Press conference

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

  • 21 Oct. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 21 Oct. 2021 20:23

(As delivered)

Good evening.

We have just concluded the first day of the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers.

We addressed our deterrence and defence posture.
NATO is already making a major adaptation of our Alliance,
and we are undertaking a major adaptation to a more complex and competitive world.
We have increased the readiness of our forces.
And all Allies are investing more in defence.

Today, ministers endorsed a new overarching plan to defend our Alliance in crisis and conflict.
To make sure that we continue to have the right forces at the right place, at the right time.
To protect our one billion people from any threat.

Ministers also agreed to the NATO capability targets.

This is part of the NATO defence planning process, and these targets help ensure that we have the capabilities for credible deterrence and defence.

Ministers also reviewed progress in our response to the growing threat from Russia’s missile systems.

We will not mirror Russia’s destabilising behaviour.
And we have no intention to deploy new land based nuclear missiles in Europe. 

So we are implementing a balanced package of political and military measures to respond to this threat.

This includes

  • significant improvements to our air and missile defences,
  • strengthening our conventional capabilities with fifth generation jets,
  • adapting our exercises and intelligence,
  • and improving the readiness and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent.

We will also continue our efforts to promote arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.


This afternoon, we discussed Afghanistan.

We exchanged views on how to preserve the gains and ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

We agreed we must remain vigilant. 
We will monitor any attempts by international terrorist groups to regroup in Afghanistan. 
Allies have the capabilities to strike from over the horizon, against terrorist threats.

We will hold the Taliban accountable for their pledges on terrorism, safe passage and human rights.

We also addressed the ongoing efforts to resettle Afghans.
In August, more than 120,000 people were evacuated from Kabul, on hundreds of Allied flights.

This includes around 2,000 Afghans who worked with NATO, and their families.
I welcome the commitments made by Allies to resettle these Afghans.
Hundreds have already started their new lives in their new host countries.

And we are continuing our efforts to make sure that those in temporary accommodation are resettled as quickly as possible.


It is important that our Alliance, and the international community reflects on all our efforts in Afghanistan over the years.
We discussed NATO’s lessons learned process.

The crisis in Afghanistan does not change the need for Europe and North America to stand together in NATO in the face of growing global challenges.
Our unity and our strength is what keeps us secure.

It is vital that we continue to coordinate and stand together in the fight against international terrorism.

And tomorrow, Allies will participate in a meeting of the Global Coalition against Daesh that we are hosting here at NATO.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Okay, we'll start in the room. I know we also have some questions online. We'll start with dpa, over there. Yes.

Ansgar Haase (dpa): Secretary General, this morning EU Defence Ministers presented, or discussed,  a new concept for EU rapid reaction force. Are you in favour that the EU develops its own capabilities, or should the EU member states invest more in NATO forces like the VJTF or the NRF? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I haven't seen that concrete proposal, but in general, what I can say about EU efforts on defence, is that I welcome EU efforts on defence when it's about, for instance, increasing readiness of forces, providing new capabilities, and that is something that NATO has been calling for many, many years. And yes, today, actually, all Allies, but also then many of the European Allies, agreed capability targets for NATO and all efforts that can help us to deliver more capabilities, increase readiness of our forces will be important and it is something which is welcomed by NATO. Because, as you know, most of the EU members are also NATO members, and therefore, we should have no competition, but actually make sure that what the EU does is complimentary to the NATO efforts.

What I think is important is that any increased readiness of forces, that these forces are available of course for national operations and missions, but also for NATO missions and operations, and of course also then for EU missions and operations. So, the thing is that what we need is higher readiness of forces in Europe, available for different missions and operations, and NATO has significantly increased the readiness of our forces. We have now tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, more than 40.000 troops, and we have the battle groups in the Baltic countries and Germany is leading one of them. So higher readiness, more capabilities as long as they also are available for NATO missions and operations, is something we welcome.


NATO Spokesperson:
Okay, we'll go over there… Just over there.

(Danish News Agency): Did you discuss the evacuations from Afghanistan today, and was the US criticized by the Allies for its handling of this during the discussions?

