Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak

  • 23 Apr. 2024 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 23 Apr. 2024 18:15

(As delivered)

Thanks so much.
Prime Minister Sunak, dear Rishi,

It is great to be here in Poland together with you today.

The United Kingdom is a highly valued and staunch and essential NATO Ally.
Contributing greatly to our shared security in so many different ways.

You lead NATO forces in Estonia.
British jets help guard the skies over our Eastern flank.
The Royal Navy helps keep critical sea-lanes open.

The United Kingdom is also at the centre of Exercise Steadfast Defender, currently underway and involving more than 16,000 British military personnel.

And we are today, here in Poland with British troops, a physical embodiment of your commitment to NATO.

So, thank you to all of you.

Prime Minister, your announcement today confirms the vital role the UK plays in our Alliance.

The United Kingdom will spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030.

Allies agreed at our Summit in Vilnius last year that 2% is a minimum.

And, once again, the UK is leading by example.

Just as you did in 2014, after the illegal annexation of Crimea, when you were one of the first Allies to provide training and military support to Ukraine.
And after the full-scale invasion in 2022, you stepped up significantly, training thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and providing billions of pounds of military assistance.

And today, your announcement of additional support, including more ammunition, air defence and deep precision strike capabilities shows once again, the British people's commitment to Ukraine.

I welcome your cast iron commitment to continue these levels of support to Ukraine for as long as needed.
In NATO, we are now addressing how to put our support for Ukraine on a more robust and predictable footing, including with a multi-year financial commitment.

So Prime Minister, your commitment sets us on the right direction.
I also welcome that other Allies are taking action, not least Poland, which provides key capabilities to Ukraine, and hosts 1 million Ukrainian refugees.

Over the weekend, the US House of Representatives approved a major aid package for Ukraine.
This will enable the US to provide substantial additional support to Ukraine quickly.
And last Friday, NATO Defence Ministers agreed to further bolster Ukraine's air defences.
Germany's delivery of another Patriot system is imminent, and other Allies made concrete commitments in that NATO meeting, with deliveries expected soon.

Faced with the biggest conflict on the European continent since the Second World War, our decisions today will have consequences for generations to come.
We must not falter.

We live in a more dangerous world, authoritarian powers are increasingly aligned.
Russia is receiving support for its war of aggression from China, Iran and North Korea.

This reminds us that security is not regional, security is global.
And we must work with our like-minded partners around the world to preserve and protect transatlantic security. NATO is a defensive alliance.
We do not seek conflict with Russia.
But we will keep our 1 billion people safe.
The ten thousand NATO troops based here in Poland, send an unmistakable message that NATO will protect and defend all Allies.

So Prime Minister Sunak, thank you again, for the UK’s vital contributions to NATO.
Thank you.

[question from ITV and answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

Question (Daily Mail): The sort of crisis in the Middle East has kind of taken the spotlight a little bit off Ukraine. You mentioned NATO's Article Five. Just to be clear, you’re ready to take Britain to war if Russian troops set one boot in this country or any other NATO Ally, is that right? And Mr Stoltenberg, can I ask you, you had a pretty bumpy time with Donald Trump last time around, are you… What do you feel about working with him again?

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

NATO Secretary General: Before I answer the question, let me just express my deepest condolences to the loved ones of the Spanish corporal who died here in Poland during NATO's Saber Strike exercise. I expressed my condolences to the Spanish government, I'm in touch with the Spanish authorities, and we owe him and all NATO's men and women in uniform our eternal gratitude.

Then, to the question. A strong NATO is good for Europe, but a strong NATO is also good for the United States. And I expect that regardless of the outcome of the elections in the US later this year, the US will remain a staunch and loyal Ally, at least for three reasons. It is in the security interest of the United States to have NATO and to have more than 30 friends and Allies. That makes also the United States stronger and safer. The United States is a big Ally, they represent 25% of the world's GDP, but together with all NATO Allies together, we represent 50%, twice as much, of the world's GDP. And together we represent 50% of the world's military might. So NATO is making the US safer and stronger. It is in the interest of the United States to keep NATO and therefore I believe they will remain a staunch and loyal Ally. Second, it is broad bipartisan support for NATO in the United States, in the US Congress and in the US public if you look at the results from the opinion polls. And thirdly, the criticism we have heard from the United States, not only from former President Donald Trump but also from others, is that it has not primarily been a criticism against NATO Allies – it has been a criticism against NATO Allies not spending enough on NATO. And that is changing. When we made the defence investment pledge, the pledge to defence more, back at the NATO Summit in Cardiff in Wales in 2014, only three Allies spent 2% or more on defence. This year I expect two thirds, 20 or perhaps even more Allies, to spend 2% of GDP on defence. And then you have Allies like the United Kingdom, spending not 2% but two and a half percent, committing to spend two and a half percent of GDP, and by far the biggest defence investor among the European Allies, and with a clear margin the biggest defence budget in the Alliance after the United States, and contributing in so many different ways to different NATO missions and operations. So I think that European Allies, again, not least with the example of the United Kingdom, are demonstrating to the United States that we do this together, and the United States know that they have never been at war since the Second World War without Allies, from the Korean War to the war in Afghanistan. So for these reasons I'm confident that, yes there may be discussions, there may be differences on some issues, but fundamentally the United States, Europe and North America, will stand together, also after the US elections.

