Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers - Tallinn, Estonia

  • 22 Apr. 2010
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  • Last updated: 23 Apr. 2010 09:32

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Let me begin by thanking our Estonian hosts for welcoming us here in Tallinn.  I’m glad that so many Ministers have managed to make it here, because we have a lot of important business to address – too important to let a volcano stand in our way.

Tomorrow’s focus will be principally Afghanistan.  Today, we have five other important issues on the agenda.

First, the new Strategic Concept.  We will soon start final negotiations on a document that will shape and guide NATO for the next decade.  In a few weeks, Madeleine Albright will give me the report by the group of experts, which will inform the discussions among nations.  But already today, we exchanged views on what the new Concept should look like.  And I would say that three main points are already clear:

  • It must reaffirm NATO’s essential and enduring foundations:  the political bond between Europe and North America, and the commitment to defend each other against attack.  So you might say that NATO’s DNA won’t change.
  • Secondly, it will bring the theory in line with today’s practice.  We do things today that were never envisioned in the 1999 Concept, from Afghanistan to cyberspace.  The new Concept needs to be brought up to date.
  • Thirdly, it also needs to show the way into the future.  What kind of missions should we take on?  How far should our partnerships reach?  What kind of capabilities will we need?  

This document will show that the Alliance is indispensable in a time of uncertainty, that the challenges that are facing us are many and that the strong solidarity amongst nations with shared values is still the right answer.

Second issue already discussed today:  Membership Action Plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

At our last Ministerial meeting, the decision was taken to grant MAP to Bosnia-Herzegovina as soon they have taken the necessary steps.

Since then, Bosnia and Herzegovina has worked hard to take forward its defence reform.  And it has taken an important decision to send an infantry platoon to ISAF, a decision which we welcome.

These are important steps for the country, and important signals for us.  Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina is closer to MAP than ever.  Indeed, it is now on the doorstep. 

I can inform you that we will continue our discussions tonight. It is my clear expectation that we will be able to take a decision at this meeting here in Tallinn.

Third and final point from this afternoon:  reform of NATO.

One of my priorities when I came into NATO was to modernise the organisation, across the board.  NATO does a remarkable number of things remarkably well, but not because of the way it is structured, but despite the way it is structured. 

To put it bluntly, we have in many ways a Cold War headquarters structure in Europe that we can no longer afford, and which is not designed to support operations.  We have a budget, and a budgeting system, which has not really been updated since before we started conducting any operations at all.  Our headquarters is a paradise for people who love committees, but I’m not one of those people, and I am quite sure we can streamline things in this area as well.

I have now a strong mandate from NATO’s governments to propose deep reforms.    I presented a number of ideas to Ministers today, and I got a strong endorsement to keep going.  Which I will do.

I will also tell you that we are not just talking about cosmetic surgery here. I want a vibrant and fit organisation out of this. 

Tonight we will have a working dinner which will focus on two separate but related points:  nuclear issues and missile defence.

I do not want to prejudge tonight’s discussion, but I would already make a couple of points.

First, on nuclear issues.  It is clear that there is now new wind in the sails when it comes to reducing nuclear weapons and nuclear risks.  I want to commend President Obama for this, because he is leading the way.

NATO needs to discuss how we take forward our nuclear posture as well, not least in light of the Strategic Concept.

My point of departure is clear.   NATO must do what it can to support arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.  And we have already made very substantial cuts, over the past years.

But NATO’s core business, its raison-d’etre, is to protect our territory and our populations.  Our job is to ensure that the 900 million people in NATO countries feel safe from attack.  And in a world where nuclear weapons actually  exist, NATO needs a credible, effective, and safely managed deterrent.

Missile defence is no replacement for an effective deterrent.  But it can complement it.  Because there are states, or other actors, who might not be rational enough to be deterred by our nuclear weapons.  But they might be deterred by the realisation that their few missiles might not get through our defences.

