by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers by teleconference
NATO Defence Ministers have just met to decide on the next steps in our response to COVID-19.
NATO’s core task is to continue delivering credible and effective deterrence and defence. That is what we have done throughout the pandemic.
We have taken all the necessary measures to ensure our forces remain ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat.
Because it is essential that this health crisis does not become a security crisis.
NATO and Allied militaries have also played a key role supporting the civilian response to COVID-19.
This includes the airlift of essential medical supplies, transport of patients, and constructing field hospitals.
Medical authorities around the world have warned that we could see a second wave in the pandemic.
So NATO is preparing to provide strong support to civilian efforts if that happens.
Today, ministers took three decisions.
We agreed a new operation plan. To provide support to Allies and partners.
We also agreed to establish a stockpile of medical equipment and supplies.
And we agreed on a new fund, to enable us to quickly acquire medical supplies and services.
I welcome that many Allies have offered to donate medical equipment to the stockpile.
And to contribute to the financing.
This is a sign of Allied unity and solidarity.
Just as Allies have supported one another, and our partners, in the first wave of COVID-19, we stand ready to support each other should a second wave of the pandemic strike. To reduce suffering, and to save lives.
We will also work closely with the European Union and other international partners.
And we will step up our broader preparations to respond to any type of health crisis in the future.
Ministers also discussed national resilience.
We need to protect our critical infrastructure. Such as civil transportation, energy, and communications. Resilience is our first line of defence, and our collective security depends upon it.
So today, ministers decided to update NATO’s guidelines for national resilience to take greater account of cyber threats, the security of supply chains, and consequences of foreign ownership and control.
I am also glad that we were joined by the High Representative/Vice President Borrell, and our close partners Finland, and Sweden.
And we have intensified our cooperation with the EU in recent months. In areas including cyber defence and countering disinformation.
Our strategic partnership makes both the EU and NATO stronger and safer.
And as we look to NATO 2030, I am convinced that we must take an even more global approach. Working with like-minded countries.
So I am pleased that we were also joined by the defence minister of our close partner Australia. Participating in a meeting of this type for the first time.
Some of our partners may be far away, but we face many of the same challenges. And we share the same values. So it simply makes sense that we should work even more closely together.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
Piers Cazalet [NATO Deputy Spokesperson]: And for the first question we have Giulia Torbidoni from Agenzia Nova.
Giulia Torbidoni [Agenzia Nova]: Hi. Hi, Mr Secretary General, can you hear me?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, absolutely.
Giulia Torbidoni: Yeah. On a potential second wave of COVID-19 and the associated risks of disinformation, I would like to ask, which . . . which lesson, if I can use this word, have Allies and North America and Europe learned from the first wave of COVID-19 and how do you think to work on this issue? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: So we have seen many examples throughout this pandemic that both state actors and non-state actors have to . . . tried to utilise the crisis, to divide Allies, to undermine trust in our democratic institutions. We have seen efforts to try to blame NATO Allies for the whole pandemic, for the coronavirus. And we have seen that being done in many different ways, including, of course, by using social media.
We are responding to propaganda and disinformation. We are helping Allies to get the facts. We are sharing facts and information with Allies. And we are also working very closely with the European Union, because we are faced with very many of the same types of disinformation and propaganda.
I don’t believe that the answer to propaganda is propaganda. I believe that the best way to respond to propaganda is by providing the facts. In the long run, the truth will prevail. And I also strongly believe that the best response to disinformation and propaganda is to have free, independent media, journalists that do their work, who ask a difficult question, who check their sources. And by doing that, they are able then to reveal that when there are attempts of disinformation and propaganda. So a free and independent press is the best way to make sure that we get the correct information, especially in times of crisis.
Piers Cazalet: And for the next question we will go to Damon Wake from Agence France Presse.