[question from the Guardian and answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

Question (Telegraph): Thank you, Prime Minister. You had some very strong words about the threat from China at the start of your speech, and you link those directly to this extra money that you're putting into defence and protecting Britain. Is it now time, as a lot your MPs want, to designate China officially as a threat? And will you put it on the enhanced tier list of countries? Mr Stoltenberg, you mentioned Patriots, defence systems. At a meeting yesterday European defence ministers fell short of signing off on sending those to Ukraine. Will you use this announcement by the UK to put pressure on those European countries who are still holding out on weapons supplies? Thank you.

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

NATO Secretary General: So first on air defence. Of course, I welcome the announcement from the United Kingdom, from Rishi, here today, for many reasons but not least because it also makes it possible to deliver more air defence from the United Kingdom to Ukraine that is urgently needed. And I welcome the announcement also for that reason. Then we are working in NATO actively with NATO Allies to provide even more, and in particular the different types of Patriot systems. We had a meeting on Friday, last Friday, NATO defence ministers together with President Zelenskyy and [Defence] Minister Umerov, and Allies agreed that we need to do more. We have the German announcement of another Patriot battery. Other Allies also made clear commitments, I expect them to announce that in the near future. Then of course we also have the US decision in the US House of Representatives that will also enable more delivery of advanced air defence systems to Ukraine. And then we also have to remember that the F16s, where Allies now are training pilots and delivering F16s, will also significantly strengthen the air defence of Ukraine. So we are working on this and we also [are], as we prepare for the NATO Summit, looking for a more robust and predictable framework for more long term support to Ukraine that also will enable more delivery of air defence

Then briefly on China. So China… The war in Ukraine demonstrates how intertwined, how interlinked our security is. Because China is propping up the Russian war economy. Iran is delivering drones and ammunition to Russia, North Korea is delivering ammunition to Russia, and in return Moscow is mortgaging its future to Beijing and Moscow is delivering technology to North Korea and Iran to help them develop their missile and nuclear programmes. So this is really a demonstration of how what happens in Asia matters for Europe, and what happens in Europe matters for Asia. And that's the reason why also we are now stepping up our cooperation with our partners in the region – South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia – just to make sure that we are working closely with them.

Chris Mason (BBC News): Thank you. Chris Mason, BBC News. A question to both of you, if I may. Is it time to be candid now with people that the costs of supporting Ukraine are going to run into the billions and billions for years and years to come? Could this last another decade? And Prime Minister if I may, I wonder what your reaction is to the news today of the deaths in the English Channel. Thank you.

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

NATO Secretary General: On the cost of the support to Ukraine. I think you have to remember that it has a cost to have Russia as a neighbour. It has a cost to ensure that Ukraine prevails. There is no way we can run away from that cost. We have to pay. Not least because we need to understand that the most expensive alternative is to allow Putin to win in Ukraine. Because then we will actually live in a much more dangerous world, then our security will really be challenged. And then we will have to invest significantly more in our defence compared to the support we now deliver to Ukraine. So the reality is that it has a cost to have an aggressive neighbour, and we have a very aggressive neighbour. There's no way you can run away from that cost. You can only invest now in Ukraine’s security. That's good for them, it's good for us, and that actually reduces the overall cost of coping with Russia as a neighbour. If we allow Putin to win, then the cost will go up, not down. And second, we have to remember that even though we now, all Allies, are providing unprecedented significant support to Ukraine, it’s only a fraction of our defence budgets. We speak about 2%. This is less than 0.2% of our defence… of our GDP. And we have no NATO soldiers in harm's way, no British, no Norwegian, no NATO soldiers at all. So by providing support to Ukraine, we help them to destroy Russian combat capabilities that could potentially be a threat against us. Support to Ukraine is not charity. Support to Ukraine is an investment in our own security and the alternative is more expensive.

