Press conference

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

  • 16 Jun. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Jun. 2020 16:22

(As delivered)

Good morning.

Over the next two days, NATO Defence Ministers will take steps to ensure our security in a more uncertain world.

We face global challenges. So we must take a global approach. Keep our Alliance strong militarily, and make it stronger politically.

That is my vision for the reflection on NATO 2030, which I launched last week.

At this meeting of defence ministers we will take decisions on:

  • Our preparations for a possible second wave of COVID-19;
  • Updating national resilience guidelines;
  • Deterrence and defence, including our response to Russia’s new nuclear-capable missiles;
  • And NATO missions and operations, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO and Allied armed forces have played a key role in supporting civilian efforts: 

  • With some 350 flights airlifting hundreds of tons of critical supplies around the world;
  • Almost 100 field hospitals;
  • And more than half a million of troops have supported the civilian response.

All of this has helped to save lives.

Now, NATO is preparing for any future health crisis. I expect ministers will agree on three things:

  • A new operational plan, to be ready for any second wave of COVID-19;
  • A stockpile of medical equipment to provide immediate assistance to Allies and partner countries;
  • And a fund to acquire critical medical supplies.

 These three elements together will ensure that we can strengthen our response to a possible second wave of the pandemic. So that critical assistance gets to the right place at the right time.

But COVID-19 does not mean that other challenges have gone away. 

Ministers will also discuss the NATO requirements for national resilience.  These cover critical sectors such as energy, transport, and tele-communications. Any vulnerability in these areas can be exploited by potential adversaries.

I expect ministers will agree updated baseline requirements for resilience.

Particularly focusing on threats from

cyber; the security of supply chains; and foreign ownership and control.

We will also discuss and address the security implications of Russia’s growing suite of nuclear capable missiles. Russia’s deployment of the SSC-8 missile system led to the demise of the INF Treaty last year. Since then, Russia has continued to modernise its missile capabilities, including with hypersonic weapons.

I expect Defence Ministers will agree a substantial and balanced package of political and military measures in response.

This includes strengthening NATO’s air and missile defences. Several Allies have announced major investments in new capabilities such as patriots and SAMP/T.

We will also strengthen our advanced conventional capabilities, for example with fifth generation combat aircraft.

And we will adapt our exercises and intelligence to address new challenges.

NATO’s response will also be discussed by Ministers at the meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group. We will continue to ensure the NATO nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.

NATO will not mirror Russia’s destabilizing behaviour. We have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.

And NATO remains strongly committed to effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, which make a key contribution to our security. So we continue to call for all actors, including Russia and China, to engage constructively.

A new arms race would benefit nobody.

And make the world a more dangerous place.

We will also discuss NATO’s missions and operations, including in Afghanistan and in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the situation remains challenging. NATO will continue to adjust our presence in support of the peace process. But for the peace to succeed, the Taliban must live up to their commitments. To reduce violence, break all bonds with Al Qaida and other international terrorist groups, and engage in intra-Afghan talks in good faith.


In Iraq, we remain committed to enhancing NATO’s training mission. And to increase our presence when conditions allow. In full coordination with the Iraqi Government and the Global Coalition.  Iraqi security forces have made great strides in suppressing ISIS and other terrorist groups.

But terrorists are trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. And their attacks have increased in recent months.

I spoke with Prime Minister al-Kadhimi recently, and underscored that NATO stands with Iraq in the fight against international terrorism.

During the meeting of defence ministers we will be joined by our colleagues from Finland, Sweden and Australia.

And by EU High Representative/Vice President Borrell. This is a clear sign of our deepening ties with like-minded countries and organisations.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

PIERS CAZALET [Deputy Spokesperson]: And for the first question, we will go to Evelyn Kaldoja from Postimees in Estonia.

EVELYN KALDOJA [Estonian Daily Postimees]:  Hello. Can you hear me now? Okay? Am I coming through?

PIERS CAZALET: We can hear you.

