Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the press conference following the meetings of Foreign and Defence Ministers

  • 14 Oct. 2010 -
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  • Last updated: 14 Oct. 2010 19:27

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Today marks the start of the sprint to the NATO Summit in Lisbon. Based on what has already been accomplished today, we are moving fast. And the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, in a few minutes, should give us another boost.

First: we now have a clear mandate for reform, and a clear idea of what reform will look like.

For example, I expect the Summit to agree a substantially leaner Alliance Command Structure.

  • In 1995, there were 27,000 personnel in the Command Structure, in 26 separate headquarters.
  • Today, there are about 13,000 people in 11 headquarters, commanding 150,000 troops in the field.
  • I expect the new Command Structure to streamline even more – below 9,000 personnel. Without, let me be very clear on that, diminishing the level of ambition of what the Alliance can do.

I expect us to move from having 14 NATO Agencies, to having three.

We will also agree, by the Summit, a list of required capabilities. In a time of fiscal restraint, we have to focus on what is most needed – like protection from road-side bombs for our troops, or medical support, or air transport.

Deuxième point : le concept stratégique

J’ai trouvé très encourageants les débats de ce jour et l’engagement des Alliés à moderniser l’Alliance pour le XXIe siècle. Les points de vue convergent réellement sur les questions essentielles : sur ce que doit être une défense moderne, sur l'importance de maintenir une dissuasion forte tout en contribuant simultanément à la maîtrise des armements, au désarmement et à la non-proliferation, sur la façon dont l’OTAN devrait gérer l’ensemble des crises et sur notre degré d’ouverture aux partenaires.

Je pense aussi que nous nous orientons vers un consensus, au sommet de Lisbonne, pour considérer que l’OTAN devrait se doter d’une capacité de protéger les populations et le territoire des pays européens contre une attaque de missiles. Et je pense que nous devrions, dans le même temps, donner à la Russie la possibilité de coopérer avec nous et de partager les fruits de cette coopération.

Which brings me to my third subject: Russia.

A couple of days ago, I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov about the way forward in NATO-Russia relations. Based on that conversation, I am increasingly hopeful of two things:

  • First, that there could be an NRC Summit in Lisbon; and
  • second, that the substance on the NATO-Russia agenda is getting a solid boost: with more cooperation on Afghanistan, a joint review of the challenges we face together today, and a more effective fight against terrorism, narcotics and piracy.

That is a solid package. I hope that soon, we can add territorial missile defence cooperation to the list.

So all in all, this has already been a productive day – with the Foreign Ministers’ meeting still to come. So there is room for even more good news by the end of the day.

Finally, I can announce one change on which a decision has already been taken. I’m pleased to announce that Ms. Oana Lungescu has accepted my offer to become the new NATO Spokesperson, replacing James Appathurai, who will take up a new position in NATO. She will take up her responsibilities on December 1st. I’m sure you will all enjoy working with her, as will I. Those are the issues I wished to raise with you, and I look forward to your questions.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. I'm right over here. You said you're hopeful that Mr. Medvedev will attend the Summit in Lisbon. What remaining obstacles have to be cleared away to make that possible?

And then secondly, on the Strategic Concept, the U.K. next week is set to announce a fairly significant cut in its defence budget which will stretch out over really the bulk of the period covered by the Strategic Concept. Were they, or any other cuts made by European countries, coordinated with NATO and what concern do you have that this will affect the Alliance's capabilities?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, I'm not aware of any obstacle to having a NATO-Russia Summit in connection with our Summit in Lisbon. But obviously it has to be prepared properly. We have still some work to do, so we have not received a final answer yet from the Russian side, but we work on that and I'm hopeful that we can have such a meeting.

Concerning the economic austerity, the economic situation and the economic environment in which we are going to approve a new Strategic Concept, obviously that's a challenge. No reason to hide that. But on the other hand I think the economic challenges we are faced with can also provide an opportunity to promote the necessary reforms. And I would like to stress that based on today's discussion I know that the Strategic Concept will actually provide an even stronger framework for NATO's future. It will be a Strategic Concept that will improve NATO's capability to address the new threats of today and tomorrow like terrorism, cyber attacks, missile attacks and other emerging security challenges.

