Press conference

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

  • 15 Feb. 2024 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 15 Feb. 2024 17:21

(As delivered)

Good afternoon, 
NATO defence ministers met today to prepare for the Washington Summit in July.

Last year in Vilnius, we took major decisions to strengthen our deterrence and defence. 

Today, we accelerated work on resourcing our new defence plans, and strengthening our transatlantic defence industrial base.

This requires investment.
And we are on the right track.
I expect 18 Allies to spend 2% of their GDP on defence this year.
A six-fold increase from only 3 Allies in 2014.

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

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

By the end of 2024, European Allies and Canada will have added more than 600 billion dollars for defence since we made the Defence Investment Pledge in 2014.

We still have a way to go. 
But we have already made historic progress. 

We also discussed ramping up production of ammunition. 

To refill our stocks and continue to support Ukraine, we need to shift from the slow pace of peacetime, to the high-tempo production demanded by conflict.

To do that, manufacturers need signed contracts.
And just in the past few months, NATO has agreed contracts worth ten billion dollars.

This helps Ukraine.
Makes NATO stronger,
And provides more highly-skilled jobs in Europe and North America. 

We also discussed the deteriorating security environment. 
We can never take peace for granted.
But we do not see any imminent military threat against the Alliance.

NATO continues to ensure there’s no room for miscalculation in Moscow about our readiness to protect all Allies.

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

Testing our ability to swiftly move forces across the Alliance to defend our eastern flank. 

Today, we also met with Ukraine in the NATO-Ukraine Council. 

Defence Minister Umerov briefed Allies on the latest developments on the ground. 
And we addressed the importance of our continued support.

Just in the past few days, we have seen new packages of aid announced by Allies including Canada, Finland, and Norway.
Covering key capabilities like F-16 equipment and spare parts, as well as air defence. 

A group of Allies is coming together with the goal of delivering one million drones to Ukraine.
20 NATO Allies have also agreed to form a demining coalition. 
All of this will help to save Ukrainian lives.

Together, NATO Allies account for 99% of all military aid to Ukraine.
And our continued commitment is essential to preserving Ukraine’s freedom. 

Since Russia’s invasion, the United States has provided Ukraine with around 75 billion dollars in military, financial, and humanitarian aid.
Other NATO Allies and partners have provided over 100 billion US dollars.

So our support is an example of true transatlantic burden sharing. 

And it is making a real difference every day.

Today, we decided to create a new NATO-Ukraine Joint Analysis, Training and Education Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland. 

It will allow Ukraine to share lessons learned from Russia’s war. 
And it will create a structure for Ukrainian forces to learn and train alongside their Allied counterparts. 
We will continue to stand with Ukraine.
For Ukraine’s security, and for ours. 

And with that, I am ready to take a few questions.


Dan Michaels (Wall Street Journal): Two questions, were the Ministers briefed at all on this Russian Space Launch that apparently has either nuclear weapons or is nuclear powered? And second, yesterday you talked about NATO maintaining a credible defence. I'm curious whether the minister talked about how NATO can maintain its credibility, especially when a significant number of politicians in the US are vocally criticizing NATO and raising doubts about US commitment to it. Thank you.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So I will not comment on the latest reports which are referred to not least in US media, what I can say is that, in NATO, we are constantly exchanging intelligence between NATO Allies, and we are of course always monitoring all potential threats in all domains from all directions, and I have nothing more to say about that now.

Then, on the issue of US support for NATO. Of course, we are 31 democratic nations on both sides of the Atlantic and as long as this Alliance has existed, there have been different views and discussions, also about NATO within NATO Allies. When we look at the opinion polls, there is record high support for NATO, both in North America, United States, Canada and in Europe. And I'm confident that NATO will remain the strongest and most successful Alliance in history. And I expect United States to continue to be a staunch Ally for at least three reasons. First, it is in the national security interest of the United States to have a strong NATO. Second, there is actually broad bipartisan support for NATO in the United States. And thirdly, the criticism in United States is not primarily against NATO. It is against NATO Allies not spending enough money on NATO and then actually, we have a very good story to tell, because for many years, it was a valid point. And a fair case to raise from the US side, that European Allies and Canada did not spend enough. But things have really changed. With increased defence spending across Canada and Europe. And with now record high investments in Europe and Canada, and more and more Allies are meeting the 2% targets. It is in US interest to have a strong NATO because no other major power has anything like NATO, more than 30 friends and Allies. And that makes the US stronger.

