Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 23 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 23 Mar. 2021 20:27

(As delivered)

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

Thank you and good afternoon.

We have just finished two productive meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers, to prepare for our Summit later this year.

This will open a new chapter in the relationship between North America and Europe, and it is the perfect platform to set the direction for the future of our Alliance.

Ministers have had a very positive discussion on our NATO 2030 initiative. 
This is all about how NATO can continue to adapt to a rapidly changing security environment, with rising threats and systemic competition, major shifts in the global balance of power and increasing challenges to the rules based international order.

I sense significant support for a bold and ambitious NATO 2030 agenda.

We all agree that the transatlantic relationship, embodied by NATO, remains the cornerstone of our collective defence,
central to our political cohesion,
and an essential pillar to the rules-based order.

In response to a more dangerous and unpredictable security environment, we are considerably strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence.
And we agree we must and will do more.
This is the best way to demonstrate our solidarity, unity and political resolve.

This is why I have proposed a substantial increase in common funding to support deterrence and defence, in our Alliance.

We also discussed how we could strengthen NATO’s role as the primary transatlantic platform, to discuss and coordinate on all issues that affect our shared security.

We addressed how we could boost our resilience by establishing minimum standards among Allies for critical infrastructure such as telecommunications and energy supplies.

We agreed that we must enhance our work to maintain our technological edge, and foster transatlantic cooperation on emerging and disruptive technologies.

And focus on the security implications of climate change.

I believe NATO can lead in this field,
and contribute to reaching the goal of Net Zero.

Today, Ministers took the first steps by agreeing a report which will increase our ability to understand, adapt and mitigate the security impact of climate change.

Further, ministers discussed how we could adopt a more global outlook.

By strengthening cooperation with like-minded partners around the world, including the European Union, to protect the rules-based international order and tackle shared challenges.
And by enhancing our ability to deliver training, and support to our partners.

Ministers welcomed the recommendation to update NATO’s Strategic Concept.

All these NATO 2030 proposals send a strong message of cohesion, solidarity and political resolve.

Ministers also continued consultations on our presence in Afghanistan.

We all see that there is no easy solution.
There is no risk-free path ahead and we need to prepare for all options.

Ministers emphasised their full support to all efforts to reinvigorate the peace process.

Because a negotiated solution is the only way to achieve a sustainable peace, which prevents Afghanistan from again becoming a platform for international terrorism.

All sides must seize this historic opportunity without further delay and all regional and international actors must play their part to support a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

NATO has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. The majority are from non-US Allies and partners.
Today, we made no final decisions on our force posture, but we are determined to take all necessary measures to keep our troops safe.

We will continue to consult very closely in the days and weeks to come, and we continue to decide and act together, as Allies.

Ministers also had an exchange on the Middle East and North Africa, including our mission in Iraq and our support for partners in the region.

To build greater stability, we should reinforce our partnerships with international organizations, in particular the European Union and the United Nations.

And we remain open to working with new partner countries that share our values.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson: And we will take the first question here in the press room and the next two questions online. Please don't hesitate to put up your hands if you're in the press room to make it easier to find you. We'll start over there with NTB, Fredrik Ljone Holst. 

Fredrik Ljone Holst: My question is on NATO 2030. We've now had two ministerial meetings, and well over a month to discuss it. I'd like to know how it's evolved over that time, one of the most important things that have been added or taken away from your original suggestions.

NATO Secretary General: Today we had a very positive exchange on NATO 2030. And I sense this broad agreement that we need a bold forward looking ambitious agenda, to be agreed when the NATO leaders meet later on this year to address all the challenges we face as Allies in the more competitive global world. 

And therefore, I welcome the good and constructive discussion we had today. I also welcome the message that Allies support the idea that we need to address many different issues at the same time. And that's exactly what we do in the NATO 2030 initiative. This is about how to strengthen our unity with more political consultations, but also strengthening our deterrence and defense, because our unity arise from our promise to protect and defend each other. It's about broadening the security agenda, addressing issues like resilience, naval infrastructure, telecommunications and other critical infrastructure. It's about technology, maintaining our technological edge, and also making sure that we strengthen the cooperation within the Alliance, the transatlantic cooperation on technology. It's about taking into account the consequences of climate change for our security, and to make sure that NATO is responding on issues related to climate change and security.

