by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on meeting with US Acting Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper
So first of all welcome to NATO, Secretary Esper.
It’s great to have you here just a few days after you took on your new position. And I know that your background from the military, from Pentagon, from Congress, from industry will serve you well in your new position. But will also be of great value for NATO and therefore I really look forward to working with you and to address the many different challenges we as Alliance are facing. And we also discussed them during our ministerial meetings today and tomorrow. For instance the INF issue, the Russian violation of the INF Treaty, something which is of great concern for all NATO Allies. And we will continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance. But also to prepare for a world without the INF Treaty and how NATO then will respond to the Russian missiles.
I can report on the good progress on burden sharing. This is something which is of great importance for the United States. We have new figures now, showing that there is a real increase of 3.9% in defence spending across Europe and Canada. This comes on top of the increase we have seen over the last years. Meaning now that we have 5 consecutive years of increase in defence spending and the European Allies and Canada will have added much more than 100 billion since 2016.
And then of course Afghanistan will also be on our agenda. We strongly support the US efforts to find a peacefully negotiated solution. Roughly half of the troops in the Resolute Support Mission are US and the rest are non-US. So they’ve been there together in Afghanistan for many years. And the best way for NATO to support the peace efforts is to stay committed, continue to train, advice and help the Afghan forces and continue to help with funding.
Many issues to discuss.
And once again, welcome to NATO.
MARK T. ESPER [US Acting Secretary of Defense]: Great. Well thank you Mr Secretary General. I appreciate your welcome. I appreciate your remarks, particularly the update on burden-sharing. That’s very good news for us.
I would like to say a few things. First of all, on a more sombre note, the United States lost a couple of service members last night in Afghanistan. Our heartfelt concern goes out to them and their families. I will be sure to keep them in my thoughts and prayers over the coming days before we bring those service members back home the United States for their burial.
I would like to again thank you Mr Secretary General for your leadership. You’ve been excellent in your job and we deeply appreciate the support you’ve provided the United States and the Alliance in general. I would say that about a week ago, when I was first appointed to this position as Acting Secretary, there was some doubt as to whether I can or should come to this Ministerial. Wasn’t a hard decision for me to decide that I wanted to, for a number of reasons.
First of all, to convey that my presence here, my appointment, is simply a change in leadership. It is not a change in mission. It is not a change in priorities. And is not a change in the United States’ commitment to the NATO Alliance.
Secondly, I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce myself to the Alliance and to many of the defence ministers with whom I’ll be working, not only on a multilateral basis, but certainly on a bilateral basis as well.
Third, and as you’ve noted Mr. Secretary General, there are a lot of important things we need to engage on. The purpose being to strengthen the Alliance and to increase our readiness. And there will be a number of issues we will discuss. First and foremost of importance to the United States will be more equitable and increased burden-sharing by all of our Allies.
And then, fourth I guess, we will talk a number of out-of-sector issues, whether it’s dealing with the strategic challenge of China in the future, or dealing with the situations we confront in both Syria and Afghanistan, as you noted.
Finally, I guess on a more personal note, you mentioned this upfront, I’m no stranger to NATO. As some of you may know, I served in Italy for a number of years as a young officer, participated in a number of NATO exercises during that time and my unit was a member of what was, at that time, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. And less than 10 years later, as I worked in Congress and as I worked in the Pentagon as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, I had numerous opportunities to work on NATO issues, both in Washington D.C. and here in Brussels, at the old headquarters. And so, again, I’m no stranger to the issues, or to the players. And so in some ways it’s coming back to my roots in many ways with regard to NATO.
So I understand the strategic importance of this Alliance and our commitment to continue furthering it. So I thank you once again. I look forward to working closely with you Mr Secretary General, and with all of our Allies, to continue to make progress and build the Alliance.
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Okay. Once again, welcome.
MARK T. ESPER: Thank you.