Online press conference

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

  • 17 Feb. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 17 Feb. 2021 21:57

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after the first day of the Defence Ministers meetings

Good afternoon.

We have just concluded the first day of the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers.
We had a positive and stimulating discussion.

This is our first ministerial meeting with the new Biden administration.
And an important milestone in our preparations for our summit later this year. 


We have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in relations between Europe and North America.

We face global challenges that no country and no continent can tackle alone.

That is why I launched NATO 2030 initiative.
To make our transatlantic Alliance fit for the future.

I have put forward a number of ambitious proposals to prepare for our summit.

They cover key areas.

Strengthening our commitment to deterrence and defence, by providing incentives to Allies to contribute more capabilities, and ensure fairer burden sharing.

We also need to raise our level of ambition when it comes to resilience, which is our first line of defence.

And we must do more to promote transatlantic cooperation on defence innovation.
So that NATO keeps its technological edge.

My proposals also include improving our ability to train and build capacity in NATO partner countries.
Because this is a more sustainable way to contribute to stability in our neighbourhood, and to fight terrorism.

Political coordination among Allies is another important area for NATO2030.
To use NATO more as a platform for consultation and coordination, on more issues and in more formats.
At the same time, we need to enhance our political and practical cooperation with like-minded democracies around the world.

So we can protect the rules-based order, which is undermined by countries that do not share our values, like Russia and China.

NATO must also do more to address the security implications of climate change.
This affects all of us and our Alliance must play its role, by reducing vulnerabilities and emissions from the military sector.  
Finally, this is the time to update NATO’s Strategic Concept.
So that we address existing and emerging challenges, recommit to our values, and reinforce the bond between Europe and North America.

Today we had a great start to our discussion.
To build a substantial and forward-looking agenda for the NATO summit.
To secure a more peaceful and prosperous future through a strong transatlantic Alliance.   

Adapting to the future requires sustained investment in our defence.
Today, we discussed progress toward fairer burden-sharing.

2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending by European Allies and Canada. 

Nine Allies are expected to spend 2 % of GDP on defence.
Compared to only 3 in 2014.

Since 2014, European Allies and Canada have contributed a cumulative extra of 190 billion dollars.

And this year, twenty-four Allies will meet the guideline of investing at least 20% of their defence budgets into major new equipment.

So we are making real progress.

But we must all keep the commitments we have made.
And continue to invest in our defence and increase the readiness of our forces.

This is the only way to keep our nations safe in a more unpredictable world.

We concluded with a session with our partners Finland and Sweden, and the European Union High Representative Borrell.

It was an opportunity to share views on the common challenges we face.
To discuss transatlantic relations at this important juncture.
And the need for Europe and North America to work closely together.

With that, I am ready for your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you. And we can start with Gul Sonomut from NTV. 

GUL SONOMUT [NTV Turkey]: Yes, thank you very much. I have two questions. My first question is with regard NATO2030, as well as the Strategic Concept. When will you . . . when will you put into force the 2030 action plan, particularly based in mind with the Wise Man report and the shortfalls of the Strategic Concept today, what are the topics that are really urgent for the Strategic Concept to be updated, what are the shortfalls for that and, of course, the timeline? And on the other hand, although the discussion will be tomorrow, Iraq, I was wondering whether you had the comment with regard the attack on the Erbil airport where a United States officer has been killed, as well as the Gara operation, where 13 Turkish civilians have been killed. Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: First on NATO2030 and the Strategic Concept. I propose for heads of state and government, when they meet later on this year, that they should agree to update the NATO Strategic Concept. I do so because I think the time is right. We have a Strategic Concept we agreed back in 2010 and that Concept has actually served us well. 

But, since then, the security environment we face has fundamentally changed. For instance, in the current Strategic Concept, we are not addressing the shifting balance of power and the security consequences of the rise of China. We hardly mention climate change. I think climate change is a serious crisis multiplier and it really affects our security, we need to address that in a new strategic concept.

And, also, back in 2010, we were working for, establishing, what we then referred to as a strategic partnership with Russia. Since then, we have seen Russia being responsible for aggressive actions against neighbours, the illegal annexation of Crimea and things have fundamentally changed. 

