Online press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the first day of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 01 Dec. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 01 Dec. 2020 20:41

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the first day of the meetings of the North Atlantic Council at the level of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

Good afternoon.

We have just concluded the first session of this meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers. We had a good, constructive exchange. And I am looking forward to when I can once again welcome all the ministers here in Brussels, in person. We discussed NATO2030 and how to further adapt our Alliance for the future. We also addressed Russia. And the situation in Afghanistan.

NATO supports the Afghan peace process. And as part of that, we have adjusted our presence. While United States has decided to further reduce its troop numbers to 2,500, NATO’s training mission continues. And over half of our forces are, now, non-US. Ministers made clear that all Allies remain committed to the mission. And to supporting Afghan security forces in the fight against terrorism.As we continue to assess the situation in Afghanistan, it is clear that we will face a turning point early next year.

If we stay, we risk continued fighting. And an even longer-term engagement. 
If we leave, we risk Afghanistan once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And the loss of the gains made with such sacrifice.

So there is a price for staying longer. But there is also a price for leaving too soon. We will have to take some hard decisions when NATO defence ministers meet next February. But whatever we decide, we must do it in a coordinated and orderly way. 

We also discussed Russia’s continued military build-up in our neighbourhood. As well as arms control. We see Russia violating and undermining treaties. And deploying new weapons. Ministers expressed support for preserving limitations of nuclear weapons. And for developing a more comprehensive arms control regime. We all know that the New START treaty will expire next February, so time is running out. We welcome the dialogue between the United States and Russia to find a way forward. Because we should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads. We are adapting NATO’s deterrence posture to address Russia’s destabilising actions. At the same time, we all agree that we must continue to pursue dialogue with Russia.

We also addressed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Working together here at NATO, we recently developed a military de-confliction mechanism between Greece and Turkey. A hotline between the two Allies. And the cancellation of specific military exercises. I am committed to strengthening this mechanism further, to build more comprehensive confidence-building measures.

We also discussed the NATO2030 project on how we can make our strong Alliance even stronger. Earlier this year, I appointed a group of experts to support my work on NATO’s continued adaptation. The group, led by co-chairs Thomas de Maizière and Wess Mitchell, has now finalised its work. Today the co-chairs briefed Ministers on their findings. And we have just made their report public. I want to thank all the members of the group for their efforts and dedication.  

Their report shows that NATO is agile. It recognises that in recent years we have been able to adapt, both militarily and politically. The report also demonstrates that political consultation and decision-making work at NATO. So we build on solid foundations.  he group’s work concludes today, and is one input into NATO2030.

I will continue to consult with civil society, parliamentarians, young leaders, the private sector, and of course with Allies. I will then prepare my recommendations for NATO Leaders when they meet next year. The goal is to keep NATO as a strong military Alliance. Make it more united politically. And with a more global approach.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: And for the first question, we can go to Ansgar Haase from DPA.

ANSGAR HAASE [Deutsche Presse-Agentur]: Secretary General, a quick question on the NATO 2030 project. Currently the Secretary General of NATO has not much room for manoeuvre when it comes to the decision-making process. Do you think it could be useful to bolster the Secretary General’s chief executive role, to strengthen NATO’s decision-making or perhaps at least to increase the delegated authorities? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: So, we just finalised the discussion among the foreign ministers on the report today and I welcome the report. There are many proposals in the report. What I will do now is that I will continue this process whereby consulting with Allies, but also, of course, consulting with civil society, with parliamentarians, with many other actors. And, based on that, I will then put forward my proposals for the heads of state and government when they meet next year here in Brussels. My aim is to put forward strategic-level proposals, a few, for the heads of state and government when they meet.

What is clear is that the report contains a lot of very relevant and good analysis. It states clearly that NATO is the most successful alliance in history and that this Alliance is indispensable. And it also states that the reason why NATO has been able to achieve so much is that we have been able to change. And we need to continue to change. And that’s also the reason why I stated, said, some months ago that I think the time has come to update NATO’s Strategic Concept. And I think that will reflect the fact that the security environment has fundamentally changed since we adopted the current Concept in 2010. And, again, this will be one of the different proposals I will now consult with Allies on and then finalise my recommendations for them when the leaders meet next year.

