Press conference

by General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee following the Meeting of NATO and Partner Chiefs of Defence

  • 19 Jan. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 12 Apr. 2012 11:51

Press Conference by General Knud Bartels (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee)

General Knud Bartels (Chairman, NATO Military Committee): Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

Dan B. Termansen (Public Affairs and StratCom Advisor, NATO Military Committee): Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin, my name is Dan B. Termansen, I am the PA and StratCom Advisor to NATO Chairman of the Military Committee and his spokesperson. I would like to put forward a few practical comments before we start.

I will be directing the questions, so please state your name and who you represent before asking your questions, and then I will hand you over to the Chairman.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, General Bartels, Chairman of the Military Committee.

General Knud Bartels: Thank you very much. Before we move anywhere I just have to check whether I have to take care of any technical support of whether we proceed as we are now.

Unidentified: Just proceed Sir.

General Knud Bartels: Just proceed. Right. Well, this is my first press conference as Chairman of the Military Committee, so I think I owe you a little presentation. As you know I'm General Bartels. I'm coming from a position as Danish Chief of Defence, which I was until the last day of December last year, and I took over as Chairman of the Military Committee here on the 1st of January.

And I have just, for a couple of hours ago we ended, or we brought to the end the first Military Committee and Chief of Staff session, which has seen quite substantial numbers of Chiefs of Defence, or Chiefs of Staff, depending upon the nation, participating and covering various issues.

So I suggest that I just give you a quick rundown of what has taken place during the last day and a half. And we started yesterday—and a number of you were present during the press part—we started with a general introduction and then we moved into the Mediterranean Dialogue where we met with a number of Mediterranean countries with the purpose of listening to their views and deepening our cooperation with them. Not the least in the light of events which have taken place in the Middle East or in North Africa, either are taking place or have taken place recently.

After that the Chiefs of Defence had a session with the Secretary General, where the Secretary General highlighted what he was expecting of the Military Committee, particularly in the light of the fact that we have the Chicago Summit coming up here in May, and we have a number of events which take place before, a couple of ministerials and I have a meeting with my colleagues in April to put the finishing touch upon what we are bringing to the Chicago Summit.

The next item we covered is, of course, our, shall we say, our first priority, which his ISAF, or the situation in Afghanistan. Where we started was a stock-taking, which I'm happy to say leads us to have a guarded optimism. We always have to be very careful, but 2011, even though losses have taken place, and loss is always heavy, when we talk about human losses there seems... there are strong indications that we are moving in the right direction in Afghanistan.

This was a session with the participant of the Commander of the Forces, General John Allen, as well as Ambassador Simon Gass, who is the Senior Civilian Representative. And we had, of courses, the Strategic Commanders taking part.

What happened, we, as I said, we took stock of the situation today and we looked at, of course, at post 2014, which is very much discussed almost everywhere, but we also looked at the way we move to 2014, because not to be forgotten, there is something which is called, this year 2012, 2013, and 2014, before we approach 2014.

And of course, this will be partly the basis for the upcoming discussion in defence ministerials which will be taking place here in the beginning of next month.

We had a meeting with the Russian Chief of Defence, Army General Makarov, where we went through the multi-year plan which has been approved, the Road Map 2012/2014, and we looked at the program for year 2012. So therefore we can say we are back on the solid track as to our cooperation with Russia. And we have further developed, when I'm thinking of the fact that now we have a multi-year program, a Road Map. Instead of having to create a program year by year, which of course is not as efficient than having the headlines, if I may say so, in the Road Map, and then we refine it year by year.

The atmosphere was good, and there is strong will on both sides to further improve our mutual understanding and thereby improve also, of course, our relations in general.

EAPC, needless to say, partners are very important to NATO. A number of ongoing operations, or operations which have taken place, could not have been conducted, or would have been very difficult to conduct without the participation of partners. And therefore, partners are to be listened to carefully and taken into consideration.

And this time we were briefed by the Chief of Defence of Sweden as to the experience Sweden has got out of its participation in the air campaign over Libya last year. And further on, we had a presentation by Finland on its experience as to the Northern Defence Cooperation, NORDEFCO, one of those terrible acronyms, but Northern European defence cooperation, which includes Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and there we got a presentation of how you do it and what you can achieve.

