Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 05 Apr. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 05 Apr. 2023 18:04

(As delivered)

Good afternoon. 

We have just finished a substantive meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers to prepare for the Vilnius Summit in July. 

We welcomed Finland as our newest member. 
And Minister Haavisto took up Finland’s seat among NATO Allies. 

Allies also agree that Sweden should become an Ally as quickly as possible. 

We addressed many important topics over the past two days.
Including how to strengthen our political and practical support for Ukraine. 

We met yesterday in the NATO-Ukraine Commission with Foreign Minister Kuleba. 
We agree that our continued military support for Ukraine is essential. 
I welcome the new commitments made by Allies.
And I expect more. 

We also addressed our longer-term support. 

We do not know when this war will end. 
But when it does, we must ensure that President Putin cannot continue to chip away at European security. 

So we must enable Ukraine to deter and defend against future aggression. 

This includes strengthening Ukraine’s armed forces and arrangements for Ukraine’s security. 

We agreed to start work on developing a strategic multi-year assistance program for Ukraine.
A clear demonstration that our support will continue for the long haul.
To increase Ukraine’s interoperability with NATO, and to bring it up to NATO standards.

This will assist Ukraine on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration. 
Because Ukraine’s future is in the Euro-Atlantic family. 

NATO Allies are committed to giving Ukraine what it needs to prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe. 
And to achieve a just and durable peace.

At the same time, we will continue to support our partners facing pressure from Russia, including Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

We also discussed threats and challenges in the Middle East and North Africa. 
Including instability, terrorism and the growing activities of Russia and China. 

We will continue to work closely with our partners, including Mauritania and Tunisia, to help them build up their defence institutions and stabilise their countries. 

To keep our people safe in a more dangerous world, it is essential that we invest more in our defence. 

So today, Ministers also addressed progress on defence spending. 

At the Vilnius Summit, I expect Allies to agree an ambitious new defence investment pledge, with 2% of GDP as a floor not ceiling.  

For our final session, NATO’s Asia-Pacific partners – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea – joined us. 
Together with the European Union.

We discussed the global consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

This war is not only an attack on Ukraine, but on the international rules-based order that preserves peace and stability. 

If President Putin wins in Ukraine, it will send a dangerous message to authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals through brute force. 

So our support to Ukraine remains critical and it is in our shared security interest. 

We also discussed China’s growing alignment with Russia. 

China refuses to condemn Russia’s aggression. 
It echoes Russian propaganda.
And it props up Russia’s economy.
China and Russia are also stepping up their joint military activities in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Allies have been clear that any provision of lethal aid by China to Russia would be a historic mistake, with profound implications.

At a time when Beijing and Moscow are pushing back against the rules-based international order,
it is even more important that we continue to stand together. 

As NATO Allies.
And with like-minded partners. 

And with that I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
We'll start with the BBC, in the third row.

Jonathan Beale, BBC: 
Thank you very much, Secretary General. May I ask - you said that you're talking about a new, ambitious spending target of 2%. But 2% is already the spending target of NATO. Is there any way at Vilnius you will actually… you've said before that it's a floor, not a ceiling. So I'm not confident that it is a new spending target. If you can explain to me why it is a new spending target? Wouldn't it be more or less to say, you know… a new figure is a new spending target like, say, 2.5%. Do you think there's a possibility that it might happen? And then, you clearly issued a warning to China about providing lethal aid to Russia. Is there any evidence among Allies that China is doing that? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First, on 2%. You're right that when NATO leaders met in 2014 in the United Kingdom, in Wales, we agreed the defence investment pledge, where we also use 2% GDP as the guideline. But then, we refer to 2% as something we should strive towards, move towards. So it has been interpreted by many Allies as something that is more like a ceiling - something we should move towards, which is actually the language we use in that statement, or in that pledge agreed in 2014.

