Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer following the working lunch of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of Ministers of Defence

  • 11 Jun. 2009
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  • Last updated: 12 Jun. 2009 11:14

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Good afternoon everybody. We'll see how fast NATO is (inaudible). Twenty-two minutes to eleven. Welcome. Perhaps a bit unusually early, but after lunch, I would like to say a few things about what was discussed, as you know we go on with many other meetings, and I will inform you about them tomorrow. But because it is a working lunch, and I think three or four issues were discussed during that luncheon, ie. Kosovo and anti piracy. Let me start with Kosovo. It has been about ten years now since KFOR, then 50,000 strong was deployed into Kosovo to ensure a safe and secure environment in a very unstable region. Since then, as you have seen as I, I hope, the security situation has improved steadily. EULEX and the Kosovo police are clearly capable of playing their respective roles in ensuring security, and KFOR as we speak today is at about 14,000. One-four thousand. Now in light of all these positive developments…We had by the way Peter Feith and General de Kermabon with us the day before yesterday in the North Atlantic Council, and they confirmed the analyses which NATO Ministers have made a moment ago. The Ministers have decided today that the political and military conditions are right for a move towards a gradual adjustment – I repeat a gradual adjustment – of KFOR's force posture to what we call in our jargon a deterrent presence. Which means in essence a smaller force, relying more on flexibility and intelligence. I repeat again this transition will be implemented – nothing is implemented yet – in a gradual and phased manner, and each step, each phase will be decided by the North Atlantic Council based on military advice, indicating that it is not only on military advice these decisions are taken in NATO, but that the political environment, and the analysis of the political environment is as important as the military criteria of course, in this area. So there will be no automaticity in the process. It will only go forward when we think, when the North Atlantic Council thinks, the conditions are right. And we'll have at all times the manoeuvre forces and reserves we need when we need them.

I hope of course that the message I am conveying to you is heard throughout the region. As I said this morning in a good conversation I had with the Serb Defence Minister Sutanovac… interesting to talk to him. Interesting to further develop the relationship between Serbia and NATO, you know we attach great value to that relationship. As I said this morning to Minister Sutanovac, KFOR will remain in Kosovo. It will remain responsible for a safe and secure environment. It will remain on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. On the basis of 1244, which means impartiality as you know. It will remain as long as necessary for majority and minority alike. NATO's commitment in other words, to maintain a safe and secure environment remains firm. I think that this decision – and I say again the first phase has not yet been implemented – is a reflection of how far Kosovo, and I think I could add the entire region, have come. And I think that has been achieved among other things through sustained international support, Euro-Atlantic integration, and the political courage of many people in the region. Through that political courage, instability and violence is steadily being replaced with security and growing prosperity. I'm not saying we're there yet, because we are not yet there. More has to be done. But I think we are on the right track, and if I say we, I mean of course in the first place the region, and the second we is the international community, be it the European Union, NATO or other actors involved.

So much about Kosovo. The second topic as I said on the agenda during the lunch has been piracy. No need to tell you what a scourge this has become. You know the figures: 20,000 ships a year pass through the Gulf of Aden. The number of attacks this year, 114, has already surpassed the total for all of 2008. We've seen twenty-nine successful hijackings, and almost 500 people are taken hostage. As you know, as we speak, NATO has a flotilla of ships now conducting anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia, alongside a number of other actors. Let me specifically mention the very important decision the European Union has taken some time ago leading Operation Atalanta, the anti-piracy operation. I think that's… very important indeed. Like you see many other actors, be it unilaterally or in the framework of other task forces in the region. So the number of attacks is up, but the success rate is down. The success rate for the pirates is down, and we are making piracy at least a lot harder than it was.

Now as you know the current NATO mission is due to end on the 28th of June this month, and today we discussed how to put in place a longer-term mission beyond the end of this month. As you know there are fairly complicated issues to work out, including legal issues, but we are working hard on them, and I think the result of the lunch was that meeting this challenge, also for NATO, requires an all-hands-on-deck, and when I say NATO, I mean of course NATO playing a role for the longer-term in the fight against piracy. So there's a lot of work to do for the Ambassadors and for myself here at NATO to take this work forward on an urgent basis.

