Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission at the level of Defence Ministers (February 16)
We just conducted a good meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission. We examined the security situation in Georgia and we consulted on Black Sea security, including NATO’s strengthened presence in the region.
We also addressed Georgia’s progress in implementing defence reforms, particularly the Strategic Defence Review. The Review will create more responsive, efficient and sustainable forces.
Georgia is making good progress working closely with NATO teams to implement the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package. This builds on our existing achievements. A Defence Institution Building School was inaugurated last year. Our Joint Training and Evaluation Centre has completed its first series of training sessions and exercises. And in November, eleven Allies and two partner countries participated in the second NATO-Georgia exercise.
NATO is strongly committed to Georgia’s security and territorial integrity. We are concerned by Russia’s deepening relations with the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia. We call on Russia to reverse its recognition of these regions and to withdraw its forces from Georgia.
And we will continue to work together and to provide the practical tools to help Georgia advance toward eventual NATO membership.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Okay we go to NPR, third row.
Q: Mr. Secretary General in your earlier news conference you mentioned the letter from the Libyan Prime Minister. Can you tell us more about what exactly they’re asking for? NATO has long said, for years, that you’re ready to help Libya. What kind of training do you think might be a good match at this point given the situation inside Libya? Where is it conceivable that such training could take place? And how far can you go with a government that is, is in such a fragile situation itself? Thanks.
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): We have said for some time that we are ready to help Libya. But of course any NATO assistance to Libya has to be based on request from the Libyan Government, from the Government of National Accord. This request was the request we received yesterday. So we are, we have just started to look into what kind of help and support but the request is about help for building security and defence institutions and that’s also what NATO has stated clearly that we are ready to help them with building institutions. It is extremely important to have good institutions, minister of defence, command, chief of staff, joint chief of staffs and other defence institutions because we need … Libya needs that framework to be able to develop their forces and stabilize their country. So we are working with the UN recognized Government of National Accord. I met with Prime Minister Sarraj several times and we met recently and now this request has been forwarded to NATO. So now we will start to work and look into exactly what kind of assistance we can provide but it’s related to institution building, helping them with building security and defence institutions. This can of course take place both in Libya but also outside Libya, that’s some of the issues that has not yet been decided.
OANA LUNGESCU: Lady in the third row.
Q: Mr. Secretary General I would like, could you please estimate any ongoing development and perspectives in the NATO Georgia relations and in this context I would like to ask you about the Black Sea regional security. Can you tell us more details about how can be involved Georgia in this process? What is the main role of my country? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have a very close partnership with Georgia covering a wide range of areas and issues and it is important to remember that the partnership between NATO and Georgia is not a one way street, it’s a two way street meaning that we help and support each other. NATO provides support for Georgia when it comes to for instance building defence institutions, helping with implementing reforms and we recognize the progress that Georgia is making. We have agreed on this substantial package which have many different elements but for instance we have just established the defence institution building school, that school was inaugurated last year and its one important tool to help Georgia modernize its different defence institutions and its armed forces. We have also established a joint training centre and the activities on the training centre covers a wide range of different activities and training areas. Several allies announced at the meeting that they will step up the support for the training centre with more personnel; more people and we also conducted joint exercises, NATO Georgia. So we are stepping up, we are increasing these activities, then we are working with Georgia also on the Black Sea region or the challenges we see there. We listen and we get input from Georgia being a Black Sea country, our deputies committee will meet, I think it is in March or at least later on this year, with Georgia and have input from Georgia on the Black Sea security which is part of our assessment of the Black Sea security situation. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly will go to Georgia in May, that will be a big event with many parliamentarians from all the NATO allied countries and partner countries. And the NATO Military Committee will visit and go to Georgia in March. So there is a wide range of activities and we learn from each other, we support each other, exercises, training, capacity building but let me end by underlining the gratitude that was expressed from all allies for the contributions of Georgia to NATO’s presence in Afghanistan. Georgia is by far the largest force contributor outside the alliance and one of the biggest also if you take into account the contributions of forces from NATO allies. Close to 800 troops is a significant Georgian contribution and the German Minister for instance von der Leyen expressed strong gratitude to Georgia for helping them when the German Consulate was under attack, the Georgian soldiers were there to defend them. So Georgia is really contributing and we are very grateful for the great contributions of Georgia to different NATO missions and operations especially in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Politico.
Q: David Herszenhorn with Politico, thanks. I wonder if your meeting you spent any time reflecting on NATO’s failure since 2008 to adjust or change Russia’s policy toward Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and if there are lessons that you’ve drawn from that failure in terms of how to approach the situation in Ukraine?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think we need strategic patience. That was what NATO had during the Cold War and we need it also in the new security situation. What NATO has succeeded in is to provide very strong support for Georgia, political support and practical support and I just outlined all the practical measures we have undertaken with a joint training centre, with the defence institution building … defence institution building school, the different exercises and the many different activities we now are doing together with Georgia. And we have been successful in helping Georgia implementing reforms, modernizing their own defence forces, armed forces, defence institutions and the best way to protect Georgia’s integrity and territorial sovereignty and territorial integrity is by modernizing, strengthening the Georgian forces and that’s exactly what NATO is helping to do both in the NATO framework but also some allies also providing some additional support on the bilateral basis. So we have been successful in helping Georgia implementing reforms, we have been successful in helping Georgia modernizing its armed forces and building modern defence institutions but we will continue to help, we will continue to support because that is also important for NATO, peace and stability in the Caucasus, in the Black Sea region is of course also important for NATO.