Since then, actually,  Allies have come a long way. Because since then, all Allies have increased defence spending. And this is significant, because until 2014, the majority of NATO Allies across Europe and Canada actually were reducing defence spending every year. So what we managed with the pledge we made in 2014 was to turn the corner, not going down anymore, but actually start to go up. And all Allies have increased defence spending. More Allies meet the 2% guideline, or spending, or are at 2%, or above. But many Allies are still below. And some of them, most of them, refer to, well, this is something we should strive towards, not a kind of requirement. So that's what I mean. That's my message.

When I speak about the stronger commitment, is to have much stronger language, that this is not some kind of ambitious goal in the distant future that we strive towards. It is something that we should be strongly committed to, 2% as a minimum, not as the ceiling. So I actually think it will make a difference if not only I say that 2% should be a minimum, but that all Allies agree that 2% should be a minimum floor. The most important thing is, of course, what Allies do, and I'm quite encouraged, because I also now see that several of those Allies who haven't been not able to reach 2%, like Germany, like the Netherlands and others, Denmark and many others - they are now very committed to increasing defence spending, and to reach 2% soon. That's because of the war in Ukraine, which has made it even more obvious that we need to invest more in defence.

When it comes to China - of course, we are monitoring very closely what China does. Any provision of lethal aid to Russia from China will be a big mistake with profound consequences. So far, we have not been able to confirm any provision of lethal aid, but this is something we follow very closely. And we also communicate very clearly that this will be a big mistake. Then, what we do know, is that China has not been able to condemn the brutal invasion of Ukraine. We also know that China and Russia are coming closer and closer. They signed - just weeks before the invasion - a partnership agreement where they state clearly that the partnership between Russia and China is without any limits, a partnership with no limits. And then we of course also know that China is propping up Russia's economy. So this is, of course, of concern. And we need to be clear on these issues in our engagement with China.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
The Economist.

Anton La Guardia, The Economist: 
Anton La Guardia, The Economist. I was wondering whether you could be more precise in some of the wording that you use. You say that Ukraine's future is in the Euro Atlantic family. Does that mean that [Ukraine’s] future is in NATO? And when? What does the multi-annual program for Ukraine to help integrate it further mean? How's that different from what is being done today to help Ukraine defend itself? And last, on China: what do you actually mean by saying  it's a big mistake with profound consequences if China were to provide lethal aid, what would the consequences be? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
First, on NATO and Ukraine. NATO's position is that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance, and that position has not changed. But we know that there are at least two things you need to address to make that possible. One is that we need to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation. Of course, any meaningful discussion about Ukraine as a member of the Alliance has to be based on that Ukraine is a democratic, independent nation in Europe. And that's exactly what is now challenged, or threatened by the brutal Russian invasion. So the first step, the basic requirement is to provide military support to Ukraine. So President Putin doesn't win his war of aggression.

The second thing we need to address is that when this war ends and Ukraine prevails, then, of course, we need to ensure that we have the highest level of interoperability, that Ukraine is able to move from Soviet era standards, doctrines, ways of operating their armed forces. This transition has started, but we need more, and we need to implement it quicker. And therefore, the difference between the current support that NATO Allies are providing to Ukraine is to meet immediate needs.

Allies are providing, of course, weapons, military support. NATO is also providing a lot of non-lethal support. That's to address the immediate needs, to help Ukraine now. This program is more long-term perspective. That is about, you know, building the institutions, helping with the transition, the interoperability, the standards, the doctrines - all of these things that we need to have in place, also to move towards membership. So that’s, in a way, the difference. Then, the second question on China. Well, on the consequences. I think I will only limit myself to say that it has been made clear by several Allies, also the biggest Ally, that there will be severe consequences. And I think there's no reason to go into details, but China knows that there'll be severe consequences if they start to provide lethal aid to Russia.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we'll go to Kyiv Independent.