So it was as good day where we listened carefully to what the partners expect of us and what they can bring to the table in one way or another.

Of course, we also talked Smart Defence in practice, not only internally, but also externally and what it can bring to the partners. And as you can imagine, General Abrial, the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, was, for evident reasons, very active during that meeting.

On the second day we moved into a series of sessions which were taking place within the framework of NATO alone, so it was only... the only participants were the NATO Chiefs of Defence, and we started with KFOR, where we were, again, as regarding Afghanistan, we had a stock-taking with the Commander of KFOR, General Erhard Drews. Further on we had M. Bout de Marnhac, who is head of the EULEX operation in Kosovo. He was participating through VTC. And the bottom line is that we are committed to the operation which is ongoing in Kosovo and we aim to stabilize the situation and to make sure we can bring it forward, move it forward in a positive way.

You will, of course know, as well as I do, events which have led to some difficulties recently. So we will take it step by step and be careful in moving ahead as to reducing forces and so on.

We had further a number of NATO sessions which relate to the NATO Command Structure, which is one of the key transformation decisions as to the future of NATO, and which, of course, is a difficult issue to tackle because it implies substantial reduction, but it also should lead to a more lean and more robust and particularly a more flexible command structure, which is adapted to operations which we can expect in the future, whichever they are.

Again, the transformation aspect, with the participation of General Abrial, has to be highlighted.

We have also touched upon other ongoing operations. Let me here highlight Operation Unified Protector and the cooperation... the unofficial cooperation we have as to Operation Atalanta, run by the European Union and to see how we can enrich each other with information and all sorts as to the future, and all in all we had a good discussion on this operation.

Lessons learned, which are to be... or rather I should say, lessons identified following the air campaign from last year, to be integrated in NATO Command Structure. In other words, the NATO Command Structure is not only adapting according to the guidance which has been provided last year by the Minister of Defence, but also takes on board the experience we have from what we have experienced recently over Libya. And as you may know, we are in the process of analyzing our lessons to identify them and then, of course, when you pass on to implementing them you can call them lessons learned.

That was, shall we say, a quick rundown of what has taken place the last one and a half days, with the substantial participation from not only the NATO Chief of Defence, but also many partners, or troop-contributing nations in the various operations which I have described very succinctly.

And now I suggest that we'll answer your questions, and I'm at your disposal.

Dan B. Termansen: So, please, ladies and gentlemen, once again, I will direct the questions and please forward your name and who you represent and then ask your question.

Q: Bonjour, Monsieur, Mon Général, je m'appelle Noureddine Fridhi, de la télévision arabe Al Arabiya. J'ai entendu hier que vous parliez la langue de Molière très, très bien.

General Knud Bartels: Merci beaucoup.

Q: Ma question est: Dans le Dialogue avec les pays méditerranéens hier avez-vous discuté de l'impact de la crise syrienne sur la crise... sur la sécurité régionale à l'est de la Méditerranée? Et parce que vous êtes en train de tirer les leçons de l'expérience en Libye, est-ce qu'une telle opération pourrait se refaire soit en Syrie ou ailleurs? Merci.

General Knud Bartels: Pour reprendre le dernier cas de figure, je tiens à être très précis, il n'y a aucune planification, et à l'heure actuelle, aucune directive ou pensée sur une éventuelle opération militaire de l'OTAN envers la Syrie.

Nous avons, bien entendu, des pays du Dialogue méditerranéen ont exprimé leurs inquiétudes sur les bouleversements qui, en ce moment, nous voyons dans la région que ce soit le Maghreb ou que ce soit le Proche-Orient. Mais en aucun cas de figure il a été discuté une intervention militaire quelle qu'elle soit. Et comme je vous disais, il y a aucune planification; il y aucune idée d'intervention pour ce qui est de la Syrie.

Q: ... (Inaudible)... La crise syrienne sur la sécurité régionale?

General Knud Bartels: Les pays méditerranéens, enfin du Dialogue méditerranéen ont bien entendu exprimé leurs inquiétudes générales. Mais spécifiquement parler de la Syrie, non, ça n'a pas été le cas.

Q: I'm Sebastian Moffett from Reuters. Could you tell us a little bit about the discussions you had over Afghanistan, the time up to 2014 and the time afterwards, in terms of the kind of security force you expect to see set up there and how it's going to be financed and aided.

