Joint press point

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Phillip Breedlove

  • 11 Mar. 2015 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 19 May. 2015 14:05

Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip Breedlove

Good morning General Breedlove, dear Phil.

It’s great to be back at SHAPE and to meet with you and your commanders. And for me it has been really a great opportunity to once again to commend you and your commanders for the great work you’re doing.

Because what you are doing now is actually to adapt NATO to a new security environment. And the security environment is now more challenging than it has been for decades.

And we are very impressed by the way you are both conducting the running the operations of NATO in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, but also in the way you now are adapting our defence posture to new challenges.

And this is something which is very much needed because we see threats both from the East with the more aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine but also from the South with violence and turmoil spreading to the Middle East and North Africa.

And we very much underline that the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine is the best foundation for a peaceful solution.

And the ceasefire seems to be holding, but it remains fragile.

And the ceasefire must be respected.

We have seen the withdrawal of some heavy weapons, but it's unclear where it’s now, what’s the destination of the weapons that have been withdrawn. And it’s important that this withdrawal of heavy weapons is complete and that it is verifiable.

So I call on all the parties to ensure that OSCE monitors have the information, the freedom of movement and the security guarantees they require to do their important job of monitoring the ceasefire and the implementation of the Minsk agreeement. It is vital for all efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine that the implementation of the ceasefire is possible to monitor and therefore that OSCE monitors need full access and full freedom of movement.

At the same time, as we see the challenges to the East, we also see the challenges to the South.

And our answer both to the challenges to the East and to the South is that we are increasing our collective defence and we are now boosting our collective defence more than we have done since the end of the Cold War.

We are doubling the size of the NATO Response Force from 13,000 to 30,000 troops.

We are setting up a new 5,000-strong quick reaction Spearhead Force. With some units ready to move within as little as 48 hours.

And we are also creating six command and control centers in the Baltic states and three other eastern allied states.

And the implementation of the Readiness Action Plan is actually something which is on track and I’m very much impressed by the work which has been done  here at SHAPE to make sure we are delivering on the promises we made to increase our readiness, our preparedness of our forces.

And we keep up the momentum.

We currently have NATO ships exercising in the Black Sea. The United States are sending 3,000 troops and equipment to the Baltic region for training.

And in the south, we are preparing to hold this autumn our biggest exercise for many years, expected to include over 25,000 troops in this exercise. 

These measures are defensive, proportionate, and in line with our international commitments.

So we ensure, we make sure that NATO continues to defend all Allies against any threats.  And these Headquarters, SHAPE, is playing a key role, and you personally, Phil, you are also committed to the task. So I very much commend you for the excellent work you are doing and I’m looking forward to continuing our close and good cooperation.

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE (Supreme Allied Commander Europe): Secretary General thank you for being here this morning to speak with us and to get an update on our work here at SHAPE. We are of course delighted that you’re back and you are participating again and I know that our commanders and our senior enlisted had a great time already with you this morning in exchanging ideas and thoughts and thank you for giving that time to my leadership team. We have a broad range of folks with us in this conference, not just commanders but as I said there are senior enlisted leaders from the air, land, maritime and our Special Forces headquarters across the alliance. We also have folks from NATO’s other strategic command Allied Command Transformation is with us and it is a strong partnership that we have with ACT so we’re from a wide range of backgrounds but we’re united by one focus which is as you mentioned implementing the decisions made at the Wales Summit. As the Secretary General has mentioned threats from both the east and the south have prompted a re-examination of our security strategy and so we’re in full swing moving forward with our assurance and our adaptation measures and these will make our alliance even more ready and responsive in the future. As we do this we continue to strive for greater coherence and mutually re-enforcing actions within our alliance with partners and with other organizations. The commanders here today understand this challenge extremely well and we will continue to exchange views about best practices and explore innovative ideas about how to continuously improve our capabilities. As you’ve heard the work we are currently doing represents the greatest change in our approach to collective defense since the Cold War and we are tackling these changes in a deliberated and unified fashion. I’ve spent many years serving among our European Allies and I’m pleased to say that I’ve never seen a greater degree of cohesion, resolve and determination to ensure that NATO is ready to meet our future challenges and I’m confident this will continue as we secure our future together. So again Secretary General thanks for coming back and giving us more of your very very valuable time and I think at this time we’re ready to take your questions.

COLONEL DOWNEY: Sure you in the front please. If I could ask you to wait for the microphone and introduce yourself and your organization, thanks.

