Joint press point
with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, the Minister of Defence of Hungary, István SIMICSKÓ and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), General Denis Mercier - Deputy Secretary General's opening remarks
Thank you very much. And thank you Minister Simicsko and General Mercier for having me join you on this distinguished podium. It’s a great pleasure to be here this morning and in this most beautiful city. My colleague General Mercier has already referred to the beauty of Budapest. But I also just cannot get over the spring weather, so that’s been very welcome after a grey winter in Brussels and thank you very much for arranging that Minister Simicsko, it’s terrific.
In any event, I will turn now to our serious topic, that is, I wanted to underscore that Hungary is a key Ally, with troops serving in NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo and for that we are very grateful and appreciative.
Hungary is committed to our collective defence here in Europe. And NATO welcomes Hungary’s commitment to further contribute to fairer burden-sharing within the Alliance.
General Mercier, I want to thank you for hosting this week’s NATO Transformation Seminar, it was really a very rich and substantive discussion. At a time when we face serious and evolving challenges, it is vital that we do everything we can to stay ahead and to maintain our edge. This conference will help us to achieve that goal.
Today we face a more assertive Russia, along with turmoil and terrorism coming from North Africa and the Middle East. As my two colleagues have already taken note, sadly we saw terrorism manifest itself yesterday in the centre of London and we condemn those horrific acts. NATO is adapting and addressing those threats. In response, since 2014, we are facing up to the challenges of fighting terrorism and we have also been implementing the largest reinforcement of our collective defence since the Cold War to address a newly assertive Russia.
As we speak, multinational battle groups are deploying to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with contributions from 17 NATO Allies, including the United States and Canada.
At the same time, we remain committed to dialogue with Russia. And I do want to underscore this point. Last year, we held three meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and we remain open to further meaningful dialogue with the Russian federation.
But to keep our nations safe, we also must engage the fight against terrorism and project stability beyond our borders. Because when our neighbours are more stable, we, the Alliance, are more secure. And one of the best tools we have for this is to build the capacity of local forces. I wanted to underscore again the value of Hungary’s contribution in Afghanistan, helping us to train Afghan forces, to deny safe haven to international terrorists.
We are also expanding the training of Iraqi officers to better fight ISIL. Every NATO Ally is also a member of the US-led Global Coalition Against ISIL, and NATO supports the Coalition directly with its AWACS surveillance aircraft.
So NATO must continue to adapt to a changing security environment. And all our efforts must be underpinned by adequate resources.
In 2014, NATO Allies restated their commitment to stop the cuts in defence spending, spend 2 % of GDP on defence within a decade, and invest in major capabilities. Again, Minister Simicsko has already made a reference to Hungary’s stepping up to these goals and in particular we welcome its commitment to spending 20% of its defence expenditures on major investment and development in this upcoming year.
We have started to move in the right direction. In 2015, the cuts stopped, and last year defence spending by Europe and Canada increased by 3.8% across the Alliance, and that represents about a ten billion dollar increase.
This is significant. And we must sustain that momentum going forward. This will be an important theme when NATO leaders meet together in Brussels on May 25th.
The challenges we face, these are constant challenges, and NATO is adapting to meet those challenges. So I look forward to your questions and comments and shall we proceed to open the floor? Thank you.