Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the release of his Annual Report 2023

  • 14 Mar. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 14 Mar. 2024 14:08

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Today, I am presenting my Annual Report for 2023, where we sum up all the different activities and things that has happened within the Alliance during last year.
This report sums up our main achievements over the last year – and there have been many.
Further strengthened our defences.
Robust new military plans.
More forces at higher readiness. 
And major increases in defence investment.

The world has become more dangerous, but NATO has become stronger.
Today, I can announce the results of our latest polling, conducted across every NATO Ally.
The data is clear: public support for NATO is extremely strong – on both sides of the Atlantic.

If a vote were held today, an overwhelming majority of citizens across Allied countries would vote in favour of NATO.
For example, in United States, only 13 percent would vote against.

Over 80 percent of our citizens believe that North America and Europe must continue to work together for our shared security.
So across the Alliance, support for NATO remains rock-solid.

NATO citizens also continue to express strong solidarity with the brave Ukrainians.
Across the Alliance, fully two-thirds of people want their country to continue supporting Ukraine.

This matters, because NATO Allies provide 99 percent of all military aid.
And in 2023, we continued to provide unprecedented levels of support, including:

Artillery and ammunition;
tanks and armoured personnel carriers;
patrol boats;
air defences;
and radars.

For the first time, a number of Allies also sent long-range systems – UK Storm Shadow and French SCALP missiles – and Allies agreed to send F-16 aircraft.

Allies also came together to create coalitions for key capabilities like air defences, artillery, and drones.
And several Allies have now signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine.

Unprecedented aid from NATO Allies has helped Ukraine to survive as a sovereign, independent nation.

But Ukraine needs even more support.
And they need it now.

The Ukrainians are not running out of courage.
They are running out of ammunition.

Together, we have the capacity to provide Ukraine what it needs.
Now we need to show the political will to do so.
All Allies need to dig deep and deliver quickly.
Every day of delay has real consequences on the battlefield in Ukraine.

So, this is a critical moment.
And it would be a grave, historic mistake to allow Putin to prevail.
We cannot allow authoritarian leaders to get their way by using force.
This would be dangerous for us all.

Putin went to war trying to slam NATO’s door shut.
But he failed.

Last year, Finland joined the NATO family.
Just last week, Sweden became the 32nd Ally.
And Ukraine is closer to NATO than ever before.

So NATO is now bigger and stronger.
And last year, we put our defences on an even more robust financial footing.

2023 was the ninth consecutive year of increased defence investment across Europe and Canada.
With defence spending rising by an unprecedented 11 percent.

In 2024, NATO Allies in Europe will invest a total of 470 billion US dollars in defence.
Amounting to 2 percent of their combined GDP for the first time.

This year, two-thirds of Allies will meet the 2 percent target.
Up from just three Allies in 2014 when we agreed the Defence Investment Pledge.

In 2023, we also further deepened our relations with like-minded partners,
Including our friends in the Indo-Pacific, and the European Union.

We are also working even more closely with our partners in industry.

In 2023, we agreed the new Defence Production Action Plan.
To ramp up production, strengthen engagement with industry, and increase interoperability.
Since then, NATO has agreed contracts worth tens of billions of dollars for ammunition and key capabilities.This matters for our security and for Ukraine’s.
NATO’s new innovation accelerator – DIANA – is also doubling its network of accelerators and test centres.

Soon there will be more than 200 world-class sites on both sides of the Atlantic.
They will focus on solving some of our biggest defence and security challenges,
And sharpening our technological edge.
In areas ranging from Artificial Intelligence and cyber, to 5G, hypersonics, and autonomous systems. 

Next month, we will mark the 75th Anniversary since NATO was founded.
When our Heads of State and Government meet in Washington in July, we will celebrate this important milestone.
And we will continue adapting our Alliance for the future.

I expect we will take further steps to support Ukraine.
Reinforce our resources and defences.
And deepen our partnerships around the world.

In an unpredictable world, NATO matters more than ever.  
In our 75th anniversary year, we will continue to demonstrate our unity, solidarity and resolve.

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

Acting NATO Spokesperson Dylan White: We'll go to questions. We'll start with the Wall Street Journal in the third row on the far left here, please.

