Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers on 17 and 18 February at NATO Headquarters

  • 15 Feb. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 16 Feb. 2021 11:12

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 17 and 18 February

Good afternoon.
This week, NATO Defence Ministers will address key issues for our Alliance. 

This is our first meeting with the new Biden administration.
And an opportunity to prepare the NATO summit in Brussels later this year.

We will start discussing my proposals for NATO 2030.

We will also address burden-sharing, and our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will meet with our partners Finland, Sweden, as well as EU High Representative Borrell.

Our summit later this year, will be a unique opportunity to start a new chapter for transatlantic relations. 
When we meet, I want to present leaders an ambitious agenda for transatlantic security and defence.

That is what NATO 2030 is about.

So on Wednesday, I will present a set of proposals to Ministers to start preparations for the summit.

Let me outline the key points.

First, I will suggest to increase NATO’s funding for our core deterrence and defence activities.

This would support Allied deployments in our battlegroups in the eastern part of our Alliance, air policing, maritime deployments and exercises.

Spending more together would demonstrate the strength of our commitment to Article 5, our promise to defend each other. 
And it would contribute to fairer burden-sharing.

I will also propose to adopt clearer and more measurable national resilience targets to ensure a minimum standard of shared resilience among Allies.
And an annual review of vulnerabilities in Alliance critical infrastructure and technologies, including those stemming from foreign ownership and influence. 

To preserve our technological edge, I will propose a NATO defence innovation initiative. To promote interoperability and boost transatlantic cooperation on defence innovation.

I will also propose ways to increase political coordination between Allies.
With more consultations on more issues, including economic matters related to security.

We have the procedures in place to do this today. But what we need is more political will to use them.

We also need to take a more global approach to deal with global challenges.

China and Russia are at the forefront of an authoritarian pushback against rules-based international order.

So we should enhance our political dialogue and practical cooperation with like-minded partners to promote our values and protect our interests.

I will also propose to strengthen training and capacity building for partner countries in our neighbourhood, because prevention is better than intervention. 

We also need to address the security implications of climate change.
I will therefore propose that NATO should set the gold standard on reducing emissions from the military sector and contribute to the goal of net zero carbon emissions. And conduct an annual assessment of how climate change might impact our troops and deployments.

Finally, I will recommend to update NATO’s Strategic Concept.
To jointly address the changing strategic environment.
To recommit to our values.
And to reinforce the transatlantic bond.

This will be the start of our discussion on NATO 2030.
So I really look forward to hear the Ministers’ views, as I prepare and refine my proposals for the summit.  

On Thursday, we will turn to our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

NATO strongly supports the peace process in Afghanistan.
This is the best chance for a lasting political solution.
And all parties must accelerate progress to seize this historic opportunity.
NATO has significantly adjusted our presence as part of the peace process.

However, peace talks remain fragile.
And the level of violence remains unacceptably high.
Including Taliban attacks on civilians.

The Taliban must reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups.

Our common goal is clear:
Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands.

So our presence is conditions-based.
While no Ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right.

So Ministers will continue to assess the situation on the ground and monitor developments very closely.

We will continue to take all measures to ensure the safety of our troops.
And consider next steps in a deliberate and coordinated way. 

NATO’s mission in Iraq is another key contribution to the fight against international terrorism.

I expect Ministers will agree to launch an expanded mission, with more Allied personnel training and advising in more security institutions across the country.
The mission will expand gradually, in response to the situation.  

This follows requests from the Iraqi government, and close coordination with the Global Coalition.

So that together we can ensure that ISIS does not return.
Everything we do is underpinned by fairer burden-sharing across the Alliance.

Ministers will review progress.

2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending.
Since 2014, European Allies and Canada have contributed a cumulative extra of 190 billion US dollars.
Nine Allies are expected to spend 2 % of GDP on defence.
And twenty-four Allies are expected to spend at least 20 % of investment in equipment.

This is good news, but we must keep up the momentum. 

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

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: And the first question will go to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

THOMAS GUTSCHKER [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung]: Yes, thanks a lot to Secretary General. Do you expect a decision to be taken with the defence ministers on how long troops are going to remain in Afghanistan? And, as it is likely now, if they are going to stay there longer than the end of April, how likely is it, in your assessment, that the Taliban will agree to that? And is NATO prepared to send in more troops, if necessary, to protect the deployed troops? Thanks a lot.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: I will not pre-empt the conclusions of the defence ministerial meeting later this week, but what I can say is that we will remain coordinated and closely consult on the way forward in Afghanistan. And all NATO Allies strongly support the peace process. The process is fragile. We see hurdles and difficulties. But this process is the only way towards a lasting political peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. And therefore all parties need to seize on this historic opportunity and negotiate in good faith. And my message to the Taliban is that they have to reduce violence, they have to negotiate in good faith, and they have to live up to their commitment to not work with, support, international terrorist groups as al Qaeda. 

