Joint press point

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho of Portugal, Military Committee Chair, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, SACEUR Gen. Tod Wolters and First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin

  • 27 May. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 28 May. 2021 12:20

(As delivered)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visits the  HMS Queen Elizabeth for Exercise Steadfast Defender 21. Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin: It really is a great pleasure, on behalf of the UK Chief of Defence Staff, to welcome you to Exercise Steadfast Defender, and the Distinguished Visitors day.

And this is the Alliance's flagship exercise for 2021.

Exercise Steadfast Defender brings together thousands of members of the NATO Alliance, across two continents, demonstrating our commitment and resolve, and the extremely strong bonds between Europe and North America.

It is about NATO highlighting the strength of our multilateral approach, reassuring partners, and demonstrating interchangeability and interoperability, and obviously deterrence and defense in the Euro-Atlantic.

Importantly, Exercise Steadfast Defender is focused on the reinforcement of continental Europe from North America. It demonstrates the value of North America and Europe working together, and it will strengthen the readiness and deterrence posture of Allied Command Operations through the rapid deployment of reinforcement from North America, movement across the European continent, and integration of multinational troops.

This is the first large test of NATO's adaptive Command Structure, including NATO's two newest commands: Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, and Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany. It highlights the rich tapestry of the NATO Alliance, a maritime live exercise being led from Norfolk, Virginia, exercise commanders and a Maritime Component Commander aboard the USS Mount Whitney, with assets from countries as diverse as Canada, the Netherlands and Turkey, all supported by NATO Joint Command in Germany.

And today we're being supported by NATO headquarters in Portugal. A country which provides three NATO headquarters. This really does reflect the strength of the Alliance. We are strong, thanks to our breadth and diversity.

And Secretary General, this really is a special delight to welcome you to our new aircraft carrier. In the same way that the UK provides its nuclear deterrent to NATO, that is the ambition with our aircraft carriers. And you really should see this as your carrier.

And that reflects the UK, and this exercise. We really are part of something bigger. NATO is implementing the biggest boost of its collective defense in a generation. This exercise takes that a step further, and it reinforces our collective defence. Secretary General.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Good morning, Minister  Cravinho, Air Chief Marshal Peach, General Wolters, and Admiral Radakin,

It is a great pleasure to be here today and it is really a great pleasure to be on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
And many thanks to Commodore Moorhouse and Captain Essenhigh and their crew for hosting us today.

This really is an impressive carrier. A powerful demonstration of the vital contributions that the United Kingdom makes to our Alliance.

And the first aircraft carrier in the world designed to operate fifth generation combat aircraft.
From these decks, the Queen Elizabeth projects power to keep us all safe.
She carries US marines, she is protected by a Dutch frigate, and she is on her way to the Pacific.
So this is a perfect example of Europe and North America working together in NATO for our collective security.

This week, the Queen Elizabeth joins twenty ships from across the Alliance taking part in exercise Steadfast Defender 2021.
This is NATO’s biggest exercise of the year.
With 20 ships. 60 aircraft. 500 vehicles. And over 9,000 personnel. From 20 Allies. Along with our partners, Finland and Sweden.
Together, we will test NATO’s collective response to an armed attack on one Ally.

As we speak, NATO forces are deploying across the Euro-Atlantic area – from Spain to Romania, from the United States to Portugal. 

Over 5,000 maritime and air forces are training here off the coast of Portugal.
Testing NATO’s ability to secure the Atlantic and defend strategic lines of communication.
At the same time, our new logistics command in Germany is exercising the rapid movement of Allied forces and equipment across Europe.
And our 4,000-strong high readiness force, led by Turkey, is deploying to Romania.

So Steadfast Defender reflects NATO’s resolve to deter and defend across the Euro-Atlantic area.

This exercise also demonstrates NATO’s adaptation. It is the first large-scale test of our new Command Structure, with the involvement of our Command for the Atlantic and our Logistics Command.