These were the two issues we discussed over the past hours as you know. Soon we'll start a meeting of the EAPC, the Partnership Council. There are now 10 partners contributing forces to NATO-led operations, with close to 3,000 troops, which means that improving our ability to train together, to communicate together, to operate together is of real importance. And that is the main topic we are going to discuss today. You know that later this afternoon, we will move to the Defence Planning Committee, and the Nuclear Planning Group, followed by a working dinner tonight where NATO transformation will be the main item on the menu. And there also we have a lot to chew on, not literally on our plates, but let me mention the NATO Response Force, the role of the NRF, assessing the impact of the current financial squeeze, financial economic crisis on defence budgets. Questions like privatization on which as you saw in the press, the Dutch Minister has written a letter to me – it's always nice to get the letter before it's in the press, but that was the order of play anyway – but we're going to discuss that as well. And tomorrow morning we have another working meeting on transformation, including the reform of these headquarters. We'll have an important ceremony together with troop-contributing partners to unveil a monument in memory to those who have fallen in NATO operations. A Danish initiative – let me commend the Danish Defence Minister Soren Gade for taking this initiative. I think it's a very important one. And last but not least, tomorrow as you know, we'll have a meeting of all the ISAF nations in which Afghan Defence Minister General Wardak will be with us, Kai Eide will be with us on VTC from Kabul. After those meetings of course I'll update you again. Let me leave it here and see if there are any comments or questions.

Q: Chris Dixon, Agence Europe over here. Secretary General, just a practical question on Kosovo. The first stage of reduction as I understand it to 10,000 men, has there been a date agreed for that, and if so, is that date January?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: A date has not yet been fixed. Your figure is correct. That will be around 10,000 from the 14,000 as I said. That date might well be the first of January. I think you might not be far off the mark there, but I would like to underline that no formal decision has been taken yet as far as that's concerned, but the principle has been agreed.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Next question is here…

Q: (inaudible) from (inaudible) and Koha Ditore. Some member states have unilaterally decided to withdraw fully from Kosovo before NATO took the decision. We understand that they are coordinating the withdrawal, they didn't coordinate the decision. Is NATO going to keep the philosophy together-in, together-out… still… on Kosovo, because you said that there is a lot of work to be done? Not probably to stop the power… power cuts in Kosovo but some other things. And about the cooperation in the future between NATO and EU: are you satisfied with the level of cooperation or you still have this political problem in… in cooperation?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On the first part of the question, the answer is absolutely yes. In together, out together, and let's be happy that withdrawals are taking place in a coordinated way. If the decision was not coordinated, the withdrawals are coordinated. So in together, out together is still the mantra; it was used by the way by more than one Minister in the discussion over lunch. I think cooperation between NATO and EU on the ground is proceeding very well. That's not to say that I am happy about the… let's say the general state of play between the European Union and NATO, and I'll repeat myself. I mean there's still a lot of political hurdles to cross in that regard, but I have nothing to complain about in Kosovo. And the same by the way, the same opinion was voiced by Peter Feith and Yves de Kermabon two days ago when they came to visit us here in Brussels.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Next question's right in front.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, Prague Daily Newspaper the Czech Republic. Were there any concerns expressed by Ministers when it came to the reduction of KFOR forces, and also did any country express a willingness to send its troops to Afghanistan?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No. There were no… there was not a link in the discussion between the different stages or phases or gates as the military call it. When I think about Kosovo I think about gate one and thirty-one, so gate is a bit confusing for me, but phases or stages. There was no link, direct link with Afghanistan. It will definitely free up forces. We still could do with more forces in Afghanistan, as you know, as far as the European Allies are concerned. But that link was not made. The general mood was… let's do this in a phased way. Let's prepare this carefully. And let's be serious about the public messaging and the public handling of it, and that is what I'm trying to do as we speak. But the decision was taken and there was no dissenting voice whatsoever.

