Pre-ministerial press conference

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

  • 26 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 27 Nov. 2021 13:56

(As delivered)

Good afternoon. 

NATO Foreign Ministers will meet next week to address pressing security issues.

We will address Russia’s continuing military build-up in and around Ukraine. 
This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed large and unusual concentrations of forces in the region.

This includes heavy capabilities like tanks, artillery, armoured units, drones, and electronic warfare systems.
As well as combat-ready troops.

This military build-up is unprovoked and unexplained.
It raises tensions.
And it risks miscalculations.

Russia must show transparency.
Reduce tensions and de-escalate. 

NATO’s approach to Russia remains unchanged.
We keep our defence and deterrence strong, while remaining open for dialogue.

We regret that Russia has cut off diplomatic ties with NATO.
Because in times like this, dialogue is more important than ever.  
We will also discuss the situation in the region with Georgia and Ukraine.
They are close and highly valued partners that aspire for membership. 
And NATO supports them, both politically and practically. 

NATO foreign ministers will also address 
the situation on the border with Belarus.
And the Lukashenko regime’s cynical exploitation of vulnerable people
to put pressure on our Allies Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. 

I discussed this issue with President Duda yesterday.
And on Sunday, I will travel to Lithuania and Latvia together with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Close cooperation between NATO and the European Union is essential to counter this hybrid campaign, which aims to destabilise our countries.    

Foreign ministers will also address NATO’s role in arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

We have a strong track record on these issues.

Since the Cold War, NATO reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe by more than 90%.

All Allies support the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. 
And NATO is determined to maintain its leading role on arms control.

But we should not be naïve.

Russia continues to develop and deploy new weapons systems.
Just last week, Russia conducted a reckless anti-satellite missile test, which put the International Space Station at risk. 

China is also rapidly expanding its conventional and nuclear arsenal.
Providing no transparency about its capabilities.
And showing little interest to engage in arms control.

Ministers will also address Afghanistan.

Following the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and armed forces in Afghanistan in August, I launched a comprehensive assessment of our engagement.

The return of the Taliban is tragic for the Afghan people.
And it is heart-breaking for all of us. 
NATO went into Afghanistan to prevent terrorists from using the country again to attack us.

And since 9/11, there has been no terrorist attack against our countries from Afghanistan. 

But we must recognise that over the years, the international community set a level of ambition that went well beyond the original aim of fighting terrorism.
And on that, we were not able to deliver.
Despite our sacrifice and considerable investment.  

So I expect ministers will consult, as we did throughout our engagement.  
And identify the right lessons for our future crisis management operations. 
We will also discuss NATO’s next Strategic Concept, our blueprint for the next decade and beyond.

It needs to take into account new realities.
Including Russia’s aggressive actions,
and a more assertive China, 
emerging and disruptive technologies, 
and the security impact of climate change.

It will drive our continued adaptation in a more competitive world. 

Finally, we will address the developments in the Western Balkans.
The region is of strategic importance for NATO.
It has come a long way since the conflicts of the 1990s.
But we have recently seen tensions rise.

In Kosovo, NATO troops are working together with EU diplomats to ease tensions on the border, 
and implement the recent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina,
We strongly support the unified state structures and the country’s multi-ethnic armed forces.
But we are concerned about the inflammatory rhetoric coming from Republika Srpska. 

So we will discuss NATO’s continued role in promoting stability and security in the region.

Our colleagues from Finland and Sweden will join us for this session, as well as EU High Representative Borrell.

Because we are stronger and more effective when we work together. 

So I look forward to meeting NATO Foreign Ministers in Riga. 

And with that I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Okay, we'll start with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Thomas Gutschker (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Thanks a lot. Secretary General, the incoming German government has stated its intent to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an observer. How do you view this as the Secretary General of an Alliance that continues to rely on nuclear deterrence?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Let me first congratulate the incoming government. I welcome the new platform. I think that is a platform that states clearly that Germany will continue to be committed to NATO, to be a strong and reliable Ally in NATO.  And I know the incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. And he has proven, again and again, that he is a strong supporter of our transatlantic bond, and I look forward to working with him.

