Press conference

by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the launch of his Annual Report for 2018

  • 14 Mar. 2019 -
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  • Last updated 18-Mar-2019 13:29

(As delivered)

Good morning.

It is a great pleasure to launch my Annual Report for 2018.
The Report shows that NATO continues to modernise.
With Europe and North America doing more together than ever before for our shared security. 
Responding to the challenges of today; adapting to the challenges of tomorrow; and investing in the future.

At the Brussels Summit in July, we took more than one hundred decisions to strengthen our Alliance.

In 2018:

  • We strengthened our deterrence and defence, including with a new Readiness Initiative.
  • We agreed a major update of the NATO Command Structure, with two new commands – one for the Atlantic and another to support military mobility in Europe.
  • We carried out Trident Juncture 2018, NATO’s largest exercise in a generation.
  • We boosted our cyber defences, including with a Cyberspace Operations Centre.
  • We stood united in calling out Russia for its use of a nerve agent on British soil and its breach of the INF Treaty.
  • We stepped up in the fight against terrorism, with a new training mission in Iraq, and more support for Afghanistan.
  • We deepened our partnerships, from Ukraine and Georgia to Jordan and Tunisia.
  • We worked more closely than ever before with the European Union, including on maritime security and military mobility.
  • We invited North Macedonia to become a member of the Alliance, showing that NATO's door remains open.
  • We completed the move to this new headquarters, a modern home for a modern Alliance.

And at our July Summit in Brussels, we agreed there is a new urgency to ensure fairer burden sharing across the Alliance.
All Allies have stopped the cuts. All Allies have started to increase. Last year, European Allies and Canada increased their defence spending by almost 4% in real terms. Since 2016, they have actually spent an extra 41 billion US dollars on defence. And we expect that figure to rise to 100 billion by the end of next year.
You can find the specific national figures for each country in the Report.
When it comes to capabilities, 25 Allies spent more in real terms on major equipment last year than in the previous one.  
This includes investment in fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, missile defence and drones.
Allies are also stepping up their contributions to NATO deployments. With more than twenty thousand troops serving from Afghanistan to Iraq and Kosovo, to the Baltic countries, and Poland.

So we face a paradox:
At a time when some are questioning the strength of the transatlantic bond, we are actually doing more together – in more ways and in more places – than ever before.
Because we live in an unpredictable world, NATO’s unity is more important than ever. 
As we mark the 70th anniversary of this Alliance this year, we must continue to stand strong and stand together.

NATO Foreign Ministers will meet next month in Washington. And our Heads of State and Government will meet in London in December.

These will be opportunities to celebrate seven decades of peace and prosperity. And to look to the future. Our world is changing and NATO is changing with it. But our commitment to one another endures. For seventy years, we have worked together to prevent conflict and preserve peace.

And standing with unity and resolve, NATO will remain a pillar of stability for generations to come.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO spokesperson] Okay, we’ll start with Washington Post over there, third row.

Question: Hi, Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. I have two questions for you. One, are you planning to speak, to accept Congress’s invitation to speak in front of them. And second, about ‘cost plus 50’, the plan that seems to be floating between the White House and the Pentagon to charge countries around the world the cost of stationing US troops there, plus 50 percent. I wanted to ask what you thought would be the effect of the US asking its Allies for more money to station US troops on Alliance stability, strength and coherence, thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: It is a great honour to be invited to speak to a joint meeting of the US Congress. I’m grateful for the bipartisan invitation to do so, and I will, of course, accept that invitation, I’m actually very much looking forward to speak to the congress. That is a great opportunity for the whole of NATO, and it’s a great recognition to all 29 Allies, and what we do together, and it shows that NATO is delivering and that we are doing more together, North America and Europe, than we have done for many years. On this . . . media reports about a new model of cost sharing of bases, there’s been no such proposals discussed in NATO, so this is only reports in the media. What I can say is that, when it comes to the broader picture of burden sharing, we see that European Allies are investing more, are increasing defence . . . their defence budgets. All Allies have stopped the cuts, all Allies have started to invest more, and that’s a . . . and that’s actually a significant change because before we were cutting billions, now we are adding billions to our defence budget. So this is about the broader picture of burden sharing, and no such proposal has, about cost sharing for bases, has been tabled on any table or any discussion inside NATO.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, Reuters, first row.

