June 28, 2017: Pre-Ministerial Press Briefing

Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Ahead of the Meeting of NATO Defense Ministers

June 28, 2017

From NATO

(As delivered)

Good morning.

Last month, NATO’s Heads of State and Government decided to step up efforts to fight terrorism and more fairly share the burden of our security. Tomorrow, Defence Ministers will meet to take those decisions forward and further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence.

A few days ago, we marked a historic achievement. NATO’s four multinational battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland are now fully operational. A clear demonstration that our Alliance stands united in the face of any possible aggression.

Last week I visited Latvia and Lithuania. I saw Canadian troops leading forces in Europe for the first time in decades and I watched two of these battlegroups exercise together for the first time. This is real transatlantic solidarity in action: Europeans and North Americans working as one for our shared security. We are also making progress in strengthening our presence in the Black Sea region with a land element based on our multinational framework brigade in Romania. But to keep our nations safe, we need to keep working for increased defence spending and fairer burden-sharing across our Alliance. We have started to move in the right direction and today, I can announce even greater progress. I am able to share with you our final defence spending figures for 2016, and estimates for 2017.

After years of decline, in 2015 we saw a real increase in defence spending across European Allies and Canada. In 2016, this continued and this year, in 2017, we foresee an even greater annual real increase of 4.3%. That is three consecutive years of accelerating defence spending. This means, over the last three years, European Allies and Canada spent almost 46 billion US dollars more on defence. So we have really shifted gears. The trend is up and we intend to keep it up. Twenty-five Allies plan to increase defence spending in real terms this year. Last year, five Allies met NATO’s benchmark of spending 2% of GDP on defence. This year, we expect Romania to join them and in 2018, Latvia and Lithuania will spend 2% of GDP on defence as well. Allies’ national plans will ensure we maintain the momentum. The first set of reports on national plans will be completed by December, and reviewed by defence ministers in February. The reports will cover cash, contributions to missions and operations; and the capabilities we need. Tomorrow, I expect Allies will agree to new capability targets. These set out areas where we plan to improve further. Including heavy equipment, air-to-air refuelling, and more forces able to move at even shorter notice.  As NATO develops capabilities, it is important to make the most of limited resources, and avoid duplication. That’s one reason why NATO and the European Union are working more closely together than ever before.

Tomorrow, I will present a progress report on NATO-EU cooperation to ministers, jointly authored by myself and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. The report sets out how our organisations are working together on issues ranging from resilience to hybrid threats and support for partners. We will look into further ways to expand our cooperation by the end of this year.

Tomorrow we will also take stock of NATO’s work to fight terrorism. Last month, the Alliance joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  This not only sends a strong message of unity in the fight against terrorism; it also serves as a platform for practical cooperation. NATO is now fully integrated into the information-sharing and decision-making structures of the Coalition and we have already stepped up our support with more flight-time and information sharing by our AWACS surveillance aircraft. In Iraq, NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative, Paul Smith, took up office earlier this month. He will lead our efforts to strengthen the Iraqi security institutions, and oversee our training for Iraqi forces. At NATO Headquarters, our new Intelligence Division is now up and running. And within the division, a new Hybrid Branch and a Terrorism Intelligence Cell have become operational this week.  Their work will help us better understand and counter the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters. NATO’s work to fight terrorism involves many different initiatives. Ranging from intelligence to capacity building and training, from Europe to the Middle East. And I am pleased to announce that I have just appointed Rose Gottemoeller, my Deputy Secretary General, to coordinate the Alliance’s efforts. Her appointment demonstrates that fighting terrorism is a top priority at the highest levels of NATO.

We will close the ministerial with a meeting on Afghanistan. Where our Resolute Support Mission helps ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism.

We have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow. So with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR:   Alright, I guess this gentleman here in the second row.

Q: EURONEWS. Secretary General what’s your assessment of the latest cyber attack including on some member States? And is NATO doing anything additional to protect the members?

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): The cyber attacks we saw in May but also, we have seen this week just underlines the importance of strengthening our cyber defenses, and that’s exactly what NATO is doing. We are implementing our cyber defense pledge which is ensuring that we are strengthening the cyber defenses of both NATO networks but also helping NATO allies to strengthen their cyber defenses. We exercise more, we share best practices and technology and we also work more and more closely with all allies looking into how we can integrate their capabilities, strengthening NATO’s capability to defend our networks. We have also decided that a cyber attack can trigger Article 5 and we have also decided and we are in the process of establishing cyber as a military domain meaning that we will have land, air, sea and cyber as military domains. All of this highlights the advantage of being an alliance of 29 allies because we can work together, strengthen each other and and learn from each other.

