Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers session

  • 26 Feb. 2014
  • |
  • Last updated: 26 Feb. 2014 23:03

Good evening.

Ukraine is the most important security issue in Europe today. We have issued a statement which sets out NATO’s position.

We continue to follow developments in Ukraine very closely. We deplore the tragic loss of life. We welcome the fact that violence has been stopped through negotiations that paved the way for a peaceful outcome.

We emphasise the importance of an inclusive political process, based on democratic values and respect for human rights, minorities and the rule of law, which fulfils the democratic aspirations of the entire Ukrainian people.

NATO and Ukraine have a distinctive partnership in the NATO-Ukraine Commission, and that remains the framework for our cooperation.

NATO will continue to engage with Ukraine and assist with the implementation of reforms.

Defence reform and military cooperation remain key priorities. We commend the Ukrainian armed forces for not intervening in the political crisis. In a democracy, it is imperative that the armed forces do not intervene in the political process. We underscore the need to strengthen democratic control over the defence and security sector, with effective parliamentary oversight and the robust involvement of civil society.

In the context of recent tragic events, transparent democratic and accountable institutions are essential to the future of Ukraine.

A sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security.

NATO Allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. We will continue to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and democratic development. And we will continue to uphold the principle of inviolability of frontiers. This is in line with our long-standing partnership.

And we will continue to discuss our engagement, and I look forward to meeting our Ukrainian partners tomorrow in the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

We have also agreed what NATO’s focus should be between now and the Wales Summit in September, and how to keep our capabilities strong and our skills sharp.

Through our operations, including Libya and Afghanistan, we have identified the areas where our capabilities do not go far enough or too few countries have them. Libya revealed shortfalls in precision-guided munitions; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets; and experts trained to interpret the data they provide.   

Work has been ongoing, but the economic crisis has not made it any easier. So we need to take a long hard look at the most effective way to work together to close those gaps.

We will also push ahead with our plans to defend against the threats of the future, such as missile and cyber attacks.

We also need to make sure that our forces keep the skills that they have learned over two decades of operations. We need to make sure that all our troops, including our special forces, stay able to work together effortlessly and seamlessly.

And that includes working with our partners and it takes ongoing practice.

That can only come with constant practice. That is why we will make the Connected Forces Initiative, which is designed to provide that practice, a central part of the Wales Summit.

NATO also has vast experience of working together with countries from beyond the Alliance to support their security reforms. We have done this in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and elsewhere.

Capacity building is about stability, and about prevention. It helps countries help themselves - and therefore allows us to project stability, without always having to project forces.

With growing instability in our neighbourhood, we must explore what more we can do to help our neighbours prevent crises as they emerge.  

As we complete our biggest land operation, our ability to project security beyond our borders will increasingly depend on our presence at sea.  Our economies depend on sea transport for much of our energy and our trade.

It is therefore vital for NATO to make the very best use possible of the maritime capabilities we have. To uphold the freedom of navigation. To deal with the whole range of threats, including piracy, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. And to engage with capable partners, and help others build up their capacity.   

Our task is to make sure that NATO is and remains ready and able to face the challenges of the future. And we have taken some important steps today to prepare this with a view to the Summit in Wales.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Moderator: German News Agency.

Question: Yes, it's Dieter Eberling from DPA, the German News Agency.

Secretary General, this… this morning you spoke about the Ukraine question and the sovereignty and territorial integrity, and you said that you had transmitted that message to whom it may concern.

Can we understand the essence of the declaration by Ministers as a warning to the Russians not to do anything that might be dangerous? And to what extent is NATO prepared to guarantee the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine? And have you been informed by the Russians about their military exercises in advance?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: To take the… the latter first, yes, the Russians have informed us about this military exercise. But let me stress that the declaration, or the statement, we have issued today is first and foremost a message to the Ukrainian people - a message of solidarity, a message of support, a message of continued engagement with Ukraine within our NATO-Ukraine Commission.

And I think, in the wake of all what we have seen in Ukraine, it is of utmost importance that we issue such a statement of… of support. We adhere to the principle that each and every nation has an inherent right to decide itself when it comes to alliances and to foreign and security policies, and we wanted to emphasize these principles.

Moderator: Jane's.

Question: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. You didn't mention much about capabilities, other than in broad terms. Are you looking at large flagship projects for the summit, something which can bring together several nations and provide capabilities by then? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Indeed we are looking at ways to fill some of the gaps that were identified during recent operations. You will remember, I suppose, that after the Libya operation, or during the Libya operation, we identified some shortfalls within intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, RHIB, observation drones. We also identified in particular a European shortfall when it comes to air-to-air refuelling.

We are looking at ways to fill these gaps. In that respect, I appreciate that the European Council in December adopted conclusions with a focus on intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, including drones, and a focus on air-to-air refuelling. And I consider that an important input to the NATO Summit in Wales in… in September.

Also when it comes to missile defence, I think European allies could come forward with more contributions. We welcome contributions already announced, but I think there is potential for more, just to mention some of what you call flagship areas.

Moderator: Altsan (ph).

Question: Okay. Today the Italian Defence Minister raised the question of the two Italian Marines who are under trial in India. So I wonder what is the support that NATO can give to Italy in this… on this issue.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I… as I've said before, I am personally very concerned about the situation of the two Italian sailors. And today we took note of the statement of the Italian Defence Minister.

As I've already said, this case could have possible negative implications for the international fight against piracy, a fight which is in all our interests. So I trust that we will see an appropriate resolution soon.

Moderator: NPR.

Question: Terry Schultz with NPR and CBS News. General Dempsey in Kabul today says that he's worried that all this talk of the zero option may be counterproductive, that… that it may lead Afghan forces… that it may lead Afghan forces to join the Taliban out of fear. Do you share those concerns?

And also, are you worried about the credibility of… of NATO, after months and months of first asking nicely and then asking more impatiently, and… and threatening Karzai that he was… he was risking so much by not signing the BSA, and now basically nothing happens, you just say you're going to wait. It… doesn't that make any future political pressure toothless? Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, actually we are not talking about zero option. On the contrary, we are talking about our preferred option, which is to deploy a NATO-led training mission to Afghanistan after 2014 - a resolute support mission, that's the name. And we continue planning for this.

So that's what we're speaking about. Our preferred option is to deploy such a training mission to Afghanistan.

But of course we… we have to take realities into account. And the reality is that so far we have not got a signature on the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which means that… nor have we got a… or finalized the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

These are facts of life. And it's also a fact that, if we don't get the legal framework in place, then we can't deploy, and then we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year. That's actually not what we're speaking about. We're speaking about the preferred option, to have a training mission after 2014. But of course for planning reason… reasons, we do need to plan for all eventualities.

Still, I think we will get the signature. It may well be that President Karzai won't sign, but I hope -- I expect -- a new President to sign because a lot is at stake.

Moderator: BBC.

Question: And the credibility question?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yeah, but I mean, my conclusion is that probably President Karzai won't sign. So that's why we… we have to plan for all eventualities while at the same time we continue planning for a deployment of a training mission, assuming that a new President will sign a Security Agreement.

Moderator: BBC.

Question: Thank you. Yes, Jonathan Marcus, BBC.

Secretary General, a quick question on… on Ukraine. A lot of stress in your statements on inclusiveness and minority rights inside Ukraine. Clearly there are many minorities, not just ethnic Russians and Russian passport holders. When you hear the Ukrainian Minister tomorrow, will you be stressing some of these points to him, that a lot still rests upon the actions of the new interim Ukrainian government?

Secondly, looking forward towards the Wales summit, from your list of activities and so on, would it be fair to say that we're now entering a phase where NATO is increasingly just going to be a military contractor of one kind or another for the Alliance countries? That seems to be the kind of focus, and the rather grand political objectives of the Alliance, if you go back to the nineties -- further expansion, its diplomatic side and so on -- seem to be, in some senses, beginning to take very much a back seat.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on Ukraine, yes, the… the political messages in today's statement will of course be conveyed to the Ukrainian Minister when we meet him tomorrow. And I think it is important to convey the message that an inclusive democratic process in Ukraine is of utmost importance in order to ensure long-term stability in… in the country.

On the future of… of NATO, if I understand your question correctly, you indicate that NATO might turn into more or less a political organization.

Question: More… more a… more a military organization, and some of the loftier political ambitions, in a sense, have… have fallen away. Countries like Ukraine are not going to join NATO, let's be honest. It's… it would cause an immense amount of problem if NATO continued down that kind of path, which seemed to be the trajectory back in the nineties.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yeah, but also, after the summit, NATO will continue to be a political-military alliance. Obviously NATO is a military alliance, actually the strongest military alliance in the world and maybe in the history. And… and that's the essence of our alliance, to be able to defend and protect our populations and our societies effectively.

In the strategic concept, we have defined our core tasks, namely: collective defence; crisis management; and, what we call cooperative security. And the latter of course refers to the fact that, in today's world, security is not only a military matter. Security is also about having strong partnerships, partners with whom you can operate, but also partners with whom you can engage politically.

So you will see a reaffirmation of these three core tasks at… at the NATO Summit, but what we… you will also see at the NATO Summit is an enhancement of our partnerships as well as enhancement of our military capabilities. So it will be a strengthened NATO, both in the political and the military area.

Moderator: Bloomberg.

Question: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. You… you said that Russia informed you of the military exercises. When exactly did Russia make this notification? And what concerns do you have about the scope and breadth of this particular set of exercises?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I have been in meetings the whole day, so I don't know exactly when the Russians notified NATO. I got the message during the meetings this afternoon.

And… and the second part of… of your question, please?

Question: Just given the scope and breadth of these particular exercises and their location, what concerns do you have?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yeah. I… I'm not in a position to… to go into details about the scope or purpose of… of this exercise. All I know is that this military exercise has been notified, we have been informed. I suppose the Russians have lived up to all their obligations as regards transparency. But as I have been in meetings the whole day, I don't have more details about this exercise.

Moderator: OK? Thank you very much indeed. We'll see you tomorrow.