Question: Thank you. Robin Emmet at Reuters. Secretary General, what is your message to Germany and specifically the German Finance Ministry, the German Finance Ministry, because we see that Germany’s stuck in the latest report at 1.23 percent, that’s at the lower end of the league table. And we’ve heard overnight some reports that the German Finance Ministry does not plan to accept the, the increasing defence spending for next year. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: So Germany has started to increase, has significantly added funds to their defence budgets over the last years. And again we have . . . Germany is also yet another example of a NATO Ally which, not so many years ago, actually reduced defence spending and now have started to increase defence spending. Second, Germany has made it clear that they will increase defence budgets, by 2024, by 80 percent. And Germany has, together with all other Allies, agreed to the defence investment pledge we all made together, first time in 2014, but since then it has been reiterated at different NATO summits, both in Warsaw in 2016 and in Brussels in 2018, last year. And of course, I expect all Allies, including Germany, to make good on those promises. And we had to do that because it’s in our security interests. Most Allies were reducing defence spending during the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War. Then tensions went down. And then it was actually understandable that Allies reduced defence spending.

But now tensions are going up and then we have to increase defence spending again, because it’s in our own security interests to do so. And on top of that, this is a clear NATO commitment, but it’s something we should do anyway, because we need more capabilities and more investments in our . . .  in our security. Let me also add one more thing: that burden sharing is not only about cash. It’s also about contributions to NATO missions and operations and capabilities. And Germany is contributing in many ways to our shared, shared security. They are leading one of the battlegroups in the Baltics, in Lithuania. They have a significant presence in Afghanistan. They are doing air policing in the Baltics. They are leading the NATO activity maritime presence in the Aegean Sea. So Germany is contributing to NATO in many different ways. And I welcome the fact that they are now stepping up and also increasing defence spending.

Oana Lungescu: Deutsche Welle/NPR

Question: My two colleagues took all my questions so I have to really dig deep now. No, on both of those: whether or not this bilateral issue with the . . .  between the US and Germany or other European Allies on its bases comes through NATO, what Michael asked, and what’s important is how it affects the Alliance anyway, even these discussions about European Allies being  . . . being . . .  having to pay more for, for hosting troops that are also used by . . . by NATO bases that are also used by NATO, surely has some impact, even if it’s not brought up formally here. And on the Germans, is it enough that they’re ‘moving in the direction’ as the Wales language is, ‘moving in the direction’ of spending more by 2024? I mean there is . . .  there are no numbers attached to that, there’s not even a solemn, binding pledge attached to the Wales language, so if the German budget gets . . .  the German budget increases, gets scaled back as has been forecast, is that enough for you?

Jens Stoltenberg: So, first on this cost sharing reports in the media about these new models for sharing the costs of basing’s. It is extremely difficult to comment on reports in the media which are, you know, different reports almost weekly, about different initiatives, proposals which someone says is on the NATO table or are discussed with NATO – especially when they’re not discussed within NATO. There has been no such proposal discussed in NATO. And therefore it is very hard to sort of comment on something which has not been an issue. What I can say is that, of course, the US presence in Europe is important for NATO, but it’s also important for the United States. It is part of our shared security, our collective defence.

US presence in Europe was reduced after the end of the Cold War, but now, actually, the United States and Canada are increasing their presence, with more exercises, with more troops with . . .  with more investments in the infrastructure, and I welcome that. And that’s good for European security, but it’s also good for the United States. The US presence in Europe is also, of course, it’s about to protect…protecting Europe, but it’s also about projecting power beyond Europe and all of this makes US presence in Europe something which is important for all of NATO.

Oana Lungescu: We had Swiss TV, now.

