by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after the meeting with the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May
I just had a very good and productive meeting with Prime Minister May. We discussed many issues but the main topic was the preparations for the upcoming meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels on the 25th of May.
And there are two main topics to be addressed at that meeting. It’s burden sharing, transatlantic unity and the fight against terrorism.
When it comes to burden sharing, the UK is leading by example, investing 2% of GDP in defence, but also by providing capabilities and contributions to NATO missions and operations.
The UK is leading our multi-national battle group in Estonia, leading our high readiness joint task force, and also providing planes to our air-policing mission in the Black Sea region.
So we will at the meeting in May discuss how NATO can continue to increase its investments in our collective defence. NATO Allies have turned a corner after many years of decline in defence spending across Europe and Canada. In 2015 we saw the first increase and in 2016 we saw a significant increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada.
So NATO Allies are now following suit, the UK example, and have started to increase their investments in our defence.
We will also address how NATO can step up its effort in the fight against terrorism. That was one of the main topics I discussed with Prime Minister May in our meeting now. NATO has played a key role in the fight against terrorism for many, many years. Our biggest military operation ever is our operation in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is about fighting terrorism. It’s about preventing that Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. And we have received a request from our military authorities to increase our military presence in Afghanistan with a few thousand troops. We are now assessing that request, we will make decisions on the scale and the scope of the mission within weeks. But this is not about returning back to a combat operation in Afghanistan, it will continue to be a train, assist and advice operation, because I strongly believe that the best answer we have to terrorism, the best weapon we have to terrorism, is to train local forces to fight terrorism, to stabilise their own country.
We also discussed in the meeting now what more NATO can do to provide support for the counter-ISIL coalition. We train Iraqi forces and we also provide some AWACS surveillance plane support to the coalition but we are also looking into other opportunities, possibilities of providing support to the counter-ISIL coalition.
So I am looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister May, the new US President Trump and the new French President Macron, and all the other NATO leaders to the leaders meeting on the 25th of May.
Q.: Why do you need more forces in Afghanistan? Are the Afghan national forces failing?
Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): We are now looking into the request and we’ll make decisions within weeks on the total troop numbers and the composition of the force we have in Afghanistan. This is not about changing the fundamental task of the mission, we will not return to a combat mission, for many years NATO was present in Afghanistan in big combat operations. Our combat mission ended in 2015. Since then we have been focused on training, assisting and advising the Afghans. And they have actually proved very capable, very professional and the Afghan forces have been able to take over responsibility for the security in Afghanistan themselves, and that’s a big achievement. Supported by NATO but they are now in the frontline. But we are now looking into requests regarding especially some areas like more education, so the military academies, but also training special operation forces and air forces. And these are key enablers and it may be that we should adjust our presence to strengthen these key enablers, air forces, special operation forces, educating officers, because this is key for enabling the Afghans to be able to fight terrorism themselves and to stabilize Afghanistan. So that’s the military advice, decisions will be made in a few weeks.
Q.: Secretary General, how many more troops would you be looking for from the UK and what kind of response are you getting from Mrs. May to this request?
Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): The request from our military authorities is about a few thousand, but this is something which is then going to be delivered from all Allies and from many partner nations, so this is not just a few NATO Allies that will deliver those forces, it’s the whole Alliance. And we are now in the normal process of force generation. Every year we generate forces in NATO to our different missions and operations in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, maritime operations. And as part of that ongoing process, which takes place every year, we are now reaching out to all Allies addressing the issue of how many troops they are able to provide to our different missions. I will not go into specific numbers, but in total, the issue is about a few thousand and we are asking all Allies and many partners to provide their share of that.
Q: The UK is a leader in burden sharing, yet today we have some eminent former leaders of the British military writing to the Times newspaper saying that we have achieved the 2% target only by counting deception. What do you make of that?
Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): The UK is leading by example on defence spending and burden sharing. The UK is investing heavily in defence and provides key high-end capabilities to the Alliance and contributes forces to our missions and operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And I very much welcome and appreciate that. I think we have to remember that the way we measure defence spending in NATO is a standardized way, we measure defence spending in the same way for all NATO Allies, so when we compare defence spending in UK, which is now slightly above 2%, so UK meets the 2% target, we measure defence spending exactly the same way in the UK as in all other NATO allied countries so this is a standardized well-established practice of what we measure when we measure defence spending.