by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs
NATO Foreign Ministers have just met for the first time via secure video conference. It was a successful meeting, proving that NATO is able to adapt to the circumstances created by the COVID-19 crisis.
We addressed a number of issues, including our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And our support for Georgia and Ukraine.
But our response to the COVID-19 was at the top of our agenda.
We have agreed a joint declaration.
We express our deepest sympathies with all the victims, and with all those affected.
We pay tribute to the health care workers, and all those who are on the front line in our battle against the disease.
These include the men and women in uniform who continue to work daily for our collective security.
NATO was created to deal with crises.
So we can help.
And our Alliance is playing its part.
Today, we decided to direct our top commander, General Wolters to coordinate the necessary military support to combat the crisis.
To speed up and step up assistance.
For instance, by identifying the airlift capacity to ensure that medical supplies are delivered.
Coordinating on any surplus capacity or stocks.
And better matching requests for support with offers from Allies and partners.
He will also implement simplified procedures for Rapid Air Mobility, in coordination with Eurocontrol.
Using the NATO call sign for military relief flights.
We will also convene a meeting of NATO defence ministers in mid-April.
To review the support we are providing to Allies.
Take decisions on any further steps.
And start assessing the medium and long-term implications.
For our resilience, the continuity of our essential work, and the broader geostrategic picture.
I am grateful for the further offers of assistance which NATO Allies made today.
And for the substantial support that Allies have already provided.
Including by airlifting critical medical supplies from across the globe.
Providing medical personnel and equipment.
Harnessing all our resources to deliver innovative responses.
And ensuring transparent and timely information to overcome this global pandemic and to combat disinformation.
While we focus on our common fight against COVID-19, we know that other threats and challenges have not gone away.
NATO’s primary responsibility is to
deliver security and defence for almost one billion people.
General Wolters updated ministers on the state of our military preparedness.
NATO’s ability to conduct operations has not been undermined.
Our forces remain ready, and our crucial work goes on.
Including in our multinational battlegroups in the east of the Alliance, NATO Air Policing, and our maritime deployments.
NATO military medical staff remain vigilant.
Monitoring the impact for NATO troops deployed on operations.
We continue to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.
But we also continue to plan, prepare and act to maintain our security -
now and in the future.
Today, Ministers agreed on NATO’s next steps to fight terrorism, build stability and strengthen our partnerships across the Middle East and North Africa.
Ministers agreed to enhance our training mission in Iraq, taking on some of the training activities of the Global Coalition.
Including the training and education of non-commissioned officers, engineers, and federal police.
This is being done in full consultation with the Iraqi authorities and the Global Coalition.
Ministers also discussed what more we could do across the wider region.
- More help to partners with reforms and capacity building;
- NATO-led exercises, with a focus on fighting terrorism.
- And deepening our partnerships in the region, including with the African Union.
We also discussed Afghanistan and our continued commitment to long-term peace and stability in the country.
To support the peace efforts, we are reducing our presence to around 12,000 by the summer.
No decision for a further reduction has been taken.
And all of our steps will be conditions-based.
We welcome efforts to set up an inclusive team for the inter-Afghan negotiations.
We call on the Taliban and all political actors to play their part.
This includes reducing violence.
This is the time for Afghans to show national unity in the national interest.
To achieve peace in Afghanistan, but also to fight COVID-19.
We decided to deepen our partnerships with Ukraine and Georgia even further.
Including with exercises in the strategic Black Sea region.
As well as joint work to counter hybrid warfare.
And efforts to share more air traffic radar data, making the skies safer for all.
We also agreed to increase NATO’s cooperation with the United Nations.
With a package of measures to help with UN peacekeeper training.
This includes medical care, countering improvised explosive devices, and communications.
And Ministers formally launched the Reflection Process to further strengthen NATO’s political role.
I will lead this process with the support of a group of experts.
Finally, we welcomed the foreign minister of the Republic of North Macedonia,
which is now a full member of the Alliance.
This is an important step forward for the
stability of the Western Balkan region and of Europe.
And it shows that, in uncertain times, we must further strengthen our multilateral institutions.
Global challenges demand global solutions.
COVID-19 is making this clear.
And as a transatlantic Alliance, NATO is determined to continue playing its part.
And with that I am ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: And the first question will go to Nick Fiorenza from Jane’s Defence, who joins us from London.
