Press Briefing by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

preceding the March NATO Defence Ministerial Meeting

  • 07 Mar. 2011
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  • Last updated: 08 Mar. 2011 09:24

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Good afternoon,

The whole world is watching events in Libya and the wider Middle East. Many of our Allies have been evacuating their nationals and helping other people in need.  This is a humanitarian crisis on our door-step that concerns us all.  The civilian population in Libya is the target of systematic attacks by the regime.   So we must remain vigilant.

We strongly condemn the use of force against the Libyan people. The violation of human rights and international humanitarian law is outrageous.

As stated by the UN Security Council, these widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.

The Libyan authorities have a responsibility to protect the population; they should fulfil the legitimate demands of the Libyan people; and allow a peaceful transition to democracy.

Later this week, on Thursday and Friday, NATO defence Ministers will meet. The situation in Libya and the region will be top of the agenda.

Let me be clear. NATO has no intention to intervene in Libya. But as a defence Alliance and a security organisation, our job is to conduct prudent planning for any eventuality. We assume that an operational role would be in accordance with and pursuant to a UN Security Council mandate.

We are in close coordination and consultation with other international and regional organisations. I have invited EU High Representative Cathy Ashton to take part in some of our deliberations on Thursday. 

Defence ministers will discuss the   situation in Libya, but also the longer term prospects for the region. They will consider how NATO can do more to help our partners in North Africa and the wider Middle East during this period of transition, if they so wish.

We can see a strong wind of change blowing across the region – and it is blowing in the direction of freedom and democracy. 

For the people of the region, it is an encouraging development because political and economic freedom generates peace, prosperity and progress.

We are currently witnessing the formidable strength of freedom. In the long run, no society can ignore the will of the people. The human desire for freedom is universal. It resides in every human being. And it bursts all boundaries and barriers, not least thanks to the new communication technology.

In this era of cross-border communication and networking, it is no longer possible to suppress the will of the people. Freedom will prevail.

J’attends avec intérêt cette première réunion des ministres de la Défense depuis notre très fructueux sommet de Lisbonne. Nous commençons déjà à concrétiser certaines des décisions prises à Lisbonne. Et jeudi, je compte sur les ministres pour donner un élan encore plus politique à cet important processus.

Les ministres de la Défense entameront les travaux pratiques en se penchant sur certains des défis émergents majeurs auxquels nous sommes confrontés. Nous examinerons un Concept OTAN de cyberdéfense, définissant le rôle de l’Alliance dans la protection de ses systèmes et aidant les Alliés à faire face aux cybermenaces.

Nous franchirons un pas en avant dans la mise en place d’un système OTAN de défense antimissile --  en nous concentrant sur les indispensables arrangements - politiques et militaires - de consultation, de commandement et de contrôle. Les ministres examineront également une feuille de route sur les aspects politiques, militaires, organisationnels et financiers de la mise en œuvre d’une défense antimissile, afin que nous puissions prendre des décisions complémentaires en juin.

Pendant le dîner, j’ai l’intention d’exposer mes idées pour une “défense intelligente” (Smart Defence). Comme – je pense – vous le savez maintenant, il s’agit de voir comment nous pouvons faire un effort collectif pour nous assurer que la crise économique ne se transforme pas en une crise de sécurité.

En ces temps difficiles et incertains, j’encouragerai les ministres de la Défense à poursuivre les réformes – et à continuer d’investir dans les capacités critiques pour l’avenir. Il ne s’agit pas de dépenser davantage – car nous n’avons pas l’argent – mais de mieux dépenser. Il convient de mutualiser nos dépenses dans le cadre de projets multinationaux susceptibles d’aider chacun des pays à obtenir davantage de sécurité qu’il ne pourrait en obtenir seul.

Je pense que l'OTAN a un rôle important à jouer. Nous pouvons rassembler des pays, les aider à se comprendre et à s'entendre, de sorte que nous puissions avancer tous ensemble vers l'avenir avec une plus grande confiance.

This week we are also paving the way for Afghanistan’s future as a more stable country, taking charge of its own security step by step. We have invited the Afghan defence minister Wardak and all ISAF partners to discuss the recommendation of the Joint NATO Afghan Transition Board regarding the first tranche of provinces and districts to be transferred to Afghan security lead. President Karzai will make the announcement on March 21, marking Afghan New Year.

