Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs and NATO Ministers of Defence

  • 31 May. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 03 Jun. 2021 11:31

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Two weeks from today, the leaders of NATO's 30 nations will meet here in Brussels.

And tomorrow, I will chair virtual meetings of NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers.

We will discuss a range of issues, including the way forward for our engagement in Afghanistan. 

And developments in Ukraine and Belarus.

But ministers will focus on preparations for the Summit.

This is a pivotal moment for our Alliance, and our collective security.

In a more competitive and unpredictable world, we need transatlantic unity.

Europe and North America standing strong together in NATO.

So the goal of our NATO 2030 initiative is to prepare our Alliance for the future.

Over the past months, Allies have been consulting closely and constructively.

We still have some work to do.

But we all agree that we must take ambitious and forward-looking decisions.

First, we will reinforce our unity.

Consulting more on all issues that affect our security in NATO.

Strengthening our commitment to collective defence.

And agreeing to develop NATO's next Strategic Concept to chart a common course for the future.

Second, we will broaden NATO's approach to security.

With a strengthened focus on resilience, including infrastructure, supply chains, and communications.

We will also take decisions to sharpen our technological edge.

And to set the gold standard when it comes to understanding and mitigating the security implications of climate change.

Third, we will play a greater role in safeguarding the international rules-based order.

To defend our values and interests.

Deepening our partnerships with like-minded countries and forging new ones.

And stepping up training and capacity-building for partners.

All of this work will require continued investment in our defence.

We are on the right track, with seven consecutive years of increases by European Allies and Canada.

And we need to keep up the momentum.

We need to spend more.

But we also need to spend more together.

Therefore, Allies should invest more together.

Because pooling our resources is a force multiplier.

A more effective way to boost our common security.

And it sends a powerful message of unity and resolve – both to our own people, and to any potential adversary.

NATO brings together Europe and North America.

We must continue to adapt to an age of global competition.

And we must continue to stand together to defend our one billion people.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you. We'll start with Rikard Jozwiak from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Rikard, go ahead, please.

Rikard Jozwiak, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
Mr. Secretary General, you'd mentioned Belarus briefly. And I wonder, I mean, you have already condemned what happened last week, the North Atlantic Council came with a statement as well, and you have supported further EU measures. But I wonder if NATO, or you specifically, will take any measures as well against Belarus? I recall, for example, a few years ago you capped the number of Russian diplomats that could come into the NATO Headquarters. Is something similar in the pipeline for Belarus as well?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The NATO Allies have agreed a very strong statement where we convey a very clear message. We strongly condemn the forced landing of the civilian aircraft in Minsk. We call on an independent international investigation. And we also clearly state that this is not only something which is violating international norms and rules, but also a direct attack on the freedom of expression and the free and independent press. Therefore, we also call on the immediate release of those two that were arrested during the forced landing. And we have also clearly stated that we welcome the decision by many NATO allies to impose sanctions, including restricting the access of the Belarussian airliner to their airspace. And of course, we also welcome the decisions and the measures implemented by the European Union. So NATO allies are reacting in a united way, clear condemnation, but NATO allies are also imposing sanctions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we'll now go to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Thomas Gutschker (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung):
Yes, thanks a lot. Secretary General, in London, NATO spoke about China for the first time, mentioning it presents challenges and opportunities. Now, in the meantime, the focus on China has become more evident and some Allies have moved to a stronger language. The EU for instance has called China a strategic rival. Are we going to see that same movement and that same consideration of China in the framework of systemic rivalry also in the communiqué that is being prepared and in the language from the leaders meeting? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Thank you so much. I'm not in a position where I can go into the details on the exact language of the communiqué because we are now negotiating and working on the communiqué. And we are also working on the NATO 2030 agenda. But what I can say is that what we have seen over the last years, at least especially since the summit in London in 2019, is that we have seen the convergence of position and understanding among Allies, including many of them EU members, of the challenges posed by the rise of China. We continue to believe that there are opportunities related to the rise of China for our economies, for trade, but of course, especially in addressing common challenges like, for instance, climate change.

