Questions and Answers
with NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson at the World Economic Forum
Q: My name is Sergei Kourozow. I'm from the Russian division of Sinochtu(?). General Secretary, would you please tell us whether NATO has already provided official response to the United States' request for NATO participation in the possible military action against Iraq?
And the follow-up question: If such intentions and plans are, on the NATO side, in what form NATO could participate in possible military action against Iraq? Thank you.
LORD ROBERTON (Secretary General, NATO): Thank you both. The United States has not asked NATO to participate in any possible military action. The United States tabled a number of alliances... I can't be heard. This technology sometimes defeats the leader of the world's greatest military alliance, but... There you go!
The United States has not asked NATO to make plans to participate in any possible military action. The United States has tabled a number of proposals in relation to prudent deterrence and defence contingencies, mainly related to the defence of Turkey. And that is in response to a feeling in Turkey that they may need some of that planning to take place, depending on what might happen in the future, whether it be related or un-related to military action.
There is still a discussion ongoing on that subject in the North Atlantic Council. As is well know, no consensus has yet been achieved. A number of countries have a difference of opinion on the timing of the tasking of military authorities on this matter.
There is no disagreement on the substance so forth. It's being proposed. The argument... the discussion is about whether the tasking should precede or come after the Blix report and its consideration in the U.N. Security Council. The Blix report, I understand, is probably being presented simultaneously to me speaking just now. So I will say no more on that.
But NATO is very much committed, by a decision taken by all of the countries, all 19 NATO countries in November at the summit in Prague to offering effective assistance to the United Nations in relation to full and unconditional compliance by Saddam Hussein with resolution 1441. And that is something that the alliance takes with enormous seriousness.
MODERATOR: The gentleman in the back, there. Oh, I'm sorry.
Q: Yeah. Hi. Deal Gablet from Voice of America. The Herald Tribune last week was reporting that NATO had postponed a decision on Wednesday on a U.S. request for six measures to support a possible war and that - I guess because of the risk amongst the various NATO members - that there were difficulties and so, NATO was wavering. Could you respond to that?
ROBERTSON: Well, you can’t believe everything that you read in the newspapers, especially when it’s second-hand account of a private discussion that took place behind closed doors. The United States proposals were carried on the front page of that same newspaper, I think, on the fifth of December last year and I think it will be seen from that that they don’t relate to supporting a possible war, they are mainly related to prudent defence... deterrent and defensive measures in relation to Turkey which is, of course, a neighbour of Iraq and a member of NATO, and a country that has felt the back-wash of Iraq’s policy in the past.
As I say, we have not yet achieved a consensus, because a number of countries wish to postpone consideration on these issues until the United Nations’ process has moved forward. But as yet, there is no United Nations decision, or even multinational decision on those reactions. But some countries have certainly pre-positioned troops with a view to using them if Saddam Hussein continues with his defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions has he has in the past.
Q: Jim Neuger, from Bloomberg. Secretary Powell told the forum yesterday that he has evidence of clear links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. What light can you shed on this? And then, mister Powell also said that the U.S. is not rushing into any war. It is prepared to look patiently and carefully at the Blix report today. How much extra time do you think the inspectors should be given?
ROBERTSON: Well, Secretary Powell is in a better position to give you an intelligent assessment on connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda than I am. I spoke at so length on the telephone on Friday to President Bush on a variety of subjects concerning NATO. President Bush made it absolutely clear to me that he will take the time to explain to the American people and, indeed, to allies and the world in general, about what needs to be done following his consideration of any possible decision. So he will consider that very seriously and then consult and explain before any decision is taken. And that is an item of information that I’ve communicated to a number of people of leaders of alliance and which, of course, I’ll be reporting to the North Atlantic Council in the next two days.
So I think a judgement on the inspectors’ report, which we don’t yet know about, about the debate on Wednesday, and the Security Council has yet to come. I think judgements, whether they are of NATO, or an individual government should await the facts before we move further forward.
