Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers’ session

  • 01 Jun. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated 02-Jun-2021 10:42

(As delivered)

Good evening.

We have just concluded two virtual meetings of Foreign and Defence ministers.
To prepare our NATO Summit in two weeks from now.
In both sessions, we focused on our NATO 2030 agenda to strengthen our Alliance for the future.  

Ministers agreed that we need to take ambitious decisions to show that Europe and North America stand together in an age of global competition. 
And that we need to show transatlantic unity not just in words, but also in deeds.

I briefed you earlier on the Foreign Ministers’ discussion.

Defence Ministers focused on plans to reinforce our unity.
Including with a strengthened commitment to collective defence.
This means rapid and full implementation of our military adaptation.
And continued improvements to our readiness, our capabilities, and our defence investments.

Defence Ministers also addressed Afghanistan.
The drawdown of our forces is progressing in an orderly and coordinated way.
And at every step, the safety of our personnel remains paramount.

We are ending our military mission, but we are not ending our support to the Afghans.

So today, Defence Ministers discussed the way forward.
We will continue our civilian diplomatic presence in Kabul.
To provide advice and capacity-building support to Afghan security institutions.
We will continue to provide funding to the Afghan security forces.

We are also looking at how we can provide military education and training outside Afghanistan, focused on Special Operations Forces.

And we are working on how to fund the provision of services enabling Allies and the international community to stay in Kabul, including support for the airport.

Ministers agreed that this continued support is the best way in which we can all contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: And we will start with Brooks Tigner from Jane's Defence.

Brooks Tigner (Jane's Defence Weekly): Yes, I have two unrelated questions, Mr Stoltenberg. You said earlier that NATO ministers agreed to create a defence innovation accelerator, which is supported by funding from nations that decide to participate. So my question there is: how will that approach benefit those Allies who do not financially participate regarding their access to any technologies developed by the accelerator. 

My second question pertains to NATO's deterrence and missile defence. And here I do not refer to NATO’s evolving ballistic missile defence, which we all know is geared towards threats from the south, so we do not need any explanation of that. I refer instead to NATO’s missile defence against medium and long-range threats and the growing arsenal of Russia and Chinese missiles. 

So we know that Allies are [inaudible] more common funding and that they will take a stronger missile defence into consideration in the new Strategic Concept. 

So my question to you is: do you think the Allies should spend more of their common funding on missile defence or not? Thank you. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First on the technology accelerator. We need to sharpen our technological edge. And therefore, as part of NATO 2030, we are now discussing working on how we can establish an accelerator which will be a center that brings together Allies, to help them to coordinate and work together on developing technologies, and also to provide some additional funding from those Allies that decide to participate…

This is important because we see that new and disruptive technologies, such as autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, big data is really changing the way our militaries are going to operate in the future. And we need to maintain our technological advantage, our technological edge, as we have had for so many decades.

And we also see that for instance China is investing heavily in these technologies, and their intent is to become the world's leading power in, for instance, artificial intelligence, in the next decade. And NATO has to stay ahead of the curve and that's the reason why we are now, as part of the NATO 2030 agenda, working on this defence accelerator as a tool to strengthen our coordination, our work on technology, and also to prevent any gaps between Allies. Because we need to maintain our ability to work together, interoperability, also in age of new and more disruptive technologies. 

The aim is to make a decision to establish this accelerator at the Summit in two weeks’ time. Then, we need to work on the exact governance structures and define the details and also location and so on, on this new accelerator. So it's still some important work that has to be done after the Summit. But to take the decision in principle to establish the accelerator and also to make clear that Allies can opt in or out. 

So exactly how, what kind of access those Allies who are not part of the accelerator to have, it's too early to say. But of course they will not have the same access and not participate in exactly the same way as those Allies that decide to be part of the accelerator and also then provide funding for the accelerator.

I believe that many Allies will actually decide to participate because they see the high value of working together, transatlantic, working with private sector work, working with academia and also supporting start-ups and actually pulling resources by doing this together. So for me this is an important and very forward looking proposal, one of the many in the NATO 2030 agenda.

Then, on air and missile defence. 

So first of all, we have the NATO capability targets, and we have agreed that we need to invest more in air and missile defence. And NATO Allies are doing that. More and more Allies are now investing more in new advanced systems to be able to protect and defend ourselves against different types of threats, air and missile attacks.  

I believe that, in addition to what nations do nationally, there are also good reasons for doing more together as NATO and also use common funded budgets to invest in this to strengthen the coordination, to develop  command and control, and also improve our ability to share information and all the many aspects related to effective and coordinated air and missile defence. 

So, again, we have some work to do. But one of the reasons why there's broad support for strengthening our deterrence and defence, including by investing together, is that is an efficient way of spending money, investing money. It is strengthening our ability to work together. And air and missile defence, integrated air and missile defence, over NATO territory, NATO airspace, is one example of an area where we need a national effort, very much coordinated by the NATO capability targets, but also then supported by and further augmented by, common funded investments by NATO Allies.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: The next question goes to Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning.

Lailuma Sadid (Brussels Morning): Thank you Oana and good evening. As you heard, Secretary General, Australia announced the closure of their embassy in Kabul because of the security uncertainties and because of the troop withdrawal. Other embassies are in the process of following suit. Since the situation isn’t getting better are you concerned about these developments? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is ending its military mission, the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, but we will continue to provide support and we will do that in different ways. We will continue our diplomatic civilian presence in Afghanistan, to provide support, capacity-building advice to the Afghan security institutions. 

