Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the release of his Annual Report 2021

  • 31 Mar. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 31 Mar. 2022 16:24

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.
Today, I am presenting my Annual Report for 2021.
And this is the Annual Report.
And, of course, I am presenting this report in the light of the very serious developments we have seen in Ukraine, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Annual Report covers our work to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence. 
Support for our partners. 
And our adaptation for the future. 

In the last months, our security environment has dramatically worsened.
President Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is shocking.
But it is not a surprise.

NATO shared intelligence publicly. 
And repeatedly warned that Russia was poised to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.  

We prepared for the worst, but worked hard for the best.

We made every effort to engage Russia in dialogue.
But Moscow consistently turned us down.
And ultimately decided to cut diplomatic ties. 

Last fall, we also took action to heighten the readiness of our forces.
Deployed more troops to the eastern part of our Alliance.
And stepped up our support to Ukraine.  

This built on NATO’s long-standing assistance for Ukraine’s forces and institutions.  

Over the years, Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Provided modern equipment.
And supported reforms.

The Ukrainian forces are now bigger, better-equipped, better-trained, and better-led than ever before. 
And they are putting their training and their equipment to use on the front lines, with courage that has inspired the world. 

We have heard the recent statements that Russia will scale down military operations around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine. 

But Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions.
So we can only judge Russia on its actions, not on its words.

According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing, but repositioning.  

Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region.

At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities.
So we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering.   

Russia must end this senseless war.
Withdraw all its troops.
And engage in talks in good faith. 

NATO’s core task is to protect and defend all Allies. 

In recent years, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation. 
With particular focus on the eastern flank.  
We also developed new military plans for our deterrence and defence. 

All of this allowed NATO to respond quickly and decisively to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

We activated our defence plans within hours of the invasion.
And within days, we deployed thousands more troops to the eastern part of our Alliance.
From both sides of the Atlantic.
Backed by major air and naval power.
Sending a clear message: NATO stands strong and united.  

In 2021, NATO’s two newest joint headquarters also became fully operational.

Our Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, focused on securing transatlantic sea lines of communications.
And our Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, supporting the rapid movement of troops and equipment into and across Europe. 

Throughout 2021, our forces remained ready and vigilant. 
We sustained missions and deployments - including multinational battlegroups, air and naval patrols, and missions in Kosovo and Iraq.

Last April, following close consultations among all Allies, we announced the withdrawal of the Resolute Support Mission from Afghanistan.

In August, following the rapid collapse of the Afghan political and military leadership, we launched one of the largest airlifts in history. 
Evacuating more than 120,000 people over the course of three weeks. 
Around 2,000 Afghans who had worked for NATO have now been resettled in Allied countries. 

The lessons we have learned from Afghanistan will shape the Alliance’s response to crises in the future. 

2021 was the seventh consecutive year of rising defence spending across European Allies and Canada.
Amounting to a 3.1% rise in real terms. 
And a total of 270 billion US dollars extra since 2014. 

You will find all the latest national defence investment figures in the Annual Report. 

At our extraordinary Summit last week, Allies agreed that we must redouble our efforts to invest more, and more quickly, in our defence.
We face a new security reality, and there is a new sense of urgency.

We have already seen national announcements of significant increases and procurement of cutting-edge capabilities.
And Allies will submit additional plans on how to meet the Defence Investment Pledge in time for the Madrid Summit in June.

This is an investment in the bond between Europe and North America, which keeps us all safe. 

The Annual Report shows that public support for the transatlantic alliance is extremely strong.

81% of the people across the 30 NATO Allies believe it is important for North America and Europe to work together for our shared security. 

The polling we did last year shows that an overwhelming majority – 62% – would vote to remain in NATO.
With only 11% saying they would vote to leave.
Since then, national polling has shown further increases in support this year.

Our polling also shows that a majority of Allied citizens consider climate change a security threat. 
Addressing this is a key element of the NATO 2030 agenda agreed by Allied leaders at our Brussels Summit last year. 

We also decided to increase our resilience, sharpen our technological edge, and strengthen our work with partners around the world. 

In June, at our Summit in Madrid, we will take further steps to implement the NATO 2030 agenda.
And reset our deterrence and defence for the new security reality that we face. 

We will also agree NATO’s next Strategic Concept. 
Our guiding document for the next decade.  

It will re-confirm our core values, our purpose, and our unity.
And drive the continuing adaptation of our Alliance.  

In a more dangerous world, North America and Europe must stand strong and united in NATO. 