EVELYN KALDOJA: Okay. Good. In the light of the experience with COVID-19 this spring, what does NATO’s intend to do to be better prepared next time, be it the feared second wave of the disease or some other pandemic?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: What we have seen over the last months is that NATO and military forces across the Alliance have played a key role in supporting the civilian health services in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, because we have seen that military aircraft have lifted hundreds of tons of supplies, have been critical in providing support to different Allies and partner countries, have transported medical personnel, but also actually helped to transport the patients in a safe way. And we have seen how military personnel have been key in everything from logistics, controlling borders, disinfecting public spaces and so on, setting up field hospitals, providing medical capabilities.  And very much, all of these efforts have been coordinated by our Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Wolters, and he has provided different kinds of capabilities, airlift capabilities, to different countries over the whole pandemic since March, or actually also before that.

Now we are preparing for a second wave. And we are actually doing three things. We are agreeing an operation plan which will enable us to strengthen the way we coordinate our efforts to be even faster in providing support in an even better coordinated way. We are setting up a stockpile with equipment, because we have seen the need for having equipment ready, available. And we are setting up a trust fund, or a fund to help to finance our efforts.

So I think this highlights that, yes, this is a civilian crisis. This is a health crisis. But military, military personnel and military capabilities have played a key role in the response. And we have to make sure that that’s even stronger and more available if there is a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PIERS CAZALET: Now we will move to Robin Emmott from Reuters.

ROBIN EMMOTT [Reuters]: Thank you very much. Thanks for the question. So, President Trump has now publicly commented on his decision to withdraw some 10,000 troops from Germany. Are you now in a position to give us your sense of what that means and whether this decision weakens in any way one of the pillars of the post-war security order? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: President Trump and I discussed this issue during a phone call last week. And my message was that the US presence in Europe, it’s good for Europe, but it’s also good for North America and the United States, because the transatlantic bond is essential to the strength and the success of the Alliance.

It is good for Europe because the presence of troops, military capabilities from the United States, but also from Canada, links the defence of Europe to forces, capabilities from North America. That’s the core of the transatlantic alliance. But it’s also good for the United States, because we have to remember that peace and stability in Europe is, of course, important also for North America.

But also the fact that the US presence in Europe is not only about protecting Europe, but it’s also about projecting US power beyond Europe. We have seen that bases like the Ramstein Base, the Landstuhl medical facility and many other US bases in Germany, they are essential for what the US has done over decades in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq and in Africa. And for instance, the US Africa Command is not in Africa. The US Africa Command is in Europe, in Stuttgart. And the command of the 6th Fleet is in . . . which is actually patrolling down south of Africa, is in Italy.

So it just illustrates that US presence in Europe, yes, it’s of great value for European Allies, but it also matters for the security of the United States.

Therefore, I welcome the fact that in the last couple of . . . in the last years, we have seen increased presence of both US but also Canadian troops in Europe. We have seen a new US-led battlegroup in Poland. We have seen more rotational presence of US troops in the Baltic region, in Black Sea Region. We have seen, of course, the new missile defence site in Romania, with also new ships deployed in Rota in Spain. In my own country, Norway, we have seen more US Marines than we have seen for a long time. And on top of that, we also, of course, see more prepositioned US equipment, more exercises, more prepositioned supplies. And then we see also increased air and naval presence, including, for the first time in a long . . . in decades, we saw a US aircraft carrier taking part in the Exercise Trident Juncture.  And just as we speak, we have the BALTOPS Exercise in the Baltics, with roughly half of the troops are US.

I say this because the big picture is that over the last years, we have seen an increased US presence. Then, of course, the United States and the President has announced what they have announced. But it remains . . . but it’s not yet decided how and when this decision will be implemented. And I expect this to be an issue that will be discussed at the upcoming defence ministerial meeting.

And I have spoken with the President, I have spoken to other representatives of the US administration. And I’ve also spoken with the German Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, so there’s now an ongoing dialogue on this issue. And my message is, and remains to . . . has been and remains to be, the importance of a North American, US, Canadian presence in Europe, because that binds Europe and North America together and that’s good for both Europe and North America.

