Joint press conference

with Military Committee Chairman General Knud Bartels, SACEUR General Breedlove and SACT General Paloméros

  • 21 May. 2015
  • |
  • Last updated: 22 May. 2015 09:48

Left to right: General Jean-Paul Palomeros (Supreme Allied Commander Transformation) with General Knud Bartels (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee) and General Philip M. Breedlove (Supreme Allied Commander Europe)

Thank-you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, Good afternoon. Let me start this press conference by giving you an overview of the outcome of the second NATO Chiefs of Defence meeting of 2015.

Throughout the two day meetings, the Chief of Defence discussed the new and constantly evolving security environment, which I believe has become the new norm. They discussed the challenges emanating from both our Eastern and Southern flanks and the need for NATO to continue to adapt and ensure All Allies are secure against any threat.

And NATO is ensuring this. We have improved our situational awareness and intelligence, we are speeding up our decision making, exploring new ways of working with our international partners and we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War with the Readiness Action Plan which will be implemented in time for the Warsaw Summit. We have been able to substantially increase troop presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance on a rotational basis, establish six command and control centres the NATO Force Integration Units and augmented our exercises on land, at sea and in the air. We are also increasing the readiness and availability of the whole of our Armed Forces, spearheaded by the VJTF which will become fully operational in 2016.

Regarding the security challenges on our Eastern Flank, the Chiefs of Defence received a briefing yesterday by General Muzhenko, the Ukrainian Chief of General Staff, on the developments on the ground. This candid briefing provided a clear understanding of the seriousness of the situation. The Chiefs of Defence took the opportunity to reiterate their full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as there was continued concern with the increase in ceasefire violations by Russian backed separatists, their use of heavy weapons and the continued support for separatists.

The current strategic environment has highlighted the need for further strengthening of our strategic partnership and reinforcing our joint efforts and our common message. Partnerships are, and will continue to be essential, essential to the way NATO works and this is why we dedicated yesterday’s afternoon to meetings with our Partners. Partners have served with us in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and other operations, sacrificing alongside Alliance troops, and work with us in combating terrorism and piracy. It is by training and exercising together with our Partners that interoperability increases and this in turn makes everyone’s neighbourhood more secure as it is easier to plug in to military operations or coalition when Nations and Organisations work to the same standards.Therefore NATO will continue to be the strongest military alliance.

Our missions and operations have, and continue to, contribute to global peace and stability. The Chiefs of Defence in the Resolute Support session reiterated their commitment to the mission, reflected on the challenges ahead in Afghanistan and the progress that has been made while acknowledging there was still work to be done. KFOR’s session focused on the way ahead and how KFOR continues to ensure a safe and secure environment. The Chiefs of Defence agreed to continue to adapt our force levels based on the realities on the ground. In other words the decision remains conditions-based.

Lastly, the Chiefs of Defence exchanged views on military strategic approaches to the current situation NATO faces to the East and to the South. These views will enable further discussion on a future overarching Military Strategy for NATO in the midst of the developments in the global security environment.

With that, I will now want to hand the floor over to General Breedlove and afterwards General Paloméros, so immediately Phil...

GENERAL BREEDLOVE (Supreme Allied Commander Europe):  Good afternoon, thanks again for taking a few minutes to speak with us.  This is a particularly special conference. As it will be General Bartels' last one.  He mentioned to me how sad he was that he wasn't going to get to do these press briefings again in the future.

Seriously, I thought I would just say publicly how proud and honoured I am to have served with you, Knud.  I count Knud as a close friend.  And he will be greatly missed for his leadership and his remarkable ability to work with so many different dynamic personalities across the military council. 

As others have mentioned during this conference, we discussed several key important topics; and came to consensus about the military advice that we would offer our political leaders on various topics. Following the foreign ministerials last week in Turkey, we reiterated how important it is that the Alliance is prepared to handle two forms of strategic challenges from around our periphery. 