General Knud Bartels: Right. You will know as well as I do that there has been a lot of discussion about post-2014, i.e. from the 1st of January 2015. Based upon the Lisbon declaration we're moving onto a completely new situation, or we expect to move into a new posture of the forces, et cetera.

What should not be forgotten is, as I mentioned, there is a gap between today, 19th of January 2012, and 1st of January 2015, so it's not only a matter of saying what we're going to do from 2015 and onwards, but also a matter of coupling those two time slots together, which we have been discussion partly... or to a certain extent during our session covering Afghanistan.

And based upon where we stand now and the expected decisions by nations, what we want to make sure is that there is coherence both as to the cooperation between the political effort and the military effort, and besides that, the military effort, which is our responsibility, is coherent and i.e. that nations cooperate and coordinate as much as possible the transformation of their forces in the transition phase.

We did not go into details for structure and such things, but we talked about the principles which are to lead us through the coming years and post 2015... post 2014, which of course, in itself, politically speaking, is going to be one of the major items to be discussed in Chicago.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. I have two questions, both about BMD. For the moment the allies haven't agreed on a definition of interim capability.

General Knud Bartels: Yes.

Q: Which means you cannot define our con-ops and you cannot defence your concept, so my question to you is when do you expect those two documents to be finished?

And secondly, the second question, it's looking like the whole system for the moment, interim, is going to be one ship, one radar station and very, very limited C2. In your professional point of view is that sufficient for declaring interim capability? Thank you.

General Knud Bartels: Well, where we're going with BMD is of course described politically and the first steps have been taken. It's an extremely complex issue which requires, as you will know, huge investments which are not available for the moment, so we are taking it step by step.

I can't go into the details of it, because it still has to be finalized, but the nations are walking down that street, and we will get further guidance following Chicago.

Q: Yes, General, I'm (inaudible...), Serbian Beta News Agency. On Kosovo you said you were discussing on the stabilization of the situation in Kosovo, and that KFOR, step by step, if I understood, would go in that sense. So what is your assessment of the situation in Kosovo and especially on North Kosovo? Is it stabilizing? Is there still some problem from the point of view of security or not?

General Knud Bartels: Well, I think that the situation in Kosovo in those very days can be best described as being calm, but fragile, and fragile implies that there can be changes and there can be changes at short notice. We know through experience that situation can change very quickly in that region. We experienced it back, as far as I remember, in 2004, where there was a kind of explosion during... in part of Kosovo based upon on an incident which took place along the Ibar River. I do not remember the details of it.

And what we want to make sure is that such evolution does not take place, so we are trying to prevent any kind of degradation of the situation and creating the necessary space for the political process which will have to find solution to the differences between the Serbian majority north of the Ibar River, the role of Serbia itself and the role of the Kosovo government. We are there to assist in creating the proper, shall we say, framework, for a political solution to be implemented.

Q: I'm sorry, maybe a follow-up. What is there the immediate task of KFOR in the north of Kosovo?

General Knud Bartels: It is to maintain the stability and to make sure that there is a maximum of freedom of movement.

Q: Laurent Thomet, with Agence France-Press. There are reports that Pakistan may be ready to reopen the transit route. Can you confirm this? Have you heard this from Pakistan? And apparently they would impose a tariff? So if you could comment on that.

And also, how much longer can NATO live without this supply route?

General Knud Bartels: That's why I can see two questions. The first one relating to the information you have just provided. Indeed, I have just heard about it a matter of minutes ago, so I have no further information to give you apart from what is available in the press as of now.

Of course, the lines of communications are very important. The land lines of communications are very important. We have four back positions among the northern route but we need definitely to have access to the southern routes, as they are called, going through Pakistan.

We are not in a desperate situation, logistically speaking, for the time being, but it is an issue which has to be addressed and it has to be addressed within a reasonable time frame, and I think that everybody is interested in that.

And based upon what you have just mentioned, and which, as I told you I've just heard through open media a short time ago, my assessment is that the Pakistani are moving into a direction that we have to find a proper solution, which can, shall we say, be acceptable to both parties. But I do not have any further details on it at this stage.

