Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers

  • 07 Nov. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 07 Nov. 2017 20:59

(As delivered)

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Good morning.

This week, NATO’s Defence Ministers will meet to continue NATO’s adaptation for the 21st century of the NATO Alliance. And at the same time pave the way for our next Summit in July, here in Brussels.

We will start with a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group. Part of our regular consultations to keep NATO nuclear forces safe, secure and effective. We will then take decisions on NATO’s continued adaptation, focusing on the review of NATO’s Command Structure.

At dinner we will be joined by the High Representative of the European Union and Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, to discuss global threats, including North Korea. On Thursday, we will meet our Resolute Support partners for discussions on our mission in Afghanistan.  Finally, in the margins of our ministerial, Secretary Mattis will chair a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

We have many different issues to discuss, but let me now focus on three of them: NATO’s Command Structure, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

First, ministers will discuss the revision of the NATO Command Structure. And NATO Command Structure is the backbone of our Alliance and what makes NATO unique. It is what enables 29 nations to work as one. NATO has constantly adapted its Command Structure over the past decades, to take account of a changing security environment. In a more unpredictable world, we have to adapt again. To ensure that our Command Structure is fully capable of providing deterrence and defence at home, and projecting stability abroad.  At this meeting I expect Ministers will agree in principle on an outline as a basis for further work. This will include: a new Command to help protect sea lines of communication between North America and Europe. And another Command to improve the movement of troops and equipment within Europe.  Our ability to move forces is essential to deterrence and collective defence.

This is not only about commands. We also need to ensure that roads and bridges are strong enough to take our largest vehicles, and that rail networks are equipped for the rapid deployment of tanks and heavy equipment. NATO has military requirements for civilian infrastructure and we need to update these to ensure that current military needs are taken into account.  But this is not a job for NATO alone. It requires close coordination across national governments and with the private sector. The European Union also has an important role to play. So NATO and the European Union must continue to work very closely on this vital issue.

We will also adapt the Command Structure to recognise the cyber domain. High profile attacks, such as WannaCry, affect businesses and governments across the world. Our nations must be able to deter and defend against such threats. As effectively as against attacks from land, sea or air.

Secondly North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes will also be on our agenda. They are a threat to NATO Allies, to our partners, and to the international non-proliferation regime. As I saw during my visit to East Asia last week, these global threats require a global response. NATO maintains a strong deterrence posture. We have the capabilities and we have the resolve to respond to any aggression.

Last but not least, we will review our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan together with our partners.  We will be joined by Afghanistan’s Acting Defence Minister, who will brief on the security situation and on the progress his government is making on essential reforms.

The last few weeks have been tough in Afghanistan,with a number of brutal and senseless attacks. Such as today’s attack on Shamshad TV. But at the same time, the Afghan Security Forces have shown bravery, determination and increasing capability.  And the Afghan people continue to demonstrate a remarkable resilience and hope for peace. Around 13,000 troops from 39 different countries currently serve in our Resolute Support Mission. The United States is already increasing its commitment as part of the new South Asia Strategy.  And many other Allies and partners will also send more troops in the months to come. To support Afghanistan’s efforts against international terrorism and for peace and reconciliation.

So with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Moderator: And I'd be grateful if you could introduce yourselves and your outlets. We'll start over there with Wall Street Journal, over there. One, two, three, fourth row. Thank you.

Julian Barns (Wall Street Journal): Mr. Secretary General, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. You mentioned the cyber aspect of the command structure review, can you talk a little bit more about what you want NATO to work on and adapt in this realm and what will be the nature of the cyber discussions during the meeting this week?

Jens Stoltenberg: The nature of the discussion on cyber will partly be to take stock of the implementation of decisions we have already made. We have decided to establish cyber as a domain alongside air, sea, and land, and we are delivering on that. We made a cyber pledge where we outlined how NATO and nations have to improve their cyber defence, how they have to improve their ability to protect their cyber networks, and we have to make sure that we are implementing on the cyber pledge.

But we will also discuss how we can strengthen the cyber component of our command structure. In every military operation, in any foreseeable possible military mission or operation of NATO, there will be a cyber component, so cyber is more and more integrated into everything we do and therefore we will also as part of the review and the adaptation of the command structure we will also discuss how we can strengthen the command element, sorry, the cyber element of the NATO command structure.

Moderator: Suddeutsche Zeitung. Over there.

