Joint Press Conference

at Faslane by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, with UK Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon

  • 29 Sep. 2017 -
  • |
  • Last updated 02-Oct-2017 18:33

(As delivered)

Joint press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and UK Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon

Thank Michael so much, Sir Michael and Michael, thank you for our cooperation and thank you for our friendship and thank you also for hosting the North Atlantic Council and the NATO Military committee here at Faslane today.

Coming from sunny Norway, I feel very much at home in Scotland and it has really been a great privilege to visit HMS Vengeance today, one of the Royal Navy’s Vanguard class submarines. These are among the most complex and impressive capabilities of NATO providing continuous at sea deterrence for almost 50 years.

Even more impressive are the highly trained personnel who crew and support these submarines. And we met some of them during our visit today. And they help to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.

I was really delighted to meet many of the crew members today. And I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the dedication and for their professionalism. They serve with distinction and courage often under very challenging conditions away from families and friends for long periods of time. All members of our alliance owe them a deep level of gratitude.

In an uncertain world, nuclear deterrence remains critical to our security. At the same time, NATO remains committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in line with our commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And our track record is strong.

Since the end of the Cold War, allies have reduced the number of nuclear weapons dramatically. But as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. So, therefore, I very much welcome the contribution made by the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent to the security of the Alliance. And I also welcome the decision to maintain this capability by building a new class of ballistic missiles submarines.

This is but one of UK’s many contributions to the Alliance. You continue to show leadership in implementing NATO’s 2 per cent guideline at defence spending. You serve as the lead nation for our battle group in Estonia. You’re also leading NATO’s very high readiness force this year. In the Middle East, you play a key role in the battle to defeat ISIS and you’re a major contributor to NATO’s training and exercises.

Here in Faslane, you are currently supporting two important naval exercises: Joint Warrior and Formidable Shield which involve aircraft and naval units from across the Alliance. And indeed HMS Somerset taking part in exercise Joint Warrior is here today.

In these challenging times, the UK’s contributions to NATO are as important as ever. To help to deter any potential adversary and in doing so, you help to safeguard the security of NATO’s nearly one billion citizens. Your role in preserving the peace in Europe is indispensable and NATO allies are very grateful for the UK’s contribution. Thank you.

MICHAEL FALLON (Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom): Thank you Jens. We’ll take some questions. Ali Bunkall, from Sky Television.

QUESTION: One to each of you if that’s ok? Secretary of State first. Given NATO principles of collective defence, were North Korea to attack America, would you pledge on nuclear deterrents in support of the United States? And Secretary General, on that same theme, H.R. McMaster recently said that they had drawn up plans to show the President for possible preventative strike. Would NATO support the United States if they decided that the preventative strike against North Korea was their only option?

MICHAEL FALLON: Well if I can try the first one and then Jens come in on the second. It’s hypothetical to speculate on what kind of assistance the United States might want from its allies in any particular situation. We’re working hard with the administration to use every diplomatic channel to bring this dangerous, provocative and illegal testing program to a halt. We work with the United States in tightening enforcement of existing resolutions to ensure the new resolution is properly implemented and we are working too with our European partners to see what further sanctions could be implied within the European Union and to bring further pressure on China to deal with its neighbour.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): We continue to work for a peaceful political negotiated solution to the crisis in Korea and we continue to strongly condemn the testing, the development of missiles and nuclear weapons. At the same time, every nation has the right to defend itself. And of course also the United States has the right to defend itself against attacks. And NATO is there to defend all allies and that’s part of self-defence, which is part also the UN Charter. We will continue to work for maximum pressure on North Korea to create the conditions for a negotiated solution. We call on North Korea to abandon its missile programs and nuclear programs, and we support the efforts to step up the pressure on Korea including with economic sanctions.

MICHAEL FALLON: Thank you. Now a blue tie is always the way to get cold first.

QUESTION: Andrew Kerr, BBC Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, reaffirmed our commitment yesterday to one thing: nuclear weapons out of Scotland. If Scotland became an independent country what would that mean for the UK’s nuclear deterrent and to the Secretary General as well, please?

MICHAEL FALLON: But first, as I understand, the SNP position seems very confused now. They want to join NATO. NATO is a nuclear alliance and our nuclear forces, French nuclear forces and the American nuclear forces are part of NATO’s nuclear alliance. The SNP needs to sort out where they really think. The nuclear deterrent here today keeps Britain safe. It keeps NATO safe as well and Scotland is part of that.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The nuclear deterrent is essential for NATO’s deterrent and that makes us all safe and the reason to have strong deterrence is to prevent war, is to avoid conflict and is to send a clear message to any potential adversary that an attack on NATO will trigger a response from the whole alliance and the cost would be much higher than the benefits. So that helps make the UK safer but also all NATO allies safer.