And we will monitor the developments on the ground in Afghanistan. We will consult closely as Allies. And the security of our troops is paramount. So we will take all necessary steps to ensure their security. No Ally would like to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. 

At the same time, we have to remember the reason why we went into Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan to prevent that country from being a platform, a safe haven, for international terrorists to plan, to organise, to prepare terrorist attacks on us. And this is the reason why we have been there for almost 20 years. And this is the reason why also we welcome the fact that over these years we have been able to train Afghan forces and enable them to now be in the frontline in the fight against terrorism and in the efforts of stabilising their own country. 

OANA LUNGESCU: We can go now to Fredrik Ljone Holst from NTB. 

FREDRIK LJONE HOLST [NTB]: Thank you. I’d like to go to your 2030 proposals, especially where you say that, ‘procedures are already in place for, as you say, more consultations on more issues, but that more political will is needed.’ If that will hasn’t been there before, as this seems to suggest, how will you make sure it’s there in the future? And more generally, how will you achieve all of those ambitions you’ve just laid out? And how many of them will you achieve in your just over a year left of tenure, I believe?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We have now a unique opportunity to reenergise and to strengthen the transatlantic bond. We have a new Biden administration which is strongly committed to North America and Europe working together. And we have the NATO 2030 agenda. And we have, also, the fact that we all face more challenges that we only can face together – no nation, no continent can face them alone. 

And we have the summit coming up later on this year. And all together, this provides us with an opportunity to open a new chapter in the transatlantic cooperation. 

My NATO 2030 agenda is an ambitious agenda because I really believe that we should be ambitious, faced with all these threats and challenges we face together. And, therefore, everything we can do to further strengthen this Alliance will be important for all of us. And more political consultations is one of the aims, no, one of the proposals I will include in my proposals for the ministers and later on for the heads of state and government when they meet later on this year. 

I strongly believe that NATO should consult more broadly, also on issues which are important for our security, but which are not always purely militarily. For instance, economic issues with clear security consequences are issues we should consult on. Technology, resilience – important for our security and our areas where I think we should consult more closely. 

I also believe that it actually will be an advantage if we also can convene not only ministers of defence, ministers of foreign affairs and heads of state and government as we do regularly, but also include, for instance, national security advisors, ministers for interior, to broaden the NATO agenda, to strengthen the consultations within this Alliance. 

Broader consultations also means that we should closely, even more closely, consult with partners, especially as we address the consequences of the rise of China and a more assertive Russia. So work with likeminded democracies is part of a strengthening of the political agenda and the political consultations within NATO. 

I am optimistic because NATO has proven extremely able to adapt and change when the world is changing and now we need to change again. And I’m confident that NATO will prove that we are able to do so. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we’ll go to London and Jonathan Beale from the BBC. 

JONATHAN BEALE [BBC]: Thank you. Thank you Secretary General, could you just . . . I think the original goal of the US-Taliban agreement was for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. Do you concede that is now not going to happen? If it doesn’t happen, where does that leave the peace process? And is it still possible that you could draw down your forces? You have 10,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan at the moment, could you still draw down that number? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO’s mission, you are right that in the US-Taliban government, the deadline is the 1st May for all international troops. NATO Allies supported the agreement when it was signed last year. I was in Kabul when the agreement was signed and we welcome that agreement because that has actually launched an intra-Afghan dialogue, negotiations between the parties in Afghanistan. And the only way to create lasting peace in Afghanistan is an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process. And that’s the reason why all NATO Allies supported the agreement and the following intra-Afghan negotiations. 

As I said, I will not pre-empt the conclusions of the ministerial meeting this week. But what I can say is that we need to find the right balance between making sure that we do not stay longer than necessary, but at the same time that we don’t leave too early, because we should not end up in a situation where Afghanistan, again, becomes a platform, a safe haven for international terrorists, which is actually the reason why we went in there. 

