Questions and answers

Joint press conference with Chairman of the Military Committee General Petr Pavel, Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Curtis M. Scaparrotti and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Denis Mercier

  • 18 Jan. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 18 Jan. 2017 18:02

Moderator - Lt Col Robert Koster (Deputy Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Advisor): Thank you Generals let’s move on to the Q&A session. Please state you name and media affiliation before asking the questions. Let’s start over here.

Question: Thank-you. Ana Pisonero from Spanish Agency Europa News. I would like to know if the CHoDs discussed the possibility of beefing up NATO’s response in the fight against terrorism and particularly the Islamic State, in light of the possible assessment you got from your Algerian and Israeli counterparts on the situation in the North of Africa and the Middle East and also taking into account presumably one of the main key interests of the new administration of Donald Trump for the Alliance which is to step up the fight against terrorism. Thank-you

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): Ok I will the first part and will leave the second to my American colleague. In terms of NATO’s response to counter terrorism, I believe that NATO is already doing a lot to support counter terrorism efforts. First being present and active in Afghanistan, then supporting a number of activities in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and we have to understand that counter terrorism isn’t just a physical fight against terrorist, counter terrorism has a number of levels and facades and NATO is contributing to many of them and will contribute even more. We are working on bringing these efforts more closely together, to give them more coherence and thus more effectiveness. NATO will continue supporting activities especially in training, in preparation of specialists of the countries mostly affected by terrorism and give them more local capabilities to be effective in this endeavour.

General Curtis M Scaparrotti (Supreme Allied Commander Europe): I would just add that coming out of Warsaw, you know we had the directive of NATO strategic direction South and also projecting stability in the form for instance of our training efforts we began this month in Iraq and all of those are indications of NATO’s commitment to fight and counter terrorism. And so as we go into the future, in SHAPE, in ACO we are studying now ways in which we reinforce that network that defeats you know the ISIL and terrorist network globally. And I am confident that we are doing a lot today and we’ll do more in the future.

Question: Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. I want to follow up on that question. First for General Scaparrotti then a question for General Pavel. For General Scaparrotti, leaving aside building partnership capacity, is there a military counter terrorism role for NATO or is that best left for Coalitions like we see for the Islamic State fight? Should NATO solely, its counter terrorism efforts, solely be focused on the kind of partnership capacity stuff that you outlined here? And for General Pavel, I wonder if you could briefly speak a little bit more about Ukraine, is there a) any fear that the US approach to Ukraine will shift and was there any discussions of what more the Alliance could do for Ukraine in the months to come?

General Curtis M Scaparrotti (Supreme Allied Commander Europe): Julian, Thank you. I don’t think it is solely projecting stability. For instance, you know, I talked about the network that we formed globally. It’s the Coalition network to defeat the ISIL or terrorist network. We in NATO, you know, have 28 Nations with a process, a structure, that enables us to collect and share information, to analyse information and that is a powerful part of countering terrorism. We can reinforce that global network that is going on right now with the nodes we have within NATO. Secondly, I’d just point out that things like the AWACs operations that we started now that support the Coalition and in Iraq etc. So we do have capacity and those are the things that we are looking at. That’s what I look for in the future of being able to leverage, to help the Coalition and other Nations.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): On Ukraine, there is no reason to believe there will be any change of the main course towards Ukraine. We are working with our Ukrainian partners especially on increasing their capability and capacity. Through the Trust funds, through different training programmes, through expert exchange, through liaison teams in place. There’s a comprehensive assistance package developed for Ukraine and that package provides sufficient framework for the way ahead. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are under the process of reorganisation, modernisation, and they are adjusting to new realities so I think we will continue this course in the future as well.

