Concluding press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 09 Jun. 2011
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  • Last updated: 09 Jun. 2011 17:43

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming here. And before we start I'd like to let you know that at 1600 we'll be back with a technical briefing on the reforms, but obviously now the Secretary General will start with his opening statement and then we'll have time for questions.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon. We have just concluded a very successful meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. We will do what it takes to protect the people of Libya. We are determined to fulfil the United Nations mandate, and provide the resources that are needed for as long as they are needed.

We have restated our commitment to Afghanistan. This remains our top operational priority and together with our partners we are making clear progress.

I saw that progress myself when I recently visited Kabul and Herat in July. Afghans will take security lead in seven provinces and districts representing 25 percent of the population. That is a significant start to transition, and I'm confident that we can complete it by the end of 2014.

Aujourd'hui, les ministres de la Défense sont convenu que la FIAS aiderait à consolider et à approfondir l'état de droit. Les Afghans veulent que leurs différends soient résolus rapidement et équitablement. Et notre mission de soutien à l'état de droit permettra aux organisations et aux experts civils de rendre cela possible. Nous avons en outre entendu les pays contribuant à la FIAS réaffirmer avec force leur engagement à long terme à l'égard de l'Afghanistan. Notre partenariat durable avec l'Afghanistan continuera après la fin de la transition et déterminera la forme que prendra notre engagement politique et militaire.

But this meeting was not just about current operations, but also about the future. And we have reached a significant milestone towards the Alliance we need to defend us against the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow. At our Summit in Lisbon we decided to make our Alliance leaner, more effective, and more efficient at a time of tight budgets for all our nations.

Today we have delivered. Reform has become a hallmark of this Alliance. We have agreed to streamline the agencies which run individual NATO projects, such as strategic airlift. As a result our agencies will become simpler in structure, while staying effective in their work. And we have agreed to reshape NATO's command structure, making it more efficient, more compact, and more deployable. This is one of the important lessons from our operations in Libya and Afghanistan. And we're not just learning those lessons, but putting them into practice.

Together these reforms will make NATO more affordable, offering better value for our allies' money. They will make NATO more effective, focusing on the capabilities and command systems we need. And above all, they will deliver an Alliance that is fit for the future.

That also means dealing with emerging challenges. We have agreed on a new cyber defence policy which will define and direct NATO efforts in defending the new frontier of cyberspace.

And we have taken an important step forward by approving a missile defence action plan. It outlines how this capability will be implemented over the next decade. It is our ambition to achieve an initial capability by our next summit, next spring, in the United States. The threat of ballistic missile proliferation is real and credible. It is our duty to create a real and credible defence.

This is a true team effort. Nations will contribute in many ways, but it will cover all NATO territory and populations. This is collective defence in action.

Finally, let me also take this opportunity to thank Secretary of Defence Bob Gates and ISAF Commander General David Petraeus for their outstanding service. This will be their last NATO Defence Ministerial in their current positions, and I would like to express my appreciation for their tremendous dedication and contribution to our Alliance.

And with that said, I welcome your questions.

Oana Lungescu: And I'd be grateful if you could introduce yourselves and your organization. New York Times.

Q: Thank you, sir. It's Tom Shanker from the New York Times. A question on Afghanistan. As is well-known the Obama administration is about to start a review about the size and pace of the drawdown and withdrawal of the surge forces. Some have expressed concerns that as the U.S. brings its forces out the NATO allies will rush to the exits as well. How concerned are you that the U.S. withdrawal will prompt a rapid withdrawal by other NATO nations and if President Obama were to call you and say, Mr. Secretary General, how should I shape this withdrawal to most reassure the allies, what would you tell him?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, there will be no rush for the exit. And that has been confirmed at today's meeting. On the contrary, all ISAF partners will stay committed and see this through. We outlined a roadmap for transition to lead Afghan responsibility at our Summit in Lisbon in November and we stick to that timetable. Transition starts next month. Hopefully it will be completed by the end of 2014.

