On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the NATO defence ministers will meet. And the main issue will be how NATO is adapting to a new and more challenging security environment. This is an environment which is more complex and more demanding than it has been for a long time.
NATO is responding to this new security environment with solidarity and with resolve.
And just a few days ago I visited Poland, and there I saw the new Spearhead Force exercising. And this is the first deployment on an exercise of this newly established, very high readiness joint task force or Spearhead force of NATO.
And the establishment of this new Spearhead Force and the exercise in Poland, sends a very clear signal about that NATO is here. And NATO is ready.
Seven European Allies will lead the force over the coming years. Six new small headquarters across the eastern part of the Alliance are being set up. And all Allies are making substantial contributions to our strengthened presence in the air, at sea and on the ground.
At our defence ministerial this week, we will take new steps to strengthen our collective defence. So we can respond to the challenges even faster and more effectively.
First, we will take decisions to further increase the strength and the capability of the NATO Response Force. All together, it will amount to between 30,000 and 40,000 troops – more than double its previous size.
The centerpiece of this enhanced NATO Response Force is the Spearhead Force. Its land component was decided in February to be a brigade. At the meeting this week, we will approve the air, sea and special forces components of the new Spearhead Force.
The second decision I expect ministers to make related to how we are increasing the readiness and the responsiveness of our forces, is that we will speed up our political and military decision-making to enable a rapid deployment of the NATO Response Force, while maintaining full political control.
To further promote faster decisions, we will have more detailed and advanced plans which is key to be able to deploy forces quickly.
We are giving our Supreme Commander, SACEUR, more authority to prepare our troops for deployment and get them ready to go once the political decision is made.
And third, we will set up a new logistics headquarters within the NATO command structure, better to coordinate and manage the movement of our forces across Alliance territory and their central supplies.
So these are some of the decisions which we are going to take and I expect the ministers to take. And they are important decisions for NATO’s adaptation to a new and more challenging security environment.
But adaptation requires an increased investment in defence.
We have just published the Allies’ defence spending figures for 2014, and we have also published estimates for 2015.
This year, we expect five Allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence and these Allies are Estonia, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Eighteen Allies are expected to increase their defence expenditure in real terms.
This is good news. But the picture is mixed. Overall, we expect total NATO defence expenditure to continue to decrease in 2015 by 1.5 percent. And this comes on top of a steady decline in especially European NATO Allies defence expenditure during a long period of time.
So we need to redouble our efforts to reverse this trend. Because we are facing more challenges, and we cannot do more with less indefinitely. I will take the question of defence expenditure up with the ministers when we meet on Wednesday and Thursday because this is key when it comes to both following up the decisions we made at our Summit last fall in Wales, but also preparing for the next Summit which will take place in Warsaw in July 2016.
On Thursday, the second day of the ministerial meeting we will also meet with Ukraine’s new defence minister in the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
We will there reaffirm our strong commitment to an independent, peaceful and prosperous Ukraine. And to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Finally, we will review progress made since the launch of our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan at the start of the year. And the evolution of this mission.
And we will look at how we will continue to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in the longer term.
They continue to face considerable challenges. I strongly condemn the attack on the Afghan parliament today. This is an attack on democracy.
The Afghan forces stand their ground. They, and the Afghan people, deserve our full support.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
L. J. De Rothschild