Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 26 Jun. 2019 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 26 Jun. 2019 22:28

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Good evening.

We have just finished a meeting to discuss the INF Treaty and NATO’s response.

Earlier today, we had a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group to discuss the same issue.

Russia’s SSC-8 missile system violates the INF Treaty and is a significant threat to our security.

For over three decades, the INF Treaty has been a landmark in arms control. Providing greater certainty and stability for both NATO and Russia. We continue to urge Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance.

However, we have seen no sign that Russia is willing to do so. On the contrary, it continues to produce and deploy the SSC-8 missiles.

So NATO is preparing for a world without the INF Treaty. Ministers have agreed today that NATO will respond should Russia fail to return to compliance. NATO will remain measured and defensive in everything that we do.

Ministers confirmed today that we have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. We will not mirror what Russia does. We do not want a new arms race.

But at the same time we must continue to maintain credible deterrence and defence.

This is NATO’s mission.

Therefore, ministers have also considered potential NATO measures such as:

Our exercise programme, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

We will also look further at our air and missile defences, and conventional capabilities.

We will ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.

And Allies remain firmly committed to the preservation of effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.  We deeply regret Russia’s non-compliance. And unfortunately, time is running out. US withdrawal from the INF Treaty will take effect on 2 August.

But Russia still has a chance to do the right thing and save the Treaty. We are planning to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council next week to convey our clear message.

Russia’s choice is simple:

Return to compliance and uphold its arms control commitments, or continue its irresponsible and dangerous behaviour and bear the full responsibility for the demise of the Treaty.

So with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO spokesperson]: We’ll go to the front row here, I think here first.

Question: Thanks, a question from Ukrainian team here. Sir, since Russia stays so hard-line about the INF issue, do you expect any other issues such as Donbass and Crimea to become even harder to resolve now. And please tell us if you have any discussions regarding any further steps from NATO on security in the Black Sea area. Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: The violation of the INF Treaty, the deployment of the new SSC-8 missiles, they are part of a pattern. We have seen, over several years from Russia a more assertive behaviour, aggressive actions against Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea, modernising their armed forces, investing in new conventional capabilities, investing in new nuclear capabilities and also a rhetoric which is much more assertive than we have seen before.

So the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued efforts to destabilise Ukraine is part of a broader pattern we have seen over several years. But, at the same time, I don’t see any direct link between the efforts to solve the crisis in and around Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, Donbass, Crimea, and the efforts to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty. We are focused on both, and we will continue to provide strong support, political support and practical support for Ukraine. At the same time as we are calling on Russia to come back into compliance, and preparing for our response if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance.

Oana Lungescu: Okay. Wall Street Journal, over there.

James Marson [Wall Street Journal]: Thank you. James Marson from the Wall Street Journal. Could you share with us your first impressions of the new Acting Secretary of Defense from the US. Anything new, anything different in his approach or his messaging, compared with the previous Acting Secretary?

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, he stated very clearly that there has been a change of leadership in Pentagon but no change of policy. And he made a very good impression. And I’m looking very much forward to working with him, not least because he has a background, a long experience, which is very relevant for NATO.

His experience from the military, from Pentagon, from the Congress, from the industry. And he has also served in Europe, so he really knows NATO, he knows what the transatlantic bond is about, that we stand together, because he has been part of that for many, many years including serving in Europe. So, I really look forward to working with him and I know that he has a lot of knowledge and experience which is highly relevant for the Alliance.

Oana Lungescu: AFP.

Damon Wake [AFP]: Hi, Damon Wake, AFP. Just going back to the INF, can you give us any more detail on any of the measures that have been discussed or approved today? And given that there’s a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council next week, is it . . . is announcing these measures not shutting down the space for discussion and compromise with Russia? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: In no way. What we have made clear again and again is that we called on Russia to come back into compliance and the measures we agreed today, they will only be implemented if Russia does not come back into compliance. And that’s also the reason why we continue to convey this message to Russia that they still have the chance to save the treaty. But then they have to come back into compliance before 2nd August.