Dan Michaels (Wall Street Journal): Thank you, Dan Michaels with the Wall Street Journal. First, about the spending by members. When will you release the 2024 numbers? You said two thirds of members and you'd already given the European aggregate – curious when you’ll give specifics on that. And second, in terms of increasing industrial production of weapons and other systems, this is a common objective of both NATO and the EU. The EU has a summit on this next week. Can you talk a bit about the cooperation? There's been some friction over the years between NATO and the EU. Are you coordinating better now and what do you see the EU bringing to the table in what they're able to do in terms of coordinating and promoting military production? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First, on the numbers. We follow the same procedure every year. When we launch or present the Annual Report as we do today, we present detailed numbers for the last year, for the past year, because this is the Annual Report for 2023. And you can look into the report and we see detailed numbers for defence spending, aggregated but also for each and every Ally and development over time in current but also fixed prices.

Then, what we have now are only our preliminary estimates for 2024. We will have better and more data when we publish a report ahead of the Summit in July. So exactly when we publish that report is not yet decided, but it's something we publish in the summer and now it will be published at least before the Summit, mid-July in Washington. Then you will have and we all will have more detailed numbers. Partly because then we have all the decisions or at least more decisions in NATO Allied capitals. We know that some Allies are actually now making new budget decisions for 2024. We have also more reliable estimates for GDP. And of course if we are not only looking at defence spending, but defence spending as a percentage of GDP, then what matters is both spending but also GDP and by summer we have more credible estimates for GDP. So yes, we have some preliminary estimates saying that we expect two thirds of Allies to meet the 2% target in 2024. Adding it all together also shows clearly that European Allies together, they together spend 2% of the GDP on defence. But we all have to wait until we have more detailed information about each and every country to have the detailed list presented later this year. And I hope that of course the numbers will further improve by the Washington Summit. Just actually today Norway announced that they will meet the 2% guideline this year. That's yet another example of how Allies are constantly adding and adjusting their budgets. So by July we have then all these new announcements put together in the new report we'll present then.

Then on defence investments. So first of all, NATO has been calling on European Allies to increase investments in production for years, and of course the only way to increase defence production is to spend more. And NATO's kind of main message to all Allies, but in particular European Allies, is that you have to spend more. And in the beginning it was a bit hard to convey that message. Now I feel that Allies understand. So Allies have really started to increase spending and therefore you can also make orders, and I'm sure that the industry is investing and providing more ammunition, more equipment and investing in new production capacity. So we see things are moving in the right direction because they follow the NATO advice: spend more.

Second, I welcome all efforts and we are in close contact with the EU. I met recently with President Ursula von der Leyen, we discussed this in detail, and our staffs are also engaging closely. So we welcome efforts by the European Union when it comes to overcoming the fragmentation of the European defence industry. In the United States they have many, many battle tanks and one type. In Europe they have fewer battle tanks and many different types. So of course the cost per unit goes up and becomes expensive to educate, to train, to produce spare parts – all that becomes so much more costly because we have a much more fragmented defence industry. So all efforts by the European Union to overcome the fragmentation of the European defence industry will be good for NATO. It’s something NATO has been calling on and I welcome EU efforts on that.

What is important is that of course NATO is the organisation that had to set the capability targets. You cannot have two systems setting two different sets of capability targets for the same countries. You cannot have EU and NATO presenting to Germany, or to Denmark, or to Poland two conflicting lists of capability targets. So defence planning, including setting the targets for how many battle tanks, how many planes, how many ships, what kind of readiness and so on, has to be set by one and only one institution. And that's NATO's core responsibility: defence planning and the associated capability targets. So of course that defines the needs, the demand, and with the money you can then turn that demand into real contracts.

Second, of course, we need only one institution setting the standards. So NATO standards for interoperability, for communications, for interoperability, for interchangeability of ammunition, all of that is only one set of standards. You don't have two sets of standards – then you achieve the exact opposite. And of course, EU Allies represent 20% of NATO's total defence expenditure. So again, since NATO represents 100%, NATO has to set the standards. So standards, defence planning, [are] core NATO tasks and cannot be duplicated because then we actually undermine our security.

