Monthly press briefing

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • 07 Jun. 2010
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  • Last updated: 08 Jun. 2010 11:14

Thank you for coming.  As you know, there will be a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers here at the end of this week.  I would like to address the main issues that will be discussed at that meeting, and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

First, Afghanistan.  Last week, the Peace Jirga was held in Kabul.  Despite their best attempt, the Taliban failed to disrupt it.  It concluded with broad agreement among the participants – all Afghans – that there should be a political process leading to peace.  That a hand should be offered to those fighting the Government, to stop fighting and take up an honourable place in Afghan society.  And it agreed a package of incentives to support reconciliation and reintegration.

The Jirga was an important building block in the political process now underway in Afghanistan.  The next block will be laid at the Kabul conference, in mid July, where the Afghan Government and the international community will agree how we will start transitioning to Afghan leadership in security – something we want, and the Afghan people want as well.

At our meeting here on Friday – with all the ISAF nations participating – we will discuss what transition should look like, and the resources that will be necessary to make it happen. And that includes training, because Afghan forces have to be able to take the lead.

Training is, in a word, key.  And  amongst the very many challenges we face in Afghanistan, training is turning out to be one of the real success stories.

We set up the NATO Training Mission about six months ago, building on the substantial US effort.  And it is already delivering.  The Afghan Army will reach this year’s target of 134,000 members three months ahead of schedule.   Many of those forces are partnered with ours, including in the hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar.  And we are stepping up our training effort every day.

This success is what the Taliban don’t want to see.  They might think they can wait us out.  But within a year or so, there will be over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police trained and ready to defend their country.  And they can’t be waited out.

Of course, we still have some shortfalls to meet in our Training Mission – about 450 out of a total of 2,300.  I hope Defence Ministers come prepared to make new offers to fill the remaining training gaps.

Second subject:  money – and how to spend it as efficiently as possible.

National budgets are under pressure in all NATO countries.  As a former Prime Minister, I’m well aware that, when health and education and pensions are being cut, it is hard to exempt defence altogether.  But I’m equally convinced that we have to take care not to cut too much, or in the wrong way, that we might jeopardise our security in the future.  After all, economic prosperity depends on security too.

What we need to do is ensure that where we spend money, we spend it on what really matters.  On what we really need now.  And on investments in what we will need in future.  In one word, that means reform, across the Alliance.

It also means within the Alliance.  I promised, when I took office, to reform this organisation.  The current financial situation has only proven more motivating.  And I will be able to present the Ministers with some concrete steps we have taken just in the past few days to get that ball rolling:

    • We have just completed a review of our military budgets, which will lead to savings and deferrals amounting to 1.5 billion Euros.
    • We have agreed a range of measures to set clear spending priorities, improve auditing, and make sure we have clear visibility of the costs of everything we do.
    • And we are very close to agreeing a major reduction in the number of committees in this organisation.  So we will all spend less time in meetings, which I consider a significant contribution to efficiency. 

As a result of all this, I’m confident we will have the resources we need this year to do what we must.  And there is more reform to come, to ensure we also have the money we will need in future.

Third main topic:  missile defence.  We have just received an analysis from our experts which concludes that it is technically feasible to expand our current missile defence project.  The current project will protect several thousand deployed troops, to cover NATO territory and populations – about 900 million people- as well. 

All at an extra cost of less than 200 million Euros.  Over ten years.  Between 28 nations.  Even at a time when budgets are tight – especially at a time when budgets are tight – that is the kind of investment that makes sense. 

What remains is the political decision to actually do it, which will be addressed at the Lisbon Summit. 

I believe that missile defence is a capability which NATO should have – must have – to carry out our mission of collective defence in the 21st century.

Those are the leading topics on the agenda.  Let me mention three more important meetings that will take place. 

We will have a discussion amongst all the KFOR nations on the way forward for our operation in Kosovo.  The first step in KFOR’s transition to a smaller, more mobile deterrent force has gone well.  That is encouraging, as we look forward to taking the next step, I think sometime this year.

Next, we will have the first meeting at Ministerial level with the new Ukrainian Government.  NATO’s point of view is straightforward: we respect 100% Ukraine’s choices when it comes to its relationship with NATO.  The Ukrainian Government wants to focus on partnership and practical cooperation.  That’s what we will discuss at the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting.

Finally, we will meet with the Georgian Defence Minister in the NATO-Georgia Commission.  I have no doubt he will hear, from all Ministers, that NATO’s door is still open to Georgia; firm commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity; and our determination to carry forward our cooperation and partnership.  Georgia still has a lot of reform to make, and NATO will continue to help.

Those are the issues I wished to highlight, in the run-up to the Defence Ministers meeting.  I’m ready for your questions.

DIETER EBELING: Dieter Ebeling from DPA, the German Press Agency. Secretary General, two questions about the money. Question A, you referred to the commissions but there is the question of NATO headquarters, military headquarters, and there’s the question of NATO agencies, and you made proposals about that. How optimistic are you that there is an agreement possible about the considerable reduction of the number of agencies given that they are quite dispersed within NATO and do you think that before the Lisbon summit there’s really an agreement possible about the possible loss of NATO’s footprint in a number of countries which have military headquarters? So how realistic is it to get an agreement there? Point one.

And point two, missile defence, the less than €200 million, is it correct that this refers to the cost of the integration of both systems only but not to the hardware, the missiles that would be involved in that system as well?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General, NATO): Firstly, on reforms, I have to stress that we are not going to make decisions at this meeting among Defence ministers. I will present to the ministers reform proposals and the ministers will discuss these proposals and I will present proposals as to how we could rationalize our agencies structure as well as streamline and rationalize our military headquarters. This will be discussed on Thursday.

