Monthly press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • Last updated: 03 Sep. 2009 12:00

Thank you for coming. This is the first in what will be a regular feature in my calendar, and I hope yours as well: a monthly press conference, not with a visiting President or Prime Minister, but simply to discuss with you the issues on NATO’s agenda.

There are three issues in particular I wish to raise – then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

First issue: Afghanistan, in particular the Strategic Assessment and the elections.

On Monday, General MacChrystal finalised his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. I do not intend to discuss today the contents of the document.

But I do want to note that this is the Commander’s assessment of the situation on the ground, and the way he believes the operation should be adapted to meet its goals. This is not an agreed, approved new strategy. It will now be examined closely by NATO.

But I will make one comment. This mission, like any mission, needs constant examination, constant adjustment, as the situation changes. That is what this assessment addressed. But there will be no change to our commitment to the Afghan people. No change to our resolve to see this mission through, as long as it takes.

With regard to Afghanistan, let me also make a couple of points about the elections.

First: the security aspects of the elections went well – in fact, better than expected. 95% of the 6500 polling stations opened as planned. Only 2% were attacked. That is a real success, which goes first and foremost to the Afghan Security Forces.

Second: it is too early to make final judgements on fraud or turnout, considering that the final, certified results will only be confirmed in two weeks or so. There is a process, and structures in place, to investigate and make judgements on accusations of fraud. Let them do their work. And all parties must behave responsibly, during this fluid period.

Third: we need to keep this election in perspective. Whatever happens – and I hope the final results will be credible – we must remember that we don’t have 60,000 troops in Afghanistan simply for elections. We are there to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. Credible elections are part of that, but we shouldn’t forget that we’ve successfully kept Afghanistan from becoming safe haven for terrorism., and we will continue to do so.

One area where we are clearly making progress is in fighting the drugs trade. I welcome the report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, which once again draws a clear link between the narcotics trade and the insurgency in Afghanistan. 

There has been a decrease in cultivation (22%), production (10%) and prices (33%) of opium in Afghanistan over the past year.   That is good news. And it s the result of a true team effort: Afghans, UN, and NATO.

The significant decrease in cultivation in Helmand Province is a great example of what can be achieved when strong Afghan leadership is supported by expanded counter-narcotics operations on the part of Afghan and NATO forces.

I agree with the UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa , when he says that NATO should continue its enhanced counter narcotics effort, which is having a positive effect. He can be assured we will

This is clearly an important moment for Afghanistan. The Commander’s assessment is now complete, with a fresh approach to carrying out the mission – and we will look at that now. We will have, soon, the results of the elections and a new Government. As we look forward, I believe strongly that we must and will step up our efforts to train and equip the Afghan forces, to help them take the lead. And that means we need all the Allies and Partners to do more – so that, eventually, we can start to do less.

Next: relations between NATO and the European Union.

You all understand the situation as it is. There is enormous potential for cooperation between NATO and the EU. If we could actually coordinate the military power and transatlantic engagement of NATO, with the civilian and financial resources of the EU, think of how much positive change we could achieve.

Unfortunately, the reality falls far short of that potential. We can’t even have security arrangements between the two organisations on the ground in Afghanistan, where we both have personnel. This is a waste of resources. It makes our missions less effective – and therefore longer. And it potentially puts personnel at risk.

I don’t believe any serious politician intends to put personnel at risk in the field. But that is what happens. Which is why I have made tackling this problem a priority for me from the beginning of my tenure.

I raised this issue when I visited Greece and Turkey – countries which can play an important role in improving the situation. What I heard was, I must say, encouraging. Both countries assured me that their bilateral relations were strong. That any bilateral differences would not affect NATO-EU relations. And that they were determined to work with me to see how NATO-EU relations could be improved.

As I say, I finished my visit encouraged. But of course, this was the first step, not the solution. I am fully aware of the theology that has held back this important relationship where it matters – in the real world. I intend to engage with the Allies, and with my colleagues at the EU, to find a pragmatic way to break through this impasse.

Let me move to a third issue: NATO Transformation.

Now, before your eyes glaze over, let me be clear: I am no more interested in arcane, bureaucratic formulations than you are. Believe me.

