Press briefing

by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai, Meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. 11-12 June 2009

  • 12 Jun. 2009
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  • Last updated: 15 Jun. 2009 13:52

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): Hello. I don’t need to make a formal introduction since basically I know you all very well. Let me just update you on last night and then this morning and the rest of the meeting.

Last night, they discussed a few issues. There was an extensive discussion on budgets and priorities that has flowed, of course, or been stimulated by, let me put it that way, the current pressure on financial budgets. Minister Eimert van Middelkoop of The Netherlands has circulated a letter to colleagues in essence saying we need to look at our priorities. Where can we move resources, where can we make efficiencies? There was an extensive discussion about that last night because of course there is a shared interest, all 28, in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is being spent in the most appropriate way and that we preserve the money we need for the operational priorities that we have and also investments in capabilities; and therefore, to look carefully, as I said, a) at priorities, but b) at infrastructure and see where we might make savings.

There were no decisions taken. That was not the idea. It was to stimulate a discussion, but one of the threads that ran through that discussion was to ensure that this was done in a way that is coherent with the strategic concept process that has just been decided. Put more simply, the strategic concept will be a process whereby priorities for NATO will be set in a political sense and it is very important to ensure that any resource changes meet or flow from priority setting and not the other way around. I think that was something that all ministers agreed on.

Second, again while no decision was taken last night but may well be taken today, it seems as if we are going in the direction of a decision by NATO ministers to use the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 immediately after the current SNMG deployment for a follow-on piracy mission. Again, this decision should be taken today, but that is the direction in which it seems to be going.

Third, and you saw Minister Morin’s public comments. We seem to be going in the direction of – again, this will be agreed and decided today – a decision to deploy Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft for operations over Afghanistan to provide air traffic control as part of the overall package that Defence Ministers should agree today with regard to Afghanistan, including on election support forces, including on the command structure, including on the training mission for Afghanistan.

And let me come back to the command structure. There was an exchange of views last night on the command structure, Secretary Gates providing more detail on what the U.S. envisions. And I think it is safe to say that barring any surprises, there is an agreement in principle to this new command structure, but the details will have to be now worked out and consulted amongst Allies exactly how it will be implemented. But the general outlines I would say have been agreed in principle now based on last night’s discussion.

Today, they are discussing right now transformation. What does that mean in essence? Two priorities for this morning. One is headquarters reform. There are a number of proposals put on the table by the Secretary General to in essence make for greater synergies between the military and civilian side of the house, greater freedom for the Secretary General to move resources and personnel, this kind of thing. Inside baseball for us but relevant again in the context of efficiency, the discussion that was had last night.

The second issue will be the NATO Response Force. What structure should it have? What missions should it be used for? This is a continuing discussion. They’re discussing it now. And I hope that they will... Well, we’ll see what they conclude.

Then we will have the unveiling of the monument to those who have lost their lives in NATO operations. It’s outside. It’s right in the front. The cour d’honneur, as we call it. This was, as I mentioned yesterday, or as Secretary General mentioned, the Danish government has proposed this. And so there’ll be a ceremony for that.

And then there will be an ISAF meeting and that will be all 42 contributing nations. Minister Wardak will be there. Kai Edie will brief and participate virtually by videoconference and they will discuss what you would expect, that is election support, increased contributions. The command and control structure may well come up again. The comprehensive approach, that is pairing and improving the synergy between the civilian and military sides, and I’m quite sure that civilian casualties will be raised as well in the context of a) what we have done to try to reduce them, and b) what more we can do.

I think that’s pretty much it and I’m happy to take any questions you might have. Please?

Q: A couple of questions. First of all, can you give us any details of what this command structure might look like? Second, there was supposed to be a discussion on capabilities. I mean, you mentioned NRF. What other capabilities are being discussed, and is that today or did that already take place? And then just a technical question. Is this morning’s meeting a NACD because... I mean, the NACD was created because the French were not in the military structure. Is it only because the French were not in the NPG or why does the NACD still, does that format still exist?

JAMES APPATHURAI: The DPC, you mean? NACD just means NAC in Defence Ministers format. There was a DPC yesterday to discuss defence planning issues specifically, and reform of the defence, of the command structure, or sorry, the defence planning structure.

Q: (Off microphone).

JAMES APPATHURAI: And out the door. The DPC still exists. It includes the French now, but because it focuses specifically on defence planning, but it can take decisions just like the NAC in the NAC’s other format. But it has a specific focus on defence planning. But today is just a normal NAC meeting, but we say NACD because it’s NAC in Defence Ministers’ format. So that’s what the acronym means.

Command structure, the major change to the command structure, if and when is is formally put in place, it seems that it will be, will be... well, it will be twofold. One is of course that a three-star intermediate headquarters will be created. The intention is for it to be commanded initially by General Rodriguez but staffed according to NATO procedures. In other words, with international billets laid out according to the normal NATO process. And it will have oversight over tactical operations throughout Afghanistan.

There will also be, as you know, the creation of a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, which will have its own command, double hatted, dual hatted with CSTC-A, the Coalition training command. And it will have oversight over training activities in Afghanistan. This will free up Commander ISAF, the four-star billet, to do the strategic political military activity that is now required in the context of having more forces on the ground, more commands, subordinate commands under him to do more things and a greater requirement for engagement with other actors. The Afghans, first of all, other actors in the country, UNAMA and others, and also in a regional context, engagement with the Pakistanis, for example, in the Tripartite Commission.

So this is to give the Commander, the overall commander the time and the space to do all the things that he needs to do in a coherent way and still have someone focused minute to minute on tactical operations.