And then it is about building new partnerships with partners in our neighbourhood, training, capacity building, but also building partnerships with like-minded countries, for instance in the Asia-Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. They are partners so we'd like to strengthen our partnership to stand up for a rules-based order and also address the consequences of the rise of China. 

And there is broad recognition that if we want to do more, we also need more resources. So of course, this is part of an ongoing process, it started at the NATO summit in London in 2019 in December.

Leaders asked me to conduct a reflection process on how to strengthen the Alliance. I appointed the expert group; they have put forward their proposals. Then I have consulted the capitals, young leaders, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and many others. And we will continue to refine, continue to develop these proposals, but I'm very confident that when leaders meet later this year, they will be able to agree ambitious forward looking proposals to future-proof our Alliance and strengthen the transatlantic bond. 

NATO Spokesperson: Will now take two questions online. The first one is from Kavian Press, Lailuma Sadid. 

Lailuma Sadid: Yes, thank you very much. Secretary General, you say that about Afghanistan. As we know Afghanistan is very important, not for today, not for tomorrow I’d say forever. So, there are political actors in Afghanistan who are playing [inaudible] toward achieving peace. Do you have any message today, especially for the President Ghani? And also why it's so tough to take decision to leave Afghanistan? And if I may add the other one: how important is it for NATO to keep up this decision on de-confliction talks, between Afghanistan government, Taliban, and also US government? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General:  We have now an historic opportunity to reach a political peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Because we have now a peace process, peace talks. And we have also seen a renewed effort by the United States to reinvigorate those talks. And after decades of fighting, violence, we are now closer to an agreement and have been ever before. At the same time, we are all realistic and we know that it's a hard way forward to make real progress. And we have no guarantees for that the peace talks will succeed. They are fragile and we also see that there is a need to really make progress, and therefore call on all sides, all parties to negotiate in good faith, to be constructive.

And that's of course for the Afghan parties, but also of course for all regional actors; they have to be supportive of this peace process. And therefore, I welcome the fact that we have had a very good  and constructive discussion about this among the foreign ministers today.

The reason why we have not made any final decision is that of course we would like to see, what we will decide, will depend on how the peace process evolves. There will be new meetings, also foreign minister of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, updated us that Turkey is ready to host the meeting to support to the Afghan peace process.

Allies are committed to continue providing support for Afghan security forces, also by financial support. We are committed to continue to provide financial support throughout 2024. And the most important thing for us now, as Allies, is that as we move forward, we need to be coordinated, to consult closely, to take decisions together and to act together. And that was a very clear message from all of them based on the principle: in together, adjust our presence in Afghanistan together, and when the time is right, we will leave together. 

NATO Spokesperson: The next online questions will go to Andrej Matisak from Pravda.

Andrej Matisak: Thank you. Thank you very much, Andrej Matisak from Prava. Mr. Secretary General, you have started your press conference today, but also yesterday, explaining that this is an opportunity for a new chapter in transatlantic relations. But what does it mean concretely, what has to change, maybe even fundamentally change, to open a new chapter? And what will stay the same in transatlantic relations. And if I may also second question regarding common funding. I think that you don't have numbers, who will pay for what and how much for us. I think we would appreciate it, but I don't think you have it.

But can you at least evaluate a bit on a debate about the common funding. I hear that some countries are more welcoming this idea, maybe others are a bit resistant. So what was the debate about? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: The meeting today has demonstrated that we are now opening a new chapter in our transatlantic relationship embodied in NATO. And therefore, Allies also strongly welcomed that very clear and strong message from Secretary Blinken, because he restated the message from President Biden that the United States really wants to rebuild the strength of this Alliance, strengthen NATO, and make sure that we make NATO future-proof in a more competitive world.

So I welcome the very clear message from Secretary Blinken and his strong commitment to NATO. And I'm certain that this commitment to NATO will not only be demonstrated in words, but also in deeds. And that's exactly what NATO 2030 is all about, is, in a way, to make sure that we are not only committed to protecting and defending each other and standing together as North America and Europe in NATO, but also actually are stepping up delivering and making concrete decisions when we meet later on this year at the level of heads of state and government. 

