Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Bardufoss, Norway for Exercise Cold Response

  • 25 Mar. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Mar. 2022 16:27

(As delivered)

Good morning,

It is great to be back in Bardufoss.
And to meet forces taking part in Cold Response exercise.

A week ago, four US Marines lost their lives in a tragic plane crash.
Let me start by expressing my deepest condolences to their families and loved ones. 
And to all their fellow soldiers who stand together to defend NATO territory.

I want to thank Norway for leading this important exercise.
Cold Response shows NATO unity and strength in action. 

There are 30,000 personnel from 27 nations participating.
Including NATO’s closest partners, Finland and Sweden.

We have deployed 220 aircraft, including fifth-generation fighter jets.
And more than 50 ships, including two aircraft carrier groups from the United Kingdom and Italy.  

Russia’s war against Ukraine is a watershed moment.  
It is a new normal for European security. And also for Arctic security.

NATO is an Arctic Alliance.  
4 out of 5 Arctic littoral states are NATO nations.  
It is a region of strategic importance for the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic area.
And critical for the communication links between North America and Europe.

It is also a region of growing strategic competition.

In the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in Russian military activity here.

Russia has re-established Soviet era Arctic bases.

This is a test bed for many of Russia’s novel weapon systems.  

It is the home of Russia’s strategic submarine fleet.

Russia’s military build-up is the most serious challenge to stability and Allied security in the High North.

We also see an increased Chinese interest in the region.
China has defined itself as a “near Arctic” state an aims to build a presence here.

For all of these reasons, the High North is an area of critical importance for all Allies.
This is why NATO Allies have increased their military presence in the North.  

And this exercise is an example of that.  More will be required in the future.

A strong, firm and predictable Allied presence is the best way to ensure stability and protect our interests.  
We cannot afford a security vacuum in the High North.
It could fuel Russian ambitions, expose NATO, and risk miscalculation and misunderstandings.

Over the last years, NATO has stepped up.
Established a new NATO command for the Atlantic.
Exercised more often, with the two biggest exercises since the Cold War held in this region.
Allies such as the US, the UK, and Norway have been investing more in cutting-edge capabilities.
Showing greater presence at sea and in the air.
And we monitor developments in the region very closely and share information.

NATO presence is not to provoke a conflict but to prevent conflict, and to preserve peace.

Cold Response is a crucial exercise.
It demonstrates NATO’s ability to defend against any threat, from any direction.

This exercise is defensive and long-planned.
We are open and transparent. 
As we are with all our exercises. 

Norway invited all 57 members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to observe Cold Response.
But Russia declined that invitation.

At this dangerous time for our security, it is even more important that we exercise the readiness of our forces. 
And our capacity to reinforce our troops across the Atlantic. 

At the NATO Summit yesterday, Allies agreed to continue imposing costs on Russia and to further support our close partner Ukraine.
With additional military supplies.
As well as significant financial and humanitarian aid.

We also decided to start the reset of our defence and deterrence.

The first step is to deploy four new battlegroups to the East of our Alliance.
And I expect NATO leaders to agree further steps at our next Summit in June.
To keep our people safe. 

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: First of all I would like to ask you, how do you judge the Italian contribution to NATO? And then what can happen in case Russia will use in this conflict, in this war, Nuclear or chemical weapons?

Jens Stoltenberg NATO Secretary General: Italy is a highly valued NATO ally. It is a founding member of our Alliance and contributes in many different ways to our shared security; with maritime capabilities, with your presence in Kosovo, in Iraq, but not least, your contributions to our enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic region.

And then of course, Italy is part of this exercise. Italy is in the high north with a carrier strike group, with hundreds of troops participating in this exercise, and also with other key capabilities. We really appreciate that strong Italian contribution to this exercise, demonstrating that the whole Alliance is taking part in exercise Cold Response, and that the high north matters for the whole Alliance. Italy in the south of the Alliance contributes to the security in the north of the Alliance, because the high north matters also for Italy, as it matters for all allies.

Any use of chemical weapons, or nuclear weapons will totally change the nature of the war in Ukraine. It will be absolutely unacceptable, and it will be a blatant violation of international law. And therefore, allies have also clearly stated that Russia should not use chemical, biological or of course nuclear weapons and it highlights also the importance of ending this senseless war. It is a dangerous war, it is a horrific war and it is important to end it as soon as possible. And that's reason why NATO Allies put pressure on Russia with unprecedented sanctions, and why we support Ukraine and why we also make sure that we do all we can to prevent an escalation of the conflict beyond Ukraine by increasing our military presence in eastern part of the Alliance.

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: NATO has already established that it's going to, or announced, it is going to increase its presence in the eastern part of the alliance and now you speak about the high north and the need to increase its presence in the future. Could you be specific in which way it will increase its presence in the north? Will there be any talk about establishing new NATO bases closer to the Russian border into North?