Q (Suddeutsche Zeitung): Secretary General, how substantial do you expect the strengthening of the command structure to be? Do you expect a substantial increase in personnel numbers? And in hindsight would you say the cuts in previous years were they premature, were there mistakes made that have to be revised now?

Jens Stoltenberg: The plan is to take decisions on what we call the outline for the new command structure during the ministerial meeting tomorrow, and that will be the basis for further work. Then we will make more detailed decisions next year, we'll address this also at our defence ministerial meeting in February. The outline, which I expect to be agreed tomorrow, is based on advice from our strategic commanders, and that includes one command for the Atlantic to strengthen our ability to protect the sea lines which are so critical for a transatlantic alliance. We have to be able to move forces, troops, across the Atlantic from North America to Europe. And it will include a command which is focusing on and responsible for the movement of troops within Europe, which is of course also of a great importance. Then there will be a cyber element and there will be many other elements that we will address as part of the proposals.

I think that what has made NATO so strong is our ability to adapt, so when the world is changing NATO is changing, and therefore I don’t regret that we, after the end of the Cold War, reduced the size of the NATO command structure, as long as we're able to adapt when the tensions are increasing again. We're not going to make decisions on the exact numbers, this is partly about additional resources and partly about whether we're able to reprioritize and be more efficient in the way we conduct and organize our command structure.

So what we'll decide tomorrow is the basis for further work, the outline, and the different structures. Let me just underline that for instance during the Cold War, at the end of the Cold War, there were 22,000 personnel working in the NATO command structure, with 33 different commands. Now we are less than 7,000 people working in the NATO command structure at seven commands, which reflects the total change as a result of the end of the Cold War. And we have been very focused on out-of-area expeditionary military operations, now we have to continue to be focused on expeditionary operations but at the same time increase the focus on collective defence in Europe, and that's the reason why we are adapting the command structure.

Moderator: Third row, NPR.

Teri Schultz (NPR and Deutsche Welle): Hi, thank you. Teri Schultz, with NPR and Deutsche Welle. In Ukraine the OSCE monitors have been shot at again in recent weeks, had heavy weapons pointed at them, and at the same time there doesn’t seem to be any progress being made politically. Understanding that NATO is not the primary vehicle for discussing progress between Ukraine and Russia, are you nonetheless concerned that this is heading toward a frozen conflict with absolutely no progress politically while the military situation remains very threatening on the ground? And it's not being discussed at this meeting while you are discussing North Korea. It just seems a little odd to me. Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all we had extensive discussions on Ukraine or about Ukraine at the NATO-Russia Council meeting just a couple of weeks ago, so NATO continues to be concerned and continues to be focused on the situation in Ukraine. We have reconfirmed several times that we will stand in solidarity with Ukraine, we will provide them political support, and we will provide them practical support, and the whole North Atlantic Council actually also visited Ukraine recently. So we are following the developments and we are providing strong support to Ukraine.

I also expect that ministers will of course when we discuss global security challenges, [inaudible] but also when we discuss the need to adapt NATO, that Ukraine will be part of that discussion, because one of the main reasons why NATO is adapting both with increased readiness, preparedness of our forces, but also by forward deployment of our troops in the eastern part of the alliance and the adaptation of the NATO command structure, is triggered by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine. We continue to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements and we continue to raise Ukraine in all our political dialogue with Russia.

Moderator: European Pravda, second row.

Q (European Pravda): I have a question related to Ukraine. Are there some discussions where NATO would hold NATO-Ukraine council this year? What could happen for it to be held? Maybe some issues related to language. And is this connection a very important issue? Ukraine is currently declaring to be aspiring to get full membership in NATO, are we an aspiring nation according to your understanding? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We have regular meetings in the NATO-Ukraine Commission at different levels; we had a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting when we visited Kyiv earlier this year in July, and we also met with President Poroshenko so we have high level political dialogue, contacts with our close partner Ukraine regularly. We haven’t a fixed date for the next meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission but that is something that takes place regularly at different levels.

Ukraine is a close partner; we support Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine, we help Ukraine with reforms; the focus of Ukraine now is on reform, how to modernize their armed forces, how to modernize their defence and security institutions, and that's exactly what we are helping them with, with our team, with our people in Kyiv and in Ukraine. So I think that we should now focus on reform, which also helps of course Ukraine on the path towards NATO.

Moderator: We'll go to the first row.