The US accounts for 25% of the world's GDP. Together with NATO Allies, we account for 50% of the world's economic might and 50% of the world's military might. And we have to remember that the US have never fought alone in a war, they have always been together with all the other Allies from the Korea war to Afghanistan and you have to remember that the only time we invoke Article 5 was after an attack on the United States and hundreds thousands of soldiers from Canada and from Europe fought alongside US soldiers and many of them pay the ultimate price. So it is in the national security interest of the United States to maintain NATO as the most successful alliance in history, and therefore I'm confident that US will do so.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We go to the BBC in row three over here please.


Jonathan Beale (BBC): You said earlier today that you expect the US House of Representatives to approve the military aid package to Ukraine. I just wonder what gives you that expectation? Is it more hope that you have than expectation? And would you go as far as to say without US military aid to Ukraine it could prove fatal for its defences. We're seeing what's happening in Avdiivka at the moment with the Russians making advances surrounding the city and Ukraine not having enough ammunition.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I expect the US Congress to agree a package for Ukraine because there is a broad majority in the Congress for supporting Ukraine. And I visited the United States and spent much time also in the Congress, meeting politicians from both sides of the aisle and they confirmed the message that actually there is a broad support for Ukraine. And I expect that this majority in the Congress in one way or another will be reflected in the decision. I also met with the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, and we actually agreed the joint statement where it is clearly stated that President Putin must not win in Ukraine and of course that requires support from all NATO Allies, because if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it is also a challenge for us. It will be a message to authoritarian leaders, not only Putin, but also to President Xi, that when they use military force, they get what they want. What happens in Ukraine today can happen in Taiwan tomorrow.

So this matters for our security and matters for US security, and therefore I expect that the majority which is in the US Congress, in one way or another will be reflected in the decision. It's not for me to guarantee anything on behalf of an independent sovereign Parliament or National Assembly, but based on the messages, based on the political reality and based on US security interests of not allowing President Putin to win, I continue to expect that they will find a way to agree. Then of course, the fact that the US has not been able to make a decision so far has already had consequences. It is impacting the flow of support.

To some extent, this can be compensated by increased support from other Allies, and the European Allies and Canada are stepping up, are doing more. And if we put together the military, the economic and the humanitarian support, actually Canada and European Allies are providing more support than the United States. But United States being by far the biggest Ally, of course it's vital that they continue to provide support and therefore I continue to expect that they will be able to make a decision hopefully as soon as possible.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We’ll go to New Voice of Ukraine.


Nataliia Rop (New Voice of Ukraine): the US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, said she doesn't expect NATO to offer Ukraine membership at the Washington Summit. What needs to happen for Ukraine to receive this invitation? And don't you think that Ukrainians who give their lives daily for its own and Europe Security deserve concrete terms and timings about joining NATO? And second question is: it is known that Ukraine expects to receive F-16 fighter jets this spring. Is it realistic, and will Ukraine actually receive them? Additionally, how would you estimate the chances that F-16 will help Ukraine achieve superiority against Russia's more modern jets? Is NATO considering providing Ukraine with even more modern fighter jets after the F-16? Thank you.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Ukraine is closer to NATO membership than ever before. And that's because we made important decisions at our summit in Vilnius last year, because then we decided to turn the membership process for Ukraine from a two-step process to a one step process, by removing the requirements for a Membership Action Plan. Because normally, we have this requirement before an invitation can be issued to an applicant country, they have to be part of something we call a Membership Action Plan.

We said Ukraine doesn't need that. So just by doing that we made the whole accession process much more simple and faster for Ukraine. The other decision we made was established NATO-Ukraine Council that met today, which is a platform to strongly deepen our political cooperation and move again Ukraine closer to membership in strengthening our political cooperation.

