Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels

  • 16 Jun. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 16 Jun. 2023 17:27

(As delivered)

Good afternoon. 

We have just finished a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers to prepare for the Vilnius Summit in July. 

We met in the NATO-Ukraine Commission with Defence Minister Reznikov, and EU High Representative Borrell.

Ukrainian forces have stepped up operations along the front line.
And are making steady progress.
But they face tough terrain, dug-in Russian troops, and fierce fighting.

As Russia's war of aggression continues,
it remains crucial that we increase our support.

So I welcome the new announcements on providing weapons and training to Ukraine.
Including the initiative led by the Netherlands and Denmark
to start training Ukrainian pilots on F16 fighter jets this summer.

And, together with the United Kingdom and the United States,
to deliver hundreds of short and medium-range air defence missiles.

Allies have also pledged increased support through NATO's Comprehensive Assistance Package.
With contributions and commitments amounting to 500 million euros so far.

We are working on a multi-year package with substantial funding.

To help rebuild the Ukrainian security and defence sector,
and transition Ukraine towards full interoperability with NATO.

So it can deter any future Russian aggression once this war ends.
And bring Ukraine closer to NATO in practical terms.

We are also working to establish a new NATO-Ukraine Council.
Where Ukraine will be equal to NATO Allies.
And consult and decide on security issues of mutual concern.

Our ambition is to have the first meeting of the new Council in Vilnius, with President Zelenskyy. 

We all agree that Ukraine has already moved closer to NATO over the past decade.
We agree that NATO's door is open.
That Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance.
And that it is a decision for Allies and Ukraine to make.
Russia does not have a veto.

We do not know when this war ends.

But when it does, we need to put in place a framework that ensures Ukraine's future security.
And make sure that history does not repeat itself.

At the Vilnius Summit, we will also take steps to further strengthen our own deterrence and defence.
And complete the fundamental transition we started after Russia's occupation of Crimea in 2014.

Today, ministers reviewed our new regional plans.

For the first time since the Cold War,
we are fully connecting the planning for our collective defence
with the planning for our forces, capabilities, and command and control.

As well as an enhanced exercise programme for our troops.

As a result, NATO will have over 300,000 troops on high readiness.
Backed by substantial air and maritime capabilities.
To defend every inch of Allied territory against any threat.

We also agreed a new rotational model for air and missile defence.
It will ensure that resources are used in the most effective way.
And that we can transition smoothly from air policing to air defence.

In our meeting, we addressed the need to ramp up production.

Ministers reviewed the NATO Defence Production Action Plan.
With concrete measures to aggregate demand,
boost capacity,
and increase interoperability and interchangeability.

We have a great tool to organise multinational procurement with our Support and Procurement Agency – the NSPA.

Currently, a range of equipment procurements are ongoing, including 1 billion dollars' worth of 155 millimetre ammunition.

Today, ministers agreed substantially increased capability targets for battle-decisive ammunition.

As well as a major boost to our work on standards.
So that more ammunition is interchangeable.
That is an important lesson from the war in Ukraine. 

All these steps need to be underpinned by adequate resources.

Investing in our deterrence and defence is more important than ever.
Because we need to keep our people safe in a more dangerous world.

I expect NATO Allies to make a more ambitious commitment to defence investment in Vilnius.
With 2% of GDP for defence as a floor, not a ceiling.

NATO's Nuclear Planning Group also met to discuss the nuclear aspects of the current security environment and the ongoing adaptation of NATO's nuclear deterrence.

Russia has continued its reckless nuclear rhetoric as part of its war against Ukraine.
It has suspended the implementation of the New START treaty.
And has announced its intention to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Iran and North Korea continue their nuclear and missile development programmes.
And I condemn North Korea's missile launches yesterday, in clear violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.

At the same time, China pursues its rapid and opaque nuclear expansion.

These challenges are of great concern to NATO.
And we continue to adapt our nuclear deterrence to the changing security environment.

And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.

Jonathan Beale (BBC): Thank you very much, Secretary General. First of all, can I just ask: You talked about the Nuclear Planning Group and the dangerous rhetoric of Russia. Do you know for a fact whether Russia has now transferred tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, as Belarus has claimed, and how worried should we be about that?

And my second question relates to, I mean, you made it very clear that NATO is continuing to supply arms, ammunition, to Ukraine. At the same time in Ukraine today are leaders of African nations who want to talk about peace. And I just wonder what you think about their efforts. They're going off to Moscow afterwards. So what do you think, it's just naive on their part to think they can reach any sort of agreement with President Putin, given what he's done? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I welcome the fact that African leaders have visited Kyiv. I think it is important that there are different efforts to find a solution. But of course, any solution has to be a just and enduring peace. And if Ukraine stopped fighting now, Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent nation. But if Russia stops to fight, then actually we will have peace. So we have one aggressor, that's President Putin, Moscow and Russian forces, and then you have a victim of aggression, which is Ukraine. And any efforts to find a peaceful solution has to take that as a starting point, as the whole reason why we are in the situation we are today.

