Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government, with Sweden

  • 11 Jul. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Jul. 2023 20:01

(As delivered)

Good evening.

NATO Heads of State and Government took important decisions at a critical moment for our security.
We welcomed Finland as a full-fledged member of the Alliance.
And we look forward to welcoming Sweden as a full member of the Alliance,
based on the agreement I reached last night with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Kristersson.

We also addressed Ukraine.

Since we last met a year ago at our Madrid Summit, NATO Allies have delivered unprecedented support to Ukraine.
With more ammunition, more modern equipment, and more training to the Ukrainian forces.
Today, Allies have agreed a package of three elements to bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

First, a new multi-year assistance programme for Ukraine.
To enable the transition from Soviet-era to NATO standards, training and doctrines.
To help rebuild Ukraine’s security and defence sector.
And to cover critical needs like fuel, demining equipment, and medical supplies.
Second, a new NATO-Ukraine Council.
A forum for crisis consultations and decision-making.
Where we will  meet as equals.
And I look forward to having the inaugural meeting of the Council tomorrow with President Zelenskyy.

Third, we reaffirmed that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.
And agreed to remove the requirement for a Membership Action Plan.
This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process.

We also made it clear that we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when Allies agree and conditions are met.

This is a strong package for Ukraine.
And a clear path towards its membership in NATO.

Allies have also approved the most comprehensive defence plans since the end of the Cold War.

These are designed to counter the two main threats we face:
Russia and terrorism.

Under our new plans, NATO aims to have 300,000 troops at high readiness, including substantial air and naval power.

Robust deterrence and defence requires a robust industrial base.

So leaders endorsed a new Defence Production Action Plan.
This will accelerate joint procurement,
boost interoperability,
and generate investment and production capacity.

To do all this, we need to invest more in defence.

Our latest estimates show that defence expenditure by European Allies and Canada will increase by 8.3% in 2023.
This is the biggest increase in decades.
Since 2014, they will have invested an extra 450 billion US dollars in defence.
Eleven Allies now reach or exceed the 2% benchmark.
And we expect this number will rise substantially next year.

Today, Allies made an enduring commitment to invest at least 2% of Gross Domestic Product annually in defence.
And to do more urgently to meet their commitments.

NATO leaders also addressed China.

China is not our adversary, and we should continue to engage.
But Beijing’s increasing assertiveness affects our security.

China is increasingly challenging the rules-based international order.
Refusing to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Threatening Taiwan.
And carrying out a substantial military build-up.

China’s nuclear modernisation is unprecedented in speed and scale.
And being carried out with no transparency.

Allies agreed to continue working together to protect against China’s coercive behaviour.

And tomorrow, we will meet the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
As well as the European Union.
Because we are stronger and safer when we stand together. 

With that, I am ready to take a few questions.

Michael Birnbaum [Washington Post] Hi, thanks for taking my question. Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. President Zelenskyy, of course, issued a tweet in the middle of your talks that criticized the language that you've just agreed to on Ukraine’s path toward membership. I was wondering what your thought was when you saw what he was saying about what NATO was agreeing to and what your message would be for Ukrainians who are disappointed by this language.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: What Allies have agreed today is strong, united and positive message to Ukraine. About enduring support, but also a positive message on the path forward for membership. And this includes this package of practical support to enable full interoperability between Ukrainian armed forces and NATO forces. The establishment of the NATO Ukraine Council, and then the decision to remove the requirement for a Membership Action Plan, which actually means that instead of two steps to become a member, there will now be one step. And we also made it clear that the invitation will be issued when conditions are met.

Then I would like to add that on top of that, of course, Allies are also providing substantial military support, because the most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, because unless Ukraine prevails, there is no membership issue to be discussed at all. And therefore I welcome the military support that Allies have provided now for months, actually starting back in 2014. And then, since the full-fledged invasion in February last year, substantially stepping up their support.

And just over the last few days, Allies have made substantial new announcements: France has announced that they will deliver long range cruise missiles, Germany just announced a new package with air defence and armoured vehicles, and the US made yet another big announcement of more military support, and many other Allies have made many different types of support, including the establishment or coalition to provide training for F-16 fighter jets. So put together this is a strong message which sends a positive and united message to Kyiv.

Question [Ukrainian National News Agency] Just a follow up on my colleague: can we expect today a final communique on Ukraine or we can expect it tomorrow? And could you please specify what kind of conditions Ukraine still needs to fulfil to initiate the accession procedure and to get an invitation Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We have agreed the communicate and we also agreed the package for Ukraine that was agreed by the leaders. And I refer to the main elements now: the practical support or political ties with the NATO Ukraine Council, full interoperability, and the removal of the Membership Action Plan. And then of course, also all the different things that Allies are providing bilaterally including with the new announcements we have heard today and the last few days.