Jens Stoltenberg:    I’m sorry I forgot . . . the German. Well, the thing there is that Germany has, after years of cutting defence spending, started to increase and actually added a significant amount of money to the defence budgets, but I expect more, I expect further increase, and Germany has made it clear that they plan to further increase defence spending. The figure they have shared with us is 80 percent increase in defence spend—in German defence spending, as of from 2014 when we made the pledge until 2024, so we made a pledge for a decade.

Oana Lungescu: Okay. Swiss TV.

Question: Swiss Television, Tomas Mediarena. Secretary General, are you concerned by what is going on with the Brexit? If the countries of Europe don’t get along well in Rue de la Loi, can they get along well in Boulevard Leopold III? And because you mentioned in your report that the importance of the hybrid threats, is NATO as such looking at the European elections from a security point of view, with regard to possible interference and other things?

Jens Stoltenberg: The Brexit discussion is of course difficult, we all see that. It’s a difficult and very important issue. And, and . . . for the UK but also, also for the European Union and, of course, this is important. I know, as a Norwegian, that discussions about membership in the European Union can be very difficult. We have had two referendums in Norway, trying to join the European Union, I lost both of them. So, so I know that this is difficult. But it’s not for NATO to have an opinion about Brexit. And, and I can also say that Brexit will change UK’s relationship to the European Union, but Brexit will not change UK’s relationship with NATO. UK will remain an important and strong Ally. Actually, UK has the second largest defence budget in the Alliance, just next to the United States, the biggest in . . .  in Europe. And if anything, Brexit will only make NATO an even more important platform for bringing European and North American Allies together. So I’m absolutely confident that the UK will continue as a very committed Ally, regardless of what happens with Brexit.

Question: And on the elections?

Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah, but that’s in a way the same, because, of course, the European elections are important, the European Union is an important organisation, we work with the European Union. We . . .  we have been able to, to lift the cooperation with the European Union to unprecedented levels. We will continue to . . . to do more of that, on cyber, on hybrid, on maritime security, on the Aegean mission of NATO helping to implement a deal on migration between Turkey and the European Union, and in many, many other areas. But again Brexit would not change NATO’s relationship to the European Union. And  . . . and Brexit and the European elections are important, but they doesn’t affect directly NATO.

Question: My question was more on the impact, the question of interference and disinformation.

Jens Stoltenberg: Oh sorry, then I misunderstood the question. No, we are of course following that. What we have done, or we have seen, of course, many reports and have seen many attempts to interfere in domestic political processes. That is always unacceptable, regardless of how that is done: by hacking or by cyber-attacks or by . . .  by propaganda or, or in different ways. We are helping Allies to increase their awareness. We are helping Allies to increase cyber defences. We are, of course, helping with intelligence and we are working closely together to protect our democratic institutions, our democratic processes. And that’s also the case, of course, for any elections in any NATO Ally countries.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, we’ll go to Georgian TV.

Question: Mr Secretary General, how would you evaluate progress made by Georgia towards future membership, in 2018, as there are many challenges ahead of us? And also, how can we strengthen the relationship in this year? And one more: what will be your main message before your visit to Georgia to Georgian people? Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg: My main message is that Georgia is making progress. Georgia is coming closer to NATO and we welcome the reforms and we welcome the efforts of Georgia to modernise its security and defence institutions. We welcome, of course, the support of Georgia to NATO, not least our mission in . . . in Afghanistan. At the same time, we also see the importance of increased presence of NATO in Georgia, with the training and evaluation centre, with the exercises that will take place later on this month. I’m looking forward to visit Georgia in connection with the exercise. But Georgia still has work to do when it comes to reforms, rule of law and modernising its defence institutions. So . . . so, Georgia is a highly valued partner and we continue to provide support to Georgia on its Euro-Atlantic integration.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, Jane’s, second row.

