Monthly press briefing

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • 03 Mar. 2010
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  • Last updated: 04 Mar. 2010 13:48

Thank you for coming. I would like to focus on two main issues this month, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.

Let me start with Afghanistan.

Late last year, the 44 ISAF nations agreed a new strategy, with three new elements. First: we would transition to Afghan lead as soon as possible. Second: we would support – and demand – better governance, and better delivery of services, from our Afghan partners. And third, we would step up our game as well, by flowing in more forces, and by holding areas we have cleared.

The operation in Marjeh is the first test of the new NATO approach in Afghanistan. And the first results show that it is the right strategy.

Let me highlight three elements of this operation that, I can promise you, will be repeated in subsequent operations this year.

First: from top to bottom, politically and militarily, Afghans are standing on their own feet – even, where they can, taking the lead.

Politically, it was President Karzai who decided when this operation would begin, not COMISAF. Governor Mangal of Helmand has directed the overall effort to help the locals with jobs and health services. And the Afghans are leading the local shuras, which have helped to minimise the fighting.

Militarily, international and Afghan forces are doing the work together. Of the almost 10,000 troops in the operations , 40% are Afghans. You might then ask : Are they capable of operating fully independently? The answer is: Not yet. But Marjeh is a clear sign that they are getting there.

Second: the Afghan Government is showing that it can deliver the leadership and the services its people need and want. And that is critical. The decisive phase of this operation is starting now: when the Afghan Government starts delivering governance.

We are off to a good start. Cash for work programs are in place, and locals are signing up. Mosques, schools and markets are being opened and refurbished. Roads are being repaired and wells dug. The Ministry of Public Health is operating a full health clinic and two smaller ones in Marjeh already. And Afghan police are moving in as well.

Of course, it takes time to create enduring security, jobs and education opportunities. It also takes time to win trust and confidence. That is what the Afghan Government is doing now, and it is starting to have an effect.

My third point: we will stay in Marjeh to finish the job. We now have the forces to stay in the areas we’ve cleared. And by “we”, I mean the Afghan Government and ISAF, partnered together. That is a key element of our new approach.

As I said, Helmand is the first demonstration. It won’t be the last. I can guarantee the Afghan people that they will benefit from this new comprehensive approach in other areas, this year.

Helmand is a clear demonstration of our determination to succeed in this mission – and there will be more such demonstrations to come. It will not be easy, and there will be more difficult days. But this mission will take a decisive step forward this year. And it has now started.

Let me turn to one other issue: arms control.

There is a growing international discussion on the way forward when it comes to arms control, and in particular nuclear weapons.

The goal of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons is one which we can all embrace. And I’ve scheduled a discussion at our next Foreign Ministers meeting in Tallinn on how NATO can contribute to arms control and disarmament, including with an eye to our new Strategic Concept.

With that in mind, I think it is also important to be pragmatic. There are a lot of nuclear weapons in the world, and a number of countries that either have them, would like to have them, or could have them quickly if they decided they needed them. That is just the way it is. So whatever we do in support of arms control and disarmament should be balanced with deterrence.

Finally, it is important that anything that affects NATO’s nuclear policy or posture be decided by the Allies together, without any unilateral moves. Solidarity is very important when it comes to this issue, and I will work hard to preserve it, beginning with the discussion in Tallinn.

That’s what I wanted to open with. Happy to take your questions.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start right here.

Q: Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. I have a fairly specific question about the aftermath of the operation in Majah and presumably about similar operations that you will... as NATO undertake as you said. That is what will happen to people's poppy crops, especially in Helmand, where they form a vital part of people's livelihoods on a daily, monthly, yearly basis, thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: People will be provided with an alternative livelihood. And that's exactly also part of our strategy. We have to fight the cultivation of opium and production of narcotics in Afghanistan. And to that end we need to provide peasants and farmers with alternative crops; offer them an alternative livelihood. And that's also part of our strategy in Majah.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Next... next question is there. OK.