Steadfast Defender strengthens NATO’s deterrence and defence, which is a key part of our work on NATO 2030.

To keep our Alliance strong, we need to continue to train in all domains. At sea, in the air, on land, in space and in cyberspace.

Let me thank the men and women who have come from across the Alliance, from North America and Europe, to take part in this exercise. 

Steadfast Defender shows that we stand together in a more unpredictable world.

And sends a clear message that NATO are ready to respond to any threat from any direction. 

Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho of Portugal: Thank you very much, Jens. Dear Secretary General.

Air Chief Marshall Peach.

General Tod Wolters.

And First Lord of the Admiralty.

It is really a privilege to be here today on the Queen Elizabeth. Portugal is a very proud member of the two longest standing alliances in the world. The second longest standing alliance in the world is NATO. For over seven decades, NATO has played an extraordinary role for Portugal as well.

The oldest longest standing alliance in the world dates from 1386, and the United Portugal with England and the Treaty of Windsor.

I’d like to say a couple of words about each of those.

Starting with NATO, over the seven decades of NATO's existence, it has shown remarkable capacity to adapt to the times, to adapt to new challenges.

And the new challenges that it is facing today are related to a new geopolitical environment that we've been living in over the past few years.

Very clearly, if you want to reach Romania, which is one of the objectives of this exercise, if you want to be able to support Romania, you need to be able to secure the Atlantic, you need to be able to secure the sea of the Portuguese coast where we are now.

We are very much aware that part of this shifting landscape that we are living in is a new centrality for the Atlantic in our alliance. We have new access routes to the Atlantic from across the Arctic, from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, from there to the Atlantic. We have new lines of vulnerability in the Atlantic as our societies are more digitalized. We have a range of new threats in the Atlantic that we must be capable of responding to. And in this exercise, the Portuguese Navy and the Portuguese Air Force is very proud and pleased to be able to work with Allies in demonstrating and testing the capacity to secure the Atlantic.

On the first alliances that I mentioned, the oldest Alliance, the alliance of 1386, this morning, chatting with Air Chief Marshal Sir Peach we remarked about how so many changes have occurred in history, but how also there have been some constant factors throughout history. And certainly geography has changed very little compared to what it was back then. And the point that I want to make about that is simply that as we look at this new centrality of the Atlantic today and as we respond to it in our NATO structures, we are also doing what those old allies from 1386 were thinking of, which is supporting each other and helping each other in securing what are vital interests in a complicated and threatening world.

Much has changed, some things have remained constant. Above all for Portugal, what has remained constant is the value that we attach to working with our allies, so it truly is a privilege today for me to be here on the Queen Elizabeth, on this magnificent new ship, which I'd like to congratulate the British Navy for. And it is a privilege also for the Portuguese Navy and the Portuguese Air Force will be working with NATO Allies on this exercise. Thank you. 

Chair of the Military Committee Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach : Sectary General. Minister. First Sea Lord. SACEUR. Fellow Admirals and Generals.

Good morning. Good morning everyone.

First of all, it's a great honor for all of us to be on HMS Queen Elizabeth today as part of this exercise. You've all heard about the scope of this exercise and the importance of it to the Alliance. To the men and women supporting the exercise on behalf of the Alliance, on behalf of the Military Committee, the Chiefs of Defence, I say you are part of something bigger. As the First Sea Lord said. And you are part of something together.

The Geography Matters. The Minister has made it very clear. I would like to pay tribute to the Chief of Defence of Portugal who is here today for his really strong focus on the Atlantic and the new Portuguese Atlantic center in the Azores is going to be important for our understanding. This ocean matters to the Alliance. Therefore we are right to support the freedom of navigation, the freedom of movement across the sea lines of communication, and of course the very presence of this task group demonstrates the poise and ability of this alliance to respond.