OANA LUNGESCU: And for the next question, we can go to Romania and Radu Tudor from Antena 3.

RADU TUDOR [Antena 3 TV]: Thank Oana Lungescu. Secretary General, I wanted to ask what this interesting expert’s report mentioning about Article 5, about burden-sharing and about the concept that brings a bit of war here in Eastern Europe, the strategic autonomy launched by European Union. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, the report contains a strong message on the importance of North America and Europe standing together; the value, both for Europe and North America, that we have a strong NATO. So, the purpose of NATO 2030 and the message in the report, which is an input into the NATO 2030 project, is that we should make a strong Alliance even stronger. And, of course, Article 5, being the core commitment of our Alliance, is essential. And for me, this report is only one way to communicate, also, that message: the importance of standing committed to our Article 5.

I have stated many times before that more EU efforts on defence is something we should welcome, because more EU efforts on defence will also help to strengthen NATO, because increased defence investments, addressing the fragmentation of the European defence industry, that will actually be good for all of us. It will strengthen Europe, it will strengthen NATO. But any attempt to weaken the transatlantic bond, the bond between Europe and North America, that will not only weaken NATO, but it will also weaken Europe. European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. Any attempt to distance Europe from North America will actually divide Europe. So, we need to do this together, not as an alternative to each other.

OANA LUNGESCU: And we now come back to Brussels and Maria Psara from Ethnos Open TV. Maria, go ahead, please.

MARIA PSARA [Ethnos Greece]: Hello and thank you for the question. On the East Med, you referred to the cancellation of specific military exercises. It was not clear to me, you mean the one in October or new exercises, because ‘Naftex’ from Turkey are going on? And you said that you will try to strengthen the deconfliction mechanism. How can this be done in a way that both Greece and Turkey would accept? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I mean, those exercises that had already been cancelled and that shows that we are able, when we sit down and work on these issues, to actually build confidence measures to reduce tensions and to establish deconfliction mechanisms. They are in place, they are working. Information has been exchanged, the channels for communications are open. And the examples of cancellation of exercises shows that.

Then, I have told the ministers today that I am ready to further develop to strengthen the deconfliction mechanism here at NATO. It is important that, of course, we can do this because we meet here every day. And we have been able to do this now. But I think also that we can learn something from what we did in the 80s and the 90s, because then we also had a very difficult situation in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece. And then actually what happened was that we saw deconfliction by actually cancelling several military exercises, but also actually limiting the geographical area where exercises were going to be held. I’m not saying that we can copy that today, but at least we can look into what we did a couple of decades ago and see if that can be relevant also today.

At the end of the day, this is about political will and for NATO, of course, it is important to help, to support and to do what we can to reduce tensions, to deconflict, because we are concerned about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

OANA LUNGESCU: The next question goes to Lailuma Sadid from Afghan Voice.

LAILUMA SADID [Afghan Voice]: Thank you very much for giving me time to ask my question. Secretary General, yesterday you said Taliban can reduce the level of violence. If I may ask why you are not saying that Taliban must stop violence instead of reducing? And also if US pull out all their troops from Afghanistan, some analysts say that they are sending the troops in Middle East because of the threat from coming from Iran. So America is the most important Allies of NATO. What is your reaction? And also, if I may ask the other question about the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, some . . . in this base there, some equipment by United States they are destroyed or they are given to other countries. And the Afghan army said the Resolute Support Mission, especially for their Training Mission, is not very useful. What’s your . . . your message for them and what they are doing with the Resolute Support Mission for the future? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO Allies, all NATO Allies, so, of course, also including the United States, we are committed to continue to support the Afghan security forces. For nearly two decades, we have helped to train and support the Afghan security forces. And we recently decided to continue the funding for the Afghan security forces throughout 2024.

Then we also, of course, have stated many times that we will not stay in Afghanistan with our military presence for longer than necessary. And we welcome the fact that for the first time in these two decades, there are now direct talks between Taliban and the Afghan government.