We will continue to provide funding for Afghan security forces. And we are also now working on how we can establish out of country training for the Afghan forces, especially the special operation forces. And then, on top of that, we are now working together with all the Allies, NATO Allies are working together  to make sure that we can provide support to important infrastructure, to support the international community at large.

All the diplomatic missions, non-governmental organisations, help them to provide both civilian supportive diplomatic presence but also development aid. And one key aspect of that is the work we are doing now to provide support to continue to have a functioning airport, meeting international standards, in Kabul, which is of course extremely important for any diplomatic civilian presence in Afghanistan.

We are fully aware that the situation in Afghanistan is challenging, fragile and difficult.

And we are under no illusion that the way forward in Afghanistan is easy, and there are serious risks. At the same time, over now close to two decades, NATO Allies have provided substantive support to the Afghan security forces and help to build a professional, strong Afghan army and security force, which has proven very capable. And that has enabled to gradually decrease our presence from more than 100,000 troops not so many years ago, to, at the beginning of this year,10,000 troops, and then we will end our military presence within short time.

But as I said, we will, in light of the challenges and in light of the uncertainty, continue to provide support and we are working on the modalities of that support as we speak.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: For the next question, we will go to Bucharest and Robert Lupitu from Calea Europeana.

Robert Lupitu (Calea Europeana): I have two questions. One on resilience and the other one on common funding. 
Romania presented today its Euro-Atlantic Centre for Resilience to NATO Allies. How was this proposal has been seen or received by Allies, considering the fact that Romania wants to use the Centre as a platform together for NATO Allies and the EU.

And on common funding. Three weeks ago, together with President Biden, you participated to the Bucharest Nine Format, where all NATO Allies from the eastern flank urged once again for reinforcement measures and supplementary military measures on the eastern flank. 

Can we see this idea of common funding being targeted also to reinforce the NATO's position in the eastern flank? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, absolutely. Of course, NATO Allies decide what we use or in what we invest when we allocate our common funded budgets. And common funding has, over decades as long as NATO has existed, been important to bind Allies together, to strengthen their ability to operate together and to invest in critical infrastructure, readiness and exercises. And of course all of this is relevant for our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. 

And, over the last years, we have increased defence spending in NATO Allied countries or across NATO, but our common funded budgets have not increased. So we believe, and there is broad consensus, that we should invest more together, because this is a force multiplier. And it is an investment in binding North America and Europe together which is the core task of NATO. And by investing together we invest more efficiently and we can achieve more than we can do as individual Allies. 

But of course, the vast majority of defence spending will still come in the national defence budgets. But if we believe in multilateral cooperation, if we believe in the value of doing things together, of course common funding is the glue that actually binds us together and help us also to achieve things we cannot achieve as individual Allies.

So, then, to be able to implement the plans, we have to strengthen our deterrence and defence posture. Common funding will be helpful to ensure full and speedy implementation.

The Resilience Centre, of course, that's something we welcome. NATO believes that resilience is our first line of defence. Critical infrastructure has to be protected, it has to be resilient. And this is everything from energy grids to telecommunications, 5G, to undersea cables. And working with the EU on the resilience is actually one of the areas which we have identified as an important area to work together with the EU and discuss that with the European College when I met all the Commissioners not so long time ago. And also I've discussed that with the EU leadership, in different formats, over a long period of time. 

So the Resilience Centre is important. The Deputy Secretary General of NATO has already visited it and he told me that he was very impressed. And that this is really a contribution by Romania to NATO, to Europe, to EU. And the way we're working together. So we welcome this initiative and I look forward to seeing the results and everything that Centre is going to do to help all of us strengthening our work on resilience. 

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Ok, for the last question we will go to Prague to Mustafa Sarwar from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 

Mustafa Sarwar (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty): Thank you very much, Oana. Thank you, Mr Secretary General. Two questions, if I may. Can the Taliban win militarily? 
And the second one is: NATO is going to end its longest mission in Afghanistan after 20 years. Do you think that the longest war in Afghanistan, that has hard hit the ordinary Afghans, will come to an end by September 11? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We have been very clear, clear-eyed about the fact that the decision to end the military mission Resolute Support, and NATO's presence in Afghanistan, entails risks because the situation in Afghanistan is difficult. And we see reports about violence, attacks and also brutal violence against the children's school, young girls, absolutely innocent civilians which are victims of this meaningless violence we see again and again in Afghanistan.

So we don't underestimate the challenges and the risks. At the same time, to decide to stay and continuous to support mission will also have entailed risks. The risks of increased violence, the increase… against also of course the NATO troops and NATO forces, the increased risk of being forced to increase the number of troops, and also the risk of being engaged in an open-ended mission.

Out of country training, funding for Afghan security forces and our continued civilian presence in Afghanistan. 

And that has been also a clear message from ministers in the meeting today that they stand by that decision to continue to provide support, and also to help facilitate the continued presence of the international community, for instance by supporting an international airport in Kabul. 

So all in all, no one believes that this is an easy decision. But after two decades, we made the decision to end our mission, the meaning was never to stay there forever. But at some stage, say, that now the time has called for the Afghans to be fully in charge of their own future. 

And the only way to have a lasting, peaceful solution Afghanistan is to have an Afghan-owned an Afghan-led peace process, and that the Afghans are in full charge of their own future.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference and the meeting, the virtual meetings of Defence and Foreign Ministers. Thank you.