In the East, Russia continues to try to rewrite the international rules and principles that have formed the foundation of stability in Europe for decades, using all the elements of its national power including the military to coerce and influence States in its nearer broad. 

The fragile situation in East Ukraine remains volatile as world leaders continue to call for the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement.  During this relative dip in the fighting, Russian forces have resupplied and stockpiled forces equipment in and out of the cities of Eastern Ukraine; and remain capable of moving significant forces quickly to destabilize that region.

Although we cannot fully be certain of Russia's intentions, we are learning from the actions we are seeing; and honing our adaptation efforts appropriately.

To the South, we face a different set of challenges that involve multiple State and non-State actors.  Our members are facing the consequences of instability in North Africa, Sahel and Sub-Sahara as well as other regions which is driving migration and proving fertile ground for extremism, violence and terrorism.  The diverse nature of these sets of challenges is driving fresh thinking and innovative approaches as we marshal the resources and adapt our policies and procedures to work across national boundaries and among international organizations to respond fully and properly. 

In response to these challenges, we discussed the implementation of our Readiness Action Plan today, which is designed to allow NATO to respond anywhere more rapidly and effectively than ever before.

We discussed the current situation in Ukraine. And we also discussed the way ahead in Afghanistan and Resolute Support, as Knud has mentioned.  As you heard last week, NATO has made a commitment to an enduring civil-led presence in Afghanistan past 2016.  We also shared updated on the situation in Kosovo as well as Georgia. 

As we covered these topics, one theme came up again and again. And that theme is unity.  Our Alliance is as unified as I've ever seen it. And as we approach an intense period of training exercises across the land, sea and air domains in June, I'm extremely confident that our military capability will remain as potent as ever.  Thank you. And with this, I will turn it over to my good friend Jean-Paul Paloméros. 

JEAN-PAUL PALOMÉROS (Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation):  Thank you, Phil.  Let me join General Breedlove to say how much I was... I've been honoured to serve alongside shoulder to shoulder with General Knud Bartels, a true soldier and a true leader.  He has stressed the dynamism of military committee; in implementing all the decisions which have been made.  This is good to discuss. This is better to act. 

As first, General Breedlove and General Bartels have underlined, the need for adaptation... during the last two days, we're really focussed on developing an even more ready and more responsible Alliance.  And that was very much reflected in the constructive discussion with our partners as well on how we force our future engagement; how we share the future together.

And we have... we are well-advanced in the adaptation of our forces to cope with the emerging and diverse complex threats over all Alliance's periphery.  And I would stress that this adaptation measures are leveraging in a certain way already long-term transformation efforts. 

I will stress three points.  Exercises, you know that the enhancement of our exercise program has been a key objective for at least two years. And I'm very pleased to report that in 2015 we will have all together 200 and... more than 270 exercises under the NATO umbrella.  And more than.... about half of those dedicated to Assurance Measures in the Eastern part of NATO.  And this is how NATO demonstrates its ability to engage forces in very rapid and suitable manner. 

The scope of the exercise, the realism of the exercise have been improved dramatically, including hybrid threats, including cyber, including BMD [Ballistic Missile Defence].  And we will have a demonstration very soon in next fall with Trident Juncture 15 running the southern part of NATO, of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy as host nations:  more than thirty... thirty-five thousand troops deployed; 33 countries together including seven partners; including 15 international organizations and NGOs; including a great cooperation with the European Union.  That will be not only be a high visibility exercise, that will be a high credible exercise. 

Secondly, with our partners, as it was stressed, in Wales, it was decided to go further with our partners.  And for the first time, we gathered 25... the 25 partners of what we call the Interoperability Platform.  Interoperability is a key objective in our partnership.  That was a very fruitful.  And I can as well stress that today in our partnership cooperation menu we have almost 1 300 different activities which are open to partners, mainly in the field of education, training and obviously participation to NATO Response Force and to operations. 

