Secretary General’s Monthly Press Conference

  • 07 Feb. 2011
  • |
  • Last updated: 08 Feb. 2011 10:14

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

I am very happy to meet you for the first time here at the Residence Palace, in the European quarter.

In terms of location, NATO is somewhat on the outskirts of Brussels, but I think we are very much at the heart of the European debate when it comes to dealing with the effects of the economic crisis on our security.

In this age of austerity, it is vital that the Euro-Atlantic community pulls together – and that Europe pulls its weight – to ensure that the economic crisis does not turn into a security crisis.

This is a matter of serious concern – and I have a serious warning. But I am also convinced that NATO can provide the solution.

Over the past two years, European defence spending by NATO’s European member nations has shrunk by some 45 billion dollars – that is the equivalent of Germany’s entire annual defence budget.

Indeed, NATO Allies are starting the new decade further apart than ever before in terms of defence investment. Ten years ago, the United States accounted for just under half of NATO members’ total defence spending.

Today the American share is closer to 75 percent – and it will continue to grow.

My message is that governments need to cut wisely – because cuts that are too deep will make us unable to defend the security on which our democratic societies and prosperous economies are based.

If we do not address these problems, we risk a divided and  weaker Europe, increasingly adrift from the United States.

As a former prime minister, I fully understand that defence cannot be exempt from spending cuts. But let me be clear: Europe simply cannot afford to get out of the security business.

And events in Egypt and North Africa serve as a timely reminder. We cannot take stability for granted, even in our immediate neighbourhood. It is too early to predict the outcome of these dramatic developments. But coupled with the economic crisis, this could have a profound impact on us in Europe.


If we want to avoid the scenario that I have just set out, then the time to act is now. However, we cannot ensure our security just by spending more money – because the money simply isn’t there. We need a new approach: what I call Smart Defence – how NATO can help nations to build greater security with fewer resources, but greater cooperation, coordination, coherence, and flexibility.

The crisis makes cooperation between nations no longer a choice. It is a necessity. Today, no European Ally on its own is able to develop the full range of responses to meet all security challenges.

Recently, France and the UK, made a fundamental shift towards more cooperation, as the way to preserve and build their mutual capabilities -- this new agreement is a significant step forward.

So I see three ways ahead: pooling and sharing resources; setting the right priorities; and forging closer links with industry and within Europe.

NATO can provide the bigger picture of what Allies need and want. This is the time to make better use of NATO as an adviser and an honest broker – to ensure a degree of coherence in any cuts which nations may consider, and to minimise their impact on the overall effectiveness of the Alliance.

Smart Defence is about making it easier for nations to develop and acquire capabilities – alone, together as Allies, or even involving non-NATO countries, in NATO or in the EU.

Indeed, European efforts are particularly welcome, because they strengthen both the EU and NATO. All frameworks are good, as long as they deliver the capabilities that nations need to protect their population, and to develop a stronger Europe.

A final word on Afghanistan: Next month we’ll take a decision which will be the beginning of a new phase in our operation.

Together with the Afghan Government, we will decide which provinces and districts will be the first to transition to lead Afghan responsibility.

I was in Washington last week. I discussed progress in Afghanistan with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates. Transition to Afghan security lead is on track. ISAF forces are making significant progress. The Taliban is under pressure everywhere.

We share the ambitious goal that the Afghan security forces should take lead responsibility all over Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But of course, the pace and scope of transition will depend on conditions on the ground.

Last week I also talked with President Karzai. I welcome that he will announce the start of transition to Afghan security lead on the 21st of March, the Afghan New Year. It will indeed mark a fresh start for Afghanistan.

And I am now ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR: And as you know, I needn't tell you that you've got the microphones next to your seats and please let us know who you are and who you are working for.


DAVID BRUNNSTROM (Reuters): David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Secretary General, could you just clarify one point? You mentioned President Karzai said that he would announce the start of transition, it wasn't really clear whether that transition would actually start on March 21st or it would just… the intention would be announced there. And also on Afghanistan, and you mentioned Egypt there, how much of a danger do you see of there being distraction for the mission in Afghanistan… (no sound for approx 2 seconds)… as a result of preoccupation with events nearer to home for a lot of… well, all of NATO States?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Let me start with the latter. I don’t think events in Egypt will have an impact on our operation in Afghanistan. These are two completely different matters, and as you know, NATO has no intention whatsoever to interfere with events in Egypt. So we are continuously focused on our operation in Afghanistan, we have seen progress as I mentioned and we will see further progress.