I have been in close contact, and the regular contact, and NATO Allies have also been the regular contact, with Ukrainian officials. I've discussed this also with President Zelenskyy and I look forward to meeting him tonight. And then also to have the inaugural meeting of the NATO Ukraine Council tomorrow, where I will set out the package, or the three elements, bringing Ukraine closer to NATO and this is a strong package.

Question [Reuters] Secretary General, to come back to President Zelenskyy’s remarks: he said it would be absurd if a timeframe is not set neither for invitation, nor for Ukraine's membership. How would you respond to that specific point and why have Allies not set out a timeframe today?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: What we have agreed is a very substantive package with many different elements that helps to move Ukraine closer to NATO, help them to move towards NATO membership. And this is partly a very practical support on for instance, interoperability, and reforms, defence sector reforms and interoperability are among the conditions which are important for membership. So that's a practical way of moving them, and moving Ukraine closer to NATO.

Then we also send a strong political message with the language on a membership including the language, which is now in the Communique on invitation. So there has never been a stronger message from NATO at any time. Both when it comes to political message on the path forward for membership, and the concrete support from NATO Allies, military support but also the practical support on how to ensure full interoperability. And if you look at all other membership processes, there have not been timelines for those processes, they are conditions based, have always been.

Lauri Ilmari Nurmi Tuomaanpoika [Italehti]: Lauri Ilmari Nurmi, Italehti, from Finland. Mr. Secretary General, the Baltic Sea becomes NATO's inland sea, NATO puts 300,000 new troops on high readiness. What does all this mean for frontline countries like Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland? And what is NATO's message to Mr. Putin and Russia? How historic is this moment? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: It is historic that both Finland and Sweden will become members of NATO. Finland is already a full member. And with the agreement that President Erdogan and Prime Minister Kristersson and I were able to make last night, Sweden will also become a full member of the Alliance. This is historic. It's important for the whole Alliance, it's important for Finland, it’s important for Sweden, but this also in particular important for the Baltic region, because when you look at the map, you realize that for instance, the ability to reinforce the Baltic region is very much improved by the fact that we now have Finland and soon also Sweden as full members.

And that will be reflected in our defence plans, in our exercises, in our capability targets and everything else we do as an Alliance.

So it makes the whole Alliance stronger, and it makes especially the Baltic region safer. It sends the message that NATO’s door is open, it sends the message that it is for NATO Allies to decide on enlargement and it is not for Moscow to deny sovereign nations the sovereign right to choose their own path. And this is again something we have demonstrated not only in words, but also in deeds by now allowing two new members and sending a message to Ukraine, which is stronger than any message NATO has ever sent before on membership for Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: We have the gentleman over there in the third row.

Question [European Pravda]: European Pravda, Ukraine. Secretary General, I would ask you to clarify a bit on conditions. I understand that you cannot list all of them. It's probably not clear but maybe you see how these conditions will be defined, agreed? Because I'm afraid that it will be read that NATO has lifted Membership Action Plan but have invented another Membership Action Plan with another name, which is conditioned. So it's like making a bit of a fake achievement. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: No, what we say in the Communique is that Ukraine has moved beyond the requirements for Membership Action Plan just because Ukraine has come much closer to NATO. I was actually attending the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008 as Norwegian Prime Minister. And I remember very well to the discussion there. And of course, the discussion now is totally different for many reasons. And not least because Ukraine is under full-fledged attack by Russia.

But also because Ukraine has come so much closer to this Alliance over all these years because especially since 2014, when NATO Allies started to train and equip Ukrainian armed forces, but even more so after 24 February last year. Ukraine has demonstrated capabilities, skills and has been more and more integrated with NATO. This is also a consequence of the equipment which NATO Allies are delivering. Because for instance, when we deliver modern battle tanks, or advanced air defence systems, a consequence of that is also more interoperability, more NATO standards, doctrines and the gradual movement from the Soviet era doctrines, standards and equipment to NATO - just by the fact that so much equipment is now delivered.

And of course, when we start with training of pilots for F-16 it will even more add to this important interoperability which has always been a requirement for NATO membership. So this is moving Ukraine closer to NATO and to NATO membership, and also reflecting the fact that NATO has come much closer.

[Question inaudible]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, we have conditions partly in Article 10 of the [North Atlantic] Treaty, the Washington Treaty. And then of course, at the end of the day, it has to be Allies that assess whether conditions are fully met or not. And that's exactly what Allies then have to agree. And therefore we also refer to both the conditions but also the need for all Allies to agree. That's the way we make decisions in NATO.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: Politico.