At the same time, that is no doubt that the rise of China also poses serious challenges. China will soon have the largest economy in the world. They already have the second largest defence budget. They have the largest Navy in the world already, and they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities including hypersonic weapon systems and they are integrating new disruptive technologies like facial recognition, artificial intelligence and big data into the new weapon systems. And then, China is not sharing our values. They don't believe in democracy. They don't believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of media. We see how they oppress minorities like the Uighurs, and crack down on democratic opposition in Hong Kong and also how they coerce neighbours, and how they threaten Taiwan.

So all of this together matters for our security and China is also coming to us. We see them in cyberspace. We see them in Africa. We see them in the Arctic, and we see China investing heavily in our critical infrastructure here in Europe. 5G is an example where we have seen Allies realising the risks related to foreign ownership, foreign control, and therefore welcome the fact that NATO Allies have developed a more common understanding of the importance of, for instance, protecting our critical infrastructure and the challenges posed by the rise of China. So I'm confident that when NATO leaders meet in a couple of weeks here in Brussels, they will agree a communiqué. They will agree a NATO 2030 agenda which will also reflect the increased awareness and a higher degree of common understanding of the convergence of positions when it comes to the challenges posed by China and increased global competition which matters for us in this region in North America and in Europe.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, for the next question we'll go to Oslo, to Alf Bjarne Johnsen from VG. Yes.

Alf Bjarne Johnsen (VG- Norway):
All right. Yeah, thank you. Secretary General, you probably are aware of the statement from Prime Minister Solberg in Oslo last week, indicating that NATO should minimise the scope of the NATO 2030 strategy. And she also shared that she wished NATO to be restrained on where to put their resources on behalf of the Alliance. So I wanted to ask you about your comments to her statement. Is there a wider demand for reduced ambitions in the NATO 2030 strategy in the Capitals? Or have other Allies made the same remarks in preparation for the leaders meeting in two weeks?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We have a constructive process in NATO now where we are preparing the different decisions for the summit on the 14th of June here in Brussels, and we are moving towards consensus, and I welcome the constructive approach by NATO Allies. What we see is that NATO allies understand the need for NATO to do more in response to a more unpredictable and competitive world. Where we see new challenges are more complex security challenges. So therefore, we see that NATO Allies realised the need for NATO to step up not only when it comes to deterrence and defence, but also when it comes to, for instance, resilience, protecting our critical infrastructure, including for instance 5G telecommunications and undersea cables.

We see the need to address technology and to work together to make sure that NATO Allies maintain our technological advantage, our technological edge. And that we also prevent new gaps between Allies as we introduce new and more demanding and challenging technological solutions to our different systems. And then I also welcome the fact that Allies agree on the need for NATO to respond to the security implications of climate change. Global warming, climate change, matters for our security. Climate change is a crisis multiplier and therefore NATO has to understand the link between climate change and security. We need to adapt the way we do military missions and operations because our military has to operate in more extreme weather, extreme heat and rising sea levels. All of that matters for our forces, our bases.

In Iraq for instance, we had more than 50 degrees celsius in several days last year. Of course that matters for the way we conduct military operations there. And of course, NATO also needs to contribute to reduced emissions. More consultations and also addressing the rise of China, shifting global balance of power, all of this is what NATO 2030 is about. And I welcome the fact that we see a constructive process in NATO and I'm absolutely confident that when NATO leaders meet in Brussels in a couple of weeks they will agree an ambitious and forward-looking NATO 2030 agenda.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we can I think come back to Brussels now to Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning.

Lailuma Sadid (Brussels Morning):
Thank you very much Oana. Thanks for giving the chance to ask the question. Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning. Secretary General, as you mentioned about Afghanistan, CNN reported that after the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda could launch an attack in Afghanistan and [inaudible] within 18 months. How do you evaluate the situation and do you think the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is happening in the right time? And also the second question, if I may ask, the other report said the US would be better based in Pakistan or maybe in Tajikistan next to Afghanistan. Will NATO troops follow of Pakistan or Tajikistan allowing that US build up base there, thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The security situation in Afghanistan remains very difficult and challenging. And, of course, the decision to withdraw our troops entails risks, but also to stay, we'd have implemented risks for our Alliance with more fighting, potentially more fighting, more and more casualties, and even the need to maybe increase the number of troops. So therefore, we made the decision to end our mission within weeks. I think we have to understand that the intention was never to stay in Afghanistan forever.