Which leads me to the first part of your question. The 21st of March will be the date for announcement of the official announcement of which provinces and districts will be the first to transition. After that, a more practical implementation process will start. It's premature to say anything about the exact date when the physical transition will take place but still it will be in the first half of 2011, as I see it today. Everything has been prepared. Every month myself and the NATO civilian representative have elaborated a detailed evaluation of the situation, security situation in individual provinces and districts so everything is in place. But of course after the political decision has been taken, there is a practical implementation phase, but I would expect it to be relatively short.


Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane’s Defence. Two quick questions on cost. One, every Secretary General since the fall of the Berlin wall has issued dire warnings about the effects of cutting defence budgets in Europe and yet the Europeans have continued to do this for 20 years. Why should they change their behaviour now? And secondly could you give us the latest estimate of the cost of the new NATO headquarters? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on defence cuts. Actually in my introduction I made clear that I expect defence cuts to take place. Ha! My point is quite another one, namely that it is essential that such cuts take place wisely and in a coherent manner so that the necessary budget adaptations in one country will not have a negative impact on the security in the Alliance as a whole. So this is my call for cooperation, coordination, coherence, and my call for using NATO as the instrument to insure such cooperation, coordination and coherence. And I think there is a wide spread agreement within NATO that we should ensure an overall coherence in the way we adapt our defence budgets to the current economic austerity.

The cost of the new headquarters… I don’t… remember the exact figure, but I can tell you so much, that the final figure happens to be a bit lower than the original expectation because of economic circumstances in the construction sector we managed to get better agreements on the new construction than expected.

MODERATOR: We'll get you that figure Brooks but I don’t think there is any change since ground was broken.

Daily Telegraph.

BRUNO WATERFIELD (Daily Telegraph): Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph. From the press reports this weekend in… an Afghan Red Cross worker who is being held in pretty terrible conditions and is on the sentence of death for his conversion to Christianity, how appropriate a transition partner is the Karzaï regime when people have worked with (inaudible) and converted to Christianity can face the death sentence?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that… a sentence to death or any punishment for converting from one religion to the other is in strong contradiction with everything NATO stands for. NATO is based on the principles of human rights, rule of law, freedom, democracy, as you all know.

Secondly I have no information about the possible involvement of the Afghan government in that. I would be surprised if the Afghan government is actually involved in that case. Though we are primarily in Afghanistan for the sake of our own security to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists, we are of course very much aware of and are monitoring the human rights situation on the ground, and I would expect the Afghan government as well as all Afghan institutions to live up to the requirements as stated in the Afghan Constitution, including full respects for human rights.

MODERATOR: No? I think you have to press it.

Q: Is it working now? Yes it is. You referred to the situation in North Africa as a reminder that we cannot take stability for granted, even in our own neighbourhood. Does that mean that you see that situation as a potential threat to NATO's security? And is it something that should be discussed at NATO?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: In NATO we consult with each other on all security issues, global security issues that might be of interest for any ally, including the situation in North Africa and Egypt. The more so because Egypt and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East are members of one of our partnerships, the Mediterranean Dialogue. So it's quite natural that we follow the situation in Egypt and other countries with great interest.

Having said that, I do not consider the situation in Egypt or Tunisia, or elsewhere as a direct threat to NATO allies or the Alliance as such. But obviously the evolving situation in the Middle East and North Africa may have an impact on the Middle East peace process, and instability in the region as such may also, in a longer term perspective, have a negative impact on economy, which might lead to illegal immigration in Europe, etc. So of course indirectly there may be a negative impact on Europe caused by the evolving situation in North Africa and the Middle East. But I do not consider the situation as a direct threat to NATO.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

Q: (Inaudible). Secretary General, you mentioned that it is necessary to involve partners in cooperation with NATO. So will NATO continue the traditional cooperation with (inaudible), like Ukraine, Russia, on a lifting or helicopter initiative? And what it will be the scale of such cooperation? And the second issue, can we expect that such cooperation will be developed in maybe more deep spheres like a technological cooperation, for example, like… developing planes, missile systems, and so on? Thanks.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We are currently considering how we can provide helicopters for the Afghan army. And these considerations take place in cooperation with Russia. I hope that it will be possible to make an arrangement within which 21 helicopters could be provided for the Afghan army. Russia and the United States are currently considering how the financial arrangement could be carried out within the NATO-Russia Council, we are exploring the possibilities to establish a trust fund which could finance parts of this helicopter package, including training and education of essential helicopter personnel as well as the provision of spare parts. All this was confirmed at the NATO-Russia Summit meeting in Lisbon and we… I can confirm that we are still working on that and I'm quite optimistic about the outcome of these deliberations.