Q: Hans De Bruyn, Netherland Press Association. A month ago, you sent a letter to the Dutch government asking them to reconsider their decision to leave Uruzgan. Since then, that letter have become part of an enormous political row in the Netherland and it... leading to the fall of the Dutch government. What is your opinion on the way your letter was treated in Netherlands? And were you...? Were you promised a faithful reception of that letter?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all let me stress that I fully respect that this decision and this discussion are entirely domestic Dutch issues. And I'm definitely not going to interfere with domestic Dutch politics.

Next, I would like to say that I've not got any promises and as a politician I know very well that in politics many happen. You can rarely give guarantees. What I did was to provide the Dutch politicians with a possible way forward as a suggestion and for consideration among Dutch politicians. I still think it would be the right way forward. I strongly regret the situation that has occurred in the Netherlands.

It has raised an international discussion about NATO's engagement in Afghanistan. I know that many Afghans are very much concerned about the the possible Dutch withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But I can assure you that whatever happens, NATO will stay committed. We will stay and finish our job in Afghanistan.


Q: Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency just over here. Secretary General, on conventional arms control, there's increasing disquiet in some of the Central and Eastern European NATO members about the sale of French warships to Russia. Are you concerned about that sale? And particularly are you concerned about the impact on tensions in the Black Sea region at the moment that the sale might have? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that NATO as such doesn't have any role in this case... in this sale. Next, I take it for granted that the sale will take place in accordance with all international rules and regulations. Russia is a partner of NATO and it's for France to decide whether it will sell military equipment to Russia.

Having said that I understand very well the concerns raised by a number of allies. And I think it's understandable, taking into consideration history as well as recent events But I take it for granted that Russia will not use or misuse such military equipment against any neighbour.

Q: Secretary General, News Agency Interfax Ukraine, question on Ukraine. Do you plan to have meeting the new president of Ukraine, Mister Yanukovych? How do you see the future development of the relationship between NATO and Ukraine in the light of his statement, I mean Yanukovych, that Ukraine will be European State with military neutrality status? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I would be delighted to meet with the new Ukrainian president and discuss Ukraine's future relationship with NATO. Secondly, I would like to stress that the NATO position is exactly the same after the presidential elections as it was before the presidential elections. We took the decision at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 that Ukraine as well as Georgia will become members of NATO if they so wish and if, of course, they fulfill the necessary criteria. This is our open-door policy. And we stick to the open-door policy.

But finally I also have to say that is for Ukraine to decide its own future. And that's exactly our basic principle that it is for each individual country to decide herself the security policy as well the Alliance affiliation. And the same goes for Ukraine. It is for Ukraine to decide what will be the future relationship between Ukraine and NATO. Our decision stands but it's for Ukraine to decide whether Ukraine will focus on a partnership or a future membership. For us it is important to stress that at the end of the day it is purely a Ukraine decision.

Q: Two questions, Klaus again from German Financial Times and two questions on the Dutch decision. First thing, are you going to replace these Dutch troops, these 1,009... I think 1,009 (inaudible) in Dutch troops? And is there already, let's say, a lack of especially trainers? And the second question is the Dutch decision going to be blueprint for other... or could it be a blueprint for other European nations? Are you, let's say afraid that this might happen because of the popularity of this Afghanistan mission well is shrinking from week to week?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, it is clear that we have to replace in one way or the other. We will not leave the Afghan people behind. NATO will stay in Uruzgan. And provided that the Dutch troops are withdrawn, we have to find replacement. And that's exactly one of the problems that the Dutch decision has also forced other Allies and partners to consider how we can replace the Dutch soldiers in Uruzgan. No decision has been taken yet. But I can assure you that the Alliance, that ISAF will stay committed to Uruzgan and protect and defend the people of Uruzgan. But I'm not able to present any solution to you today.

You mentioned the shortfall within our training mission. First of all, let me stress that from an overall perspective our force generation has been a great success. We have succeeded in generating almost 40 000 extra troops. It's pretty close to what was recommended by General McChrystal. We had a recent force generation conference focussed on our training mission. And the status now is that we have filled more or less half of the requirements. That was the first step in a gradual build-up of our training mission. So we have to do more because the training mission is essential for the success of our transition strategy to the hand -over our responsibility for the security to the Afghans themselves.

So I have urged all allies to consider how they could provide extra-resources to our training mission. But based on what we have seen in the past, I feel confident that we will be able to gradually build up our training mission to the desired level. And your last question was about...?