As to capabilities, the principal focus of the discussion this morning, that’s the Secretary General’s intent, was a NATO response force. There has been an exchange of views on AGS as well, as a number of countries are looking to sign up. We haven’t yet reached the critical mass where we can say it’s done but we’re very close now. But I don’t expect that to be done today.

Q: (Off microphone).

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes, General Formica will be head of the training.

Q: (Off microphone).

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, he is now, so I presume that that would be the case. I can’t say how long he’ll be in theatre but he’s relatively new there and he’s, I have to say, extremely good and well respected. You met him, yes.

Q: Just on piracy, SNMG 2, what is its current composition? How many ships and from where? And when will it reach the seas off Somalia? Will it be the same day as the current fleet leaves? Will there be a gap?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes, I checked. There are currently one, two, three, four, five, currently six countries in SNMG 2. I will not name them but I'm sure you will find them. I don’t know how many of them will, if all of them will participate. As you know, Germany, there’s no secret, when it deployed last time, took a ship and had it assigned to Atalanta while it was in theatre. So I don’t want to now say exactly who will be in and who will be out. I might add that at least one country that is not in SNMG2 yesterday said they would send a frigate and a maritime patrol aircraft also to contribute to it.

So it is impossible now I think to say which ships will be there or how many. That now needs to be done once the formal decision is taken. It has not yet been taken today, but that seems to be the direction in which we’re going.

The formal wording is immediately following the current SNMG deployment, but that does not mean that there might not be a short gap. The intention is to do it as quickly as possible.

Q: (Off microphone).

JAMES APPATHURAI: I just asked the military authorities. They don’t know. And of course you don’t get ships there like that. And we’re not talking about a very long time between now and the end of the current deployment, but there are many ways to skin a cat. So let’s see what they manage to do.

Q: Do we have a rough idea of for how long this new group would be...?

JAMES APPATHURAI: No, not yet.

Q: Because, I mean, the thing is are we going to be deployed for a long term period or like the Americans, are we just going to have two ships for two weeks?

JAMES APPATHURAI: No, no, this is intended to be a significant deployment. No one’s talking about weeks. I'm quite sure we’re talking about months, but the period has not been defined as far as I’m aware.

Q: The (inaudible) operations will be expanded from...?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Again, not yet defined.

Q: Okay.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Not yet defined. As I said, the decision itself has not even been taken.

Q: But NATO’s been talking about a long-term deployment.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: This is the long-term deployment or is this a stop-gap measure before you can decide on the long-term deployment?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, this is a continuing deployment, but there will also be work continuing on all of the elements of a long-term deployment and that includes the legal aspects which will continue to be discussed even as SNMG is deployed.

Q: Yes, because some of the elements seem to be a little bit missing, at least for me, and Ocean Shield’s July 1.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: This is Ocean Shield? This is the beginning of that...?

JAMES APPATHURAI: This is Ocean Shield.

Q: And that is the long term which would then...?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, it’s part of a long term.

Q: Yes.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Let’s put it that way.

Q: Okay, the British...

JAMES APPATHURAI: SNMGs will not deploy indefinitely. So there will be a defined period for that SNMG. I don’t know what that is. But even as they work, as that deployment takes place, work will continue within NATO on a long-term role.

Q: Okay.

Q: (Off microphone) the name Ocean Shield?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Ocean Shield applies.

Q: Is it for the Maritime or will it be for the longer term operation or would we keep that same name for later on?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Let’s just put it this way. It will apply to this deployment and I don’t know whether it will apply to anything that comes after.

Q: Just to follow up, we had the British Minister at the doorstep who said they’ve...

JAMES APPATHURAI: The doorstep? What doorstep?

Q: They’ve kindly offered to put it up, to stand it up. Does that imply then Britain’s taking the lead and that might be a long-term thing or where does that… How does that…?

JAMES APPATHURAI: That I don’t know. The UK is part of SNMG2. That’s clearly no secret. But whether or not they’ve... I didn’t read this comment and I don’t know what the command arrangements are. Sorry. As I say, the formal decision has not yet even been taken. It’s going in that direction.

Q: Une petite question technique. Combien d’AWACs sont prévus?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Pas encore défini. Pas le tout. Moins de cinq, ça je peux dire. Trois, quatre, je pense c’est dans cet environ, mais pas encore confirmé. C’est pour SACEUR de déterminer. Mais je pense que c'est dans le trois, quatre.

Okay, I thought you had a question. Please?

Q: One of the national briefings on Monday, back to this capabilities question, sorry, but Janes has asked something on capabilities, the national briefing spoke about missile defence, I think cyber defence and air lift and he specifically mentioned the Papa Air Base going operational.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: Was that actually dismissed and any of those issues…

JAMES APPATHURAI: Not yet.

Q: Okay.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Papa Air Base will indeed go operational I think within the month. And that’s good news. That’s for the C17.

Q: On strategic air lift, was the A400M discussed?

JAMES APPATHURAI: At no point.

Q: It wasn’t in the meeting itself, so it would have been on the fringes, I suppose.

JAMES APPATHURAI: No.

Q: And then sorry, you mentioned a frigate and a maritime patrol aircraft?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes.

Q: That’s for Ocean...?

JAMES APPATHURAI: That will be for Ocean Shield.

Q: And, sorry, from which country?

JAMES APPATHURAI: I didn’t say.

Q: Oh, that’s right.

(laughter)

JAMES APPATHURAI: I also didn’t say who it wasn’t, but that’s also a nice try.

Q: So when do you expect the delivery of the first C17?

JAMES APPATHURAI: I think it goes operational in the first... in the next month, it goes operational within a month. Is that right?

Q: End July.

JAMES APPATHURAI: End July. End July.

Q: This is the (inaudible)?

JAMES APPATHURAI: No, this is the C17, the first of the NATO C17s. Yes, thanks, guys.