Q: The second part was a more (inaudible) question about exchange of technology. In this case we are speaking about provision of Russian helicopters and not exchange of technology. To which degree exchange of technology could take place in the future will very much depend on how we can organize cooperation on for example missile defence or I think it's a bit premature to go into further details in that respect.


MATTHEW PRICE (BBC): Matthew Price, BBC. There is concern as you know across Afghanistan about the ability of the police and the training that they have had so far and the Afghan security forces. There is also in parts clear unpopularity of the Afghan security forces. What makes you think that by the middle of this year you can even start to think about handing over control beginning the transition?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I'm optimistic for two reasons. Firstly, we have seen a rapid growth in the number of Afghan security forces, both police and soldiers. And secondly because we have also seen an improvement of the quality of the Afghan security forces and that goes for both the army and the police, and as far as the army is concerned, the Afghan army now participates in most military operations and in several also major military operations; more than half of the participating soldiers are Afghan soldiers. As regards to the police, we have also seen an improvement of quality and we will see further improvements in the coming years. I can tell you that we have also introduced literacy courses, education of Afghan security forces in addition to more military and security training and education.

You said that the Afghan security forces are not that popular. But that is not… that is not a fair description. Actually according to opinion polls, the overall, the overall opinion of the Afghan people is, according to these opinion polls, that I think around 80% of the Afghan people trust their security forces. That is quite significant. So for all these reasons, I'm quite optimistic about a timetable and a gradual transfer or responsibility to the Afghan security forces.


PASCAL MALLET (Agence France-Presse): Oui, Pascal Mallet, Agence France-Presse. Monsieur le Secrétaire général, le New START est entré en vigueur. À partir de maintenant, je suppose que NATO, que l'OTAN, va devoir beaucoup réfléchir à la manière d'aborder la question des (inaudible) nuclear forces, les forces tactiques nucléaires, et aussi les forces conventionnelles en Europe, CFE (?) qui traînent depuis des années sans progresser. Donc la question que je voulais vous poser, c'est comment l'OTAN voit la relance des négociations sur ces questions et conventionnelles, et nucléaires en Europe? Est-ce que vous pensez que c'est seulement les États-Unis qui doivent les lancer, ou est-ce que l'OTAN doit dès le départ négocier sur les ANF et autres forces nucléaires russes?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Comme vous le savez, nous avons décidé d'examiner notre posture nucléaire et conventionnelle au cadre de l'OTAN. Nous avons initié ce travail déjà, en vue du Sommet de l'OTAN en 2012. En même temps, nous avons présenté un cadre pour… en vue de résumer les négociations sur le traité CFE. Comme vous le savez, nous avons eu des négociations avec la Russie et les autres partenaires du traité de CFE, et je suis optimiste… Je pense qu'il sera possible de trouver une solution. C'est très compliqué, comme vous le savez, mais le but, le but est très clair; le but est d'assurer une transparence claire et une maîtrise des armes conventionnelles très efficace en Europe. En ce qui concerne les armes nucléaires, je suis également optimiste. Je pense que, après la conclusion du nouveau traité START, il serait possible, serait possible de résumer les négociations en ce qui concerne les armes nucléaires non stratégiques. En général, c'est donc jugé très compliqué, mais il y a des possibilités d'assurer des objectifs positifs en ce qui concerne les maîtrises des armes nucléaires et également les armes conventionnelles.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

Q: (Inaudible). Mr. Secretary General, are there any plans to discuss the situation in Egypt with the Gulf partners who are members of the ICI?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would suppose that our partners within the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the four Gulf States would be interested in exchanging views on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. Actually the NATO Council will go to one of our Gulf partners next week. We will visit Qatar and I would expect this issue to be one of the issues to discuss with our Gulf partners.

But let me remind you that NATO is not an active… part in Middle East peace process or the evolving situation in the Middle East and North Africa, but within our partnerships we consult with our partners on any issue that might be of interest for them.


JULIAN HALE (Defence News): Defence News, Julian Hale. You mentioned pooling and sharing, Secretary General, I wonder if you had any particular new ideas for pooling and sharing? And also whether pooling and sharing, your visiting is going to be among all NATO countries or a kind of pick and choose system like the European Defence Agency have? And also how any of your new ideas will link in to what the European Defence Agency is already doing?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, on the pick and choose concept, one of the keywords in smart defence is flexibility. I think we should be opened to all kinds of cooperative frameworks because the most important thing is to ensure that we actually acquire the critical capabilities. So I don’t exclude any framework. It could be bilateral agreements as the one we have seen between France and the UK. It could be multinational frameworks as the one we have seen as regards to C-17 strategic airlifts capacity, the acquisition of expensive transport aircrafts. That is an excellent example of multinational cooperation and it could of course also be cooperation in the format of 28; that means all 28 NATO allies and common funded activities. So I would not exclude any… any possibility.

