Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Finland Sauli Niinistö

  • 25 Oct. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Oct. 2021 14:52

(As delivered)

Thank you so much President Niinistö, dear Sauli, it's great to see you again, and great to be back in Helsinki, and it's also great for me to be here together with the whole North Atlantic Council representing all the thirty members, Allies in NATO and Finland is one of NATO's closest partners, and we very much appreciate the fact that we have been able to strengthen this partnership over the last years. We share the same values, we share the same security challenges, and therefore, it absolutely makes sense that NATO and Finland are working closely together on issues of common importance, importance for both NATO and for Finland, including on the security in the Baltic Sea region, but also in the High North. Together, we make the Euro-Atlantic region more secure and more stable, including through NATO's enhanced forward presence in the Baltic region, our air policing mission, and of course, Finland’s commitment to its national defence.

So, Mr. President, I have always welcomed the discussions we have had on Russia. Your  pragmatic relations with your neighbour supports NATO's dual track approach, including to have a meaningful dialogue with Russia.

I would also like to thank you for your personal efforts over the years to promote air safety in the Baltic Sea region. In recent years, we have developed ways to make sure that we are able to work even more closely together, that our forces are able to operate and communicate with each other quickly and securely. Our forces, the NATO forces and the Finnish Armed Forces exercise together, and work together to help build international peace and stability from the Western Balkans to Iraq. I also value our regular political dialogue and consultations. Only last week, Finland participated in the meeting of the NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels, and today's visit by the North Atlantic Council is a further demonstration on the strength of our bond. Our partnership means more security, both for NATO, and for Finland.

Together, we are addressing a lot of different common challenges. And today we discussed how we could do more together to face a more complex and competitive world. Russia continues with its aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours and beyond and China is asserting its economic and military might. We face cyber threats and terrorism, and the security challenges of climate change. We also in our meeting today discussed NATO's Open Door policy, a historic success, that has increased security and stability in Europe, and the Alliance's door remains open to countries in Europe that meet the criteria for membership.

The Alliance is fortunate to have, like-minded friends and partners around the world, and Finland is one of the most important ones. While we work closer together, NATO fully respects Finland's strong, independent security policy. So President Niinistö, dear Sauli, thank you for a very interesting meeting today, I look forward to continue our work to strengthen NATO and Finland’s partnership, because this is good for NATO, and it is good for Finland. Thank you so much.

So the first question goes to the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation and Anniina Valtonen, please tell to whom you address your questions, is it for both or just one of the participants.

Ms. Anniina Valtonen (Yle):
My question is about the new strategy of the NATO.

So, Mr. Secretary General, it is expected that China is getting more attention in the new strategy, as you already described in the Financial Times, China has a great interest in the Arctic, and in cyberspace. After decades of focusing on Russia, what does this new emphasis on China mean for the Baltic Sea region and Arctic?

And Mr. President, the relations between Russia and NATO are at their lowest. Is there something Finland can do in order to help to keep the channels of discussion open?
Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
On China. First of all, I’d like to say that we are in NATO now starting to work on the new Strategic Concept, which is going to be agreed by all NATO Allies, the leaders heads of state and government when they meet at our summit in Madrid next year. Of course, it's too early for anyone to say exactly what we will agree, because the process will go on, and we will consult and then agree at the summit. But what I can say is that over the last couple of years we have seen that China has become much more prominent on the NATO agenda. And we have, we agreed, common positions on China at the Summit we had this year in June in Brussels. And you're right this is new, because NATO Allies realise that the global balance of power is shifting, and the rise of China matters for our security, and therefore, it matters for a NATO.

We don't regard, and China as an adversary. We believe it's important to engage with China on many issues including, for instance, climate change or arms control, But we also realise that China poses challenges to our security.

China will soon have the biggest economy in the world. They don't share our values. We see how they crack down on democratic protests in Hong Kong, and how they treat minorities as the Uighurs, and also the threatening language they use against Taiwan.

China will soon have the biggest economy in the world.  They already have the second largest defence budget, the biggest Navy.  They invest heavily in new modern military capabilities, including advanced weapon systems using new technologies, disruptive technologies, integrating that into their new weapon systems, and also investing heavily in new long-range nuclear weapons, building high number of missile silos that will increase the number of nuclear weapons, warheads significantly in China. This matters for our security. These weapons, these warheads can reach the whole of NATO, the whole of Europe. And, of course, when we then look into the future when we discuss how to make sure that we can keep all Allies safe, we also have to take into account the rise of China, economically, and militarily.

Then, China's coming closer to us. We see them investing heavily in critical infrastructure trying to control critical infrastructure in Europe.

We have a very important discussion on 5G, where actually in the beginning many Allies, regarded that as a purely economic issue. Then we came a long way, we consulted the NATO Allies realized that 5G is the basis for our economies in the future. Also matters for security, and therefore, that was kind of a case, demonstrating that that infrastructure is important for security, and what China does matters in that sense, in that regard.