We will constantly assess the number of troops. We have significantly decreased the presence. Not so many years ago, we had a 130,000 troops in a combat operation, now we are roughly 10,000 – significantly fewer than we were just a year ago – in a train, assist and advise mission. And the reason why we can be there with a relatively low number, 10,000, is that we have been able to help the Afghans build their own capacity. And the Afghan security forces have proven professional, dedicated and committed to the task of stabilising their own country, fighting terrorism in their own country. 

We will stay committed to the Afghan security forces. We have promised to provide funding til 2024 and we continue to provide training. And then we will consult, we will coordinate, and then we will make decisions together, based on what we have said as Allies. We went in together, we will adjust together and when the time is right, we will leave together. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we’ll go to Mustafa Sarwar from Radio Free Europe. 

MUSTAFA SARWAR [Radio Free Europe]: Thank you very much, Mr Secretary General. What is your priority in Afghanistan, staying or leaving the country by May 1st, based on the US-Taliban deal? And has the Taliban fulfilled their counter-terrorism pledges based on the Doha agreement? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: Our priority is that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for international terrorists once again. And that has been the priority ever since we went into Afghanistan almost 20 years ago. And that is because that matters not only for the Afghans, but it matters for our security in NATO Allied countries. It was the 9/11 attack that led to the NATO Mission in Afghanistan. And our priority remains to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. 

But, of course, as we stay in Afghanistan, we also realise that one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces, is to build local capacity. So the more we can enable the Afghans to fight terrorism themselves and to stabilise their country themselves, the better. Better for the Afghans and better for NATO Allies. And that’s also the reason why we have been gradually able to reduce our presence and how, also, over the last year, significantly reduce our presence further to part of the peace process. So the last . . . you had one more question?

MUSTAFA SARWAR: Yeah. Has the Taliban fulfilled their counter-terrorism pledges based on the Doha agreement? 

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, what we see is that Taliban is responsible for violence. We see that there is still a need for Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments, including the commitment to break ties, to not provide any support for terrorist organisations that can plan, organise, attacks against us. So, Taliban needs to reduce violence, to negotiate in good faith and to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists, not provide them any support. 

Because the Afghan people want peace. The region wants peace in Afghanistan. And NATO Allies want peace in Afghanistan. And the best way to achieve that is to use this historic opportunity, the peace talks which are now taking place, and make sure that we have a lasting and negotiated peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. 

OANA LUNGESCU: The next question goes to Brooks Tigner from Jane’s Defence. 

BROOKS TIGNER [Jane’s Defence]: Can you hear me? 

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes, absolutely. Go ahead. 

BROOKS TIGNER: OK, fine. Yes, I just had a question about the NATO AGS fleet, which is being declared initial operating capability today. NATO says it will fly mostly in NATO and international space, but that leaves the door open for other regions. So two questions if I may. First, do you see any prospect for deploying the AGS birds over Libya? And has NATO been in any talks with the provisional government there? And secondly, what about other parts of Africa, such as Mali or Niger, both of which are having great difficulties surveying their northern territories? Is NATO in talks with any of these governments or the African Union or the Sahel G5 force, or do you foresee any talks in the future? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I’m pleased to announce today that our Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wolters, has declared that NATO’s fleet of new Alliance ground surveillance aircraft are now ready for missions. These are among the world’s most advanced reconnaissance drones, providing world-class intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the Alliance. 

And I had the pleasure of visiting the base we have established at Sigonella in Italy, in Sicily. And the people, the staff that are working on this project are top people, experts that are able to utilise all the information and gather and understand and analyse all the information these aircraft are providing to NATO and to Allies. 

The drones can fly for over 30 hours at a time, enabling us to cover the whole Euro-Atlantic area, from the High North to the Sahel, from the Middle East to the Atlantic. With five drones, we can monitor two regions around the clock. They will enable us to monitor wide areas from the sky, providing a comprehensive picture of conditions on the ground at any time. They can even identify improvised explosive devices. So they are a very useful tool in providing information, reconnaissance and intelligence. 

Allies will determine what missions they can support. But I would expect most flights to be along the Alliance’s eastern and southern borders. 

The fleet is vital in providing the capacity to monitor in response to any potential crisis. So, we can also deploy the aircraft in specific NATO missions and operations, but to do so we need a decision by Allies to deploy them in missions and operations outside the NATO territory. 

But flying along the borders, it provides us with very useful information about what is going on along our borders. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we go to Vivienne Machi from Defense News. 