So we need to update our Strategic Concept. We need to recommit to our core values. And we need to use the Strategic Concept to further strengthen the bond between North America and Europe. 

So, this is an idea which is broadly supported by NATO Allies. And I hope that NATO leaders, heads of state and government, when they meet later on this year, will then agree to start the process, to task to me . . . to work on a revised and updated Strategic Concept for the Alliance. 

Then, regarding the attacks in Iraq. I condemn the rocket attack in Erbil and the tragic loss of life. I want to express my condolences to those who have lost their loved ones and my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery go to the injured. 

The Iraqi people should not have to live in fear of violence. And I welcome that a number of Allies will support the investigation into this attack. 

I would also like to express my condolences to Turkey for the killing of Turkish citizens in northern Iraq. And I condemn in the strongest possible terms those responsible.

 And Allies expressed their condolences during today’s meeting of defence ministers. Allies stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question we’ll go to Brooks Tigner from Jane’s Defence. 

BROOKS TIGNER [Jane’s Defence]: Hi. Hi, Secretary General. I have two unrelated questions. One: regarding your call on Monday for common funding for deterrence and defence. Did the Allies discuss this idea today to help cover deterrence, deployments or other costs? And if . . . if that was accepted, would it undermine NATO’s ‘costs lie where they fall’ principle? Second question, different topic. Your call for a new transatlantic effort to develop new, disruptive technologies. That’s a very good idea. However, many secretary generals before you have proposed similar things: Smart Defence, Connected Forces Initiative, pooling and sharing. These have not led to very much. And they’ve also tried to reach out to innovative and small companies for the last five to 10 years. Again, not much. What would you propose to produce more results in that sense? Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, first item on the NATO2030 and my proposals on funding, I think we first have to realise that I have put forward many proposals covering a wide range of different areas from deterrence and defence, resilience, innovation. But, also the security implications of climate change, and the rise of China and other proposals, which I think is important when we now prepare for the upcoming summit, and when we also now have a unique opportunity to strengthen and to make sure that the transatlantic bond remains the bedrock for our security. 

We have the upcoming summit, we have the NATO2030, we have a new US administration, and all of that together really provides a unique opportunity, after some difficult years for all of us on both sides of the Atlantic, to have a substantive forward-looking agenda.

NATO2030, as we prepare for the upcoming summit. One of the proposals is to strengthen deterrence and defence, by making sure that we incentivise Allies to provide more capabilities for deterrence and defence activities at, or in, NATO territory. Because today, when we have, for instance, deterrence and defence activities – like the battlegroups in the Baltic region or the Enhanced or the Forward Presence in the Black Sea region, air policing, maritime operations, standing naval forces – all these capabilities are provided by Allies and those Allies that provide those capabilities also cover all the cost. My proposal is that NATO should cover some of those costs, because that will demonstrate stronger commitment to our collective defence, to Article 5, to deterrence and defence. It will incentivise Allies to provide more capabilities, for air policing, battlegroups, standing naval forces, and it will mean fairer burden-sharing. So, I think this is a better way to spend money and it’s a way to invest together. 

Let me also highlight one other point. We have already agreed to spend more and Allies already do that, all Allies have increased defence spending and more and more Allies meet the 2 percent guideline. This is something else. This is about how we spend the money. That we should spend more of our total funding for defence together, because it will strengthen deterrence and defence. It will provide more capabilities for battlegroups, air policing, and also lead to a fairer sharing of the burden. 

Yeah, then, oh sorry, technology, I forgot that one. Technology. New, disruptive technologies as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, autonomous systems, facial recognition, all of that will reshape the nature of warfare fundamentally. We need to make sure that we keep the technological edge which has served NATO so well for so many years. And we should do that in different ways, but let me just point out three. One: we need to invest. And the good news is that since 2014 – and that is new – Allies have stopped cutting defence budgets and have started to increase; and not only increase defence spending, but 20 percent of that is allocated into investments in new capabilities, meaning also new technology. So when we invest in new planes or new drones or new whatever, we also invest in new technology, making it possible to maintain the technological edge. 

The second thing we should do is to make sure that when Allies develop new capabilities with advanced, new, disruptive technologies, we need to make sure that these capabilities, coming from different Allied countries, can operate together. Interoperability – NATO standards – has always been important, but if anything, it’s even more important now with even more advanced technologies embedded in our military capabilities. 