Indeed, this is the start of a new era, a very important process through which we hope to see Afghan authorities leading and conducting security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014. Of course, it has to be conditions-based. But I am quite optimistic. And I base my optimism on the growing strength of Afghan security forces, and on their greater skills. They are already taking part in most of our operations, and in many, they represent over fifty percent of the forces.

So, both in terms of quantity and quality, our training mission is a success. But it’s important that allies and partners continue to provide the trainers Afghanistan needs to be able to look after its own security by the end of 2014, as we all agreed in Lisbon. Because trainers are the ticket to transition.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): I'm happy to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): And please don't forget to introduce yourselves and who you represent. We'll start with the lady in the front row.

Q: Catherine Martens, German Television Deutsche Welle. What is your current position on no-fly zones and if you are not in favour, what's the alternative of NATO? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress once again, NATO has no intention to intervene in Libya. However, we have asked our military authorities to conduct prudent planning. I'm not going to further detail that, but we want to be prepared for all eventualities.

As regards a no-fly zone, it is, indeed, a very comprehensive undertaking. It will require a wide range of military assets and I assume that any NATO operation would take place in accordance with, and pursuant to, a UN mandate, and I take note of the fact that the current UN mandate doesn't authorize the use of armed forces.

Q: (Inaudible...) News. Just a follow-up to the questions. Are there any discussion on the possible naval blockade, or naval surveillance, in order to make sure that arms embargo, which was in the current UN resolution will be implemented completely? And there is talks of these things in the circle of the EU. How do you think of the EU-NATO cooperation on that issue? Thank you very much.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I think during a crisis like this it is of utmost importance to ensure close coordination between NATO and the European Union and other international organizations.

I also think it's of utmost importance now to focus on full implementation of the UN Security Council resolution, including arms embargo and the provision of humanitarian aid. However, NATO has not received any request in that regard.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thomas (inaudible). Behind.

Q: Thomas (inaudible), Swiss (inaudible) Television. Are you in contact with the Arab League? What kind of message are you getting from the ground in terms of... from the region, in terms of possibility of NATO playing a role? And do you look at the possible inflow of refugees in some NATO allies' territories like Italy as a security issue and not besides the humanitarian tragedy?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We don't consider the ongoing events in North Africa and the Middle East a direct threat to NATO or NATO allies. But obviously we monitor the situation closely. And we are also in contact with regional organizations like the Arab League and the African Union and I have taken due note of recent statements from the Arab League. And of course, it is of utmost importance that we listen to the voices of regional organizations during a crisis like this.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, (inaudible), German Television. Have you received any signals from members of the UN that NATO should intervene in the future and how much time would NATO need to intervene in Libya?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Once again, let me stress that NATO has no intention to intervene, but obviously as a security organization and defence Alliance we have asked our military to conduct all necessary planning so that we stand ready also at a short notice.

I will not go into details about this planning, but obviously we have, as a security organization, to be ready for all eventualities. We have not received any indications that our assistance would be necessary, not for the time being, but I think the international community monitors the situation closely and if Gadhafi and his military continue to attack the Libyan population systematically I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations stand idly by.

OANA LUNGESCU: We're going to two questions over here.

Q: Thank you very much. Magdy Youssef, from Nile News, Egyptian Television. Following the earlier question of my colleague about the communication with the Arab world, if you have some communication, you said that it's very important now to hear from them. Can you just tell us you're hearing from whom since there is no leaders nearly in that region, in Egypt, in Tunisia, is Libya, in Oman, in everywhere, so you are hearing from where about the situation in Libya?

Thank you very much?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but in concrete terms I have spoken with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Jean Ping. And we have, as I said, taken due note, also of public statements from the foreign ministers of the Arab League.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. The Assistant U.S. Deputy... ambassador just told us, as a matter of fact, that in his view he thinks NATO should drop it's traditional diffidence and timidity about making... proactively making an offer of military assets and assistance and even intervention if necessary, it doesn't mean that NATO would act on it, but it should proactively and publicly make that offer.

Two questions: Do you agree with that? And secondly, is a UN mandate the only mandate that could be accepted? What about one from the African Union? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, as I've already said, we have asked our military to conduct necessary planning for all eventualities, which also means that we stand ready to assist if so requested and probably mandated. And as far as mandates are concerned, I assume that any NATO operation would take place in accordance with and pursuant to a UN mandate.