Then, thirdly, we agreed a comprehensive program for interoperability, meaning ensuring that Ukrainian armed forces will have standards doctrines, procedures which makes them fully interoperable with NATO soldiers and armed forces. And by doing that, the aim is to move Ukraine so close to membership, that when we make the decision they can become a member very, very quickly, in one way as we have seen with Finland and Sweden, where actually they applied for membership in May and ordered it in July the same year. They were both invited to become members. Then actually today, we decided to establish the joint evaluation and the training centre yet to know the tool to ensure that we will bring Ukraine to that level where they really quickly can become a full member of the Alliance. Then of course an invitation will be made when all Allies agree and the conditions are met. We are now moving closer and closer to that point.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We’ll go next to EFE, the third row here in front of me, please.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (coming back to New Voice’s question): Well, F-16. I think that's a big contribution by NATO Allies to provide Ukraine with F-16. And of course, these planes also have a lot of modern equipment systems, which makes the F-16 a very potent and important weapon for Ukraine. The effort now that was addressed in the meeting is that Denmark and the Netherlands are leading efforts supported by many other Allies, Belgium, Norway and others, to provide the training, to provide the spare parts, to provide the technical assistance and the maintenance capabilities to actually make the F-16 sustainable and an important capability for Ukraine.

There is no silver bullet, there's not one system that will change completely the situation on the battlefield or in the air, but well trained, well equipped, well maintained, F-16 will add significantly to Ukrainian fighting capability. That also gives me an opportunity to highlight another thing when it comes to burden sharing on support for Ukraine: not only our European Allies and Canada are providing substantial support – and actually more support in total than the United States – to Ukraine, but they're also leading the way on many of the weapons. The Europeans were the first to deliver battle tanks, first to deliver long range missiles, first to deliver cruise missiles, and the Europeans have also been leading the way when it comes to delivering fighter jets to Ukraine.

So the message is that the support for Ukraine is not something the United States is doing alone. It's something actually NATO Allies, Europe, Canada and United States are doing together, and therefore we should continue to do together, all of us, because it matters for our security.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: Time for just one or two more. We'll go back to EFE here, please.


Julio Gálvez (EFE): Julio Gálvez, from the Spanish news agency EFE. If you could give any more details about this new regional centre for example, where it will be located, how many soldiers will be possible to train and when it will be launched.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: It will be located in Bydgoszcz, Poland, then it remains to be decided many of the details. What we have made now is the political decision and then we need to implement that decision in the coming weeks and months. So today's decision is a start of a process. The training centre will enable Ukraine to share lessons learned from the Russian war. This will benefit them and us and also create a platform, a framework, to train alongside Allies and NATO Allied troops. Our experts will now work on the details and I expect NATO leaders will take the final decision later on this year.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We'll go to Romanian national radio in fourth row, please.


Bogdan Isopescu (Radio Romania): Bogdan Isopescu for Radio Romania, there is a multiple Ally naval presence around Europe, including in Baltic and North Sea. On the other hand, in the Black Sea, we have just Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish presence, no other Ally and that in spite of the need for deterrence, for demining, for protecting the critical infrastructure, and as when I'm asking that I'm taking into account the Montreux Agreement, but still, and also regarding the Black Sea, Türkiye does not allow ships donated to Ukraine by certain Allies to enter the Black Sea. It looks like one NATO Ally is blocking other Allies in helping Ukraine. What do you think about that?


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, the Montreux Agreement means that now the straits into the Black Sea are closed for naval ships. That means also that Russia is not able to move in more naval ships into the Black Sea. And if we then also take into account that actually the Ukrainians have been very capable of attacking the Russian Black Sea Fleet, they have destroyed a large number of ships also big ships and just this week, and new Russian naval ship was sunk by very competent and skilled Ukrainian forces. What I welcome is that Bulgaria, Romania and Türkiye, three NATO Allies and littoral states to the Black Sea, are actually working together on demining – and that was also mentioned in the meeting today – and also that the combination of what these three NATO Allies do was allowing Ukraine to use their territorial waters, and the great victories that Ukraine has achieved in the fight against the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine has actually been able to open a route, a sea route along also Romania, Bulgaria and Türkiye. That has enabled them to export significant amounts of grain and other products through the Black Sea. So I think we should continue to close cooperation between NATO Allies continue to support the efforts of Ukraine to push back the Russian Black Sea Fleet and continue to respect the Montreux Agreement.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: That’s all we have time for, Thank you very much.


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much.