Beth Rigby (Sky News): Thank you, Prime Minister. Beth Rigby, Sky News. A question for you both, please. You talk about Europe being at a turning point and this spending putting the UK on a war footing. Have we entered a pre-war era? And you also talk about an axis of authoritarian states working together. We have long known of their hostility. Has something changed suddenly that is particularly concerning you? Thank you.

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

NATO Secretary General: Just briefly on this issue of whether we live in a pre-war period. Well, we live in a more dangerous world. We see that Russia is willing to use military force against a neighbour, Ukraine, to achieve their goals. At the same time, I think we need to remember that NATO is there with one core purpose and that is to prevent war, preserve peace. That's why NATO is established, that's why we exist. And NATO has successfully been able to prevent any armed attack against any NATO Ally for 75 years, even during the coldest and most difficult period of the Cold War, we preserved peace. And our aim is to continue to do so. And I'm absolutely confident that we will be able to do that, as long as we stand together, North America and Europe. And we have Allies like the United Kingdom which is now investing more and taking this seriously. So that also applies for those authoritarian powers which are now becoming more and more closely aligned. Of course, we take that seriously. That's why we address it in NATO, that's why we are investing more, why we're working with our Asia Pacific partners. But again, we… just NATO Allies, we are 50% of the world's military power. We are by far the strongest military power in the world. And if you then add our partners Japan, South Korea and others which are very much together with us in addressing these challenges, we are safe as long as we stand together. I cannot tell you exactly what the next crisis or the next war will be. But what I can tell you is that if we stand together, we will be able to protect and preserve peace for NATO Allies.

Question (GB News): Secretary General, you've said that we can't expect America to always bear the burden and pay up. And although Donald Trump put it very bluntly, he is right, isn't he, that Poland is paying their way, you know, Britain is. But there's many members of NATO not paying 2%. How do you get them actually to pay their fair share? And also Prime Minister, lots of brave servicemen and women here today, but there is a crisis in recruitment of the military, isn't there? How do you counter that? How do you encourage people to realise that this is a career worth having?

NATO Secretary General: First of all, several US presidents have called for more defence spending from NATO Allies in Europe and Canada. We have a beautiful quote from John F. Kennedy asking European Allies to spend more. And it was actually President Biden, who was the [Vice] President of the United States when we were in Wales at the Cardiff Summit and agreed to spend more as Allies together at that Summit. Then, of course, President Trump also expressed this very strongly to NATO Allies, as President Biden has done. So this has been a consistent US message, actually was a UK message, that those Allies who are spending less than 2% should spend more. And the good news is that we over the last year have had a significant increase. I will give you final numbers in July ahead of the NATO Summit, but I expect it will be… two thirds of Allies will be at the 2%, which is not all but significantly better than just a few years ago. And I expect all Allies who are not yet at 2%... First of all, they have moved closer to 2%. Every Ally has increased and I expect that also Allies who are not yet at 2% will have clear plans in place to be there very soon. So therefore we have much fairer burden sharing among NATO Allies now than just a few years ago.

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

Question (The Sun): Thank you very much, Prime Minister. And on your announcement today, what do you say to critics who will recall you resisting calls for the 2.5% pledge by Boris Johnson in 2022, and will now inevitably think that you're doing it in an election year? And do you and the Secretary General… There have been reports today that Germany isn't happy with the level of defence spending by the UK. Is that a fair criticism from a country which until recently had been seeming to be slacking in its NATO commitments?

[answer from Prime Minister Sunak]

NATO Secretary General: Just to briefly add to that. The United Kingdom has been leading by example, both when it comes to defence spending within the Alliance and when it comes to providing support to Ukraine. I welcome of course the significant announcement today of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence. That will make a difference, it will demonstrate the United Kingdom’s leading role in the Alliance, and add to the many capabilities you are already providing to our shared security and to our collective defence. And then I of course also welcome the fact that Germany has now also started to really step up and are spending… Germany is spending 2% of GDP on defence this year. In totality that makes a huge difference because as Rishi said, the UK is the biggest European defence spender and then Germany is the second largest. So together this is a really big moment that matters for the Alliance. And then on Ukraine, first on main battle tanks, first on the precision strike, and actually first on training Ukrainian soldiers and first on training pilots. So this is a huge difference and that's the reason also why UK really is a staunch and highly valued NATO Ally.

Question (Polish Press Agency): [inaudible] Polish Press Agency. I'd like to ask, are there any talks in NATO countries about expanding the nuclear sharing programme? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: No, there are no plans to expand the NATO sharing arrangements, no plans to deploy any more nuclear weapons in any additional NATO countries.