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We’ll start with Deutsche Welle, the lady in the fourth row there – thank you.

Alexandra von Nahmen (Deutsche Welle): Thank you very much. Secretary General, we heard some cautious optimism after the fresh round of talks, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. However, you just said that Russia has been lying about its intention. So what is your assessment? Has progress been made?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I welcome all efforts to try to find a political solution to this brutal, senseless war, including the recent talks in Turkey and I will also thank Turkey for hosting those talks. At the same time, it is obvious that we have seen little willingness from the Russian side to find a political solution. What we see is a continued military invasion of Ukraine. We see continued shelling of cities and we see that Russia are repositioning some of their troops, moving some of them around, most likely to reinforce their efforts in the Donbas region. So we need to judge Russia on their actions, not on their words, and it remains to be seen whether there’s any real willingness from the Russian side to find a political solution. I’d add one more thing and that is that of course, there is a close link between what is going on on the battlefield and what is going on around the negotiating table. And NATO Allies provide support to Ukraine to also strengthen their position at the negotiating table. NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Okay, we'll go to Interfax Ukraine. Lady in red in the last row.

Irina Somer (Interfax Ukraine): Thank you, Oana. Secretary General. I do believe it's just a little remark that Ukrainian army surprised everybody not only in the Kremlin, but also here. Given that Ukrainian military not only defend in country but also starts going into attack, counter-attack. Don't you think that it is time for allies to provide to Ukraine offensive weapons? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO allies have supported the Ukrainian Armed Forces for many years. Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers, and they are now on the front line fighting the invasion and invading Russian forces. Provided modern equipment, different types of weapons, and also supported the modernisation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And this has helped to make the Ukrainian army stronger, better equipped, better trained than ever before. But of course it is first and foremost the courage, the commitment of the Ukrainian soldiers, men and women in uniform, that has enabled them to resist, to stand up against the invading Russian forces. And, and, and this courage, the strength, the commitment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has impressed and inspired the whole world. And therefore, I really pay my tribute to the courage of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine, and the political leadership of Ukraine, not least represented by President Zelenskyy. NATO allies have also stepped up our support, military support to Ukraine, after the invasion, with also advanced weapon systems, advanced air defence systems, anti-tank systems, and other ammunition, fuel and many other types of weapons and military support. This is now making a real difference on the battleground every day. Of course, this equipment, these supplies, are key for the advances and the strength that the Ukrainian army has been able to show since the invasion five weeks ago.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We’ll go to Associated Press. Gentleman standing at the back.

Mark Carlson (Associated Press): Thank you, Mark from Associated Press. A week ago you warned us about the possible use of chemical weapons by Russia. Have you seen any new evidence that this will happen?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I'll be very careful speculating too much about the likelihood, but what I can say is that any use of chemical weapons will be a blatant violation of international law. It will change the nature of the whole conflict. And NATO allies have also made it very clear that of course that will have severe consequences. NATO allies have also provided some support to Ukraine to help protect against chemical and biological warfare. Protective equipment, equipment to detect and identify a chemical attack. But on the likelihood I will not speculate. I will only say that any use of chemical weapons will be absolutely unacceptable.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: OK, we’ll go to AGI, the Italian news agency.

Brahim Maarad (AGI): Yes, thank you. Brahim Maarad, AGI Italian news agency. In these hours in Italy, there are discussions between the political parties that lead the government because an important party does not want to increase the defence expenditure to the 2%. There is a compromise concerning the government that -- the compromise is to reach the NATO target by 2028, instead of 2024. How do you judge this compromise? And there is a date by which countries must be reached the 2% of defence spending? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, all allies agreed at the Summit, the NATO Summit last week, that we need to meet the pledges we have made together in 2014 to increase defence spending, and also the guideline of 2%. I welcome any agreement from Italy on further increases in defence spending. All allies have increased defence spending, and of course, Italy makes a difference because you have a strong and big economy. So of course, any increases from Italy has an impact on the total defence spending of NATO. But I think, without going into the specifics of the compromise which is now being negotiated in Italy, I will only say that, that I think what we see now in Italy and across the Alliance is a new sense of urgency. It demonstrates an increased understanding of the need to invest in our security. NATO Allies agreed back in 2014 to increase defence spending after the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine, and Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine eight years ago. But I think, so we knew that we needed to invest more, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year. But of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine a few weeks ago has just highlighted even further the need to invest in defence and I welcome increased defence spending from Italy, a highly-valued and staunch NATO ally.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We’ll go to RAI.