MICHAEL FALLON: Now moving along. Yes?

QUESTION: Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. To the Defence Secretary, Russia tested an ICBM at the end of Zapad exercise. Their strategic subs were part of that. Is it time for NATO to integrate nuclear aspects into its conventional exercise? And to the Secretary General, does the sort of nuclear aspect of Zapad make this event today more important for NATO to emphasize its nuclear deterrent in the face of Russian tests and also North Korean tests?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We have always been very clear that we distinguish between our nuclear capabilities and our conventional capabilities. At the same time, we are exercising both, of course, our conventional weapons and systems and capabilities, and our nuclear capabilities. We have responded to a more assertive Russia. We have seen that over many years: they are exercising their forces, they are exercising their nuclear forces, they have invested in upgrading both their conventional forces and nuclear forces.

And we have responded to that in many different ways, not least by increasing our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance with the battle groups, one of them lead by the UK. But we are not matching soldier by soldier, or tank by tank, or plane by plane, or nuclear capability by nuclear capability what the Russians are doing. We are responding in our own way and we make sure that we continue to have strong and reliable defence and deterrence.

MICHAEL FALLON:  I have no much more to add to that. I mean, we are part of NATO’s conventional deterrence. These are the troops that the Prime Minister is inspecting this morning. But we are also part of strategic deterrence as well and the best answer of all to Russia is that we are renewing our deterrent. We have set aside a very large programme to renew the four trident boats, the dreadnoughts that we are constructing now. Larisa, Daily Mail.

QUESTION: Larisa Brown, Daily Mail. Thank you. Secretary of State, are UK Defence planners currently preparing militarily for war with North Korea? And if the US did attack North Korea would the UK be ready to stand and how? And Secretary General, would NATO invoke Article 5 if North Korea struck the island of Guam with missiles?

MICHAEL FALLON: Well, on the first, of course we’re working very closely with the United States on all the diplomatic pressure that is needed now to bring this illegal testing program to a halt.  I’ve described the various channels that we are exercising at the moment with the United Nations, with our partners and inside the European Union. We have to exhaust every conceivable diplomatic channel before we start considering any kind of military action.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, NATO is there to defend all allies based on the principle: “one for all, and all for one”. And we have to remember that the only time NATO has invoked our Article 5 was after an attack on the United States, 9/11, 2001.  Having said that, I think it would only add to uncertainty if I start to speculate about how we will react to many different hypothetical situations. We are there, we monitor the situation very closely but I will not start to speculate on how exactly we would react to different possible situations.

MICHAEL FALLON: Now we have time for one more. Debby Haynes.

QUESTION: Debby Haynes, The Times. I’m following from Julian’s question about the exercises. During the Cold War, we used to have these very large-scale exercises that involved politicians. In terms of decision making, why talk to the nuclear side of things? Secretary of State, is that something that Britain is supporting now, that idea of doing that again? And to Secretary General, NATO launched this sort of review of nuclear policy. Can you just give an idea of what conclusions that came up with?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, we exercise our forces and we also have what we call scenario-based discussions among decision makers and politicians to prepare ourselves to make fast and rapid decisions to respond in an appropriate way to any potential situation. At the same time, it is important for us to convey a message that we are not in a nuclear war. And we try to keep tensions down. But of course we have to be ready to react and to respond also through political decision making if needed.

MICHAEL FALLON: Was there a second part? 

QUESTION: I just want to know the conclusion of the nuclear review was?

MICHAEL FALLON: Nuclear review.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, what we have done in NATO is to assess how Russia has changed and adopted their nuclear posture and we are constantly also then looking into how we can respond in the best possible way. We see that NATO allies like the UK and also US are modernizing their nuclear capabilities. We welcome that. So I welcome for instance the modernization of the UK submarines which is an important part of NATO deterrence.

MICHAEL FALLON: And the answer to the first part of the question is: yes British Ministers participate in these exercises. We do it at NATO. We also do it domestically to ensure that the political decision making that is required is as effective and as rapid as the deployment of troops has been. You would be aware of Secretary Massey’s and I’s initiatives to try and accelerate the decision making process to ensure that the response is as effective and as fast as it needs to be. Thank you all very much.