Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and/or Government

  • 04 Dec. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Dec. 2019 18:22

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

We have just had a good and important discussion with the Leaders of the NATO Allied countries. We have marked the anniversary of our Alliance. Which has guaranteed peace and security for all Allies for seventy years.  And we have looked to the future. Our meeting has once again demonstrated that NATO remains the only place where Europe and North America discuss, decide and act every day together.  On strategic issues that concern our shared security.

And all leaders were very clear. We stand together all for one, and one for all. Our commitment to Article 5, the collective defence clause of our Alliance, is ironclad. Today, we took a wide range of important decisions.

We have increased the readiness of our forces. I can announce that we have delivered on the NATO Readiness Initiative. Allies have committed 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat ships, available to NATO within 30 days.

We have declared space as the fifth operational domain for NATO. Alongside land, air, sea, and cyber.

We have also agreed on a new action plan to step up our efforts in the fight against terrorism. All Allies remain committed to the fight against ISIS and our training mission in Iraq and the training mission in Afghanistan.

Today, leaders committed to ensuring the security of our telecommunications infrastructure - including 5G. We agreed to rely only on secure and resilient systems.

Allies further recognised the unprecedented progress we are making to achieve fairer burden-sharing.

This is the fifth year of rising defence investment.

In fact, European Allies and Canada have added 130 billion US dollars. And by the end of 2024, that figure will rise to 400 billion US dollars.

This is unprecedented. And it’s making NATO stronger.

But leaders agreed that we must, and will, do more.

Leaders also took a range of other decisions on other important issues for our Alliance;

To enhance the protection of our energy infrastructure,

On how to ensure our technological edge in the face of emerging and disruptive technologies,

And to step up our response to hybrid threats.


We also had a substantive discussion about Russia, and the future of arms control.

We are committed to strong deterrence and defence, while remaining open to meaningful dialogue with Russia. NATO is responding to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range, nuclear capable missiles in a defensive and coordinated way.  And we remain committed to strengthening effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.


For the first time, we addressed the rise of China - both the challenges and the opportunities it poses. And the implications for our security. Leaders agreed we need to address this together as an Alliance.  And that we must find ways to encourage China to participate in arms control arrangements.


As the world changes, NATO will continue to change.

NATO is strong, and our accomplishments over the past few years to adapt to a changing security environment are substantial. 

On that basis, we have agreed today to initiate a reflection process under my leadership to further strengthen the political dimension of NATO.


I want to thank the United Kingdom for hosting this meeting of NATO leaders with such wonderful hospitality. We marked the achievements of our first seventy years. And set the course for the years to come. NATO leaders have decided to meet again in 2021.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: We’ll start with Reuters in the front row.

Robin Emmott [Reuters]: Thank you. Robin Emmott, from Reuters. Secretary General, we know that Turkey has been very determined to hold up a plan for defending the Baltics and Poland. I wondered if you were able to resolve this issue today, and if so, how? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: We have plans in place to protect all Allies, including also, of course, the Baltic countries and Poland. And more than that, we not only have plans, but we have forces, and more forces that before. And in the Baltic countries and Poland, for the first time in the history of our Alliance, there are actually combat-ready troops deployed in the eastern part of the Alliance. And we have tripled the size of the NATO readiness . . . the NATO Response Force, so we can quickly reinforce. And then we today launch the new Readiness Initiative, where we add even more forces, so act quickly, reinforce if needed.

Then, these plans on how to protect the different parts of the Alliance, they are regularly updated, revised. And today we have agreed to the updated plan for the Baltic countries and Poland. So I welcome that. And it shows that we are able to also move forward and update and revise plans, including the defence plans for the Baltic countries and Poland, as we did today.

Oana Lungescu: We have Sky, in the middle. Lady in red dress.

Deborah Haynes [Sky News]: Thank you. I’m Deborah Haynes from Sky News. You call NATO ‘the most successful military alliance in history’, and yet what we often only see in the headlines are disagreements, such as over this meeting with President Trump describing President Macron as being ‘disrespectful’. President Macron calling NATO ‘brain dead’. The Turkish president calling President Macron ‘brain dead’. Are you not worried that these kind of public disagreements are undermining the unity of the Alliance? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: Disagreements will always attract more attention than when we agree. And that’s, in a way, how our open, free, democratic societies work, so I don’t complain about that. That’s just a fact. Second, there has been disagreements in NATO as long as this Alliance has existed. We are 29 different countries from both sides of the Atlantic, with different histories, different geography and different political parties in power. So, of course, there are differences. Anything else would be very strange.