And thirdly, NATO is a platform for Allies to address some very serious and difficult ethical questions, which are raised by the use of these technologies in military capabilities. There is no easy answer to that but to try to start a process where we address how we can develop some minimum ethical guidelines on the use of these technologies in weapons systems, NATO provides the perfect platform for doing that. And that’s part of my NATO2030 proposal and my NATO2030 agenda.

OANA LUNGESCU: We’ll now go to Jane Ferguson from PBS NewsHour. Go ahead, Jane. 

JANE FERGUSON [PBS NewsHour]: Thank you so much. Just briefly, what is the intention with regards to the May 1st deadline for withdrawal from the United States? What does NATO intend to do, whether or not you intend to honour that deal? And, moving on from that, what role do you envision NATO playing moving forward in Afghanistan? 

JENS STOLTENBERG: You’re right that in the deal that was signed last year, I was actually in Kabul when the deal was signed in Doha, and in that deal there is a May 1st deadline. But the promise to leave Afghanistan is conditions-based. Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based. And Taliban has to meet their commitments. And what NATO does now is that we, first of all, do whatever we can to support the peace process and the full implementation of the deal. We will only leave when the time is right. And the focus now is how can we support the peace efforts, the peace talks, and reenergise, relaunch a new strength, a new momentum in the peace talks, because that’s the only path to peace. 

As you know, we went into Afghanistan together, NATO Allies, partners and the United States, after 9/11. We have made decisions on adjusting our presence together. And we will also make the decision, when the time is right, to leave together. So what we can do now is to coordinate, consult. We are going to have a discussion tomorrow, I’ll not pre-empt the outcome of that discussion. But Allies are coordinating closely, all Allies, including, of course, the United States. And then we will make a decision together. 

I think the main issue is that Taliban has to reduce violence, Taliban has to negotiate in good faith, and Taliban has to break all ties, has to stop supporting international terrorist groups like al Qaeda. 

OANA LUNGESCU: We’ll now take a question from Kevin Barron from Defense One. 

KEVIN BARRON [Defense One]: Hello, Secretary General. Well, similar question, is on . . . my question is on the timing of the decisions. Can NATO make a decision on its Afghanistan presence before the United States makes its decision, given the administration, the Biden administration says they’re undergoing an Afghanistan study review, that’s not going to be ready by tomorrow? 

JENS STOLTENBERG: We will make a decision together. And that was clearly also stated by Allies, so it has been stated by many Allies already.  And it has already been clearly stated by Secretary Austin. And I welcome the strong commitment and clear message from the United States that they will coordinate closely with NATO Allies and partners. We are 30 NATO Allies, but there are also partners like Finland, Sweden and others who are part of our NATO mission in Afghanistan.

NATO Allies welcome that message from the United States, not least because there is a significant non-US presence in Afghanistan. There are roughly 10,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan now, and the majority of them are not from the United States. And I think that demonstrates the value of NATO also for the United States, because the United States, when they went into Afghanistan, they didn’t go alone. They have been supported by NATO Allies with tens of thousands of troops for now close to two decades. So, of course, the United States is the biggest force contributor to our mission in Afghanistan, but not the only one. Many Allies, many partners. 

And, therefore, this is a decision we only can make together. We are assessing together. We are analysing together. We are supporting the peace process together. We are calling on Taliban to reduce violence, to negotiate in good faith and to stop supporting international terrorists like al Qaeda. And then we will make the necessary decisions together. But I think the main focus now should be on reenergising the peace talks, because that’s the only way to a peaceful solution. 

OANA LUNGESCU: We have now a question from PJ McLeary, from Breaking Defense.

PJ MCLEARY [Breaking Defense]: Hi. Thank you. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about the discussions you’ve had so far about Turkey and the purchase of the S-400 from Russia and if there’ll be any consequences for Turkey other than being removed from the F-35 programme?

JENS STOLTENBERG: The issue of the S-400 was not discussed in this meeting today. It has been discussed among NATO Allies before. I have also expressed my concerns about the consequence of the Turkish decision to acquire the Russian S-400 air and missile defence system. And I have also pointed out the possibility and the opportunity that lies in working with NATO Allies, providing alternative systems like, for instance, the Patriot system or the European SAMP/T, which is produced by Italy and France. 