Q: Thank you Secretary General. Just two weeks ago you had a meeting with Mr. Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the global coalition anti-ISIS. Can you tell us some details about your meeting with him? And the second question: are you concerned about tensions between the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We had a very good meeting with Brett McGurk a couple of weeks ago. I had a meeting with him in my office, but he also met with the whole North Atlantic Council, and we discussed how NATO can provide support in the best possible way to the counter-ISIL coalition. NATO is a full member and we provide support with training of Iraqi forces and we also provide support with our AWACS surveillance planes. And of course NATO allies, which are all part of the coalition and provide the bulk of the military capabilities of the coalition, they welcome very much the progress which has been made in the fight against ISIL. Most of the territory controlled by ISIL is now liberated and they have lost all the big cities and the caliphate doesn’t exist in any way.

At the same time, we are concerned or we are aware that this doesn’t end the fight against ISIL because this is a global threat, it's a threat not only in Iraq and Syria, but we see it in also many other countries and we see it in our own streets. ISIL is organizing or inspiring terrorist attacks in our own streets. So we need to continue the fight against ISIL and the brutal reality is that since they have lost control of territory in Iraq and Syria they may be now even more focused on how to organize terrorist attacks against NATO allies and partner countries. We would very much like to see a constructed dialogue between the Peshmerga and the government in Baghdad because we believe that any use of violence would only undermine the fight against terrorism.

Moderator: Geo TV.

Q (Geo Television News, Pakistan): Secretary General, the relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very low. Secretary Tillerson in between lines he said with or without Pakistan they are going to end terrorism, but we see in the last 17 years this war in Afghanistan, terrorism in Afghanistan, also in Pakistan, continue. Is there any improvement vis-à-vis Pakistan and what is your opinion about Pakistan? Are they cooperating with you or they are not cooperating with you? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We have regular contacts, dialogue with Pakistan, in many different ways. The Director of the International Military Staff here at NATO recently visited Pakistan; our commander in Afghanistan regularly meets with his Pakistani counterparts, because we have to address the big challenge that Taliban and the insurgents are working also out of bases in Pakistan. And we have raised that several times; it is extremely important that all countries in the region support the efforts of the Afghan National Unity Government and that no country provide any kind of sanctuary for the terrorists. So we will continue to raise this with Pakistan because we can only…, the fight against Taliban and terrorists will gain so much if we are able to have all countries in the region fully on board.

Moderator: Lady in the first row.

Q: The increasing insecurity in Afghanistan being the biggest concern, the attack this morning was mirroring the number or increasing the number of attacks on media and people's voice, my question is what kind of decisions are we going to discuss in regards to Afghanistan and what kind of modifications strategically and in terms of structural modification would you expect as a result of Trump's new condition best strategy and the increasing aggressive response from Taliban in the region? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The attack we saw this morning was yet another example of brutal and horrendous attacks against civilians. The attack has now ended and it was the Afghan Security Forces that were able to stop it and it shows that the Afghan Security Forces they are professional, they are committed, and they have the capability to respond when the insurgents are attacking. It's always unacceptable when civilians are attacked as we have seen many examples of during the last weeks in Afghanistan, but in particular I think it is serious when they attack a TV station, Shamshad TV, which is not only an attack on civilians but is also an attack on one of the most important thing in a free and open society, and that's the free press.

So therefore it just underlines the importance of fighting the terrorists, fighting the insurgents, and continue to support the Afghan Security Forces which reacted in a very professional way to the attack on the TV station. NATO will continue to support Afghanistan and we have decided that we will strengthen our support. We are doing that in different ways. Perhaps the most important contribution now is that we have decided to increase the number of troops. We will not go back in combat operations but we need to strengthen the train and assist and advise mission, the Resolute Support Mission, to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a clear message to Taliban, to the insurgents, that they will not win on the battleground, the only way they can achieve anything is by sitting down at the negotiating table and be part of a peaceful negotiated political solution.

So the reason why we are supporting the Afghan Security Forces is to enable a political peaceful solution. There will be more troops; the current level is around 13,000; the new level will be around 16,000. They will train, assist and advise, and in particular we are focusing on training the Afghan Special Operations Forces which have proven so key in the fight against insurgents, the terrorists, the Taliban, and we are going to help them with developing their air force. The Afghans are now more and more capable of conducting air operations themselves, and we will help them with military schools, improved command and control.

We are also extremely focused, that will be an important issue during the meeting, on funding. Non-U.S. allies have promised US$ 1 billion yearly to support the Afghan army and police, and we will stress and I will underline the importance that we don’t only deliver the forces we have promised to train the Afghans but also deliver the funding for funding the Afghan national security and military. And then we will also address for instance the issue of sanctuaries in Pakistan and the importance of having a regional approach to a peaceful solution in Afghanistan.

