Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels

  • 14 Feb. 2024 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 14 Feb. 2024 18:13

(As delivered)

Good morning.

Defence Ministers will meet tomorrow as we prepare for the NATO Summit in Washington in July.

At last year’s summit in Vilnius, we took major decisions to further strengthen our deterrence and defence.

Now we are putting these plans into action.
This requires investing more.
And we are making real progress.

Today, I can announce our latest figures.

Since the Investment Pledge was made in 2014, European Allies and Canada have added more than 600 billion US dollars for defence.

Last year saw an unprecedented rise of 11% across European Allies and Canada.

This year, I expect 18 Allies to spend 2% of their GDP on defence.

That is another record number.
And a six-fold increase from 2014, when only 3 Allies met the target.

In 2024, NATO Allies in Europe will invest a combined total of 380 billion US dollars in defence.

For the first time, this amounts to 2% of their combined GDP.

So we are making real progress.
European Allies are spending more.

However, some Allies still have a way to go.
Because we agreed at the Vilnius Summit that all Allies should invest 2%.
And that 2% is a minimum.

At the ministerial, we will also discuss further ramping up production of ammunition.
In the past few months, NATO has agreed contracts worth ten billion dollars.

And just this week, Germany launched construction for a new ammunition factory in lower Saxony.
At full capacity, it will produce around 200,000 artillery shells per year.

We will also review progress in fully resourcing our new defence plans.

Right now, we are testing these plans through exercise Steadfast Defender:
the largest NATO exercise in decades.
With approximately 90,000 forces from all 31 Allies and Sweden.

This is a clear demonstration of our capabilities.

We can never take peace for granted.
But there is no imminent military threat against any NATO Ally.

NATO will continue to ensure that there is no room for miscalculation in Moscow about our readiness and resolve to protect all Allies.

This week, we will also hold a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council,
And a virtual meeting of the US-led Ukraine Defence Contact Group.

Both of these meetings will focus on our support.

We continue to help Ukraine move closer to NATO standards on everything from procurement to logistics.

And Allies continue to make major deliveries of weapons, equipment, and ammunition.

This support makes a real difference.

With our help, the brave Ukrainians have retaken half of the territory that Russia seized,
Opened a corridor in the Black Sea,
And are inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces.

NATO’s support is an example of true transatlantic burden sharing.

I welcome the recent decision by the European Union on a major new package of aid.
And I count on US Congress to follow soon.

This is not charity.
It is an investment in our own security.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
We'll start with the BBC in the second row here, please.

Jonathan Beale, BBC
Thank you so much. Jonathan Beale from BBC. I just want to take you back to Donald Trump’s comments at the weekend. You have already issued a statement saying that they undermine all NATO security and put soldiers at risk. Can you explain what you meant by that? And would you go as far as president Biden, who said that Donald Trump’s remarks were dumb and dangerous?

And separately, on the spending, you highlighted the increase, increases, in NATO spending today, with an expectation that 18 nations meet the 2% target. What would you say has been the main motivator for that? Is it threats from Donald Trump? Or is it threats from Vladimir Putin? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO has been able to prevent a military attack against any NATO Ally for 75 years. And we have done that, because it has been absolutely clearly communicated from all NATO Allies at any time, that we are there to protect our Allies. And the whole idea of NATO is that an attack on one Ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance.

And as long as we stand behind that message, together, we prevent any military attack on any Ally. So the purpose of NATO is to prevent war, is to preserve peace, is to prevent the attack on NATO Allies, and we have done so successfully for decades. Because our deterrence is credible. So any suggestion that we are not standing up for each other, that we are not going to protect each other, that does undermine the security of all of us, increasing the risks. And therefore it is so important that we both in action, but also in words, communicate clearly that we stand by NATO's commitment to protect and defend all Allies.

The good news is that, that is exactly what NATO Allies are doing. NATO has the capabilities, we have the resolve to protect and defend all Allies. And that's also the reason why we don't see any imminent threat against any NATO Ally. Because we have, since 2014, significantly enforced our collective defence. We have the strongest reinforcements over collective defence in decades.