PIERS CAZALET: And we now move to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

THOMAS GUTSCHKER [FAZ]: Thank you very much. Secretary General, on that same issue, you are speaking about the importance of the US presence in Europe, but then, of course, there is a big difference between a presence that is permanent, as it is now in Germany, and the rotating presence in Eastern Europe. So if the US were to move part of these troops, for instance, to Poland, which has been calling for it, and these troops were to be based permanently in Poland, in your opinion, would this be in . . . still be in compliance with the NATO-Russia Founding Act? And does NATO uphold, or intend to uphold, this NATO-Russia Founding Act? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, there are many different kinds of presence. Of course, we have exercises, they will last for weeks or perhaps a month. And then the troops will be placed another place, or deployed to another place. But what we very often refer to as ‘rotational presence’ is actually a presence where we have what they call ‘heel-to-toe rotational presence’. So, for instance, the battlegroups in Poland, the US-led battlegroup in Poland, it’s always there. It’s US-led, that are also other Allies contributing. But then, the forces are rotating, but there is a continuing, continued rotation. So the battlegroup is always active, the battlegroup is always operational, but the troops, which are part of the battlegroup, are changing regularly.

So rotational presence also provides security. Rotational presence is also important for our collective deterrence and defence.

When it comes to the NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO’s presence in the eastern part of the Alliance with the new battlegroups and with more NATO presence is not violating the NATO-Russia Founding Act. The challenge now is that Russia has violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act several times, not least through their aggressive actions in Ukraine and the presence that NATO has discussed in the eastern part of the Alliance is within the framework of the . . . is not violating the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

PIERS CAZALET: And now we move to Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle.

TERI SCHULTZ [Deutsche Welle]: Hi, thank you very much. Following up on this issue to some extent, don’t you feel, Secretary General, that, that even the fact that this, this move, this announcement was done in such a disjointed way with you even calling it a leak last week, before President Trump made his, made his comments last night. Is this the way that you would like NATO to operate that, sort of, we’re piecing together parts of what may or may not end up being the implemented policy simply by media reports? And on the same note, he bragged about his relationship with you in his comments yesterday. Do you feel that, in the interests of countering disinformation, that it would be important for you to perhaps explain to him in your next call how NATO is funded, the fact that no country actually owes billions to NATO? Isn’t this an important part of all of our jobs in countering disinformation? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, this was an issue I discussed with President Trump, I think it was Monday last week. So, this is an issue which I then discussed with him. Last week this was media reports, because it was not confirmed by the United States. Now, these reports are confirmed and therefore it’s also, what should I say, easier to comment because now it’s officially announced by the United States. And that’s exactly why I went into more details in my comments today than I did last week.

Of course, the US presence in Europe and in Germany in particular has been an issue we have discussed, I have discussed, with the President, with representatives of the US administration, actually, for several years. We have seen adjustments over many years. And over the last years we have seen an increase. And I expect this to be an issue at the defence ministerial meeting this week, because presence of US troops, Canadian troops, is important for NATO.

Adjustments have been part of the, what should I say, has been . . . it’s nothing new, we have seen significant adjustments in US presence in Europe over several years. During the Cold War, we had hundreds of thousands of US troops in Europe. Then we saw significant reduction. And now, again, we have seen some increase.

The US has also made clear that exactly how and when this decision will be implemented is not yet decided. And therefore, I think it is important that we now have a dialogue within NATO on this issue. It’s a bilateral arrangement between the US and Germany. But, of course, it matters for the whole Alliance.

On defence spending, while President Trump has been very clear on the importance of increased defence spending across Europe and Canada, my message to him has been that NATO Allies are actually delivering. We have seen now several years with increased defence spending across the Alliance. Allies are adding in total 130 billion extra US dollars from 2016 up to the 2020, this year. And that’s a significant increase.

But we still have a way to go to meet the 2 per cent guideline. And the United States, not only President Trump, but also President Obama and previous presidents have been extremely focussed, or have been focussed, on burden-sharing, defence spending. And therefore, I also pushed that agenda, underlining the importance of fairer burden-sharing within the Alliance.

So NATO is a platform to have open discussions about burden-sharing, but also military presence, and I expect this to be an issue, as I said, at the defence ministerial meeting.

PIERS CAZALET: And now we go to Mustafa Sarwar from Radio Free Europe.