Nick Fiorenza [Jane’s Defence]: Hello Secretary General. Actually I’ve escaped to Belgium, to self-isolate, but in any case, you’ve addressed some of what I want to ask, but I’ll ask nevertheless. How does COVID-19 affect NATO’s deterrence and collective defence capability, to defend its eastern flank, the US commitment to Europe and Allied solidarity in general, and, specifically, are the Baltic States in greater danger of Russian during attack during the COVID-19 crisis?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: All Allies are focused on the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and how to combat the COVID-19 crisis, and we discussed at the Foreign Ministerial Meeting how we can step up and speed up the support of NATO to the civilian efforts to deal with the coronavirus and the consequence of the health crisis.
At the same time, NATO’s core responsibility is to make sure that this health crisis doesn’t become a security crisis. And our core task is to continue to provide credible deterrence and defence in the midst of a health crisis. And that’s exactly what we are doing. So we continue our missions and operations. We maintain our operational readiness. We continue to patrol the skies with air policing, our naval deployments are maintained, and our battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance are up and running, as are our missions and operations elsewhere, like, for instance, our efforts to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and other places.
So NATO is functioning, NATO is working in . . . or despite of the COVID-19 crisis. Of course, some of our personnel are affected. Some have contracted the coronavirus. But the missions, the operations, the readiness of NATO continues because NATO was created to deal with crises. And we have long experiences and many plans and a command structure which is developed and trained and tested to deal with crises.
This is also, of course, the case for the Baltic countries, where we maintain our presence: air policing, the battlegroups and where we also have, of course, the ability to reinforce if needed. We have seen the Russian military presence close to our borders, so we recently saw a snap exercise in the Western and Central Military District. We have seen significant Russian naval presence in the North Sea. So, of course, we follow, we intercept the flights. We follow military movements, as we always do. And we continue 24/7 to provide credible deterrence and defence also in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Oana Lungescu: We’ll go to Gül Sonumut from NTV Turkey.
Gül Sonumut [NTV Turkey]: Secretary General, good evening. So my question is, at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, leaders were very premonitory since they have committed to enhance the resilience of the Alliance. And to enhance resilience there are seven baselines, requirement. One of them is being able to deal with mass casualties. So my question is, did you discuss this issue? Normally in 2020, you were supposed to release the third report on the state of civil preparedness of member states. When will you publish this report and, particularly, will your resume the CEPC – Civil Emergency Planning Committee – work, since a lot of EU NATO Allies were not very much willing to do so? And you have discussed this issue of a reflection process? Will you ask from member states to have more power in order, in the framework of Article 3, to go and be able to verify that each member state is ready for civil preparedness, if there are shortcomings that they’re ready to fill the gap? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: The coronavirus crisis has reminded us all of the importance of resilience, because this is about protecting our societies against different threats, different crises. And that’s also reason why actually NATO has a core task or a main responsibility to ensure resilience. It’s enshrined in Article 3 of our founding treaty. The Washing Treaty states clearly that Allies are responsible for resilience of their societies to be more able to deal with a crisis, security crises, but also other crises. And this is also very much, in our modern societies, intertwined.
Therefore, we have updated our resilience guidelines and it proves the importance of these guidelines: the basic requirements on issues like healthcare, dealing with the mass casualties, as you mentioned, but also infrastructure, the ability to move, also to have transportation infrastructure in place. Also, in times of crises, communications, decision-making and many other areas.
I think that all Allies and NATO are now focussed on how can we deal with the consequences. How can we fight the COVID-19 crisis?
At the same time, we all understand that we also have to start looking into the long-term consequences; the lessons learned and how can we all be better prepared for the next crisis. Because there will be a new crisis. And I think it’s obvious that Allies have some homework to do.
We have, as an alliance, to go through our guidelines for resilience. We have to improve resilience and we have to learn lessons from this crisis to be better prepared for the next crisis.
Then the Reflection Process may actually, of course, address how we also can strengthen NATO’s political ability to prepare to prepare for crises, to prevent crises and deal with crises when they happen. And the Civil Emergency Planning Group is already working, so we are dealing with these issues already. The main focus is to combat the COVID-19 crisis, the coronavirus - help, assist the civilian efforts. And then we have to understand at the time, there will also be a time for drawing the right lessons and strengthening our resilience against the crisis.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you. We now go to Mustafa Sarwar from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague.
Mustafa Sarwar [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty]: Yeah, thank you very much, Mr Secretary General. I have two questions for you. You know that the Islamic State group has taken responsibility for the recent high-profile attack on the Sikh minority community in Kabul. So how can the Taliban give monitorable and verifiable guarantees that no terrorist group would use the Afghan soil against NATO and US interests in the future, and that thousands of prisoners of the Taliban, if freed all, will not return to the battlefield against the Afghan and international forces? The second question is: what’s your message to the Afghan leaders, namely President Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to do at this pivotal juncture? And what’s NATO’s long-term commitment towards Afghanistan? Thank you very much, sir.
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO and NATO Allies remain committed to Afghanistan. And we have stated clearly that we will continue to provide support. We will continue our Train, Assist and Advise Mission, and we will continue with funding for the Afghan forces.
At the same time, we have stated clearly that the aim for NATO is not to stay in Afghanistan forever. The aim for NATO is to create the conditions for lasting peace, for stability in Afghanistan. And, therefore, we strongly support the peace efforts. We welcome the agreement between the Taliban and the United States.
I was in Kabul when the agreement was signed in Doha and we also had the declaration from Kabul and all NATO Allies support these efforts strongly.
Knowing that this will be a hard and long and difficult way towards peace. Knowing also that the best way for NATO to support the peace efforts is to remain committed with our presence in Afghanistan, because by doing so, we are sending a clear message to Taliban and to any other adversary that they will not win on the battlefield; they have to sit down and make real compromises at the negotiating table.
And one of the main tasks, one of the most important achievements with the deal between the United States and Taliban was that it actually agreed to initiate intra-Afghan negotiations. This is something the Taliban has rejected for a long time. And Taliban also agreed to denounce, to break all ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
Then we have to make sure that this agreement is implemented. That’s the reason also why we have stated clearly that any reduction of our presence in Afghanistan will be conditions-based. And that’s also the reason why we have made it clear that even with a new force level of roughly 12,000 – so, going from 16,000, the current number of troops in the NATO Mission in Afghanistan, down to 12,000, which is what we foresee by the summer, as part of the peace efforts – with that level of troops, we can continue training. And actually not many years ago, we had roughly 12,000 troops, the same, roughly the same level of troops conducting the same mission for the Afghans.
So we have to see progress. We have to see the Taliban is delivering, we have to see progress in the intra-Afghan negotiations to then gradually reduce our presence. It is conditions-based, but we believe that the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan is to have an Afghan-owned process. The Afghans have to make peace in Afghanistan. And that’s the reason why we support these efforts.
We, of course, continue to call on all Afghan political figures to seize this moment and to overcome any differences and to stand united in also negotiating with the Taliban to try to find a lasting peace.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you. We can now go back, I think, to Bucharest. Radu Tudor from Antena 3.
Radu Tudor [Antena 3]: Thank you, Oana Lungescu. Secretary General, the Romanian defence build two temporary military hospitals and paid two strategic NATO flights to South Korea for medical equipments. Could you please comment this action? What NATO can do more through Allied MODs? And if the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre can become more operational against coronavirus. Thank you, Secretary General.
Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, I welcome what Romania now does and it shows that Romania, as all other Allies, are now mobilising their armed forces to support the civilian efforts to combat the coronavirus. And NATO supports those efforts. The Disaster Relief Coordination Centre has been important, an important tool to mobilise resources from NATO Allies and then to make sure that those Allies who are really in need, or who need these extra resources get these extra resources.
You mentioned that Romania has used our strategic airlift programme to transport a lot of heavy . . . a lot of equipment from China and from South Korea to Romania. And this is just an example of how our airlift capabilities are important in helping supporting Allies dealing with this crisis.
Many other Allies have done the same. We have helped to transport. We have helped to set up different mechanisms to support our Allies. And also our procurement agency has actually helped Allies to get the right equipment and to make the deals that enable them to get critical medical equipment.
So Allies and NATO have together already done a lot. Just two days ago, a Turkish plane landed in Italy and Spain with equipment. We have many other examples. The challenge now is to make sure that we continue and that we do more.
So that’s the reason why we have tasked our Supreme Commander, SACEUR, today to step up and speed up the way NATO Allies are supporting each other: mobilise more resources, utilise NATO structures, mechanisms, even more, to continue to provide critical support.