The missile threat to Europe is clear, and it is growing.  Over 30 countries, including of course Iran, have or are developing missiles.   From my point of view, the first responsibility of political leaders is to protect our populations against clear threats.  Which means, to my mind, that we need to take on Alliance missile defence as a NATO mission.

That decision would be for the Lisbon Summit later this year.  Tonight, we will discuss all the issues surrounding missile defence, including cost, command and control.  We will also discuss how we engage Russia in missile defence.  I believe that we can  and must engage Russia in missile defence, to the benefit of Europe’s security and its political unity.

That’s all for today agenda.  I am happy to take your questions.

Q: Hi, Mary Beth Sheridan from Washington Post. Mister Secretary General when you talk about the need for NATO to have a credible and effective nuclear deterrent, do you mean that it needs to have tactical weapons in Europe. Or are you referring to other nuclear weapons that exist for example the US or Britain and France etc? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Well, we... of course, Allies must discuss this. But if you would like to hear my personal view I do believe that the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent.

Q: David Brunnstrom from Reuters (inaudible)... I was wondering. I've just asked about Ukraine, yesterday there was a deal agreed on the base, the NATO-Russian naval base in Crimea, extending that lease by 25 years. Is it still possible for Ukraine to become a member of NATO if it has a Russian naval on its soil for another 25 years.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: NATO police have not changed since we've made the decision at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008. And you will all recall that decision. We stated that Ukraine and Georgia by the way will become members of NATO provided, of course, that they so wish and fulfill the necessary criteria. And this is still our position. Well, we have established a NATO Ukraine Commission. Our cooperation with Ukraine takes place within that commission.

Every year, Ukraine presents a so-called annual national program where we have a dialogue with Ukraine as to how Ukraine can reform its reform and society in general. And this is the existing framework for our cooperation with Ukraine. And the new bilateral agreement between Ukraine and Russia does not change that. It's a bilateral agreement and it will not have an impact on our relationship neither with Russia nor with Ukraine.

Q: (inaudible) Our minister of Defence has criticized the weak level of funding of homeland security a couple of days ago. And so that Lithuania even can be kicked out NATO. How do you comment the situation of weak funding of our homeland security? Do you imagine the situation that Lithuania should be forced to leave NATO?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Not at all for the very reason that we... We do... That's the first thing... Legally, there are no provisions in the NATO Treaty on the basis we can kick out any member State. But that's a legal part of it. Then, politically, I have to say that we appreciate very much our partnership with Lithuania. We consider Lithuania a strong ally. And I look forward to continuing cooperation with Lithuania within NATO.

Q: Ahto, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is probably as close as you could be to Russia during a NATO ministerial. Yet, you seem to be very reluctant to bring up the issue of NATO... of the NATO-Russia relationship unprompted. Once that you recognize that it will take a lot more than cooperation on missile defence to achieve a brilliant, deep, mutual understanding between. NATO on the one hand; and Russia the other which doesn't even seem to have recognized... who doesn't even seem to have recognized the last expansion having as far I understand called off the NATO-Russia Council meeting here in Estonia. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, we are not reluctant whatsoever to discuss the NATO-Russian relationship. Actually, it will be the first item on our agenda for tomorrow's meeting. So the 28 Allies will discuss the relationship between NATO and Russia tomorrow. So we're not reluctant to discuss that. We addressed that head on.

Secondly, actually, it's not that dramatic that we do not have a NATO-Russia council in connection with this foreign ministers meeting. We have not at any state taken a decision whether we would have a meeting, a NATO-Russia Council meeting here or not. According to the founding act and our common declarations we will have regular meetings among ministers within the NATO-Russia Council.

But it has not been decided when. So we decided that this... on this occasion there was not substantive results to discuss with this. Not a surprise. Because last December, we made important decisions at a ministerial level in the NATO-Russia Council on launching a joint review of the 21st Century common security challenges; a comprehensive work program for 2010; and reforms of the NATO-Russia Council; and the time horizon for producing results is by the end of this year. So I find it quite natural that we meet when there is something concrete to discuss. So I have to say there's nothing dramatic in the fact that we do not have a NATO-Russia Council here in Tallinn.

