NATO Secretary General Previews Alliance Defense Ministerial
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today previewed the meeting of defense ministers that starts tomorrow, saying the leaders will sharpen the alliance’s response to a more challenging security environment.
Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Belgium that the security challenges are real and complicated, but the alliance is responding and he noted an increase in defense spending by NATO allies.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leaves today for the meeting in Brussels.
“NATO is founded on the bond between North America and Europe, and in good times and bad, that bond has been unbreakable,” Stoltenberg said. “We stand together. We defend each other. And that is good both for Europe, and for North America. I’m confident that defense ministers at our meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow once again are going to reconfirm the enduring importance of the transatlantic bond.”
The alliance is putting in place the infrastructure to implement the decisions made at last year’s NATO Summit in Warsaw. This includes deploying four multinational battle groups to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.
“We are also stepping up our ability to anticipate and respond to crises in the south in order to project stability in our neighborhood,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO nations have pledged to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense capabilities. The United States, Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece are the only countries at or above this monetary goal now, defense officials have said, but other countries have reversed the downward trend and have increased defense expenditures.
“NATO’s continuous adaptation requires responsibilities to be shared fairly among allies,” Stoltenberg said. “Fair burden-sharing and increased defense spending underpins the transatlantic Alliance.”
Responding to Threats
The alliance nations have responded to the threats from Russia to the east and the transnational threats of terrorism emanating from the Middle East. “After many years with steep cuts in defense spending, we have turned a corner,” the secretary general said. “Today, I can present to you new, updated figures for 2016. Defense spending in real terms has increased by 3.8 percent among European allies and Canada.”
The jump is “significantly higher than what we had originally foreseen” and is indicative of the seriousness of the situation. “It amounts to roughly 10 billion dollars more for our defense,” he said. “This makes a difference but it is absolutely vital that we keep up the momentum.”
The ministers will focus on the fight against extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and other threats stemming from the Middle East and North Africa. NATO is providing support to the Counter-ISIS coalition and working to train partners like Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia, Stoltenberg said.
“But we can and should do more,” he added.
The ministers will also launch a review of NATO’s command structure, and will examine further steps to resist hybrid warfare, hybrid threats and strengthening cyber defenses, the secretary general said.
The ministerial will end after a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission. Defense ministers will discuss the security situation in the country, the reforms Georgia is making and what still needs to happen to bring the country closer to the alliance.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)