Q: This is (inaudible...), I'm from Arab News Agency. My question is about a member country, Turkey, where just a few days before New Year about 34 Kurdish teenagers has been killed by Turkish air forces. Thirty-four teenagers for 14 to 20 years old.

Earlier on October 30th has been accused for using chemical weapon. What is your reaction on this case? At the human rights case, I mean.

General Knud Bartels: As to eventual events of time you are describing you will have to ask Turkey. I'm not in a position to express any views on what Turkey is doing, or has been doing. It's entirely a national responsibility.

Q: Gérard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. I understand that it was not a force generation conference, but do you still need more trainers in Afghanistan in the transition period.

General Knud Bartels: As you said, quite rightly, it was not a force generation conference, but we talked about the force generation challenging and the transformation of the force into trainers, and as we did not go into the details of it I cannot provide further, shall we say, specific numbers and such things.

What I can say is that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, made quite clear what the requirements were and how they were to be fitted in the plan which we, as I talked about, is not only a matter of talking about post 2014, but also a matter of talking about how we're going to handle 2012, which to a large extent is already taken care of, but 2013 and '14, and I think there is a broad understanding of the principles which are going to guide the evolution of ISAF and so on during those years.

Q: Après l'expérience en Libye, dans quelle mesure cette expérience va servir les relations de partenariat entre l'OTAN et les pays arabes de manière générale? Mais plus spécifiquement, Mon Général, il y a trop d'armes en Libye à la disposition des citoyens. Il y a des agressions au niveau des frontières tunisiennes. Il y a des armes, semble-t-il, qui sont passées en Algérie. Est-ce que vous en avez parlé? Est-ce que vous pouvez aider les Libyens à collecter ces armes, et plus spécifiquement aussi à mettre en place une armée d'État?

General Knud Bartels: Tout d'abord, je dois préciser que le contrôle de l'armement dans un pays est une responsabilité nationale. C'est-à-dire que vous avez cité trois pays. Vous avez cité la Tunisie. Vous avez cité la Libye. Vous avez cité l'Algérie. C'est la responsabilité des trois pays en question d'assurer le contrôle avec l'armement qui éventuellement est disponible dans ces trois pays. C'est la première chose.

Deuxième chose: Il y a maintenant un gouvernement; même si c'est un gouvernement par intérim en Libye qui se doit d'assumer donc ses responsabilités sur ce dossier-là. Je vous ai précisé que l'OTAN telle quelle n'est militairement pas impliquée.

Et s'il y a une demande libyenne sur ce sujet, eh bien suite à un processus politique, nous verrons ce qu'on nous demande éventuellement, comment on pourrait éventuellement assister à la mise en place de forces nationales libyennes dans une nouvelle version et autre. Mais nous n'en sommes point là, en ce sens, qu'il n'y a à ma connaissance aucune demande ni au niveau politique... Et je peux vous dire qu'il n'y a aucune demande au niveau militaire. Et d'ailleurs, pas à nous d'assurer une telle demande dans la mesure où il n'y a pas de directive politique.

Q: Yes, Marisa Ostolani from ANSA Italian News Agency. Just to know how is the feeling of military part about the crisis? I mean, the crisis is a very big issue since the Lisbon Summit, but since then it was worse and worse the situation, and barely see the light under the tunnel, so how is your feeling about that, about the defence?

General Knud Bartels: I assume that you're talking about the economic crisis which is hitting us in different ways in the most parts of the world. There is no doubt that the economic crisis has accelerated the interest for smart defence and the possibility to compensate decreasing budgets with innovative ways of buying equipment, maintaining equipment, conducting operations. It's something of which the Chiefs of Defence are very much aware and very much concerned about. And of course, there is a closed link to the political level where a number of decisions will have to be made as to how far nations defence to along those principles.

So yes, it is something which is definitely part of our discussions. And we did not discuss the crisis as such because we have no influence over the crisis, but we have been discussing, as a natural element of our discussions, the consequences, or the potential consequences of the crisis. Along the lines of what I just described to you.

Dan B. Termansen:Great, ladies and gentlemen, there's room for one final question. Okay, no more questions?

General Knud Bartels: Well, let me just express thank you very much, and since we are still in January, let me just wish you a happy or a good 2012, and I expect to see you later on after our meetings. Thank you very much.