by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs
Today, Foreign Ministers will meet and prepare the leaders meeting in London in the beginning of December.
At our meeting today the Foreign Ministers will address the progress we are making on a wide range of issues, including on burden sharing.
We now have 5 consecutive years of increased defence investments across Europe and Canada and Allies are investing in new, high end modern capabilities. They are contributing more to NATO missions and operations, and we have to make sure that we maintain the momentum, that we continue to invest more in our security.
We will also make decisions demonstrating that we continue to adapt and modernize the Alliance. I expect the ministers to declare space as operational domain, alongside air, sea, land and cyber. Space is extremely important for all civilian and military activities, for communications, for navigation, for the transmission of data, so of course space and satellites are of great importance for all NATO Allies. We will not weaponise space, we will not deploy weapons in space, but we make sure that the assets there are available in peace, crisis and conflict.
Then we will also address other issues of strategic importance, like Russia. Arms control and the rise of China. NATO remains the only platform where North America and Europe meet on a daily basis, discuss, take decisions and make sure that we remain the strong Trans Atlantic bond and with that I’m ready to take some questions.
QUESTION: What do you think about the German proposal on the expert committee?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: I think, first of all, that the very strong and clear message from Germany, and also from Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who will attend the meeting here later on, on the strong support for NATO is something I welcome very much. The message that NATO is the platform to bring North America and Europe together, and it’s vital for our security.
I recently visited Berlin, I have been in touch with Heiko Maas, and I think that his proposal, the German proposal has value and I look forward to discuss the proposal when foreign ministers meet later on today, because the aim of the proposal is to consider how we can strengthen NATO as a platform for addressing the political challenges we face together, North America and Europe.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO spokesperson]: Associated Press.
LORNE COOK [Associated Press]: Secretary General, Lorne Cook of the Associated Press. President Macron said a few things that have very obviously bothered people within the house here at NATO. They seem, from the outside, to be very legitimate concerns about the actions of Allies, about what Europe should be doing and so on. Why is NATO so sensitive about it? Is it something that just has to be discussed in-house? What’s, what’s going on?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it’s extremely important that when there are concerns, that we discuss them. And especially that we discuss them sit— . . . that we discuss them sitting in the same room, around the same table. And that’s one of the reasons why I think NATO is important, because it brings together the United States, Canada and all European Allies, where we can address a wide range of issues. Most of the time we agree. And then we make decisions, and then we move forward. On other times, we see that there are some disagreements.
There’s no way to deny that there are disagreements on issues like trade, like climate change, Iran nuclear deal and, most recently, on how to deal with the situation in northeast Syria.
But the message is that we have to overcome these disagreements, because it is so essential, both for Europe and for the United States, that we stand united. And if we look back at the history of NATO, we have seen disagreements before, dating back to the Suez Crisis in 56, all the way to the Iraq war in 2003. But the strength of NATO is that despite these disagreements, we have always been able to unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other. And that’s my aim. And I’m absolutely certain that we’ll manage to do that also this time.
Second, I welcome all efforts to strengthen the European pillar in NATO, meaning I welcome EU efforts on defence, but not as an alternative to NATO, not as something that can replace NATO, but something that can complement NATO. Because any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken NATO, it will also divide Europe. So I believe in European unity. But European unity cannot substitute for transatlantic unity. We need both and therefore that we meet, North America and Europe here today, is just an expression of the importance of maintaining NATO as the platform for bringing Europe and North America together.
OANA LUNGESCU: DPA
QUESTION [DPA]: Ansgar Haas, DPA. Secretary General, can you confirm that NATO will sign next week a one billion dollar contract to extend the lifetime of the AWACS fleet until 2035?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, I can confirm that we will sign a contract upgrading, modernising the AWACS fleet, one billion dollars. And this reflects the importance of modernising our capabilities, including our common capabilities as the AWACS fleet is.
We are also now looking into how to replace the AWACS fleet in the future, so after 2035. And we will also soon also receive the first Global Hawk drones, the Alliance Ground Surveillance drones at our base in Sigonella, also reflecting another part of how NATO is modernising and investing more in modern capabilities.