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire-Général, a "no fly zone", une zone d'exclusion aérienne, vous avez dit que ça nécessite beaucoup de "military assets", est-ce que dans votre esprit, cela veut dire que c'est une opération militaire? Est-ce que pour l'OTAN, le "no fly zone", la zone d'exclusion aérienne serait une opération militaire? Deuxième question, est-ce que l'embargo sur les armes pour lequel l'ONU a déjà donné mandat à tous les pays membres de l'ONU... est-ce que l'OTAN considère en tant qu'organisation qu'elle a déjà donc le mandat de saisir en mer des bateaux ou en l'air des avions qui seraient suspects de transporter des armes pour M. Kadhafi?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secrétaire-général de l'OTAN): Bien sûr, une zone d'exclusion aérienne serait une opération militaire, clairement. Donc, une telle opération devrait être fondée sur un mandat du conseil de sécurité des Nations-Unies.

Et la deuxième partie de votre question?

Q: (Inaudible...)


Q: Le Conseil de sécurité a déjà voté, vous l'avez dit, l'embargo sur les armes. Donc, est-ce que l'OTAN, NATO "as such", est-ce que l'OTAN a déjà la possibilité, selon vous, d'intervenir par l'intermédiaire de ses membres qui ont déjà des bateaux et des avions dans la région pour arraisonner, arrêter, stopper, fouiller tout bateau ou tout avion susceptible de transporter ces armes?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Tout d'abord, il faut... il faut focaliser sur la pleine implémentation de la résolution du Conseil de sécurité des Nations-Unies en plus l'embargo des armes. Mais à ce moment, on n'a pas demandé à l'OTAN d'assister à cet égard. Mais on a déjà dit, nous avons demandé aux militaires de l'OTAN de faire la planification nécessaire et prudente pour toute éventualité.


Q: Yes, David Brunsstrom from Reuters. Secretary General, if all NATO members were in accord on the need for a no-fly zone over Libya, would it then be possible to act without a UN Security Council mandate?

Second question: If it turns out the coalition outside of NATO is formed to implement such a no-fly zone, could NATO facilities be used?

And just one final question. You said that there's no direct threat to NATO, but if a power vacuum is created in Libya how concerned are you about the possibility of militant activity growing in Libya and that presenting a threat to Europe and elsewhere?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that I'm definitely not going to embark on answering hypothetical questions, so let me just repeat that I assume that any NATO operation would take place in accordance with and pursuant to a UN mandate. I also note that the current UN mandate does not authorize the use of armed forces.

However, it is an evolving situation, and as I said, I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations stand idly by if Gadhafi and his regime continue to attack their own people systematically.

Q: ITAR-TASS News Agency, Denis Dubrovin. Secretary General, a step back from Libya to NATO-Russia cooperation in the area of missile defence. A few days ago our mutual friend James Appathurai has said in Washington that it's totally unacceptable for NATO, the proposals of the sectoral missile defence system in Europe, Russian proposals.

So does it mean that we now have more misunderstandings in this area? Or how could you comment on this statement? Thank you very much.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but that statement does not represent a new position. It is actually what has already been stated by NATO leaders already during our meeting in Lisbon. It's well-known that we have initiated a joint analysis as to how we can implement practical cooperation on missile defence. It is a joint analysis.

Russia presents her ideas. We present our ideas, and I am quite optimistic that at the end of the day we will find a solution because we are faced with a common security challenge.

I would like to stress that we want to pursue a cooperative approach, but we do believe that it is possible to really pursue a cooperative approach through a system which is based on a Russia missile defence system responsible for the protection of Russian territory and the Russian population and a NATO-based system responsible for the protection of NATO allies.

It shouldn't be a surprise that NATO can't, of course, outsource the protection of a NATO territory and NATO populations. So now let's focus on what unites us and I do believe that we can find mutually satisfactory solutions to a cooperative approach.

Q: Noureddine Fridhi, from Al Arabiya news channel. Secretary General, you tasked the military to prepare all eventualities and among that, of course, the no-fly zone. I would like to know if you also tasked the politicians in the house, and the military also, to take into account that there is ongoing revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt? So the public opinion could be very sensitive to the issue of any military operation in Libya. Having in mind that the situation changed totally from the situation in Iraq and the public opinion in the Arab world changed dramatically from 2003 and now.

So my question, do you take into account the sensitivity of the public opinion in Tunisia, in Egypt, and also in other Arab countries in North Africa towards any, let's say, foreign intervention in the region? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, indeed, we do take those sensitivities into account, and I think that question illustrates very well the dilemma, the dilemma with which the international community is faced, because on the one hand we find it outrageous what is going on in Libya, and let me reiterate that if these systematic attacks against the Libyan people continue it may amount to crime against humanity. And many people around the world would be tempted to say let's do something to prevent this massacre against the Libyan civilian population.