Q: Thank you. I have question for both gentlemen. Russia is ending activities under Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. How would you comment that, what kind of consequences it might have? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So we are disappointed by Russia’s decision to suspend the participation in the joint consultative group of the Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe. We still support all efforts to have arms control and we believe that the Treaty is important and this consultative group is the body that meets in Vienna regularly to discuss the implementation of the CFE Treaty. So this move follows Russia’s unilateral suspension of the implementation of the Treaty in December 2007. So we are disappointed that Russia suspended its participation because we believe that to have consultations on arms control, arms reductions is important.


Q: My name is Helena Somerherdero (sic), here left, right okay. Thank you. Ukrainian news agency. Also question for both of you. I would like to know your opinion on the Ukrainian request to the UN the UN to send on the east of Ukraine peacekeeping mission. Do you think its good idea, it’s not good idea and which one you or will be more effective? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we do is strongly support all efforts to reach a peaceful negotiated solution therefore we support both the ceasefire and underline the importance that the ceasefire is fully respected and we support of course the withdrawal of heavy weapons and this has to be monitored and that’s now the key issue that all OSCE monitors need to have full access and need access to information and they need the security guarantees they require for doing their work. And I think that what we now have to focus on is the implementation of the agreed Minsk Agreement and the ceasefire and support the established system for monitoring the OSCE monitors. So far there have been no requests based on the agreed agreement between the parties for any peacekeeping force so that’s not something I’m going to speculate on. We will follow the efforts to try to find a peaceful lasting solution and support all efforts to do so.


Q. Yes.  Brook, Janes’ Weekly, France (sic). You are putting reception facilities, infrastructure equipment, troops etc. all along Eastern Europe which is fine but what new facilities and activities are you planning for the NATO southern flank beyond just merely naval exercises? Thank you.

PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Sure. So there are improvements that are a part of several actions that the U.S. is taking and that NATO is taking that also invests in the south. As you know we have some of our best infrastructure along the Mediterranean and that is helping us greatly as we address the concerns that our nations do have in the south and I think the most important thing to remember is that we have taken this important decision that the Secretary General talked about before that we have to be able to not only address the east and the north but the south and then those exercises, those troop rotations, the ship movements and things that interact in the south to bring assurance and then adaptation to the south are all very important.

COLONEL DOWNEY: Here in the front.

Q: According to the U.S. State Department Russian tanks and heavy equipment have crossed the Ukrainian border over the past few days can you confirm this and do you consider this in breach of the Minsk Agreement, Mister Stoltenberg?

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I will not go into specific numbers but what I can confirm is that we have seen and still see Russian presence and strong support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. We see the delivery of equipment, forces training so Russia is still in Eastern Ukraine and they have over long period provided substantial support for the separatists and therefore we call on Russia to withdraw all its forces from Eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreement. The main focus however today is that we have to do everything to support the implementation of the ceasefire and that just underlines the importance of Russia withdrawing all its forces from Eastern Ukraine and stop supplying weapons to the separatists.

COLONEL DOWNEY: In the front.

Q: Daniel. Question for General Breedlove. There was criticism voiced in Germany about your information policy it was that you are exaggerating the Russian participation in the war in Ukraine. What is your response to this criticism? And a question for Secretary Stoltenberg are you worried that NATO the alliance might not be united anymore in the assessment of the Russian involvement in Ukraine?

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So thank you for the question and I think it’s important that we continue to have an open and collaborative discussion about these issues. We encourage this kind of interaction of course 33 nations participate in our intelligence business. We have of course our 28 allies and then partners that join us as we fuse our intelligence and use the intelligence that we put together collectively in that process and so with 33 involved you’re not always going to have exact agreement on everything. We actually encourage dissenting opinions because that brings a lot of strength to our discussions and strength to the numbers that we would have and so we respect all opinions we accept all opinions and we put our intelligence together in that manner. And I think it’s an important time to also highlight that the communication across the nations but the communication across the commanders and the communication between the Strategic Commanders and the Secretary General is very strong, it’s open it’s ongoing and we discuss these matters together.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Related to the question over NATO and unity I would like to underline the following NATO stands united, NATO stands united in our response to the aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine but at the same time I think you have to remember that NATO is an alliance of 28 democracies and it’s an important part of an open democratic society that you have debates that there are different assessments, different opinions, different views and for me that’s not a sign of weakness but we are 28 open democratic societies that is actually a sign of strength that we’re able to have open debates, different assessments, different views within parliaments, governments in all the 28 allies. As long as we are able to conclude and stand together on the important issues and messages and we stand together all 28 allies, General Breedlove, I, all those in the NATO alliance when it comes to condemning the aggressive actions of Russia in Eastern Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea and we stand together when it comes to the very strong support for all efforts to find a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and importance of respecting the ceasefire. And we stand together when it comes to implementing the biggest adaptation of force structures since the end of the Cold War. So we stand together on the main message, important issues but we welcome open democratic debates and open democratic societies because that’s part actually of the core values of the NATO alliance.


