Closing press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers - Tallinn, Estonia

  • 23 Apr. 2010
  • |
  • Last updated: 23 Apr. 2010 19:17

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the closing press conference

There are three issues I’d like to address in my remarks.

Let me start with a decision that was taken last night. We decided that as of yesterday, Bosnia and Herzegovina has entered the Membership Action Plan, the implementation of which will only begin fully when some clearly identified defence property is formally transferred from the entity level to the Ministry of Defence. I strongly welcome this decision. It reflects our shared view that the place of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be in the Euro-Atlantic structures, NATO and the EU. It recognizes that Bosnia-Herzegovina have made progress in recent months, but it also requires another clear step before the Membership Action Plan process actually begins. And I hope that that step will be taken by the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina as soon as possible.

The second topic : Afghanistan.

Our aims in 2010 are clear: to take the initiative against the insurgency; to help the Afghan Government exercise its sovereignty; and to start handing over responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans. This year. Because citizens in Afghanistan and in all troop contributing countries are demanding visible progress. And they are right to insist on that.

We should have no illusions. Making progress will not be easy, and it will not be quick. But based on what we see on the ground now, it is happening. Our forces, Afghan and international, are holding territory. The Afghan government is finding its feet, including in the toughest parts of the country, like Marjeh. And I expect that we will start handing over responsibility to the Afghans this year.

Today, we took an important decision to help make that happen. We agreed the approach we will take to transition. We set out a process, the conditions that will have to be met – and what we will do to make those conditions happen. Because where it occurs, transition must be not just sustainable, but irreversible.

The next step will be at the upcoming conference in Kabul, where the Afghan Government and the international community will formally endorse the way forward on transition. Then, I expect, we will launch the process at or by the Lisbon Summit.

As of today, we have a road-map which will lead towards transition to Afghan lead, starting this year – at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they have quite rightly been asking.

Let me finally turn back to last night’s dinner discussions on nuclear issues and missile defence. Yesterday, before the dinner, I gave you my views on these issues. Now the discussion amongst all the Allies has begun, and I expect it to continue right up to November when the new Strategic Concept will be agreed. Let me give you a read out:

Ministers agreed:

  • that the nuclear issue is important in our work on the new Strategic Concept;
  • that the Alliance remains, as always, firmly committed to maintaining the security of its members, but at the lowest possible level of nuclear forces;
  • that a broad sharing of the burden for NATO’s nuclear policy remains essential;
  • that decisions on our nuclear policy will be made by the Alliance together. Our unity on this will remain absolutely solid.
  • That NATO must continue to maintain a balance between credible deterrence, and support for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation;
  • that missile defence, will not replace deterrence, but can complement it
  • and finally, that we want cooperation on missile defence with Russia, in a spirit of mutual openness and transparency, for the benefit of all our citizens.

So, overall, a very good and substantial discussion, in the run-up to our June Ministerial meeting and with an eye to the Summit in November. Overall, let me say that I am very satisfied with the work we’ve done here in Tallinn. This Foreign Ministers’s meeting here in Tallinn confirms again that Estonia is fully part of the fabric of this Alliance. Let me thank the organisers once again.

Questions and answers

Q: Good afternoon. Martinez de Rituerto from El País, Spain. When you say that the broad sharing of the responsibilities dealing with nuclear weapons, that means that all the allies that now have weapons in their soil in Europe have to keep them in order to share the responsibilities? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Well, that's, of course, part of our discussion from now until November. The important thing is that all allies agree that no one will take unilateral steps. We will move together. We will keep Alliance unity. That's the most important thing. Within that framework, of course, we can have and will have an open discussion how can we make our deterrence policy as credible and as efficient as possible. But I was very pleased that we got reaffirmed that no unilateral steps or decisions will be taken. We will move together, as an Alliance, based on solidarity.

Q: Yes. (Inaudible) from the Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Free Europe. My question is related to security in Afghanistan when you're speaking about transition of the troops. You know that terrorists are having their home in Pakistan and Afghanistan is having the long border with Pakistan. If the troops are getting out of Afghanistan, like NATO forces, then who will secure Afghanistan, and then is the Afghan government capable to... I mean, Afghanistan Security Forces, to take the charge? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That is exactly the key question, and also a key element in our strategy. Our ultimate goal is, of course, to hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans themselves. Our goal is that the Afghans become masters in their own house, so to speak. Having said that, I also have to stress that it is a condition-based process. It's not calendar driven. It's driven by conditions. We will hand over responsibility when the Afghans are actually capable to take responsibility and this is also a reason why I attach such strong importance to our training mission, because we need to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police so that they can take over responsibility.

Let me stress once again, we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job. But of course, it's not forever. And this is the reason why we now invest in this transition process by building up our training mission, and today I have once again urged allies and partners to contribute to our training mission.

Q: (Inaudible...) newspaper Postimees Estonia. I have a question regarding Russia. You said that Russia should be included in the missile defence system of Europe. It is somewhat hard to see Estonians and Russia building a joint missile defence system together. Can you please explain the positive aspects of this idea to the regular Estonians?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I see several positive aspects in joining efforts as regards the construction of a common missile shield to cover the Euro-Atlantic area from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Firstly, a common shield will make our missile defence even more efficient, because the Russians can also contribute with some facilities—let me use that expression—that can help make an overall missile defence system more efficient and provide better coverage.

That's the first thing. It will be more efficient.