Second, we see them not only trying to control critical infrastructure in Europe, but also coming very much closer in cyberspace. And we see them also operating in space that matters for everything related to communications. Many activities on Earth is dependent on satellites and on other capabilities we have in space. So China is coming closer to us. And this demonstrates that China matters for our security.

So altogether, this is the reason why NATO Allies have already agreed to put China higher on our agenda. And then, I expect also China of course to be an important part of the process leading up to the next Strategic Concept to be agreed next June.

President of Finland, H.E. Sauli Niinistö:
Yes. I have been advocating for dialogue for the whole time I have been in this office.

Why? I think that what we have learned is that the most difficult situation both in the world is that if nations don't understand each other, if they don't speak to each other, then nobody knows what's in the other's head. What we heard about China, all these space, artificial intelligence, they make a huge new challenge, and we if we are not able of talking about them, because they might be a problem for everybody. So, there should be a basis for discussions, and a basis for at least create a medium level of trust between the main actors. When it comes to NATO-Russia relation, deterrence I think he's in good place, but the dialogue as we have heard, is not working very well. I have with my discussions with the Russian leaders always tried to point out that it is important that there's Russian-Western discussing going on - West in this is NATO, EU, whatever-, and I will continue, keep advocating this kind of position because it reflects the Helsinki spirit. And that's what we need now.

Next question is Päivi Lakka, Ilta Sanomat.

Ms. Päivi Lakka (Ilta Sanomat):
I would have a question for Mr. Secretary General, about NATO's New Strategic Concept. What role will NATO's enhanced opportunity partners such as Finland have in this renewed NATO, and do you see the role changing somehow?
And secondly, will the doors remain open for Finland's NATO membership also in the future?

And if also Mr President, Minister would like to comment on the discussions you had around this topic today? What does the renewed NATO's Strategic Concept mean for Finland in your opinion? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
NATO's Strategic Concept is our most important to document next to the founding treaty. So, this concept is something we revise not so very often. The last time we developed and agreed a new strategic concept was back in 2010.

But now we have agreed that we should develop and agree a new strategic concept, because the world has changed fundamentally since.

For instance in the current strategic concept we refer to Russia as a strategic partner, you know, that was before Crimea, before the significant military build up by Russia that lead to the demise of the INF Treaty. We hardly mentioned climate change at all. Now we realize that that climate change is important for our security should be reflected in the Strategic Concept. And China has not been mentioned with a single word. So the reason why we have agreed that we need to develop a new Strategic Concept is simply that the world has changed fundamentally over the last 10 years so now it's time to update and develop a new concept. That's exactly what we'll do as we prepare for the next summit in Madrid next June.

Then again is, I cannot tell you exactly what will be in that concept, but I expect, that of course, partnerships will be important. Because if anything, in a more competitive world, more challenging security environment, just makes it even more important for NATO to work with our closest partners, the enhanced opportunity partners - Finland is one of them-, is something we highly value, it's extremely important. And especially, if it comes to the security situation the Baltic Sea region, in this region, NATO's presence in the Baltic countries, and the Nordic countries, Finland and Sweden are important partners, and we appreciate and value that we're able to work together, exercise together, communicate, and strengthen our partnership. We also welcome the fact that Finland is participating in different NATO missions and operations, also in our presence, for instance, in Iraq. So I believe that partnership will become just more important, and that this new Strategic Concept will stress and demonstrate, and underline the importance of partnership, especially with our close partners, as Finland.

And then I also expect that of course it will be stated that NATO's door remains open. NATO enlargement has been a great success; it has helped to spread democracy, stability, peace throughout Europe. At the end of the Cold War, we had 16 members of NATO, now we are 30 members, almost twice as many, and that has helped to stabilize Europe to promote peace and stability.

And we have demonstrated that NATO's open door policy is something we believe in, not only in words but also in deeds, because over the last few years we have had two new members, North Macedonia and Montenegro.

And of course, Finland is being such a close partner with such a high level of interoperability already, of course, Finland is very close to NATO. NATO's door remains open. But this for Finland to decide. For us it is extremely important, also based on actually the Helsinki Final Act agreed here in 1975, that it is for every sovereign, independent nation to decide his own path, whether it was allowed to be part of the military alliance as NATO or not.

So this is at the end of the day up to Finland to make that decision, we respect that decision if it's no, and we respect that if it's yes, then we'll sit down and start to discuss, as we do with all the aspirant countries.

The last thing I'll just add is that, as President Niinistö said, dialogue is important and NATO believes in dialogue. Also of course with Russia. Russia's our neighbour. Russia is investing heavily in new modern nuclear capabilities. We need to reduce tensions, and especially when times are difficult, as now, it is even more important to talk to Russia. And therefore I also welcome the fact that Finland plays a role in reaching out to, and is able to have a meaningful dialogue with Russia. And that also can help NATO in our engagement with Russia.

President of Finland, H.E. Sauli Niinistö:
Like we heard the NATO Compass is under process at the moment, we do not know exactly what it is including, but I'm very pleased to hear, Secretary General saying that partners will be one very important element of that concept. I would like to remind that in the same time European Union has its own Compass under development. And according to my understanding, both the Concept and Compass are discussed by the two together. So, I do not expect any problems with that, but we see hopefully more secure Europe after those documents are finished.