And over the last years, we have gradually reduced our presence from more than 100,000 troops, not so many years ago, to around 10,000 troops at the beginning of this year, and now it will go down to zero in the military mission. But as we end our military mission, we are stepping up our support to Afghanistan in other ways. First of all, we will maintain our civilian presence in Afghanistan to provide advice and capacity building to the Afghan security institutions. We will fund the Afghan Security Forces, make sure that we are allocating significant amounts of money to the Afghan Security Forces. And we will also provide, we are planning to provide out-of-country training for the Afghan Security Forces. And we are also now working on how we can sustain critical infrastructure. For instance, the airport provides support to the running of the airport and other critical infrastructure, which is important for the continued presence of the international community in Afghanistan.

And let me add that perhaps one of the most important things we have done in Afghanistan over the last years is to-as we gradually have reduced our own presence- is to train, support, help, to build professional committed Afghan Security Forces. And they are now in charge. And they are now responsible for the security in their own country. And at some stage the Afghans have to take full responsibility, responsibility for their own future. And I'm impressed by the strength and the courage of the Afghan security forces and knowing that there are risks, challenges, but also that's exactly why we will continue to provide support to them. It's not for me to comment on or to speak on behalf of the United States, but we are looking into how we can provide some out-of-country training for African security forces as we end the military presence in Afghanistan.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Ok. We will now go to Reuters, Sabine Siebold.

Sabine Siebold (Reuters):
Many thanks, Oana. Secretary General, Russia's Defence Minister today said that NATO had stepped up the military activity on Russia's western borders lately. And he also said Russia would take adequate countermeasures, around 20 military formations and units will be formed in the Western Military District by the end of the year, that's quoting Shoygu. Could you give us a reaction to that and to follow up if I may, could you give us any details on any restrictions that Belarussian diplomats are facing at NATO at the moment? Many thanks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First on the Belarussian officials. We are constantly assessing security measures here at NATO and we have decided to restrict the access of Belarussian personnel to the NATO headquarters based on our assessment of security measures at the headquarters. Then on Russia, what we see is a pattern of Russian behavior where Russia over the last years have invested heavily in new modern military capabilities, from conventional to nuclear weapon systems. But not only that, but Russia has been willing to use military force against neighbours, in Georgia and Ukraine, increasing and continuing to destabilise Donbass in Eastern Ukraine and illegally annexing Crimea.

And then we've seen more Russian military presence in the High North, in the Barents Sea, and in the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad, the Black Sea, and also down to the Mediterranean and Middle East. And this is one of the main reasons why NATO over the last years has increased the readiness of our forces and also why we have deployed battlegroups to the eastern part of the Alliance. Germany is leading one of them in Lithuania. NATO is a defensive Alliance, and NATO is there to protect and defend all Allies. And we are there to prevent conflict and war. But the best way of doing that is to send a clear message to any potential adversary that if one Ally is attacked, the whole Alliance will be there. And by doing so, we prevent war, we preserve peace.

We have also, of course, we will continue also what we call our dual-track approach to Russia, meaning that we are providing credible deterrence and defence, but at the same time, we work for meaningful dialogue with Russia. We believe in dialogue partly to strive for a better relationship with our neighbour Russia, but also because even if we're not able to, even without any improved relationship with Russia, it is important to manage a difficult relationship with Russia, with transparency on military activities, risk reduction, and also for instance, issues like arms control. So we continue this dual track approach to Russia. We demonstrate our will to defend and protect all Allies also by exercising together. But everything we do is defensive. And NATO 2030 is also about how we can further strengthen deterrence and defence in a credible, but also defensive way.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, well, we can now go to Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle / NPR.

Teri Schultz (Deutsche Welle / NPR):
Hi, thank you very much. Mr. Secretary General, I know this is a question you don't want to get. But anyway, so Allies. The question is about, the stories that are coming out about Denmark today. I mean, kind of an old story, but one that now is back in the news. I think that everyone knows that governments surveil each other to some extent, but do you expect that this new story about how Denmark helped the NSA spy on other countries will cause some tension ahead of the next meeting? Will it come up? Is this going to damage trust between Allies when they don't know whether one of them has actually heard their preparations for going into meetings like the summit and negotiations? And I know you can't comment directly on this case, but perhaps on the implications of this case for trust and unity going into the summit. Thanks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So I'm of course aware of these reports, but also know that the countries involved, they are now working on establishing the facts and getting all the facts on the table. NATO as an organisation is not involved. So it's not for NATO to go into these issues. I expect that those Allies that are involved will sit down and find ways to establish the facts and deal with these issues.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you. We now move to Levan Akhalaia from Georgian Public Broadcaster.