Lili Bayer [Politico]: Thank you, Secretary General. Just to follow up on this important topic. I have in front of me the text from 2008 from Bucharest, which we've all been reading and re-reading over the past weeks. “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.  We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” So if you were explaining just to the average citizen in the Alliance and in Ukraine, people who are really keen to understand what was decided today, how would you explain the difference between the text that was agreed in Bucharest in 2008 and the specific language that was agreed today?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: There are several differences. One important difference is I think the next sentences at least a bit further down. We say that the next step is Membership Action Plan. And that's exactly what we removed today. And at every Summit since 2008 we have said Ukraine will become a member, the next step is Membership Action Plan. Now we remove that.

So that's actually turning this process, which has always been two steps, into one step. That actually moves Ukraine closer to membership and that's a significant difference from the 2008 language, which has been reiterated at every Summit since 2008. And it has been also a process in NATO to make that decision. Because it was not a straightforward decision to make. I'm glad that Allies agreed and it was the main element in my package I launched in Oslo in May at the Informal Meeting [of Foreign Ministers].

Then there were questions asked whether that was moved too fast and therefore I'm glad that since May since we started this discussion of removing MAP requirements all Allies today have agreed to remove MAP requirements. So that's difference number one. Difference number two is that we actually now have a program for how to help and support Ukraine move closer to NATO. And that is the interoperability, the multi-year program, but also the strengthening of our political ties and also reference to that the foreign ministers will, also in the text that we have agreed today, will regularly assess progress.

So this together with the fact that the substantial delivery of equipment and training, just by itself, moves Ukraine closer to membership, is a big difference. There is one more difference. And that is that in 2008, Ukraine was quite far from NATO. What has happened since 2008 has already moved them much closer to us.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: Swedish Radio. Second row.

Question [Swedish Radio]: Mr. Secretary General, you mentioned the Swedish membership. And you said it's historic. But we still don't know when the ratification will be in the parliament in Ankara and in Hungary, which day? What do you know about that?  And can you please tell us something about the feelings in the meeting hall today, when you met the other Heads of State and you had the Swedish Prime Minister together with you? What was the feeling today, after the green light yesterday from President Erdogan?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Of course, it is for the Turkish parliament to decide exactly when they finalize the ratification. President Erdogan made it clear yesterday that he will submit the ratification papers for Swedish accession as soon as possible. But then of course, also as a former parliamentarian, I think we should respect that every parliament has their own procedures. And also when there has been a not very controversial enlargement, this has sometimes been domestic processes. But what makes the agreement yesterday historic, is that of course, it is a clear commitment from President Erdogan that he will submit the papers for ratification and that he will work with the Grand National Assembly, the Turkish parliament to ensure ratification.

And this is historic. And that was also reflected in the meeting today. I think that almost - all Allies welcomed Ulf Kristersson -  first of all, they welcomed Sauli Niinistö, the President of Finland, because this was his first NATO Summit. He attended as President of Finland as a full member of the Alliance. And then Allies also expressed their welcome to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, expressing that they welcomed the agreement yesterday. And in all, we're looking forward to having also Sweden as a full member as soon as possible. So I felt the kind of historic sentiment in the room that was reflected in in what the Allies said, and of course, I welcome that message from all of them.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll take the last question from ARD, over there.

Markus Preiss [ARD]: Thank you very much, Markus Preiss with ARD. Apparently there's a big need to better understand what are the conditions. I have tried the other way around. President Biden said in his interview with CNN that Ukraine was still short of some requirements for joining, including over democratization. What are conditions Ukraine clearly does not meet now to get the invitation? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I think we have to understand that there are at least two dimensions which we're addressing. One is the kind of the level, or to what extent they've being able to modernize the defence and security institutions to strengthen their governance, including fighting corruption. And this has been issues which have been addressed at every enlargement of NATO. Because we want good governance, we want modern defence and security institutions, and we want armed forces which are interoperable with NATO. We are addressing that, both the modernization of the defence and security institutions and the interoperability with the multi-year programme we agreed.

Then there is another dimension. And that is, of course, the fact that there's a war going on in Ukraine. The Ukrainian forces have demonstrated courage, skill, competence, that has impressed the whole world. But at the same time, there is a full-fledged war. And therefore, I think all Allies agree that when a war is going on, that's not the time for making Ukraine a full member of the Alliance. So these are two different things. The question of governance, corruption, interoperability, which is an issue regardless of whether it's a war or not, and then the other issue is the ongoing war in Ukraine. And we need to address both of them.  

At this at the end of the day, it has to be Allies that assess as we always do, when we have enlargement, whether their conditions are met and then make the decision on an invitation. The important with the Communiqué today, is that we have the tools to ensure that Ukraine moves towards a membership. We have for the first time invitation as part of the language. And we have for the first time removed the requirement for the Membership Action Plan. So this is a big step. Never been stronger language from NATO on membership, and never been a more specific announcement on what we are actually going to do to ensure that Ukraine becomes a member of the Alliance.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much, colleagues. I know there are still quite a few questions, but we need to leave it for now, because there is a dinner of the readers and we'll see you tomorrow. Thank you.