Question: Yes, Brooks Tignor, Jane’s Defence Weekly. Your statistics, coming back to the spending question, I mean, your statistics indeed show that there have been increases across the board, which is a good thing for the Allies. But for most . . . for many of the Allies, 11, 12 of them I mean, they’re closer to 1 percent than 2, and the increases are really tiny. These are tiny incremental increases from 2017/2018. At this rate, for many of them, including three major Allies – Italy, Spain and Germany –they’re not going to make 2 percent by 2024 at this rate of increase. So why . . . why should we believe there’s going to be an enormous leap between now and 2024? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:    Well, what we have seen is a significant change, because as I’ve already stated, the trend in Europe and Canada was down: cutting billions every year. Now we are adding billions every year. And in total, just since 2016, NATO Allies and Canada will have added 41 billion extra over those two years. And I expect that number to rise to 100 billion, the accumulated effect of those four years by 20— by, by next year. And what we see is that when we made a decision only three Allies, as back in 2014 when we made the defence investment pledge, only three Allies spent 2 percent of GDP on defence. Last year, 7 Allies spent 2 percent of GDP on defence. And Romania was extremely close, they actually had a budget allocating 2 percent of GDP for defence but then GDP growth was stronger than expected, so they, they just slipped below the 2 percent target.

I expect, of course, this to continue and that Allies will do even more in the coming years, and that’s based partly on the very strong commitment and also that new sense of urgency we all saw at the NATO summit last year. But also on the fact that the majority of NATO Allies have now provided plans, credible plans, on how to reach the 2 percent target. Not all have those plans in place yet, but even those who don’t have those plans have started to make significant increases. So we . . . we have seen significant increase, but I call for and I expect more, because that is what all Allies have agreed, and it’s in the security interests of all Allies to do so.

Oana Lungescu: Europa Press? Yeah, lady over there. Go. Yeah. Next row, no, next row, she’s waving at you. Thank you.

Question: Thank you. Secretary General, so back on the expenditure, it’s true that Allies like Spain are still way below the 2 percent target, but they do insist that certain Allies make a lot more contributions to operations and missions. I see that  . . . we see that in the reports that you publish, we, we can’t see . . .  we can’t measure the contributions publicly of who puts what for operations and missions. So is this something that we need to work on as well? Because everybody is focused on the 2 percent target and especially President Trump . . .  President Trump but not the rest. And going back on the ‘cost plus 50’, sorry . . . I mean, from the outside, if this proposal were to be true, it sounds quite worrying because already President Trump has been very critical, in a very vocal and sometimes . . . well, not a very nice way towards Allies with the bearing of the cost. Is this something that you will want to wish to clarify when you, when you visit the Congress? Or you just think that unless the US puts this on the table, NATO will not interfere? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, we are also measuring contributions but there are not one figure in composing all contributions. In the . . . in this report, we have also figures for both defence spending, but also contributions of different NATO Allies to different missions and operations. There’s a list for contributions to our mission in Afghanistan, in Kosovo and  . . . and elsewhere. But the character of the missions and contributions are very different. So you find a lot of information is also about contributions and capabilities in this report. Yeah, so I think that’s the . . . Then, then on the . . . on the United States.

The United States is committed to NATO. President Trump has clearly stated that he’s committed to NATO. He did that at the summit last year. He did it recently in one of his statements. He did it in the State of the Union speech to the Congress. And this is not only words, but also in actions because actually the United States is doing more together with European Allies now than not so many years ago. At the same time, the United States expects fairer burden sharing in NATO. But that’s something we all agree on, the need for fairer burden sharing. And therefore I expect the European Allies to  . . . to invest more.

Oana Lungescu: We’ll go to the Ukrainian media in the third row there, yeah.

Question: Iryna Somer, news agency Inter-Fax Ukraine, here. Actually two questions. On Washington meeting: will it be family-only meeting, or NATO also will invite partners, particularly Georgia and Ukraine? And second question: can Ukraine expect in this year to receive from NATO enhanced opportunity programme or even MAP?  And how possibly the result of upcoming presidential election can influence on the decision in this area. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:    The foreign ministerial meeting in Washington will be for the 29 Allies. This is a very short meeting. It’s only actually half a day and then we have, the day before the actual meeting, we will have a reception and we will have a way to celebrate the 70th anniversary. To that event we will also invite representatives from . . .  from the different partner countries and there will also be other public events in connection with the foreign ministerial meetings where we will invite representatives from different countries outside the Alliance. When it comes to Ukraine, I think we have already in place many different tools, and a national programme. We have the NATO-Ukraine Commission, we have the different partnerships, activities. So we are . . . we have already in place a lot of tools that can be used to strengthen our partnership and help Ukraine move towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

Oana Lungescu: Kabul Times, over there, lady, yeah . . . third row up.