To my mind, NATO transformation is, first and foremost, about making sure we have the kinds of forces that we can deploy, with the equipment and training they need, and at a price we can afford. It’s as simple as that.

The reality is that, in NATO, we simply don’t yet have that. The yardsticks have been moved a little. But there’s a long way to go. The bottom line is this: excluding the US, NATO countries have over 2 million people in uniform. But we have trouble sustaining 50,000 or so in field. We have fleets of helicopters in the NATO inventory, but can’t find a few more for Afghanistan, because they aren’t the right kind. We are short 10 training teams – about 200 soldiers – to help create the Afghan forces that will secure their own country, but can’t seem to find the right soldiers to do this either. This is not value for money. We can do better.

I raise this today because next week, after I visit Ottawa, I will go to Norfolk to participate in the change of command ceremony at our Allied Command Transformation. A French officer, General Abrial, will take command from General Mattis. And I will look to him to energise the transformation process – to ensure it delivers concrete improvements in the field, where it matters.

It is, of course, the first time a French General has taken this command in NATO. It is a manifestation of the return of France to the military structure, and of France’s central role in all facets of this Alliance. I hope that this will help ease some of the suspicions that had held back progress in the first area I mentioned: NATO - EU relations. I intend to discuss this issue tomorrow with President Sarkozy, as well as Minister Kouchner and Minister Morin, in Paris.

But transformation is also about NATO as a whole. About what NATO in the 21st century should do. Where it should do it. With what partners. And how. All the issues that will be addressed in the Strategic Concept Review.

I am kicking off the formal part of that process this Friday. All 12 members of the group I selected to launch the review, including of course the Chairperson, Madeleine Albright, will be here on Friday, including to have a discussion with the NATO Ambassadors.

That, I think, covers the issues I wanted to raise with you at this first monthly press conference. I’m happy to take any questions you might have.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. I do have a question about the boring subject of transformation. ACT has made some progress, although not enough, many of the allies will say that, and that certainly applies to the NRF, the NATO Response Force, which has never deployed, but which is occasionally used as a test bed for different interoperability issues.

So I just wanted to ask you about the NRF? What do you think should be done with this beast? Should it be forced to deploy or should it just remain as a test bed? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have always been strongly in favour of the NRF, partly because I consider it a very important instrument to promote transformation and reform of our armed forces. And partly because I really do believe that NATO needs what we might call a rapid reaction force, rapid response force, to be deployed if a situation requires so.

Therefore, I will make it a focal point, to make sure that the NRF will really be operational. I don't think it should just be a test case. So I have, and I will put it on the agenda, in NATO and we will discuss this in the coming months.

Q: (Inaudible...), National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, at least according to the last press reports, NATO mentioned that it has no intention to provide Ukraine with no kind of military assistance in case of crisis. I just came back from Ukraine and I can say you that many Ukrainians consider that like a signal, like a green light NATO gave to Russia for a more active engagement in Crimea, as Russia is much less sensitive to the issue of the sovereignty of the third countries.

So that my question is, how reasonable you consider that concerns? And the second part of the question, what is the practical sense of the new chapters of the bilateral charter between NATO and Ukraine? Thank you so much.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, let me stress that we have never given, and will never give, a green light for aggression towards sovereign nations. Of course not.

Next, we stick to the decision taken by the NATO Foreign Ministers in December last year, according to which we will cooperate practically with Ukraine as well as Georgia, aiming at reforming the armed forces of the two countries.

So there is no change in our attitude. Yes, I think that covers...

Q: Thomas Lauritzen from the Danish newspaper Poliken. Just to return to the elections in Afghanistan, you mentioned the allegations of fraud. I believe more than 2,500 complaints have been made now, that will have to be examined. Are you at all worried that you'll end up with a government that does not have legitimate power in the eyes of a big part of the population because of this?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, at the end of the day it is for the Afghan people to judge whether the elections can be considered credible. We have established institutions to deal with complaints and also to count the votes, and I have noted that the UN has expressed confidence in these institutions. So this is the reason why I said let them do their work and then it's for the Afghans to decide whether they consider the elections credible at the end of the day.