Question goes to Pekka Hakala, Helsingin Sanomat.

Mr. Pekka Hakala (HS):
So Turkish President Erdoğan told last week that he is going to expel ten ambassadors out from Turkey.

So Mr. President, to you. Finland being one of these countries, how to solve this diplomatic crisis?

Mr. General Secretary. Doesn't this mean an awful split inside NATO, and doesn't it actually mean that after the catastrophic retreat from Afghanistan, the organisation is weaker and less internally coherent then ever?

President of Finland, H.E. Sauli Niinistö:
First of all, it so happened that Ambassadors in Ankara, ten of them, gave a statement which… what I know about it is very much in line with the decision of the European Human Rights Court. So, that's the basement. We have heard, yes, by media, that there would be some Turkish reactions but we haven't heard it in diplomatic language yet. And so, we are waiting. What the reality here is whether Turkey takes steps or not. Before that, it's very difficult to give any larger answers.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
I'm of course, aware of the issue but as President Niinistö just said, no measures have been implemented. And I know there are contacts between Turkey and the countries involved including the NATO Allies involved, so I think that until we know more about the outcomes of those contacts, I think it's too early to say anything more. Because there are now contracts between the countries involved and Turkey.

On Afghanistan, I think it is important to remind everyone on why we actually went in.
We went into Afghanistan after a terrible deadly attack on the United States, a terrorist attack. Then we went into degrade Al Qaeda, to fight international terrorism, and over twenty years we have been able to prevent any terrorist attack organised from Afghanistan against any of our countries.

What has happened in Afghanistan over the last weeks is a tragedy for the Afghan people. It's heart breaking for all of us who supported Afghanistan including Finland. I met Finnish soldiers in Kabul, and I would like to praise them for their professionalism for the dedication and for the efforts, they made in preventing Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And, but their efforts were not in vain.

Because NATO Allies together with partners, as Finland, were able to prevent any attack from Afghanistan for twenty years, were able to prevent Afghanistan from returning to a platform for terrorist organisations to prepare, organise attacks against our countries.  And our ambition is to preserve that gain by using the leverage we have on the Taliban, the financial, the political, and the diplomatic leverage, to prevent Afghanistan turning back, and becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And Allies, especially the United States also made it clear that they have the capabilities to strike terrorist organizations from distance over the horizon, if needed.

So, yes, it is a tragedy for the Afghan people, and many of the gains we've made not least in… when it comes to rights of a women, political participation, the role of women in the society. There we have seen a serious setbacks, and big disappointments.

But when it comes to fighting terrorism, which was actually the reason we went, then we have achieved important things we are aiming at preserving those gains, and I'm grateful for what Finland did, and all Allies did in degrading Al-Qaeda and in fighting international terrorism.

So the last the last thing I would say is that, is that the decision to leave, was a decision we made together after consultations, it was not an easy decision. Because we knew when we made the decision to end the NATO military presence in Afghanistan that we risked the Taliban coming back. But we also knew that if we stayed we risked an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan with more casualties, also civilian casualties, and most likely, the need to increase the number of NATO and partner troops in the country.

So we made the difficult decision. Faced with a dilemma together, and we are still aiming at preventing Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for international terrorists.

And last question, Hanna Gråsten-Lahtinen, Iltalehti.

Hanna Gråsten-Lahtinen (IL):
I would like to have a question for Mr. Secretary General. Finland is EOP partner for NATO. What would need to do if Finland was attacked militarily, and would NATO help Finland militarily?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
So Finland is a close partner, and we work together with Finland.

We exercise together with Finland. We have increased what we call interoperability, the ability of forces to operate together, to communicate. And we demonstrate that in both NATO missions and operations, but also in big exercises, where we exercise and train together. This is important.

NATO has also increased its military presence in this region, in the Baltic Sea region, especially with the battle groups in the Baltic countries, and with air policing in the Baltic region, and also with more naval presence in the Baltic Sea. And then we also know that Finland has a strong defences, strong, very capable armed forces. And of course, all this together matters for security and it's important for Finnish security, and it's important for NATO.

But of course there is a difference between being member and not being member. And the difference is that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, our founding treaty, that says, that states that an attack on one Ally will be regarded as an attack on the whole Alliance, on all Allies, that collected defence clause doesn't apply for Finland. That's the difference between being a member and not being a member.

And again, as I said, NATO’s door remains open. It's a Finnish decision, and we respect the Finnish decision, whatever it is, because Finland is a sovereign, independent nation, and they, and Finland then decides itself. But being a member, then Article 5. applies, being not a member then Article Five does not apply, that's the difference.

Okay, thank you. This ends the press conference. Thank you very much.

President of Finland, H.E. Sauli Niinistö:
Thank you so very much. And thank you, Mr. Secretary General, Jens, it's always great pleasure meeting you.
And we will continue now with the Council.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
Thank you.