And that was, of course, triggered by President Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea. But it was a decision by NATO Allies back in 2014, that since the world has changed, since the world became more dangerous, it was necessary for NATO to respond. And that's exactly what we have done.

And with more defence spending, record high defence investments across the Alliance with more forces deployed in Eastern part of the Alliance, with high readiness of our forces, with heavy investments in new modern capabilities, all of that together has strengthened NATO.

And as long as we continue to invest, as long as we continue to adapt NATO, we will continue to ensure that no NATO ally, is attacked.

Jonathan Beale, BBC
Sorry, you didn't mention Donald Trump. So what is your message to Donald Trump specifically?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So my message is exactly what I said. That we should not undermine the credibility of NATO's deterrence. And that is both about the capabilities we are investing in, but also how we communicate, because deterrence is in the mind of our adversaries.

And we should leave no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding in Moscow, about our readiness and our commitment, our resolve to protect our Allies. And the reason to do so is not to provoke a conflict, but it is to prevent the conflict, as NATO has done successfully for 75 years.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
We'll go to ZDF up here, on my right please.

Florian Neuhann, ZDF
Thank you, Florian Neuhann, ZDF German TV. Again, one follow up question on the Trump statements, Mr Stoltenberg. There is now a discussion going on in Europe whether it needs now nuclear deterrence.  What is your position on that? Does Europe, European Union as a whole or maybe some European member states, should think and develop a [inaudible] nuclear deterrence in order to be better prepared for a future, with maybe Donald Trump in the White House?

A second question, you mentioned the ammunition factory which was inaugurated by Chancellor Scholz. It is going to take months until there is really a production starting. But there is a lack,  imminently now in Ukraine. What can and what should NATO countries do in order to help Ukraine now with ammunition? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
We have a NATO nuclear deterrent that has provided the ultimate security guarantees for NATO Allies for decades. And this is the arrangement we have together in NATO, with agreed procedures for command and control doctrines, we are exercising together. And of course, this is the combination of US nuclear weapons in Europe, but also other NATO Allies providing the planes, the infrastructure, the support, to be able to ensure that this nuclear deterrent is functional, operational, safe and secure and reliable. So this is a nuclear deterrent that works and we should continue to ensure that it remains safe and reliable.

Part of this is also, of course, that we have two other Allies with nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom and France. And I think the issue is that this is the way we organize our nuclear deterrent in NATO, and we should do nothing to undermine the credibility of all that either.

Then on ammunitions. We need of course, to do both. To do two things at the same time, we need to be able to deliver ammunition in the short term, meaning that we need to continue to dig into our own stocks, we need to see if there is possible to buy ammunition from outside NATO countries, and Allies have done that.

And we need to also be able to ramp up production from existing factories, more shifts, has been a way to actually increase production from existing production capacity. But in the longer term, we need to increase also the production capacity.

And therefore I welcome decisions not only by Germany, but also from other Allies to invest more to ramp up production. And that's the way we will ensure that we're able to both continue to support Ukraine with a steady flow of ammunition, but also to replenish our own stocks, which have now been depleted, to enable us to support Ukraine.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
We will go to Radio Free Europe in the fourth row over here please.

Denis Dermenji, Radio Free Europe
Denis Dermenji, Radio Free Europe, Moldovan Bureau. In previous years, at the Madrid and Vilnius Summits, the Allies pledged to support Moldova. And lately we have been hearing more and more claims that Moldova is Putin’s next target. This week, [inaudible] drone was found shot down on its territory. Could you please explain what kind of assistance from Allies, the so-called next Putin’s target can receive and what NATO can offer for Moldova for the new ITPP which will be launched next year? Thank you.  

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Well, the discovery of drone fragments in Moldova just demonstrates that the war in Ukraine is dangerous and this is a direct result of the war of aggression that President Putin launched against a neighbor of Moldova, against Ukraine, and demonstrates the reckless behavior of Russia attacking in another country. Also with consequences for neighbors like Moldova. We are working closely with Moldova, we are closely monitoring that situation.

Moldova is a partner, are working with them on reforms, on capacity building. But of course we also respect the neutrality of Moldova. Moldova is not seeking NATO membership, but we welcome very much to further strengthen the partnership with Moldova.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
We will go to Interfax here, please.

