First NATO Press conference

by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • 03 Aug. 2009
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  • Last updated: 20 Aug. 2009 15:00

Thank you all for coming. I’m told that in Brussels, the word “August” doesn’t exist; the summer months here are “June, July, Les Vacances”. So it’s nice to see all of you today.

As you know, I formally took up my duties as NATO SG on Saturday. But I didn’t think I would get off on the right foot with the press corps if I held my first meeting with you on the weekend.

Let me begin by saying how honoured I am to take up this post. I’m grateful to the 28 NATO Allies for placing their confidence in me. And I want to congratulate Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the excellent job he has done over the past five years. I saw that he was back in the office last week – I’m very glad he’s making a speedy recovery.

It is often said that NATO is the most successful Alliance in history. That’s been true for 60 years, and it’s just as true today. NATO is doing more, in more places, than it ever has before. Because it is a family of nations that can trust and rely on each other, at any time, against any threat and in any weather. It is a community of democracies defending common values: freedom, peace, security. And NATO remains the ultimate insurance policy for almost 1 billion (actually 900 million) people in 28 countries.

My intent, as NATO SG, is to make the most of this enormous capability: in our operations,; in our partnerships; and by transforming the way NATO does business. I want to see NATO reach its full potential as a pillar of global security.

Of course, that starts with succeeding in Afghanistan. Our mandate from the UN is clear. So is the importance to global security -- to help prevent Afghanistan from becoming again the Grand Central Station of international terrorism. The moral argument is also powerful: anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women’s rights, should support this mission.

A lot has been accomplished already. But this year will be an important one. This month’s elections will not be to the same standards as we expect from Parliamentary votes in our allied nations. But they must be credible, first and foremost in the eyes of the Afghan population.

NATO is doing its part. We’ve transported voting material all over the country and helped candidates meet voters. We’re supporting the election observers from the EU and OSCE. And of course, we’re providing security, in support of the Afghan police and army.

That is the immediate goal: credible elections. The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans.

I believe that, during my term as NATO SG, Afghans must take over lead responsibility for security in most of their country.

Let me be clear. I say “LEAD” responsibility for the Afghans. NATO must and will be there in support. Let no Taliban propagandist try to sell my message as a run for the exit – it is not. We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes – let me repeat that, for as long as it takes.

But supporting them means helping them stand on their own feet. Afghanistan needs more trainers; it means more civilian support, and more help for the Afghan to build their institutions. NATO – by which I mean both sides of the Atlantic -- will do its full part, but we can’t do it alone. This has to be an international team effort, military and civilian – with more effort from the Afghans themselves as well.

I am convinced that we have to show the Afghan people, and the people in troop contributing nations, more light at the end of the tunnel, if we are to maintain their support. It will not be easy, and the past month has made that bitterly clear. But it can be done. And we will do it. Let there be no doubt about that.

Second priority: NATO-Russia relations. I believe that, during my term as NATO SG, we should develop a true strategic partnership with Russia. We should extend practical cooperation in areas where we share security interests.

There is clearly scope for us to work together, on counter-terrorism, on Afghanistan, on piracy, on non-proliferation, and many other areas as well.

Now, I’m not a dreamer. It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree. We have to insist, for example, that Russia fully complies with its international obligations, including respecting the territorial integrity and political freedom of its neighbours.

But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship. So my message to the Russian leadership and people is clear: let us build trust on cooperation, and base our cooperation on shared interests.

Another partnership will also be a priority for me: NATO’s relationship with the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries.

Let me assure the Government and the people in the 11 MD and ICI countries that I am fully committed to building stronger relations with them, on the basis of mutual respect, understanding and trust, and to face common challenges: terrorism, proliferation, the dangers of failed states.

Starting today, I will take concrete steps to engage with the MD and ICI countries I will personally engage in dialogue with all of them, to hear their views, and to help support their reforms. And I’ve started today, by inviting each of their Ambassadors to meet with me, one on one, here at NATO HQ, to discuss how to take our relations forward.

This Alliance has, over years, built up a strong relationship and cooperation with our MD and ICI partners. I will build on this strong foundation throughout my term as NATO SG.

I have highlighted three priorities here. But NATO’s agenda is broader than that, and I am committed to making progress across the board.

On Kosovo, my aim is clear. By the end of my term, I want to see KFOR reduced to just a small reaction force, or out altogether. It should not be rushed – we should not stumble so close to the finish line. But I believe that the conditions will, in the foreseeable future, be right to retire KFOR with success.

Fighting piracy is another kind of operation – one I don’t think we could have predicted, a few years ago, would be so important. But the reality is that 20,000 ships a year are passing through pirate infested waters in the Gulf of Aden, and this problem is only getting worse

I want to see NATO having a standing anti-piracy role, with the capabilities, legal arrangements and force generation in place to make it happen.