JAMES APPATHURAI: First here…

Q: Yeah, Mr. Secretary General, I'm Haseeba Shaheed from Radio-Free Europe, Radio Liberty Afghanistan. I'm sorry that I'm asking about Afghanistan and this issue was not in your schedule so… You have said many times that ISAF tries to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and ISAF officials often say that they place blame on OEF… that OEF that in this… civilian casualties yeah? So what you are saying for Afghan people who want the new ISAF… that you are going to prevent… ISAF is going to prevent civilian casualties. And my other question is about the election security. Are you confident that ISAF has enough force for secure environment… to guarantee secure environment of election day?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: We're going… on the second part, we're going to bring in between eight and ten thousand extra forces for election security. We do that as I discussed with Minister Wardak this morning here in Brussels, we'll do that of course in close cooperation with the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police. We are not the first… we are not in the first line in that respect. But we bring in between eight to ten thousand extra forces. In that respect we are there as far as our role is concerned so that the elections can be credible. We'll also within means and capabilities by the way participate in the protection of the election observers going to Afghanistan. On your first… on your first item, let me repeat what I have said from this rostrum many times before. Any single civilian casualty in Afghanistan is one too many. Any loss of innocent life is one too many. And I'll be the first one, if and when that happens, to apologize. I've done so, and I'll continue to do so, because I realize that zero civilian casualties – I speak about ISAF – I cannot speak for OEF. Zero civilian casualties unfortunately, would answering you in a dishonest way. But we're doing everything we can, everything we can, with new technical directives to prevent civilian casualties. We owe it to the Afghan people… and the nation to do… to do everything we can in that… in that regard. By the way, as you know the other part of my answer is I have never met any individual NATO soldier who intentionally kills innocent civilians. Innocent civilians in Afghanistan are intentionally killed by the enemies of Afghanistan. Those are the people who burn schools. Those are the people who spray acid in girls' eyes because they go to school. Those are the people who have the improvised explosive devices. Those are the people with the suicide attacks that kill innocent Afghan life. So we are in a different… totally different moral category, but we also make civilian casualties. We have reduced… we have to reduce them. Numbers are down. Numbers are down substantially in comparison to last year. I'll apologize when it happens. We do everything we can, and if we should do more, we will have to do more.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Jim – no sorry we don't have time. No, back-back-back-back…

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. On piracy… is there a timeline for the new mission? Will it run for example for six months, twelve months, and will its size be roughly the same as the current mission, which I believe is now five ships, or do you envision a larger force?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I can't answer your question yet. Because there's a lot more work to do, including defining the legal framework. So I cannot give you numbers and timelines as we speak. As you know, at the moment we have a standing naval maritime group in the region. It might well be… I say with a certain care, it might well be that it will another standing naval maritime group… taking this on… it might well be that there will be a process of another form of force generation. So it's a bit early to answer your question concretely. There is work to do in this regard. And in the weeks I have left I'll lead that work and I'll preside over that work with vigour, because I think it's absolutely necessary that NATO participates.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Time for two more – one there and one there. First there…

Q: Secretary General, Ben Nimmo from DPA here at the back. Again on piracy, can you clarify: is there a decision now to analyze the legal basis for a future piracy mission, or is there a decision to decide about the whole thing later on? Thanks.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, there is already work going on in creating the legal framework with the states in the region. As you know the European Union already has a form of a legal framework. NATO is working along the same lines, but we are not there yet. It is not, let's say, an absolute precondition to have the legal framework, but it would be… of course be of great help if the NATO exercise would be based on a legal framework as well, and as I said in answering your colleague, as far as the hardware is concerned, it's by the way not only surface ships, but also maritime patrol aircraft being very useful in the fight against piracy. The European Union is also operating a few MPA as you know. So here is more homework to do. I cannot… I cannot give you a definite… definite answer as yet. But I hope to be able to do that soon.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Last question.

Q: Broadcasting Company (inaudible) Rustavi 2 of Georgia. Mr. Secretary General, Georgia announced that he is ready to participate in ISAF. How do you assess this aim of Georgia to participate in ISAF, and will it be a plus for Georgia's future integration in NATO?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I would judge Georgian participation in ISAF as a big plus. NATO membership as you know is based on much more than participating in operations, so I would not make a direct link with an eventual Georgian NATO membership and participating in Afghanistan, but if I look at the Georgian ambition in this regard, I think it's a big plus. I would welcome such a decision.

JAMES APPATHURAI: That's what we have time for.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much. Meet again tomorrow.