Iryna Somer, Interfax Ukraine
Thank you, Dylan. New agency Interfax Ukraine, Iryna Somer. Coming back to defence industry. Recently the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that Ukrainian defence industry will be integrated with the EU. Is it such a possibility in the frame of NATO to do so? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So we are working closely with the Ukrainian defence industry and we welcome efforts by all NATO Allies, but also by the European Union. To see how we can further strengthen the Ukrainian defence industry. I think the Ukrainians have demonstrated ingenuity and skills when it comes to producing more weapons, developing new weapons, and not least combining different types of technologies when it comes to unmanned vehicles, drones, but also maritime drones, to enable them to actually inflict heavy losses on Russian forces. Far behind the lines, including ships in the Black Sea.

So both when it comes to ramping up production of 155 ammunition, but also more advanced weapons, we are working with the Ukrainians. I welcome efforts by the NATO Allies defence industry working with Ukrainians. And we are as part of the NATO Comprehensive Package also working on interoperability and standardization, which is part of integrating Ukraine more and more into NATO, moving Ukraine closer to the NATO.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
To Deutsche Welle please, in the third row.

Alexandra von Nahmen, Deutsche Welle
Thank you so much, Alexandra von Nahmen, Deutsche Welle, DW.  The Ukrainian Armed Forces said today that they destroyed a large Russian ship. I guess you cannot comment on that. But could you tell us how significant the Black Sea campaign of the Ukrainians is? Especially when we consider that there are intelligence services, for instance, the Norwegian one saying that the Russians now have the upper hand on the battle field. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The Ukrainians have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. They have actually been able to push the Black Sea Fleet away from the western part of the Black Sea. And this is a great achievement, a great victory for the Ukrainians. The fact that they've been able to push away the Russian Black Sea Fleet and open a corridor, so they are able to export grain and other commodities to the world market.

Few believed this was possible just a few months ago. But now actually, the export of grain from Ukraine takes place even without an agreement with Russia. So this shows the skills and the competence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This is first and foremost a result of what they do, their ingenuity, their skills, their bravery, of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but of course, help and support from NATO Allies is also important.

I think it also demonstrates that of course, what goes on along the front line is important and we are all disappointed that the offensive that was launched by Ukrainian forces last year didn't achieve more progress, advances. At the same time, we should not forget that even though the front line has not changed, the Ukrainians have been able to actually attack behind the Russian lines, both on land destroying command and control [inaudible] an important also Russian capabilities including aircraft. But also continue to destroy parts of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and this just shows the skills of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
We have Kyiv Independent the second row, please.

Teah Pelechaty, Kyiv Independent
So we hear that there may be changes to the format of Ramstein with NATO taking over military aid coordination for Ukraine. Can you tell us why and what this will look like?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all, I think that the Ukraine Defence Contact group or the Ramstein format has been a great success, and it has mobilised support from NATO Allies and partners. When it comes to military support, we have to remember that 99% of the military support to Ukraine comes from NATO Allies, including Sweden who will soon become a full member.

We are constantly discussing how we can ensure that our support is sustained, how we can organise the support in the best possible way. We will have a meeting in the NATO Ukraine [Defense] Contact Group today, a virtual meeting. Defence Ministers will meet tomorrow, NATO Defence Ministers. It's not possible for me to go into more details about those discussions. There are ongoing deliberations. But the aim is of course to ensure that we continue to provide support to Ukraine in the best possible way and the most robust way as possible.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
Go to the gentleman in the black blazer here in the second row please.