The strength of NATO is that we have always been able to overcome these differences and then unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other. And that’s exactly what to do today, with a lot of substance, a lot of important decisions. We have to remember that we had . . . we have had disagreements in this Alliance since the Suez Crisis in the 1950s, to the Iraq War in 2003, and many more.

So what we prove today is that NATO delivers on substance. We continue to adapt and respond. We have just implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation.

And you know, I’ve been a politician for many years, and politicians, they are very often criticised for being very good on rhetoric and then bad on substance. In NATO, in one way, it’s the opposite: the rhetoric is not always excellent, but substance is perfect.

Oana Lungescu: Agence France-Presse, in the middle?

Damon Wake [Agence France-Presse]: Hi, Damon Wake from AFP. Since you mentioned Russia, Germany this morning expelled two Russian diplomats and said there’s evidence Moscow is behind the murder of a former Chechen rebel leader in Berlin. In this context, how do you view French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for strategic dialogue with Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is in favour of dialogue with Russia and we believe in dialogue with Russia, because Russia is our closest neighbour, our biggest neighbour, and we need to strive for a better relationship with Russia. And even if we are not able to get a better relationship with Russia in the near-term, we need to manage a difficult relationship.

With high tensions, with more military presence, with more exercises, we need to make sure that we have predictability, transparency to avoid incidents, accidents. And if they happen, to make sure that they don’t spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations.

So NATO and I, we believe in dialogue with Russia. But we believe in what we call the dual-track approach, meaning deterrence, defence and dialogue. As long as we are strong, united and firm, then, of course, we can also engage in dialogue with Russia, including on arms control. We must avoid a new arms race. That’s expensive, it’s dangerous, and that’s also the reason why we so much regret the Russian violation of the INF Treaty. And therefore, also, we need to now look into how we can strengthen the arms control process, because we need agreements on keeping the levels of weapons down, especially nuclear weapons.

Oana Lungescu: Financial Times, over there.

Michael Peel [Financial Times]: Thank you, Michael Peel, Financial Times. Secretary General, you’ve spoken about arms control several times and the need to get China involved in arms control agreements. Can you give us a bit more detail on exactly what the ideas are that you’ve discussed, about how China might participate in international arms control? And also, what about the wider challenges that China presents? What are the security challenges that you’re particularly worried about on China and what was discussed today? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has traditionally been focussed on the Soviet Union and then later on Russia. This is the first time NATO leaders had a discussion and addressed together, based on our analysis, our assessments, a discussion about both the opportunities of the rise of China, connected to the rise of China, but also the challenges. So just the idea that, now, 29 Allies addressed this issue together is an important step in the right direction.

Second, we all acknowledge that this is not a one-dimensional issue. The rise of China, the economic rise of China provides great economic opportunities. It has lifted millions of people out of poverty, but at the same time, we see that China invest heavily in new modern capabilities. A few weeks ago, they displayed a new intercontinental ballistic missile, able to reach Europe and North America. They displayed hypersonic missiles, gliders. They have deployed hundreds of intermediate- range missiles that would have been violating the INF Treaty if China had been part of the INF Treaty. So therefore, we have at least . . . we have started now to address how can we include China in arms control arrangements, relevant arms control arrangements in the future. That process is not over. So it’s too early to be too specific, but at least to acknowledge that, is one important step which leaders made today.

China is part of some arrangements already. For instance, China is part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And one of the things we have to do is to make sure that we review that treaty next spring and use that as the, perhaps, most important tool to make sure that we avoid further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world.

Oana Lungescu: We’ll go to Washington Post, in the first row.

Michael Birnbaum [The Washington Post]: Thanks. Michael Birnbaum for The Washington Post. Secretary General Stoltenberg, yesterday, President Trump was talking about taking retaliatory action against NATO members who aren’t meeting their 2 per cent defence spending levels. Do you support taking retaliatory action against those members? And did President Trump talk about that inside the meeting today? And a second question. If the defence plans have now been approved for the Baltics, did you . . . what did you offer President Erdoğan to get Turkey to agree to that? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: So, I had a good discussion with President Erdoğan yesterday. We discussed the different issues. The important thing now is that all Allies agree on the new . . . not the new, but to the updated, revised defence plans for the Baltic countries and Poland. And it just shows that we are able to deliver on substance. We are able to take decisions and to move this Alliance forward.

It’s not for me to anyway comment on what each and every leader said during the meeting, you can ask them afterwards. But what I can say is that all Allies have today agreed their commitment to Article 5, which is ‘one for all and all for one’. And that is an ironclad commitment. And of course, the main purpose of NATO is to preserve peace. Our task is not to wage war, but our task is to prevent war. Not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict. And the best way of doing that is to have a 100 per cent ironclad commitment behind the Article 5. So if one Ally is attacked, it will trigger a response from the whole Alliance. As long as all potential adversaries know that that’s the case, then there will be no attack. Then we will be able to preserve the peace. And that principle, Article 5, the collective defence clause, was what all Allies agreed to today.

