The meeting is also helping to set up the NATO summit, scheduled to take place in Brussels in July, the secretary general said.
The foreign ministers will begin the week with discussions on Russia, Stoltenberg said. Russia’s actions in Georgia, its annexation of Crimea and continuing interference in Ukraine, cyberattacks, and disinformation campaigns concern NATO and has caused the alliance to beef up its deterrence posture, he said.
“Russia also backs the brutal regime in Syria, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons, and it is also highly likely that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack in Salisbury,” the secretary general said. “NATO has responded with resolve and unity.” In the March 4 attack in Salisbury, England, a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter were poisoned.
Reinforcement of Collective Defense
Alliance members have undertaken the biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War, Stoltenberg said. Alliance units are routinely operating in the Baltic republics, Poland, Romania and Hungary. The alliance has also enhanced cyber defenses and stepped up efforts to counter Russia’s hybrid activities, he added.
The alliance states are investing more in defense, he noted, with all NATO nations spending more on security, including a number at, or approaching, the alliance’s goal of member nations spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
“But we continue to see attempts to intimidate and interfere in allied countries,” Stoltenberg said. “So we must continue to adapt to hybrid challenges, and ministers will examine what more we can do.”
The alliance remains open to talks with Russia, the secretary general said, and the channels must remain open especially when tensions on the continent are high. He noted that Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, recently spoke with the Russian chief of defense, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. “We continue to work towards the next meeting of the NATO-Russia Council,” the secretary general said.
The ministers will move on to the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. “I expect that ministers will address the situation in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, as well as NATO’s plans to scale up training in Iraq,” he said. European Union High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini will join these discussions.
“Together we will discuss how NATO and the European Union could cooperate more closely to build stability,” Stoltenberg said. “We have seen too often how turmoil in this region can inspire terrorist attacks on our own soil, and drive desperate refugees and migrants to our shores.”
The ministers will discuss the NATO training mission and the alliance is scheduled to launch a new training mission for Iraq at the summit in July. “Ministers will agree further details on the mission tomorrow,” he said. “We are currently planning for a training mission of several hundred.” The NATO forces will train Iraqi instructors, and help build Iraqi military schools.
The ministers will also examine the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where the bywords are “peace and reconciliation,” Stoltenberg said, and the alliance welcomes Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unprecedented offer of peace talks to the Taliban. “NATO has helped to create the environment for this to happen, with our practical and political support,” he said. “And we have renewed our commitment, including with significant troop increases and financial support.”
The ministers also will discuss the situation in the Balkans and NATO’s open door policy. “NATO remains committed to the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace,” Stoltenberg said. “We will discuss the progress made by Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Georgia. Ukraine has also expressed its aspirations for membership.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)