Marilù Lucrezio (RAI) : Thank you, Marilù Lucrezio, RAI. Secretary General it seems that the negotiations in Turkey have not gone well. So it will be… we need time to put the war…the end… this war…end. What is the NATO timeframe until when we can continue to supply weapons to Ukraine? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We need to continue to supply weapons to Ukraine. NATO allies will continue to provide, supply weapons to Ukraine as long as necessary. This is extremely important because Ukraine is fighting a war for freedom, for democracy, for our shared values. And therefore we have supported Ukraine for many many years. NATO allies stepped up the support actually before the invasion because we had very reliable intelligence about the likelihood of a Russian invasion as of last fall. And then after the invasion, allies have stepped up further, and more allies are now also delivering weapons, military aid and humanitarian, financial support to Ukraine. And it was a strong commitment from the NATO Summit last week to continue to further support Ukraine also with military support. And we need to do that because what we see is that Russia continues to pursue a military outcome of the conflict in Ukraine. It is good that we… that talks are going on, but so far we have seen no real change in the Russian main objective, and that is to have a military outcome of the conflict and they continue to pursue a military outcome. So we need to be ready to continue to provide support to Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Ukrainian news agency here.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Dmytro Shkurko, National News Agency of Ukraine. As it’s reflected in your report, one of the core tasks for NATO was to strengthen its maritime posture in the Black Sea. But now we have absolutely practical situation and Russian Navy not only have some kind of manoeuvre, preparing assault operations in Odessa, Mykolaiv, but also blocking, effectively blocking, the cargo ships with grain in Ukrainian ports. So then my question is, is NATO going to do some kind of review its maritime policies to make it more effective to support the freedom of navigation? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: The Black Sea is of great strategic importance for NATO. We have three NATO allies, which are littoral states, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. And then we have two close partners, Ukraine and Georgia, all littoral states to the Black Sea. So the Black Sea is of great importance for NATO. We also know that the Black Sea and the harbours of Ukraine are also key for the export of grain and food to the rest of the world. So the Russian blockage of Ukrainian ports is not only a big problem for Ukraine, but it is a problem for people all over the world and it’s causing a spike, a high increase in the food prices all over the world. So it is extremely important that this blockage ends and that Ukraine again is really allowed to export grain into the world market to feed people and to reduce prices of food globally. And this, of course, makes the Russian blockage of Ukrainian ports, an issue that matters for actually the whole world, for food, for the wealth, and the livelihood of people globally. NATO allies are very closely monitoring the situation in the Black Sea. We are working with our… NATO allies are present in the Black Sea with… we have the three littoral states. We do air surveillance and, of course, this highlights just the importance of ending the war to enable normal commercial traffic in the Black Sea.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Polish TV. Lady in red.

Dominika Cosic (TVP): Dominika Cosic. I have a question about Kaliningrad, because we heard a few times in Russian state TV, but not only, that Russia considers plans to explore a corridor to Kaliningrad and do you consider this as a real threat for Poland? And if I may have a second question about Finland, because just a few minutes ago we realized that Finland will possibly apply for the membership of NATO and the decision should be taken at the end of May. And could you comment this as well? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: On Kaliningrad and any land corridor, of course, we are there to protect all NATO allies. And that includes also of course the Suwalki gap and both Polish and Lithuanian territory. So to make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding and miscalculation with Moscow about that, we have significantly increased our presence in the eastern part Alliance. And also NATO leaders when they met last week they also started, or asked our military commanders for options for how to further strengthen our presence in the eastern part of the alliance. Because we face a new reality, and we need a more long term adaptation of NATO's deterrence and defence, including the presence in the east. So we are there to ensure that Russia doesn't use Kaliningrad, or any other pretext, to launch any kind of aggressive actions against any NATO ally. On Finland - NATO has always supported the fundamental right of every nation to choose his own path. And that includes of course, the right for Finland and also Sweden to decide to not aspire for membership, as has been their policy for decades, and we have totally respected that. But of course we also will respect if Finland decides to change and to say that we are now ready to apply for membership. This is a Finnish and only a Finnish decision, sovereign decision by the sovereign democratic state to make. We will respect it regardless of the conclusion. Finland is a very close partner. There are no other partners who are closer to NATO than Finland and Sweden. I visited Finland and Sweden last fall, and I saw how Finnish and Swedish troops meet the NATO standards, how closely they were able to work together - Finland and Sweden and NATO troops – and, of course, if they apply, I expect that they will be very welcomed and that we'll find a way to quickly agree the accession protocol and follow up on a membership of Finland. But again, it is for Finland to decide and we will wait until Finland has made any decision on the issue of membership.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We'll take a couple of questions online and we'll go to TV2 Denmark, Divya Das.