So thank you to all the men and women on the exercise. But this carrier is something more. It reflects modern technology, but also the service, proud of its heritage, the Royal Navy, proud of its history, and proud of working together with the Royal Air Force and the US Marine Corps as we've seen before you today.

In 1975, as a young officer, believe it or not, I was deployed forward to support a NATO exercise in HMS Ark Royal. And 46 years later I'm very proud, as the chairman of this committee, to be here on HMS Queen Elizabeth to support the NATO exercise. So as the Minister, said some things have not changed, but the Alliance has adapted, and when you meet the young men and women from all nations on this magnificent aircraft carrier, and the men and women who fly the airplanes, whether they fixed wing and rotary wing, you realize that working together we are stronger. And so as an Alliance, we continue to adapt as the Secretary General said. And I am constantly impressed by the quality of those young men and women who serve all of our nations and you'll see that today. And that is a really important message for those who wish us harm. And thank you for being here today. I now hand the floor to the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe.

Supreme Allied Commander of Europe Gen. Tod Wolter: Secretary General. Minister. Chairman Peach. First Sea Lord.

Commodore. Captain. Sailors. And most importantly to all the great citizens that represent Portugal, and all the great sailors that represent the Queen Elizabeth.

I thank you for what you've done to generate peace, and I thank you more so for what you'll do in the future.

And if I could I would like to deviate from the script for just a second to acknowledge one tremendous individual who has been very very responsible for a very long time for generating peace. As was just mentioned, the current Chairman of the Military Committee woke up one morning 50 years ago and decided to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. And from that day to this very moment many of us have had the good fortune to know Stu Peach for the vast majority of his time that he served in the military, focused on generating peace and securing peace, not only across Europe, but globally. And it was years ago, and months ago, when we would communicate and say to ourselves: Stu, your retirements coming up and it's years away. And as time has gone by it's months away. And as we stand here today his retirement is imminent after a half a century of service to generating peace. And I know of no greater patriot that exists on planet earth that has done more for peace and security than Stu Peach. And I would ask that you to join me in a warm NATO round of applause for his great service in his soon retire.

Many of you have heard about Steadfast Defense. And it is glorious. It is the largest NATO exercise in 2021, and it's more importantly, the most complicated and complex exercise that we will embrace in NATO for 2021 as evidenced by the launch and recovery of those glorious F 35s aboard the QE.

It is our goal to test the capabilities of all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. From the lowest tactical level, the best tactical level, all the way to the senior command level, and here today on the Queen Elizabeth, and all of our Component Commanders. And it is our goal to make sure that as we start with Joint Forces Command North in the United States Commander Second Fleet, on the eastern seaboard of the United States, and connect with a NATO Maritime Commander in Europe, and the Commander of Sixth Fleet, and connect with the Joint Forces Command Naples, and connect with all of the Component Commands that are responsible for generating peace, as this Steadfast Defender tests our middle from the eastern coast of the United States to secure the Atlantic, to secure the Mediterranean, and to go in and work with our NATO Response Force and our Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. As we work in Europe, all the way through Romania our goal is solely to improve the readiness of our forces. We want to wake up tomorrow, more resilient, more responsive and more lethal than we were yesterday. In all old domains: air, land, sea, space and cyber. At all levels, from the tactical level to the young troop, all the way to the colonel level who command ships, all the way to the senior level who bear the responsibility to make strategic decisions. One of the things that we continue to prove to ourselves is this: If you practice hard, your security is better. And our goal throughout all of this is to ensure that we protect the 1 billion citizens that we swore to protect and we generate greater peace. Thank you very much.