Question: Noureddine Fridhi from Al Arabiya News Agency. I have a couple of questions. You were supposed to have a briefing yesterday from your Israeli and Algerian counterparts about the situation in North Africa and the Middle East. Can you tell us what is your view, your analysis of the situation and Libya’s impact on Algeria and Tunisia and the Sahel? And also what is your view on the situation in Syria after the Aleppo, let’s say defeat of the opposition, and the Russians building up more generally, how do we see the Russian military build-up in the Mediterranean. Is it going up or maybe they are going to retreat a little bit? And if you have time, generally I remember after the end of the Cold War, we read reports that NATO was out to date, events shows the opposite. Now Mr. Trump that NATO is somehow not relevant organisation for many reasons. I imagine you are not politician but you may say something about that? Thank you.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): Ok let me start first with the question on the security situation in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and especially from the perspective of Algeria and Israel. We received very detailed briefings on their national perspectives that in fact reflect our own understanding and level of knowledge. We shared understanding of the challenges in the region that countries are facing and how complex the situation and also volatile is in the whole region. We used the opportunity of talking to our partners to better understand all these complexities and we tried to identify the ways how we can assist primarily them in increasing their capability to come up with their own local solutions.

Obviously there is no universal solution to be imported into the region and there is no military only solution to the problem so we tried to identify a comprehensive approach how to assist in fighting terrorism, extremism in the region, how to address numerous challenges of social and economic nature and we all recognise this will be long-term agenda for us as well as for the countries in the region. In terms of the second part of your question, I think I gave partially the answer in my first statement that I am strongly convinced that NATO is as relevant today as it was before. It evolves as any other living organism and it adapts to new situations. We can obviously argue about the scope, the depth or the pace of adaptation but I think the relevance of NATO is not in question.

Question: Terri Schulz with NPR and CBS News. A couple of questions along the lines of my colleagues. Specifically with regard to Russia, when President-elect, sorry, when President Putin says that President-elect Trump’s priorities align perfectly with his own, does that give you any reason for concern? Are you worried that even words like this might embolden Russia, particularly in Ukraine? Are you simply worried about the effect of this kind of rhetoric? And a more specific military question, with the purge in Turkey and the fact that many of your trusted officers have been recalled or at least have left their offices, what kind of effect has this had on your readiness and your ability to trust that your Turkish staff can step up and do all the things that the purged officers could do? Thanks.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): Well first, we military try to build our assessments on policies rather than individual separate statements. So I will personally wait for an official new administration policy and then we can see. On the second part of the question, we have full confidence in our Turkish military colleagues. They are doing their job at the same quality as they did before, even though in slightly lower numbers at this point, but they take all the efforts to fill the gaps. We can rely on Turkey as an Ally, as we did before.

General Curtis M Scaparrotti (Supreme Allied Commander Europe): Two comments I’d make on that, first to the Russians, and much like Petr said, you know, we assess actions and set our posture appropriately. I think that’s the first thing, and I think the second is just that we’ve got to address it with strength, as well as balance our posture in the way that we respond to Russia and their maligned actions or perhaps their aggressive actions that they’ve had in the past and we’ll continue to do that. In terms of Turkey, they stated very clearly their commitment and I’ve seen nothing but that. As the SACEUR, we work closely with them, and you know, in terms of their personnel, in my headquarters today we’re nearly back to the point that we were post, or you know, prior to the coup attempt. So they’re refilling, you know, these important positions in our headquarters and I appreciate their effort in that regard.

Question: Thanks gentlemen, Robin Emmott at Reuters, question for General Pavel and the SACEUR, and then another question for General Mercier. On the Baltic and eastern Poland build up in the spring, I wondered if you’d discussed at all any of the consequences that this might lead to vis à vis any Russian reaction. Do you fear some kind of escalation on their side? Is there anything you can say about your understanding of their thinking? For General Mercier, in the past you’ve talked about the need for countering A2AD and the need for sophisticated air defences. Have you had any, have you made any progress on that given the situation in the Baltics? What can we expect for this year in terms of ideas, policy planning? Thank you.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): I will start with what you call Baltic buildup. I think we have to go into the sequence: what is the action, what is the reaction. I think the question is not how Russians would react to our action but to consider that the decision to deploy four battle groups to Poland and three Baltic countries was in itself a reaction to Russian behaviour. It was not NATO who launched support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, or annexed Crimea. Eastern allies were justifiably concerned about Russian actions. So they called for more assurance that collective defence, Article 5, will apply in crisis and they called for more NATO presence on their soil, so that was the reaction. Also, we have to consider that Russia announced longer before the announcement of four battlegroups that they are going to form three new divisions in the area. So we really have to measure what is reaction to what. I believe that the decision to build four battlegroups is very much appropriate and well measured, not to be provocative, not to be escalatory.