Q: Terry Shultz with National Public Radio on CBS news. Two questions, sorry. I would like to know what both of you think about Commission President Juncker’s idea of establishing an EU army when you can’t get 22 of these same governments to fund NATO operations? And another question on the OSCE, they have never gotten as I understand from their briefings an accounting of what weapons were there so every time you say that you see weapons moving here or there the OSCE says they have no idea what was there in the beginning, how do we know what’s being moved, how do we know where it’s going, how can you verify anything? So I find it surprising that anybody expresses optimism about things being moved around when you don’t know where they’re going or where they came from. Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I can start to say some words about the first question. It is up to the European Union to decide how they organize their cooporation related to defense and security matters but what I would like to underline is that I welcome increased European investment in defense, in capabilities and in their armed forces because that will also strengthen NATO because 22 NATO, or European Union members are also members of the NATO alliance. What I will stress is that it’s important to avoid duplication and I urge Europe to make sure that everything they do is complimentary to what we do in the NATO alliance because we have to work together and we have to avoid duplications because that’s not an efficient way of making sure we have a strong defense both in the NATO alliance as such but also in the cooperation between NATO and the European Union. When it comes to the movement of weapons I think that Phil will be.

GENERAL PHIL BREEDLOVE: Yes. Thank you Secretary General. Just to pile on the first answer just a little bit I mean I think we need to celebrate the great cooperation that we already have with the EU. If you look to Operation Ocean Shield and ATALANTA and how the EU and NATO worked together to essentially eliminate piracy off the Horn of Africa we see continued strong cooperation in Kosovo as the KFOR and the EULEX force address some really tough issues there. So I think the Secretary General has framed it very well we’re not concerned but what we would like to avoid is any duplication because we need to invest smartly together in our defense of the future. I think you framed the problem very well with the OSCE and that is that we didn’t have a good view of what was there to begin with, the border remains wide open between Ukraine and Russia and the movement back and forth is unobserved and uncontrolled and it is hard to understand what was there, what is coming and going the forces in the east side of the line of contact have gotten very good at hiding their movements, etc. So it’s important that as the Secretary General mentioned in his first set of remarks about the way forward it’s important that we get not only the cooperation so the OSCE can go in and do its job but we get the cooperation in just what you point out we need to know the data, we need to know how much is where and have transparency with the OSCE to make this process move forward and I would just echo again since I haven’t had a chance to say it that you know now we see some success at this ceasefire and we completely support continued success and all of the things to include empowering the OSCE that will help that ceasefire to move forward.

Q: I have a question to the General. According to the data available now how many Russian troops and what are their capabilities that are accumulated along the border between Ukraine and Russia at the current moment? Are there any changes? How do you access their capabilities of these Russian troops? And my second question how do you think, does it really make sense to re-enforce OSCE mission if it’s unable to control at least more or less some parts of the border between Ukraine and Russia because by now it was able to establish its control only of around 40 meters while the border is 407 kilometers long? Sir don’t you see this as the main challenge and how it could be met. Thank you.

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So you’re first question, are there any changes in the numbers? As we have said a couple of times here it’s hard to tell. The good news as the Secretary General has pointed out is that we have seen some movement of the heavy weapons and some of the troops that were near the line of contact. We are unable at this point to understand where they’ve moved, have they moved back across the Russian border, have they moved to other places but again we support the progress which has been made and that is that we see the movement of heavy weapons and troops away from the line but we are unsure of any changes to any of the past numbers because again we’re not able to monitor closely what is happening in the east. To your question on the border I think as I said before right now we do not know what is happening on that border because as you point out it is pretty much wide open and that’s a big part of the Minsk Agreement is to try and re-establish that border. We will support that in the future we think that’s important.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Just to underline, our main message today is that OSCE needs to have full access to both the border but also the area where the ceasefire is meant to take place including this line in the area where the movement of heavy weapons is supposed to take place and as I underlined in my statement what we ask for is that both the freeable movement of OSCE observers but also they get access to the necessary information and of course that they get security guarantees they need so the monitoring of the ceasefire is in no way sufficient today and that’s the reason why that’s a key because if we want the ceasefire to be a lasting and solid ceasefire we need improved monitoring of the ceasefire.