Then, we all agree that we need to do more on defence spending. We recognise the enormous progress we have made, but we will continue to focus on the need to do more, especially for those who are spending less than 2 per cent. And I will continue to address that when I travel around and meet those who are spending less than 2 per cent.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, we’ll go to Salam Watandar, first row, here.

Question: Thank you, this is Nasir Maimanagy from Salam Watandar in Afghanistan. My question is about the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban. Do you think there should be a precondition, including ceasefire? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: I welcome the efforts to restart the peace talks. NATO supported the talks, because we believe that we need a political negotiated solution in Afghanistan. The US has consulted closely with other NATO Allies and partners throughout the process, both at the political level, but also, of course, for instance, Ambassador Khalilzad has been many times in Brussels. So we are closely consulting on the efforts to restart the peace talks in Afghanistan.

I welcome also, of course, the efforts to try to either have some kind of ceasefire and/or at least a reduction in violence. But I will not be specific on the exact preconditions for restarting the peace talks. What I can say is that we are committed to continue to support Afghanistan, because we strongly believe that the best way NATO can support the peace efforts is to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces, so Taliban understand that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to sit down and make real and serious compromises on the negotiating table.

So we will continue to be in Afghanistan and then we really hope that the peace process will provide us with a credible peace deal.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, we go to TV Telma, from North Macedonia.

Question [Telma TV, North Macedonia]: Sanya Vasikj, Telma TV, Macedonia. How do you see the security situation in Europe and European Union, having in mind that North Macedonia is good enough for NATO, but not good enough for European Union?

Jens Stoltenberg: It was actually . . . North Macedonia and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was warmly welcomed at the meeting today. And we all look forward to having North Macedonia as our 30th member.

So this demonstrates that NATO’s door is open. We strongly believe that the membership of North Macedonia will be good for North Macedonia, but also for the region. It will show that NATO is, what should I say, following up with our policies on open door.

It’s not for me to comment on EU enlargement. I am responsible for NATO, and will not go into the discussion within the EU.

Oana Lungescu: Okay. One last question to the BBC over there.

Richard Galpin [BBC]: Hi, Richard Galpin from BBC. We understand that President Erdoğan wants NATO to agree to the Kurdish group, the YPG, to . . . that it should be designated a terrorist organisation. Did you discuss that? And if so, what did you decide with that? And also, how acceptable is it for Turkey to be buying a Russian air defence system, as far as NATO is concerned?

Jens Stoltenberg: It’s well known that there are different views among NATO Allies on how to designate YPG and PYD, the Kurdish groups in Syria. That’s publicly known. It was not addressed specifically in the meeting today. But it is an issue which has been discussed among NATO Allies and it’s widely known that there are different views on that.

But we all agree on the importance of not jeopardising the gains we have made in the fight against terrorism. All NATO Allies are part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. NATO is part of the Global Coalition. And we have just agreed an action plan on how we can further step up our fight against terrorism. And our training mission in Afghanistan, our training mission in Iraq, our support to the Global Coalition, all of that is about fighting terrorism and we’ll continue to do that.

On the S-400 issue, that’s a national, Turkish decision. Many Allies have expressed concerns. I also expressed my concerns about the consequences of that decision. What I can say is that a Russian air defence system, S-400 would never be integrated into NATO. It will never be part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence system. So this will be a standalone system, not integrated into NATO.

But let me just add that we, of course, we . . . NATO is the only place where North America, Europe, 29 Allies meet every day and discuss, decide and also take actions on a wide range of issues every day. Sometimes at heads of state level, ministerial level, sometimes at ambassadorial level, and in many different committees. Most of the time we agree and we reach common conclusions. Sometimes we disagree. But what we have been able is to then overcome the disagreements and continue to deliver on our core task: to protect and defend each other. And that’s what we have demonstrated today.

And the meeting today was a meeting where we had a very good atmosphere. It was very constructive. And perhaps most of all, it was very productive. We made, again, many decisions. So a good, constructive and productive meeting with heads of state and government, marking the 70th anniversary of this Alliance, demonstrates that we are not only looking back at our history, but actually looking into the future, and we continue to adapt. And we ended the meeting with applause, demonstrating, in a way, the unity of this Alliance. Despite differences, we are united around our core task to protect and defend each other.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point, thank you.

Question: One question from Russia, please?

Oana Lungescu: Thank you. We said this was the last question. I’m afraid time is pressing.