But where NATO is in absolutely no doubt is that Saddam Hussein has an obligation to disarm and to show the pattern of disarmament and demonstrate that on an international scale. It is not an issue of what the inspectors might or might not find. The resolution is very explicit that he is the one who has to prove, by the use of a very clear and convincing audit that he has got rid of those weapons of mass destruction that we know he had in the past, and any that he might have acquired in the intervening period. So the decision, the ultimate decision on compliance or non-compliance lies in Baghdad and not in any allied capital.
Q: Yes. Pedro Santé from la (inaudible)... of Spain. You said at the beginning that NATO wasn’t asked to support a military action. What would you decide if you were asked? And secondly, you said that there are some countries that... there’s no consensus and they want to postpone the discussion. Which countries are you talking about?
ROBERTSON: Well, I’m not answering questions that are based on what if. You know, if the sun was shining outside, the snow would disappear doesn't take us very far forward. So we will see what the inspectors say, and we will see how far Saddam complies with the obligations laid down by the resolution. And then, decisions will be taken and NATO is committed to supporting the United Nations and getting unconditional compliance with the resolution. On countries that are not yet part of the consensus, well I refer to unofficial accounts of a meeting which appears to have appeared in the few days after.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The lady in the back, there, please.
Q: Hi, Joan Vian, USA Radio. Lord Robertson, you’ve just had an expansion in the number of members. Given the number of hot spots in the world, do you see a further expansion, in either member countries or in number of troops?
ROBERTSON: Number of troops?
Q: Well, every country gives so many troops. I mean, do you think that they would maybe have to increase the number of troops that they allocated to NATO?
ROBERTSON: Well, we have not yet advanced the membership of NATO. We’ve invited seven countries to join. On the 26th of March, if everything goes well, we will say in next session’s protocol and then, process of ratification has to take place in 19 capitals. And then, in May of next year, if everything goes well, these countries will become full members of the alliance. All of them have got armed forces. All of them would automatically be committed to NATO.
Do we need more troops? Well, the answer is: No, we don’t. In fact, we could do with fewer troops, but better troops: Better trained, better equipped, more mobile or flexible and more readily available. The problem in Europe is that there are far too many people in uniform, and too few of them able to go into action at the speeds that conflicts presently demand.
Existing NATO - European members have over 2 million people in uniform, but they can deploy under 10 percent of that total. So fewer troops but better troops is the answer, and I hope the new countries will take that principle very much on board and I’m looking forward to them delivering niche capabilities which will help NATO with the overall portfolio of capabilities that will be required in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The gentleman in the blue shirt.
Q: Carol Pumsat, Belgian Financial Daily. Lord Robertson, to what extent does the diplomatic rift, between the United States, on the one hand, and France and Germany on the other hand, have a resounding within the NATO Council. Thank you.
ROBERTSON: The difference of opinion at the present moment relates only to timing. And it is therefore not an issue of substance, or of principle. Therefore, that has minimal effect on the unity of the alliance as a whole. It was an issue of substance, then there would be bigger problems ahead of us. But the alliance has gone through differences of opinion on individual issues in the past and inevitably, it will do so again.
NATO is an alliance that is built very strongly on the values, the shared values that exist among us. And those values are not in question at the moment. It is only an issue of timing then. That is not a significant problem but clearly, if it goes on too long, it might well be.
MODERATOR: OK. The gentleman in the back of the room.
ROBERTSON: If I wave my hands over in the air, you would run out of film.
MODERATOR: We would hear nothing but clicking.
ROBERTSON: But you don’t run out of film, now, because it’s all digital photography. I know, yeah, OK. Another technological gaffe.
MODERATOR: Sustainable development.
Q: Carlos Evovi, El Mundo, Spain. You say that it’s just an issue of timing, but if the session is postponed and postponed, don’t you think it could hinder military operation in Iraq? And second question, if I may, do you think it’s exaggerated to say that al-Qaeda could do something in the Straight of Gibraltar? And what can NATO do there?