Last and not least, when we consider the Readiness Action Plan, we much keep in mind that we have identified during... at the Wales Summit capability shortfalls. And we are really striving to fulfil those shortfalls.  We are expecting from the Wales pledge more reinvestment in capabilities, reinvestment for the people.  And we will certainly strive together to do the best out of this reinvestment.  Thank you for your attention.

CAPTAIN Dan Termansen (Spokesperson for the Chairman of the Military Committee):  Thank you, I will open up for questions.  When you ask your question, please state your name and who you represent.  First question?

Q:  Thank you, Ina STRAZDIŅA - Radio Latvia, my question to Mister Breedlove.  I would like to know: How do you see proposal from the Baltic States expressed in the letter and submitted to you to provide even more intensive training in the Baltics that NATO forces there would be almost constantly throughout the year?  Thank you!

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE:  We just literally received this letter in my office just the day before the conference. And so we've had a chance to take a look at it.  And we divided sort of, in my opinion, about seven or eight tasks that they've asked us to look at.  I must tell you that I'm very encouraged in that the work that we have been doing since the Wales Conference... And I look at that work at my headquarters in coordination with Jean-Paul's headquarters and have handed off much of it already to the military committee.  We've already addressed, I think, over half of their requests.  There are some new ones on there that we'll have to take under advisement.  We'll go back to our staffs and look at the feasibility of those requests and pass those up through the leadership after Jean-Paul and I have looked at them.  And we'll put our recommendations before the committee.


Q:  Yes, Gérard Godin, Belgium News Agency.  A question for... I don't know who exactly.  But NATO is going to retire a few AWACS.  Are you able to do what you have done in the past with 14 aircrafts?

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE: So first and foremost our AWACS fleet is one of the most modern flying.  And that's because NATO has done a good job in continuing to upgrade those aircrafts.  Right now, we plan to upgrade 14... eleven of those 14 aircrafts.  We've only made a decision to divest one at this moment, any further decisions have to be looked at down the road.  But these aircrafts have performed magnificently.  We just recently brought them home from Afghanistan where they had a long deployment and did an excellent job.  And now they are flying almost every day as a part of our Assurance Measures in the North and in the South.  Why can we do that?  Because we’ve invested wisely. They are some of the best flying. And that's what we'll continue to do into the future.

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  All right, next question, the lady over there, yes.

Q:  Thank you, Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press, over here. It's just a quick follow-up to my colleague's question.  I understand that the Baltic States want a brigade level from NATO to permanently be placed in these countries.  Is this actually feasible given the compromise of NATO not to put permanent boots on the ground, the reinforcement there?  And my second question would actually be on the Mediterranean... the possible mission... well, the mission that has been decided by the EU to tackle mafia.  I understand that for now there could be some intelligence sharing between NATO and the EU.  I know that formally there's been no request from the EU.  But I would just like to know if it's possible that both AWACS and also the Active Endurance Mission could provide this kind of intel of organizations.  And further down the line, there is scope for more operational cooperation between both organizations, given that with the piracy we do have this kind of collaboration...  I don't know with detaining smuggles eventually? Thank you.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS:  You take the first one here.

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE:  So as to the request, specific request that are in the paper that the three Baltic States have passed.  In Wales, our national leaders chose to have our forward-presence in the three Baltic nations and others to be in a rotational fashion. And so right now, that is the way that we will accomplish forward-presence. 

Of course, any request that a nation sends forward in such a serious manner we will look at those requests as I described before.  Jean-Paul and I will look at it from the training and employment views and then we'll pass to Brussels to General Bartels and the Military Committee our recommendations.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS (Chairman of the Military Committee):  Concerning the question raised as... to the upcoming EU operations in the Mediterranean, needless to say we have been following very carefully the decision-making process in the European Union.  The day before yesterday, there was a Military Committee meeting in the European Union, a military committee to which I was invited and participated part of the day.  And this issue was touched upon.  And finally during our meetings over the last two days, the Chair of the EU Military Committee has also been present.  So we are well informed... we've kept each other well informed about what's going on.  But ultimately a cooperation... a dedicated official cooperation between European Union and NATO will be up to our political decision-makers. And keep in mind that the 22 nations of the European Union are also member of NATO and vice versa.  So there's already an extensive cooperation within the nations with... be it in one organization or another.