So the NATO 2030 proposals on resilience, on deterrence and defence, on technology, on more political consultations, on building partnerships, and many other issues. They are all about strengthening this Alliance, strengthening the transatlantic bond within NATO. One of those proposals is common funding, because if we are going to do more of course that will have some consequences for the sources, for funding. You are right that we didn't discuss specific numbers, because this is an ongoing process, we will continue to discuss and proposals will be refined.

But I think we have to understand that over the last two years we have seen a significant increase in defense spending from NATO Allies. And only fraction of total defense spending is allocated to common funded budget. We have a military budget, we have a civilian budget, we have a budget for investments, and I have put forward proposals to substantially increase those budgets. Now Allies discussed that, that's a normal part of the way we make decisions in NATO, but I sense that is a broad recognition of the need to allocate more resources, if we're going to do more.

NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll now come back to the press room and then we'll take three more questions online. So, we'll go to Greek Public TV, Eirini Zarkadoula.

Eirini Zarkadoula: Thank you. Can you consider Turkey as a trustworthy ally since its behavior; it's back and forth, allow me to mention even HDP decision or the Istanbul Convention? And secondly, are there any steps made with the United States towards a solution, or a compromise, on S-400 issue. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: There are differences and there are concerns, and I also expressed my concerns on some of these issues. For instance on the S-400, about the consequences of the Turkish decision to acquire a Russian air defense system. There are of course also other issues, including the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, I strongly believe that, and that's also part of the NATO 2030 agenda, is that we need to use NATO as a platform to consult and discuss when there are differences as we see, for instance, related to some of the issues you mentioned. 

I also strongly believe that NATO can be a platform to try to find ways forward to address some of these differences and concerns. And we have seen over the last weeks or months that we have been able to make some important steps in the right direction, including establishing a de-confliction mechanism at NATO, where Turkish and Greek military experts meet, and set up different communication lines, and agree how to reduce the risk for incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean. 

This has helped to pave the way for direct talks between Greece and Turkey on the underlying dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. I also welcome the fact that despite the differences we see NATO continues its naval presence in the Aegean, helping to implement the agreement between Turkey and the European Union on migration issues.

And I think that the strength of NATO is that by having NATO ships there, we're able actually to bring Turkey, Greece, and the European Union together, and help to implement an important agreement. So, yes, there is no way to deny that there are differences. I have also expressed my concerns. But at the same time, I think we all have a responsibility to look into how can we address them, how we can find solutions and also taking into account that Turkey is an important Ally, bordering Iraq and Syria. And Turkey has played an important role, not least in the fight against the international terrorism, and no other Ally hosts more refugees than Turkey. So NATO is the platform to address these issues, and we're trying to find ways to, at least to reduce tensions, but also sometimes to be able to find the solutions.

NATO Spokesperson: So the next question is also online from Alf Bjarne Johnsen, VG.

Alf Bjarne Johnsen: Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, you have been a strong advocate for keeping up the international agreements on limitation of nuclear warheads. But last week, the United Kingdom released their Integrated Review with proposals on exceeding their stockpile and modernization of their weaponry. So I wonder, does all the member states agree that the stronger nuclear deterrence by adding the new warheads, is the right way to go for NATO? Or are there other alternative initiatives underway to step up deterrence in the NATO 2030 process? 

NATO Secretary General: NATO's goal is a world without nuclear weapons. But as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. NATO has been at the forefront of arms control for decades. And the part of the NATO 2030 agenda is also about how can we strengthen, how can we consult, how can we work more together to make progress on the arms control agenda.

For instance, we welcome the recent decision by the United States and Russia to extend the New START agreement, which is the only remaining remit limiting the number of nuclear warheads in the world.

But the challenge is that we see that both Russia, but also China, they are implementing substantial modernization of their nuclear arsenals, the nuclear weapon systems. With more and more advanced weapons with weapons with a longer range, but also for instance, in here in Europe we have seen the Russian deployment of intermediate range nuclear weapons that led to the demise of the INF Treaty, but these are weapons which can reach all European cities. They have short, shorter reduce of warning time, they are dual-capable, they are hard to track also because they are mobile. And just by deploying these new weapons, Russia has partly caused the demise of the INF Treaty, but they've also reduced the threshold for any use of nuclear weapons in a potential conflict. 