And thirdly, NATO has also had a very important role to play when it comes to joint procurement. That has been done in many different formats, and we welcome different formats. But of course, the NSPA, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, has for decades tried and tested procedures for big joint procurement decisions, reducing the cost, aggregating demand and giving the industry the long term multiyear demand they need to make the necessary investments. So it is important that of course EU focus on the areas where they actually add value to NATO, but not to compete with NATO when it comes to core responsibilities as defence planning, standard setting, capability targets, and we still need a lot of joint procurement conducted in the NATO framework.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go next to RAI, Italy. In the second row in front of me here, please.

Marilu Lucrezio (RAI): Secretary General, Marilu Lucrezio, RAI. What are your expectations on the upcoming elections in Russia, and especially now because President Putin said there is a possibility of deployment of troops along the border in Finland? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General: Free and fair elections are core to any democracy. And the elections in Russia will not be free and fair. Because we know already that opposition politicians are in jail, some are killed, and many are in exile. And, actually, also some who tried to register as candidates have been denied that right. So we can say actually before the elections that they will not be free and fair. Because to have free and fair elections, you need competition, you need different lists, you need an open discussion, and you need a free and independent press. There is no free and independent press in Russia, media outlets are suppressed or expelled. President Putin has held power in Russia for decades. No one expects Russia's elections this week to bring any change in the Kremlin. And of course, Russia's attempts to organise any part of an election in occupied regions of Ukraine are completely illegal, violating international law. And during the last elections in 2018, the OSCE they monitored the elections and stated clearly that restrictions on fundamental freedoms and candidate registration resulted in a lack of genuine competition in the Russian elections. And there are no reasons to believe that this has improved since 2018. On the opposite, it's even less open and free now than it was in 2018. So the right to participate in fair and free elections is a fundamental part of any democratic society. But Russian citizens cannot count on freedom and fairness, because opposition politicians are dead, in jail or exiled, and the press is not free.

Then briefly on Finland. Finland is safer now than before they joined the Alliance. Because now Finland is covered by our collective defence clause, Article 5, one for all, all for one. Almost all the Russian land forces are engaged in the war of aggression against Ukraine. So we don't see any imminent threat against any NATO Ally. But of course, we will monitor, follow closely what Russia does along NATO borders. But NATO has been able to protect NATO Allies for 75 years and will continue to do so including with Finland as a member.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go next to the Ukraine National News Agency in the fourth row here, please.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine):  Thank you so much. Dmytro Shkurko, National News Agency of Ukraine. You mentioned many times the strategic importance of the Black Sea area. During a year Ukraine succeeds to destroy around 25% of the Black Sea Fleet. How did that situation impact the strategic stance of the Black Sea area? Are you going to reinforce the coastal states of NATO members to finally get rid from Russian dominance in the area? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General: One of the big victories that Ukraine has achieved is actually to be able to push back the Russian Black Sea Fleet and to destroy many other ships and also then ensure the open corridor from Odesa and all the way to the Bosporus. Also working closely with NATO Allies, littoral states Romania, Bulgaria and Türkiye. And this shows the strength, the skill, the competence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but also the importance of delivery of advanced weapons from NATO Allies. So some of the missiles, some of the systems that has been so critical in opening this corridor has been, of course, provided by NATO Allies. This is important for Ukraine, is important for the Black Sea, but it's also important for the world. Because this ensures, enables the export of grain and other commodities, which are extremely important for global food supplies. We are working closely also with our partners not only not only of course, Ukraine but also Georgia. NATO is helping to train and develop the Georgian Coast Guard. So of course with three NATO littoral states around the Black Sea, then Ukraine and Georgia as close partners, of course NATO is very much present in the Black Sea and the Black Sea is of great strategic importance. And I welcome very much the achievements that the brave Ukrainian armed forces have achieved in pushing back the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go next to the Telegraph in row three in the middle here please.