MODERATOR: Yes, please here in the front row.

Q: Mr. Secretary General you are quite aware of the ongoing insecurity in Afghanistan and the Taliban and the ISIS are actually gaining ground on daily basis. We know that you are discussing the defense expenditures here in this meeting, what does it really mean for Afghanistan?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Increased defense spending also helps to fund NATO’s activities in Afghanistan. And we have decided to continue our presence to maintain our military operations there.  As you know it’s not a combat operation anymore but what NATO does in Afghanistan is to train, assist and advise the Afghan forces enabling them to take over and to be responsible for security in their own country. And the situation in Afghanistan is difficult. We have seen the Taliban and terrorist groups killing hundreds of civilians just the last weeks but for me this just underscores the importance of NATO continuing to help the Afghans because the Afghan security forces have also proven capable, professional and able to cope with Taliban and different terrorist groups and responding to the many different attacks. But defense spending, increased NATO defense spending enables also to fund our presence in Afghanistan and it also enables us to continue to provide funding for the Afghan forces because NATO allies spend money for their own forces in Afghanistan but they also provide significant financial support for the Afghan forces and we will continue to do so, we have decided to continue our funding on Afghan forces at least until 2020.

MODERATOR: Yes, please Michael.

Q: Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. How much of this year’s defense spending increase would you attribute to the push from the Trump Administration? Obviously, these numbers are approved long in advance, so I’m curious how this year’s political push has affected this year’s spending – if it has at all.

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we see is that since we made the pledge to start to increase defense spending NATO allies have really started to deliver. The first year after we made the pledge in 2015 was the first year after many years of decline that we saw an increase in defense spending across Canada and Europe. Then that continued in 2016 and in 2017 we expect an even greater increase. So, this is an implementation, what we see now is the implementation of the defense investment pledge and it is a significant increase we have seen over several years and in total $46 billion U.S. dollars, more for defense across Europe and Canada. I welcome the strong focus of President Trump on defense spending and burden sharing because it is important that we deliver, that we implement what we have agreed. At the same time, I have highly or I have strongly stressed, or underlined that European allies should invest more in defense not only to please the United States but they should invest more in defense because it is in their own interests and because they have participated in decisions and committed to increase defense spending. So, I welcome the focus of the President on increased defense spending.  At the same time it’s important to understand that this is implementation of a decision we all made together and I welcome also the fact that we are now implementing and delivering on that pledge.

MODERATOR: Yes, please Robin, second row.

Q: Thanks, Robin Emmett, Reuters. Do you know at this stage what the 2017 money will be spent on? Do you know if this money is going towards soldiers’ pensions or it’s actually going on hardware? And a second question related, if the money that you’ve now cumulatively gained is $46 billion do you have any sense of the amount of time lost in the catch up necessary? I mean where the capability gap still remains, thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The money, the $46 billion U.S. dollars will be spent on many different things. It will be spent on new investments. More and more allies are investing more in new equipment and it will also of course be spent on more exercises and it will be spent on salaries and pensions. That’s part of funding capable military forces is that you have to pay the salaries, you have to pay the pensions but you have also to invest in capabilities, equipment and exercises and missions and operations like for instance in Afghanistan or in Kosovo or fighting ISIS. So, the $46 billion and a total defense spending in the Alliance will of course be allocated to many different purposes. But I think it’s extremely important to understand the link between increased defense spending and the capability targets we are going to decide tomorrow because an important part of NATO is to coordinate the efforts of all the 29 allies so we complement, and strengthen each other. And that’s the reason why we have this NATO defense planning process where we identify gaps, where we identify where we need specific more equipment and capabilities and then we invest in them in a coordinated way. And the capability targets will then identify the gaps where we need to invest more and the funding will then provide the money to pay for investments in those capabilities.

MODERATOR: Yes, please gentleman in the third row.

Q: Mr. Secretary General back to cyber security issues. Which practical steps can NATO take on Ukraine due to latest cyber attacks? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO helps Ukraine with improving its cyber defenses. NATO has established a trust fund for cyber defense where we finance the programs, the activities we do; so NATO experts … NATO provides help to Ukraine to improve its cyber defenses. And I think that the cyber attacks we have seen this week very much highlight the importance of the support, the help NATO provides … gives … or provides to Ukraine to strengthen its cyber defenses, technical and other kinds of support. We will continue to do that and it’s an important part of our cooperation with Ukraine.