Asami Terajima, Kyiv Independent:
Asami Terajima, Kyiv Independent. How high do you assess the likelihood that Belarus would become a direct participant of Russia's war against Ukraine, and what do you think would encourage the Lukashenko regime to make this move? And my second question is - how have the NATO Allies given enough weapons for Ukraine to launch a counter offensive in the nearest two weeks, and how many advanced Western tanks can Ukraine expect to receive from NATO Allies till the end of the year? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
Well, the Allies are delivering unprecedented military support to Ukraine. We have also stepped up our support over the last weeks and months, also with armoured vehicles, battle tanks, but not only battle tanks, but also infantry fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers, and a lot of support, meaning for instance, fuel trucks, heavy systems to remove minefields and to enable the Ukrainians to cross the defence barriers that the Russians have built up over the last month. So this is not only about the battle tanks, but all the support they need to be able to function and operate as they should, not only for a few days, but for weeks.

And therefore, this is also about sustainment, meaning -  providing the fuel, the ammunition, the spare parts, the maintenance capacity that need to follow and support these efforts. This in totality is a high number. I don't have the number in my head now, but I've been told there's a high number of battle tanks. Some of them are older battle tanks. Some of them are Soviet era battle tanks, but many of them are also modern NATO-standard battle tanks. The UK has delivered Challenger. Many NATO Allies have delivered Leopard 2 and then the US is also now in the process of delivering Abrahams. This comes on top on all the, for instance, the Marders, which are infantry fighting vehicles, the Bradley's, which are US infantry fighting vehicles, and it is this totality that provides the Ukrainians with the capabilities they need to retake land, to further push back the Russian forces. It is for the Ukrainians to make the operational decisions on exactly how and when. Our responsibility is to help them.

On Belarus: well, Belarus has been, and continues to be a platform which Russia uses in its aggressive actions against Ukraine. They launched part of the invasion from Belarus, and they have launched several airstrikes from Belarus. Our message to Belarus is, of course, that they should not be directly involved, and we will continue to provide Ukraine with the support they need to fight against aggression, and to win this war.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Thanks. Secretary General, I have a more general question on China. As the view on China changed, are you ready to change, or is NATO ready to change the Strategic Concept towards China?

NATO Secretary General:
No. The reality is that the Strategic Concept we agreed in Madrid reflects NATO's or, as I say, a new recognition of what China means for our security, because I think we need to realize that NATO has come a long way when it comes to China. In the Strategic Concept we had until last summer, China was not mentioned with a single word. Then, in the Strategic Concept we agreed in Madrid, in June last year, we made important decisions. We don't regard China as an adversary. But we stated clearly in the Strategic Concept that China's assertive behaviour poses a challenge to our interests, our values, our security.

And this is reflected in the fact that China is investing heavily in new, modern capabilities, including long-range nuclear missiles. They are cracking down on democratic rights in their own country, in Hong Kong, prosecuting minorities, using social media, the internet to have surveillance of the population in a way we haven't seen at that scale any time before. The assertive behaviour in the South China Sea is a challenge for the countries in the region, but also a challenge to international trade. Threats against Taiwan. And then of course, the fact that China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see them trying to control critical infrastructure, and also then, of course, that they are now working more and more closely with Russia.

We see Russian-Chinese joint naval patrols, air patrols, we saw a big military exercise outside the coast of Africa. And all of this together has actually made it necessary for us to update and to develop our policies on China. That is reflected in the new Strategic Concept. It is also reflected in the fact that we are now significantly strengthening our partnership with our Indo-Pacific partners -with Australia and with New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. They participated in the meeting today. For the first time ever, we invited their Heads of State and Government to participate in our Summit last summer, and I invited the Heads of State and Government from Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia also to attend our summit next summer – this summer, sorry - in Vilnius. Put together, this is a huge effort. Let me just add what we do on resilience on technology is also a way to respond to the challenges that China poses to our security.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Binna Chung, Yonhap:
Binna Chung, from Yonhap News Agency, South Korea. Secretary General, you have urged Korea to increase its military support to Ukraine when you visited Korea last January. And saying that some countries have changed their policy to send weapons directly to Ukraine after the war. And did you raise this among today's discussion as well? And I would like what was Korea's response, if you had, and regarding, if I may ask another one, regarding the NATO's non-lethal assistance package, which Japan has recently pledged. Did the vice minister of Korea express his intention for a contribution as well today? Thanks.