Based on the mandate I got from Defence ministers at their meeting in Istanbul at the beginning of February, I’m quite optimistic that we will succeed in deciding far-reaching reforms of our internal structures. Off course, a lot of work has to be done before a decision can be made, a lot of questions must be answered, we will have a lot of consultations among allies before we can take a decision.

But my aim is that we can make concrete decisions at the summit in November. Maybe there will also be a follow-up after the summit, but we will now work hard to make sure that we have a framework for decision at the summit in November.

As far as missile defence is concerned, the less than €200 million, relates to linking the existing systems so that they will be able to cover all population and not just deployed troops. In addition to this, we have of course national costs to actually develop a missile defence system. But this has been decided many years ago, I think five or six years ago, that NATO would develop a so-called theatre missile defence system.

So this has already been decided. What we’re now speaking about is the additional cost to expand this already decided system to cover the whole population. So you may say that the €200 million or less than €200 million is not the total cost, of course it’s not, but it is a very low additional cost to make sure that we cannot just protect deployed troops but we can protect 900 million people.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Two questions here.

Q: Dmitry, Shkurko, National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, the meeting with the Ukrainian Minister of Defence will take place around two weeks after Ukraine officially removed the perspective of NATO membership from its national law. How will that impact the bilateral relations and the particular involvement of NATO in security and defence reforms in Ukraine? Thanks.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Our cooperation with Ukraine will continue within the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Right from the outset it has been quite clear that it is for Ukraine to decide how its relationship with NATO should develop in the coming years. Our decision taken at the Bucharest summit in 2008 stands, so our door is open for countries that wish to become members of NATO, provided of course they fulfil the necessary criteria, but at the end of the day it’s for each individual country to decide.

I take it positively that we will actually have a meeting within the NATO-Ukraine Commission. I think it underlines that the new Ukraine government wants to continue its cooperation with NATO and also live up to the requirements within the existing framework for Ukraine-NATO cooperation.

Q: IHA News Agency. Mr. Secretary General, quick questions on the issue of Turkey-Israel tension. The first one is how much priority will you give to this issue in the Defence ministers meeting? Second is, how do you evaluate Israel’s reaction of international commission to investigate the incident for the UN? And my final question is: are any kind of measures being discussed to protect future humanitarian aid missions to Gaza by NATO? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, I have to stress that NATO as such is not engaged in the Middle East or in the Middle East peace process. That’s my first point which also answers your last question. So I don’t foresee a discussion on that at the Defence ministers meeting.

Your first question relates to the importance of this issue. Of course, I’m very much concerned about this very, very tragic event and this is also a reason why I issued a statement in the wake of the event according to which I condemned the acts that led to the loss of lives and I called for a credible and impartial investigation of what actually happened, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide on the mechanics of that investigation.

Q: Secretary General, Agence Europe. Two questions. First, on Afghanistan, how optimistic are you about fulfilling or meeting this shortfall of 450 trainers? And the other thing on committees and can you precise what you mean by major reduction of the number of committees?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Until now we have seen steady progress in the force generation for our training mission. We are actually speaking about small numbers, but when I meet with government representatives from allies, they announce here and there new contributions to our training missions, so we have gradually reduced the shortfalls, and I think more pledges will be received in the coming months.

So, I’m quite optimistic about the expansion of the capacity of our training mission, and I’m optimistic about that because all nations know that the key to fulfil their request for transition to Afghan lead responsibility, the key to that is our training mission because we need to train and educate Afghan soldiers and police if we are to gradually hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans. And of course, I will make that case forcefully once again at the upcoming meeting for Defence ministers.

Your second question concerns our committee reform. We are just in the final phase of that but my prediction is that we will reduce the number of political committees to a level below 100, out of which 22, only 22 will refer directly to the NATO Council. It will be a substantial increase in the efficiency of our work.

Q: Georgian Public Broadcasting. Mr. Secretary General, how do you think will be the impact of overall positive assessment of local elections in Georgia on the country’s integration process? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We have closely followed the local elections in Georgia. In meetings with Georgian officials I have made clear on several occasions that successful local elections were essential for progress in the cooperation within the NATO-Georgia Commission. So I’m very pleased to see that the local elections have been conducted successfully and of course it is a very positive step.

I also have to say that I had expected successful local elections because I take it for granted that the political leadership in Georgia will do its utmost to carry through reforms of the democratic system in Georgia. But so far so good and it will be noted with satisfaction in our meeting with the Georgian Defence minister.


Q: Thank you very much. Magdy Youssef, News Egyptian Television. If you’ll allow me I’m going back again to the story of Turkish and Israel. The attack was from a country against a country member in NATO: Israel against Turkey. Is this will make you to reduce the cooperation maybe with Israel or to postpone some of the meeting scheduled between NATO and Israel or there is no any effect between NATO and Israel after this attack? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I think it’s fair to say based on experience that it will definitely not facilitate the peace process in the Middle East if the reaction of the international community is to reduce the number of consultations to limit the dialogue. I think quite to the contrary, what we need is to engage the parties in this tragic conflict much more in consultations and dialogue.

Once again, I strongly regret this tragic event and I call on the involved parties to ensure a credible and impartial investigation of what happened. But, honestly speaking, I do believe that we need to engage the parties in this conflict much more in consultation and dialogue to find a peaceful solution. We owe it to the Palestinian people, we owe it to all people in the Middle East that we do our utmost to facilitate a peace process. But let me reiterate that NATO as an organization is not involved in this, but of course NATO allies are involved in this. