Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at his monthly press conference

  • 26 Jan. 2012
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  • Last updated: 27 Jan. 2012 10:53

Remarks by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Good afternoon,

This is the first time I have seen most of you this year.

So it is the right time to look both back at what we achieved in 2011, and look forward to what we must achieve in 2012. And the way to start is with this – the first annual report of NATO’s activities. This report covers NATO’s activity in 2011. 

Certainly, in 2011, our Alliance faced many tough tests, perhaps more than ever before. And the good news is that we got very good results. If I had to sum it up in two words, I would say, “NATO delivers”. Let me give you some examples.

In Afghanistan, we weakened the insurgency and strengthened the Afghan forces. Enemy attacks fell by 9%. The Afghan army and police now count more than 300,000 troops. Already, they are leading around 40% of combat operations. And in the coming months, more than half the Afghan population will see their own soldiers and policemen taking the lead for their security. 

Les progrès n’ont pas été réalisés facilement. Et ils ont pu l’être grâce au service accompli et aux sacrifices consentis par tous nos soldats. Je veux une fois encore rendre hommage aux courageux soldats français qui ont récemment été blessés ou tués.

Une attaque de ce type est particulièrement choquante. Et la FIAS est déterminée à faire tout ce qui est en son pouvoir pour réduire le risque que de telles attaques se reproduisent. Le commandant de la FIAS, le général Allen, coopère étroitement avec les dirigeants afghans afin d’améliorer la sécurité de nos soldats et de nos instructeurs lorsqu’ils travaillent aux côtés de leurs partenaires afghans.

Mais, il ne faut surtout pas que des incidents aussi tragiques éclipsent les progrès très réels qui ont été accomplis l’année dernière et qui continuent d’être accomplis. Grâce aux efforts communs des cinquante pays contribuant à la FIAS et des forces afghanes, la transition est en bonne voie, et devrait être achevée d’ici fin 2014. Il y a un an, ce n’était qu’une feuille de route : c’est maintenant une réalité. Et c’est ce que veulent les Afghans.

In Libya, we conducted a highly effective operation, which nobody could have predicted at the start of the year.  We protected the civilian population and saved countless lives. We did that with the strong political and operational support of partners, many from the region, and in close coordination with the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and other key actors. 

In Kosovo, we also dealt effectively with the unexpected flare-up of tension. Our troops maintained a safe and secure environment for all the people of Kosovo – carefully, firmly and impartially.

And we continued to fight piracy off Somalia. Last year, pirates managed to capture 24 ships. Infact that is half the figure in 2010. 

These are real achievements, and we can be very proud. On land, at sea and in the air, NATO’s forces worked to keep us all secure. Above all, this report pays tribute to them.

We did all this while facing the worst economic crisis in a generation.  A crisis that is making our security environment even more testing and unpredictable. And when many Allies have to make hard choices, defence can't be exempt.

At the next NATO Summit in Chicago, we will have to shape an Alliance which is capable of overcoming the economic crisis of today, while still guaranteeing security for tomorrow. We must make sure our Alliance stays committed to our shared security and our shared values. We must stay capable of dealing with current threats and future crises. And we must become more connected with partners around the world – partners who also share our values, and our determination to protect them.

Ultimately, we must renew our commitment to the vital transatlantic bond. That bond is the best security investment we have ever made. It has stood the test of time for over six decades. And thanks to it, NATO continues to deliver real returns for all Allies, year after year. And we must continue to invest commitment and capabilities to keep it strong.

Because in testing times, we all depend on each other.  We all want to focus on relationships that deliver.  And we all want to ensure that we emerge stronger from the crisis, not weaker. And together, we will.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): I'll try to see everybody. We'll start with German Television over there.