Damon Wake [Agence France Presse]: Good afternoon, Secretary General, thank you for the question. I would like to ask about the recent incident involving a French vessel with Operation Sea Guardian and the Turkish Navy. Obviously, France has made its allegations about what happened, Turkey has responded. I’d like to know what steps NATO will take to investigate the incident and to prevent any further similar incidents? And more broadly, should NATO Allies respect UN arms embargoes?
Jens Stoltenberg: The incident in the Mediterranean was addressed in the meeting by several Allies. My message is that we have made sure that NATO military authorities are investigating the incident to bring full clarity into what happened. And I think that’s the best way now to deal with that, to clarify actually what happened.
Then, when it comes to UN resolutions, UN arms embargo, NATO, of course, supports the implementation of UN decisions, including UN arms embargoes. And I have stated that many times on behalf of the Alliance that, of course, we not only support the implementation of the UN decisions, but we also support the efforts of the UN to find a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict.
Piers Cazalet: And for the next question, we move to Brooks Tigner from Jane’s.
Brooks Tigner [Jane’s]: Hello.
Jens Stoltenberg: I can hear you.
Brooks Tigner: Can you hear? Can you hear me? Yes. Yes. Sorry to drag you back, drag you back to some decisions from yesterday, but there wasn’t time to ask all the questions. I have a question about NATO’s balanced package regarding Russia’s growing missile capabilities. NATO will need to boost that. And I wanted to ask two questions about that. Given that NATO’s ballistic missile defence system was not designed against Russia, I’m wondering, does the Alliance need to consider a new conventional missile defence system? And secondly, would that raise the cost of NATO’s common funds to cover that and the other balanced package measures? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is responding to the new Russian missiles with a balanced package, with different military and political elements, from working on arms control, disarmament, non-proliferation and also conventional capabilities.
But one of the elements are, or, one of the elements is, as you mentioned, air and missile defence. And we have decided that we need to strengthen our air and missile defence. Several NATO Allies are already investing and have plans to increase their investments in air and missile defence capabilities. This includes, of course, some advanced aircraft, but also land-based systems like Patriot batteries and SAMP/T batteries. These are national capabilities owned by nations. But these air and missile batteries are part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defence, where they share information, where they are able to work together, where they have full interoperability.
So the reality is that national capabilities are plugged into the integrated NATO air and missile defence, also sharing radar pictures and working together. Some of these elements are funded by the NATO budget, but the bulk of the costs are related to the national investments in national air and missile capabilities. And they will increase, because Allies having to have agreed to invest more in air and missile defence. Yeah, that was . . . you had two questions?
Brooks Tigner: Yes. The other question was whether the NATO’s common fund will have to go up to cover the … .
Jens Stoltenberg: Well, I’m sorry, but I think I addressed that. Of course, one part of this is … the bulk of the costs are covered by the nations. And then there are some elements covered by the NATO common-funded budget. We decide on that every time we decide on the budget. But the main issue here is related to the fact that Allies are investing more in defence and that enables them also to invest more in air and missile defence.
Piers Cazalet: Okay, for the next question we’ll move to Epp Ehand, from the Estonian Public Broadcaster.
Epp Ehand [Estonian Public Broadcasting]: Hello. Thank you very much. Yesterday it appeared that Turkey has again blocked the defence of Baltic States and Poland. It seems to be like hostage-taking or blackmailing situation. How it will be solved, and when it will be solved?
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has plans in place to defend all Allies. And we have more than plans, we have capabilities in place to defend all Allies. And we have proven again and again that these forces, these capabilities are ready and we have increased readiness. We have increased our capabilities, invested more in modern capabilities, including by deploying combat-ready battlegroups to the Baltic countries, including Estonia.
So we have plans and we have capabilities. Then these plans are regularly updated. And of course, that sometimes requires some discussions amongst Allies because these plans are important. But rest assured, we have plans and we have the will and we have the capabilities to defend all Allies against any threats.
Piers Cazalet: Now we will move to Lailuma Sadid from Afghanistan Voice.