On the other hand, you're also right in pointing to the fact that there are a lot of sensitivities in the region as far as foreign military intervention is concerned, or what might be considered as a foreign military intervention. And that's exactly the dilemma. And this is also reason why it's so important that we stay in close contact with regional organizations like the Arab League and the African Union and the reason why it's important that any NATO operation takes place in accordance with and pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution.

So we are very much aware of that aspect.

OANA LUNGESCU: Two more questions. One there.

Q: Yes, (inaudible), Danish News Agency Ritzau. It's a question regarding the anti-piracy mission, operation. Recently seven Danish citizens have been taken hostage in this area. Do you foresee any discussions at this meeting, the forthcoming meeting, or any decisions about reinforcing the operation in this area that could be broadening the mandate, or sending more ships or anything in that regard. And do you personally feel it would be necessary to do so? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I strongly regret what has happened to the Danish family. It's really a very unfortunate situation, and an indication of the big challenge with which we are faced in the Indian Ocean.

And we are currently reviewing our maritime strategy in general, including our counterpiracy operation. I would envisage an in-depth discussion on that at Defence Ministers' meeting in June. It will not be top of the agenda during the upcoming meeting because we have a lot of other issues to discuss and we are, as I said, currently preparing a review of our general maritime strategy. But personally I do believe that the international community as such has to look closer into how we can reinforce the counterpiracy operation.

It's obvious that we need to strengthen our efforts in the fight against piracy. Strengthen the international legal framework to deal with pirates. Strengthen coordination and cooperation between the actors in the counterpiracy operation, and probably also to increase the number of assets at our disposal in the counterpiracy operation.

But at the end of the day it is a comprehensive undertaking that involves close cooperation between NATO, the European Union and individual partners across the globe.

Q: Bonjour, Monsieur le Secrétaire (inaudible...) Radio Algérie Internationale. Pour revenir sur le "no fly zone", vous avez parlé de planification prudente. Est-ce que dans cette planification prudente vous avez prévu de vous concerter avec les pays voisins de la Libye?


Q: Pour revenir à la planification prudente dont vous avez parlée, pour le "no-fly zone", est-ce que vous avez prévu de vous concerter avec les pays voisins de la Libye dans le cas où il y aurait donc cette mesure?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: J'ai pris bonne note de la déclaration des ministres des Affaires étrangères de la Ligue arabe. On a indiqué que... qu'on serait prêt de soutenir une zone d'exclusion aérienne si M. Kadhafi continue d'attaquer la population civile en Libye. Mais encore une fois, je vais souligner qu'une opération de l'OTAN devrait être fondée sur un mandat de l'ONU.

OANA LUNGESCU: One last... do you have time for one more question? Two minutes? Okay.

Q: Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and others. With Secretary Gates in Kabul I wanted to know your concerns about renewed tension between the U.S. and Afghan governments over the civilian casualties. Are there further measures that can be taken to protect civilians and what are your thoughts for the upcoming spring season of fighting?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I strongly regret civilian casualties and let me take this opportunity to convey my condolences to the bereaved families.

I can assure you that our military in Afghanistan, our soldiers, do all they can to minimize the number of civilian casualties. And actually we have succeeded in reducing our share of civilian casualties.

The fact is that according to United Nations statistics the enemies of Afghanistan are responsible for a huge majority of civilian casualties. Actually three-quarters of killed civilians are killed by the enemies of Afghanistan. But obviously one civilian casualty is one too much and I know that our military under the leadership of General Petraeus do all they can to diminish the number of civilian casualties.

I will leave it to our military commanders on the ground to explore further whether additional steps could be taken, but I have really confidence in them. I do believe that they are very much focused on diminishing the number of civilian casualties.

Q: And the surge, spring... and spring surge?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I foresee more fighting during 2011 due to the fact that we have increased the number of international troops and Afghan security forces due to the fact that we are attacking the Taliban strongholds, due to the fact that the Taliban is under pressure everywhere. Due to all these facts I foresee more fighting during 2011.

But the fact is that we are making clear progress on the ground and this is also reason why we will now start this new phase of our operation, a gradual transition to lead Afghan responsibility province by province, district by district, when conditions permit. Hopefully completed by the end of 2014.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much.