Let me just move back to the previous question on defense spending. We will be able to share more detailed figures and numbers with you on specific allies, individual allies tomorrow. Now we’re able to publish the aggregated figures when we have presented the disaggregated figures tomorrow to the 29 Ministers then we will also share that with you.

MODERATOR: Yes, please here in the middle in the third row.

Q: Polish Press Agency: Mr. Secretary General you mentioned the battle groups on the Eastern flank. On the first day of July President Trump will visit Poland, do you expect any new decisions, commitments regarding the U.S. military presence in Poland and on the Eastern flank? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think the U.S. should comment on what the President will announce and say and do in Poland. But what I can say is that I welcome very much that President Trump is going to Poland. He will meet with Polish leaders but also with leaders from many other NATO allies in the Central and Eastern part of our Alliance, I welcome also that. The important thing is that NATO is increasing its presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance in a proportionate, defensive, measured way. At the same time the U.S. is partly part of the NATO – or the increased NATO presence – but on top of the increased NATO presence the U.S. is also increasing its bi-lateral presence in Poland and other countries in Europe. Of course, that’s part of the total NATO response and in the budget proposal which the President has put forward for the Congress he proposes a 40 percent increase for U.S. troops – or for U.S. military presence in Europe which provides more money for troops, for equipment, for pre-positioned supplies, ammunitions and also for more exercises. And I visited Lithuania and Latvia last week and I saw how U.S. troops now are exercising together with other NATO troops in that part of Europe. Let me also add that part of the increased U.S. presence is that the U.S. will now have a new armoured brigade in Europe in addition to the two brigades that are already here. So, this is a significant increase of U.S. presence and I think that’s the strongest sign of NATO solidarity of U.S. commitment to Article 5, the fact that the U.S. is increasing its military presence in Europe. Actions speak louder than words and it’s good to see that down in words and it’s good to see that the U.S. is now increasing its presence in Europe.

MODERATOR: Yes, gentleman in …

Q: Le Soir: Secretary General back to Afghanistan, do you expect tomorrow a decision regarding the next level of troops in Afghanistan? And secondly as NATO is now fully integrated in the decision making in the coalition against ISIL are you worried about recent reports days after days about civilian casualties in this fight? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on Afghanistan, we will discuss the future of our mission in Afghanistan. We have already agreed that we will maintain our presence. We will now look into the exact force levels and our military commanders have asked for a few thousand more troops. We will look into that request and there’s ongoing force generation process in NATO where different allies are also announcing how many troops they are able to provide. Hopefully I can tell you more about specific troop numbers tomorrow. I don’t think I will have the final number but I guess I will be able to tell you a bit more about announcements from different countries, so I will be able to say some more about at least some numbers related to NATO presence in Afghanistan. Then of course we are always concerned about civilian casualties and I know that all NATO troops and all NATO allies are always very focused on how can they avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but also of course in Iraq and Syria.  But as you know the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan is a NATO mission but in Syria and Iraq NATO is not participating in combat operations. We train Iraqi officers and we provide support to the air operations by the coalition over Syria and Iraq but NATO as such is not part of the military operations in Syria.  But I am absolutely certain that all NATO allies are extremely focused on how can they minimize civilian casualties.

MODERATOR: Gentleman just behind.

Q: Lorne Cook from the Associated Press. If I can follow up on the Afghan question. NATO took over ISAF in 2003, wound ISAF down, went to Resolute Support, train, advise, assist.  Now we seem to be ramping back up again. We’re also talking about accompanying troops as well. It’s very hard from the outside not to draw the conclusion that things are ramping up again. I mean is there mission creep?  Can you assure us that we’re not heading back toward combat?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, there’s no requests, no plans to go back to combat operations. We – as you said – we for many years NATO conducted big or combat operations in Afghanistan; it was our biggest combat operation and then in 2015 we were able to hand over responsibility for the security in Afghanistan to the Afghan’s themselves and I think that there are many problems and many challenges and many difficulties and still uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan but at least one important achievement is that NATO has been able to train, to build Afghan army and security forces which are now capable of taking over responsibility for the security in their own country. That is at least a very important step forward. We are not planning to go back to combat operations but we are looking into the exact troop levels in our train, assist and advise mission. So, this is more about adjusting, making sure that we have the right troops and the right troop levels or numbers to be able to fulfill the mission to train, assist and advise. And we are particularly looking into how we can train more special operation forces in Afghanistan.  We know they have been key in countering the Taliban attacks and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. They have proven extremely professional and they have shown bravery but we need to strengthen and to increase the special operation capacity of the Afghan forces. We are helping them with building air forces, we’re training pilots so they can have their own air force.  That is also key to be able to fight the Taliban and terrorist organizations and how to improve leadership. So, we will also train more and educate more Afghan officers.