NATO Secretary General: So we had a very good discussion as part of the lessons learned process we launched at NATO, I launched at NATO, some time ago. And this meeting was the first opportunity for ministers to engage in that lessons learned process, and we see a convergence of views among Allies.

Of course, addressing the challenges and the problems, and what didn't work in Afghanistan, but also recognizing what worked, and actually what we achieved, not least in the fight against terrorism. The fact that we were able to degrade al Qaeda, and for twenty years prevent Afghanistan being a safe haven for national terrorists.

Then, on the evacuation many Allies actually commended the United States, and other Allies who were actually actively taking part in a big undertaking to get more than 120.000 people out of Kabul within a few days.

There was some tragic loss of lives. But at the same time, that doesn't change the fact that NATO Allies, the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Norway, with a hospital at the airport, and other Allies actually played a key role, including Denmark, Germany and others who helped to get tens of thousands, or actually more than 100.000 people out of Afghanistan. And actually Allies commended each other for doing this together. It also demonstrates that our NATO Allies can work together because we have trained interoperability, we have worked together for years. That enables to do these kinds of difficult missions, under very difficult circumstances. And Allies used also some of the capabilities we have developed together to get many people out in a very short, very short time.

NATO Spokesperson: Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Paul-Anton Krüger (Süddeutsche Zeitung): I asked you about the capability targets yesterday and you said you could probably say a little bit more after the session. So I wanted to follow up on this if you can go in a little more detail what the Allies agreed upon for the next four years.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First, in general, the capability targets are very important for NATO, because they are actually a part of a very thorough process when Allies sit together, address what kind of capabilities we need to face, and to respond, to all the different threats we are faced with, in many different domains.

And since very few Allies can have the whole spectrum of capabilities and defence systems, one of the really important tasks of NATO and actually what makes NATO so important, is our ability to coordinate and agree capability targets, so we can support and help each other as Allies without all Allies having all the different capabilities, but actually working together.

And today, we agreed the new set of capability targets. We speak about thousands of targets for all the different Allies together. What I can say is that we have agreed to deliver more forces with higher readiness. We have agreed to have more forces which are heavier, and with more high-end capabilities, and technologically advanced forces, and forces that need to fully exploit emerging and disruptive technologies to make sure that we maintain our technological edge. So again this is a key aspect of the NATO cooperation that we actually agreed specific capability targets, and then Allies deliver on them. That's also one of the reasons why we need to continue to see increased defence spending.


NATO Spokesperson: Ok. We have got Defense News, second row.

Joe Gould (Defense News): China wasn’t on the agenda as an agenda item, but did it come up indirectly? And what kind of progress was made towards addressing China in the Strategic Concept? And then a Russia question, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently toured the Black Sea region. Could we see a more muscular posture from NATO in that region, and what's driving concerns there? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: What we did today was to address and also make important decisions on how NATO should respond to a more competitive world, where we see more state-to-state rivalry, and where actually we see the whole global balance of power is shifting because of the rise of China.

So when you address this whole new security environment with new threats and new challenges, of course, part of that picture is China. And the fact that China is heavily modernizing its military capabilities, including advanced nuclear systems and long range missile systems, and also that we see China coming much closer to us, not least in cyberspace. So that's what we actually are addressing. So when we then agree to do more together, agree, for instance, today, a strategy on artificial intelligence, agree to have more technologically advanced weapon systems, agree to do all the other things we have agreed on, on overarching planning also for improving the defence of the Euro-Atlantic area. Of course, all of that is also relevant to the challenges posed by the rise of China.

Then the Black Sea. Well, of course, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea. Because the Black Sea is of strategic importance for NATO. Three NATO Allies are littoral states: Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, and then of course we have two very close partners, Georgia and Ukraine, and we have seen the illegal annexation of Crimea, and we have seen the aggressive behaviour of Russia in the Black Sea. So, we have increased our presence in the region, in the air, at land and at sea, and we are constantly assessing what more we can do, partly by increasing the presence but also partly by increasing our ability to quickly deploy forces if needed. And that's exactly why we need high readiness of our forces.


NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll take a couple of questions online. We'll go to Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle /NPR.

Teri Schultz (NPR): Hi, thank you very much. Mr Secretary General, you said that Allies have agreed that you would remain vigilant over the Taliban's actions and that you retain the capabilities to act, if needed. Particularly, I guess, in case of counterterrorism. Does the fact that there haven’t been any actions against the Taliban so far indicate that you're satisfied with their record right now on safe passage and human rights? Because certainly speaking with people on the ground there, they're telling some pretty horrific stories about what's happening. So, what kind of capabilities do you have and what are you doing right now in response to these kinds of stories?

NATO Secretary General: We have to distinguish between different challenges in Afghanistan. One very important challenge is of course to hold the Taliban accountable for what they have promised on human rights, including rights of women, and on safe passage.

We are able to get people out and Allies continue to get people out of Afghanistan, and Allies will continue to be focused on that. When it comes to human rights and the rights of women, of course, we are deeply disappointed about what we have seen from the Taliban regime, so far.

But NATO Allies continue to use leverage, economic, diplomatic, political leverage. Of course, we don't have the same leverage now when we don't have thousands of troops on the ground, but that doesn't mean that we have no leverage whatsoever. And Allies continue to use that leverage. NATO is a platform for coordinating those efforts and we have participated in different meetings, efforts, the coordinate efforts of NATO Allies and partners in sending a clear message, and using the financial, and diplomatic, and political leverage we have on the Taliban regime.

On top of that, of course, many Allies are also engaged in different kinds of humanitarian aid, support to the nongovernmental organizations who are also now trying to provide different kinds of support to people in Afghanistan.

So that's part of the task and the challenge in Afghanistan.

Another the challenge is, of course, terrorist groups which are planning, organizing, conducting terrorist attacks from Afghanistan against our countries. And that's a different thing. And actually that has not been what Taliban has done, but the challenge back in 2001 was that Taliban hosted and worked with al Qaeda.
So I think it's important to distinguish between different groups and different fractions in Afghanistan.
And what I have said many times, and also what the Allies have confirmed is that, especially United States but also other NATO Allies, have the capabilities to strike terrorist groups from distance, if needed, as they have done in other countries, meaning that we don't have to have thousands of troops on the ground to strike terrorist groups if we see that terrorist groups are reconstituting themselves, planning, organizing, conducting terrorist attacks against our countries.

So both tasks, both challenges are very important, but they are very different than they had to be, of course, addressed with very different tools.


NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Thank you. For the last question, we'll go to Nikkei, Togo Shiraishi.

Togo Shiraishi (Nikkei): Thank you for taking my question. You mentioned yesterday that there shouldn't be a rift between the United States and European countries. Did you talk about these potential risks in repairing the relationship between the United States and European countries? And did you also discuss AUKUS today? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We had a very good discussion today, where Allies actually demonstrated that we are able, that we continue to stand together, not only in words but also in deeds.

We made important decision [on] how to continue to strengthen our Alliance with more capabilities, with better and improved our modernized plans, and also with new strategies, for instance on artificial intelligence. And on top of that also we are now making important progress on how we can work more closely together on technology by establishing an Innovation Accelerator and Allies are signing up to Innovation Fund to help to promote innovation, among all, across the Alliance.

So what we have demonstrated today is that, yes, sometimes there are bilateral differences, disagreements between Allies. But NATO is always able to unite around their core task, and continue to work together and to strengthen the Alliance in a more competitive world.

And if anything, the challenges we see in the Asia Pacific, the rise of China, just makes it even more important that Europe and North America stand together in NATO. And NATO Allies decided at our Summit in June that we will step up the cooperation, the partnership, the work with our partners in the Asia Pacific, which includes New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

And of course we are going to deliver on those decisions, and we have taken some important steps at the meeting today. And it was a very good meeting, and even more important, not only the atmosphere was good but more importantly we made important decisions, demonstrating the strength of the transatlantic alliance, Europe and North America.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference and hope to see you tomorrow. Good evening.