Moderator: Gentleman in the first row.

Q (Kommersant): Thank you very much. Could you please outline the main outcomes of your visit to Asia and to what extent and in what form NATO can be involved into solving North Korean issue? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: I've spent one week in South…, sorry, in Japan and in South Korea, and that was a very productive and useful visit. I met with the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of South Korea, and many other political leaders, and Japan and South Korea are close partners of NATO, Japan is the longest standing partner of NATO outside Europe, and South Korea has been a close partner also for many years.

The reckless and irresponsible behaviour of North Korea is not only a threat to our partners in the region, South Korea and Japan, but it's also a threat to NATO allies and to international peace and security. Therefore in my discussions with the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of South Korea we agreed strongly on the need to put maximum pressure on North Korea so we can reach a peaceful negotiated solution to the crisis. No one wants war, but at the same time we have to avoid that North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and long range missiles, and therefore we need to put pressure on them by diplomatic means, by political means, but not least by economic sanctions. And I welcome that the U.N. Security Council has strengthened their economic sanctions, they did so in September, and the good news is like it looks like the sanctions are to a higher degree implemented now, putting a real pressure on North Korea.

NATO has responded to ballistic and nuclear threats for decades and the way we have done that, dating back to the Cold War, is by deterrence and by showing the resolve and that we have the capabilities enabling us to respond to any attack, and that's still the case. So deterrence, our ability to respond if we are attacked, is also the best way to prevent an attack, and that's also of course the case when it comes to threats from North Korea. The concern is that they are now in the process of developing missiles with a range making them capable of hitting not only countries in the region but also cities on both sides of the Atlantic, NATO allies in both North America and in Europe.

Moderator: Washington Post. Eight row, lower down. Thank you.

Michael Birnbaum (Washington Post): Hi, two quick questions. Sorry, Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. I wanted to ask, this cyber command structure, how comfortable are NATO allies at this point in sharing cyber capabilities and information with each other? As part of your efforts, are you trying to encourage allies to share what they're able to do and the things they're able to find out on the cyber front or is this envisioned as a more narrowly defined mission and command?

And secondly, in Washington right now there's a tremendous amount of discussion about Russian involvement in U.S. politics and the election system; is this going to be a discussion, I mean does that rise to the level of security threat that's going to be discussed among defence ministers and what do you make right now of Russian involvement in the U.S. political system? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg: First, on cyber, we are strengthening our capabilities when it comes to protecting NATO networks but also to help allies protecting their networks, and we have seen a significant increase in the number of attacks against NATO networks, around 60% over the last year, and we have seen global attacks against many NATO allies and many other countries. So this is a threat we have to take very seriously. We are sharing more information, we are exercising, we are sharing best practices, we have the centre for excellence in addressing cyber threats in Tallinn, and we have more exercises on cyber.

So we are doing more to share information, share best practices, and to learn from each other, and we have also established a platform for sharing information about malware, cyber attacks, and we saw that for instance during the WannaCry attack that you had a platform where NATO allies but also partners in the European Union can real-time share information about cyber attacks is of critical importance because it helps us responding in the best possible way.

When it comes to different national cyber capabilities, they are as any other national capabilities owned by the nations. Nations own their planes, they own their ships, and they own their cyber capabilities, and they can of course share that with other allies, they can work with other allies and they can deploy them in NATO missions and operations but it's still owned by the nations. So in that sense there is no difference between a nation that owns a ship and deploys that ship in a NATO mission or a nation that owns a cyber capability and deploys that capability as part of a NATO mission. So that's the same and it's about national ownership to capabilities which are deployed and used in NATO missions.

Moderator: We had…

Jens Stoltenberg: Sorry, no, to this ongoing investigation or process in the United States, it's not for me to conclude or to comment on something which has not been concluded in the United States. What I can say is that any interference in national political processes is unacceptable, and that's the case regardless of nation, and therefore that's also one of the reasons why I think it's important that we focus on hybrid threats, on efforts to use cyber as a means to interfere in domestic political processes, and one of the reasons why that is high on the NATO agenda. But I think we have to see the outcome of the process which is now going on in the United States before we start to comment on that.

Moderator: German television, fifth row please, in the middle.

