Briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers

  • 08 Jun. 2006
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2008 03:38

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): There were two meetings that opened the morning. One was the Nuclear Planning Group, one was the Defence Planning Committee. These are two meetings in which France does not participate. The first one in particular, the NPG, is a secret meeting for reasons that you'll understand. So I can't go into too much detail about the discussions. What I can tell you was: there was a discussion of the status of NATO nuclear forces and … some of the countries with nuclear forces around the table gave an update as to their own planning and changes in posture and capability.

There was then a discussion of trends in terms of risks and threats to security in a nuclear context and safety security and survivability of NATO nuclear forces. That is all the detail that I could give on this issue.

The DPC, the Defence Planning Committee took place immediately thereafter. The key decision coming out of this meeting was the approval of ministerial guidance - I'll explain in a moment - which in essence provides more detail on a document we call the comprehensive political guidance which has already been agreed by the NATO nations. And what this does is in essence propose what we call a new level of ambition for the Atlantic force structure.

NATO has gone through very fundamental changes in terms of what it has done and what is doing. And this would bring in a sense the force planning into line with the realities of the 21st century. So it is a substantial realignment of the way in which NATO will plan to structure its forces.

In essence, we no longer need to prepare for one big war. We have to prepare for and indeed carry out a multitude of military operations. And the ministerial guidance provides indeed guidance as to how the Allies should prepare. And that means in terms of procurement for structure training etc for modern operations. To give a little more detail, this... the ministerial guidance recognizes that the Alliance may have to conduct up to two major joint operations and six smaller joint operations. Now, large... larger means core sized, 60,000 or so, smaller means division-sized: 20 to 30 thousand. As you know, NATO is already conducting a series of operations at present which fall into what we call the smaller category.

But the Alliance will be capable of conducting this range of operations in future. So it provides the detail and shape to the 21st century NATO force planning process.

I might add that the ministerial guidance also sets out guidance to ensure that NATO has effective arrangements to work with other actors. This reflects again a basic change in the international security environment, and that is that NATO is working alongside and indeed hand in glove with organizations like the UN, like the European Union, like in Afghanistan the group of eight industrialized nations and NGOs. So the ministerial guidance makes this, indeed political guidance for Allies.

Finally, I should add that Allies through the comprehensive political guidance have committed to endeavour, to meet the 2% target of GDP devoted to defence spending. Let me be clear, this is not a hard commitment that they will do it. But it is a commitment to work towards it. And that will be a first within the Alliance. So there was, I think, quite substantial developments in the first two meetings.

We then moved to the North Atlantic Council meeting, the full North Atlantic Council meeting. You saw the Secretary General's opening statement; discussions until I left the room revolved around, of course, the NATO Response Force. There was a general commitment around the table first to ensure that we have full operational capability by the time of the Riga Summit but also a recognition that we're getting closer and closer.

For example, the United States has very recently along with Greece made another substantial contribution to meeting full operational capability of the NRF. So we're quite confident that we will get there, but as part of the overall discussion of the NATO Response Force there was a discussion of funding and in particular funding... extending common funding to the initial short-notice deployments of the NATO Response Force, how should it be done if it should be done to ensure that it does not provide a disincentive to countries to procure their own airlift.

This is part of a larger discussion about giving NATO its own more dedicated airlift capacity to reflect the fact that we do conduct and we'll continue to conduct operations over strategic distance as in Afghanistan. There is a consistent shortfall in the Alliance of long-range strategic wide-body airlift. So that discussion which is a larger discussion only peripherally connected to the NRF was and has been discussed at great details. Allies are moving forward on a variety of fronts to ensure that the Alliance has access to strategic airlift.

One of these efforts is already quite public and that is what we call SALIS, Strategic Airlift Interim Solution, led by Germany which provides a certain number of hours on Antonovs for the Alliance. But there are other efforts underway as well. So this was very much and has been very much a focus of the discussion until now.

One other area that has received some discussion is a NATO training initiative for... first and foremost for countries of the Middle East, of the Gulf. As you know, NATO has very good relations with Gulf States through Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and with North African States, Jordan and Israel to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

And NATO does which to move forward with providing training to interested countries of the Gulf. NATO has provided this kind of capacity building to countries almost since the end of the Cold War, all across Europe through Central Asia and through the Caucasus. NATO has a lot of expertise and training which are now carrying out of course, also, not only in Iraq but in Darfur... or for the African Union, sorry, not in Darfur, but for the African Union in support of their operation in Darfur. And that training will be extended and possibly enhanced. So NATO does training well. And NATO will work out the modalities now as to how to offer that to interested countries in the Gulf.

I think that is where I want to stop, just because I'm short of time and see if you have any questions that I might be able to answer. (INAUDIBLE)

Q: Thank you, anytime you just gave us (INAUDIBLE) inside the meeting room, since you hear about Zarqawi? And the second is this any news the African Union asked NATO for some extra summit for help (INAUDIBLE)? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: As to Zarqawi, of course the news of Zarqawi's death is well known to the ministers around the table. I expect this will come up, if it hasn't already come up at the end of the discussions relating specifically to NATO. I couldn't get a flavour of the room because NATO ministers when I was there were focussed on NATO business. I can, I think, safely say that he will not be missed.

(LAUGHTER)

As to Darfur, the best answer to that is to wait from the Secretary General. The discussions of operations will take place over lunch. The Secretary General will give a press briefing right after the meeting with NUC. And he does intend to discuss the Darfur issue with you. So I will leave it for him. Do you have a question in a minute?