So the fact that we are faced with budgetary constraints will not be an obstacle to further improvements of our capabilities. And I would expect the Summit to make a decision on missile defence, which would accurately be a very visible demonstration of our preparedness to improve our capabilities, even during a period of economic austerity.

Q: Ben Nimmo from DPA, down here. Secretary General, two questions, if I might. On the question of missile defence you've made it clear that you're very much looking forward to a positive decision in Lisbon. Every comment from the Defence Ministers we've heard today indicates... they're all saying that no country actually has a serious problem with the idea of adopting missile defence. So I'm just wondering are there actually any obstacles remaining to the adoption, or is it simply that this is something which can only be done on the Heads of State and Government level? In a sense, why do we need to Lisbon if it seems there's agreement already?

And a separate question, if I might. I know that Afghanistan and the training mission were not on the agenda today, but today we had the announcement from the British and the Italians and the Belgians that they would be sending more trainers to Afghanistan. Is it your understanding now that the requirements which have come from SACEUR are more or less filled up, or is there still a shortfall which we will expect to need filling in the fall, in the near future? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: First, on missile defence. There is, I think, a broad agreement that we should make such a decision, but there is still some technical work to do. And I also think it's appropriate that such an important decision on the development of a NATO-based missile defence system is taken at the level of Heads of State and Government.

But we have still some preparatory work to do and this is the reason why I expect the final decision to be made, at the Lisbon Summit, but based on today's discussion I am quite optimistic.

Concerning our training mission in Afghanistan I'm equally optimistic. I can't tell you that we have filled all gaps yet, but I have received quite a number of positive and encouraging announcements so hopefully when we meet in Lisbon we will be in a position to declare that transition to Afghan lead responsibility is about to start at the beginning of 2011, based on the fact that we have also fully resources our training mission.

Q: Právo(?) Daily Newspaper. Mr. Secretary General, again on missile defence, is there an agreement among member countries on the cost of the interconnecting the NATO system with the U.S. system? You have mentioned the number of 200 million Euros within ten years. Is there an agreement among NATO member countries on that figure?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Yes, indeed, because the figure I have mentioned is based on a report from the National Armament Directors. So it's a report prepared by representatives from the nations and it has been unanimously agreed. And I have been cautious in the figure. I have mentioned... I have consistently mentioned the figure, less than 200 million Euros, in additional costs on the NATO common funded budget.

But I can tell you that the exact figure provide by the Armament Directors is 147 million Euros. I mention this because somewhere it's caused a bit of confusion that I mention a figure less than 200 million when the exactly figure is 147. But it's because as a politician, based on experience, I know that it's better to be a bit cautious when it comes to such figures. So speaking about less than 200 million Euros I think I'm on the safe side.

And this is an agreed cost. But of course, I have to say in all fairness that there is a basic national investment to be made, but that has been decided already long ago when NATO decided to develop a so-called theatre missile defence system to protect our deployed troops. What we're speaking about here is the additional cost to link the existing systems, the U.S. system and existing European theatred missile defence systems.

But it is a very modest cost to expand the coverage from deployed troops to all of the population.

Q: (Inaudible...) from Público Spain. I'd like to know on Afghanistan, if you can confirm that senior NATO officials, or U.S. officials, are facilitating discreet, but direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government? And if so what's the nature and purpose of these talks? Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: First of all, I would like to stress that this political process, this reconciliation process, is Afghan-led. That's important and that's been the basis for us always through that reconciliation and reintegration process must be Afghan-led.

But our position is that if we can facilitate this process through practical assistance then why not? I will not go into details on that, but if we get a request and if we can be of practical assistance we are prepared to do that.