Then, on Belarus, I will not go into the detail, except for saying that, of course, we take it seriously when Russia has announced they will deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus. We have seen some preparations going on. We will monitor closely what they are doing and we will remain vigilant. And of course, this is part of nuclear messaging and nuclear rhetoric that we have seen over some time, a part of a pattern we have seen over several years, where Russia has modernised nuclear weapons, deployed more nuclear weapons – also up in the High North – but now also for the first time permanently deploying weapons to Belarus.

So far, we haven't seen any changes in the Russian nuclear posture, deployments, which requires any changes in our posture, but we will constantly assess what to do, and this was also one of the issues discussed in the Nuclear Planning Group today.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Agence France-Presse.

Max Delany (AFP): Hello, Secretary General. Yesterday, you said you wanted to see the 2% floor implemented immediately, and not in a decade. Are Allies are all on board with implementing that target immediately?

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, we are now in the process of agreeing a new Defence Investment Pledge, and it's not for me to pre-empt exactly the language or what Allies will agree. But I'm confident that when we meet in Vilnius, all 31 Allies will agree a more ambitious Pledge.

In 2014, we had this Defence Investment Pledge where we referred to 2% as something we should strive towards, and over a decade. Now, there is an imminent need to increase, an immediate need, to increase defence spending. And we should not have a one-decade perspective. And I think more and more Allies also agree to the fact that 2% should not be some kind of ceiling, but a minimum. Because they realise that there is an urgent need to increase defence spending.

So, again, I cannot pre-empt the conclusions, but I'm confident that they will have a much stronger commitment. And also not a 10-year perspective as we did last time, but something which is much stronger on also the immediate need to increase defence spending.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: We’ll go to TV 2 Denmark, lady in red there, thanks.

Lotte Mejlhede (TV2 Denmark): Thank you, [Secretary General] Stoltenberg. They will now start, in Denmark and the Netherlands, to train the Ukrainian pilots for the F-16, and in Denmark there might be a discussion after the summer holiday – might be in August – about when and if also to donate Danish F-16s to Ukraine. What's the atmosphere after the meeting those days here? When actually to donate the F-16s to Ukraine? And then, secondly, more and more people are talking about you being, maybe, able to take on some months, a year, more as Secretary General. Is that flattering for you to hear, or is it irritating?

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: First on the F-16s. I strongly welcome, and it's really a demonstration of Danish and Dutch leadership, the initiative to establish this coalition of NATO Allies that are going to provide training of pilots for F-16s, and I commend Denmark for showing this leadership, for demonstrating their will to really step up support for Ukraine with many different types of capabilities, but of course to train the pilots is of great importance.

Many Allies expressed their strong support, announced their willingness to be part of this initiative, to help with training, and also help in different ways to move forward the whole effort related to the fourth-generation fighter aircraft for Ukraine.

Of course, the fact that Allies now are starting training means also that we then will have the possibility, on short notice, also to make decisions of delivering planes. Exactly when that will happen depends, of course, a bit on how long time it will take to train, and also on our constant assessments of the needs and what is the most effective way to help Ukraine.

I think also we need to realise that regardless of when planes may be delivered to help them to cope with this ongoing war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine, there will also be a need for a more long-term effort, when this war ends, to ensure that Ukraine has the defence capabilities to deter any future aggression. And of course, then, a modern air force has to be part of that long-term effort. So this is partly about the urgent need, but also partly about more long-term perspectives.

Then, on the issue of extension, I have nothing more to say. I don't see any extension of my tenure as Secretary General of NATO.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Reuters.

Andrew Gray (Reuters): Secretary General, two questions. Andrew Gray from Reuters. First, you said that today, Allies reviewed the regional plans. Did they approve those plans? And if not, why not? We've heard that there have been some Turkish objections to the plans as they stand.
And secondly, is there a consensus emerging, in your view, that when Ukraine gets closer to joining NATO, it could do so without going through a Membership Action Plan? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: We reviewed the regional plans, because these are going to be a very important part of what we prepare to decide at the Vilnius Summit. This Meeting, the Defence Ministers’ Meeting, their main purpose was to prepare the upcoming Summit, and to make it possible for the leaders to make the big decisions on the big issues, the plans, the force requirements, the force model, and all other issues.

These plans are actually then, of course, developed by our military commanders, SACEUR and his staff. They're quite comprehensive, and they change the way we are doing planning in in NATO in a way we haven't seen since the Cold War. We will have specific forces linked to specific tasks. They will exercise more focussed to protect specific territories of NATO, so there will be a much closer link between plans, capabilities and exercises and dedicated forces to fulfil specific tasks in our collective defence. And, of course, it will require more forces on high readiness, and also therefore more resources.