I also welcome the clear message in the platform that Germany will stand by its commitments in NATO. I welcome also the decision to continue to be part of NATO's nuclear sharing arrangements, which are essential for our deterrence. And it also is a multinational framework within NATO to make sure that European Allies take part in this critical part of our deterrence and defense posture.

I also welcome that the platform clearly states that there is a need to invest in equipment, in capabilities for the Bundeswehr, for the German armed forces. And expect Germany to continue to invest more because the NATO commitment to invest more is based on very specific capability targets for each and every Ally, including Germany.

Then, on the Ban Treaty. All Allies agree that we should not sign-up to the Treaty, we should not be part of the Treaty, because we believe in balanced, verifiable arms control. All Allies agree that the aim is a world without nuclear weapons, but the way to get there, the path to get to a world without nuclear weapons is balanced, verifiable arms control, not unilateral arms control. And the world where we get rid of our nuclear weapons but where China, Russia and countries like North Korea continue to have nuclear weapons, is not a safer world. So the aim is a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will retain a nuclear deterrent.

There are different views on the issue of observing the Treaty. I welcome the fact that Germany so clearly, and the new government platform so clearly states that it will consult with Allies on this issue, because we need to speak with one voice on all issues related to nuclear issues, because this is important for the whole Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to the third row. Ukraine National News Agency.

Dmytro Shkurko (Ukraine National News Agency): Secretary General, it is more or less clear what kind of threats now Ukraine stand in front of, but can you elaborate a little bit about the challenges for Euro-Atlantic security [as a] whole because of that events. And the second question, if I may. Yesterday, you mentioned that, and confirmed again, that NATO is ready to meet and to discuss with Russia in format NRC, the issues including the issues around Ukraine. What kind of features could be discussed in those circumstances? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So we are of course concerned about what we see in and around Ukraine. We see an unusual concentration of forces, of military Russian capabilities. And this is the second time this year that they massed of this kind of troops close to Ukraine's borders. This is something that happens in parallel, or combined with, aggressive rhetoric by Russia. There is no certainty about the intentions of Russia. But what we do know is that they have concentrated forces close to Ukraine's borders. And we also know that Russia has used military force against Ukraine before. They continue to illegally annex Crimea. They continue to destabilize eastern Ukraine, Donbass, and they continue to launch cyber and hybrid attacks against Ukraine.

So if putting all this together, of course, there are reasons to be deeply concerned about the developments we see along the borders of Ukraine. Therefore, we call on Russia to be transparent, to de-escalate, and to reduce tensions. It is also clear that if Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that will have consequences. Therefore, we continue to call on Russia to de-escalate.

NATO's approach to Russia remains unchanged. We need to be firm, we need strong deterrence and defence, but at the same time, we believe in meaningful dialogue with Russia. And we continue to call on Russia to sit down and talk and especially when times are difficult as they are now. I think it's even more important that we have open lines of communications for a dialogue. Therefore, we regret the Russian decision not to participate in a meeting the NATO-Russia Council. We have been inviting Russia now for 18 months and they have still not answered. But what we have seen is that Russia recently decided to close down NATO’s military office in Moscow and suspend our diplomatic office, or civilian office, in Moscow and also suspend Russia's diplomatic mission to NATO. We urge Russia to revise these decisions and to sit down and engage in a dialogue with NATO.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to Rustavi 2.

Tamara Nutsubidze (Rustavi 2): Secretary General, as we know, Georgia’s and Ukraine’s ministers are invited to Riga ministerial, so can you tell us more details? Which issues will be discussed with ministers of these countries?

NATO Secretary General: First of all, I very much look forward to meeting the foreign ministers of Georgia and Ukraine in Riga next week. Both countries are highly-valued partners of NATO. We work closely with them and we are expanding our cooperation. And we welcome both the contributions of both Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. But also, we really believe that NATO is supporting both countries, Georgia and Ukraine, in a positive and helpful way.

We will discuss the security situation in the Black Sea region. Both Georgia and Ukraine are littoral states to the Black Sea. We have seen increased tensions, we have seen Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine. And therefore, to discuss, to address together with these two key partners the situation in the Black Sea, is very timely and extremely important.