COLONEL DOWNEY: Down there please.

Q: Jim Unger from Bloomberg. General Breedlove how much operational control will you have over the Spearhead Force and to what extent will its deployment depend on the decision by allied governments? And for the Secretary General to the extent that this is a problem what are you doing to fix it?

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So this is a great question and I would like to first start by answering it that there is a lot of emphasis of course on our very high readiness joint task force and the other adaptations we’re making to Multi-National Core Northeast and the NFIU’s but the focus on the VJTF as we call it, it is important but it’s also important to remember that this is a part of a larger adaptation into the whole NATO response force in that all of our readiness and all of our responsiveness will be improved to make us more ready and more responsive in the near term so the very high readiness of the VJTF which is just one part of the NRF which in total will get more responsive is what your focused on and so we are in the middle of deliberations of how the SACEUR here will be able to address the issue of responsiveness with the, of the force with the NAC and I think it would be inappropriate for me to pre-judge any decisions that they take but I have given the Secretary General, the military committee and the members of the NAC my military advice on how that should be controlled and they will give me their decisions.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Just to add and to underline that first of all I think decision making is key because if you’re going to increase or when we are going to increase our responsiveness and readiness of our forces of course all decision making is very important part of that and I think we have to remember that this is one element in the wide range of measures. And another area of the readiness action plan which is also important is increased surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence and the reason why we are focusing on that is that will provide us with better situational understanding, better foundation for making decisions but also it provide us with better time to take the decisions because better intelligence, better surveillance will also increase the warning time because we will have more information earlier. And that actually relates to what we are doing in the south because now, next year we will deploy the first global hawk (sic) or the Allied Ground Surveillance Systems in Sicily and that’s a new NATO system which will increase our situational awareness so part of the decision making is to provide the information we need as early as possible and we are increasing intelligence, surveillance and our reconnaissance capabilities. Second NATO has proven before we are able to make decisions fast. There were only a few days between the decision in the NATO, in the UN Security Council related to protecting civilians in Libya and the decision in the NAC to take action and to send planes to Libya. And third underlining much what General Breedlove just said we will evaluate, we will assess our procedures of the decision making and make sure that they are efficient and at the same time that we are able to maintain political control and that’s something that we have to reconcile and we have done that before and I’m sure we’re going to be able to do that also in the future.

COLONEL DOWNEY: We have time for about two more questions. John from AP.

Q: Secretary General Jim actually anticipated my question on decision making. Could you tell us what decisions you need to make or what decisions the countries need to make and when you expect this new decision making paradigm or procedure to be in place to keep pace with your readiness action plan. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s part of the readiness action plan and there are many different elements and I’m not able to tell you the exact dates now but it’s in the plan it’s going to be something that we’re going to assess but I would like to underline that this is not completely new we had the NATO Response Force also before and of course we had decision making as part of that so this is part of the adaptation, we are adapting our forces and we’re adapting our decision making procedures but the need to have both efficiency in decision making and political control at the same time is not a new challenge for NATO. It has been there for more than 60 years and we’ve been able to reconcile the two needs for more than 60 years I’m sure we’re going to be able to do it also in the future.

Q: Heidi Park (sic), Denmark. Just a follow up in Ukraine, you talk about you don’t know where their heavy weapons is moved to does that mean that you see a risk that they are actually being repositioned for new battles in worst case scenario? This question is both for NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and for General Breedlove.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The short answer is yes. So that’s the reason why it’s important to get full information about where the weapons are now, the numbers and where they are moved. That brings me back to the main message today is that welcome the ceasefire and we support it the ceasefire implementation and the withdrawal of weapons but the key for both to respect the ceasefire and making sure that heavy weapons are really moved as agreed in the Minsk Agreement is that the monitoring of the ceasefire is improved and therefore we have to increase the OSCE or support them when they ask for more information, freedom of movement and the security guarantees they need.

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: The big part of the future success of the ceasefire will be transparency by all members involved and so that’s what we see.

COLONEL DOWNEY: Ladies and gentlemen thank you again for coming. If you didn’t get a chance to ask your question we’ll have public affairs folks on staff all day please send in your question we’ll work to get you a response. Thank again.