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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is convinced that it is still possible to save the Intermediate-range Nuclear Treaty (INF), which bans all land-based nuclear missiles with a range of 500-5,500 km. Speaking at a press conference at the end of NATO’s Defence Minister Meeting on 27 June, he said “There is still a window of opportunity.” This would be conditional, however, on Russia returning to full compliance with the treaty and ceasing development and deployment of its new SSC-8 missiles. He added that NATO allies do not intend to mirror Russian activities and will not develop new nuclear weapons. The INF Treaty, which he called “a landmark treaty for arms control,” was one of the six key security issues which the Defence Ministers addressed during their two-day meeting in Brussels.

Regarding burden sharing, the Secretary General stated that 2019 will be the fifth consecutive year of real growth in defence spending by European Allies and Canada. By the end of next year, they will have added a total of over $100 billion (€87.9 billion). In 2019, NATO expects eight Allies to spend at least 2% percent of their GDP on defence, up from just three in 2014: a total of 16 are expected to meet the benchmark of at least 20% of defence spending being devoted to major equipment programmes. “This is about our shared security in a more unpredictable world,” he told reporters. Burden sharing will be an important topic at the next NATO Summit Meeting in London in December.

The Defence Ministers reviewed the situation in Afghanistan and NATO’s efforts to implement the Resolute Support mission. Many challenges remain in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said, but Allies would try to achieve a political solution. His message was straightforward. “The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield. They must sit down at the negotiating table.” NATO allies have confirmed their financial support for the Afghan security forces through 2024 and will stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists.

On 27 June, the ministers also discussed NATO’s defence and deterrence posture, including the Readiness Initiative, known as the ‘Four Thirties:’  30 combat ships, 30 battalions and 30 air squadrons to be ready within 30 days. Allies have already generated around three-quarters of the forces required: by the end of this year, NATO aims to be at full strength.

As an important step in NATO’s continuing evolution, the ministers approved a new space policy, as satellite communications and the abilities both to navigate and track forces and to detect missile launches are essential elements for deterrence and defence. The Defence Ministers finally analysed the political tensions with Iran. All agreed that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Stoltenberg called on all parties to de-escalate, to reduce current tensions and to develop an open dialogue in order to secure peace in this extremely fragile region.

Dr. Theo Benien

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left), who met US Acting Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper (right) in Brussels, this week, has called on Russia to return to full compliance with the INF Treaty. (Photo: NATO)

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