Budapest (MTI) – Sharing the burdens of defence spending and the fight against terrorism are expected to be in the focus of a NATO summit to be held in Brussels in May, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview to MTI on Thursday.
After meeting United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Tuesday and attending an international meeting of foreign ministers concerning the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organisation, Stoltenberg said he believed NATO had untapped potential in this field.
He said he expected ways to increase NATO’s participation in the fight against terrorism to be one of the main topics of the NATO summit in May.
Different options are being assessed as to how to enhance NATO’s activities in Iraq, for instance, and elsewhere. NATO strongly believes that the training of local security forces and strengthening local capabilities are the best methods in the fight against terrorism, he added.
It is not sustainable in the long term to station NATO troops in other countries to fight terrorism. Instead local forces should be enabled to carry out these tasks, he said.
At the same time, he said NATO is already playing a key role in the fight against terrorism. The Afghanistan mission is the largest in NATO’s history and the purpose of the presence of NATO troops is to prevent the country from becoming a “safe haven” of international terrorism, he added. The organisation also supports the US-led coalition’s fight in Syria by contributing AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, participates in the training of Iraqi security forces and cooperates with other countries in the region, such as Jordan and Tunisia, he said.
Assessing the security situation in Afghanistan, he said it continues to be complex because various players are vying to take over the government.
“We must be prepared for more violence and more attacks,” he said.
At the same time, he added that progress is being made, and whereas more than 100,000 NATO troops were stationed in the country a few years ago their number is currently down to 13,000.
NATO withdrew its fighting capabilities from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and it currently plays an advisory and supporting role only, Stollenberg said. He noted that when the IS recently attacked a hospital in Kabul, it was Afghan soldiers that fought the terrorists.
“The Afghan forces are now able to fight against the Taliban and the Islamic State. So we have made important progress in some very important areas,” he said.
A review of the Afghanistan mission is under way but withdrawing the forces is not yet on the agenda, he said. The organisation will continue the training of Afghan forces and giving them assistance.
He said it is too early to cite actual figures but the aim is to maintain a training and advisory mission with limited staff instead of sending back fighting units.
He expressed NATO’s gratitude to Hungary for its contribution to the Afghanistan mission.
In connection with the statement of US President Donald Trump urging a greater role from the European arm of the alliance, Stoltenberg said it sent a “very clear message” that there should be a fairer sharing of the burden within NATO.
He noted that American GDP is roughly the same as the whole of Europe’s, yet the US contributes twice as much to defence spending. There is a limit up to which the United States is inclined to sustain this unfair burden-sharing, he said, noting the commitment by member states in 2014 to boost defence spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024.
The target relates to a decade and comes after several years of spending reductions. Now the spending hikes have begun, he said. In Canada and Europe defence spending in 2016 increased by roughly 3.8 percent.
Stoltenberg welcomed action taken by Hungary to raise its defence spending from around 1 percent of GDP at present, saying the pace at which it was doing so was “significant”.