GENERAL JEAN-PAUL PALOMÉROS:  I just have a few words. On these two questions, first and foremost, to stress that we have, as Philip Breedlove stressed, a very dynamic cooperation with the Baltics.  We are using all the possibilities to improve our expertise, capabilities through dynamic program of exercise, training, using the best centre of excellence for cyber, for StratCom, for energy security. So there is a great cooperation. And I'm sure we will be able to answer together to their legitimate concern.

Secondly, in the South, we have as well...  We discussed a partnership.  We are improving the partnership with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries.  And this is absolutely crucial.  They're very adamant to that it would be improved.  So we have a lot of common projects for better training, better exercising, sharing of user perspective.  So this is much in line with improving our cooperative security as well. 

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  Right, I have three questions on my list.  First question, there.  Gentleman!

Q:  Japanese Daily Mainichi.  My name is Saïto.  I would like to ask two questions about nuclear weapons to General... Mister Breedlove, if possible!  You already mentioned to our colleague... But I'd like to ask once again...  So that Russia mentioned some new measures to deploy for example nuclear-capable missiles or nuclear-capable bombers in Crimea.  So my two questions...  In fact, what kind of change of deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in fact do you see?  And the second question is that... is there any... do you feel some necessity to change your nuclear weapons in Europe... deployment... change the deployment of nuclear weapons in the European continent. 

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE: So just like you, we have watched very senior Russian individuals down to lesser officials in the government, all talk about nuclear possibilities and deploying nuclear possibilities; and the possibility of having used nukes if needed during the invasion and takeover of Crimea.  You've read all the stories which I've read. 

First, I would like to say that this is really not very responsible talk from a nuclear power. And so we do not support or endorse this kind of positioning in the press with nuclear weapons.

We have not seen any direct changes. But that does not mean that they may not have happened.  Remember that lots of the systems that the Russians used to deliver nuclear weapons are dual-use systems.  They can be either conventional or nuclear.  And some of those systems are deployed.  But we have to be very clear.  We have not seen direct evidence of any deployment of nuclear weapons. 

And the short answer to the last question is no.  We do not need to make any adjustments to our nuclear posture.  Most important and most foremost is we have a secure, safe and a very capable nuclear response. And that's... Our mission is to keep it that way.

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  Next question.  Gentleman!

Q:  Radio Free Europe Ukrainian Service Vitali Remiza.  Actually, I have two questions.  Would like to say what... what was the concrete decisions, probably, ideas to help Ukraine after the mission with the Ukrainian Military Commander?  And second question:  Is... In Ukraine actually, there is an idea talking... people talking about installing in Ukrainian territory NATO cell systems?  How this idea... how do you find this idea in NATO?

GENERAL BARTELS: Coming to the first part of your two questions as to the meeting we had with the Ukrainian Chief of General of Staff General Muzhenko, we assessed two items.  First of all, he gave us an overview of the situation... (cough) excuse me...  in Ukraine as of today.  And he gave the status of the reforms of the Ukrainian Armed Forces which is taking place with NATO support either indirectly through bilateral agreements with a number of Allies or directly through a number of trust funds which have been created at the Wales Summit with the purpose of helping the transformation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And that's where this part of the discussion which has taken place.  And our cooperation in relation with Ukraine is based exactly on what was decided upon in Wales. 

As to the BMD [Baltic Missile Defence] dimension, a very interesting dimension we heard about through the press.  Philip, would you say a few words about that?

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE:  Yes, I think really you should refer to the Ukrainian delegation for that.  We really don't have the details and have anything more than you have read in the press.


Q: Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and CBS News. I kind of like to skim three of the major topics and direct it to SACEUR or also with welcome contributions from the others.  Hum, first of all, you...  ISIS is storming across Iraq as we speak. And I would like to know if... being that the counter-ISIS coalition is obviously not a NATO body but all of the member States of NATO I believe are taking part, what does it say about the success of this coalition that cities continue to fall?