You asked me if I have new ideas. I do and I will present them at the Defence ministers' meeting in March so that Defence ministers will be the first to learn about my vision about "Smart Defence". And starting at Defence ministers' meeting next week… uh, next month, on the 10th and 11th of March, I will initiate a process with a view to the NATO Summit in the spring 2012 in the United States. So we will carefully prepare this and also explore which instruments we can use in NATO to promote this concept of "Smart Defence", that is more cooperation, more coordination, more coherence in the national defence planning.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible).

JIM NEUGER (Bloomberg): Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. On that same point you opened by saying that European governments should cut wisely and not too deep. Have there been examples so far where European governments have cut defence spending unwisely and too deep? If so, could you tell us what they are, and in particular your thoughts about UK defence budget cuts?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Actually I think I have stresses how important it is that the UK and France have agreed to not only maintain and preserve but also further develop critical defence capabilities through a bilateral agreement. So I have pointed to the UK as an excellent example together with France as to how we can get more for less through committed cooperation.

No, I am not going to name and shame individuals on cuts done unwisely or uncoordinated, or too deep because I do realize how difficult the situation is in all NATO member States. Even Secretary Gates announced cuts in defence spending, some weeks ago. So it's a general challenge. But… what I will do is to use a positive approach and present proactive and positive examples as to how nations could pull resources and through that achieve economies of scale and make more efficient use of resources. So that will be, that will be my approach, the positive approach.

MODERATOR: El Pais have been waiting for some time and…

Q (El Pais): (Inaudible) with El Pais. (Inaudible) of the Egypt, Tunisia upheavals, the Europeans rethinking these policies. (Inaudible). Does the NATO Alliance think that it's… should as well to rethink it policies and regime with the neighbours the Mediterranean Dialogue in particular?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We have no plans to change the concept of partnerships because of the evolving situation in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. But more in general, we have already decided at the NATO Summit in November that we will further develop and enhance our partnerships, including more intense security policy consultation with our partners. Actually we decided at the NATO Summit that we are prepared to consult with partners on any issue that might be of interest to them. And that is a new step, because that was actually not the case in the past.

So we try to give more political substance to our partnerships and we also try to further develop practical cooperation with our partners. We are right now in the process of preparing one more coherent toolbox of practical cooperation instruments with partners. And NATO Foreign Ministers will discuss this new partnership policy at their meeting in Berlin in April. In the meantime, we consult with partners so they are an integrated process… they are an integrated part of this process leading to a renewal and revitalization of our partnerships.

So we will further develop our existing partnerships as well as expand our partnerships to also include what we call partners across the globe, partners that play or can play an important strategic role when it comes to NATO security missions as the one in Afghanistan. So yes, you will see a change of NATO's partnership policy, but it is not initiated by the situation in Egypt or North Africa.

MODERATOR: We have just a few minutes left. Over there.

Q: Yes. Secretary General, you spoke about…

MODERATOR: Please introduce yourself.

ERNEST BUNGURI (Albanian Satellite Television): Yes. Ernest Bunguri from Albanian Satellite Television in Macedonia. But I have a question for a country which is a member of NATO, it is Albania. You spoke about values of NATO, which are the freedoms, rule of law, and you want to help other countries to respect those rules. But what about countries that are member of NATO? You know the 21st of January, there were violent demonstrations in Albania, three people, three citizens unarmed were shot dead by bullets, real bullets in the head and in the chest, and the fourth victim just died two days ago. And the prime minister of a country member of NATO accused every independent institution of the country, the president, general prosecutor, chief of Secret Services, of being part of a coup d'État, of a putsch. And police is not cooperating with the prosecutor general which is asking for the responsible of these victims. So my question is: are you informed about the situation in a member country of NATO? Are you concerned? And if I may, you were a prime minister before, being the secretary general of NATO, how would you behave in a case like this in your country if four citizens of your country were shot dead by real bullets? Thank you very much.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I can tell you that would not be the case in Denmark. I mean the Danish people are a bit more calm than further South. So I don’t think… I think it is a hypothetical question. But more seriously, I am concerned about the situation in Albania. I have been informed about the situation in Albania. I deplore the loss of life. I strongly condemn violence and I urge all parties to seek peaceful solutions to political dispute. And I hope that we will see resumption of normal political activity in Albania. I think a constructive dialog between government and opposition is the right way forward. Referring to what you mentioned about my previous capacity, it is my experience as former Prime Minister, coming from a small country that it is of crucial importance for small countries to have… to ensure a broad consensus on major political issues, in particular of course when it comes to defence, security and foreign policy. But during this period of economic austerity also, when it comes to major issues within economic policy.