MUSTAFA SARWAR [Radio Free Europe]: Thank you very much, Mr Secretary . . . Secretary General. You said in February that Norway and Germany offered to help with the all-Afghan talks. Are they still ready to help with the talks that were to start on March 10 this year? And is there any evidence to show that the Taliban have severed ties with al-Qaeda? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen some progress in Afghanistan. We have seen the agreement between the United States and Taliban. We have seen some steps, important steps being taken when it comes to prisoners’ release. And we have seen some reduction in violence, especially when it comes to attacks. There are no attacks against NATO and US forces. And we are also seeing a clear commitment from the Taliban to break all ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

At the same time, the situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, difficult and there are many obstacles that we have to overcome before we have a lasting political solution in Afghanistan.

We continue to support the peace efforts. We strongly believe that this has to be an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process. That’s the reason why we really hope and support all efforts to start the intra-Afghan negotiations. I have . . . this is, again, an issue I’ve discussed with . . . I spoke with President Ghani and also Mr Abdullah a few weeks ago about this issue, an issue I also discussed with President Trump. And we have an ongoing conversation now in NATO on how we can best support the peace efforts by adjusting our presence, but making sure that we do that in a coordinated way.

And, of course, we need to see progress on the ground, meaning that we need to see that the Taliban is breaking all their ties with al-Qaeda. We need a stronger and more firm demonstration of that. We need to see a reduction of violence. And, of course, we need the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations. And that’s also the reason why NATO Allies, what should I say, do this step by step. We assess, monitor the situation on the ground and based on that, we make decisions on adjusting our presence.

On the role of Germany and Norway, I’ll be careful being too specific, but I know that these nations and then they can, of course, speak for themselves, that they have announced previously that they, together with other nations, are ready to provide support. Exactly how and when, I think it’s best to leave to them to answer and be more specific.

PIERS CAZALET: And next, we go to Serife Cetin from Anadolu.

SERIFE CETIN [Anadolu Agency]: Thank you very much, Secretary General. I would like to ask you a question about the recent developments in Libya, and I was wondering what role could NATO play in Libya and also in assisting the internationally recognised and UN-backed Libyan government. And I also would like to ask you, there are reports that more than 100 bodies have been discovered in this city of Tarhuna, which is the last stronghold of warlord Khalifa Haftar. Do you have a comment on these mass graves? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The situation in Libya remains extremely difficult, dangerous and, of course, we are deeply concerned about the reports about mass graves. And I support also, the UN called for an investigation into that to find out exactly what happened.

But it just underscores the need for a political, negotiated, peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya. And therefore, NATO also strongly supports the UN-led efforts. We support the initiative taken at the Berlin Conference - the Berlin Process, which is also providing support to the UN efforts.

NATO is also concerned about the increased Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean, in general, in Syria, but also, of course, in Libya. And we have to follow and monitor that very closely.

We have had discussions about the situation in Libya in NATO over the last weeks in several different formats. Libya is not on the agenda for the defence ministerial meeting, but I expect that Allies may raise that issue, because what’s happening in Libya has a direct impact on the security of especially our southern Allies, but actually for the whole of NATO.

PIERS CAZALET: And now we move to Ansgar Haase from DPA.

ANSGAR HAASE [DPA]: Thank you. Secretary General, last week, NATO recognised Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner. Can you tell me if this also means that Hungary has lifted its veto, blocking NATO-Ukraine Commission meetings at ministerial level? And if not, what does . . . does that mean for NATO? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, you’re right. NATO Allies have decided to grant Ukraine Enhanced Opportunity Partnership status, because Ukraine has proven to be a highly-valued partner for NATO. We work with them in many different ways. And this is a way to further deepening our partnership with Ukraine. On the issue of ministerial meetings in the NATO-Ukraine Commission, that issue is not yet solved. So that’s an issue we are still addressing and hope to find a way to solve.

PIERS CAZALET: Okay, and now we will go to Michael Peel from the Financial Times.

MICHAEL PEEL [Financial Times]: Can you hear me?

PIERS CAZALET: We can hear you. We can’t see you, but we can hear you.