Q: (Inaudible...), IHA News Agency, Turkish News Agency. Mr. Secretary, it's not on your agenda today, however, it's very important for Turkey. Would you like to evaluate... make some evaluation on the latest developments on Turkish-Armenian relations? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I warmly welcome the improvement in the relations between the two countries. I do believe that it will contribute to stability and security in that part of Europe, and I also feel confident that all parties involved will focus on improvements of the overall security and stability in that region.

So I have very positive attitude, obviously.

JAMES APPATHURAI: The next two there.

Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency KUNA. Mr. Secretary General, last month you have spoken about closer ties between NATO and Istanbul Initiative countries, especially the four Gulf countries. Could you elaborate on that and did you meet the ambassadors of the four countries? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, as you rightly pointed out, I invited the ambassadors from the countries within the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and also the Mediterranean Dialogue, 11 ambassadors. I have invited them to my office to discuss with them how we could further develop our partnerships with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries.

These meetings have been very fruitful, very positive, and they have provided me with some ideas and inputs. I will now reflect on that.

Actually I also discussed this issue during my recent visit to Turkey. They also provided me with some ideas. So I look very much forward to cooperating with the countries involved, in further development of these partnerships, and by the way, I will visit the region by the end of October, when the ICI group will organize a seminar and I will attend that seminar.

So a number of different initiatives will be taken in the coming months.

Q: If it turns out that these allegations of fraud in the Afghan elections firm up, you said it's up to the Afghan people to either accept them or not, but what will it mean for the international community? Can the international community keep up an effort... war effort in Afghanistan to prop up an illegitimate regime?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Obviously we need a legitimate government in Afghanistan and I really hope that the elections and the whole electoral process will be considered credible by the Afghans themselves. But I think it's premature to make any final judgement here and now. I think we should respect that these elections are Afghan-led, for the first time Afghan-led. It's quite a challenge for the Afghans, and they have, in cooperation with us, established institutions to deal with the count of votes, as well as complaints about fraud and other things. And I really think we should now respect this process and then let the Afghans make the judgement themselves.

And I think it's premature for us to make any judgement right now.

Q: General Secretary, this is (inaudible...), German Television. You mentioned the report about the elections in Afghanistan and the good results. Do you think that NATO needs in the coming months more troops in Afghanistan to increase the situation?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think it's premature at this stage to make any final assessment as far as the number of troops is concerned. But I can say one thing: We will need more resources, including more trainers, for the NATO training mission. It is essential that we develop the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces, police and notably the army.  To that end we need to get the NATO training mission up and running and therefore we are in the process now of force generation and I would not exclude the possibility that we will need even more trainers than expected because there will be a strong need for a significant increase in the capacity of the Afghan security forces if we are to fulfil our ultimate goal, namely, to hand over gradually the lead responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves.

So we will now look closer into the assessment, which is carried out about by General McChrystal. In the wake of that I think we can also make more precise assessments as far as the number of troops is concerned, but once again, I would like to stress we need more trainers for the NATO training mission.

Q: Danielle Milovska(ph), A1 TV Macedonia. I would like to know how do you approach the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia, but also we all know that Macedonia should be more constructive in this process, but what will you as a new Secretary General ask from Greece in this dispute this time?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, obviously I discussed this issue with the Greek political leadership. To my mind it is of utmost importance that we find a solution to the name dispute. As we all know we have decided at the Bucharest Summit that once the name problem has been solved, then accession talks can start. I encourage all involved parties to show pragmatism in their endeavours to find a solution, and I hope to see some progress during this fall.

Q: Keigo Sakai for Japan's Yomiuri. As you know, Japan's Democratic party won landslide victory on the... in the election that took place last Sunday. And well, but no one really knows what the new administration will do in terms of international security. And the only thing that's clear is that DPJ didn't mention a single word about Afghanistan in its manifesto and that it wants to pull out all the ships from the refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean.

Against this backdrop, what do you think is the implications of the election results, and how significant or insignificant has Japan's contribution been, especially in Afghanistan? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, let me express my appreciation of the Japanese contributions, not least in the financial field. The Japanese contributions have been significant and highly appreciated.

Next, I would also like to stress that we have had the very best cooperation and relationship with the previous government of Japan and I look forward to continuing this relationship and cooperation with the new government.

All in all I attach a great importance to a strong partnership between NATO and Japan.