ROBERTSON: Well, there is an issue of timing here that is related very specifically to a report that is being published today, and a debate that takes place in the security council on Wednesday. So we are not talking about indefinite delays and the substance is generally agreeable.
It is not an issue of holding off military action, because no decision on military action have yet been taken, either by the United Nations or, indeed, by any individual country. But as I said, the proposals tabled mainly relate to the contingency of defending Turkey in a situation where Turkey may feel that its territory or its interest are at threat.
The Straight of Gibraltar like the Mediterranean as a whole are obviously important in terms of terrorist targeting and we must be very serious on how we deal with terrorists. After all, we have already seen the U.S.S. Cole targeted in a harbour by al-Qaeda terrorism. So we know well that terrorist routes include maritime routes, as well as land and electronic routes and it makes good sense for the standing naval force that was deployed after the invocation of Article Five, to look at the points of maximum vulnerability. That is why there is a particular attention on the Straight of Gibraltar at the present moment and I think most people would agree that that is an area that should come under constant attention.
Q: NATO is interested in stability, political stability in its new members. Russian officials and parliamentarians expressed, publicly, hope that NATO could probably influence positively on the human rights situation in Latvia and Estonia, concerning Russian-speaking minorities and violation of rights of these minorities.
Is there any way that NATO could help solve such problems in these two countries?
ROBERTSON: The issue of human rights in all countries in the OSCE area is a matter of the OSCE and the closely-monitored developments that take place in the Baltic nations and the others as well. I was recently in Moscow and misses Sliska, the Deputy Speaker of the Russian federal Duma raised this matter with me and I’ve since written to her, giving a factual account of the situation, especially in Latvia, which is a country that she raised.
I went once last year to the Parliament of Latvia, addressed the whole Parliament and asked them to change one specific element in their law, to support their President in our recommendation. I’m glad to say they listened to their President and to me and that change in the law took place.
I think there is a lot of exaggeration about the lack of human rights for the Russian-speaking population in Latvia. They have more rights than many minorities have in other countries and I think that a careful examination of the facts, I think, would be very helpful in Russia and may avoid some of the controversy about what (inaudible)... being circulated at the present moment.
MODERATOR: Gentleman here.
Q: Joachim Rahoe, Spanish (inaudible)... You said before the rift is not a question of substance. In the case of the United States, they felt that they had to go alone against Iraq. Do you think it might turn into a question of substance, the rift?
ROBERTSON: Well it’s, again, speculation. We have not yet got anywhere near that point. We haven’t even considered the possibility of any form of military action being taken as I pointed out in my conversation with President Bush, he made it clear that no decision had been taken and that if a decision needs to be taken, then he will make it absolutely clear, internationally and to the American people, precisely why that is the case. So I’m not going to jump fences when we haven’t yet come to them.
MODERATOR: Just behind you. The gentleman... The man just behind you. We’ll get to you as well. It’s you sir. Yeah.
Q: OK. Marco Panara, la Republica. How do you assess the real risk of an attack against Turkey and the possibility of the use, from Saddam Hussein, of the weapons of mass destruction he is supposed to have, against NATO territories?
ROBERTSON: Well, it’s very difficult to make an assessment about Saddam Hussein. He acts precipitously, he acts, often, irrationally. What we are talking about is simply prudent, and determined and defensive measures that might relate to Turkey, from a Turkish point of view.
So I’m not making any assumptions, nor indeed do I think the people of Turkey jump to assumptions as well, but if you have a neighbour like Saddam Hussein, I think you’re wise to get involved in at least prudent defensive planning for your own safety and as a member of an alliance, it has a right to ask and expect for support to take place.
MODERATOR: The lady just here. Mister Travelling, you’re next.