It’s far too early to say whether these talks will succeed, but they are the only path, they are the only real possibility, chance, for a political settlement of the crisis in Afghanistan.
And, therefore, we will have to make an assessment next year about whether we deem the situation, what should I say . . . or the conditions in place for us to further reduce and eventually leave Afghanistan, or whether we have to stay. That is a decision we will then take based on consultations between all NATO Allies. The defence ministerial meeting in February will be an important meeting. And we have to remember that this is something that the whole of NATO and, actually, also several partners are part of. The US is, of course, the biggest Ally and US had, over the years, had the largest number of troops in Afghanistan, but now the majority of the troops in Afghanistan, the foreign troops in Afghanistan are from European Allies and partner countries – non-US troops. So this is really a joint effort.

We call on Taliban to reduce violence, but of course, that’s only the first step. What we need to see is a lasting peace agreement. And part of that has to be a ceasefire. So, the reduction of violence should only be the first step. The ambition is intra-Afghan peace solution. And, of course, that has to include a comprehensive ceasefire.

OANA LUNGESCU: We have the next question from Yannis Palaiologos from Kathimerini.

YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS [Kathimerini]: I wanted to ask if you have any comment on reports that there were some quite sharp exchanges today in teleconference, among others, between the US and Turkey, whether you’re concerned about the fact that Turkish policy is a recurrent source of tension in recent NATO meetings? And also, could you tell us something more about what you mean by ‘strengthening the deconfliction mechanism’, strengthening it in what way, precisely? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we have seen is that the deconfliction mechanism is working. It has helped to reduce the risks for incidents and accidents. We have seen that’s a real risk. We have seen that before, in the 1990s. We actually had casualties when we had incidents and accidents between Greek and Turkish ships and planes. And the aim is to prevent anything similar from happening again. And, if it happens, at least prevent incidents or accidents between two NATO Allies to spiral out of control.

And just by establishing direct line of communications; a hotline and the commitment to use it to exchange information, and also building confidence by cancelling at least some exercises, we have seen that the deconfliction mechanism has helped to reduce the risks, for incidents and accidents.

I am ready to further strengthen that. But, of course, the only way to do that is in close consultation with Greece and Turkey. These are technical talks between our militaries here at NATO. I have spoken with the political leadership in Athens, the political leadership in Ankara, but of course, the talks themselves are taking place at a technical level, a military level, here at NATO.

We can increase the number of exercises that are cancelled. We can look into the potential geographic limitations. There are different possibilities. But, of course, all of this depends on the political will of Greece and Turkey. But, I’m ready to help, to support and to further strengthen the deconfliction mechanism, which already has proven valuable to try to reduce the risks.
Having said that, we have to understand that the deconfliction mechanism is addressing one challenge: the risks for incidents and accidents between military forces from two NATO Allies in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is not solving the underlying main problem. But I hope that the more successful we are in developing and strengthening the deconfliction mechanism, the more we can also help to pave the way to support the efforts – and also the German-led efforts – to address the underlying main problem.

So, we address the issue of deconfliction and then we hope that that also can support the efforts of other countries, especially Germany, to facilitate negotiations, political negotiations on the underlying main problem.

OANA LUNGESCU: And we now go to Paris and Jacques Hubert-Rodier from Les Echos.

JACQUES HUBERT-RODIER [Les Echos]: Thank you very much Secretary General to take my question. I think last year, the President, Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was ‘brain dead’. I know it was certainly a provocative sentence, but I want to know if the report on NATO 2030 is an answer and if it means, as an answer, a new awakening for NATO?

JENS STOLTENBERG: All Allies asked me last year to conduct this process. I appointed the expert group; they have now delivered the report to me. That finalises the work of the group. We will now move into the second phase of this process. I will consult with Allies and then put forward my strategic-level proposals for the heads of state and government when they meet next year.

The report states very clearly that NATO is agile, that NATO is the most successful alliance in history, and that we have been able to adapt and change. Actually, one of the main reasons why we are the successful Alliance is exactly that we have been constantly able to adapt and change as the world is changing. And that’s exactly the purpose of NATO 2030. And the reason why I appointed the group was to make sure that we continue to adapt and the report highlights the importance of both the successes of NATO, that NATO is an indispensable Alliance, but also the need to continue to change. And that’s exactly what we are doing.

