Partnerships

NATO Chief Details Agenda Esper Will Face at Brussels Meeting

June 25, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg detailed some of the issues that new Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper will confront at his first NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

Esper left Washington this morning to participate in the conference.

Acting Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks with reporters on a government aircraft.
En Route
Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks with reporters en route to Brussels, June 25, 2019, to attend his first NATO defense ministers meeting in the role. He plans to focus on reinforcing the U.S. commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance, ensuring more equitable burden sharing, bolstering NATO readiness and addressing regional security issues.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 190625-D-BN624-0118C
Acting Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper walks down steps out of an aircraft.
Ministers Meeting
Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper arrives in Brussels, June 25, 2019, to attend his first NATO defense ministers meeting in the role. He plans to focus on reinforcing the U.S. commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance, ensuring more equitable burden sharing, bolstering NATO readiness and addressing regional security issues.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 190625-D-BN624-0178C

The acting secretary said in a memo yesterday that he will continue to follow the lines of effort detailed in the National Defense Strategy. This includes building a lethal force, strengthening alliances and reforming the department. NATO is America's most important alliance.

Defense ministers from NATO's 30 nations will continue work on modernizing NATO capabilities "to ensure our deterrence and defence remains effective," Stoltenberg said during a news conference previewing the meeting.

Burden-sharing is a hot topic in the alliance, and the secretary general announced that Canada and the European allies have increased defense spending 3.9% for 2019. "We now have five consecutive years of growth in defense spending," he said. "By the end of next year, European allies and Canada will have added a cumulative total of well over $100 billion since 2016."

A man in large room speaks at a dias.
Stoltenberg Remarks
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg previews the upcoming meeting of the Alliance’s defense ministers during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 25, 2019. The meeting will be Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper’s first official meeting with allies in his new position.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 190625-O-ZZ999-002

He also announced that more NATO allies are spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense — a goal the alliance set during its Wales summit in 2014 and reaffirmed in last year's summit in Brussels. The nations that have reached the 2% goal are the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Greece, Poland, Latvia and Romania. A number of other nations are due to hit the 2% mark next year. "The majority of allies have plans to reach 2% by 2024," Stoltenberg said.

A soldier in combat gear moves quickly while carrying a rifle, a backpack and an extra weapon bag.
Swift Response
An Army paratrooper races to a fighting position during Exercise Swift Response at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, June 23, 2019. The U.S.-led multinational exercise prepares NATO allies to deploy high-readiness forces and advances airborne interoperability.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson
VIRIN: 190624-A-NM804-097Y
A U.S. soldier carrying a rifle and wearing a uniform and camouflage face paint talks to a Romanian soldier.
Fast Friends
Army Pfc. Scarlet Wilson speaks with 2nd Lt. Roxana Ciolan, a Romanian civil affairs officer, at a static display in Sibiu, Romania, June 15, 2019. U.S. and Romanian soldiers showed local civilians and each other their equipment as part of Exercise Saber Guardian, an effort to improve the integration of multinational combat forces.
Photo By: Michigan National Guard Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
VIRIN: 190615-Z-FY465-019E

While the money is important, what the money is buying says more about alliance determination. "We are also investing in more new capabilities," the secretary general said. "This year, 16 allies are expected to meet the benchmark of at least 20% of defense spending devoted to major equipment."

The defense ministers will also discuss Russia — specifically, Russia's continuing violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The nation has until Aug. 2 to come into compliance with the treaty by destroying its SS-8 missiles. Russian authorities have said they will not do it.

"The United States and other allies have tried to engage with Russia about their new missile system for years, including in the NATO-Russia Council," Stoltenberg said. "We are planning to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council next week to raise this issue again. We call on Russia to take the responsible path. But unfortunately, we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so. In fact, it continues to develop and field the new missiles."

Military vehicles wait in line with their lights shining in a greenish twilight.
Green Convoy
An Army convoy waits for approval to cross the Hungarian border during exercise Saber Guardian 2019 in Gyor, Hungary, May 31, 2019. Saber Guardian is led by U.S. Army Europe and Romanian land forces and designed to improve the integration of multinational combat operations.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Denice Lopez
VIRIN: 190531-A-ON752-0012A
A half-submerged diver in a wetsuit carrying an oxygen tank holds on to a rope alongside a yellow raft.
Protective Plunge
A diver attached to Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 prepares to submerge dive during mine countermeasures training as part of Exercise Baltic Operations in the Baltic Sea, June 11, 2019. The annual exercise gives partner nations an opportunity to promote peace and security through collaboration and interoperability.
Photo By: Brian Djurslev, NATO
VIRIN: 190611-N-N1604-0009

The defense ministers will discuss the next steps in this process. Stoltenberg said any response by NATO will be measured and defensive. "We will not mirror what Russia does," he said. "We do not intend to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe."

Russia has invested scarce funds in developing new capabilities and modernizing old ones. NATO must stay ahead of the technological curve, and the ministers will discuss artificial intelligence, quantum computing and next-generation communications, as well as ways to invest that don't waste or duplicate efforts.

Alt Text: A long-exposure photograph of a night launch of a missile, which leaves a trail of light.
Missile Launch
A Standard Missile 3 Block IIA launches from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, Dec. 10, 2018, during a test to intercept an intermediate-range ballistic missile target in space.
Photo By: Mark Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 181210-D-ZZ999-005C

The ministers will discuss creating a framework for how NATO should deal with the opportunities and challenges in space, Stoltenberg said. "Space is part of our daily lives," he added. "While it can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used for aggression. Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized. Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications. So it is important that we are vigilant and resilient – also in space. NATO can serve as a key forum bringing allies together to share capabilities and information."

An airman looks down in a room with red walls.
Bagram Training
An airman takes part in a team training event to be prepared for any potential real-world scenarios at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 21, 2019.
Photo By: Senior Airman Jean-Paul Arnaud-Marquez
VIRIN: 190221-F-ZJ255-1001
Soldiers line up to get aboard a helicopter in Afghanistan.
Heading Out
Soldiers assigned to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out and execute missions across Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019.
Photo By: 1st Lt. Verniccia Ford
VIRIN: 190115-A-MC988-287

The ministers will continue discussions on Afghanistan. "While the security situation remains serious, we see a unique opportunity for peace," the secretary general said, adding that the allies fully support U.S. efforts to reach a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

"Finally, we will host a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS," Stoltenberg said. "The coalition has made remarkable progress retaking all the territory once held by ISIS terrorists. Now we must ensure that they do not come back."

A man in large room speaks at a dias.
News Conference
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg previews the upcoming meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 25, 2019. The meeting will be Acting Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper’s first official meeting with allies in his new position.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 190625-O-ZZ999-004

Stoltenberg said he expects Esper will discuss the situation in the Persian Gulf and Iran, noting that Iran is working to destabilize the region with its support for terrorist groups, its missile program and the announcement that Iran will restart the enrichment of uranium.

"All allies share these concerns," he said. "I think that we welcome the fact that even though Iran is not formally on the agenda for the defense ministerial meeting, I expect that Iran will be discussed, both in the meeting and in different bilateral meetings that take place on the margins of the defense ministerial meeting. And I also expect that Defense Secretary Esper will brief allies. And I think this is useful, because then NATO is a platform for NATO allies and ministers to exchange views — to exchange analyses about the challenges we all face in the Gulf."