by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels
So good morning.
Today and tomorrow, NATO Defence Ministers will meet and address a wide range of pressing security issues.
Among them is the INF Treaty. Russia continues to violate the INF Treaty by deploying new intermediate-range nuclear capable missiles, the SSC-8 missiles. These missiles are hard to detect, mobile and can reach European cities, so this is something which is of great concern for all of us. We will continue to call on Russia to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty.
We will also address burden-sharing. I welcome the fact that across Europe and Canada we see now that Allies are stepping up, investing more in defence. European Allies and Canada will have added 41 billion extra US dollars to their defence spending since 2016, over the last 2 years. And I expect this number to rise to 100 billion dollars by the end of next year. So we are making progress on burden-sharing.
We will also discuss NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Kosovo.
And then I’m really looking forward to welcoming defence minister Radmila Sekerinska, representing the Republic of North Macedonia. Participating here as an invitee to the NATO defence ministerial meeting for the first time.
We will also address many other issues but these are at least already key issues that will be addressed at the meeting.
Q (AFP): Will you be meeting the Russian Foreign Minister in Munich this week to discuss the INF Treaty?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Yes, I expect to meet Minister Lavrov in Munich. And I think it is important to have dialogue with Russia especially when we face so many difficult issues as we face today. With increased tensions, with the violation of the INF Treaty. And therefore I strongly believe in the importance of having dialogue with Russia at different levels, with Minister Lavrov, but also in the NATO-Russia Council. We recently had a meeting in the NATO-Russia Council where the INF Treaty – the violation of the INF Treaty – was one of the main topics. So this is part of an ongoing dialogue with Russia which is important especially when tensions are difficult as they are now.
Q (ARD): On INF, you repeatedly said that there are no NATO plans to deploy nuclear intermediate-range missiles in Europe. What are the options then?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Our main focus now is to preserve the treaty. And there is a window of opportunity for Russia to come back into compliance. Because the withdrawal process will not be finished until August – so there is a six month window for Russia to come back into compliance, and we continue to urge Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty. At the same time, we are planning for a future without the INF Treaty, and with more Russian missiles.
I will not preempt the outcome of this analysis or work at NATO. Because this is very serious, we will take our time. What I can say is that our response will be united, NATO Allies will act together. It will be measured, and it will be defensive, because we don’t want a new arms race. And we don’t have any intention to deploy new nuclear land-based weapons systems in Europe.
Then of course we have wide range of other options – conventional and other options. But I will not speculate about them now. Because if I start to speculate about different options, I would just add to the uncertainty. Commenting on different options is just too early before we have concluded.
So we will address this at the meeting today. We will continue to maintain the unity of the Alliance. We have been very united on the INF issue over many, many years, dating back to the seventies, when we had the dual-track decision. In ‘87, when all NATO Allies supported the INF Treaty banning all the INF weapons, all the intermediate-range weapons. And we have also been united ever since the Obama administration, almost 6 years ago, raised their concerns about the Russian violation of the treaty. And we were united in December last year, where all Allies agreed, based also on collected intelligence, that Russia is in violation of the treaty. And we agreed and were united in the beginning of February, when US announced that they would start the withdrawal process unless Russia comes back into compliance.
Q (Pajhwok): [inaudible]
SECRETARY GENERAL: NATO’s military presence in Afghanistan is about providing, creating the conditions for a political, peaceful solution. The aim is of course not to be in Afghanistan forever. The aim is to be in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and to train, assist and advise the Afghan National Army, security forces, so they can stabilize their own country.
No decision has been taken about any withdrawal. But we strongly support the efforts to reach a political, peaceful settlement. And therefore we are in close contact with the US Special Envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad. He has briefed NATO Allies three times over the last weeks on the efforts to try to reach an agreement with Taliban. I would also like to commend President Ghani for his leadership and the initiative he took last year, with the ceasefire and the peace process he initiated last year. It is important that we have as part of the peace process an Afghan reconciliation process. And of course the Afghan government has to be part of that.
NATO Allies went in together in Afghanistan, we will make decisions on our future posture in Afghanistan together, based on conditions determined together with the Afghans. So we support the peace efforts, and we will of course do whatever we can to fully support the implementation of a peace deal if that is reached.
Q (KTV – Kohavision): In response to your statements yesterday that Kosovo Security Forces cannot go up to north without the permission of KFOR, Prime Minister Haradinaj said that there is no such thing as north or south Kosovo, and the security forces can go wherever they like. What’s your response?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Well, we have an agreement, the Brussels Agreement from 2013 stating clearly that the Kosovo Security Forces cannot go north without the concurrence of the Commander of KFOR, COMKFOR. And we expect that that agreement is still valid, still applies. And this is also something which is stated clearly from many Allies. And I have also expressed that to Mr. Haradinaj that we still expect that that’s the case.
NATO will remain in Kosovo with KFOR, because KFOR is based on a UN mandate. And the KFOR presence, the presence of KFOR, is and has been important for stability in Kosovo and in the whole region. What we are assessing is our presence, our activities outside the KFOR mission. We have different kinds of capacity-building support to the Kosovo Security Forces, which is not part of the KFOR mission, but is NATO activities outside that. And we will address the level of this engagement based on the fact that many Allies believe that the decision to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a Kosovo army was ill-timed, and therefore we need to address the level of our engagement.