Joe Barnes (Daily Telegraph): Hi, Joe Barnes from the Daily Telegraph. One of the sections looks at the threat posed by hypersonic missile systems and it’s listed as one of the nine key emerging and disruptive technologies. We know a Patriot system has downed the Russian Kinzhal, the Killjoy in NATO speak. But how much further do NATO's ballistic missile defences have to go to ensure full coverage against hypersonic threats? And then you also in the same section list Iran as a particular worry in this. Why Iran? Do you see them picking up the production further than they already have? And it seems to be a concern that you share with your partners in the European Union. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Hypersonic missiles is of course, a real challenge. And it demonstrates that Russia has invested heavily also in more advanced weapon systems. At the same time, I think we have demonstrated that NATO has the capabilities to protect and defend against Russian hypersonic missiles. When they were launched, the Kinzhal was launched, some years ago it was accompanied by a message from President Putin that these missiles was not able to protect against, that we were not able to shoot them down. Ukraine has, by using Patriots, demonstrated that that's possible. They have been able to shoot down several hypersonic Russian missiles. But it demonstrates also the need for a layered air defence, it demonstrates the need for air and missile defence, and it demonstrates the need for not only high quality but mass. Because one of the strategies we have seen in Ukraine is of course to try to overwhelm the air defences by sending in a lot of missiles and drones at the same time. So that's also the reason why, as part of our defence plans, as part of what we do now to implement the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence in decades, air defence is a critical part of that effort. Again, this is partly about spending more. If you look at the announcements that Allies are making on what they are buying, many of them are now buying a lot of air defence, filling up or following the NATO capability targets which have focused a lot on air defence. Poland made announcements not so far ago for a lot of new air defence systems. Germany is leading the Sky Shield initiative where several Allies have gone together and ensuring that they are delivering on the NATO capability targets for more air defence. So yes, we need to do more because we need the quality, we need the quantity to ensure that we have sufficient air defence to protect against missiles and drones and planes.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: We have time for a couple more. We'll go to IMEDI TV in row three here, please.

Ketevan Kardeva (IMEDI TV): Thank you very much. Mr Secretary General, you just mentioned Georgia but still, can you tell us more about the deepening relationship with partner Georgia in this context of war and turbulent times? And what can we expect in July in the context of future membership? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: So Georgia is a valued NATO partner. We strongly believe that Georgia has the right, as all other European countries or countries, to choose their own path. I visited Georgia several times. I will visit Georgia in the near future again to further strengthen our partnership and look into how we can work closely together. My message to Georgia is of course that reforms are important, and that NATO is based on some core values – democracy, the rule of law. And it's of course important that Georgia live up to these standards as it moves towards further Euro-Atlantic integration.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: We have time for one more. We'll go to Reuters in row three here, please.

Andrew Gray (Reuters): Andrew Gray from Reuters. Secretary General, I was very struck by the line that you mentioned earlier that ‘Ukrainians are not running out of courage, but they are running out of ammunition’. So really a very simple question: why are they running out of ammunition given they have the support of so many Allies, so many powerful economies? Does this represent a failure from NATO Allies?

NATO Secretary General: NATO Allies are not providing Ukraine with enough ammunition and that has consequences on the battlefield everyday. The fact that the Russians are able to outgun the Ukrainians every day of course is a huge challenge. It’s one of the reasons why the Russians have been able to make some advances on the battlefield over the last weeks and months. And therefore it is an urgent need for Allies to make the decisions necessary to step up, provide more ammunition to Ukraine. And that's my message to all capitals. Of course you all follow very closely the process in the US Congress because the US is by far the biggest provider of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. At the same time my message to the United States is that they are not alone, European Allies and Canada also providing significant support. But both US, Canada and Europe has to do more. And we need a long term commitment to enable the Ukrainians also to plan. Then, this is… Of course, we have the capacity, we have the economies to be able to provide Ukraine with what they need. This is a question of political will to take the decisions and to prioritise support for Ukraine. And therefore we need the decisions to invest more in defence industry. We need to ensure that our governments are agreeing contracts with the defence industry so they can make the commercial decisions to scale up production. And of course, we need the will from all Allies to then allocate support, ammunition and also other types of military equipment to Ukraine. It has been unprecedented what NATO Allies have provided but we need to continue and we need to step up and that's the message.

Acting NATO Spokesperson: That concludes this press conference. I know we didn't get to all the questions but the conversation can continue. It's now our great pleasure to invite the media to a reception upstairs in the Compass Room. The press team will be here to guide you there. The Secretary General will join you in a few minutes and we look forward to seeing you. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.