These operations, and the many others that NATO has taken on over the past 15 years, make it crystal clear that this Alliance needs to make sure it has the right forces, when and where they are required. Which means enough forces, deployable and sustainable in the field. Forces that have the modern equipment and training they need.

With global finances the way they are, we cannot afford anything but efficient, modern and, where appropriate, multinational approaches to defence.

And let me add that for the Balkans, as indeed for the Euro-Atlantic community more broadly, I am fully committed to the principle of NATO’s Open Door. Membership is not a right – countries must be ready. But NATO enlargement has already demonstrated it’s power to spread stability and promote reform. I expect that will continue during my tenure.

Today, I am also pleased to launch a new and comprehensive project that will form the framework for the development of the new NATO.

NATO needs a new Strategic Concept. Today I’m putting in place a roadmap for the work on this. I will lead this work from now until the Strategic Concept is agreed at our next Summit, in Lisbon.

Let me outline for you how I will take this process forward:

  • I have appointed a group of 12 experts; chaired by Madeleine Albright, and co-chaired by Jeroen van der Veer, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. The full list is now on the website.
  • They will consult as widely as possible, in NATO and far beyond, with governments, think tanks, NGOs and other international organisations. They will then submit their conclusions to me; I will then lead the final phase of negotiations with nations.

It should also be by far the most open and the most inclusive process of policy development NATO has ever conducted. Which is why I am also launching, today, a program of public consultation.

I want to hear the views of the public on what NATO should be and do in future. There is, as of now, a forum on the website where anyone can post their views on how NATO should evolve.

I will also conduct town halls in as many NATO countries as I can, to hear from all walks of life. And I want to assure everyone who shares their views with us that they will be heard. We will compile the input and it will be fed directly into the process and to the people that will develop the final document.

This will be a major exercise. And I think it is very timely. Since the last Strategic Concept was adopted, 10 years ago, this Alliance has almost doubled in size and taken on missions and threats no one could have imagined at the time. The moment has come for the theory to catch up with the practice, and for all the members of the Alliance, old and new, to chart a common way forward. And that is what we’ll do.

Mesdames et Messieurs, je suis particulièrement heureux de prendre mes fonctions de Secrétaire général au moment où la France a décidé de reprendre toute sa place dans les structures de l’OTAN.

Cette décision courageuse ouvre de nouvelles perspectives pour la France, pour l’Europe et pour la relation transatlantique.

Je souhaite vivement voir une amélioration de la coopération entre l’OTAN et l’UE. Le plein retour de la France facilitera ce processus. Je pense que ce retour coupe court, une fois pour toutes, à certaines des appréhensions qui inhibaient la coopération OTAN-UE.

Je compte tout mettre en œuvre, au plus haut niveau, pour essayer d’enregistrer des avancées dans la coopération entre les deux organisation. Je veux qu’il y ait davantage de consultations politiques, tant formelles qu’informelles, et davantage de coopération pratique.

Il serait bon, pour toute une série de raisons pratiques, que les relations OTAN-UE soient remises sur les bons rails. Cela permettrait aussi de renforcer l’assise politique qui rend l’OTAN si forte et si indispensable : la relation transatlantique entre l’Europe et l’Amérique du Nord.

L’OTAN est unique, parce qu’elle regroupe des pays qui partagent les mêmes valeurs fondamentales, ainsi que la capacité et la volonté de défendre ensemble ces valeurs. L’OTAN est une Alliance essentielle. Et je suis très honoré d’en être le Secrétaire général. Soyez assurés que je donnerai le meilleur de moi-même pour être à la hauteur de la tâche qui m’a été confiée.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Y a t il des questions ? Maintenant, je suis prêt à répondre à vos questions. Merci.

ANIMATEUR : Les deux premières questions là et là. Please identify yourselves. Thank you.

QUESTION: I’m right here. Jim Neuger, from Bloomberg.  You spoke of success in Afghanistan. You didn’t use the word victory. How do you define success and given that July was the deadliest month so far for international troops in Afghanistan, do you favour setting a timeline for the withdraw of all NATO forces?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I’m not in favour of setting timelines. Success would be to transfer the responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves. This is the ultimate goal to gradually hand over responsibility for security province by province to the Afghan security forces. And this is the reason why it is crucial to get the NATO training mission up and running and expand the Afghan security forces.
Success is also to see the development of a peaceful and stable society in Afghanistan, good governance, respect for the principles of human rights and rule of law. Obviously, this is not a challenge for NATO alone. We need a comprehensive approach, a reinforced interaction between our military efforts and our endeavours with regard to civil reconstruction.


