NATO Defence Ministers Meet to Address Security Challenges
(Source: NATO; issued Oct 21, 2020)
NATO Defence Ministers will meet via secure video conference on Thursday and Friday (22-23 October 2020) to discuss issues affecting Alliance security. They include progress on fairer burden-sharing, strengthening deterrence and defence, boosting the resilience of our societies, and NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ahead of the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that 2020 will be the sixth consecutive year of increased defence spending by European Allies and Canada. Mr. Stoltenberg said: “We expect this trend to continue. Allies are also investing more in major capabilities and continue to contribute to our missions and operations.”

Ministers will address NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture, including the response to Russia’s missile capabilities. Allies have already agreed a balanced package of political and military measures and the Secretary General stressed that NATO remains committed to arms control: “We have a long track-record on nuclear disarmament. We have reduced the number of NATO nuclear weapons in Europe by more than 90 percent over the last 30 years.”

Defence Ministers are expected to agree to create a NATO Space Centre at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. This will be a focal point for space support to NATO operations, sharing information, and coordination. “Our aim is not to militarise space, but to increase NATO’s awareness of challenges in space and our ability to deal with them,” said Mr. Stoltenberg.

The resilience of Allies will also be on the agenda and the Secretary General underlined that resilience underpins NATO’s ability to defend itself: “we cannot have strong armies without strong societies.” NATO’s baseline requirements for national resilience have already been updated, including 5G and telecommunications, cyber threats, the security of supply chains, and the consequences of foreign ownership and control.

On Friday, NATO’s training missions in Afghanistan and Iraq will be discussed. NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security and supports the Afghan peace talks, the Secretary General said: “The Taliban must live up to their commitments, significantly reduce the levels of violence, and pave the way for a ceasefire.” Ministers are also expected to agree to expand NATO’s training mission in Iraq, which will help Iraq fight international terrorism.

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Esper, Fellow NATO Ministers Assess Alliance Progress
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Oct. 21, 2020)
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.

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.

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.

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