MODERATOR: Yes, Ana in the fourth row.

Q: Thank you Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency EUROPA PRESS: You’ve mentioned the $46 billion figure but could you tell us what the 4.3 amounts to for the increase of 2017? And I’m not too clear on what we have to expect, I think it’s $12 billion but I don’t know if you can confirm it. And I don’t know what we can expect exactly in terms of concrete decisions on the capabilities front, I mean is it just the normal regular defense NATO planning where NATO tells each of the member States where they have to step up and which capabilities or what they have to do whether it’s force protection or others, is this what we’re expecting for tomorrow because normally that’s those kind of decisions are not really public. So, I just want to understand what we, what we’ll get tomorrow. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Tomorrow we will publish specific figures on all the individual allies which shows how we reached 4.3 percent because that’s of course is when we add the different allies we reach 4.3 percent real increase from 2016 to 2017 and you’re right that’s about $12 billion U.S. dollars. And again, you’ll have more details tomorrow because we want to share these figures with the Ministers first and then we will publish the figures. That’s about defense spending. You will have you know in nominal terms, in real terms, as percents of GDP, the real increase and the nominal increase.  You have a lot of figures you can look into tomorrow. But when it comes to the capability targets that’s not … we don’t publish that report because that’s of course about all the specific capabilities we are developing in NATO and which are assigned to different NATO allies. But we can tomorrow also share with you some aggregated figures illustrating what kind of capabilities we are looking into, or which we are going to invest in.  In general I think it’s right to say that what we will do is to invest more in more heavier forces, more armour, more enablers like for instance air to air refuelling, air defenses and also increased readiness and the preparedness of our forces so they can move more quickly. And also, to increase the number of forces and troops. So, all of this is again linked to the defense investment pledge which will provide more funding which then can be used to invest in high end and heavier capabilities.

MODERATOR: Gentleman just behind.

Q: Russian Independent Newspaper: Mr. Stoltenberg, you have talked about Lithuania and Latvia so could you please tell us how many NATO troops right now standing in all three Baltic States, I mean Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: It is around 1,000 troops in each of the battle groups. So, somewhere between 4 … about 4,000 troops in total. Then of course you have national home defense forces in addition and there’s also some U.S. bi-lateral presence in Poland and some other countries. What NATO does is defensive, it is proportionate and compared to the tens of thousands of Russian troops we see on the other side of the border I think it’s obvious what we do in the Baltic countries and Poland is a defensive and proportionate response.

MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions. So, gentleman at the back.

Q:  Montenegro became a member just a few weeks ago and this is our first Ministerial. What do you expect from Montenegro on this Ministerial?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I look forward to welcoming Montenegro and to have Montenegro around the table and Montenegro will have equal say, equal seat, equal place in the Alliance together with all other allies. Montenegro will contribute to the Alliance in many different ways. The fact that Montenegro has joined the Alliance contributes to stability in the Western Balkans, that is important for Montenegro but it’s also important for the whole of Europe and the whole of NATO. And I also welcome the fact that Montenegro has increased defense spending, so they’re also helping to deliver on the defense investment pledge we made before Montenegro joined but I welcome the fact that Montenegro is increasing defense spending.

MODERATOR: One more question, over in the corner here.

Q: My colleague will translate to you the question.

INTERPRETED: Okay the question is that as Afghanistan and its international allies have been eyeing for peace for years now, we wonder if NATO and the Russian government considering the Russians recent approach to the Taliban are on the same page?

JENS STOLTENBERG: For us the important thing is that we support the Afghan Unity government, that we support and help the Afghan forces to develop and to strengthen their capabilities and capacities. I have seen the reports about more contacts between Russia and Taliban but I’m not able to confirm anything about what kind of contact that has been. But I can just underline the importance of full support to an Afghan-led peace process. We support efforts to find a peaceful, negotiated solution also to the conflict in Afghanistan. I welcome the fact that President Ghani has launched a new process for reconciliation. It was a meeting there earlier this month.  And also the fact that President Ghani was able to convene the meeting and to take this initiative for a peaceful solution to the conflict … to the crisis or conflict in Afghanistan despite of the attacks and the violence that we have seen in Afghanistan recently. But this should be an Afghan owned and Afghan-led process. So, as long as Russia is willing to contribute and help to an Afghan-led process I welcome it. I think the key is to make sure the Afghans are able to solve their own problems and we should help them in doing that.

MODERATOR: Okay ladies and gentlemen thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.