Joint press point

with NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Italian Undersecretary of Defence, Gioacchino Alfano

  • 19 Oct. 2015 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 20 Oct. 2015 09:02

Joint press conference with NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow and Italian Undersecretary for Defence, Gioacchino Alfano

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW (NATO Deputy Secretary General):  Thank you Under Secretary Alfano for the warm welcome. And for Italy’s generous hospitality.

It is good to be here in Trapani for the opening of the ‘Trident Juncture 2015’ exercise, NATO’s most ambitious exercise in over a decade.  

Italy is a strong Ally. It plays a leadership role in our Alliance. You make valuable contributions, through your deployments in both Afghanistan and Kosovo. As well as through your support to our maritime operations.

We are also grateful that Italy is hosting Trident Juncture, together with Spain and Portugal.  

All this reflects your strong commitment to NATO and to our shared security. 

These are very important contributions at a very important time for our security.Italy is at the frontline of the challenges we face to our south. We see turmoil and extremism across the Middle East and North Africa. And Russia continues to destabilise Ukraine, in the east. 

In response, NATO is enhancing its readiness and flexibility. 

Exercises like Trident Juncture and the many others held by NATO and our Allies ensures our forces stay fit and ready to meet any challenge. 

Trident Juncture is the largest NATO exercise for over a decade.  

Over the next three weeks around 36,000 troops from more than 30 countries will be tested and trained, in the air, on the ground and at sea. 

The exercise will certify next year’s NATO Response Force headquarters. And test the functions of our new very high readiness Spearhead Force ahead of it becoming operational next year. 

Trident Juncture will increase our readiness and our ability to work together, including with our partners. It will demonstrate that NATO is capable of responding to threats from any direction. 

Everything NATO does is defensive and proportionate and in line with our international commitments.

And Trident Juncture shows the Alliance’s commitment to transparency and predictability.

We seek confrontation with no one.

That is why we have invited observers from around the world, from as far away as Colombia and Mexico. 

We are doing what is necessary to safeguard all Allies against any threat from any direction.

And we always will.

That is what NATO is all about.

MODERATOR:  I give the floor to ANSA first.

Q:  [Speaking foreign language].

A:  [Speaking foreign language.]

MODERATOR:  Give the floor to Reuters.

Q:  Hi Robin Emmott. Ambassador how much of a concern is Russia’s military build-up from the Baltics all the way now into the Eastern Mediterranean on NATO’s ability to maneuver freely and its general freedom of movement? Thank you.

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW (NATO Deputy Secretary General):  Well you’ll have the opportunity to pose that question to our senior military commanders as well, but I think that from the point of view of the policy-making community in Brussels we’re very concerned about the Russian military build-up. The increasing concentration of forces in Kaliningrad and the Black Sea and now in the Eastern Mediterranean does indeed pose some additional challenges that our planners are going to have to take seriously into account as we consider how to live up to the pledge that we have made to defend any Ally against any threat. A lot of experts talk about the so-called anti-access area denial capability that Russia is developing and this indeed will have to be a key factor as we decide what is necessary both to defend every Ally and to deter Russia from even thinking about aggressive actions against NATO. So the build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean adds an additional dimension but this is a problem we’ve recognized for some time and it will be, I think, taken into account as we develop an effective modern deterrent strategy for the 21st century in time for our Warsaw Summit next July.

MODERATOR:  We go to Corriere della serra

Q:  Mr. Ambassador since you say that you’re very, we are very concerned about Russia military build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean why is so difficult to acknowledge that the implicit enemy of this exercise is Russia? And the second question is, how do we assess the Islamic terrorism threat in the Mediterranean in terms of priority in comparison to Russia? Thank you.

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW:  Well I don’t think it’s correct to say that the real adversary in this exercise is Russia. This is a, it’s a fictitious adversary set in a region well to the south of Europe in I think the countries we’re dealing with have been superimposed on the map of Africa. That’s not to say that some of the challenges that we’re, we’re addressing and testing our forces against in this exercise are not an allogist to some of the challenge we will face, we would face if we were to have a conflict with Russia. It includes the anti-access area denial, it includes some of the hybrid threats that we saw practiced in the illegal annexation of Crimea, but this is a non-Article 5 exercise, it deals with a UN Security Council-mandated operation far afield from our direct borders. So I wouldn’t draw the conclusions that you’ve drawn about the real adversary. As for the Eastern Mediterranean, excuse me as far as the Islamist threat is concerned, we don’t rank order the threats. I think the Allies as they look at the strategic landscape that we’ve been seeing in sharp relief for the last two years recognise that we face very fundamental challenges to the east and to the south. They’re very different, they may call for different kinds of responses but we need to be prepared to respond wherever the threat may arise. Clearly the problems of failing states that are creating the open, openings for extremist groups like ISIL to increase their influence or to set up new beachheads as they are trying to do in Libya, may call for different tools than dealing with the collective defence challenges to our east. But we need to have strong, capable, flexible, agile, rapidly deployable forces to deal with any contingency and that’s what this exercise will demonstrate. That we’re, we have those capabilities and we’re putting them to the test in very realistic conditions.

MODERATOR:  The lady in the, on the third row, just wait for the mic please.

Q:  Marinella Coridge (sp?), investigative journalist. You speak about combatting terrorism and you mentioned Libya as a failed state helping the spread of terrorism, but it was the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 beyond the Security Council resolution which made Libya as a failed state and which helped spreading the terrorism, not only in North Africa in Middle East. And then in Afghanistan you hit, NATO hit recently a hospital of Doctors Without Borders for half an hour and NATO countries all the time make direct and indirect proxy wars helping terrorism everywhere. So why in spite of this record, tragic record, NATO never get criminal prosecution and just pays a pittance to, to the victims in spread of, in spite of destroying [inaudible] infrastructures and making these failed states and helping terrorism.

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW:  You raise about 55 different issues with and I disagree with you on just about all of them. But first of all with respect to Libya..

Q:  [Speaking continues speaking without microphone, inaudible]

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW:  I’ll answer the question if you want to listen you’re free to do so. First of all the mission in Libya was in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution, we did not go beyond that resolution and I, I still believe as do members of NATO that we acted with full justification to prevent massacres of civilian population of Libya. Now the question is what, what happened after NATO’s operation was finished there, I think Allied leaders would be the first to admit that we perhaps should not have assumed that the Libyans could have, could establish a stable and functioning democratic state without more external assistance. I think NATO at least shares responsibility but it was I think a collective misjudgment by the international community. But we do have to deal with the here and now, we’re hoping that a political settlement based on a national unity government can be, can be reached very soon and the international community then will have to consider how it can support the new government so that we don’t see any further unravelling in Libya. I think on the highly unfortunate and tragic attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital our commanders and our senior political leadership have spoken, deeply regret that, it’s being thoroughly investigated both by the, the NATO command in Kabul, by the United States on its own and there’s an Afghan investigation and we want to bring out all the facts so that this sort of tragic mistake doesn’t happen again.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much. This concludes the first press conference, there will be a follow up press conference with the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the Italian Chief of Defence, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and the Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation. Thank you.