Q: Kai Niklasch, from German Television ZDF. Maybe you've seen the reports in Libya too that pro-Qadhafi troops, though Qadhafi is dead, have conquered Bani Walid. Does NATO follow these information and is there any reaction from NATO? Will NATO be ready when there is a request for help again?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): I want to stress that we terminated our operation in Libya on the 31st of October last year. And we have no intention to return. We operated on the basis of a United Nations mandate, and the provisions on which we conducted our operation are no longer in force. So the brief answer is that we are not present in Libya and we have no intention to return.


Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Two quick questions, both on missile defence. In Chicago the Alliance intends to declare interim capability. My question to you is, NATO will have basically one ship, a few Patriots and extremely limited C-2 capability. So is this a fully credible, accent on the word fully, credible decision to declare interim capability based on such a thin asset base?

And second, how realistic is it to expect that NATO and Russia will have something to declare of substance on this same subject?

Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, yes, it is a reality if we are in a position to declare an interim capability, which I hope and expect, then it is a reality that we have started a NATO-based missile defence system.

But right from the outset we have made clear that it will be a phased, adaptive approach. This NATO-based missile defence system will be developed over a period of eight to ten years, so it's no surprise that more will follow.

But if we are in a position to declare an interim capability in Chicago it will be a significant step.

On Russia, I still hope we will be able to reach an agreement with Russia on missile defence cooperation. However, I also have to make it clear that we have not made much progress so far. We have had a lot of talks. These talks will continue. Maybe we will not have a clarified situation until a few weeks before the Summit. We still keep it as an option to have a NATO-Russia Summit in Chicago, but if there's no deal probably there will be no Summit.

So we'll see. I can't give any guarantee, but I do believe that Russian leaders will realize that it's also in their interest to cooperate with NATO on missile defence.

Q: Sebastian Moffett from Reuters. I think Pakistan rejected the findings of the U.S. military over the deaths a few weeks ago. Could you say how this will affect NATO's operations in the region?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The bottom line is that it won't have an impact on our operations, and well, there may be nuances in conclusions and views and approaches, but again, the bottom line is that the report released by the Pakistani authorities, in my opinion, doesn't change the conclusions presented in the American ISAF report.

Of course, we hope to see a normalization of cooperation with Pakistan, including on transit routes, but here and now I can declare that the events haven't had a significant impact on our operations in Afghanistan.

OANA LUNGESCU: FT Deutschland.

Q: Klaus Hecking, FT Deutschland. Secretary General, you were very clear about what you said about Libya, where in the present there we have no intention to return, but would NATO be willing to provide any other kind of help, let's say in case these troops, whoever they are working for, advance from Bani Walid and get closer to the north and conquer other cities, would you then be willing to provide any kind of help for the National Transition Council?


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, we were mandated to protect the civilian population against attacks from the then-government of Libya. We conducted our operations with great success. We succeeded in the protection of the Libyan people and on the 31st of October we terminated the operation because we clearly assessed that we had done our job and done it successfully, and this is also the reason why we have no intention to return.

Our mission has been completed.

OANA LUNGESCU: Agence France-Presse.

Q: Yes, Jerome Rivet from AFP. Have you received any guarantees from the French government about the pursuit of the mission in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that obviously I understand very well that recent events, where French soldiers were killed, have created a lot of concern in France. As regards French contribution to our operation in Afghanistan let me stress that we all agreed at the Lisbon Summit to a process of transition, of security responsibility to the Afghan Forces, and an associated timeline. We outlined a road map, and it's important to the success of our operations that we maintain a commitment to this agreed plan.

Now, as the French Defence Minister, Longuet, said at the weekend in Afghanistan, our mission remains the same, to strengthen the Afghan Security Forces so that they can ensure the security of their own country.

And as President Sarkozy said yesterday, we will not allow ourselves to be impressed by this barbarity. Thus, that must strengthen us even more in our determination to work for peace. I fully associate myself with these statements from the French President and the French Minister of Defence.

Having said that, ultimately, of course, this is a decision for French authorities to make, following consultation with commanders and ISAF partners.

OANA LUNGESCU: Japanese press.