OANA LUNGESCU: Washington Post.
Q: Hi. Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. Just one last quick question about Secretary Mattis. I was speaking to some diplomats here last night who said if you take what Mattis was saying literally that means that you know the American guarantees for security in Europe aren’t 100 % anymore. I wanted to ask if you felt that those diplomats were misinterpreting what had been said?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Secretary Mattis confirmed the strong commitment of the United States to European security and to the NATO alliance and to our collective defence. And our collective defence commitment, our Article Five is unconditional and that was expressed clear and loudly from all the participants in the meeting yesterday and today. So this is in no way any kind of conditional security guarantees, this is absolute security guarantees, we support each other and the U.S. security guarantees is actually now strengthened not only words but also in deeds by the increased military presence of U.S. forces in Europe, with a new armoured brigade, with, which is the first time in many years that we have these kind of capabilities, U.S. capabilities in Europe, with more pre-positioned equipment, supplies and more exercises. So this is something which is clearly expressed by the Secretary of Defense but also the President in phone calls with me that the United States is committed to the alliance and to our collective security guarantees but also in deeds by increased military presence of the United States in Europe. Then what Secretary Mattis clearly stated was that the United States expects Europe and Canada to invest more in defence and if that doesn’t happen then we will have a challenge. But I think we should not speculate too much on what will happen if we don’t deliver, we should focus on delivering what we have promised. And 28 allies have promised together that they will stop the cuts in defence spending, that they will gradually increase and then move towards spending 2 % of GDP on defence. And the good thing is that we are now starting to move in the right direction. We stopped the cuts in 2015 and we have started to increase in 2016 and I actually welcome the very firm and fair message from Secretary Mattis because it helps me in pushing all allies to deliver on what they promised in 2014 on defence investments.
OANA LUNGESCU: BNS.
Q: Good afternoon Secretary General. Back to Lithuanian issues actually. There was as Lithuanian authorities call it an information attack against German battle group soldiers in Lithuania yesterday. A person accused them of raping a Lithuania girl and later the police found that the accusations were fake. Do you see it as a problem and how would you identify it and can enhanced forward presence lose credibility because of these attacks? Do NATO need to step up in order to counter such information attacks? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen the reports but we have also seen the reports that Lithuanian police investigated and soon discovered that this was not the case, it was not true. And I think it’s a good thing that the public, the media in Lithuania checked the facts and I think that one of the important lessons we shall learn from this kind of incident is that it is extremely important to check facts, for all of us, of course for politicians but also for media. That has always been the case but it’s perhaps even more important now because we have seen several attempts of disinformation and the spread of stories which are not true. So what NATO can do is of course to always be vigilant, always be focused on our resilience, our ability to counter many different kinds of attacks. Also when it comes to propaganda we can provide facts, we will never counter propaganda with propaganda, we will counter propaganda with facts because we believe strongly that in the long run the truth will prevail over propaganda. But I think it also underlines the importance of the role media … the media plays because a free media, open debate is a core value for this alliance and when we see that that is under attack in many different ways it is important that the media continues to be independent, continues to be critical and continues to check facts.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question, over there, sixth row.
Q: FTL News, Dutch Television. Mr. Secretary General there are upcoming elections in several European countries, for example in the Netherlands, and today the numbers about defence spending are presented and not one political party, not one reaches the 2 % NATO pledge in the next four years. What’s your call to the politicians in the Netherlands also in relation to the warning of Mr. Mattis yesterday?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So we made a pledge, 28 allies, to stop the cuts, to gradually increase defence spending and to move towards spending 2 % of GDP on defence within a decade. And the Netherlands is contributing to the alliance in many different ways. Burden sharing is not only about spending, burden sharing is also about contributing with forces, with capabilities, with troops to different NATO missions and operations. And I would like to commend the Netherlands for all its contributions to our enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance, to being part of our, one of our spearhead force, our high readiness forces, by providing naval capabilities to different NATO operations and missions, by being responsible for air policing in the Baltic and also now by going together with other NATO allies developing new capabilities, for instance signing during this meeting an agreement on how to develop air to air fueling air tankers. So the Netherlands is really contributing in so many different ways and we are grateful for that. At the same time there is a need for stepping up, for doing even more and therefore we have to be focused also on defence spending and I expect all NATO allies, of course including the Netherlands, to deliver on what we all promised in 2014 but that was not to meet 2 % within four years but it was to meet the goal of 2 % within a decade. So all allies should increase defence spending and I expect all of them to deliver on the pledge they made in 2014.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes the last press conference of this ministerial. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.