VIVIENNE MACHI [Defense News]: Thank you very much for doing this today. My question has to do with investments in emerging and disruptive technologies. Can you talk a bit about to what extent those increased investments will be part of your discussions this week with defence ministers? Do you intend to emphasise more investment in standardisation and interoperability for future joint programmes across the Alliance? And finally, when might we see a NATO framework for emerging and disruptive technologies? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: Disruptive and emerging technologies are of great importance for NATO and for all Allies. Many of these technologies have dual use: civilian purposes, but also for military purposes. And we need to make sure that we maintain the technological edge by also making sure that we invest in disruptive and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, facial recognition, autonomous systems. And especially when you combine all these technologies, it will really impact the nature of warfare and the way we conduct our military operations and mission and different military activities. This is, of course, something we already do. But we need to make sure that we continue and that we keep the pace. 

Therefore I welcome the fact that NATO Allies are investing more in these capabilities and in emerging technologies. Just the fact that we are able to increase defence spending across the Alliance and that 20 percent of our budgets are now allocated to investments in new technologies, enables us to develop and also to make sure that we have military application of these new technologies. For instance, the drones we just spoke about - the Alliance Ground Surveillance Aircraft - they actually apply a use of disruptive technologies to be at the best state-of-the-art when it comes to how we use new technologies. 

So, first of all, we need to invest – and Allies are doing that – but we need to make sure that we continue to do so to maintain the technological edge. 

Second, we need to prevent a technological gap between Allies. I welcome, of course, that the Allies are investing more in new technologies, but we need to make sure that when different Allies have more and more advanced capabilities – aircraft, battle tanks, ships, drones, whatever it is – that they can communicate, that we don’t end up with a new technological gap. 

So everything related to interoperability and NATO standards has always been important for NATO, but if anything, it becomes even more important for NATO, as the platform to develop these standards, to make sure that our forces are interoperable in the light of disruptive and emerging technologies. 

And lastly, I strongly believe that we should also look into how NATO can be the platform to address ethical aspects of these technologies, to develop guideline standards on the ethical aspects of these technologies. 

One more thing, and that is that I think also NATO can play a role in helping start-ups and work with the private sector, as we look into how we can further strengthen our investments and the development of these new technologies. 

So, this is what I mean, when I say that we need a NATO innovation initiative and making sure to pool all our resources together, work together, because then we are much more able to both develop these technologies, but also make sure that we use them in a way which makes us able to work together. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, actually, I’ll have to read this out, because our colleague is struggling with a connection and this is from Alf Bjarne Johnsen, from VG. And his question is: ‘Your suggestion on a revised burden-sharing as part of NATO 2030 seems to be raising the joint spending over NATO’s military budget substantially. Can you detail that in numbers or percentage? And can you indicate which Allies would pay more or less, respectively, and what it means for a country like, say, Norway? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Today, the NATO way to provide NATO capabilities, deterrence and defence activities like, for instance, the battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance, air policing, standing naval forces, is financed in the way that the country that provides the capabilities also provides the funding. So, if you send some troops to the NATO battlegroup in Lithuania, as Norway does, then Norway pays for that. I think that we should change that. 

So actually, NATO contributes to covering those costs. Partly because just by paying for more together, we demonstrate a commitment to Article 5, to deterrence and defence, which will enhance our cohesion, our political unity. Because our political unity is based on our commitment to defend and protect each other. 

Second, I also believe that if we have NATO funding to some of these activities: battlegroups, exercises, air policing – then we’ll also incentivise Allies to provide more of these capabilities. It will help us to make sure that Allies are contributing to these different deterrence and defence activities. 

And thirdly, it will help to improve fair burden-sharing, improve burden-sharing within this Alliance, because I think it’s, actually, it’s unfair that those countries who are providing the troops, the planes, the ships to NATO deterrence and defence activities, they also cover all the costs. So by making sure that we pay more of that together, over the NATO budget, it will be a fairer distribution of costs and it will contribute to fairer burden-sharing within our Alliance. 

This is important also because burden-sharing is, of course, about spending 2 percent, and spending more and Allies to deliver on that. And we have seen significant progress. We need to make sure that that continues. But burden-sharing is also about contributions. And my proposals aim at, actually, making sure that we have fairer burden-sharing, not only when it comes to spending, defence budgets to present, but also when it comes to contributions. And it will strengthen our deterrence and defence; it will demonstrate a renewed commitment to collective defence.

OANA LUNGESCU: The next question is from Nick Fiorenza, also in London, from Jane’s. Go ahead Nick. 

