Joint press point

by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo

  • 04 Feb. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Feb. 2021 11:44

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, Prime Minister De Croo, dear Alexander. Thank you for the warm welcome.

And also, thank you for your personal commitment to NATO, to our transatlantic bond.

And, as you know, NATO has been here in Brussels for 50 years so Belgium has been the host nation for NATO for 50 years. And also, thank you for being such a great host nation for NATO and for our staffs.

I also would like to thank you Belgium for your contributions to our shared security, to our collective defence. You are part of our military presence in the Baltics, in Lithuania. You help to keep the skies safe by participating in air policing in the Baltic region.

And you are part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. This is an important mission fighting national terrorism and helping the Afghans to fight terrorism themselves. To train, assist and advise them.

We will discuss the future of NATO's presence in Afghanistan at the upcoming Defence Ministerial meeting this month. Because we are faced with a real dilemma: either to leave as is stated in the US-Taliban agreement, or to stay. And we will assess that very carefully. Also, look into whether the Taliban meets the conditions enshrined in the agreement between the US and the Taliban.

Today, we talked about many different issues which are important for our shared security. We addressed the strong bond between Europe and North America. And the new administration in the United States provides a unique opportunity to re- energise, to revitalise the transatlantic bond.

And I look forward to welcoming President Biden to the NATO Summit here in Brussels later this year. And I'm confident that the summit will demonstrate the strength of the bond between Europe and North America.

One example of how Europe and North America are working together is that Allies on both sides of the Atlantic and NATO has been on the forefront of efforts on arms control. And, therefore, I also welcome the announcement yesterday that the New START agreement will be extended for five more years. This is the last remaining agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads between Russia and the United States. But the extension of New Start should not be the end of a process; it is the beginning of an effort to further strengthen international arms control, so that in the future we can have arms control agreements covering more weapons systems, and including more nations … countries including China.

At the NATO Summit in Brussels later this year, we will address the NATO 2030 initiative. This is about keeping NATO strong militarily, making NATO stronger politically, and taking a more global approach. NATO 2030 looks at how we can deepen our cooperation with partners including with the European Union.

I am proud that we have been able over the last years to lift the NATO-EU cooperation to unprecedented levels. And when EU and NATO stand together, when you work together, we are a powerful force for stability and security.

And I count on Belgium's leadership in strengthening our strategic partnership with the European Union.

I would also like to say that we are grateful for the support we have received from the Belgium government during the pandemic – the COVID-19 pandemic. Belgium and NATO have gone through the coronavirus pandemic together.

My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19.

And I want to pay tribute to all the Belgian frontline staff for their tireless work to ease suffering, and save lives.

And I want to pay tribute to the Belgian armed forces for their crucial support during the crisis. This includes providing medical equipment, transport, COVID testing and help with the vaccination. Right across the Alliance, armed forces have been essential to the civilian air response to COVID-19.

This proves once again the importance of investing in defence to keep our militaries strong.

So, Alexander, thank you for our discussion today. I look forward to continuing working with you.

And, once again, thank you for Belgium's strong commitment towards the transatlantic Alliance. Thank you.

Inaudible - question on NATO presence in Afghanistan

NATO Secretary General: We are faced with a difficult decision, and we have to make that together. Because my message is that there will be costs and challenges, whatever we decide.
If we decide to leave, we risk to jeopardize the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years, and we risk that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists.

On the other hand, if we decide to stay, Of course we will continue to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan, and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops.

So my message to all NATO Allies is that whatever we decide we need to do together. We went into Afghanistan together. We should adjust our presence there together, and when the time is right we should leave together.

My message to Taliban is that they have to live up to their commitments, especially when it comes to breaking old ties with international terrorists including Al Qaeda. And we need to see reduced violence.

We see continued violence in Afghanistan, we have seen attacks, also against individuals, journalists, and others, and of course the high level of violence is something which is of great concern. So, we will make the assessment together, we will make the decision together, and this will be one of the most important topics that will be discussed when we have a NATO Defence Ministerial meeting later this month and decisions will be made.

Prime Minister of Belgium: And maybe to add, but to really align with the Secretary General said, on the Belgium side we are committed to this NATO mission, and the words “together” you mentioned it multiple times I think that's the key. We made the decision together to intervene.
If we adjust, well we should decide together to adjust, at some point we will leave Afghanistan. That's the goal. But to make that decision together, so I think that what needs to happen now, is an evaluation that we do together and you laid it out quite well, what are the consequences of option A and option B are.

Question: Secretary General, we have a new President in the United States. If you look back to the previous administration, did you ever feel that NATO wouldn't survive this administration.  In relation to that, under the previous administration Member States like, Belgium, were under huge pressure to spend more on defence. Can they now relax with President Biden?

NATO Secretary General: There's no denying that over the last four years we had some challenging times and there's no secret that also I had some difficult discussions with the former President.

Having said that, I think that what makes NATO strong, is that it is in the security interests of both Europe and North America, the United States, to stand together. And looking at the United States we see a very strong bipartisan support for NATO.

So, I saw this myself when I had the honour of addressing a Joint Session of the US Congress. The strong support from both Republican and Democrat, the democratic side, to NATO.

Despite the differences, and despite the difficulties we have seen over the last years, actually we have seen that North America and Europe, the United States and Europe, we are doing more together in NATO, than we have done in many years.

We have more exercises, more US troops, increased activities, European and North American allies together in Europe.

So I think the strength of the transatlantic bond is demonstrated by what you actually do. And also the fact that we have seen more US military presence in Europe over the last years.

We have seen the US stepping up, but we're also seeing European allies stepping up. Both when it comes to readiness of armed forces, Belgium is part of the, one of the new Battle Groups we have deployed in eastern part of the alliance in the Baltic countries in Poland, but also by the fact that across the whole Alliance, all European Allies and Canada have started to increase defence spending. We made the decision back in 2014, when actually President Biden was the Vice President for President Obama, and since then we have seen a steady increase also in Belgium, in defence spending.

This has to continue. Because we have seen significant progress, European Allies are stepping up, but we still have a way to go.

And therefore I expect the Allies to continue to deliver on their pledge. And to invest more in defence.

Prime Minister of Belgium: Maybe to continue on that, what we see is an ambition to rejuvenate the transatlantic partnership, and that is a good thing.

But that means that on the European side, we have to play our role. We have to play our role as the Secretary General said, in continuing our increases in military spending and I think Belgium has over the past years made very clear, the investments that we will be doing and that is not being questioned. On the contrary, it also means that between European countries, we need to cooperate for understanding where the gaps in capabilities are, where we can make the choices where we reinforce ourselves, we have to be very clear.

If we want to have more strategic autonomy for Europe, then we have to play our role, and we have to be ready to play our role also in our backyard and not always be dependent on other countries to take the role.

This is a message which is related to security but also related to political voice, and to more unity in the voice we have in foreign topics and foreign policy.

Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you so much.