General Curtis M Scaparrotti (Supreme Allied Commander Europe): Yeah if I could briefly on that, I’m pleased with the progress we’re making for the forces that will be in Enhanced Forward Presence that work with the individual Nations and the framework Nations, pulling in together is going well. Again, it’s centred, as Petr said, on deterrence and defence. A proportional response; it’s not offensive in any way. That’s the first thing I would point out. Secondly, just that, you know, we’ll be vigilant for whatever response, you know, there may be as we go in. We’re planning that as a part of our capability as we enter. We’ll see, you know, how it’s taken. But again, it’s a deterrent force and I’m confident they’ll be able to provide the capabilities that we need there.

General Denis Mercier (Supreme Allied Commander Transformation): Just regarding your question…Your question is linked to what we do, in fact, and to the NATO defence planning process. NATO defence planning process is a way we look at the capabilities we need in our Alliance to deal with the problems today and in the future. This is very robust process, probably the most robust process that exists today because, based on the level of informations laid out in the strategic concept, we define the military requirement.  We do that, SACEUR and me. SACEUR is focusing on the military requirement, looking at the current operations, and I look at the military requirement looking at the full level of information. And then we define shortfalls looking at what exists in the Nations, and we’re in the process now to do joint consultations with the Nations and ask the Nations to mitigate the shortfalls and to have the acquisition of the missing capabilities. There is a priority for the missing capabilities for the current operation, but we look at the missing capabilities for the future. The A2AD system, we can deal with that. But we can deal with that with what we have today, and this is…there is a form of priority.

Looking at the deployment that we have, and again we look at the new and innovative idea to deal with this system between the future. This is the beauty of this process. This is what we are conducted and it’s working quite well and it’s really working with huge support from the Nations. This is really the second cycle we are in like this, which is a four year cycle, and this time we have huge support from Nations and that’s very important because this is a key to ensure our Alliance will be able to face any kind of challenge in the future.

Question: Vladimir Dobrovolski from Russian News Agency RIA Novosti. I’ve got question to General Pavel because you mentioned that the meaningful dialogue with the General Gerasimov, so do you have any concrete date when will you contact him and what will be the subjects that you would like to discuss with him? Another question is, Russian side repeatedly told that NATO rejected its proposals to hold talks on…of the military experts. Is this still the NATO position not to hold the talks between military experts to discuss the risk reduction measures? Thank you.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): I can tell you that to have a meaningful military dialogue is one of my major issues since I arrived to this headquarters. Since then, I contacted Russian counterparts here in Brussels at least five times. The last one was last week, where I offered again dialogue to start with General Gerasimov at least the initial stage through phone conversation to set clearly the stage for such a dialogue, to set clear rules for it and also to get a mutual agreement that risk reduction and transparency is the focal point of that initial conversation.

I also stressed the view that is different from Russian military, that we cannot start an expert level discussion without first setting the scope for the agenda at the top military level because even if we theoretically think about sending experts to Moscow or elsewhere, what will be their mandate? What will be the agenda for their meetings? Will they start talking from a very broad point of view? So we first have to re-establish the contact. We have to re-establish some basic trust. We have to set the agenda. Then we can give our experts clear task what they are to discuss. That offer is at the table and we now expect a reaction from Moscow.

Question: Thank you, Philippe Renier, newspaper - Le Soir. I’d like to ask a question again on Russia but this time on Libya. How do you assess the last moves made by Russia when they met with General Haftar on their air carrier in the Libyan territorial waters? Is that a threat, a new threat in that region, in the Mediterranean? Thank you.

General Petr Pavel (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): I think it is very natural that Russia is trying within, or in line with their recent policies, to have more influence in the regions of their interests. The contact with General Haftar may contribute if General Haftar is an official representant of Libya. But I believe that international community recognizes as official representant of Libya, the government in Tripoli. In that sense, the effort is not helping. We would obviously welcome participation of any actor who would contribute to the solution. But contacts with just one side are not helpful.

Moderator - Lieutenant Colonel Robert Koster: Thank you for your questions that concludes the press conference for today. Thank you very much.