NICK FIORENZA: Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. I was actually interested in asking how . . . how it is to deal with the Biden administration or how you expect it to differ from dealing with the Trump administration over the last four years. What differences do you expect in NATO’s course over the next four years and what policies pursued over the last four years will continue? Many were expecting Trump to withdraw from NATO if he had won a second term, but . . . and according to the BBC documentary last . . . last week, Trump was actually on the verge of announcing that withdrawal during the 2018 NATO summit in Brussels. Can you confirm that? And then speaking of summits, can you give us a more specific date of the first summit with . . . with Biden? Is that going to be next month? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it’s no secret that over the last four years, we had some difficult discussions inside NATO, but now we look to the future. And the future is that we now have an administration in the United States, in Washington, which is strongly committed to the transatlantic bond, to NATO, to Europe and North America working together. I welcome that and I have spoken with President Biden twice since the elections. And in both those conversations, he has been very strong, very clear on the importance of rebuilding alliances and further strengthening NATO. And my NATO 2030 proposals are actually an agenda for how that can be done, to utilise this unique opportunity to open a new chapter in the transatlantic relations. 
I look forward to welcoming Secretary Austin to the defence ministerial meeting here in Brussels, for the virtual meeting later on this week. And also, when I spoke to him, he conveyed the same message about support for NATO, support for North America and Europe working closely together. And, also Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State, the same message. 

So, we all know that President Biden knows NATO very well. He has participated in many NATO meetings before in his previous capacities. I have had the privilege of working with him in his previous capacities, and I look forward to welcoming him, together with all the other NATO leaders, at our summit in Brussels later this year. So we have now the possibility to really rebuild our alliances. And I look forward to doing that, all of us together. 

OANA LUNGESCU: OK, the next question is from Lailuma Sadid from the Kavian Press Agency. Go ahead, Lailuma. 

LAILUMA SADID [The Kavian Press Agency]: Yes, can you hear me? 

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes, we can. 

LAILUMA SADID: Yeah, thank you very much for this press conference, and I hope for this two days’ meeting will be good result for the Afghanistan. I would like to ask if the new administration in the US, under Mr Joe Biden leadership decide to walk out of the US-Taliban agreement, what decision will NATO make? And second one: how do you defend NATO Mission in Afghanistan after 20 years? Because in twenty years . . . in 2000, there was only two terrorist groups and now we have in Afghanistan more than 20 insurgent and terrorist groups. Thank you very much. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: We will now assess the situation. We will assess and monitor the situation on the ground and also to what extent Taliban is making good on their commitments, their commitments they signed to in the US-Taliban agreement. 

What really is important is that we do this together. And Secretary Austin has, as the other US officials, clearly expressed that they will make these assessments, they will consult closely with Allies as we all make decisions together regarding the future of a NATO presence in Afghanistan. 

And one of the issues we have to then closely monitor is compliance with the agreement. And Taliban has to reduce violence. They have to negotiate in good faith. And they have to respect the promise they made in the agreement to not provide any kind of support to terrorist groups that are planning attacks on our countries. 

So, again, I will not pre-empt the outcome of the meeting later on today. But what I can say is that we will make the decisions, together, and we will consult and assess the way forward in Afghanistan together. 

There are many problems in Afghanistan and we see different terrorist groups, we’ve also seen ISIS trying to get a foothold in Afghanistan. But at least compared to where we were before NATO went in, Afghanistan, it’s no longer ruled by Taliban, it’s no longer a country where the terrorist groups like al Qaeda can operate freely, train, fund, organise attacks on our countries. So at least we have achieved that. 

And the second thing we have achieved is that we have been able to support social and economic progress in Afghanistan. We have a vibrant media, press. We have women that have rights they didn’t have before. And we have also seen a much more professional, much stronger Afghan security force because, not least, of the support from NATO-Allied countries. 
So we have made some significant progress and we need to make sure that we don’t jeopardise this progress as we now move forward together. 

OANA LUNGESCU: We can take another question from Teri Schultz at NPR. Go ahead, Teri. 

