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Thursday, February 5, 2015

REPORT: THREATS TO EUROPE SETTING STAGE FOR NATO MEETING

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
NATO Report Sets Stage for Defense Ministers Meeting
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2015 – Last year was not a good year for European security, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week.

Stoltenberg called 2014 “a black year” for Europe as he presented NATO’s Annual Report, which sets the stage for the meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers in Brussels this week.

The secretary general discussed the threats to Europe and the North Atlantic Alliance and what NATO needs to do to counter these threats.

“Violent extremism is at our borders,” Stoltenberg said, “spreading turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East and fueling terrorism in our own streets.”

Russia is following a disturbing pattern, Stoltenberg noted, annexing Crimea, threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine, and continuing its efforts to intimidate its neighbors in disregard of international law.

“So our security environment has fundamentally changed,” he added.
Raising Readiness of NATO Forces

NATO already is moving to defend alliance nations, the secretary general said. “Last year, we held over 200 NATO and national exercises,” he added. “One exercise started every two days -- on the ground, at sea, and in the air. And they will continue. So we are raising the readiness of our forces.”

The exercises also serve to reassure allies, Stoltenberg said. “We are maintaining a continuous presence of our forces, by rotation, in the eastern part of our alliance,” he noted. In addition to reassuring allies, he said, that exercise also deters Russia, showing the entire alliance’s determination to defend member nations.

Stoltenberg stated that defense ministers will decide on the size and the composition of the alliance’s new Spearhead Force. They also will determine how to set up NATO command and control units in six of the Eastern NATO nations, turning the readiness action plan decided upon at the NATO summit in Wales into reality, the secretary general said. “This will be the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” he added.

Allied aircraft intercepted more than 400 Russian planes in 2014. More than 150 were intercepted by NATO aircraft participating in the alliance’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.

Prepared to Stand With Afghanistan’s Government

NATO has ended combat operations in Afghanistan, but is prepared to stand with the fledgling Afghan unity government as it faces the threats of the Taliban and other terror groups, Stoltenberg said.

The “352,000 Afghan soldiers and police that we have trained took full charge of their country’s security,” he said. “And we launched a new mission to train, advise and assist them.”

The secretary general also discussed money. Collectively, alliance nations spent $852 billion on defense in 2014. By this measurement alone, the alliance is the strongest in the world, he said.

But there has been a steady decline in European defense spending since 1990, Stoltenberg said, “and the decline continued last year.”

Alliance Must Spend More, Spend Better

Last year, the European allies spent about $250 billion on defense -- a reduction of $7 billion, or about 3 percent. But multiplying threats changed views in European capitals, and the NATO leaders pledged to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense in the future.

“We need to spend more, and we need to spend better, to keep our forces ready to deal with any threat,” Stoltenberg said. “We have seen some steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.”

In 2014, the Euro-Atlantic order came under threat, the secretary general said. “But … NATO is adapting and looking forward,” he added. “We stand determined to protect our values and keep our nations safe.”