There’s a window of opportunity. Time is running out. But it is still possible for Russia to save the INF Treaty. If they don’t come back into compliance before 2nd August, then they have to bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty. Because, actually, we have shown a will to wait and to call on them for many, many years. This is a concern we raised many years ago. We have tried again and again to bring them back into compliance. But at some stage you have to make it clear that an arms control agreement doesn’t work if it’s only respected by one side. And what we see from the Russian side is that they just continue to deploy the SSC-8 missiles. And this is extremely serious, because the INF Treaty has been a cornerstone of arms control for decades. And the new missiles are dual-capable, can carry nuclear warheads, short-warning time, hard to detect, and therefore also they reduce the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in a conflict. And, therefore, we will continue to send a very clear message to Russia about their responsibility to save the treaty.

Question: Hi Mr Secretary. Can you comment on the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina regarding the implementation and activation of the MAP, about the state of play in NATO-Bosnian relationship, in general? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: So, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a longstanding partner of NATO and we really appreciate the partnership with Bosnia-Herzegovina. And as you know, last December foreign ministers agreed to accept the submission of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first Annual National Programme, and this tool is important to further strengthen our partnership and it includes measures covering political, economic and defence reforms.

The overall aim is to help implement these reforms and it’s up to Bosnia-Herzegovina to take up our offer. So they decide whether they take up the offer to accept the first Annual National Programme. Taking up this offer would not prejudge any potential future NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO fully respects the country’s sovereignty and independence.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, KUNA, second row.

Nawab Khan [Kuwait News Agency]: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency. Sir, was there any discussion on the situation in the Gulf and relations with Iran? And if yes, how did it go? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We did not discuss the situation in the Gulf today, but it has been stated by some ministers that this issue will be raised tomorrow. So it’s not formally on the agenda, but some ministers have stated that they will raise it tomorrow, so then maybe I can tell you some more tomorrow.

Question [Polish Radio]: Secretary General, could you provide us with more details on the measures you’ve mentioned and the ministers have agreed on concerning on Russia and INF Treaty? Will there be a bigger amount of exercises, or would they be more massive than . . . than up to, up to now? What would change after 2nd August in terms of the measures, if Russia will not comply with the, with the INF Treaty? And the second thing is that today the, one of the chamber of the Russia’s Parliament has decided that Russia would . . . would cancel the INF Treaty, so the thing is if 2nd August deadline is still valid, if the Russia itself says that they will not comply with the . . . with the treaty. Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg: What we have decided today is that we will respond should Russia not return to compliance. And the withdrawal process has started, that was clearly stated by the United States in the beginning of February. And that process will end on 2nd August. So, on 2nd August, there is no more INF Treaty, unless Russia in a verifiable and transparent way, returns to compliance.

It is not a surprise for us that Russia is not currently respecting the INF Treaty. We have stated that for years. So that doesn’t change anything, that’s actually the situation we have been witnessing for years, that Russia is not living up to their commitments under the INF Treaty. The new thing is that we have said that it cannot continue like this. We cannot continue that the United States is respecting the INF Treaty while Russia continues to violate it. And therefore, all Allies first of all agreed that Russia is in violation, and they made it also based on independent intelligence. Second, we all agree that we support the US decision in February to start the withdrawal process that will end on 2nd August.

So the thing is that unless Russia change behaviour and stop violating the treaty, but actually returns to the treaty, then that’s the only way to save the treaty, unless the treaty will stop and not exist anymore. It will be the final demise of the Treaty on 2nd August. And that’s the reason why we have agreed that we will respond. And that’s the reason why we also have agreed on a wide range of different measures.

I mentioned all of them in my introduction: political measures, military measures, exercises, missile defence, conventional and many others. And some will be long- term, others it will be possible to implement short-term or more quickly. But the main focus for us, is to make Russia come back into compliance. And that will be our main focus up till 2nd August.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much, this concludes this press conference. Thank you, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.