Q: Yes, my name is Takasha(ph), I'm with NHK Bamboo Casting. In regards to the situation of the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, how do you look at the situation there, and how does it affect NATO's posture?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that NATO as an Alliance, as an organization, is not involved in the Iran question. Individual Allies are, but NATO as an organization is not.

Having said that, obviously we follow the situation closely and some statements from the Iranian leadership are, of course, a matter of concern. And I urge the Iranian leadership to live up to its international commitments, including stop the enrichment programme, and ensure free navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.

Q: Yeah, (inaudible...), Beta Serbian News Agency. Secretary General, last week General Bartels, after the meeting of the Military Committee, said that NATO is creating space for political solution in the north of Kosovo. It seems that president of Serbia, Tadic, sends some kind of proposition to five most important countries. On the some kind of the plan to resolve that situation is NATO included in that, first, and how do you see that situation? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I full agree with General Bartels that KFOR... that the KFOR mission facilitates a peaceful and political solution to the conflict in northern Kosovo. We are there to ensure a secure and stable environment. We conduct our operations in a status neutral and impartial way, and that way I do believe that we can contribute to creating the space for long-term, sustainable political solutions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and CBS News, newly.

The United Nations has just released statistics showing that more Afghans sought refuge outside the country last year than at any time since the war started ten years ago. What does that say about the confidence that the people of Afghanistan have in the transition process and their own ability, and ISAF's ability to maintain stability following the pullout of troops?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, without having studied statistics in details, I think we are in a situation where you will see a flow both ways. The fact is that a lot of refugees have returned to Afghanistan during recent years. And that's, of course, an indication that the security situation has been improved. You may see people travelling the opposite way as well, but I think the net result is that quite a number of refugees have returned to Afghanistan.

The fact is that the number of enemy-initiated attacks has decreased in 2011, in average nine percent, and in some provinces even more. In the Helmand province, as an example, the number of enemy-initiated attacks has decreased by 30 percent, and in some districts, even by 80 percent, and these figures indicate an improvement of the security situation.

Q: Julian Hale, Defense News. Secretary General, on smart defence, what do you expect, or what do you hope to have agreed by the time of the Chicago Summit, and what sort of areas are NATO countries showing interest in engaging in smart defence on?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I hope we will be in a position to adopt a political declaration on smart defence as a framework, as a political framework, for, I would call it a new way of doing business, in the coming years. It's a concept focused on more multinational cooperation. We simply can't continue to do business as usual.

And I would like to stress this is not just about a period of economic austerity. It's a long-term challenge, because we have seen rapidly increasing prices of high-tech military equipment.

So in the future we will see that individual Allies can't afford to acquire expensive military equipment, but by pooling and sharing resources they will be able to acquire such equipment.

So it's a new concept of doing defence business, so to speak.

So I hope a political declaration can create the political framework. In that political declaration I also hope to see a political commitment to a number of concrete projects. It's a bit premature today to announce such specific projects, but as an indication I can tell you that I see missile defence as an excellent example of smart defence, because missile defence is an example of a multinational project where a number of Allies provide input, notably, of course, the United States, but also a number of European Allies will provide input. A number of them have already announced that they will host missile defence facilities. So missile defence is actually a prime example of smart defence.

Furthermore, I could mention air policing as an example of smart defence. At a certain stage we will have to make a decision on more long-term arrangement of air policing in the Baltic states, and air policing is, again, an excellent example of smart defence, because a number of Allies do air policing on behalf of the Baltic states, and in exchange the Baltic states can focus their defence investments on, for example, deployable armed forces that can participate in international operations, instead of investing heavily in an air force to do air policing.

Again, we see an example of role specialization, which is an integrated element in smart defence.

So I think smart defence will be a combination of a number of concrete multinational projects, and a long-term political vision of how to do defence business in the future.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. I know there are many questions left, but of course next week we do have the ministerial and the Secretary General will be there answering lots of your questions. And he will be able to speak with you informally now as this New Year's reception continues.

Thank you.