussion with Ministers today. We will consider different measures. NATO has a wide range of potential different measures that we can implement if Russia does not come back into compliance. But as I said first of all we need the discussion among Ministers today and second we continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance. If they don’t do that, we will then implement measures. Some of them we can implement quickly, some will take more time. There will be different measures because we have seen strong unity among all Allies on this issue, both in the message to Russia that they are violating the treaty, that they have to come back into compliance and also in support for the very clear US position that it is has to have consequences if Russia is violating an arms control agreement.
Norwegian News Agency (NTB): Space policy. Are you triggering an arms race in space?
Secretary General: No, what we are doing is that for the first time we are agreeing a framework NATO’s space policy. We are not planning to militarize space, but space is already extremely important for what is going on on the ground. For communications, for navigation, for tracking forces, for early warning of missile launches, GPS, all that is about space and satellites and therefore we need to make sure that we coordinate the efforts of nato allies. That we develop joint efforts on how to work together to see both the potential to work even more closely together but also to address potential threats to different communications satellites and other capabilities which are important and which are in space today. Not deployed by NATO but by Allies.
Al Arabiya: Iran announced that by tomorrow they will speed up the enrichment of uranium plus on July 7 they may reduce their commitment according to the nuclear deal. On the other hand, you have the military escalation in the Gulf. How worried are you that the regime is going ahead with a military confrontation and how to deal with the military escalation and the nuclear deal which is in danger?
Secretary General: All Allies are concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, its support for terrorist groups and its missile programme. And all Allies agree that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons. It is extremely important the clear message from the United States that they are ready to sit down with Iran and talk, and try to reduce tensions, because we need to avoid escalation, we need to avoid miscalculations in the Gulf, because we have seen that it is important to avoid moving into a situation that could become even more dangerous and more difficult than the situation we see today. Iran is not formally on the agenda for this Defence Ministers meeting but I expect that it will be discussed also because I expect that Secretary Esper of the United States will brief and update Allies so they will have an opportunity to discuss the situation in the Gulf which is important for all NATO Allies.
Radio Free Europe: Can any Taliban promise that the Afghan soil will not be used by terrorist groups in the future be trusted, can it be monitored and verified given the fact that the group had hosted the founder of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. And as we speak we receive reports that two US soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in eastern Afghanistan. How will that impact the new round of talks?
Secretary General: First I think we should all welcome the fact that there are talks. Because after years without a real peace process we have seen over the last months that there is a real process taking place. And there are talks between the Taliban and the United States. These talks are the only way to peace and Ambassador Khalilzad, the US negotiator is consulting closely with all NATO Allies , he has been here at NATO headquarters many times and has been consulting closely with Allies because roughly half of the troops in the Resolute Mission are non-US troops, so this is US but also many NATO Allies and partners which are present in Afghanistan. Of course, one of the important aspects of any potential peace deal will be how can we have mechanism in place to make sure that it is respected, implemented, verifiable. Therefore it is no easy way to peace but we need a political solution. We need a negotiated solution. For NATO the best way to support those peace efforts is to provide train, advise and assist support to the Afghan army and security forces because the Taliban has to understand that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to sit down at the negotiating table. The United States and other NATO Allies and partners still suffer casualties and I express my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones and family members. That just underpins the message of peace that we are still witnessing casualties among Afghans but also of course among NATO troops.