Actually, I have discussed this issue with the president already when I visited the White House some weeks ago and I know that the American administration will take decisions based on the security situation on the ground. This will not be calendar driven, but conditions based. And I think it would be right to put it the following way:

By the end of 2009 we decided to increase the number of international troops in Afghanistan, as you will recall, by 40,000; an additional 30,000 American troops and additional 10,000 troops from other allies and partners.

As we now start transition to lead Afghan responsibility it's quite natural to review whether we could reduce a bit that surge and that's what we're speaking about. I'm not going to interfere with the American decision. It is a national American decision, but I feel confident, and I know that the American decisions will be based on the actual security situation on the ground, and no decision will be taken that will have a negative impact on the security.

Oana Lungescu: Jane's.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. I have a question about cyber defence, the new cyber defence policy. Among other things, this calls for integrating the cyber defence of NATO into it's rolling two-year defence planning process in order to coordinate capability development across the allies. This is a very slow process normally, this two year defence review process. I'm wondering, can you live with that traditionally slow pace regarding cyber defence, and if not, what is the Alliance going to do to speed that up, given that threats are much faster than that? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, I should stress that there will be taken immediate steps, immediate action, and one important element is that the new policy will bring all agencies and commands, all NATO agencies and commands, under common NATO protection by 2012. And that's actually rapid action.

By then our NATO computer incident response capability will have reached full operational capacity, giving us increased situational awareness and allowing us to be better prepared in advance to monitor and respond to cyber threats in all NATO networks, regardless of their geographic location.

So we are actually taking rapid action.

Oana Lungescu: Guardian.

Q: Ian Traynor of the Guardian. Secretary General, you're saying that the Alliance will do whatever it takes to protect the people of Libya, but at this meeting, of course, has heard criticism that it's actually quite a small minority of member states who are taking part in the strikes campaign. And that some of the bigger member states with the assets required are not taking part. What do you say to this criticism?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Well, I myself have called on allies to broaden the support for our operation in Libya. First of all, let me stress we have decided to extend the operation beyond the current 90-days mandate, and allies and partners are also committed to provide the necessary assets to continue our operation at a high operational tempo beyond the current 90-days mandate.

However, speaking about long-term sustainability, it is also essential in the spirit of solidarity within our Alliance, to broaden the support as much as possible. So I have encouraged allies to look closer into the possibilities, to broaden the support make more flexible use of assets already provided for our operation. Well, at the end of the day it is a national decision, but the good news is that last time we called for increased and more flexible contributions nations stepped up to the plate.

Oana Lungescu: German Television.

Q: Secretary General, Kai Niklasch, German Television ZDF. I would like to make a follow-up to the colleague who is from the New York Times. Afghanistan, you said there were additional troops, 40,000 - 10,000 NATO, 30,000 U.S. Do you think this figure could be reduced at the end of this year? Is that possible, do you think, it's logical that it could happen so immediately? At the end of the year, 40,000 back to their places where they came from?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, I'm not going to guess about neither timelines nor exact figures because this will be a condition-based process, as I have stressed. So very much will depend on development of the security situation in Afghanistan. But the whole purpose of the transition process it that we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans. And consequently it is also possible to free up some of our forces, and to reinvest efforts in other areas geographically, or other functions, like training and education of Afghan Security Forces. Or it might even be possible to withdraw some of the forces from the surge we initiated by the end of 2009. Everything dependent on the situation on the ground.

So my answer is, I'm not going to guess about neither timelines nor figures. But you will see a gradual change during the transition period.

Oana Lungescu: That lady over there.

Q: Hi, Susan Ormiston from Canadian Broadcasting. As you know, Canada is looking for a commitment from Parliament to go along and increase the mission to end of 2011, September. I think Canadians would like to know is the mission going to change, or what will your strategy be in the next three months to try to unseat Colonel Qadhafi?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: We will stick to the current strategy within the United Nations mandate. The United Nations mandate in Security Council Resolution 1973 is quite clear. And we have defined three exact military objectives. Firstly, a complete end to all attacks against civilians. Secondly, a withdrawal of Qadhafi military forces and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks. And thirdly, full, immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need. These are the three military objectives and we will continue our operation until these objectives are met.