OANA LUNGESCU: The Kabul Times
QUESTION [Kabul Times]: Thank you, Secretary General, I would like to ask about the prisoner swap in Afghanistan, between the American and Afghan . . . … [inaudible]. What’s NATO’s view, and also about the election, because it’s coming . . . become a little bit in tension, and some candidate accuse the foreign troops that they said there is, like, interfering in the election, and also the Afghan army is not capable to defend that, because they are trying to fight, not fighting, but they are not allowing for the Afghan’s candidate to go up for the election. So what’s NATO’s view on that?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We welcome the release of the two professors at the American University in Kabul that have been held in captivity by Taliban for some time. We also commend President Ghani for his bold decision that made this possible. These are confidence-building measures. Hopefully they can move us closer to resumption of the peace talks and therefore also lay the ground for a political, negotiated solution to the conflict, the crisis, in Afghanistan.
NATO will stay committed to Afghanistan. We will continue to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces. We commend the Afghan people for exercising their democratic right to participate in the elections. It is important now that the different electoral bodies can finalise the counting and then present their results.
NATO is there to help the Afghan security forces, make sure that they provide security for the free and open . . . for free and open elections. NATO will never take part in the elections, will never intervene in the elections. We are there to make sure that the elections are . . . to help the Afghans, enabling free and fair elections in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Sky, over there to the left.
MICHELLE CLIFFORD: Hi, Michelle Clifford, Sky News. Can I get your reaction to the ongoing protest, the situation in Hong Kong? And also to the claims by the former UK Consulate worker, Simon Cheng, that he was tortured by the Chinese?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s not for me to comment on that specific issue, but what I can say is that we will, also during this meeting and also at the Leaders Meeting in London in the beginning of December, address, discuss the consequences of the rise of China. There are some opportunities, but also some clear challenges, because China is becoming a more and more important global power.
What we have seen is that they don’t share our values when it comes to elections, freedom of speech. And that is something we have seen again and again. And of course, NATO is a value-based organisation, we strongly believe in democracy, the freedom of speech. And these are values which we hold high and which we will always stand up for.
OANA LUNGESCU: Georgian TV.
QUESTION [Georgian TV] Mr Secretary General, … [inaudible] involved in Black Sea Region security issues, discussions, and how would you assess the progress made with this regard? And also, what is the main message from NATO to aspirant country before Leaders Meeting?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The Black Sea Region is important for NATO. We have three littoral countries there: Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and then we have two important partners, we have Georgia and Ukraine. And NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea Region over the last years. We agreed the package this spring in April to have more exercises to increase information-sharing. And I . . . the North Atlantic Council recently visited Georgia. We recently visited Ukraine, Odessa. And we work with the Georgian Coast Guard. We work with the Ukrainian Navy. We help them with the Naval Academy in Odessa. And so we are working with our partners, both Georgia and Ukraine, in the Black Sea Region. And I urge Allies to provide the necessary resources, personnel, to make sure that we step up and provide more practical support.
We will help, and we support Georgia on its way towards NATO membership. Therefore, we help them with more modernising their defence and security institutions, implementing reforms. And that’s the purpose of the NATO presence in in Georgia, help to modernise their defence and security institutions.
OANA LUNGESCU: ARD.
QUESTION [ARD]: Back to Macron. Is the French attitude . . . to which extent is it helpful to the Alliance? Inside is he dividing, with such statements and, for outside, is it not fragilising the Alliance?
JENS STOLTENBERG: What we have seen over the last years is that North America and Europe are doing more together than we have done for decades. We have implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. So we prove every day that NATO is strong, that NATO is agile and that NATO is vital for our shared security.
We have tripled the size of the NATO response force, 40,000 troops. We have, for the first time in our history, deployed combat-ready troops to the eastern part of the Alliance. Around 5,000 troops. European Allies are investing more in defence, also in high-end modern capabilities. And the United States is not leaving Europe. The United States is actually increasing their presence in Europe. After the end of the Cold War, the United States reduced its military presence in Europe gradually, but over the last years we have seen that they have started to increase again, more troops, more exercises, more investments in infrastructure, prepositioned equipment.
Next spring, next year, there will be a new exercise Defender 2020. 20,000 soldiers which are based in the United States will participate in that exercise, the largest US deployment of troops in Europe in 25 years.
So, yes, there are differences. Yes, there are different views. That’s exactly why we meet. I think that’s a good reason to meet, is to sit down and clarify any misunderstandings and any different views, demonstrate where we can agree and where there still have . . . where there is still some work to do. But the reality is that despite these differences, NATO is stronger and NATO is delivering and NATO is doing more than we have done for many decades.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, we’ll see you later.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.