NATO Secretary General: NATO is an arctic Alliance because we are in the Arctic. Four out of five littoral states to the Arctic Sea, to the polar sea, are NATO States; Canada, United States, Denmark and Norway. We have presence on our territory with our own national forces and also forces from all the NATO allied countries, that's the case for all NATO Allies because we are in the north.

Then we have increased our presence in the air and at sea. And then we see that different allies participate in different types of missions; surveillance, monitoring and also showing presence in the high north.

What we did at the summit yesterday was to task our military commanders to put forward proposals, so Allied leaders can make decisions in June and it's a bit early for me to preempt exactly the specific decisions they will take. But I expect that they will recommend, and that the Allies will agree, to both increase presence on land but also, of course, increase our naval capabilities, air carrier strike groups, submarines, warships, but also of course, more modern air capabilities including fifth generation aircraft and maritime surveillance aircraft.

These are capabilities which allies already invest in, but I see a need to escalate to do more and to do more together. And then this exercise demonstrates the types of capabilities and the type of activity we need to see more across the Alliance and I expect the allies to make decisions on the more concrete details when they meet later on this year.

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: I just wanted to know your thoughts about, how specifically has the situation in Ukraine affected this exercise here in the in the north? And also if you can say something about; you mentioned that Russia has declined to be an observer, how problematic is that at this point?

NATO Secretary General: This exercise is long planned, but it has become even more important after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Because it demonstrates the need for allies to stand together. It demonstrates the need to everyday provide credible deterrence and defense; not to provoke a conflict but to prevent the conflict. As long as there is no room for misunderstanding in Moscow about NATO Allies readiness to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory, then there will be no attack. There'll be no war, there will be no conflict. So the purpose of deterrence is to prevent war, to preserve peace.

But then the deterrence has to be credible and to ensure that our deterrence is credible, we need exercises like Cold Response, demonstrating a capability to protect and defend, demonstrate the capability to reinforce quickly if needed, and demonstrate the unity of NATO allies across the Alliance, including working with two highly valued partners, Finland and Sweden. And that's exactly what this exercise does. And therefore Cold Response is an important exercise, not least in the light of the meaningless and senseless Russian attack on Ukraine.

For us it is important, especially now when we see increased tensions, more military activities, to prevent incidents, accidents, miscalculations and if incidents or accidents happen, at least to ensure that they don't spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations. And that is the reason why NATO so strongly supports the agreements we have, including something called the Vienna Document, which is an agreement among all the nations in Europe on transparency, mutual observations of exercises, notification of exercises, to ensure that when you have big exercises like this one, that there are no misunderstandings or incidents caused by that exercise.

We are always transparent. We plan and notify our exercises and invite other countries to observe. Therefore, we regret of course, that Russia declined to observe this exercise. But we regret even more that Russia never invites us to take part in mandatory observation inspections on their exercises. And you have to remember that the invasion they now conduct, or the war their President Putin, wages against Ukraine, was in the beginning disguised as an exercise. They told us that this is just an exercise and they repeated that again and again and again, and then suddenly the exercise turned into a full fledged war.

Every nation has the right to exercise its own forces on its own territory. But it is extremely important that we are transparent, predictable on everything we do related to big military exercises like this one. We are, but Russia has never lived up to their commitments in the Vienna document to be transparent on military exercises.

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: How is cooperating with Sweden and Finland different from cooperating with NATO countries?

NATO Secretary General: NATO has a very close cooperation with Finland and Sweden and we have strengthened that cooperation in the light of the war in Ukraine, President Putin's invasion of Ukraine. We exercise together, we operate together, we exchange information and we have political consultations, and Finland and Sweden participate regularly in NATO exercises and they are part of the Cold Response exercise, as they were part of the Trident Juncture exercise and many other exercises.

To reinforce even more the close cooperation between NATO and Finland and Sweden, there is also a Nordic defense cooperation with even more joint activities, consultations and especially for instance, the air Force is exercising throughout the airspace in Norway, Finland and Sweden. This is important for NATO. It's also important for Finland and Sweden, and of course something we very much welcome. But of course, there will always be a difference between an ally and a close partner, Finland and Sweden; they are close partners, but not full members. We respect that decision. It is a sovereign Finnish and Swedish decision to decide whether they want to join NATO or not and of course it's extremely important to convey a clear message that we respect the sovereign decision of Finland and Sweden to be close partners but not be members.

Journalist from TV2: You have said that NATO members must invest more in their defense. One year ago NATO criticized Norway for not investing enough in our own defense. How do you consider the Norwegian defense today regarding the situation in Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General: All NATO allies, have over the last years, increased defense spending. I welcome that because we made the decision to get the NATO allies in 2014, at the Wales summit, the NATO Summit, then and that was after the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea, then allies realized that we actually face a more dangerous world and after years of reducing defense spending, after the end of the Cold War, NATO Allies decided that we need to invest more.