QUESTION:  Yes, right here. Slobo Lekic, Associated Press. Two questions.  First of all, you mentioned that the KFOR presence in Kosovo should be reduced.  Would it be possible to use some of those troops who leave, the troops that leave Kosovo to boost the NATO contingent in Afghanistan? And you also mentioned that NATO cannot do it alone in Afghanistan. It must be an international effort, both military and civilian. Can you just elaborate on that, please?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think we should separate between the KFOR and the ISAF operations. A reduction in the KFOR presence in Kosovo can take place in its own right so to speak because of progress on the ground.
Actually, the Kosovo story is a success story, is a brilliant example on how NATO, the E.U., the UN can work together and progress and ensure peace, security and stability in a region. And this is the reason why it is possible to reduce our presence in Kosovo, in a coordinated manner, and in such a way that we can still ensure peace, security and stability in Kosovo and in the region.
Next as regards Afghanistan, I would very much like to further develop our ability and capacity to work together with international civil organizations. Obviously, NATO is the strongest military alliance and we need a strong military effort in Afghanistan but to win the peace and to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, we need to provide the Afghan people with better life opportunities, we need to assist the Afghan government in the development of democratic institutions, and to that end, NATO needs to expand the capacity to work together with organizations like the European Union, with the United Nations, even with NGOs. All these elements are crucial when we are speaking about a more comprehensive approach.

MODERATOR:  Next is there in the front row.

QUESTION: Denis Dubrovin, Russian News Agency. Mr. Secretary General, in less than a week, it will be one year since Georgia launched an attack against the South Ossetia. So I would like to ask you, what conclusions and what lessons draw NATO today of this incident, which... what influence, how this incident influenced the relations with Russia and the possibility for Georgia to enter their alliance? And do you see in your role of NATO to solve this problem? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, obviously, the events that took place last year in August in Georgia had a very negative impact on the relationship between NATO and Russia.  And for all of us, it has been very difficult to return to business as usual. And there is no reason to hide that there are real differences in our positions regarding for instance Georgia.
This is the reason why I said in my introduction that I’m not a dreamer. We have to realize that we are faced with real disputes on a number of areas. However, I consider it a very important challenge for me to convince the Russian people and the Russian political leadership that NATO is really not an enemy of Russia.  NATO is not directed against Russia.  Basically, I do think that we have a lot of security interests in common and this is the reason why my position is that the disputes we do have, the differences we have to realize should not overshadow the basic common security interests.
And then my pragmatic approach would be to further develop practical cooperation in the areas in which we share security interests; as for instance counterterrorism. We all know that Russia has been hit by terrorism. So it’s a brilliant example of an area in which we could further expand our cooperation and the same goes for a number of other issues as mentioned in my introduction.

MODERATOR:  Over here, Secretary General. Egypt.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  I’m Magdy Youssef, from Nile News, Egyptian Television.  Back again to Afghanistan, since Afghanistan was among your first priority and a challenge, do you think the story of the cartoon during your capacity as a Prime Minister of Denmark will leave some shadow in Afghanistan?
And second, you said you did invite all the 11 ambassadors of the Mediterranean partners today to have them one by one face to face. Can you tell us who is going to be the first leader from these 11 countries will be... will visit you one by one or which European countries are going to visit as the first country? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, you mentioned the cartoon case. I consider it an element of the past. Now I’m looking forward and I can assure you that I have had meeting in my previous capacity as Prime Minister with the Afghan political leadership, among them President Karzai and I have never had any problems with the Afghan political leadership. And I look forward to cooperating with the political leadership that will be elected in the coming presidential elections.

Concerning the invitation for ambassadors from a number of countries, it will be I think first of all practical questions and calendar questions that will decide when I will meet each of the ambassadors. So we will see. Today, I don’t know.
But I have sent an invitation, because I want to reach out and embark on a positive and constructive and fruitful dialogue with representatives from a number of countries.

MODERATOR:  The next question is there, and then there.

QUESTION:  Sertac Aktan, IHA News Agency, Turkish News Agency. Two short questions. You said the cartoon issue is an element of the past.  Are you planning any specific measurement, any steps to build better relations with the Islamic world?
And my second question will be first of all, I wish you success in your new office. But one of the reasons you’re in this office right now before us is the verbal agreement that was reached in Strasbourg between Turkey.  How much of that agreement is achieved and accomplished by now, do you think, like the Roj TV, like Turkey being much more, having much more high ranked officers? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I have already informed you that I have today taken the concrete step to invite a number of ambassadors to meet with me. In these meetings, we will discuss how we can further develop the Mediterranean dialogue initiative and the Istanbul cooperation initiative. I would very much like to discuss with the ambassadors how we could further develop these partnerships because I consider a positive and fruitful partnership with governments in Muslim countries a very important part of my job as the Secretary General.
It’s also crucial for the overall security. So this is the reason why I have taken this initial step and based on my conversation with the ambassadors, I will take further steps. But I think it is the right thing to hear their views before I proceed. I have a number of ideas but I would like to exchange these ideas with the ambassadors.
Concerning Turkey, you’re right, we reached an overall common understanding at the Strasbourg Summit and I feel confident that we can and will deliver on that. That’s, of course, not only my responsibility because as you know, we have to make decisions within NATO based on a consensus. I will do my utmost and I feel confident that allies will support me in that.