Divya Das (TV2 Denmark): Yes, hello, thank you. Divya from TV2 Denmark. So Denmark is offering to send 800 more troops under NATO command to the Baltic countries. First up, will NATO accept this offer? And secondly, if I may, Sir, the government of Denmark has recently pledged to spend more on defense. Denmark would reach the guideline of 2% of GDP by 2033. That is 11 years from now. Is this, in your opinion, ambitious enough? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Denmark is a highly valued Ally, which is contributing to our shared security in many different ways, with presence in the Baltic region. You have also been part of different NATO missions and operations, including fighting terrorism. You lead the NATO training Mission in Iraq and you also invest heavily in new modern capabilities, including new fifth generation aircraft. And all of this is essential and important contributions to our collective defense, to our shared security and I would like to commend Denmark now for stepping up, for investing more, and also increasing your presence in the High North. All of this is important for all NATO allies. I also welcome the commitment to reach the 2% target. We have a commitment to do that as soon as possible. At the same time, I just welcome the fact that Denmark has now clearly identified that they have a plan to reach 2%. And with a strong economy, a growing economy, this will in the coming years mean significant additional allocations of funding for the Danish defense budget and that will be important for all of us. When it comes to the 800 soldiers or personnel assigned to NATO missions, of course, we welcome that. It's extremely important that we welcome also that Denmark has already provided more troops and also some more troops on high readiness. That's extremely important something which is very much welcome. We are now in the process of assessing the need to adjust our presence in the eastern part of the alliances for the longer-term. And of course as part of that adjustment of NATO presence in the east, Danish troops will be very much welcome.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: And we will take a next question from Romania. Robert Lupitu, from Calea Europeana

Robert Lupitu, Calea Europeana: Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my question. Mr Secretary General, we know that Germany has decided to boost its defence spending with additional 100 billion euros. Poland wants to boost its defence until 3% of GDP, Romania as well to 2.5% of GDP. I want to ask you do have an evaluation given the way, the practical way that the Russian war in Ukraine is happening, about possible new capabilities that, for instance, Germany or countries from the eastern flank will need in terms of land equipment, naval or aerial defence. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, I welcome the very strong commitments and announcements made from several Allies to invest more, the German announcement to meet the 2% target now already, and also from Romania, Poland and others to exceed the 2% guideline. Together this makes a huge difference. I have for many years been a politician. I know it's hard in a way to allocate money for defence, because then there's less money for health, for education, for infrastructure, and other important tasks.

At the same time when we see a new security reality, when we see the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine, then we all realise the need to invest in our security, because without peace without security, we will not succeed with anything, all the other aims and goals we have for our societies, be it welfare, or be it education, or be it addressing climate change. So security, peace is the basis for all the other efforts, and therefore we need to invest more in our security when we face a more dangerous world. And therefore I welcome the announcements by Poland, by Romania, by Germany and many, many other Allies.

In NATO we have a defence planning process, where we actually through a very thorough and comprehensive process, go through the different needs, the different capabilities, and then we identify capabilities. And this is part of the NATO Defence planning process and we have capability targets for each and every Ally allocated to them. So there is a very specific list of capabilities which we expect Allies to invest in, according to agreed NATO guidelines and defence planning. These are very many different types of capabilities. But for instance, I think what we have seen is that there is a need to invest more in air defence, there is a need to invest more in higher readiness. To also have more ammunition, more ability to sustain operations for longer periods of time, and high-end capabilities in general. I cannot go into all the details, but I can only say that we have already in NATO how to spend more investments from NATO Allied countries, according to an overarching agreed plan, which strengthens the whole Alliance when we work together.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Okay, we'll go to this gentlemen here.

Mindaugas Laukagalis (Lithuanian National Radio and Television): Hello, Mindaugas Laukagalis from Lithuania National Radio and Television. I have two questions. Would you say that strengthening the eastern flank is one of the main priorities of NATO this year? And in relation to that, for new capabilities, NATO needs more money and you said that you welcome that a lot of countries already said that they're going to boost their defence expenditure. But will it be hard to convince other countries in the West, for example, when the economies are facing higher energy prices and a lot of economical issues of the moment. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: What we have seen over the last years is that we have specifically increased NATO presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. And of course that reflects the aggressive actions of, by Russia against Ukraine, especially since 2014. And the invasion that took place a few weeks ago, just underscores the importance of increasing investments in defence, but also, of course, being especially focused on the eastern flank.