Q: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) from Zarqawi. You said it was well known from ministers around the table. But I assume a lot of them heard about it through CNN. Was there any (NOISE) on the American side, announcement at the beginning of the meeting?

APPATHURAI: The US delegation did not announce it at the beginning of the meeting. They will address it at the end of the meeting. That may be now, may already have happened. But I know that they will address it at the end of the meeting and I expect some comment from around the table.

MODERATOR: Please.

Q: Can you tell us which countries in Persian Gulf region have asked for training?

APPATHURAI: We haven't got to this stage yet where countries have formally indicated their interest. So I couldn't name names. What I can tell you is, on an informal basis, countries of the Gulf Region have indeed said they are interested. So it is not simply in the abstract. They have informally indicated that they have an interest. The next step is to actually work out the modalities before they come formally.

Q: James, could you refresh my memory as far the countries already meeting the 2% target who are concerned. How many are there? Are there any at all?

APPATHURAI: Yes, my understanding is that there are seven countries of the Alliance that are meeting the 2% target... that are meeting it.

Q: James, on this training initiative, is it open to other as well as the Gulf countries, also the Mediterranean partners, North African and Middle East countries they also involved in that. How far about this idea of the eventual creation of some sort NATO military academy in the region?

APPATHURAI: It is open to countries of the... of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative as well as the Mediterranean Dialogue. As I say, I hate to use the word "modalities" because I know it's a bit technical. But the shape and character of how this training would be offered really has not been agreed. There are a variety of options on the table. Training academy is one idea. Others have been put forward, for example, more mobile training teams and other ideas as well. So it is simply too early to say which idea will be agreed by the Allies. Sorry, just, I can't provide anymore details because that's the stage we're at. Please.

Q: On the common funding, could you just elaborate a little bit how that discussion went? When we could expect, maybe, decisions? If there will be any, is that a topic for Riga? Or, I understand the Germans will bive up a bit of opposition to common funding and say: "Well, we are ready for a kind of test period or something." Is that something that is discussed? Is a consensus building?

APPATHURAI: It's a good question. I think it's important that we clarify the common funding issue. First, since the Allies agreed to a new revised cost-share to the overall NATO budget which is something that they did just last year which provides a more equitable percentage share to each country, the Alliance has in the broader sense expanded the eligibility criteria as we call it for common funding. So more things fall under the common funding rubric, more things can be commonly funded.

For example, when it comes to hospitals, when it comes to more parts of headquarters, when it comes to different areas of logistics, things that are used together, more things that are used by all of the Allies can now be commonly funded. So we're already made progress, quite a lot of progress I have to say since the Secretary General put this under the agenda.

The specific discussion that you're mentioning is common funding for short-noticed deployment of the NATO Response Force. I can get a flavour of the room... give you a flavour of the room. The flavour of the room I agree with is that we are moving forward on this, that Allies that had initial questions are seeing those questions answered. And we are closer, I believe, to at least some kind of an initial test agreement to see whether or not this does indeed facilitate the deployment of the NRF. So there has been no agreement, but my feeling is, based on the discussions that I heard including around the table today, that we're getting closer to an agreement.

Q: James, pour revenir sur... to come back on this ministerial guidance thing...

APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: I mean, if you ask the numbers, if NATO were to have two major joint operations and six smaller ones and you mentioned the size which be (INAUDIBLE) or higher. What I mean is that's at the high end, that would mean close 300,000 troops at one point in time to NATO. Now, considering the difficulties now for NATO offering to get troops and all that, how realistic is this... is it planned?

APPATHURAI: Well, these guidelines which the nations themselves have committed to and these are serious ministers around the table. The defence ministers of NATO don't commit the things unless they believe that they can meet them. But these are targets not a.... and new targets. That being said, and you heard from John Colston last week, if you took the total of forces declared to NATO in the force planning process by the Allies, that pool is 1.4 million soldiers. So, yes, this is an ambitious framework. But it is one that can be met. It is one that Allies have committed to meet. And they are the masters of their own forces. So if that made commitment, I am absolutely sure that they will meet it.

Q: (VERY LOW VOLUME) How the educational agreements for an academy...? (INAUDIBLE) Give us an idea about when the discussions will be finished.

APPATHURAI: Neither the form of the training or the location has been agreed. So that's the first point. The discussion will continue... I think it's moving quite well frankly considering how recently this commitment was made. So certainly by Riga, but I anticipate before then. Anyone else. Last one.

Q: (INAUDIBLE) The East extension of NATO, when could it or should start?

APPATHURAI: The Eastern expansion of NATO...

Q:... in Afghanistan.

APPATHURAI: Well, I think it started in 94... hum..

Q: I'm sorry Afghanistan... I'm talking about Afghanistan.

APPATHURAI: O, Afghanistan

(LAUGHTER)

APPATHURAI: You know, I'm sure, the timelines that we're working towards that is for Stage 3 southward expansion. We anticipate around end of July, beginning of August. Then Allies will move as quickly as possible to complete enlargement ....the Secretary... the expansion of the mission.

The Secretary General has said that he hopes and expects that by Riga he will be able to say that NATO has indeed expanded its operations throughout the country. So that's the timeframe we're working within, between August and Riga. Now, I think, everyone hopes that this can be done as quickly as possible. But there has been no discussion of precise timelines yet.

Q: (INAUDIBLE)

APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: ISAF (INAUDIBLE) ?

APPATHURAI: Yes, currently, 9,000 by the end of July, beginning of August, it will be 15,000 plus. And when stage four is complete it will be 25,000.