Q: (....Inaudible....)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Ah yes, the blueprint, yes the blueprint. No, definitely not a blueprint. And let me... let me point to the fact that the trend in all other countries has been exactly the opposite while the Dutch politicians have discussed a possible withdrawal from Afghanistan, 36 other allies and partners have pledged additional troupes to our mission in Afghanistan which is, I would stay, a strong testimony of commitment and solidarity. And also, in answer to your question because I do think the Dutch decision will be a blueprint for other countries. They have demonstrated a clear commitment to our mission in Afghanistan.

Q: Just a quick follow-up, for example, if you look at polls so you know... In my country, in Germany, it's getting less and less population with the Afghan. You know, I understand... Of course your view on it I think it's great what 10 to 6 nations did. But I think it might a danger. You know as it gets less and less popular. Let's say people are losing their patience probably with this mission.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but I think that we're all impatient. So am I. I do want to see a steady progress in Afghanistan. And I think we will see progress in 2010. There's no reason to hide that 2009 was a difficult year with many casualties and lengthened and complicated electoral process. But we have taken a number of important decisions to increase the number of international troops significantly; to increase the number of Afghan security forces both soldiers and police significantly. We have laid out a clear strategy for transition to Afghan lead.

The international community has committed itself to more development assistance and the Afghan government has committed itself to better governance including strength in fight against corruption and drug trade. And all these elements will create new momentum, new progress in 2010. So my conclusion is that when people see clear progress in Afghanistan we'll also be able to maintain a broad public and political support for our mission, provided that people can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And the light at the end of the tunnel is a gradual transfer of responsibility to the Afghans. And therefore our training mission is so crucial. And therefore our Allies and partners should invest in this training mission by providing trainers and resources.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Next question is here.

Q: Rafael Canas from the Spanish New Agency EFE. Secretary General, I'm afraid that my question was a little in the same line. After the success of the Force Generating Conference in December, the Conference last week for generating trainers was much less successful. And if we add this to the decision of the situation in the Dutch government, what we are seeing now is that all the enthusiasm in January and December has been faded and that we are... what we are seeing now is a growing Afghan fatigue in the Allies? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, not at all, on the contrary, during the last two, three months we have seen strength and commitment and the visible sign of this is the pledges of almost 40 000 extra troops. I would not call the recent Force Generating Conference a failure. It was a first step in a gradual build-up of our training mission.

Definitely, we have more to do. And we will follow up. And I have urged Allies to contribute further. I would say that we have been quite successful if we look upon the overall number. But I think that not all Allies and partners have been aware of the more detailed configuration of their contributions. And we now have to go more into details; to maybe reconfigure the contributions with a view to equipping our training mission fully.

So this is first and foremost a discussion about whether the glass is half full or half empty. So if you have a pessimistic view on world affairs, it's half empty. If you're like me, by nature as an optimist, then it's half full. So I can tell you it's half full.


Q: (Inaudible) TV and Radio. Question on NATO-Russia relations. The head of Russian land forces announced last week that Russia may deploy Iskander missiles very close to Estonian border in (inaudible) military base. You mentioned that arms control is one of the topics at Tallinn meeting. How you regard this kind of announcement, thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have no detailed information about this news. But in general, we attach great importance to disarmament also as far as conventional weapons and forces are concerned. We would very much like to resume real negotiations on full implement of the CFE and that would also be part of our deliberations in Tallinn.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Pascal, then...

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire Général, une question en français si vous permettez. Vous avez dit en novembre dernier, vous répétez dans votre communiqué ici, enfin dans vos déclarations que toute décision sur la politique nucléaire de l'OTAN doit être multilatérale, en tout cas pas unilatérale. Deux des pays qui ont des armes nucléaires chez elles... deux des pays qui ont des... l'Italie et la Turquie n'ont pas signé la lettre que vous avez reçu vendredi de cinq pays dont les Pays-Bas, l'Allemagne et la Belgique qui, eux, ont des armes nucléaires. Alors, comment peut-on à la fois respecter la souveraineté nationale de ces pays qui ont le contrôle de ces armes selon le principe du "double key", la double clé comme vous le savez, et en même temps une décision multilatérale que vous appelez de vos voeux? Est-ce qu'il ne va pas y avoir un split, une division à l'OTAN entre les pays du Sud et les pays du Nord?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Hum, oui. J'ai reçu la lettre des cinq pays. Et c'est exactement la raison pour laquelle nous allons discuter ce sujet à Tallinn. Les cinq pays ont souligné qu'ils sont d'accord que les décisions en ce qui concerne la politique nucléaire doivent être multilatérales. Donc, j'envisage, Un accord au sein du concept stratégique.


Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. I'm over here in the corner. Just to follow up my colleague's question about the French arm sale to Russia, I wondered first if President Sarkozy discussed this with you in advance and what you told him? Second, does it violate any NATO code of conduct or informal understanding? And thirdly, what will the consequences be... will NATO have to take further steps to reassure its East European members that they are protected against any Russian threat?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As I said earlier NATO is not a part of this... NATO does not have a role as far as this sale of military equipment is concerned. And having said that I've also indicated that I've not been informed in advance. And I not had any expectation to be informed in advance as NATO doesn't play a role in this case. And as far as the protection of Allies is concerned, I can assure you that NATO has all necessary plans in place to protect and defend all Allies.

JAMES APPATHURAI: One question there, that's it.

Q: (Inaudible) News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, you used the word deterrence concerning the nuclear non proliferation. Could you please specify on these policies in particular what kind are we going to deter the intentions, the capabilities? What kind of policies of NATO in the field of nuclear non-proliferation? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually, I think it's a bit premature to embark on that. But one very important aspect of deterrence, let me take this opportunity to stress that is development of a well functioning missile defence system in Europe. Let me stress that NATO is not engaged in the Iran question. We follow the development closely. We support the international political effort to find a diplomatic solution to the problems. We urge the Iranian leadership to live up to Iran's international obligation; stop the enrichment of uranium. However, if at the end of the day, Iran acquires a nuclear capability. Then, of course, it is a matter of strong concern for NATO. And it might eventually also constitute a threat towards NATO Allies. And in that respect the development of a missile defence system is of utmost importance. So I personally see a clear link here between possible nuclear threat and the development of a well functioning missile defence system in Europe and North America.

JAMES APPATHURAI: The last question is here.

Q: A question from Mainichi, Japanese daily newspaper. Just follow up my colleague's question about a nuclear posture of NATO, well given the fact that there seems a difference of opinion among the member countries regarding the nuclear policy especially the US tactical weapon in Europe. How are you going to seek the convergence and a common stance during the course of the month? And second , there would an (inaudible) maybe conference in May. And about the NATO nuclear policy, do you think this will be also the subject to the discussion and how do you think about possibility that NATO will change its nuclear sharing policy thank you very much?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, we will discuss our nuclear posture from now until November. We have a NATO summit in November. At the summit, we will approve a new strategic concept. And without anticipating what will be the outcome of our deliberations I can assure you that the nuclear policy, the nuclear posture, will be one of the very important items on our agenda in the preparation of the new strategic concept. Well, it's quite natural that we have a discussion. I mean the NATO Alliance is an Alliance of free democracies. And I find it quite natural that free democracies can also discuss a hot issue like our nuclear posture. I feel confident that at the end of the day 28 NATO Allies will find a common solution to that, based as always on consensus. That's the way we take decisions and therefore I would also expect an agreement on this.

Again, without anticipating the outcome of our discussions I've already today indicated what I would call a pragmatic and realistic approach while keeping the vision clear, the vision of nuclear zero which I think all people could and should embrace. It would be an ideal world if we had a world free of nuclear weapons. It would be wonderful. So keeping the vision clear, I think at the same time, we should in practical politics pursue a realistic approach and realize that as long as there are nuclear weapons on earth and as long as certain states aspire to acquire a nuclear capacity, it would be wise to have and maintain a nuclear capacity as part of a credible deterrence. That's my approach. But now we'll discuss it in the coming months until November. But I can assure that it will be a united Alliance also on our nuclear policies. Thank you.

JAMES APPATHURAI: That's all you have time for Secretary General.