NATO Secretary General:
First of all, I think is for Korea to provide exact answers on their positions and what they do. What I can say is that we are… it was a big issue when I visited Korea in January. And I've also raised it again, and I welcome the fact that South Korea has made it clear that they are ramping up production. And we need to understand that it helps that South Korea is ramping up production and delivering also to NATO Allies, because then we can replenish our own stocks. And South Korea is a big producer of ammunition. And the fact that they are now delivering more and producing more to replenish the stocks on NATO Allies enable us to continue to deliver to Ukraine. So I will not go into the issue of exactly how, or to whom South Korea should deliver. My main message is that by providing more aid to, or not aid, but also supplies of ammunition to NATO Allies then enables us to continue to support Ukraine. And I welcome the announcements made from South Korea on that.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Thank you. My question is about migrants. Did you talk with the Italian Foreign Minister Tajani about this problem? What can NATO do in that part of the Mediterranean? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General:
Well, in the meeting we had today the issue of migration was a part of the discussion, especially when we addressed the challenges emanating from the Middle East and North Africa. And of course what NATO does - and this is also something I've discussed with the Italian Foreign Minister with the Italian Prime Minister several times is, is that we are helping to support the efforts of individual Allies, but also of the European Union. We have a NATO naval presence in the Aegean Sea to help implement the agreement between Türkiye and the EU on illegal migration.

We are working with partners in the Middle East and North Africa. We have our presence, our training mission in Iraq to try to address the root causes. A stable Iraq, a stable Middle East is, of course, important also to address the root causes of the migrant challenges that Europe is facing. And we are also stepping up our cooperation and support to countries like Tunisia and Mauritania. And then, of course, we are exchanging information. We're helping each other as NATO Allies, but the migrant and refugee issue is, of course, something that has to be addressed in many different tools. Many of them are outside the NATO mandate, but some of them are, and we are working with countries - Iraq, Mauritania, and all this to help address the root causes.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, Bloomberg.

Natalia Drozdiak, Bloomberg: 
Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg, thank you for the question. I'm wondering whether NATO still believes that China holds sway over Russia. With regards to the war in Ukraine, especially after Russia announced plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus days after it had signed a declaration with China saying countries shouldn't station weapons abroad. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
What we know is that Russia is more and more dependent on China. Trade with China has become even more important for Russia. At least because of the economic sanctions and the consequences of the war in Ukraine. I also believe that the announcement that they will deploy tactical weapons, nuclear weapons to Belarus just after they sign an agreement stating the opposite, just shows that these are empty promises. And we what we need to watch closely is actually what Russia is doing. And that's exactly what NATO Allies are monitoring closely.

So far, we haven't seen any changes in the Russian nuclear posture that require any changes in our posture. But we remain vigilant, we will follow closely what they do. And we have increased our presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance. To remove any room for misunderstanding, miscalculation in Moscow about NATO's readiness to protect and defend Allies. And we do that not to provoke a conflict but to prevent the conflict to try to prevent any military attack on NATO Allies.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we'll take one last question from Politico.

Thank you very much, Lee from Politico. Secretary General, did ministers discuss the arrest and continued detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovitch, and did they discuss any concrete steps or actions that they can take to help secure his immediate release? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
My message is that the Wall Street Journal journalist should be released. And this is about freedom of the press and the importance of journalists to be able to operate, and to ask difficult questions, and to do their work, and many other Allies have expected has experienced exactly the same call on Russia.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much, colleagues. This concludes this press conference. Thank you.