Lailuma Sadid [Afghanistan Voice]: Thank you very much. How does NATO see the peace process going forward and it is … [inaudible]. And second question, Taliban killed thousands of Afghan citizens, military and non-military. They still demand our government to release all of their prisoner before they are starting intra-Afghan dialogue. But America is asking to not release those 200 Talibans, which has killed US military. Do you support US request to not release the 200 Talibans? If yes, where is the human rights and how do you see this procedure? Because 5,000 Talibans which has killed Afghans, they want to release them, but not 200 that killed Americans. Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies support the peace efforts, and we are closer to real intra-Afghan negotiations now than I think we have ever been before. And I welcome that.
At the same time, we all realise that the situation in Afghanistan is difficult, we still see violence and we see attacks. We see that there is still a long way to go before we have a lasting and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. But we welcome the efforts and we welcome the fact that we are closer.
We highlight strongly that the Taliban has to live up to their commitments in the agreement they made with the United States. I was in Kabul when the agreement was signed. And I expressed also my support to the peace efforts on behalf of NATO.
Then one part of this agreement, the US-Taliban agreement is, as you mentioned, the release of prisoners on both sides. That’s part of the agreement. That’s the way to create the conditions for intra-Afghan negotiations. And I’m absolutely certain that the only way to reach a political, sustainable, peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is to have an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. Therefore, intra-Afghan negotiations are so important.
When it comes to exactly which prisoners are, that are going to be released, I don’t think it’s right if I started to comment on that. I just hope that we will be able, and the parties in Afghanistan will be able, to move forward and then get intra-Afghan negotiations up and going.
Piers Cazalet: For the next question, we will go to Teri Schultz of Deutsche Welle.
Teri Schultz [Deutsche Welle]: Secretary General, I wanted to ask about arms control. Clearly, that’s something that’s been on the agenda at this ministerial and the US and Russia will have talks on Monday that may or may not lead into the sides agreeing to extend New START. With the INF falling apart, you said that NATO needs to adjust to a post-INF world. So I wanted to know what kind of lessons you are learning at the moment, if you could share some . . . something of that with us? And also, how important is it that the US and Russia extend New START at this moment? Thanks very much.
Jens Stoltenberg: So first of all, we have a long history in NATO of supporting and playing a role in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. And we continue to do that, because we strongly believe that arms control is extremely important for our own security. A new arms race will be extremely costly and it will be dangerous. That’s the reason why we strongly regretted the demise of the INF Treaty caused by Russia’s deployment of SSC-8 missiles, clearly in violation of the treaty. That’s also the reason why we support efforts to have strategic talks that can make sure that we also have effective arms control related to strategic weapons.
We welcome the fact that the United States is now consulting closely with other NATO Allies. The New START is a bilateral agreement between Russia and the United States, but of course, it is of importance for all Allies. So Special Envoy Billingslea, he has briefed Allies and the United States will continue to consult with Allies as they continue the dialogue with Russia.
We have also stated that, of course, it is important to have agreements between Russia and the United States, which are balanced and verifiable. But we also need to address the need for China to be part of strategic arms control arrangements, because China is investing now heavily in new strategic weapons, long-range weapon systems, ballistic . . . intercontinental ballistic missiles. And therefore, China as a rising global military power has global responsibility to be part of global arms control.
So, of course, this is an issue which all Allies are concerned about. We welcome the consultations between US and NATO Allies, and then we hope that we will be able to reach agreements that can ensure that we, at least, don’t weaken the system of arms control, but hopefully we are actually able to strengthen the arms control architecture, because that has served us well for many, many years.
The last thing I would say that, is that NATO has significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe by roughly 90 per cent. But we have maintained a nuclear deterrence in Europe, because that’s the ultimate security guarantee for European NATO Allies.
Piers Cazalet: And for the next question, we move to Michael Birnbaum from The Washington Post.