NATO was created to manage crises. So we have experience. We have done similar things before. We have capabilities also when it comes to medical evacuation. We have transport capacity and we see also in the different nations how military personnel are now being used in many different areas, including from border control, disinfection, transportation of patients, setting up field hospitals and so on.
So NATO’s role is to support, coordinate, mobilise these efforts. And that’s also a reason why we have decided to convene a Defence Ministerial Meeting in a couple of weeks, to make sure that we take stock of NATO’s efforts; that we listen to SACEUR, who will then brief us on the work of the NATO military structures to support Allies. And that also provides us the platform when the defence ministers meet, to take any further decisions. So we are mobilising NATO in support of the civilian efforts to combat coronavirus.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you. We now come back to Brussels and Iurii Sheiko from Deutsche Welle.
Iurii Sheiko [Deutsche Welle]: Secretary General, can you hear me?
Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, I can.
Iurii Sheiko: I have two . . . yeah, I have two questions on Ukraine. Can you please explain a little bit deeper what are those measures to support Ukraine that were adopted today? As far as I understand, there are two initiatives or programmes or measures. It’s the first question. And the second question: I wonder if you have any comments on the situation in the eastern Ukraine, in relation to this coronavirus crisis? As far as I know, there are a lot of reports that a monitoring mission of OSCE has problems in accessing those territories. Thanks a lot.
Jens Stoltenberg: When it comes to eastern Ukraine, we see at Donbass, we see that despite the call from Russia for a pause in military activity, Russian-backed separatists continue to attack Ukrainian forces in the east of the country. And we see ceasefire violations continue both in Donetsk and in Luhansk. And we see that, also, because these ceasefire violations are not only reported by Ukraine, but they also confirmed by the OSCE monitors.
It is an additional challenge or problem that the OSCE monitors have now even bigger problems with conducting their tasks, because they are restricted in their ability to move freely and therefore they are not able to report in the way they should.
The COVID-19 crisis, the coronavirus, is used as a kind of excuse to further limit the work of the OSCE monitors. And this makes the situation in eastern Ukraine even more difficult.
So we call on Russia to stop the fighting in Ukraine. They . . . they back, they support the separatists who are responsible for continued ceasefire violations. And we also need a ceasefire, the ceasefire to be fully implemented, to be able to fight the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
The package we agreed for Georgia and Ukraine, it’s about exercises, it’s about access to more NATO educational programmes. It’s also about sharing a radar picture that can improve the understanding of the activities in the air in the region. So this is yet another step, yet another element in the very strong and enduring partnership between NATO and Ukraine.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you. The next question comes from Ivan Mijanovic, from the Television of Montenegro.
Ivan Mijanovic [Television of Montenegro]: Good evening Secretary General. Can Montenegro and other Allies in the Balkans count on NATO solidarity, in transporting patients, touched by COVID-19 in hospitals and other NATO countries who have capacities to host them in case of need? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: This was exactly among the issues we addressed during the meeting today, and we have seen how NATO, NATO Allies, military personnel have, in different countries, helped Allies with medical, transportation, medical evacuation and transport of patients.
In the meeting, it was referred to how military planes were used to transport patients from Italy to Germany. But there are also some other examples of how military planes were used to transport patients, because we have the capabilities. The military has tested, exercised exactly how to, for instance, transport patients. It’s something which is integrated in their work as military organisations.
We are now, through the NATO Coordination Centre, mobilising more support. We have tasked SACEUR, our Supreme Commander, to identify where there is surplus capacity, where there is equipment capabilities available, that can be used to support other Allies.
All Allies are affected by this crisis, so all Allies are in need of capabilities, equipment to address the crisis. But at the same time, we know that some Allies have more capabilities than others. And we also know that the effect of the crisis will not be stable, will not be the same for all Allies at all times. So not all Allies will see the peak of this pandemic at the same time. And this makes it possible to reallocate some resources, as we have already seen many example of, to those Allies who are more in need and which see that the crisis is peaking. So this is the whole idea with tasking SACEUR to coordinate, to identify surplus capacity and to match that surplus capacity with needs in different Allied countries. And one element of that is, of course, also transportation. We have seen many examples: NATO coordinates, NATO provides airlift and other capabilities and Allies are doing the same in close contact with NATO.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you. That will conclude the press conference. So, Secretary General, back to you.
Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much for once again joining me on this virtual press conference. I think it works quite well. It is a different format, but it shows that we all have to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. And have a good evening and stay safe and stay healthy. Thank you so much.