Then, we will also focus on the reform efforts. I think it is important for both these aspirant countries to stay focused on reform, implement reform, fight corruption, modernize their defence and security institutions. All of this is important partly because it helps to move Georgia towards, closer towards NATO and NATO membership, but also because these reforms they have value in themselves. They make Georgia, they make Ukraine, stronger, more resilient. And especially when we see the behaviour of Russia it is important to have resilient societies, strong societies and modern societies. Stronger societies created by vigorously pursuing reforms is actually a way also to increase the security of Georgia and Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to Geo TV, second row.

Khalid Hameed Farooqi (Geo Television News): Secretary General, the day before yesterday, a high-level military delegation from Pakistan visited NATO Headquarters. What are the state of affairs between NATO and Pakistan, particularly regarding Afghanistan? And, in addition to that, I would like to ask: will you be willing to support through your infrastructure to Afghan people if there is humanitarian aid required? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire, dire, and very difficult and this is of course of great concern for all of us. And winter is coming. And we know that many people are at risk of suffering and having a very difficult time throughout the winter.

Therefore, I welcome that many NATO Allies are providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, through the UN, and through different relief organizations. I think this is extremely important and something which demonstrates the will, and the commitment, of NATO Allies to continue to support the people of Afghanistan.

This is something they do through the UN, and different bilateral arrangements, and relief organizations. And I think that's the best… of organizing these kinds of humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan.

When it comes to Pakistan, NATO has had regular contacts with Pakistan for many, many years. Of course, not least discussing the situation in Afghanistan. We have political contacts, we have regular military contacts and dialogue and I think this is important that this continues, because there are still many challenges in the region, especially related to the future of Afghanistan.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you. We can now take a couple of questions online. And I think Reuters Sabine Siebold is on the line.

Sabine Siebold (Reuters): Thank you. Secretary General. I was wondering, there have been reports about Russia are mobilizing reservists in the Ukraine crisis. Can you confirm these reports. And could you tell us more in how far Russia's military posture along Ukraine border has changed over the last couple of days? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: I cannot go into the details about our intelligence. But what I can say is that we see concentration of forces which is unusual. We have seen a build-up and this is the second time and this year.

And you have to understand this in the broader context. That [there] is a military build-up by a country, which has invaded Ukraine before. They did so in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea, and they continue to support the separatists in Donbas, in Eastern Ukraine.

And then what they do now is also combined with aggressive rhetoric. And we have seen many, many times how Russia has been responsible for hybrid and cyber-attacks against Ukraine.

And what we now see is the deployment of heavy equipment, armored vehicles, tanks, drones, and also electronic warfare systems together with combat ready troops.

So we are monitoring this very closely. We collect information.  We share information. And we also send a clear message to Russia that they need to de-escalate, to reduce tensions, to be transparent and also that any use of force against Ukraine will have consequences, will have costs for Russia.

NATO Spokesperson: The next question I have is VG, Alf Bjarne Johnsen.

Alf Bjarne Johnsen (VG): Thank you Oana. Mr. Secretary General. We heard President Zelensky’s alarming statement this morning, describing a [inaudible] I wonder if you would comment on that.

And I also would like to ask you about the possible military action or military support that NATO might or might [inaudible] to Ukraine in case of this Russian forces across the border. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So we are deeply concerned about what we see. And we are monitoring very closely the developments and then sharing information with Allies. There is no certainty about the intentions of Russia.

But we see the track record what Russia has done against Ukraine before,  and continue to do by occupying Crimea, de-stabilizing the Donbas by supporting the separatists there, and being responsible for cyber and hybrid attacks against the legal government in Kiev against Crimea.

And then when you also see the rhetoric from Russia and the disinformation. Then, of course, all together this provides very strong reasons to be deeply concerned. And therefore we need to follow. We need to monitor closely what they do, and to continue to urge Russia to de-escalate and to reduce tension and to be transparent. Because that's the best way to also avoid miscalculation, misunderstandings, that can create situations that are dangerous and spiral out of control.