And on top of that we see other hypersonic weapons, air and sea launched weapons by Russia, some of them not covered by the New START treaty, and then we see a significant modernization of the Chinese nuclear arsenal and that is a constant threat of nuclear proliferation. And therefore, when I spoke to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday, and he briefed me on the Integrated Review. I also spoke a few days ago with Secretary Raab - the foreign minister and also with Ben Wallace - the defense minister. They had the same message that the adjustment of the UK policy on nuclear deterrence is a reflection of the increased substantial modernization of the Russian and Chinese capabilities.

The answer to this is to make sure that we continue to work for arms control. And that's exactly what NATO is doing, and therefore we strongly believe that the extension of the New START agreement should not be the end, it should be the beginning of renewed efforts to strengthen arms control covering more weapon systems, and also at some stage, get China into global arms control.

The UK nuclear deterrent is an integral part of the Alliance’s deterrence posture and makes a substantial contribution to our collective defense and it also demonstrates that the United Kingdom is a very important NATO Ally, the second largest defense budget, investing heavily in a wide range of capabilities. And the UK, United Kingdom is also of course a strong supporter of strengthening international arms control and a strong supporter of NATO being a key platform for addressing how we can make progress on arms control.

NATO Spokesperson: We have the next question also online from Deutsche Welle, Alexandra Von Nahmen. 

Alexandra Von Nahmen: Thank you very much. A question on Nord Steam 2. Secretary Blinken today made it pretty clear that what the US position is on that issue, and that this position has not changed. Do you think that this divisive issue could threaten NATO's unity, and maybe even overshadow the new beginning, or the opening, of a new chapter in transatlantic relations? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: There are different views within NATO on the Nord Stream 2 project. That has been the case for some years now. It's not only United States but also some other Allies that are critical. But then other Allies have a different view.

So the reality is that since NATO is based on consensus, NATO as an Alliance have not made a decision on Nord Stream 2. We are focused on how we can increase the diversification of suppliers and address issues related to security of energy supply, but we don't have any position on Nord Stream 2. Of course, I always appreciate when Allies are able to agree. At the same time I'm also confident that NATO has proven over many years that we're able also to continue to stay committed to our core tasks, to defend and protect each other, despite the fact that sometimes there are differences as we see for instance related to the Nord Stream 2.

NATO Spokesperson: And the next question, remotely, before we take another question from the press room. We'll go to Noureddine Fridhi, Al-Arabiya. 

Noureddine Fridhi: Thank you, Oana. Good afternoon Secretary General. Can I ask your question on NATO’s assistant to neighbouring countries in the South? Could you elaborate on the discussion you had on the enhancing support to Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia? And under which condition NATO could, now or in the future, assist the new authorities in Libya, whether now or after the election, to rebuild its military, its defense and security services, mainly the defense institution? Thank you. 

NATO Secretary General: We had a very constructive discussion today about NATO’s role, NATO’s support to partner countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and also of course, our presence in Afghanistan. And many different countries, and of course we also cannot have a one size fits all, we need partnerships developed in different ways with different countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.

I welcome, first of all, that we are now in the process of enhancing our presence, training mission in Iraq. We do that, of course, in close coordination with the Iraqi government. We do that actually based on the requests from the government of Iraq, and it will be gradual and incremental increase of the NATO presence there, in full coordination with the government of Iraq.

We work with countries like Jordan, Tunisia. We also had a discussion now whether we can do more in the Sahel region. Following up on some decisions how to strengthen partnerships with countries in North Africa. 

On Libya, I think the main message is that we welcome the progress you have seen over the last two months in the UN-led peace efforts, and all Allies support those efforts. And we have been in close contact also with the UN Envoy Ján Kubiš, and we support his efforts. We will support the Berlin process to try to help and support peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya. Then, NATO stands ready to provide support when it comes to capacity building and so on when the conditions on the ground permit, but it is too early to say, when that will be. And I won't speculate, until we have a firmer decision, and we are seeing that the conditions permit more NATO presence. 

NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll come back to the press room with TV Imedi, Ketevan Kardava.