Norway and other allies have increased defense spending since 2014, following up our decision so I welcome that. And I welcome that Norway is acquiring new modern capabilities, including maritime patrol aircrafts, fifth generation aircrafts and many other types of modern military capabilities. I expect allies to do more, both to meet the 2% guideline but even go further, and therefore expect that Norway as all other NATO allies, who are not at 2%, to continue and step up and at least spend a minimum of 2% on defence.

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: Last Monday (inaudible) we ask (inaudible) what Sweden will do if Norway was attacked from Russia and she confirmed that Sweden would stand along with Norway. Recently, President Putin has threatened Finland and Sweden if they look to NATO. My question is, if Sweden and Finland is attacked, or threatened, what will NATO do?

NATO Secretary General: NATO has a very close partnership with Finland and Sweden. We work together with them, we operate together with them. There are no other countries in the world which are closer partners to NATO, then Finland and Sweden. We share the same neighborhood, we share the same security challenges and we are together in condemning, for instance, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But of course there is a difference between being member and not being member. NATO allies have a treaty obligation the Washington Treaty, our founding treaty, to protect and defend all allies. That's Article Five, that states clearly that if one ally is attacked, it will be regarded as an attack on the whole Alliance; on all allies, it will trigger a response from the whole Alliance. That's our collective defense clause, that's one for all, all for one. That absolute security guarantee applies for members. It doesn't apply for non-members of NATO. So therefore,  what I can say is that Sweden are close partners, their security of course matters for us, but the absolute security guarantees that we provide for NATO allies, are only for NATO allies.

Martina Colt from Information in Denmark: Is NATO strong enough in the Baltic Sea area with what has already been done, or do we need to do more there now? Are there any concrete plans of increasing NATO presence?

NATO Secretary General: We have significantly increased our presence in the Baltic region over the last few years and especially in the last weeks. After the illegal annexation of Crimea back in 2014 by Russia, we established for the first time in NATO's history, combat ready battlegroups in the three Baltic countries and Poland. We also increased air policing and naval presence. This is something that has taken place since 2014.

Then when we saw the intelligence, the warnings about a potential Russian invasion into Ukraine, we stepped further up and since the invasion we have added even more. There are now hundreds of thousands of troops, not in the Baltic region but across the Alliance which are on heightened alert, and we have 100,000 US troops in Europe, which is a significant increase. And then we have 40,000 troops on the direct NATO command supported by substantial sea, Navy, as in air and maritime capabilities.

A large part of our increased presence in the eastern part of the Alliances is actually in the Baltic region. For instance, the United Kingdom has doubled the size of the NATO battlegroup in Estonia; Germany has doubled the size of the battlegroup in Lithuania and we also have a significant increase of our presence in Latvia and more maritime presence. And then we have the ability to reinforce because of more forces on high readiness.

We have already done a lot in that region, partly as a long term response to what happened in 2014 and partly as an imminent response to the invasion of Ukraine. We have enough forces now to be able to protect and defend all allies. But we will, of course, always assess the need to further reinforce and we have tasked our military commanders, that was the decision that was taken at the NATO summit yesterday, to look into the more longer term consequences. The need to more fundamentally reset. So this has been kind of the imminent response, what we have seen over the last weeks, but I expect that we will have some more fundamental decisions on the strength, on the type of presence, but these are decisions we'll take a bit later at the Summit in June.

(Inaudible) Journalist introduction: How do you think the effects of the war in Ukraine will look forward and do you think these effects will affect the northern areas and more specifically the defense of Norway?

NATO Secretary General: Putin’s war against Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security reality in Europe and it has created a new normal for our security. So even if the war ended tomorrow, it will have some lasting effects. Because what we have seen is that Russia is willing to contest core principles for our security. Contest the right for every nation to choose his own path.

They are denying Ukraine the right to go the way they want to go as a sovereign, independent nation. Russia is also contesting NATO's right to protect and defend all allies because in the demands they put forward before the invasion they also demanded that NATO should remove all infrastructure and all forces from the eastern part of the Alliance, meaning that almost half of NATO members could not be defended and protected the same way as the rest. All allies who joined after 1997 could not have the same type of protection. Meaning that we were going to have some kind of Second Class NATO membership. Those who joined after and before 1997.

So Russia has contested core principles of our security, and they have demonstrated their will to use military force to meet their objectives, to get what they want. This is a more dangerous security environment than we have seen for decades. And this is reflected in the most brutal war we have seen in Europe since the Second World War. And that's the reason why we need to fundamentally rethink, reset our deterrence and defence to make sure that we, in this more dangerous world, are providing the same predictable, stable, reliable deterrence, as NATO has done for many years.

We have started that process, exactly what the conclusions will be well, that will be for Allies to decide later on. We are taking a lot of imminent steps and then we need to continue the adaptation of NATO. NATO is the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to stand united and change when the world is changing. Now the world is changing, and therefore NATO has to change again.