NATO provides support to Ukraine. We do that as an Alliance. And also NATO Allies provide support directly to Ukraine with different types of capacity building, with training, with supplies of different capabilities, different weapon systems.  And therefore NATO Allies and NATO provide significant political and military support to Ukraine.

Ukraine is a partner of NATO. It's not a NATO member. So our collective defense clause, Article 5, does not apply for Ukraine.

But we will also send a clear message to Russia that NATO is there to defend and protect all Allies, if that is needed. Because we need to make sure that there is no misunderstanding, no room for miscalculation about NATO's resolve capability and will all to defend all NATO Allies.

NATO Spokesperson: We have next question from NRK. Peter Svaar.

Peter Svaar (NRK): Military analysts tell NRK that China is unlikely to give up coal-fired power plants as long as the country is in a strategic conflict with the United States. They argue China will need to keep coal as energy security for fear of oil disruption in a crisis. What is your and NATO's view on this?

NATO Secretary General: As first of all, what we see now is a significant military build-up by China. They have the second largest defense budget in the world. There will be the biggest Navy in the world. And they will soon have the biggest economy in the world. And they are investing more and more into advanced military capabilities, including advanced weapon systems, long-range missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles and significantly expanding their nuclear arsenal.

All of this matters for our security.

We also see that China's coming closer to us in cyberspace but also in space.
And we see them investing also heavily in critical infrastructure in our own countries, to try to control critical infrastructure for instance, in Europe.

That's reason why NATO has increased the focus, the attention we have on China as not an adversary, but as a global power that matters for our security.

We will continue to reach out to China. We need to engage with China on issues like arms control or for instance, climate change.

It's not for NATO to have specific opinions about how to implement the Paris accord and the different climate change agreements.

But what I can say is that NATO has made climate change an important issue for our Alliance, because global warming is a crisis multiplier. It fuels conflicts. It force millions of people to move.

And therefore we need to both make sure that we fully understand the link between climate change and crisis.

We need to adapt our armed forces to a more extreme weather. 
And we need to make sure that our Armed Forces help to reduce emissions.
There is no way we can reach a global zero or net zero without also reducing emissions from military activities.

So I just expect that also China to live up to their commitments and reduce emissions as they have promised.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you. We'll take our last question from NTB Johan Falnes.

Johan Falnes (NTB): Thank you Oana. Secretary General, just going back to the Ban Treaty.

Do you expect this to be discussed in Riga? And also what do you actually ask from the Norwegian government and the German government? Do you ask them not to go through their plans to join as observers to the first treaty conference?

And just a short second question if I may? Your term ends next year, are you a candidate for the position as governor for the Norwegian Central Bank? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: First on the Ban Treaty. I've discussed this issue also with the incoming German Chancellor. And I welcome his very clear stand. And also the position expressed in the government platform of the incoming German government that they will not join, not sign up to the Ban Treaty.

Because the way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is balanced, verifiable arms control and not unilateral arms reductions.

Then I expect that arms control will be an important issue in general at the upcoming Foreign Minister Meeting in Riga. I have actually prepared a discussion on that.  Because I think that NATO has to strengthen and to step up our efforts on arms control to make sure that we make progress.  And that we also address together the fact that we actually have seen the demise of some important arms control agreements, not least the INF Treaty that banned all intermediate range weapons. The demise of that treaty was caused by the Russian deployment of intermediate range weapon systems. But we need that to continue to work for arms control, balanced arms control and also to find ways to include new and disruptive technologies, and also to engage China in a meaningful dialogue on arms control.

So there are many issues. I look forward to the discussion with foreign ministers. I also expect that part of this broader discussion on arms control, the ban treaty will be addressed.

I welcome that the German government platform of the incoming German government clearly states that they will consult with Allies. And that all Allies also clearly state that they will not join the Ban Treaty. They believe in multilateral disarmament and that's the best way to reach the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. And all Allies agree on that, they have a clear position on these issues.

Then on my future in Norway, this is not the time to comment on that. That's something I will address when I am closer to coming back to Norway.

NATO Spokesperson: And with that, we conclude this press conference. Hopefully, we see you all in Riga next week. Thank you.