So, yes, we reviewed, meaning that we are now moving very close to agreeing all the issues, but the final decisions will be taken by the Summit.

We also discussed the way forward for Ukraine. And this was actually something we also addressed at the foreign ministerial meeting in Oslo, and we followed up on that now. And there are three elements. One is to move Ukraine closer to NATO in practical terms. That's the Comprehensive Assistance Package, but not least the multi-year program to help them move from Soviet-era standards, doctrines, equipment, to NATO standards, doctrine and equipment, and to be fully interoperable with NATO. That takes time. We've actually worked on that for many years, but of course, the more we succeed in making Ukrainian forces fully interoperable with NATO, the closer they come to NATO in the practical military terms.

Then the other path is the political. And there, we are now close to finalising an agreement to establish the NATO-Ukraine Council. And that will be something different than the Commission, where we 31 Allies meet Ukraine. This will be a body of 31 Allies and Ukraine equal, sitting around the table with the same rights and the same possibilities to consult, and also make decisions together if we find that the right thing to do. And then hopefully also soon, then, 33 when Sweden becomes a member. So that's a different type of working together politically, and will bring Ukraine closer to NATO in political terms.

And then the third issue will be related to the specific issue of membership. And there, first of all, all Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. We're not going to discuss an invitation at the Vilnius Summit, but how we can move Ukraine closer to NATO. And I'm confident that we will find a good solution and consensus at the Vilnius Summit on how to be able to move Ukraine closer to NATO.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: We will go to NPR, Deutsche Welle.

Teri Schultz (DW): Hi, Teri Schultz, DW today. Mr Secretary General, you mentioned that you have in fact now seen signs that Russia is moving nuclear weapons closer to Belarus. This is something that's been threatened many times, you've been watching it. So this seems to me to be new language, that you have in fact seen this, and yet you say that this hasn't affected NATO's posture toward Russia's overall nuclear situation, status, plans. Could you explain that a little bit more?

And also, my question before you said that, which I had to ask about, was on the regional plans. How far can you go to finalising these regional plans if you don't have Sweden yet in NATO? They’re in a key location for regional plans. And do you feel any movement on that here? I mean, what all the Swedes want to know: Is there any movement on Turkey, and what is up with Hungary? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: First on the regional plans: Well, first of all, we are able to take into account that Sweden is always an Invitee, meaning that they are integrating closer and closer into NATO civilian and military structures. Then, of course, the full integration of Sweden into plans will happen when we have Sweden as a full member, but there are pragmatic, practical ways to take that into account, all of that, at this stage we are at now.

Then, on Belarus: I'm always careful going into details about intelligence, but it has been very publicly announced by Russia that they are planning to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus in the near future. This is part of a pattern we have seen over a long period of time, or many years, where Russia has deployed nuclear weapons, also close to NATO borders. And therefore, part of the adaptation that has taken place in NATO many years, with high readiness, with more presence in the east, with better surveillance, all of that is an answer, a response, to this pattern of Russian military build-up. And of course, we will do what is necessary, we will remain vigilant and we will closely monitor changes in Russia's nuclear posture. But so far, no changes that requires any changes in our nuclear posture.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: To Ukrainian TV.

Daniel Tkiie (First Western): Thank you, Daniel Tkiie First Western. After numerous meetings with members of NATO, do you feel that there is a consensus to provide Ukraine with strong legally binding security guarantees? And my second question will be about security assistance for Ukraine. What is your personal message to those members of NATO who still hesitate to provide Ukraine with security assistance?

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: NATO allies are providing Ukraine with a lot of security assistance, meaning that they are providing weapons, they are providing ammunition, they're providing training for Ukrainian soldiers, and actually NATO has done this since 2014. And then after the full-fledged invasion, NATO stepped up and a lot of NATO Allies also stepped up under a new announcement for more military support to Ukraine at the meeting today and at the NATO Defence Ministers Meeting. But of course also at the US led Ukraine Defense Contact Group that met yesterday here at NATO headquarters on different types of security frameworks for Ukraine.


While I mentioned how we are working and how to move Ukraine closer to NATO, the three elements, but I also welcome the fact that several NATO Allies are also discussing more bilateral or multilateral arrangements with Ukraine and that will complement and support efforts that NATO is doing. So there are different frameworks, different things we are doing, because when this war ends, we need to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself and that Russia only decides to reconstitute, to rest, to rearm its forces and then re attack again and exactly to prevent that we need now to start the planning and thinking about how to ensure that Russia cannot attack again after the end of this conflict, which is ongoing now.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Okay, EFE, the lady red there.