Question: Thank you. Lailuma Sadid from Kabul Times. I didn’t see, actually, the report but I am sure there is mentioned something about Afghanistan. So I would like to ask about a peace negotiation, regarding to long discussion and meetings, since more than two weeks in Qatar between US and also the Taliban. So they decided to withdraw US troop in Afghanistan. What is the role of NATO troop in Afghanistan after this? And how can NATO promote peace in Afghanistan. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, it is a lot of information about Afghanistan in the report. We actually have a chapter on projecting stability and how we are working, for instance, in Afghanistan to help to stabilise the country and to fight terrorism. There are also statistics related to different NATO Allies and partners contributing, for instance, troops NATO rescue support mission. NATO strongly supports the peace efforts. We welcome the talks that are taking place between the United States and Taliban. This is closely coordinated and consulted with the NATO Allies. Ambassador Khalilzad, the chief negotiator, he has been at NATO several times.

We are in close contact with him. General Miller, the Supreme . . . the Commander for the NATO forces in Afghanistan, he . . . he visited the NATO headquarters recently, he also was present doing the negotiations in Doha. So this is very closely consulted, the process . . . the peace process, with all NATO Allies. Because this is, of course, important for the whole NATO Alliance. We have been there together for 17 years. We . . .  of course, there is a lot of US troops, but we also have a lot of non-US troops in the Resolute Support NATO mission in Afghanistan. We went in together and we will make decisions of our future posture, presence in Afghanistan together. We are there to create the conditions for peace. We are in Afghanistan to send a clear message to Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield. They have to sit down at the negotiating table and I really believe that what we see now is a result of the efforts of NATO Allies over years, both our military presence, our train, assist and advise mission, but also our financial support to the Afghan army and security force, and that has created the conditions for the peace efforts we now see. So we will support them.

And then depending, of course, on the outcome of these talks that will then create the basis for any decisions about the future presence. But it’s too early to . . .  to pre-empt the outcome of the talks, simply because they haven’t been finalised. There’s still much to be done before we have a peace deal in place.

Question: That means you continue to stay in Afghanistan?

Jens Stoltenberg:    We will be in Afghanistan, and we continue to provide support both the train, assist and advise mission and also continue to provide the financial support. So we provide trainers and also financial support. We have actually made a new pledge to continue to provide support until 2024, we did that at the . . .  at the NATO summit in July. But the troop levels that, of course, depends on the outcome on . . . of the negotiations, but we are extremely focused on that we have to make sure that we don’t . . .  that, that we maintain the gains we have made. We are in Afghanistan to prevent Afghanistan for ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And, of course, that’s one of the key issues which are now negotiated and addressed in the talks with . . . with Taliban. So whether we will . . . the future force level of NATO troops is very much depends on, of course, the outcome of those talks.

Oana Lungescu: NRK?

Question: Philip Lote, NRK. One question about IS. Countries like Belgium and Norway have suggested that there is international tribunal set up to bring Jihadis and foreign fighters that have travelled to Iraq and Syria, to bring them to justice. Is this something that NATO would support?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies and NATO has played a key role in fighting Daesh, and we have made enormous progress. Daesh controlled a territory as big as the United Kingdom, eight million people, only a few years ago. Now they hardly control any territory at all. Daesh is still a challenge and a threat and the fight is not over, but at least they don’t control territory . . .  territory as they did until not so long time ago. We are addressing the issue of foreign fighters. We exchange intelligence. We also do different activities to make sure that we try to have the best possible, or should I say, knowledge and intelligence about foreign fighters who are returning to Europe. But it’s not . . . but, but how to deal with them when they, or if they, come back and how to take them back, and especially the families. That’s not a NATO issue, that’s a law enforcement issue. So that’s something which are . . .  which is discussed by NATO Allies but not within the NATO context, because it’s a law enforcement issue.

