Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg folowing the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers

  • 20 Nov. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 20 Nov. 2019 22:36

(As delivered)

Good evening.

Foreign Ministers just finalized a meeting which addressed a wide range of security issues in preparations for our upcoming Leaders’ meeting in London in just two weeks.

We had excellent discussions and we all agree that NATO remains indispensable for our security.  And that despite our differences, we are stronger as we face the future together.

Today, ministers took important decisions for NATO’s continuing adaptation. We have agreed that space should be a new operational domain for NATO – alongside air, land, sea and cyber. Space is part of our daily life here on Earth. It can be used for peaceful purposes. But it can also be used aggressively. Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized. Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications and other services our societies rely on, such as air travel, weather forecast or banking. 

Space is also essential to the Alliance’s deterrence and defence. Including the ability to navigate, to gather intelligence, and to detect missile launches. Around 2,000 satellites currently orbit the Earth. And around half of them are owned by NATO countries. NATO has no intention to put weapons in space. We are a defensive Alliance.

And our approach will remain fully in line with international law.

But making space an operational domain will help us ensure that all aspects are taken into account to ensure the success of our missions. For instance, this can allow NATO planners to make requests for Allies to provide capabilities and services – such as hours of satellite communications or data for imagery.

Ministers also agreed recommendations to consolidate NATO’s role in energy security, as this plays an important role in our common security. The recommendations aim to improve situational awareness and understand the risks; protect critical infrastructure and enhance Alliance resilience; and enable NATO forces to have the necessary energy resources at all times. 

Ministers also reviewed the implementation of the package of measures on the Black Sea security that we adopted in April. This includes the training of maritime forces and coast guards. Port visits and exercises. And sharing information.

The recent visits of the North Atlantic Council to both Georgia and Ukraine were a good opportunity to see this package in action. NATO’s standing naval groups have been exercising with Georgia and Ukrainian ships, improving our ability to work together. 

And Allies also continue regular patrols and NATO air policing in the Black Sea region.

 At the same time, we welcome that Russia has finally returned the Ukrainian vessels it seized last November. This is what the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea had requested. And it is a step in the right direction ahead of the Normandy format summit next month.                                

Ministers also endorsed our updated action plan on enhancing NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.

This includes sharing more intelligence on significant terrorist activities, including attacks in our countries and foreign fighters.

NATO continues to play a key role in the fight against terrorism, through our training missions in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

And through our surveillance flights in support of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Finally, ministers adopted a policy that sets the standards in the prevention and response to sexual exploitation and abuse.

This brings together best practices into one overarching framework, applies to all NATO personnel, and underlines our zero tolerance approach.

It is another practical way in which we show our commitment to our principles and core values, including the respect for human rights.

Today we also addressed our progress in the three areas of burden sharing: cash, capabilities and contributions.

This is the fifth consecutive year of rising defence spending across European Allies and Canada. With over $100 billion added to their defence budgets by the end of next year. The trend is up. It is unprecedented. And we are determined to do more.

Tonight, ministers will discuss our coordinated approach to three strategic issues: Russia, China, and arms control.  

NATO is the only platform where Europe and North America engage every day on such strategic issues, which matter to our shared security. As we look to the leaders’ meeting next month, Europe and North America are doing more together than for many years. 

We are stepping up across the board, and focused on the future.  

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we'll start with Reuters. Second row, please. Thank you.

Question [Reuters]: Thanks Oana. Robin Emmott from Reuters. Secretary General, we understand that today you heard from both Germany and France on two proposals about NATO's future. I wondered which of the proposals you feel has the most merit and whether you personally would be ready to take on the role as leading some kind of wise group or wise persons group? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First of all, all Allies expressed very strong support to NATO and to the importance of transatlantic unity. The proposal from Minister Heiko Maas received support from many Allies and I think it has value and we will now look into it, as we prepare for the upcoming Leaders Meeting. And then we will decide what to do.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Jane's, the last row there. Over there and then we'll come back to the gentleman in the front row.

Question: Thank you, yes. Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence Weekly. I have a question about NATO and Ukraine. With all the efforts that the Allies have done to help Ukraine with its trust funds; that is strengthen its military, boost cyber defences, instal democratic and transparent control of the military, I wonder if you consider it problematic, or not, that one Ally has tried to use its bilateral military assistance to Ukraine for purely domestic political purpose, something that undermines the Alliance's political effort as a whole to help a partner country. Let me rephrase that; I'm not asking you to pass judgment on the single Ally's domestic agenda, but whether its actions have had, or will have, a deleterious effect on the Alliance's goals and effectiveness in Ukraine. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: If I started to respond to that, I will be part of domestic, political debate, and that is not something I will do. Because that will only divert attention from what is my main responsibility, and that is to make sure that Allies stand united, as we continue to provide political and practical support to Ukraine. And we are stepping up, both within the NATO framework but also NATO Allies provide bilateral support. I encourage them to do more of all of that, because we stand in solidarity with Ukraine and for us it is extremely important to not accept illegal annexation of Crimea and to help the Ukrainians to modernise their armed forces, to modernise their defence institutions, and to continue to support them. And again, I will not be part of a domestic discussion in the United States.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: We'll go to the front row.