María Rosa Jiménez Alonso (EFE): Thank you. Thank you very much, Rosa Jiménez. I have a question regarding the informal meeting just held with the transatlantic industry. Some Allies whose companies were not invited are not willing to back straight away the new Defence Production Action Plan. Are you confident this plan will be approved in the Vilnius Summit? And do you foresee more meetings with the industry like this one in the future and in a more inclusive format? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, as NATO engages with industry in many different ways, and of course Spain is a highly valued Ally with a strong defence industry. I met representatives from the Spanish defence industry before and will meet them again. We will have a big NATO-Industry Forum in Stockholm later on this year. So I think we need to realize that the event we had during this meeting was one of several ways of engaging with the defence industry.

And a group of defence industry was presented also to focus on some specific needs and gaps. But yes, of course, we will engage with the defence industry from across the Alliance and we continue to engage also with industry from Spain, because Spain has really capable defence industries and I have actually had the privilege of working with them as Secretary General of NATO, but also actually as Prime Minister of Norway, when we actually made big acquisitions from the Spanish defence industry, so we highly value the defence industry, also from Spain.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Secretary General, two questions related to maritime security and underwater infrastructure. Have Allies actually decided to establish the Centre that you announced that is to be established in Northwood for the protection of undersea infrastructure? And related to that, how concerned are you about reports that Russian ships have been mapping critical infrastructure at sea? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: So we know that Russia has the capacity to map, but also potentially to conduct actions against critical infrastructure. And that's also the reason why we have, for many years, addressed the vulnerability of critical undersea infrastructure. This is about gas pipelines, oil pipelines, but not least thousands of kilometres of internet cables, which is so critical for our modern societies - for financial transaction, for communications, and this is in the North Sea, in the Baltic Sea, but across the whole Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea.

So this is so critical for almost all aspects of our modern societies. And that's the reason why also we - based on the initiative from Chancellor Scholz and Prime Minister Støre - launched the work at NATO to further step up what we do. And we have now agreed to establish the NATO Maritime Centre for the Security of Critical Undersea Infrastructure to further strengthen our efforts to protect And of course, there's no way that we can have NATO presence alone all these thousands of kilometres of undersea, offshore infrastructure, but we can be better at collecting information, intelligence, sharing information, connecting the dots, because also in the private sector is a lot of information. And actually, there's a lot of ongoing monitoring of traffic at sea and to connect all those flows of information will increase our ability to see when there is something abnormal and then react dependent on that.

So this is very much to bring the different sources together, and also bring the fact that most of this infrastructure goes from one NATO Ally or from one country, to the territorial waters into international waters and then into the federal waters of another Ally or another country. And then most of it is owned and operated by the private sector and they also have a lot of capabilities, to protect, to do repair and so on. So the purpose of this Centre, which we agreed to establish, is to bring together different Allies to share information, share best practices, and to be able to react if something abnormal happens and then also to ensure that the private sector and the government, the nations are working together so I very much welcome the initiative, and I look forward to now we'll go further with this initiative and to implement the decisions we have made on establishing the Centre.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: TV 2, lady in green.

Elin Sørsdahl (TV 2): Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. You say, you don't seek extension, but there are some unconfirmed information that you will be asked in Vilnius to stay until next Summer and the Summit in D.C. and I guess that is not out of the question for you in this situation for the Alliance and Europe.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: Well, I have nothing more to say about this. I have stated again and again that I don't seek extension and there are no other plans than to end my work and my tenure ends this Fall and that's what I've said for some time now.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Okay, we'll go to Swedish Radio.

Wiktor Nummelin (Swedish Radio): Mr Secretary General, anything new, any movement regarding the Swedish membership to NATO during these days?

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg:  Well, during these days, we had an important meeting in Ankara of the Permanent Joint Mechanism that we established last year. And the meeting followed my meeting with President Erdogan a couple of weeks ago, where President Erdogan and I agreed to convene Sweden, Finland, Türkiye and also NATO, to see how we can make progress for the accession of Sweden. The meeting did not, of course, solve all the remaining issues, but it happened and was conducted in a constructive atmosphere.

We have seen some progress. And I also would like to highlight that my message has been - now for many, many months - that actually Sweden has delivered. And that's also the message from Allies, most Allies in the meeting today, that Sweden is ready to be ratified. And most Allies have already ratified the Swedish accession into NATO. And also, the message from Türkiye has been that Sweden has actually made progress on implementing the agreement made in Madrid last year.

But let me add two more things. And that is that we have to understand that Sweden has already come a long way. Sweden is in a much better position now than before they applied, because by being invited by all Allies at the Summit in Madrid in June last year, they got the invitee status and by being an invitee, they are integrating into NATO's military and civilian structures, and that makes them much safer. And then with Finland as a member, of course, it's absolutely inconceivable that there'll be any threat or attack against Sweden without NATO reacting. But of course, we continue to work hard to get Sweden in as soon as possible.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Thank you very much, colleagues. That's all we have time for today. But we'll see you at the Summit. Thank you.