Michael Birnbaum [The Washington Post]: Thanks, Secretary General. You’re at work on a review of your China strategy. You’ve also been talking about resilience. And NATO also occasionally touches on issues of foreign interference in elections. I wanted to ask if you thought it would be appropriate for the leader of a NATO country to ask Xi Jinping to take actions to boost his or her chances of re-election and how doing so might affect the discussions you’re having at the Alliance about China? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: Allies have expressed again and again that we need to address the consequences of the rise of China. And that was clearly stated at the NATO Leaders Meeting in December. And for the first time, NATO leaders stated that we, of course, not only have to address the opportunities, but also the challenges related to the rise of China. And we also stated clearly that China is coming closer to us, partly because they have weapons systems, investing in weapons systems that can reach all Allies and partly because they are investing, increasing their presence in the Arctic, in Africa, but also in infrastructure in our own countries, in NATO-Allied countries. And, of course, any attempt to undermine trust in our democratic institutions will undermine, will be absolutely contradicting the core values of this Alliance, because we are actually there to try to uphold and strengthen democratic institutions.
We are an Alliance based on democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty. But I will not comment on something that is actually related to a book I haven’t read. So therefore, that’s not for me to go into.
Piers Cazalet: And now we will move to Alexandra Brzovski from EURACTIV.
Alexandra Brzovski [EURACTIV]: Secretary General, I have two questions, if I may? The first concerns the US troop withdrawal plans. Polish President Andrzej Duda has been invited to visit Mr Trump on June 24th to talk about defence cooperation. Has the possibility of moving US troops from Germany to Poland been discussed today and has NATO received more information about the timeframe of the plans? And my second question would be, if there has been any progress on potentially EU-NATO cooperation with Operation Irini?
Jens Stoltenberg: At the ministerial meeting, Allies discussed US presence in Europe, US military presence in Europe and Allies highlighted the importance of US presence in Europe. Secretary Esper updated Allies on the US intention to reduce the number of troops in Germany, but at the same time, he reiterated clearly the strong US commitment to European security and that the United States will consult with NATO Allies on the way forward. It is clear that no final decision has been taken on when and how this intention of reducing US troops in Germany will be implemented.
At the same time, what we have seen over the last years is not a reduction, but actually an increase in the number of US troops in Europe. But that goes beyond Germany because US presence in Europe is not only about Germany, it is about what we have seen in many European countries that we have more US presence, like, for instance, in the Baltic countries, in the Black Sea Region, but also in Poland, where the US is leading a battlegroup. And that’s the first time we have this kind of NATO presence, a multinational battlegroup led by the United States in Poland.
I welcome, of course, that Allied leaders meet and talk. But there was no specific discussion about the composition of the US presence - where the US troops are going to be deployed in the future in Europe. It was a strong expression of support for US presence in Europe and a strong expression of US commitment to European security by Secretary Esper.
Piers Cazalet: And for our final question, we will go to Ansgar Haase from DPA.
Ansgar Haase [DPA]: Secretary General, given that a second Corona wave could come soon, when is the stockpile ready? Will it be ready by fall? And can you give us some figures, for example, how much money is planned for the fund and how much ventilators, how many masks . . . masks will be stored? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: This is a flexible fund and a flexible stockpile, meaning that we have now agreed to establish it. Then we call on Allies to provide and some made the announcements already today. So I believe that some of these especially in-kind contributions will be available very soon. But exactly how big it will be? How . . . will depend on how much different, how many Alldies will contribute. So we are now creating the framework, the mechanisms, both for the fund and for the stockpile and Allies already at this meeting today made announcements, specific announcements about funding and about in-kind contributions. But the size, it’s too early to say, because that depends fully on the total amount of commitments from different NATO Allies.
Piers Cazalet: That’s all we have time for today. Thank you very much, everybody, for joining us. I pass back to the Secretary General for some final words.
Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much for joining me today, and stay safe and stay healthy. Thank you.