Question: Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, What could be NATO reaction on possible integration of Belarus by Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First of all, I think it will be absolutely wrong if I started to comment on hypothetical situations. What I can say is that for NATO it is extremely important that every nation, including of course Belarus, has the right to choose its own path, has the right to choose its own security arrangements. And Belarus is a partner of NATO and of course Belarus should be respected as an independent sovereign nation. So, the territorial integrity and the sovereignty should be respected of Belarus, as for all other nations in Europe.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Europa Press, lady there.

Question [Europa Press]: General, Ana Pisonero from the Spanish news agency, Europa Press. If we understood correctly, the French proposal is focusing on the future of NATO, is focusing more on experts doing the job with you chairing the group, and the French proposal would be more political figures that would, you know, give us more a strategic and political vision. So, which of the two do you think… can the two be combined, you think? Or should this reflection be left more for experts or political figures? I don’t know, maybe ex Secretary Generals or that are also a good knowledge of this house. And another quick question, if I may, on the fight against terrorism and the updated plan; I don’t know if that was a chance to also discuss amongst Allies the recent deportations of ISIS fighters by Turkey to other countries, if this was at all discussed in the meeting today? And is there a worry, because I think Allies are worried about these unilateral steps by Turkey? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: It was broad support for strengthening NATO and especially the political dimension of NATO as a platform for also political consultations.

NATO is that today, because we are actually the only platform where North America and Europe sit together, decide together, and do things together. When we address important strategic issues, such as for instance arms control, the demise of the INF Treaty, which has been high on the NATO agenda for a long time, our approach to Russia, our dual-track approach to Russia and dialogue with Russia, the fight against terrorism or the issue of how to strengthen our collective defence, these are issues which NATO has addressed over a long period of time, but not only discussed, but also we have made decisions together. But again, I think it adds value to look into how we can further strengthen NATO and the transatlantic bond. We need to look into this as we prepare for the upcoming Leaders Meeting and then we will see what will be the final conclusions.

We also discussed the fight against terrorism, the importance, and we also agreed on the measures to strengthen exchange of intelligence, both when it comes to threats to our own countries but also related to foreign fighters. The issue of how to deal with ISIS fighters which are in captivity in northern Syria was not addressed specifically.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Wall Street Journal.

Question [Wall Street Journal]: James Marson, Wall Street Journal. Secretary General, are you at all concerned by the French efforts to engage Putin? Some people call it a rapprochement with Putin. Doesn’t that run contrary to NATO's efforts with Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: It is essential that we are united in our approach to Russia and that’s the reason why I welcome the fact that NATO again and again have been… has been able to unite around a common position towards Russia, especially on the issue of arms control.

We of course regret the demise of the INF Treaty, but I welcome the fact NATO Allies have been united all the way, all the steps. We agreed that Russia is responsible for the demise of the INF Treaty. We agreed that Russia is violating the Treaty. We had a joint statement, I think it was in August, on 2nd August, clearly stating that Russia is responsible. And we also agreed to now address how NATO is responding to the demise of the Treaty and to a world without… with more Russian missiles.

We are looking into our conventional capabilities, air and missile defence, better intelligence, and other ways to respond to the fact that we don’t have the INF Treaty anymore.

We have been united on this the whole way. So, I just highlight or underline the importance of that we continue to be united. The only way to be that is that, when there are some different views, we sit down, as we did today… or actually we'll do tonight, and discuss for instance Russia and arms control. And I'm confident that when the Leaders Meeting… that when the leaders are meeting in December, I'm confident that we will also then find a way to agree on the way forward also related to Russia.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Agence France-Presse.

Question [Agence France-Presse]: Good evening. Damon Wake, Agence France-Presse. You’ve outlined or given your response twice now to the German proposal by Heiko Maas for a committee to look at strategic, political thinking. Could I ask you now to give us your assessment of the French proposal outlined by Minister Le Drian this afternoon, please?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I will be careful to go too much into details of this discussion. We had a discussion and the main message is that we are all united on the message of the importance of strengthening NATO. And as we now prepare for the upcoming Leaders Meeting, we'll find exactly how to make sure that we do that in the best possible way.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK. Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.