Q: Alexa (inaudible), Novaya Gazeta, Moscow. Secretary General, at your first press conference a month ago you mentioned Russia, relations with Russia as your second priority of your work. This time it was a big absent from your press conference. Do you consider some more steps to improve relations with Russia? And concerning Afghanistan, what is the state of play of Russian transit of goods from... NATO goods to Afghanistan? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As you rightly pointed out, I mentioned the relationship with Russia as one of my main priorities, and it still is. And actually I have had a first meeting with the Russian ambassador to NATO, Mr. Rogozin. Actually, a very successful, very fruitful and very useful meeting I would say. And based on that I'm right now reflecting on which further steps could be taken.

I look forward to engaging with the Russian political leadership. I really do believe that it is of utmost importance for the stability and security in Europe that we develop a true strategic partnership with Russia.

Having said that, we also know that we have disputes on some issues, no reason to hide that, but they should not overshadow our basic interest in cooperating in those areas in which we share security interests and concerns and threats, like terrorism, Afghanistan, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I could also mention piracy. And I think we should focus on these areas.

And you also mentioned Afghanistan. We do appreciate the Russian willingness to provide transit routes for ISAF, and I think we could further develop the cooperation also in that field.

Q: (Inaudible) Faruki, GEO Television, Pakistan. Secretary General, I would like to draw your attention to last... yesterday. President of Pakistan told visiting American senators that Pakistan don't want to see NATO arming any group outside ANA. Certainly he was indicating some group, private group, outside Afghan National Army. Are you deliberating or contemplating that NATO would arm some civilian outside ANA in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: What we are focusing on is to train Afghan soldiers. We have already set the goal to increase the number of troops within the Afghan Army to 134,000 troops. I would not exclude the possibility that we need to expand further.

And now I'm speaking about the Afghan National Army and that's our focus. And the aim of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan is to train Afghan soldiers.

Q: (Inaudible...), News (inaudible) Ukraine. Secretary General, you said about importance of providing more training in Afghanistan, and that NATO is in need of more trainers. Ukraine in the past have participated in the training missions led by NATO, specifically in training of the police. Are you thinking of addressing... of inviting your partner countries to participate in training missions and is Ukraine been addressed on that, conducted (inaudible...)?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think at the end of the day we will need as many trainers as we can get and my point of departure would be to welcome any contribution that could serve our overall goal to significantly increase the number of Afghan troops.

JAMES APPATHURAI: We'll take two more here, and there. Sorry.

Q: Olav Christensen, Danish TV. You've already had the chance to go around and visit a lot of NATO countries. Have you had any actual commitments from any country to provide more trainers at this stage for the Afghan National Army, for the training of the National Afghan Army?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually the force generation process has already started. It takes place within the military system, and that force generation process has started as, if I may call it that, a top-down process. We have started to find the commanders.

And so far it has been quite successful. The real challenge will be to find the trainers and this is the reason why I raise this question determinedly when I visit the capitals. Whether we will fulfil requirements will be visible during this fall, but as you can imagine I will put a lot of focus on that and I will not hesitate to remind the political leaders in the Alliance of their commitment to the decision taken at the NATO Summit in Strasbourg.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Last question is there.

Q: Thank you. Yes, Dragan Blagojevic, Serbian Beta News Agency. Secretary General, how do you see the situation in Kosovo after last week's violence against EULEX and do you see maybe some threat of broader confrontation between Albanian side and west as suggest American agency (inaudible)? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, despite the unfortunate incidents, I don't think the overall security situation has changed. So we will stick to the decision already taken that we will reduce the number of KFOR troops from a level of 15,000 to a level of 10,000 at the beginning of next year.

I think the overall security situation has improved, and the conditions are fulfilled that we can take that step. I would add to that that we have a long term goal of further reductions, but each step will be taken after a thorough analysis of the security situation and we will definitely not take any step which could have a negative impact on the security situation in Kosovo and in the region.

Let me conclude by saying that I visited Kosovo recently and I was encouraged by what I saw and what I heard. I think the political leadership in Kosovo feels committed to fulfilling their international obligations, including decentralization and integration of all communities in the Kosovar community.

So still, I think, the overall security situation is quite satisfactory.

Thank you.