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Esper, Fellow NATO Ministers Assess Alliance Progress

Oct. 21, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

NATO defense ministers are meeting virtually to chart the course of the alliance. Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper will attend the meeting from his office in the Pentagon. 

Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg briefed the news media from around the world on the agenda for the defense ministers saying he expects them to discuss strengthening deterrence, fairer burden-sharing and the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A man speaks from a lectern.
Stoltenberg Briefing
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a virtual news conference in advance of the alliance's defense ministers meeting.
Photo By: NATO
VIRIN: 201021-O-ZZ999-001

Stoltenberg released alliance defense spending estimates for 2020, and they show clear progress toward the alliance goal of each country spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. The estimates "show that this year will be the sixth consecutive year of increased defense spending by European allies and Canada with a real increase of 4.3 percent," he said. "We expect this trend to continue."

NATO figures show that 10 countries have reached the 2 percent goal. The United States leads all nations with 3.87 percent spent on defense followed by Greece, the United Kingdom, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, France and Norway. 

What the allies are investing in is also as important as the amount of money. "Allies are also investing more in major capabilities and continue to contribute to our missions and operations," Stoltenberg said. "We will also address NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defense posture, including our response to the Russian missile challenge, which is growing in scale and complexity."

The allies are also paying attention to the nuclear deterrent to ensure it remains safe, secure and effective, even as they remain committed to arms control and disarmament. "We have a long track record on nuclear disarmament," the secretary general said. "We have reduced the number of NATO nuclear weapons in Europe by more than 90 percent over the last 30 years.

Stoltenberg addressed the future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,  which expires early next year. "The allies support the extension of New START by the United States and Russia, and I welcome progress on this issue in recent days because we should not find ourselves in a situation where we have no treaty governing the number of nuclear weapons," he said.

A man speaks from a lectern.
Stoltenberg Remarks
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg answers a question from a reporter during the virtual news conference in advance of the alliance's defense ministers meeting.
Photo By: NATO
VIRIN: 201021-O-ZZ999-002

The alliance continues to adapt in all domains, including space. He said space is becoming a "crowded and competitive" domain. "Some nations – including Russia and China – are developing systems which could blind, disable or shoot down satellites," he said. "Space is essential for our ability to navigate, communicate and detect missile launches and fast, effective and secure satellite communications are vital for our troops."

He expects the defense ministers to agree to establish a new NATO Space Center at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. "This will be a focal point to support NATO missions with communications and satellite imagery; share information about potential threats to satellites; and coordinate our activities in this crucial domain," he said.

He stressed the alliance does not want to militarize space, but rather to increase NATO’s "awareness of challenges in space and our ability to deal with them."

The ministers will spend time discussing the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, NATO has around 12,000 troops. The alliance members have adjusted the numbers in light of the peace process, but, he stressed, any further adjustments in the numbers remain conditions-based.

"The Taliban must live up to their commitments, to significantly reduce the levels of violence and pave the way for a ceasefire," he said. "They must break all ties with Al-Qaida and other international terrorist groups, and they must negotiate in good faith."

The inter-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, offer the best chance for peace in a generation, he said. "They must preserve the gains made at such high price over the last two decades, including for women and girls."

In Iraq, the security situation remains challenging, and NATO stands with Iraq in the fight against international terrorism, the secretary general said. "So, we will decide to step-up our training mission and enhance our support, in full coordination with the Iraqi government and the global coalition to defeat ISIS," he said.

The meeting ends Friday.