After a meeting held with NATO defense ministers in Brussels, the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg delivered a press conference on Wednesday, February 15.
During the press conference, Stoltenberg discussed several key issues; namely, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the gravest threats toward NATO, defense spending, the replenishment of armament stockpiles, and NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.
During a question and answer session, the Secretary-General also spoke to reporters about the provision of humanitarian aid to earthquake-stricken Turkey and whether Ukraine might someday join NATO.
Russia, China, and international terrorism were highlighted as the most pressing threats facing the alliance. Stoltenberg also spoke at length about the need to safeguard critical undersea infrastructure.
The war in Ukraine
Jens Stoltenberg urged allies to sustain support and assistance for Ukraine. Since the war began, NATO members and Western allies have contributed significant numbers of military equipment to the Ukrainian war effort, including Patriot missile systems, armored vehicles and tanks, artillery munitions, anti-tank launchers, and small arms weapons.
“I welcome the new pledges of support made by NATO allies. Including more heavy weapons and military training,” Stoltenberg said. “This is critical. Ukraine has a window of opportunity to tip the balance. And time is of the essence.”
Stoltenberg also addressed concerns that “the enormous expenditure of ammunition” sent to Ukraine was depleting the munitions stockpiles of NATO members. When asked by a reporter about the issue, he made reassurance that key allies like the US, France, Germany, and Norway had signed defense contracts to ramp up production.
Regardless of stockpile concerns, Stoltenberg stressed that “there’s a big need out there to provide Ukraine with ammunition. This is now becoming a grinding war of attrition and a war of attrition is a war of logistics. And therefore this is so crucial for our ability to ensure that Ukraine wins, is able to retake territory and launch offensives that ensure that it’s able to win the war and to prevail as a sovereign independent nation.”
NATO allies’ defense spending
With the war in Ukraine continuing on NATO’s eastern flank, the issue of defense spending, which has often been a thorny subject – especially during Donald Trump’s presidency – was discussed during the press conference.
“More countries are now spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense. And 2022 was the eighth consecutive year of increased defense spending by European Allies and Canada. With an additional investment of 350 billion dollars,” Stoltenberg explained.
When asked about the 2% defense spending goal, Stoltenberg said, “if it was right to commit 2% in 2014, it is even more right now. Because we live in a more dangerous world.”
According to the NATO secretary general, these dangers originate primarily from “Russia’s aggressive behavior, the persistent threat of terrorism, and the challenges posed by China.”
Security of critical undersea infrastructure
In light of the suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in September last year, the security of critical undersea infrastructure was another key topic discussed by defense ministers and raised at the NATO press conference.
To address the issue, Stoltenberg announced the formation of a Critical Undersea Infrastructure Coordination Cell at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, led by Lieutenant General Hans-Wiermann.
“It will facilitate engagement with industry, and bring key military and civilian stakeholders together to share best practices, leverage innovative technologies, and boost the security of our undersea infrastructure,” Stoltenberg said.
New NATO members and engagement with partners
When questioned about the joint-NATO membership application submitted by Finland and Sweden, Stoltenberg expressed his hope that the obstacles preventing the two countries from joining would soon be overcome.
Turkey has repeatedly raised concerns about the potential membership of Sweden and Finland. Despite lifting its veto in June, Turkey has not yet ratified membership for either country. The ascension process was complicated further by the souring of relations between Turkey and Sweden after protests which angered the Turkish government were allowed to occur in Stockholm.
On the issue, the NATO chief said, “my position is that both Finland and Sweden are ready for membership, both as accession protocols should be ratified by all allies. But at the end of the day, it is a decision by Turkey whether they ratify one or both of them.”
On the possibility of Ukrainian NATO membership, Stoltenberg reiterated that the alliance’s “open-door” policy had not changed but stressed that the focus was on Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign independent nation.
Stoltenberg also mentioned NATO’s commitment to its partners outside of the alliance, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova.
Humanitarian support for Turkey
One Turkish reporter asked the Secretary-General about NATO’s efforts to provide Turkey with humanitarian support to help survivors cope with the devastation of the two recent earthquakes, which have flattened southeastern parts of the country.
Stoltenberg replied that “NATO have stepped up their support and are providing different types of relief support. And NATO has also decided to deploy shelters to accommodate people who have been displaced.”
Stoltenberg added that he will visit Turkey on February 16 to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.