Barzan Hassan, Kurdistan 24
Thank you, Barzan Hassan from Kurdistan 24. On the Middle East, Iranian regime behind most of the conflict because they have so many militia in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, just a few weeks ago, has been attacked US bases in Jordanian and also in urban cities, the capital of the Iraqi-Kurdistan region. And this kind of attack has been again and again. And also you have so many soldiers right now in Iraq. They are training the Iraqi forces. Don't you think this is the time to [inaudible] the air defence system in Iraq or in northern Iraq? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Well, what we see is that Iran continues its destabilising policies across the Middle East, including support to different militia groups and terrorist groups. And we have made it clear that Iran should reign in its proxies. And of course, we condemn the attacks we have seen on US forces across different countries in the Middle East, in Jordan, in Iraq and Syria. And you're right that NATO has a presence in Iraq with our mission there. We help the Iraqis to build capacity to ensure that ISIS does not return and we work with Iraq in many different areas. And of course, anything that can of help them also to defend against air strikes is important for Iraq and important for forces deployed in Iraq.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
We'll go to Bloomberg back here, Lady in the pink scarf, please.

Natalia Drozdiak, Bloomberg
Natalia Drozdiak, thank you for the question. I just wanted to follow up on Ramstein and what NATO's role might be in Ramstein going forward. Are there any discussions within the Alliance about what could be done to ensure that aid for Ukraine is insulated from Allies’ elections over the coming years? Thanks so much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So we are constantly, since the start of this war, discussed how to best organise our support. But the most important thing is actually not to the framework we have around the support, but the most important is that NATO Allies make the decisions to provide support, regardless of what kind of framework that support is provided through.

So my main focus remains when I meet NATO Allies, to ensure that they continue to make the political decisions needed to provide weapons, ammunition, spare parts, maintenance, training, and also financial support. And through different frameworks: bilaterally, through the NATO Comprehensive Assistance Package, through the European Union, and through joint efforts, different Allies together, they have provided unprecedented military, economic and humanitarian support. And I count on and expect NATO Allies will continue to do so.

This is a truly example of transatlantic burden sharing. Because if you put together economic support and the military support, actually the European Allies and Canada are providing more support than the United States. The United States is of course vital and constant military support, and I count on United States to continue its military support. But it is important to realise that this is actually European Allies, Canada and United States together. Canada provides training, equipment and ammunition. And then European Allies and the United States is doing the same in different formats.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
We have time for just one or two more. We’ll go to FACE TV in row four, please.

Dzenita Salihovic, FACE TV
Thank you. Do you still see a threat of a spill over of instability into the Western Balkans as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine? And what do you see as concrete chances for a negotiated solution to that conflict? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So we have seen increased tensions in Kosovo and in other parts of the Western Balkans over the last months. I visited the region just before Christmas. My main message is that all sides should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and any actions that can further escalate the tensions in the region. And when it comes to Kosovo, the way forward is the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and I encourage both Pristina and Belgrade to engage in good faith in that dialogue.

As a result of the attacks and the violence we have seen in Kosovo last year, NATO Allies have increased their presence. The KFOR mission is there; it's there to ensure a safe and secure environment for all communities. And we have added roughly 1,000 extra troops to ensure that we can continue to live up to and deliver on our UN mandate.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
Final question, Dmytro Shkurko, Ukrainian News Agency in the third row please here.

Dmytro Shkurko, National News Agency of Ukraine
Thank you, Dmytro Shkurko National News Agency of Ukraine. In the public domain, Russia is openly threatening to the West and to the NATO Allies with hybrid threats and warfare. Will the ministers consider such kind of non-military threats? Like we see now for instance, in Russian-Finnish border with refugee flow, or maybe some tensions and violent protests on the border between the Poland and Ukraine. From the point of view of internal security and stability, and in particular, or for the military mobility.

And if I may, a short follow up, we are approaching the second anniversary of the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. What main lessons were drawn by the Allies from that event? And you sometimes saying that the failure of Ukraine could be the great threat to European stability and Euro-Atlantic security. Do really consider such kind of option of failure? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first on the potential for different hybrid threats. Well, of course, that's something we take very seriously. We don't see any imminent threat for any military attack against any NATO Ally. But of course, it's a constant risk for different hybrid attacks, cyber and other types of hybrid actions against NATO Allies. This is about improving our intelligence. It’s about sharing intelligence; it’s about working also with civilian society.

The armed forces is working with the rest of the society to address these threats. And that's something we are constantly doing. We’re also exercising and of course, we are monitoring the situation along our border, the NATO borders with Russia to ensure that we are reacting in the appropriate way to any challenges we see along the border with Russia.