So, this is an issue I have discussed several times and NATO Allies have discussed several times. And, yes, there are disagreements, differences, but at the same time, I think NATO provides a platform also to discuss difficult issues where we disagree, as the issue of S-400. 

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question we’ll go to go to Al Arabiya and Noureddine Fridhi. 

NOUREDDINE FRIDHI [Al Arabiya]: Good afternoon, Secretary General. I have a very short question. After the . . . the Erbil attack, one or two days before, this kind of operation has any impact on the NATO training mission, which you are about to expand, sir? Thank you very much. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: If anything, it makes the NATO Training Mission even more important, because we will tomorrow address and discuss expanding the NATO Training Mission in Iraq.

NATO Allies provide support and training for Iraqi security forces in different frameworks already. NATO is part of the US-led Coalition to Defeat Daesh, and NATO also has its own Training Mission in Iraq. And the plan is – and I expect ministers tomorrow to agree – to expand the Training Mission so we can provide more training, more capacity-building across the country. 
I spoke with the Iraqi Prime Minister yesterday, Prime Minister Kadhimi, and he expressed once again the strong support and wish from the Iraqi government to have an expanded, increased NATO presence there. We do this to support the Iraqi people, but we do it also because it is in our interest to fight terrorism. And we strongly believe that in the long run, the best weapon we have against terrorism is to train local forces and build local capacity. And we have seen the courage, the commitment of the Iraqi forces defeating Daesh, or liberating the country, the territory, that Daesh controlled. And that courage, that commitment has been important for the people of Iraq in fighting Daesh, but it is also important for NATO Allies because Daesh is a threat not only to the people of Iraq, or the people of Syria, but also to people in our Allied countries. 

So, if anything, violence, instability in Iraq is the reason why we are there: to help the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, to stabilise their own country. 

OANA LUNGESCU: We’ll now take the next question from Nicolas Gros-Verheyde from Bruxelles 2. Please go ahead. 

NICOLAS GROS-VERHEYDE [Bruxelles 2]: Bonjour, Secretary General. I have one question of the burden-sharing on the … [inaudible] of defence. I have seen that now you are referring for the . . . the year ’14, and some months ago, I remember you have more reference of the year ’16. Is it because Donald Trump was leaving and now the . . . the government in the United States … [inaudible] you have remembered this engagement, it is with Obama on the summit Pays de Galles? And, also, I want to have some comment of . . . of, maybe you, if you fear that the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis could destroy some effort of different states? And just one question, if I may, on the Turkey. How do your feelings, ambiance with the … [inaudible] with Turkey now in the … [inaudible] because some . . . sometimes it is not so good in the past? Thank you very much. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: First, on burden-sharing. We agreed in 2014 what we called the defence investment pledge, where all Allies agreed that after years of reducing defence spending, we should start to increase defence spending. And the good news is that every year since 2014, all Allies have started . . . have increased defence spending and all Allies are now spending more. And more Allies meet the 2 percent target. And the majority of NATO Allies have plans in place to be at 2 percent or above by 2024, which was the date we set. 

So it is . . . and it’s also correct that sometimes I refer to the increase since 2016, because this was an important issue also for the previous President. But I know that burden-sharing, increased defence investments, is also important for President Biden because President Biden was actually Vice President when President Obama and Vice President Biden, they were at the summit in Wales in 2014 and pushed very hard for that decision. 

So different US administrations, Republicans and Democrats, have all conveyed the same message: that we need fairer burden-sharing in this Alliance. I tell the Europeans that – and they agree – that we need to invest more in defence, not to please the United States, but because it is in our security interest to invest more. Because we face a more dangerous world, with a more brutal form of terrorism, Daesh/ISIL. We have seen that in Iraq, Syria and other places; with a more assertive Russia; the consequence of the rise of China; cyber, hybrid threats – all of that together led to the decision in 2014 to increase defence spending. And the total added spending across Europe and Canada is 190 billion US Dollars extra, and that is significant and that’s something that really makes a difference. 

