Opening statement by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

Knud Bartels, at the joint press point following the 170th NATO Chiefs of Defence meeting

  • 23 Jan. 2014
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  • Last updated: 23 Jan. 2014 17:14

General Knud Bartels (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee)

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for coming.  As the Chairman of the Military Committee, I would like to start this press conference by giving you an overview on the outcomes of our meetings with NATO and Partners Chiefs of Defence. 

Over the last two days, we had some very positive discussions on NATO Operations, Partnerships and Transformation, which have helped us define our military priorities over the coming months to enable us to deliver the best military advice to our politicians for the forthcoming Ministerials and the NATO Summit, to be held in Wales in September 2014.  The summit will be an important milestone for the Alliance, in terms of operations, future military capabilities and partnerships.

The Military Committee meetings started yesterday with a dedicated session with our Mediterranean Dialogue partners, who highlighted a series of shared threats – from human trafficking, arms smuggling to terrorism – which are currently affecting the region and ultimately all of us.  Therefore, we agreed to revitalize the forum of the Mediterranean Dialogue and strengthen the important military-to-military relations with our partners from the region, in order to enhance mutual understanding, practical cooperation and interoperability.   

In the ISAF meeting, NATO and Partner Chiefs of Defence reaffirmed their commitment to fully support the ISAF Commander over the next 11 months.  This will be a critical timeframe, during which we will transition the ISAF operation, fulfill the bulk of our redeployment and set the conditions for the new Resolute Support mission.  NATO and Partner Chiefs of Defence share COMISAF’s view of an increasingly competent, confident and capable Afghan National Security Forces, but they also recognize that the Afghan Security Forces still require our assistance.  A challenging period therefore lies ahead of us, which will be shaped to a large extent by the preparations for, and outcomes of the elections.  NATO and its ISAF partners will continue their commitment to Afghanistan throughout the year, to ensure that the Afghan National Security Forces complete the process of transitioning full security responsibility to them by end-2014.  As agreed with the Afghan authorities in the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010 and reaffirmed at the NATO Chicago Summit in 2012, our task is instrumental for the pursuit of the fundamental objective that has always underpinned the mission: to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

In the Resolute Support session, we reviewed our planning and preparations for the delivery of the post 2014 NATO-led Train Advise and Assist mission.  While we keep working with the Afghan authorities in establishing the legal framework for our new mission, we do also realize the need to stay flexible and agile in our planning process.  For that reason, we will continue to develop our military plans in the months to come, so that we are ready to deliver our best military option when the legal framework is concluded.  There are no doubts about our commitment to Afghanistan post 2014, as part of a broad international community effort.  So the sooner we conclude those negations, the better it will be for the continuation of our planning of a new NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces. 

In the meeting with our partners from the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, we focused on the practicalities associated with military-to-military cooperation and how to improve this valuable forum of discussion.  In particular, we explored ways to stimulate and maintain the interoperability achieved in operations once these conclude, and encouraged our partners to continue participating in the partnership activities.

At the NATO-Russia Council with Military Representatives in Chiefs of Defence format, we had a very constructive and open dialogue on how to strengthen NATO’s partnership with the Russian Federation, and vice versa, while continuing to develop opportunities to build trust and mutual understanding.  Building on the successful level of cooperation reached in 2013, the Chiefs of Defence approved the 2014 Work Plan and committed to work together on the Military-to-Military Cooperation Road Map for 2015-2017, with the aim of approving it at the next meeting in May this year in Brussels.  We agreed to continue to explore areas of mutually beneficial cooperation, such as: counter piracy, counter terrorism, search & rescue at sea, logistics and medical support to our troops.  We also acknowledged the value of the Cooperative Airspace Initiative and the Afghan Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund.  These are both very positive achievements which demonstrate the tangible benefits of our cooperation. 

To give you some examples of the range of activities we will conduct in 2014:

  • There will be a significant submarine rescue exercise, called Dynamic Monarch, which will be conducted under the NATO Partnership for Peace format. 
  • The next iteration of exercise ‘Vigilant Skies’ will also be carried out, practicing coordination in situations when aircrafts are used for terrorist purposes. 
  • Later this year, a highly successful Military Academic Exchange will take place at the NATO Defence College in Rome and the General Staff Academy in Moscow. 

These events received many plaudits in 2013 and we sincerely hope we can maintain the quality of these activities in 2014.

While there have been, and continue to be, some areas where we do disagree, I remain positive about NATO’s military-to-military relationship with Russia.  I am regularly in contact with General Gerasimov and I look forward to visiting him in Moscow later this year.  Therefore, I hope we can build upon these relationships and this positive momentum.

In our last session yesterday with KFOR Partners, we acknowledged the significant political progress in Kosovo.  However, we also reiterated the importance of ensuring that any changes to the KFOR role and posture should be conditions-based and, as such, we agreed a set of benchmarks and indicators.  Our intention is to gradually reduce the size of KFOR as and when conditions allow.  The conditions are not there yet and any decision will be taken based on real improvements on the ground. 

That brings us to today’s discussions, when the NATO Chiefs of Defence provided guidance to the Strategic Commanders on NATO Transformation way ahead.  The Chiefs of Defence expressed their full support in the implementation of the Connected Forces Initiative, which will be crucial after 2014, when the ISAF mission will conclude.  NATO’s operational engagements will not end but will continue with Operation Ocean Shield, KFOR, Operation Active Endeavour and our air policing missions.  However, as agreed by Defence Ministers last October, CFI – our Connected Forces Initiative – will be key in enabling our Alliance, and in particular its military component, to be ready, relevant and effective for future security challenges. 

The ‘High Visibility’ exercises will be an important component in delivering CFI, but we must avoid the temptation to think of them as one-off events.  Instead, we will ensure that they are one part of a robust, relevant and comprehensive Education, Training, Exercise and Evaluation Framework that adds value and quality to Nations and NATO. 

Within this in mind, Exercise Trident Juncture 2015 will be a practical demonstration of the Alliance’s shift from a deployed to a prepared outlook, a launch pad for our future training and modalities, and a flagship for Connected Forces Initiative and NATO.  Our planning for this event is on track and NATO Chiefs of Defence expressed their commitment to support the exercise.  We also strongly encouraged the work on linking and clustering national and NATO exercises, and underlined the importance of partnership participation in exercises. 

NATO Chiefs of Defence expressed their full support to the Smart Defence approach and agreed on focusing attention on key projects, which are associated with the capability shortfalls highlighted in the NATO Defence Planning Process, such as Joint ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) and Ballistic Missile Defence.  Smart Defence remains a powerful tool to address multinational needs while developing the right capabilities required by the Alliance.

We concluded with a useful discussion on NATO’s activities in the maritime domain, during which we noted the Alliance’s important role in respect of countering terrorism, piracy and emerging global threats.

To sum up, it has been a fruitful meeting.  We have set the basis for our work on the 2014 Summit deliverables, which we will revise during our next Military Committee meeting in Chiefs of Defence format in May later this year.  Once again, thank you for your attention.  I will now hand over to the Strategic Commanders for a more in-depth analysis of the challenges ahead with regard to Operations and Transformation.