QUESTION:  Ben Nimmo, from the German Press Agency, DPA down here. Secretary General, coming back to the question of Russia, one of Russia’s main security concerns is the idea of NATO taking in Georgia and Ukraine as members. And Ambassador Rogozin said last week that he would like to see this idea dropped as a mark of respect to Russia.
So particularly following the war last summer, what’s your take on Georgia and Ukraine and their future as members of NATO? Are they still realistic candidates? Thanks.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, my position is exactly the same as has been decided by NATO allies. Let me remind you that at the Bucharest Summit, we decided unanimously that Georgia and Ukraine can become members of NATO in the future, provided of course that they fulfil the necessary criteria.
They do not fulfil the necessary criteria at this stage, so here and now, it’s a hypothetical question. However, NATO has decided in December last year to embark on practical cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine aiming at developing their military capacity and reform their armed forces. And I stick to that decision. I think that’s the right approach to pursue this pragmatic approach.

MODERATOR:  The next question is there.

QUESTION:  Valentina Pop, from the E.U. Observer. Mr. Rasmussen, your predecessor said that E.U./NATO cooperation was one of his biggest frustrations, that he didn’t achieve to push them forward in a more practical and hands-on way.  What will you do concretely?  Maybe if there are three things you can think of in how to develop this further?  Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Well, first of all, let me say that the French decision to reintegrate fully into the military structures of NATO will definitely facilitate a process towards strengthened cooperation between NATO and the E.U. But we all know that there are other obstacles to an improved cooperation between NATO and the E.U. This is a priority for me to get rid of these obstacles. 
I know it will be a very challenging task, but I can inform you that it is an issue which I will discuss with Turkish and Greek leaders when I pay early introductory visits to Turkey and Greece later this month.  These two countries will be among the very first to which I pay introductory visits and obviously this issue will be one of my focal points.
And finally, I will also take initiatives personally to engage with my counterparts in the European Union.  From my previous position, I know them quite well.  So I want to draw on my network.

MODERATOR:  Time for two more.  Here and there.

QUESTION:  Ian Traynor, the Guardian. Secretary General, you’re talking about relations with Georgia as your number-two priority.  Some of the newer member states in the Baltic and in Central Europe directly as a result of the Georgian War are very worried and are very concerned about the inadequacies of Article 5 guarantees to them.  I mean, should this kind of work on Article 5 for the Baltic States and Central Europe be part of the new strategic concept and how do you foresee that?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Well, this issue will be one of the main subjects to be discussed during the process of developing a new strategic concept.  And let me present my position.  My position is that the Article 5 commitment is the core function of NATO.  We should never forget that.
NATO was established to provide security in the Euro-Atlantic area.  It has, for 60 years, been the core function of NATO and it will still be the core function. 
However, we have to realize that in today’s world, territorial defence very often starts out of area like in the mountains of Afghanistan.  So I don't see any contradiction between the Article 5 commitment and the territorial defence and at the same time, expeditionary missions and out-of-area operations.  And I think this will be a challenge to address in the new strategic concept.
All in all, what we need is a more flexible and more deployable military capacity within NATO; and in that respect, I do not see any contradiction between territorial defence and out-of-area operations.

MODERATOR:  The last question is there.

QUESTION:  Ricardo Martinez de Rituerto, El Pais.  Do you keep the dictum that NATO will be make or break in Afghanistan?  Do you still keep this idea?  And the second question is how do you intend to actually make the input of the public opinion comments on the strategic concept in the actual document?  Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Well, it will not be break, it will be make.  Let me be clear about that.  We must prevail in Afghanistan.  A lot is at stake for the Afghan people, for the international community, for the overall security and, of course, also for NATO. 
And this is the reason why I strongly appreciate decisions taken by a number of allies to increase the number of troops because we need to step up our military endeavours; but as I have said earlier, this is not... there is no military solution solely.  We have to step up our civilian efforts as well and cooperate with other actors on the international scene to make our mission in Afghanistan a success. 
Thank you.

MODERATOR:  That’s what we have...

QUESTION:  Public opinion, public opinion on the (inaudible)?

MODERATOR:  Strategic...

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Well, in a number of ways, as I indicated in my introductory remarks, we will launch a comprehensive public diplomacy program and within the framework of that, people will get direct channels through new media to provide input for the whole process and we will listen, we will read and people’s ideas will be taken into consideration. Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.