Oana Lungescu: I’ll go to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, over there, the fourth row over there? No, sorry, fourth row over there, at the top, yeah, thank you.

Question: It’s actually Martin Kaye with the Danish newspaper, never mind, I’ll take the question. The . . . as you know, construction work is still being carried out on the Russian pipeline, Nord Stream 2, and I know you have said several times that Allies have different opinions on this pipeline. However, I would still like to ask you whether you think that this pipeline will increase the European NATO Allies’ dependence on Russia? And if you think this is . . . might be a potential security threat to these NATO Allies?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is an organisation which is responsible for collective defence, for making sure that the NATO Allies can operate and work together. We are also, of course, addressing the issue of energy security. We have highlighted the importance of diversification of supply, to increase the resilience of our energy systems, but NATO does not have an opinion on North Stream 2, and as I’ve said before, NATO Allies have different views on that. And therefore, I also strongly believe that if I, as a Secretary General, started to have some kind of private opinion about that, that would be totally wrong. I’m the Secretary General of NATO and I, when I talk, I talk on behalf of NATO. So that’s  . . . that’s the answer.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, we’ll go to the lady over there.

Question: Thank you, Alexandra Brzozowski from Euractiv. Mr Stoltenberg, there have been reports that US General Scaparrotti warned yesterday that NATO forces would stop communicating with German colleagues if Berlin were to team up with Huawei for its 5G telecom infrastructure. Can you comment on this?

Jens Stoltenberg: We are now consulting closely on this issue, including on the security aspects of investments in . . . in 5G networks. I know that this is something which is addressed in many NATO capitals and  . . . and it is an issue which is partly a trade and an economic issue, but also has potential security implications. So we will now consult. We will assess the issue and find out how NATO as an Alliance can, in the best possible way, address the challenges related to investments in 5G infrastructure. So that’s what I can say now.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, Rustavi, sorry.

Question: Rustavi 2. A few days ago, Russian militaries kidnapped Georgian citizen and he died in a very strange circumstances, in occupied Abkhazia in custody. So how do you estimate such kind of situations, because it’s not first time and we all knows [inaudible; 00:35:22] and how can we prevent such kind of situations?

Jens Stoltenberg: Well, NATO provides strong support to Georgia, to Georgia’s territorial integrity, to its sovereignty and, of course, that includes also the right for Georgia to protect all Georgian citizens. I cannot go into the specifics of that example, but in general I can just say that what we have seen is . . . is that Russia is violating the integrity of Georgia, partly by recognising the so-called Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also by supporting that this borderline is constantly moved. And we are also seeing the different aggressive actions against Georgia and Georgian citizens. So for us this is just yet another example of why NATO provides significant support to . . . to Georgia.

Oana Lungescu: Okay, gentlemen over there.

Question: Hi, Nikolaos Chrysoloras, Bloomberg News.  Can I come back to this question of 5G? You said that you are assessing the threat. Is there a timeframe about when this assessment will be completed? Is there a chance that NATO will recommend to Allies to ban Chinese companies from 5G procurement? And does NATO have any evidence of state sponsored cyber-attacks from China?

Jens Stoltenberg: This is a very important issue and therefore I will not speculate so much about the potential outcomes of the assessments and discussions which are now going on in different NATO countries. What you all have seen is that some NATO Allies have expressed their concerns over Huawei and . . . and their role in providing 5G infrastructure. And, of course, NATO takes these concerns very seriously. That’s also the reason why we will continue to consult, continue to assess, and look into whether NATO has a role to play in addressing the security aspects related to this kind of infrastructure. Regardless of this, NATO has significantly stepped up our efforts when it comes to cyber defence and cybersecurity. So we are providing, you know, as we conduct big exercises, we increase awareness, we . . . we share best practices, we help to strengthen the resilience of infrastructure, cyber networks, for all Allies including of course our own networks. But it’s too early to say anything about the outcome of the consultations which are going on now.

Oana Lungescu: This concludes this press conference, of course you’re invited to our annual reception which will be on background, so please follow the signs. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.