Q: Danish Broadcasting corporation. Secretary General, two short ones. This morning you made a strong point about common funding in NATO. And you sounded like a man with a quest to really raise common funding in NATO. What makes you confident that it can succeed this time around? First question.

Second question, how does the possession of tactical nuclear weapons deter a terrorist group from acquiring of using nuclear weapons?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First about common funding. I was quite open about the fact that it has been a topic for discussion during many years within our Alliance. So I don't know whether it will be possible to move forward in the direction of more common funding.

But as Secretary General of NATO, I have, I think, an obligation to promote initiatives that can strengthen our capabilities that can make our use of resources more efficient and also strengthen the solidarity within our alliance. And I see common funding as an instrument that can work in that direction. So this is a reason why I argue for more collective solutions and more common funding while knowing that it will take quite some discussions within the Alliance before we can move forward. But I mean, that's my task as Secretary General to try and push and press; and then we will see.

About nuclear deterrent, well, you never get a guarantee that irrational actors will actors will acquire nuclear weapons anyway. And this is a reason why I say: " We need a credible nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist in the world.

But at the same time, we need a missile defence to protect our populations in the case that irrational actors would not be declared by our nuclear capacity. So you might say that we strengthen our collective defence of our territories and population by have a nuclear deterrent. And complimentary to that, also a missile defence shield.

Q: Myoshi, Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, correspondent in Berlin. As for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, there are some NATO member countries which have great concerns, especially against Russian tactical weapons that is said to be 2 000 still deployed in Europe. I'm going to talk some concrete measures responding to such concerns of East European nations such as... by strengthening conventional weapons for such East European nations. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think the most efficient response has two elements: firstly, that we keep a nuclear capacity within NATO as part of a credible deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist in the world. That's one element. And I think the second element should be active engagement in arms control and disarmament including as far as nuclear weapons are concerned. So we want to protect our populations at the lowest possible level of armed forces and weapons... and weaponry. That's our formula.

So we should keep a nuclear capacity as a credible deterrent while at the same time working actively to control arms, to reduce the number of arms conventionally as well as nuclear arms. I think these two elements are essential.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): The last question.

Q: Kim Sengupta from The Independent. I appreciate that the top appears to be nuclear weapons. But can I ask you about Afghanistan, Secretary General, specifically the process of afghanization of security there. We get out 500 trainers still needed. The ones which you haven't got. And there seems to be a feeling among the Afghan security forces that although they're prepared to over security as soon as possible; they don't want to be pushed into as part of the Western strategy. So I just wonder if you could us about the problems being caused, if there's problems about the shortage of trainers and the training of Afghan forces.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, to be specific, there's a shortfall of 450. I think the difference in figures is due to the fact that we constantly reduce the shortfall, which is a positive news.

We, we work hard to make sure that our training mission in Afghanistan will be fully resourced. Actually, countries have pledged an additional number of trainers. Not long ago, Canada pledged 90 trainers. And individual allies and partners come up with new contributions. It's a process. But so is training and education of Afghan security forces.

So I feel confident that at the end of the day we will get our training mission fully resourced which is also essential for our strategy in Afghanistan. A strategy which is supported by all allies and partners. The strategy is to gradually handle over the responsibility to the Afghans themselves. And I think our populations expect us to work in that direction.

As I said before, they want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the land at the end of the tunnel would be to hand over responsibility to the Afghans. And therefore, that we have to invest in this transition. And this is also the reason why nations come up with additional contributions to our training mission.

So we have seen progress in recent weeks and months. And we will see further contributions in the coming weeks and months. And at the end of the day, our training mission will get fully up and running.

Q: Is there any danger of pushing the Afghan to take over security before they're fully prepared?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, I can assure that it will be condition based and not calendar driven. It's our strong intention to hand over responsibility to the Afghans. But we neither can nor will hand over this responsibility until we are 100% sure that the Afghan security forces are capable to take that lead responsibility.