Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised Australia’s contributions to international security and its deepening partnership with NATO in a visit to Sydney on Wednesday (7 August 2019). Mr. Stoltenberg met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, and signed a renewed partnership agreement between NATO and Australia with Minister Reynolds aboard the HMAS Hobart. “Australia is a highly valued partner for the Alliance,” said the Secretary General, pointing to the country’s training deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: It’s a pleasure and privilege, as the Minister for Defence here in Australia, to welcome… not only to Australia but to this beautiful site here in Sydney, to welcome the Secretary General of NATO, Mr Stoltenberg, here today. Today, we have signed a new agreement to cooperate more closely with NATO and I could not be happier to have been able to show the Secretary General our new class of air warfare destroyer, in this case the First of Class HMAS Hobart. We also were delighted to be able to show the Secretary General our two landing helicopter dock vessels and also to meet some of our crew. You are a most welcome visitor to Australia and I think you very much for our cooperative agreement and for the work that we are doing. So, thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you so much, Minister Reynolds. It's also a great honour and pleasure to be here and to be back in Australia. This is actually my first visit to Australia as the Secretary General of NATO and Australia is a highly-valued partner for the Alliance, and we are extremely grateful for the support you provide to different NATO missions and operations, in Afghanistan, training in Iraq, but also the help you provide to our activities supporting Ukraine.
And also, to be on board on this ship, the Hobart, to see the naval capabilities of your country, is something which is of great importance for me and therefore, I think it is also the best possible platform venue to sign the agreement where we agree to strengthen further our cooperation, addressing many different challenges and also working together to develop capabilities, to exchange information, to work on cyber, to work together also when it comes to maritime challenges.
So, I think it is a reality that Australia and NATO, in Europe, Brussels, we are far apart but we are the closest of partners and today has really proven the importance of our partnership. So, thank you for hosting me here in Sydney, in Australia, and at this beautiful and very important ship.
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: Thank you, Secretary General. And as Secretary General has said, we've had meetings, we've had bilateral meetings. The Secretary General has met with the Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and we have discussed many issues in common, including the work we do together. As the Secretary General has said, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also discussing our common interests back here in our own region, in the Indo-Pacific, and there is a lot of opportunity for us to work together, with NATO and your 29 member countries.
So again, you're a very welcome visitor and we look forward to welcome you back, and possibly even to Western Australia to have a look at the wonderful delights of Western Australia as well, Secretary General.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Questions?
Question: …discussion about the situation in the Persian Gulf and Australia?
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: Yes, we did. We have had discussions about what's happening in the Middle East. I can reiterate that the Australian government remains very concerned about the increased tensions in Straits of Hormuz and we are considering the American request, and also now the request from the United Kingdom, but we have not yet made any decision.
Question: What's your view on that situation and whether or not Australia should get involved?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: We are extremely of course concerned about the situation in the Strait of Hormuz and all Allies are also concerned about the destabilising activities of Iran in the region; its support to different terrorist groups, its missile programme, and all Allies also agree that Iran should never be able to develop any nuclear weapons.
Freedom of navigation is extremely important for NATO and for NATO Allies. Some NATO Allies are already present in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Gulf; United States, United Kingdom and some others. There is no NATO presence as such, but of course we are following the situation very closely because freedom of navigation is of course important for NATO.
Question: Minister, isn’t this just an extension of our current agreement? What's actually enhanced in this partnership?
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: Well, it's important. We've got an agreement every two years, to renew our agreement and cooperation, so what we’re doing is saying not only what we have been doing today is important but, in light of our discussions today and again tomorrow in Canberra, we are looking at new areas to work together in the Indo-Pacific. So, it's a reinforcement of our relationship and our increasingly close relationship in Brussels, and also here in our region.
Question: What does that practically mean for our troops?
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: Well, we're having a look… so, a number of ways; more people are now working in Brussels with NATO, we're also… and today we discussed the issue of critical minerals and access to rare earths, and some of the other increasing issues that we have got together. So what it means is we've said we are remaining working very closely together, but we now have new challenges that we're both facing and that we think we need to work more closely together on.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think it's important to understand that the agreement we signed today is a framework and then we fill it with activities and content as we move forward. And this framework is extremely important because it creates the framework for concrete cooperation. As we have, for instance, done for several years in Afghanistan, where Australia has participated with troops and paid a high price, sacrifices, helping us to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists.
You also support us in the training mission in Iraq and of course there are big differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but the basic idea is that prevention is better than intervention. Training local forces is the best thing we can do in fighting terrorism; helping countries to stabilise their own countries. And then we work together in these kind of operations, with Australia.
Cyber is another big challenge - it's a truly global challenge. And to exchange information, to exchange best practices, to learn from each other and also to have Australia participating in our big cyber exercises, will benefit NATO and hopefully also benefit Australia.
And then also how we can look into how we can work together on developing new capabilities, again important for NATO Allies and for Australia.
So, this is a framework and then, I think we have proven and we will prove also in the years and months ahead that we are able to fill that with concrete activities. Maritime operations, Australia has participated, we have worked together fighting piracy in different… other also maritime operations.
So, this is important and I think, the more unpredictable and challenging the security environment is, the more important is it that we stay together, work together, stand together, and protect a rules- based world order, and that’s the purpose of the partnership between Australia and NATO.
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: And I'll also add, for us this relationship with NATO is very important because, as we all know, we are living in increasingly uncertain geostrategic environments, in both Indo and the Pacific, and also to our South and the Southern Ocean. So, for us, working with partners and long- standing allies who share our values is very, very important. And NATO practically, under this framework, is a single point of entry for us to 29 other valued allies, so this relationship is very important for us, as we deal with emerging challenges.
Again, as the Secretary General said, we also talked about space and cyber and some other increasing challenges, of how we can, in our own national interest, work with NATO to protect Australia.
Question: Just on that question again, on Australia … have we actually got the capacity to have some involvement there, given how stretched we are already?
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: The Australian Defence Force is incredibly capable and has great capacity, but what we’re doing at the moment is we’re assessing the ask from United States, assessing what other allies are doing as well and how they're considering this. But I would say about this particular issue, we always take decisions in the national interest, in our sovereign interest, and we clearly do have a sovereign interest, because between 15% and 20% of our oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz. So, we’re not going to be rushed into a decision, but we are having a look at what our allies are doing and we will make a decision when we’ve got all the facts to hand.
Question: Is it the case that any contribution will be quite small in the scheme of things?
Linda Reynolds [Australian Defence Minister]: Well, I'm not pre-empting our decision on what we will do, but again we have… as you can see, on this great HMAS Hobart, we have great military capability, in our army, air force and navy, so we do have a number of options. But again, we will not be rushed into a decision. We’re assessing the situation with our allies and we will make a decision in our own national interest.