Stefan Leifert (ZDF): Stefan Leifert, German television ZDF. Now the question on the new NATO command structure, can you already say when the decision will be taken on where the two new commands will be located? And second question, does Germany play a role in that decision?

Jens Stoltenberg: What we will decide tomorrow is the basis for further work to outline, which then includes a command for the movement of military equipment forces and ... within Europe. I will not now be specific on exactly where such a command may be located, but I will say that Germany is central in Europe so that's at least what I can say.

Then it's a process which is going on and we will take more detailed decisions when we move into next year and now we hope to agree on the outline and then we have to make decisions also when we move into next year and we'll have a defence ministerial meeting in February which I think will be very crucial for further decisions on the more detailed decisions on the new NATO command structure, including the different geographical locations of the different commands.

Moderator: Reuters, fourth row.

Q (Reuters): Thank you. Coming back to Afghanistan, when you mention increase in troops for Resolute Support do you expect them to be mainly U.S. NATO troops? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: I expect that when it comes to the troops for the Resolute Support, around half would be U.S. and roughly half non-U.S. I'm not able to give you exact figures because we are now in the process of generating the forces, that will be an important issue at the meeting on Thursday, but based on what we have seen so far indications are roughly half U.S., half non-U.S. of the additional forces, which is also actually the case now for the 13,000 troops we have there today. Then of course some nations also have some troops outside the Resolute Support Mission, but when you speak about the troops in the Resolute Support Mission, the NATO mission, it's roughly half-half.

Moderator: Second row, please.

Q (TOLO News): Thank you very much. I'm Parwiz Shamal from TOLO News. The U.S. through the new strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia has increased its pressure on Pakistan for sheltering and supporting Taliban. What kind of pressure NATO can bring on Pakistan to eliminate the terrorist sanctuaries?

Jens Stoltenberg: This has been raised directly with Pakistan several times, both by the United States at the political level, but also by the commanders we have in…, NATO commanders and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, and we will continue to raise it with Pakistan. And as I said, the Director of the International Military Staff here recently visited Pakistan and this was one of the issues he of course raised with Pakistan. No country should provide any kind of sanctuary to Taliban or the terrorists because that just makes the fight against the terrorists more difficult.

Moderator: Vijesti from Montenegro.

Q (Vijesti): Mr. Stoltenberg, we heard earlier form NATO that there will be no NATO bases in Montenegro, but recently anti-NATO opposition leader said that there will be like two NATO bases in recent years. Can you comment on that? Is that true? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: There will be no NATO activity, no NATO bases, no NATO facilities in any way in Montenegro without the consent of the Government of Montenegro, and that's the case for all NATO allies. So NATO is only present in a way that is welcomed by the nations and sometimes NATO provides funding for infrastructure, we have exercises, and that kind of activities; I don’t call that a NATO base, I will call that NATO activities. So there are no plans for NATO bases, meaning a big NATO base, but of course there are NATO activities that will take place in Montenegro but that's something that takes places only because we are invited by Montenegro because Montenegro is a NATO ally.

Moderator: Gentleman in the back.

Q: Going back to cyber security, you mentioned the WannaCry malware. I was hoping to ask are there other specific threats to cyber security, and particularly does NATO have reason to believe that Russia is currently an active cybersecurity threat? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: I didn’t get the first question. The first question was…?

Q: Are there other specific threats to NATO cybersecurity besides WannaCry malware?

Jens Stoltenberg: Yeah, there are many, many threats. We have seen many attacks, several hundreds attacks, and almost daily we see attacks against NATO networks, but that's everything from small incidents to any serious attacks where our experts have to go in and help to stop them. So the numbers are high but the degree of seriousness varies of course. And this is about attacks against NATO networks; we have of course cyber networks at all our headquarters but also when you have NATO missions and operations we are dependent on cyber networks and we are focused on how to protect and defend them.

One of the challenges with cyberattacks is of course the question of attribution; who is behind? That's one of the big challenges, to identify the side who is behind the attack. So one of the issues we are addressing together with allies is how can we improve the technology, the methods to identify who is behind the cyberattack attribution. And again, exercises, technology, is ways to improve the way we are doing that.

Several NATO allies have reported that they have seen cyberattacks which Russia is behind, and I think we have to remember that there are both nations, state actors, and non-state actors that are behind cyberattacks. For instance, when I visited Korea and Japan there was a lot of focus on that also North Korea is responsible for and has developed advanced methods or tools for conducting cyberattacks. So there are many.

Moderator: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.