And I think SACEUR you mentioned that the migration crisis is driving terrorism.  I'd like to know if that means you're lending credence to this... this belief that terrorists are hiding among the smugglers and thereby getting to Europe this way.  And finally, you also mentioned a lull in fighting during which Russia is resupplying the rebels.  But if you read the OSCE report which I do dutifully, they're talking about new hot spots being opened; they're talking about continuous fighting in some areas.  Their narrative doesn't seem to indicate there's a lull in fighting in some of the cities.  Shyrokyne, I mean, is as hot as ever.  And as I said, new hot spots opening.  So what does that say about Russia's intention to fulfil anything about the Minsk Agreement?  Thanks!

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS:  Let me first touch upon the ISIL/DAESH dimension in Iraq.  As you quite hidely (sic)...rightly made clear, this is a coalition of a number of nations... of which NATO Allies are members on an individual basis, which has picked up the fighting.  I would be more careful than you are in expressing that the ISIL/DAESH is storming from city to city etc.  Yes, a city has been taken; another city has been retaken some time ago.  It is more nuanced than that.

Needless to say, the members of the Alliance which are facing that part of the region are very concerned about the situation.  The Alliance as such has made sure that the members of... or the Allies cannot be touched by any kind of spill-over effect from those conflicts in that region, thus making sure that we protect our Allies which is the main purpose of the Alliance.

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE:  Teri, a good read of my words! Yes is the short answer.  We do not know what is in these migrations coming across the Mediterranean from Northern Africa into our European nations in the South.  And so we are concerned about all manners of movements.  Some of these people are legitimate refugees from ungoverned spaces. Others, we believe, are organized crime. And yes, we believe there could be elements of extremists in them. So this is a problem that we need to address.

In the second case, maybe I didn't say it very well.  Following the 12th February Agreement, there was a period where we had a lull in fighting.  And you are right, that is pretty much over.  We see an uptake in fighting in several locations along the line of contact.  But during that lull in fighting after the 12th of February we did see all of the things that you've heard me talk about before: training, resupply, command and control improvements, organization etc.  So that the Russian-led forces are better able to accomplish their objectives, should they choose to do that now.

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  Final question. Sir?

Q:  Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence.  Speaking of Ukraine in support to it, could you give us an update on what two of the trust funds have done in terms of equipment provision if there has been any on C-4 and on logistics?  Thank you.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS:  Personally, I do not have the details.  But I'll come back to you and give you an updated review of it.

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  That was...  Yes, final question then...

Q:  Very quick follow-up on the possible terrorists being mixed with immigrants in the Mediterranean.  I mean, until now, NATO has not actually done too much to counter the foreign fighters problem. We've always read that this is more like an internal... well it's more for the minister in Interior than for a defence alliance as such.  But to this point, are you willing to do something about this problem? Thank you.

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE:  You can and I will as well.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS:  Let me start out by saying and highlighting what you exactly said that internal security issues of nations are the business of nations.  Besides that, in the European Union, there is an extensive cooperation between various police forces of the nations.  What we have in NATO is that we have the framework by nations who work bilaterally... or multilaterally on information exchange which are relevant to these actions.  And finally, let's not forget that we have Operation Active Endeavour which is operating in the Mediterranean and which provides a picture which can be used among others to counter these movements of populations which are organized by criminal elements.

GENERAL PHILIP M. BREEDLOVE:  Yeah, I was just going to highlight the same.  Groups of NATO nations are working bilaterally and multilaterally and actually doing quite a bit, joining other operations that are out there, that are multilateral.  And so this is a problem. And our nations are working on it as Knud has pointed out.

CAPTAIN DAN TERMANSEN:  Thank you and that concludes the press conference following the Military Committee Meeting and Chief of Defence Session today.  Thank you very much for attending.  I will stay behind if you have any further questions or questions for publication.  Thank you!