We still need to do more. We need to maintain the momentum. But, I think it is good to see that Allies are making good on their pledge, on the commitment that they made back in 2014. 

On Covid, NATO’s main task is to make sure that the health crisis, the pandemic, doesn’t become a security crisis. And, therefore, we have been focussed on the importance of upholding our missions, deterrence and defence, and we have been able to do that. 

There’s some adjustments in some of the exercises. But, the main message is that the battlegroups, the readiness of our forces, air policing, all the other stuff we do every day, has been maintained, so we are able to prevent the health crisis from becoming a security crisis. 

What we also have seen is that NATO and the military across the Alliance have provided valuable support to the civilian efforts to cope with the pandemic. We have seen how military, supported also by NATO, have helped to transport critical equipment, medical personnel, setting up field hospitals and now assisting also with vaccination in many countries. And NATO has provided support to different Allied countries. So, the military has provided support to the civilian efforts in coping with the pandemic. 

Thirdly, you asked about Turkey. Turkey is an important Ally. You can just look at the map and you see Turkey is the Ally, bordering Iraq and Syria, infrastructure, airports, bases in Turkey, has been very important in our campaign against Daesh/ISIS, liberating the territory Daesh/ISIS controlled not so long ago. 

Turkey is also the NATO Ally that has suffered the most . . . the highest number of terrorist attacks. And Turkey hosts millions of refugees. So, Turkey is an important Ally. At the same time, there is no reason to hide that there also are differences and disagreements. And then I think NATO is a platform for Allies to raise those differences and disagreements. 

I also expressed my concerns, for instance, on the consequences of the procurement of the S-400. 

We have seen disagreements, differences, related to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean [should read: Agean]. 

But, again, I think that NATO’s role is to try to find positive approaches. We have been able to establish what we call a deconfliction mechanism, bringing the military experts from Turkey and Greece together here at NATO and agreed mechanisms to reduce the risk, for incidents and accidents between Turkish and Greek military planes’ or ships’ capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean [should read: Agean].  And this will also help to pave the way for negotiations or exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece on the underlying issues. 

And, let me also add that NATO has helped to implement the agreement between Turkey and EU on the migrants, on the refugee and migration crisis in the Eastern Med [should read: Agean]. We have a deployment of NATO ships there, which brings together Turkey and Greece, Frontex, in dealing with a very difficult situation there. 

So, yes, there are problems, but NATO provides a platform to look for positive approaches and ways to address some of those problems.

OANA LUNGESCU: We now have time for one last question, and that will go to Radu Tudor from Antena 3, Romania.

RADU TUDOR [Antena 3]: Thank you, Oana Lungescu. Secretary General, you have mentioned two days ago that today will discuss some decisions to reinforce measures on the Eastern Flank. General Ben Hodges from CEPA said in a study that the US administration needs to have a strategy on the Black Sea and that NATO must reinforce its measures on the Eastern Flank to the Black Sea. I kindly remind you that in the last 15 years, all the military aggressions from Russia were in the Black Sea: to Georgia, to Ukraine, to Crimea. And please, could you detail a bit what kind of measures NATO has in mind to enforce the Black Sea Area and the Eastern Flank? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, over the last years, we have significantly increased our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance with the Tailored Forward Presence, as we call it, in Romania, with the training brigade in Craiova, and then with the battlegroups in the Baltic region - the Baltic countries. And in Poland, more air policing and also more naval presence, with different NATO Allied ships under the Standing NATO Maritime Forces. Just over the last months, we have seen, I think it’s three, actually, US naval ships in the Black Sea. And we have seen other Allied countries also operating in the Black Sea. 

Then we have three littoral states: Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria; and we have two very close partners: Ukraine and Georgia. 

Allies are investing more. We also now have the new Alliance Ground Surveillance, the drones that can also operate along our borders, especially in the east and in the south. That also improves our situational awareness, our ability to do reconnaissance and intelligence along our borders. 

One of the reasons why I have put forward a proposal that we should have more NATO funding for deterrence and defence, is that I believe that by paying more of that together we will incentivise more Allies to provide the capabilities, also to the presence, or especially to the presence, in the eastern part of the Alliance, including in the Black Sea and the Baltic region. 

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. We’ll see you again tomorrow evening. Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.