Ketevan Kardava: [Inaudible]… coming from Moscow as Russia isn't going to reconsider its policy towards neighbours, including Georgia and Ukraine. And would like to know, if ministers discussed NATO readiness to engage more in the Black Sea and make partnerships deeper with aspirant countries: Ukraine and Georgia, and could we expect more help on practical level. Thank you very much. 

NATO Secretary General: NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea region with three littoral states: Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are NATO members, and then two: Ukraine and Georgia are close NATO partners. We have increased our presence on land, at sea, in the air, but we have also stepped up the cooperation with close and highly valued partners - Georgia and Ukraine.

We will continue to do so, and we are looking into how we can further strengthen the partnership both the political and the practical support, and we also welcome the fact that both Ukraine and Georgia are providing support and help to different NATO missions and operations. 

So the main message, again a part of the NATO 2030 agenda is, how can we further do more, how can you strengthen partnership with neighbours, because it is in our interest that our neighbors are stable and successful, and, both Ukraine and Georgia are actually aspirant countries for NATO membership and we support them also in implementing reforms, so they can move forward on the Euro-Atlantic path.

Well I think the best way for us to send a clear message to Russia is partly that we have implemented the biggest reinforcements of our collected defense, since the end of the Cold War. With new battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance, with high readiness of our forces, we have increased defence spending, with more exercises, and with stepping up our cooperation with partners like Georgia and Ukraine. I think that sends a very clear message to any potential adversary to NATO.

NATO Spokesperon: And the final two questions will come from online. And we go to Aleksandar Mitovski from InfoMAX. 

Aleksandar Mitovski: I would like a comment from the Secretary General on Macedonia’s role in NATO missions abroad, in Afghanistan in particular. I would like a comment on Macedonia’s role in stability in the region, particularly Kosovo. And as well, I would like to hear a comment from the Secretary General about the information that at least two Macedonian government officials couldn't get security clearance from NATO, thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So first of all, I'm very proud that we actually on Friday can celebrate the anniversary of North Macedonia joining NATO. I also congratulated the foreign minister from North Macedonia, in the meeting today, on the anniversary of North Macedonia joining NATO.

So this is good for North Macedonia, it's good for all other NATO Allies, and we also, of course, grateful for North Macedonia’s contributions to NATO missions and operations including in Afghanistan. I met soldiers from North Macedonia and they have demonstrated the courage, the commitment, the professionalism in the way they, they serve in NATO missions and operations.

I will not comment on intelligence issues, but I can only say that we always have vetting procedures in NATO which are important for us. And that's because we need to make sure that we're able to handle classified information and classified documents in a good way and, and that's actually a cornerstone of how we're able to exchange classified information is the different vetting processes we have.

So, again, North Macedonia, highly valued Ally, accession of North Macedonia into the Alliance demonstrates that NATO's door is open, and congratulations on the first anniversary as a highly valued Ally of the Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson: And for the last question, also online, we'll go to Latika Bourke, from the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Latika Bourke: Thank you. Secretary General, you've said a couple of times that you see this expanded role for Australia and some of the, the other non NATO members. Could you explain what role you envision there? Is it going to be continued advisory/partner role, do you see some sort of a formal expansion.

NATO Secretary General: First of all, I think it's important that we stand together because we are like-minded democracies. And when we see attacks on our rules-based international order, which has served Australia, NATO Allies, and many other countries so well over so many decades, we need to stand up and defend this rules-based order. And just by strengthening the partnership, we are sending a clear message to countries like for instance China which is actually undermining these rules-based order.

I also think it is important that we demonstrate that we are able to stand together when we see China trying to bully countries all over the world. They have behaved very badly against Australia after Australia has asked for an independent investigations to the originals of the coronavirus.

I have seen that myself when I was the Prime Minister of Norway. The Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded the Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident and then China just immediately imposed a lot of heavy measures against the Norway. 

So, this is a behavior that just calls on all like-minded democracies to stand together. Of course we do that, as 30 Allies in NATO, but we also see the value of doing that with like-minded countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region. I also visited Australia, not so long time ago and that was one of the main messages. Exchange of information, working together, also some participation in different activities are also things we are looking into whether we can do more of that. But first of all I think we should sit down and see how we can gradually expand and strengthen our partnership.

NATO Spokesperson:  Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference, but we'll see you tomorrow, some online, some here in the flesh. Thank you. 

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.