But I have to stress, once again, this process is, and must be, Afghan-led and when it comes to politics, when you come to politics, certain conditions must be fulfilled. Individuals and groups involved in this process must abide by and request the Afghan democratic institution and human rights, including women's rights, and put down their weapons and cut off links with terrorist groups.

Q: (Inaudible...) National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, you once more encourage Russia to take part in the developing of NATO anti-missile shield. I'm just curious, what you see the place and the role of the countries standing in between NATO and Russia in that sense? Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: I have mentioned Russia explicitly because we have a special council with Russia; NATO-Russia Council. But I would expect the invitation to be an invitation to Europe... other European partners as well.

Q: (Inaudible...) from the Spanish newspaper ABC. Mr. Secretary General, today the High Council for Peace from the Afghan government asking NATO to stop the operation in regions where the Taliban are negotiating with the Afghan government. They say that this is their contribution, they are asking to NATO. What do you think? Is that possible?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: No. I think we should continue our military operations. I do believe that the best way to facilitate reconciliation and reintegration process is to keep up the military pressure on the Taliban. The Taliban is under pressure everywhere in Afghanistan and I do... I really do believe that the stronger the military pressure the better the chances of reconciliation process.

Q: Secretary General, (inaudible), German Television. I don't want to destroy the harmony the colleagues felt concerning the missile defence, but the French Defence Minister just said a few minutes ago in a press conference that the missile defence system is ineffective. That's what he said. Did he mention anything like this speaking with you too?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: I don't quote Ministers from meetings. That's for Ministers themselves to convey their messages to the public. But what I take from today's meeting is that I have not heard objections to moving forward on making a decision in Lisbon about a NATO-based missile defence system.

Q: James Kitfield from National Journal Magazine. Mr. Secretary, by all appearances you're going to announce a very sort of assertive Strategic Concept at Lisbon at a time when a number of NATO members are pulling troops out of Afghanistan, or have announced they're going to pull troops out of Afghanistan at a time when a number of nations are cutting their defence budgets.

Is there a danger here of the rhetoric of NATO really outstripping what we see happening, which is a sort of a pulling back?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: No, I don't think so. Firstly because it's not an accurate description of the actual situation in Afghanistan – that countries are pulling out their troops. On the contrary we have built up the number of troops. As you all know we decided last December to increase the number of troops by almost 40,000 and they have now been deployed.

And we have also seen that despite economic austerity, despite budgetary constraints, yet even despite drastic cuts on public expenditure, nations have not only stayed committed to our mission in Afghanistan, some of them have even increased their contribution.

Just one example. Today I've had a meeting with the Ministers of the Czech Republic. They have actually decided on drastic cuts in public expenditure, but at the same time decided to increase their contribution to our mission in Afghanistan. And I appreciate that very much. It demonstrates the solidarity on which our Alliance is based. Governments understand the message that the necessary adaptation of government finances must take place in such a way that we, as I have said before, cut fat, while at the same time building up muscle.

And to deploy troops in Afghanistan or in other international missions, that's muscle. It demonstrates our capability to take on seriously protection of our populations. And I appreciate that commitment.

James Appathurai (NATO Spokesman): Brooks.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. You'll be submitting a plan to reform NATO. I understand this will be a bloc vote within the NAC, which requires unanimity, but that's just at the political level. The really hard decisions will come when the geographic decisions to shut down and combine agencies will take place. Are you just as confident that can be done, because there the line vetoes will come into play?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Obviously I don't underestimate the challenge. I know from experience how difficult it is to carry through structural reforms that will also include geographical relocation of institutions, headquarters and facilities. I know how difficult it is.

But the good news is that we have achieved a consensus on what we, in NATO language, call a generic model. That means a model that describes how the command structure should ideally look like. And that is the first very important step and once we have agreed that, and I would expect that to take place in Lisbon, then we can take the next step and say within this agreed framework how could it look like geographically. And while I do not underestimate that challenge, I have to say that based on the discussions we've had today I'm quite optimistic that we will also succeed when it comes to the geographic footprint.

James Appathurai: I think that's it. Thank you very much.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Thank you.