MICHAEL PEEL: Yes. Okay. Thank you. Secretary General, thank you. Michael Peel from the Financial Times here. You talked about how a new arms race would be damaging for everybody. But given the developments which you’ve talked about, the development of new Russian missiles, Chinese missiles, and now the measures that NATO is taking on missiles, plus the collapse, or feared collapse, of various international agreements, isn’t a new arms race, unfortunately, exactly what we now have?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We are not back to where we were during the Cold War with a really dangerous arms race, especially an arms race in nuclear weapons. But there is a danger. And we see some very disturbing developments, including the demise of the INF Treaty, which was actually a cornerstone for arms control and disarmament, because it banned all intermediate-range weapons. The Russian deployment of the SSC-8 missile in clear, blatant violation of the INF Treaty led to the demise of the INF treaty. And then we have also seen the announcement, the deployment of different other Russian missiles systems, many of them also nuclear capable and, of course, altogether this is of concern.

But as I have stated many times, we don’t want a new arms race. That’s also why we are not going to mirror what Russia is doing. We have no plans to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe. And we will continue to strive for a dialogue with Russia, including strive for arms control and disarmament.

Allies have also expressed concern about the consequences of the rise of China, especially when it comes to their heavy investments in new, modern military capabilities. This is partly about investing in new nuclear warheads, but also about deploying, developing new delivery systems on land, at sea, in the air. And therefore, we call on China to engage constructively in arms control negotiations. As a global power, they have also global responsibility to engage in global arms control talks.

One of the challenges with China is that China has been very reluctant to engage in arms control and therefore also reluctant to engage in mechanisms that provide transparency regarding their nuclear weapon systems. And therefore, that in itself is a challenge that there is less transparency related to China’s weapons systems than, for instance, the US and Russia, which are part of international arms control agreements.

NATO, what NATO is doing is that we actually are not mirroring Russia, we are not deploying new land-based missiles. We are very focussed on a balanced package, also focussing on arms control, air and missile defence, more robust conventional capabilities, but delivered in a way, or composed in a way which is not leading to a new arms race. At least we will do whatever we can to prevent a new arms race from happening.

PIERS CAZALET: And for the final question, we will move to Nicolas Barotte from Le Figaro.

NICOLAS BAROTTE [Le Figaro]: Hi, Mr Secretary General. Do you hear me?


NICOLAS BAROTTE: I have two questions about the US decision to withdraw troops from Germany. First, from your point of view, what message does it send to Russia? And second, you said you don’t know how or when it could be implemented. Does it mean that it depends on the result of the presidential election in the US? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, the US has made it clear that no final decision has been made on how and when. And, therefore, I look forward to a dialogue within NATO about this issue. I think it’s important that this is an issue which is discussed in NATO and expect this to be an issue at the defence ministerial meeting. And also, I’ve already engaged in different bilateral talks about the US presence in Germany. So therefore, we have seen the statement from the US President, but the US has also made it clear that there has to be a process now to finalise and to make clear exactly how and when this will happen.

Well, I think it’s no way to speculate about the US elections, we work with the US administration. And we will then engage in, and we are already engaged in, a dialogue with the United States on this issue. It is a bilateral arrangement between the United States and Germany. But, of course, a US presence in Germany matters for the whole of NATO. And we have seen adjustments in the US presence in Europe before. And what we seen over the last years is actually increased US presence in many other European countries, including in Poland, the Baltic countries, the Black Sea Region. We have seen also in Spain with the new ships there - the new Aegis ships, which are of great importance for our missile defence system. And then we have seen more air and naval presence in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea and also in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea.

So, US presence - and also especially if you add the presence of Canadian troops – Canada is leading the battlegroup in Latvia – can come in many different forms. And it’s not limited to Germany alone. It’s about presence in many European countries, land, sea, air. And therefore, I think it is important that we have an open discussion about the presence. At the same time, I think we have to all realise that what we have seen over the last years is an increased US presence, but at the same time increased European investments in European defence. And this goes hand in hand. And altogether, this has led to the strongest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.

So, well, the thing is that we will now sit down, discuss this, and then, it is too early to say exactly how this will be implemented and when. And what matters to me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defence, and that we maintain the strong link between US and Europe, North America and Europe, because that’s good both for North America and for Europe.

PIERS CAZALET: That brings us to the end of this press conference. Thank you, everybody, for following us. We hope you will follow us again tomorrow after the first session of the meeting of defence ministers. Thank you.