Having said that, we will, of course, constantly adapt our operation to the evolving situation on the ground. But basically we will stick to the strategy already outlined within the current mandate.

Oana Lungescu: At the back, at the back over there.

Q: I'm actually from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as well. I just wanted to ask you, Canada has voted now, or is going to be voting next week to extend the mission. I know you don't want to talk about timelines, I guess, but do you think that NATO is going to have to, in September, do you think that the mission could be accomplished by then?

Also, if I could just ask you a follow-up, is that would you like to see countries like Canada, that are already contributing to this mission, coming up with even more resources?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Actually, I think Canada already provides a very substantial contribution to our mission. And Canada has been very active right from the outset, and I appreciate very much this strong Canadian commitment to our operation in Libya.

I'm not going to guess about the timeframe. What I can tell you is that we are making substantial progress. Since NATO took responsibility for this operation we have carried out more than 10,000 sorties, we have damaged or destroyed more than 1,800 critical military targets, and by that we have considerably degraded Qadhafi's war machine and prevented major attacks against civilians.

We are now seeing the opposition advance... the opposition forces advance in Libya. Politically we see the Qadhafi regime being more and more isolated every day, and we see defections from Qadhafi's inner circle.

So this... the combination of a strong military pressure and strong political pressure will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime. It might happen tomorrow, it may take some weeks. I'm not going to guess about timelines, but obviously we want to see a solution sooner rather than later.

Having said that, let me just stress that there is obviously no military solution solely to the conflict in Libya. We will need a political process. But it is my firm belief that a strong military pressure will facilitate this political process.

Oana Lungescu: At the front, please.

Q: Bob Burns from Associated Press. Secretary General, a question, in your opening statement you mentioned that Ministers had agreed to a missile defence action plan and that initial operating capability would be next spring. Does that mean that you've agreed on a defined architecture to the point where you would know which countries participate, where the systems would be located and what, if any kind of connection with Russians has already been worked out?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, there are yet many details to be worked out, and it is a gradual adaptive approach. But it's... next Summit in May 2012 will be an important milestone and this is, as I said, the clear goal, that we can declare an initial operational capability at the Summit next spring.

Q: But you haven't agreed on where it would be, who would participate, any of those details?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, there are many details yet to be worked out, including location of a number of missile defence facilities.

Oana Lungescu: We have time for two more questions, both on the right-hand side for once, El País.

Q: Good afternoon, Secretary General. You have said that the last time you asked for more flexibility and the broadening of the support for the mission in Libya you got people to step up to the plate. What has been this time around the answer? Are you satisfied? What are your inklings. Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I think it's safe to say that all allies have listened. The message has been very clear, not only from me, but also from a number of Ministers. And the answer has been we need to reflect, we need to consider that, we need to go to our Parliaments, et cetera, and that's quite natural.

So I have to say I hadn't expected clear pledges at this ministerial because it's not a force generation conference, it's a Defence Ministers Meeting. We have delivered political messages and now it's for each individual nation to make that decision.

Oana Lungescu: Over there.

Q: Peter O'Neil, PostMedia News. Secretary General, you've referred to the success and the growing momentum against Qadhafi's forces, but yesterday there was a report that several thousand of Qadhafi's forces, with armour, attacked Misrata. When NATO has control of the air how does something like this happen? Was there a failure of intelligence or is this just a minor setback? How would this happen?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, well, I would call it a minor setback without going into operational details, but of course it is an example that the Qadhafi regime still constitutes a threat against the civilian population in Libya. And this is exactly the reason why we have decided to continue our operation beyond the current 90-days mandate, and we will stay committed as long as necessary to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolution.

The bottom line is that thanks to a very successful operation so far we have saved numerous lives and we have prevented major attacks against civilians in Libya. But now and then you will still see attacks and that just demonstrates the need for continuing our operation.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much, and I hope to see at least some of you at 16:00 for the technical briefing on NATO reforms.

Thank you.