Larisa Brown (The Times)

I'm Larisa Brown from The Times. A question for Secretary General and Chairman Peach if possible please. President Lukashenko has said in the last few hours that the idea that they hijacked planes is absolute lies and has accused the west of waging a hybrid war. I'm just wondering what your response is to that. Is that disinformation? And also what's your assessment of Russia's role in this plane hijacking? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

First of all what we saw with the forced landing of the Ryanair plane on his way from one NATO capital, Athens, to another NATO capital, Vilnius, is absolutely unacceptable. And NATO together with many other actors in the national community have strongly condemned that act, which is not only violating international norms and rules, but also putting in danger many passengers. And it is a direct attack on basic democratic rights, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of free media. Because there is no doubt that the reason why this plane was forced to land was to actually arrest a journalist and his companion. And any other attempt to try to tell another story is just not based on facts. I think everyone can see what happened and that when the plane left Minsk then two people were arrested.

So this just once again demonstrates the nature of the regime in Minsk, where they're willing to crack down and use outrageous actions, like the forced landing of that plane, to crack down on democratic opposition in their own country. Therefore, the North Atlantic Council, NATO, has strongly condemned this act of the Minsk regime. We call for an immediate international independent investigation. And I also welcome the fact that NATO Allies, EU and others have implemented the sanctions on Belarus to make sure that Belarus is…had to pay a cost for this way of acting and behaving against the civilian airliner and many passengers. I will not speculate about the role of Russia, except for saying that we have seen a pattern of behavior, also from Russia over the last years, where they have been willing to use poisoning, cyber-attacks, attempted cues against, for instance, Montenegro. So we have seen a pattern of behavior, which is of great concern also when it comes to Russia.

The Chair of the Military Committee Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach

Thank you and thank you for the question. I simply add from a military perspective that NATO as a defensive alliance, not only follows the rules and norms set for the rules based international order, but also the professional airman and women of NATO that you see on this aircraft carrier and beyond. Whether they're air policing or they're in radar control centers, they follow the rules that are set. So in this case, this matter falls in the International Civil Aviation Organization to resolve the facts and resolve what happened. But I assure everyone, on behalf of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, that the airmen and women of NATO follow the rules, the norms, and are highly professional. We should all be very proud of it.


Good morning, question to Secretary General. If I may I have two-pronged question. A while ago when we saw Turkey buying Soviet anti-missile systems we witness a certain tension between NATO and Turkey. Now, Turkey is a very important part… it will take a very important part in this exercise. Will you personally consider that tension, that dispute, is sorted out in one way? The other one: we witness Vladimir Putin, as you just mentioned, having a very strong and provocative, sometimes, pitch towards NATO. Do you think it's just a rhetorical approach or is he measuring strength with NATO?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

NATO's approach to Russia is what we call the dual track approach. We need strong deterrence and defense, and this exercise, the Queen Elizabeth, everything we do together is part of our strong deterrence and defense and it sends a message to all potential adversaries. At the same time, we want dialogue and for us there is no contradiction between the deterrence and defense and dialogue. Russia is our neighbor. We need to strive for a better partnership with Russia, therefore we work for dialogue. But even if we don't believe in an improved or better relationship with Russia in the foreseeable future, we need to talk to them on issues like, for instance, arms control. We welcome the extension of the New START Treaty. Transparency, risk reduction related to military activities like, for instance, exercises. And that's also the reason why NATO is always transparent and predictable when it comes to military exercises like this one. So the message we are sending to Russia is a message of deterrence and defense and but also dialogue. And I regret the fact that NATO now has, for some time, tried to convene the NATO-Russia Council which is a platform for dialogue with Russia. So far, Russia has not responded in a positive way.

Then on the first part of your question. Turkey is an important Ally. They participate in this exercise, they lead our High Readiness Force, which is now deployed to Romania. At the same time, there are concerns which have been expressed by Allies related to different issues. The situation the Eastern Med, and other places in the region. I have raised concerns myself, and of course it's a well-known issue that several Allies are concerned and have expressed concerns about the Turkish decision to buy the S-400. I have conveyed those concerns myself in Ankara. We are trying to support and help to promote dialogue between Allies on other systems, than the 400, and we will continue to do so, because, of course, whatever we can do to try to solve that issue will be helpful for the whole Alliance.