That's reason why we for the first time in our history have combat-ready battle groups in Lithuania and in the other Baltic countries, why we have air policing and more naval presence. And also why we actually starting last fall and especially after invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February, we have increased significant our presence, doubling the size of the battle groups. We have now 100,000 US troops in  Europe. We have 40,000 troops under direct NATO command, most of them in eastern part of the Alliance. And we have hundreds of thousands of troops across the whole Alliance on heightened alert.

So yes, the focus has been, and I expect it will very much continue to be very much on the eastern part of the Alliance. Having said that, I think it's important also to underscore two points, or to highlight two points. One is that our security is indivisible, it is interlinked. For instance when we are focused on our, the transatlantic bond, or do we see now the Cold Response exercise going up, going on in northern Norway, or the exercise which has taken place there… that's about the North, but it's also very much about the link between North America and Europe, protecting the sea lines of communications between North America and Europe. They are important for the defence of the eastern flank.

So I think to try to divide the security of this Alliance too much into the East, and the West, and the North, and the South is wrong. We are in this together. And what happens in the West matters what we are able to do in the East. What happens in the North is important for what we can do in the South, or in the East. So we are one Alliance we have a 360 degree approach. And of course, in the South we see instabilities, we see terrorist threats. And we also see actually more presence of Russia in the south. We see them in Syria. We see them in Libya, and elsewhere.

So yes, we have increased our presence in East, but we need a 360 degree approach. We need to address all the challenges from any direction, and what we do in one part of the Alliance actually matters for the rest of the Alliance. And, and that is also why we now, why we asked our military commanders to have an overall assessment for a more longer term adjustment of our deterrence and defence in light of the fact that we see a new normal, a new security reality for our Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: And we'll take two final questions over there. Brussels morning, blonde lady.

Lailuma Sadid (Brussels Morning): Thank you very much. Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning. Secretary General you said that a lot of about Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission evacuation and also, lesson learned. As I heard that NATO shared this with every country including Pakistanis generals, but not talking with the Afghan authorities and also with the generals in Afghanistan, because we know the relation between Taliban and Pakistan, if the general from Pakistan gave some lesson learned and some ID it's always negative for the Afghan side. And I think that also this is like a mistake again, that you are sharing everything with the countries neighbouring in Afghanistan, not with the Afghan authorities. And now there is more relation between Taliban, China and Russia. How do you see the future of this relation between China, Russia and Taliban. Is there any impact for the NATO with these countries like involved in that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I strongly believe that especially the countries in the region, and that includes of course, Pakistan and China, they have a special responsibility to help to create peace and stability in Afghanistan, and also to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And as we have stated all the way is that we will, of course, continue to be focused on our efforts to fight international terrorism, and including to be focused on how to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists to organise, to plan terrorist attacks against our own countries.

NATO as an alliance is not present in Afghanistan anymore, but NATO Allies are, by providing humanitarian support, helping through different voluntary or non-governmental organisations, Allies are providing significant support, development aid to try to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe we may face there, not least because of the risk of  food shortages, and also, the policy decisions made by Taliban, for instance, to not follow up on the promise the have made to provide education also to girls. So Allies are focused, Allies are closely monitoring, and Allies are calling on the Taliban government to make good on their promises. And we do that, despite the fact that NATO as an Alliance has ended its military presence in Afghanistan.

[Inaudible – follow up question] We will continue to call on them to do so especially on providing education to girls.

Oana: final question from Le soir.

Philippe Regnier (Le Soir): Thank you. Philippe Regnier, journal Le Soir. In the vein of what you've just said regarding defence spending, do you expect the leaders, the need for the leaders to agree on new targets at the Summit even higher targets, for sure? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So our focus was, at the Summit we had last week, to make sure that we deliver on what we have done, what we have already agreed, the 2% guideline. And of course, the 2% guideline is not a ceiling, it's a minimum, it's a floor. So, of course, it's absolutely possible to do more. And we have already seen that many Allies, or several Allies have announced that they will spend more than 2%. And based on the numbers published in the Annual Report, and you can see the different individual numbers for the individual Allies in the report, but also based on the announcements we heard last week at the at the Summit, I am absolutely confident that a big majority of Allies will meet the 2% guideline, and more and more of them will actually spend more than 2%. So Allies are moving in the right direction, Allies are investing more than for many years in defence. And this is extremely important, because we've seen that we live in a more dangerous world.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you