A second argument is a more political argument. I do believe that we can improve the overall security environment in Europe and the whole Euro-Atlantic area if we cooperate with Russia, so that Russia realizes that a missile defence system aims at protecting our populations, and also the Russian population, against a real missile threat. And a missile defence system is not directed against Russia.

I do believe that such joint efforts would create a common Euro-Atlantic security architecture which at the end of the day would improve the overall security environment in Europe and North America.

So for these reasons I think we should initiate a transparent process, a process in which we consult with Russia. Obviously at the end of the day it's for NATO to take decisions on a NATO missile defence system, but what Ministers agreed at this meeting was to initiate a dialogue with Russia on the development of a missile defence system.

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, Pascal Mallet, Agence France-Presse. Vous avez répété que l'important c'était que tous les alliés, sur la question nucléaire, avaient décidé de ne rien faire s'il n'y avait pas consensus. Donc, cela veut dire que quand les armes, les B-61—les B-61, les bombes—seront obsolètes dans deux ou trois ans, il faudra une discussion pour les remplacer. Mais si un des cinq pays décident qu'ils ne doivent pas être remplacés, est-ce que l'OTAN va décider de garder des armes totalement dépassées?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Je comprends votre question. Et premièrement, laissez-moi confirmer que les décisions concernant la politique nucléaire seront prises basées sur le consensus.

Deuxièmement, les armes nucléaires américaines en Europe seront maintenues fiables, en sécurité, et efficaces comme ils l’ont publié dans le nucléaire... le "nuclear posture review".

Q: Marc (inaudible...) Public Broadcasting. Did you today discuss other points or relations with Russia and how do you see the cooperation as NATO always has insisted that Russia is a partner, but Russia says that... or takes NATO as a potential threat, or at least enlargement of NATO is a threat for Russia, they say. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, we have discussed several aspects of our relationship with Russia and obviously also the new Russian military doctrine. And as I have said on earlier occasions, the Russian military doctrine does not reflect the real world. It states that NATO constitutes a major danger, at least, which is not the reality.

So I would urge the Russians to forget this old-fashioned Cold War rhetoric and instead embark on practical cooperation with NATO in areas where we share interests because we are faced with the same security challenges. And we have discussed some of these areas today. Firstly, Afghanistan. I think there is potential for further Russian engagement in Afghanistan.

Secondly, counterterrorism. Russia herself has suffered from terrorist attacks.

Thirdly, counternarcotics. Drug trafficking rooted in Afghanistan is really one of the big challenges for Russia.

Counterpiracy is also an area in which we share interests.

We have also discussed arms control, conventional arms control as well as nuclear arms control. In that respect also the CFE Treaty. We want to see progress in the implementation of the CFE Treaty. Obviously we need engagement from the Russian side on that.

And finally, as mentioned, we have also discussed the possibilities of having cooperation with Russia as regards the development of a missile defence system.

So we have covered a wide range of areas where we want to see progress in practical cooperation with Russia.

Having said that, we also have to realize that there will still be a number of areas in which we have disagreements with Russia. Notably, of course, over Georgia. We insist on full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We urge Russia to live up to her international obligations. We will continue our open door policy, so we will have a firm stance on core principles.

But I still believe, and Ministers agreed, that it gives merit to develop practical cooperation with Russia in areas where we share interests.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Time for one more - in the front.

Q: Kim Sengupta from The Independent. On the nuclear issue you say that none of the member states will unilaterally decide on the matter of not having nuclear deterrence.

Can I ask you, Secretary General, what of the situation about a member state trying to alter the composition of his nuclear defence, say from submarine-based to some other form of nuclear deterrence? Would you want that to be fully discussed with other NATO members? You know, a nuclear state which is not giving up its nuclear arms, but changing its composition.

And secondly, on Afghanistan, very briefly, maybe I'm being obtuse, but what does actual transfer mean? I mean, in the south, for example, (inaudible...) with General Zarzai in the same level technically as General Nick Carter, but does that mean that the Afghans have reached the same level of proficiency as ISAF there? And also the district by district, province by province, what's the plan? And secondly, the areas handed over to the Afghans, does it mean ISAF troops will pull out entirely or still maintain a presence there?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, it is, of course, for each individual ally to decide the composition of its nuclear capacity and to take decisions in that area.

But what is more important is that at this meeting, yesterday and today, all allies, including those who have nuclear capacities, all allies have expressed the political desire to take decisions based on consensus, taking into consideration concerns raised by others, so that we keep Alliance unity, we move together.

So it's not... what I will say, it's not a legal question. It's more... because obviously each individual ally has the right to take her decisions herself, but it is a political commitment to consensus, and to consider our nuclear policy as a whole and as an integrated part of our overall deterrence policy. That's a very, very important point of departure.

Next, as regards Afghanistan, I'm not able to present a detailed road map for a transition process, or to tell you in details how exactly will a transfer of responsibility to the Afghan authorities take place. I think we have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

What we have done today is to endorse an overall framework to line out the decision-making process, to outline some basic principles for a transfer of responsibility to the Afghans, and then we will have to look closer into it on a case-by-case basis.

But I can tell you one thing for sure, it will not be a pullout... it will not be a run for the exit. What will happen is that we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, and our soldiers will then move into a more supportive role. But I foresee that the Afghan Security Forces will need our supportive assistance for quite some time.

So it will be a gradual process.

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