Then on the lessons learned, I think there are many lessons to be learned. But of course, for NATO, the most important lesson learned is that we need to stand together because it's really the fact that European Allies, and Canada and United States together did two things when we faced the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The first thing we did was to agree to step up our support for Ukraine, and that support has made a significant difference on the ground. We have to remember that when the full-fledged invasion happened, many experts feared that Ukraine would collapse within days or weeks. The opposite happened. The Ukrainians have been able to retake 50% of their territory and inflict heavy losses on the Russian forces.

The other thing that NATO did when the full-fledged invasion took place, was to increase our military presence in eastern part of the Alliance and further increase the readiness of our forces and activate our defence plans. And we did so to communicate very clearly to Moscow that President Putin should not consider at all to escalate this conflict beyond Ukraine. And we did that and we continue to do that by sending a clear message that we are there. NATO is there. With more troops in Romania, in the Baltic countries, in Poland, and higher readiness and bigger exercises, and also the increased defence spending.

All of this is sending a message that we support Ukraine, but we also ensure that the conflict doesn't escalate beyond Ukraine into NATO territory and to a full-fledged war between Ukraine and Russia.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
We have time for just one final one. VG over here on my right, please, behind the cameras.

Alf Johnsen, VG
Thank you, Alf Johnsen from VG. During your visit to Washington in January, you said you had the chance to talk to Republican leaders, in both chambers of the Congress, and also Republican leaned think tanks. And in light of your talks there, was Trump's statement last week a surprise for you? Or was it in line with what you heard during your stay in Washington?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
What I heard in Washington when I visited Washington and rightly, as you said, I met many Republicans, or representatives, both in the House and in the Senate from both parties. The message and the broad agreement from all of them, was strong support to NATO and strong support to Ukraine, and therefore I welcomed the decision by the US Senate on an aid package to Ukraine, and I count on the House to agree, or to find a way forward to ensure that Ukraine can continue to receive substantial military support for Ukraine. Or from the United States to Ukraine.

I think that we need to realize that a strong NATO is important for Europe. Because it's obvious that the troops, the US troops in Europe, the American commitment to European security is essential to prevent any attack on European Allies. But a strong NATO, is also good for the United States. Because through NATO, the United States has something no other [major power has]. And that is more than 30 friends and Allies in NATO. And that makes the United States stronger and safer.

So it is in the national security interest of the United States to keep NATO strong. It is strong bipartisan support in the US Congress for NATO. And we have to listen and take note of the following: the criticism that we hear is not primarily about NATO. It's about NATO Allies not spending enough on NATO.

And that's a valid point. And it's a point and the message that has been conveyed by successive US administrations, that European Allies and Canada have to spend more, because we haven't seen fair burden sharing in the Alliance. The good news is that that is exactly what NATO Allies are doing.

With a record high increase in defense spending last year, with now 18 Allies spending 2% or more. And more and more Allies are coming close to 2% and promise to be there very soon.

And the fact that that we now see record high spending across Europe, European Allies, just highlights that this message has had an impact. European Allies and Canada have stepped up and I count on them to continue to do so. A strong NATO is also important for the United States, because it makes the United States stronger.

The United States have never fought a war alone. They always fight with Allies, and that makes the United States stronger. From the Korean War to Afghanistan, NATO Allies have been fighting shoulder by shoulder with US soldiers. And we have to remember that the only time we invoked Article Five was after an attack on the United States –  Afghanistan – 9/11. And, hundreds of thousands of Canadian and European troops served in Afghanistan to protect the United States, and many of them payed the ultimate price.

So that's the reason why there is strong support for NATO in the United States. Because they of course, understand the same as the Europeans understand, that we are stronger together. And of course, the more concerned they are about China, the size of China, the more important is to keep NATO strong, because the United States represents 25% of the world GDP.

Together with NATO Allies, we represent 50% of the world economy and 50% of the world's military might. So as long as we stand together, protect each other, we are safe, we prevent an attack. And we ensure that we are standing up for our values through a strong transatlantic bond.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
That's all we have time for today. But we'll see you tomorrow for the ministerial. Thank you.