Levan Akhalaia (Georgian Public Broadcaster):
Thank you. Secretary General, I want to ask you about the summit [inaudible] especially about open door policy. Is there going to be a discussion about this topic on the next Summit, especially Georgia and Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
NATO's open door policy has been a great success. It has helped to spread democracy, the rule of law throughout Europe after the end of the Cold War, and we have almost doubled the number of members from sixteen to now thirty. And NATO's door remains open. And we have demonstrated that over the last few years with having first Montenegro and then last year, North Macedonia, as new members. We are working with aspirant countries like Georgia, like Ukraine. Our message is that the focus should be on reforms to modernise the defence and security institutions because we believe that that's the best way to move towards further Euro-Atlantic integration. But we also strongly believe that reforms to modernise defence and security institutions is also an aim in itself. And we continue to provide support, we help with these reforms programmes and we will, of course, continue to do that. And I expect that also, heads of state and government will recommit to continue to provide support to these highly valued partner nations of NATO.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, the next question goes to Robert Lupitu from Calea Europeana in Bucharest.

Robert Lupitu (Calea Europeana):
Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary General, you mentioned two topics are very important for the summit: resilience, and defence and deterrence. Today, Romania is launching its own Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre. This comes before the summit. How do you think the centre can mean- what can it mean for NATO's measures on resilience? As a follow up question about Russia's build up, can you elaborate a little bit on the measures that NATO can take on the upcoming summit for defence and deterrence on the eastern flank? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Resilience is extremely important. And that's the first line of defence to make sure that we have telecommunications, energy grids, undersea cables and many other parts of our critical infrastructure, which has to be in place in peace, crisis and conflict. And we also see more attempts to weaken and to interfere in critical infrastructure, especially through different types of cyber attacks.

So, we need to step up when it comes to defending our core and critical infrastructure and I expect NATO 2030 to send a very clear message on that. On the Eastern Flank, well, since 2014, NATO has stepped up significantly in the eastern part of the Alliance with the four battle groups in the Baltic region, but also with a tailored forward presence in Romania with a Multinational Training Brigade in Romania, and air policing in the Black Sea region and more maritime presence. We are now demonstrating this ability to both increase our presence, but also to reinforce, with the ongoing Exercise Steadfast Defender. I visited the UK battleship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth II off the coast of Portugal last week. And on that ship we have fifth generation aircraft, US Marines, we have a Dutch frigate helping to support it.

And the exercise is ongoing off the coast of Portugal, but also in Romania, the Black Sea, and it links together these two different theatres, and it links together our ability to move forces across the Atlantic and also across Europe. We also utilise our new command in Germany, which is about logistics. And the Deputy Secretary General of NATO is actually in Romania now visiting the exercise. So Steadfast Defender, involving thousands of personnel, ships, planes and vehicles, demonstrates our ability not only to increase our presence, but also our ability to reinforce and to move forces when needed. And NATO 2030 is about deterrence and defence, is about how to further strengthen our ability to protect and defend each other. So we have done a lot, but we continue to adapt.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
We'll now go to Ketevan Kardava from TV Imedi, Georgia.

Ketevan Kardava (TV Imedi):
Hello, Mr. Secretary General, can you hear me?

Thank you. I have a question about the Black Sea region. What additional measures can NATO take for more security in the Black Sea, as the situation is still fragile? And second point, as we are waiting for the NATO Summit in June, will NATO invite aspirant countries during the summit, and should we expect, for example, the NATO-Georgia Commission on the high level? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First, the summit will only be for Allies because it is a relatively short summit- one day- then as for next time, maybe we will then decide to have more time and then it is likely that having high-level partnership meetings will increase. But I'm not going to speculate about when we'll have the next high-level summit-level meeting with partners. But this time, it's a relatively short summit and therefore no partnership formats. On the Black Sea, well, first of all, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea. Three NATO Allies are littoral states, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. But we also have two highly valued partners, Georgia and Ukraine. We work together with them on also maritime security. We have worked with the Georgian Coast Guard. Last time I visited Ukraine, we visited the Naval Academy in Odessa, where NATO training advisors helped to strengthen the Ukrainian Navy.