Q: Mister Secretary General Lord Robertson. My name is Irene Hella, I’m with the German(?) British Press. First of all, I’m very glad, I very much appreciate it that you...
MODERATOR: You’re going to have to keep this short, I’m afraid.
Q: OK. Glad you’re here and talk to the press. And secondly, you’re one the best-informed people in the world. Are there any indications...
ROBERTSON: Thank you. I’m glad to know that.
Q: Are there any indications that one of the many Saddam Husseins who are... all his doubles, already died of cancer. Is it possible that he already died?
ROBERTSON: Whatever you think I know... (LAUGHTER)
ROBERTSON: ...I don’t know anything about that. But the head of the regime, let us say, to use a collective term, has got an obligation to comply with Resolution 41. And if the current... If Saddam complies with the resolution, then there will be no need for military action, or for new further action at all. And I think that is the message that needs to go out from here and throughout the world, that nobody wants a war. Nobody wants military intervention. Everybody wants what the Security Council unanimously asked for, and that is compliance with resolution 1441 and demonstrable and convincing disarmament by the Iraqi regime.
Q: No matter which Saddam Hussein.
ROBERTSON: No matter which Saddam Hussein.
Q: Lord Robertson, Lars Travellian from Roses. I’m also interested in this Turkish question. You spoke about prudent, deterrent measures and I’m not clear: Can you spell out exactly what measures are involved? What measures have you taken or are you about to take? And secondly, could you say: If there is a war on Iraq, is NATO prepared to take up the slack in Afghanistan by taking over the leadership of the peace keepers? Thank you.
ROBERTSON: Well, I can’t go into the specific proposals that have been made. All I can say to you is that we are only, at this moment, talking about doing the examination of the possibilities, asking the military authorities to look at a number of deterrent and defensive measures and we have not yet reached consensus on that matter.
But in any event, they do not apply automatically. Planning does not equal the decision to act. We are engaged, at the present moment, in what would be regarded by anybody as normal, prudent contingency planning that is both deterrent, in effect defensive in reality. So that is all that is being spoken about at the present moment.
NATO is already engaged in Afghanistan in supporting the German and Netherlands elite(?) for what is known as ISAF 3, the International Security and Assistance Force and a sub-iteration which starts on the 15th of February, when they take over from Turkey.
So the planning process is shaped. The supreme headquarters of Allies across Europe have been put at the disposal of Germany and the Netherlands for planning, for packaging, force generation and some intelligence-sharing. And also, among the features that those two NATO countries have asked for help from us... So we are doing our best to help. Whether we do more in the future will be up to the 19 nations of the alliance to decide.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question. The gentleman in the back, there.
Q: Doug Sutton, German Press Agency, as far as I know, Chancellor Gerhard Shröder does not have a double... But he has made it quite clear on a strict no to German troops taking place in a ground war in Iraq. What has been your personal role in trying to patch over the difference, or at least keep the atmosphere within NATO, and possibly between Washington and Berlin on track on this issue?
ROBERTSON: Well, I spoke to President Bush, as I said, last Friday for over 20 minutes. I had a meeting in London last Monday with Tony Blair. I speak on the phone and meet allied workers all the time. My job is to make sure that the alliance remains united and effective, directed in the way that the heads of state and government give me instructions.
In November, on the subject of Iraq - and that will continue to be my role - I’m not a European, I’m not an America. I straddle the two continents and try to make sure that they act effectively and efficiently.
I don’t know whether you’ve heard this before, but if not, I’ll tell you now: Lord Carrington, who was the sixth Secretary General of NATO and another Brit, another member of the House of Lord, as it happens, once said that his job was to be somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. And he said: As you would expect, I am cold, I am wet and I’m very, very lonely.
That’s the role of the Secretary General of NATO. So I will continue that rich tradition.
MODERATOR: Well, I think the rest of us here are all cold and a little bit wet, but we’re not very lonely. Thank you very much for coming.