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we go to Levan Akhalaia from Georgian Public Broadcaster.

LEVAN AKHALAIA [Georgian Public Broadcaster]: Thank you. Good afternoon, Secretary General, I want to ask you about NATO 2030 and especially about the Black Sea Region. Is it mentioned in this NATO 2030 – and also especially Georgia? And also about China, because China is investing in infrastructure in Black Sea Region, and how would NATO react to this?

JENS STOLTENBERG: One important part of the report is, of course, also to address the fact that we are faced with more and more global challenges. And one of the aims with NATO 2030 is to make NATO a more global Alliance, or at least that we have a more global approach. We should remain a regional Alliance, a North Atlantic Alliance, but we need a global approach, because more and more of the threats and challenges we face are global.

One of them is the rise of China. And we see that China is coming closer to us, investing heavily in infrastructure in NATO countries, in Europe, also in the Black Sea Region. And, as you know, three Black Sea countries are NATO countries, two are NATO partners, Ukraine and Georgia. And for NATO, we realise the importance of resilience, of protecting our critical infrastructure. And we have developed and we are strengthening our requirements, what we call baseline requirements for resilience, to critical infrastructure, telecommunications, a continuation of government, health, and many other critical services in our societies.

So, as we adapt, as we change, resilience – protecting infrastructure – will be an important part of that. It’s too early to say exactly how I will reflect that in my proposals for heads of state and government, but I’m certain that resilience, and also the importance of working with partners, will be one of the challenges I have to address when I put forward my proposals.

OANA LUNGESCU: The next question goes to Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency.

ALEX RAUFOGLU [Turan News Agency]: Yes, good afternoon. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Secretary General, what steps should NATO take to boost its role in resolving frozen conflicts to avoid new outbreaks of violence, given recent hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia? And do you agree with assessments that Russia is, in fact using, you know, frozen conflicts to prevent NATO enlargement? And secondly, if I may, any comment on Turkish-Russian agreement today on a joint centre to control a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh? Thanks so much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, it depends on which frozen conflicts you talk about, and sometimes there also are different assessments whether a conflict is frozen or not. The main message is that we need political processes, we need to prevent fighting and violence. And, of course, we welcome the cessation of violence, of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. So, that’s the main message there.

NATO is not part of that conflict. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are partners of NATO, but we, as an Alliance, are not part of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

OANA LUNGESCU: And for the final question, we go to Momchil Indjov from Club Z Media Group in Bulgaria.

MOMCHIL INDJOV [Club Z Media Group]: Your Excellency, has NATO discussed and does NATO . . . does the NATO see any possibility of Russian military intervention in Belarus or Moldova, or in Belarus and Moldova? Taking into account the last events in both countries, the destabilisation of the Lukashenko regime due to the protests and yesterday, statement of the newly . . . new-elected Moldovan president about Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria. Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on Moldova, NATO Allies support strongly the territorial integrity and the independence of Moldova.

On Belarus. We support the territorial integrity and independence of Belarus. And the future of Belarus should be decided by the people of Belarus. We are, of course, concerned about what we see, the crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and the lack of respect for fundamental democratic rights in Belarus. No, we should leave it to the people of Belarus to decide the future for that country. So, there should be no foreign intervention. And, of course, Russia should not intervene in democratic processes or try to suppress the will of the people in Belarus.
When it comes to Moldova, I would like to congratulate the new president. Moldova is a partner country of NATO. I look forward to meet her at some stage, because as a partner we, of course, appreciate also the cooperation with Moldova as a partner of our Alliance.

We see how Russia has deployed troops in violation of the wishes of different governments in our close neighbourhood, how Russia has illegally annexed Crimea, how they continue to destabilise eastern Ukraine, how there are Russian troops in parts of Georgia, and also how there are troops in Moldova, in Transnistria. And this is a violation of the territorial integrity of Moldova and is yet another example of how Russia far too often does not respect international law and the territorial integrity of countries, including Moldova.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Secretary General, over to you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much and thank you for joining me today. And please stay safe, all of you. Thank you.