So we have littoral NATO Allies in the Black Sea region, but also close partners, where we will work together on Black Sea security. We exchange information, we help to build capacity, and we have NATO presence in the Black Sea region on land, in the air and at sea. And then Steadfast Defender is a strong demonstration, a very tangible demonstration, of our ability to work as an Alliance and to deploy forces rapidly across Europe, and especially in the Black Sea region, Romania, because the exercise is actually focusing on an Article Five scenario where we have to come and demonstrate our ability to defend and protect our Allies in the Black Sea region.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
The next question comes from Jovana Djurisic from Pobjeda, Montenegro.    

Jovana Djurisic (Pobjeda):
Okay, thank you. So Secretary General, next week will mark more than four years of Montenegrin membership in NATO. I'm wondering, in your opinion, are there any differences between cooperation between NATO and Montenegro in recent years, and their cooperation today? Are you afraid that the current ruling coalition which is predominantly made of anti-NATO parties can harm these relations between Montenegro and NATO? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Montenegro is a valued Ally. Montenegro contributes to stability in the region. Montenegro contributes to NATO missions and operations. And I welcome the fact that Montenegro is a NATO member. And I had the honour also welcoming them when they decided to do so some years ago. I recently met with the President of Montenegro, Đukanović, which I also met not so long ago with the Prime Minister, representing the new government, the new coalition government, and they both assured me that Montenegro will continue to be a committed NATO Ally. And I welcome that. NATO is an Alliance of thirty democracies and of course, there are different views, different political parties and also different positions on the issues related to NATO. What matters for me is that Montenegro continues to demonstrate in deeds that they are a steadfast, committed NATO Ally and that's something I think is good for Montenegro, it's good for the region and good for the Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we have time for two final questions. And we'll go to Mustafa Sarwar from Radio Free Europe.

Mustafa Sarwar (Radio Free Europe):
Yeah, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General. What's NATO's long term commitment to Afghanistan as the international forces are withdrawing from the country? And how do you assess Afghan forces in the face of increasing security threats without having bases in Afghanistan in the future? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
There is no doubt that Afghanistan faces serious challenges. And that there is no easy way forward. At the same time, I strongly believe that at some stage the Afghans had to take full responsibility for their own future. The only way to lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. And as we end our military presence in Afghanistan, we will continue to provide support to the country with our civilian presence, helping with capacity building, with funding for the Afghan security forces, with helping to maintain some critical infrastructure including the airport, and then out-of-country training. And we have gradually reduced our presence from more than 100,000 troops to what we will do this year soon where we end our military mission in Afghanistan.

So I'm not under-estimating the challenges. We have been there for twenty years and we will continue to provide support but no longer through a military presence in Afghanistan.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
And for the final question. We'll go to now Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

Nawab Khan (KUNA):
Thank you, Oana. And so my question is, will there be any discussion on the Middle East equation at the Ministerials as well as during the summit later? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
NATO 2030 will be at the heart of the summit and in the NATO 2030 agenda we focus also on the importance of partnerships, working with partnerships to help stabilise our neighbourhood, realizing that when our neighbours are stable, we are more secure. And we have partners in the Middle East region. Jordan is a close and highly valued partner where we work together. We have the Mediterranean Dialogue which encompasses many countries in the Middle East region. And we also have a close partnership, for instance, with Kuwait and some of the Gulf countries. We have for instance, we have a NATO Training Centre in Kuwait. And I had the honour of inaugurating that Centre some years ago and have also been able to go back and see all the activities which are taking place there of importance for the region and for NATO and NATO partners.

And of course, then we have the NATO training mission in Iraq. We strongly believe that helping to train the Iraq Security Forces, helping to build security institutions, is the best way we can prevent the return of ISIS and we are now scaling up the NATO training mission in Iraq and all in close coordination with the Iraqi Government, everything we do in Iraq is by invitation of the Iraqi Government. So yes, partnerships- increased focus on partnerships, how we can strengthen our partnerships also with countries in the
the Middle East region and also provide more training and capacity support will be part of the discussions and decisions at the NATO summit later on this month.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you. Have a good afternoon. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Thank you.