TERI SCHULTZ: OK, thank you. Sorry, just another follow up on Afghanistan. Mr Secretary General, you had wanted there to be a decision at this meeting about whether to stay or go, or at least a very clear direction with all NATO Allies onboard. Of course, that can’t happen now with the Biden administration reviews underway. But are you then concluding that the May 1st deadline is in no way possible for US troops and other international troops to follow, because you would have wanted to know by now if that was happening? And how do you view the results of the Afghanistan Study Group that say not only should there be a negotiation underway immediately to extend that deadline, but that troops should be increased? I know that you were asked this before, but with the Study Group’s recommendation of going up to 4,500, would NATO Allies be ready for that? Would they back that, would they back that call to . . . to again send more troops into Afghanistan? Thanks. And sorry, and about the women: you just mentioned the gains by . . . by civil society, those people are very worried that if you were to pull out, all those gains would be lost. Surely you hear those calls as well? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, I heard . . . I hear the calls from many Afghans on the importance of not jeopardising the gains we have made in Afghanistan, both in the fight against international terrorism, but also when it comes to social and economic progress, not least for women. 

And that’s the reason why we need to take these decisions so very seriously and why we need to follow so closely and analyse so closely the consequences of the different options. And we need to be prepared for different options and different scenarios and look into them in a coordinated way. 

The meeting among … the defence ministerial meeting later on this week will, of course, be important and Afghanistan will be on the agenda. But we are able to consult in NATO also without ministers attending the same meeting, because we have regular consultations here at the headquarters. We are able to consult directly with capitals. And, if need be, we can also convene a meeting of ministers on short notice, not least since most of our meetings now are virtual. 

So we will make decisions together, but we will make the decision when we think the time is right and we will make it based on all the information that all Allies are able to provide, and especially United States still being the country with the largest number of troops and capabilities in Afghanistan. 

But, as you know, the majority of the NATO troops in Afghanistan now are not US troops. They are actually from European Allied countries and partner countries. So it shows that a NATO presence in Afghanistan is more than the United States. It’s the United States and Allies and partners and it demonstrates the value for the United States of having 29 Allies and a lot of partners working with them, for instance, in addressing the challenges we face in Afghanistan.

OANA LUNGESCU: And for the very final question, we go to Canada, to Lee Berthiaume from The Canadian Press. 

LEE BERTHIAUME [The Canadian Press]: Yes, thank you. Thanks for talking to us today. I wanted to go back to burden-sharing. You mentioned the continued importance of burden-sharing, and Canada is one of those countries that have yet to lay out a plan, any plan, to reach the 2 percent target and has indicated that it believes the target is not really a valid measurement of burden-sharing and that there are other ways contributions should be assessed. I was hoping you could Speak to Canada’s failure to present a plan to reach the 2 percent target, given we’re only three years away from 2024; whether there are talks around changing that as a measurement of burden-sharing as part of your 2030 plan; and whether you are worried about the progress that has been made across the Alliance on burden-sharing, because of the economic damage that has been wrought by Covid-19. Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I expect all Allies to implement what we agreed back in 2014, and that was to increase defence spending and we have set up the goal of 2 percent of GDP for defence. 

The good news is that all Allies have started to increase defence spending after many years of cutting defence budgets, since 2014 all Allies have increased. And it’s a huge difference between reducing by some billions every year and now we see some extra billions adding to defence budgets across the Alliance every year. And in total, this is $190 billion extra for defence across Europe and Canada. Canada has also increased. 

We appreciate the increased defence spending we have seen in Canada. I expect this to continue, but I also would like to highlight that a fair burden-sharing is not only about spending, it’s also about contributions. And we see how Canada contributes, for instance, to our collective defence in Europe. Canada leads one of the battlegroups, the combat-ready battlegroups we have deployed in the Baltic countries. They lead the battlegroup in Latvia. I’ve been there and seen myself, the professionalism, the commitment of the Canadian soldiers. I think it demonstrates really a transatlantic unity that we have Canadian troops, combat-ready, in the eastern part of our Alliance in the Baltic region. 

And with my proposal under the NATO 2030 agenda, I actually recognise this, because I strongly believe that it will be fair if the country that deploys troops does not cover all the costs, but actually that NATO, that we pay together, that we fund together more of the costs. So that’s the reason why I propose that we should increase funding for deterrence and defence activities, like the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia, of the NATO budget. Because now we have a system where those countries that provide the troops also cover all the costs. And I think it’s more fair if those countries that provide the cost at least get something covered by NATO of the NATO budget. So, burden-sharing is about spending 2 percent, but burden-sharing is also about contributions and capabilities. And I welcome what I see from Canada, especially when it comes to contributions to our missions and operations and collective defence activities in Europe. 

OANA LUNGESCU: Many thanks to everybody who joined us. This concludes this press conference and we’ll see you, virtually, at the ministerial later this week. Thank you.