I am not going to interfere with a domestic political situation in Albania but I urge all parties involved to find peaceful solutions to their disputes.

MODERATOR: We had one question there.

Q (Netherlands Press Association): Yes, (inaudible) Netherlands Press Association. In recent weeks the Dutch government and subsequently Dutch Parliament finally at long last decided on a police mission in Afghanistan. Is this the mission you were hoping for? And how does this mission compare to, in a quality sense, to the former military mission in the South of Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I would like to say that I highly appreciate the Dutch decision to stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan. As you all know, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of Dutch presence in Afghanistan and whether The Netherlands would completely withdraw from our operation in Afghanistan. Now a political decision has been taken and I really appreciate that the Dutch Parliament has decided to prolong the Dutch presence in Afghanistan, in a new configuration, yes, but from a political point of view it is of outmost importance that we see all allies and partners stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan. The Dutch Parliament had taken that decision, earlier we saw Canada take the same decision and contribute significantly to our training mission in Afghanistan. So in conclusion, all allies, all partners stay committed to our operation and that is of outmost importance.

Speaking about the substance, the contribution as such, as you all know, there is a strong need for training activities and The Netherlands has decided to contribute to the training of police in particular and there is a strong need for that. So also when it comes to the contribution as such, I appreciate the decision taken in The Netherlands.

MODERATOR: Two very quick last questions. One here.

BEN NIMMO (DPA): Secretary General, Ben Nimmo from DPA. On Russia and missile defence, you gave your video message mid-January re-stressing the NATO opinion that the cooperation with Russia should be to separate systems back to back. Shortly afterward, Ambassador Rogozin came out and said that that was propaganda, hypocrisy and not even a marriage of convenience. Given the talks are now going on and we are not expecting a decision until June, I was wondering can you give us some flavour of where the actual talks with the Russians going now, given that the Ambassador's reaction seemed to be a basic rejection? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As you see we still live up to our principle of transparency. Talks are going on. And that is the essence of this. We decided in a very positive spirit in Lisbon to initiate a joint analysis as to how we could possibly implement practical cooperation on territorial missile defence. And no reason to hide that… initially we have slightly different ideas as regards the concept of such missile defence architecture. But we are talking. We are negotiating. And I am quite optimistic about finding a solution. What I have said is that NATO is responsible for the protection and defence of NATO allies, and that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. NATO is responsible for defence of NATO allies. This responsibility can't be outsourced. I have to stress that. This is the reason why I have spoken about two systems, a NATO system and a Russian system cooperating in a transparent manner; so two different systems but with a common purpose, to protect and defend populations and Russia and Europe against missile attacks. So now we should explore how this concept can be implemented in a manner that is transparent, that insures maximum of cooperation, and I think we will see progress at Defence ministers, NATO-Russia Defence ministers meeting in June, we will present a progress report. Probably we will not have finalized work at that early stage, so we will continue work on this on the months thereafter. But we have a common interest and honestly speaking, would you expect, would you expect, at the end of the day, the Russian people to accept that defence of Russian territory should be taken care of by NATO? Honestly speaking I think it's much more in line with Russian thinking that we have two different systems. Could you imagine the Russian people accept that there is only one finger on the button placed in Mons? I don’t think so. So I think both parties are best served with an architecture which respects the fundamental principles of… NATO responsibility for defence and protection of NATO allies and Russian responsibility for defence and protection of Russian territory, but of course we can make both systems much more efficient if we help each other, if we cooperate, if we exchange data, and insure that this cooperation takes place in a transparent manner. So this is the reason why I have made this clear right from the outset and now we will have negotiations and so far they have taken place in a very constructive manner. So this is the reason why I am very optimistic about the final outcome.

MODERATOR: One very final question at the back.

Q:  (inaudible) Albanian Television. Secretary General, I do really respect your decision not to interfere in the domestic situation in Albania, but US and EU institutional member states representatives keep saying for three weeks that Albania should behave like a NATO member country. They keep saying that for three weeks, but maybe Albania didn't understood. Could you please explain how a NATO member country behaves? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Let me stress that we do not… NATO headquarters in Brussels does not evaluate the political situation in individual member States. We do not interfere with domestic politics. Having said that, we also expect all NATO members to live up to the basic principles on which NATO is founded: individual liberty, respect for human right, rule of law and I think all governments are well aware of that and I would also expect that to be the case in Albania.

MODERATOR: Before we go, we owe Brooks an answer - the total estimated cost of the new NATO headquarters is about 1 billion euros.

Thank you very much.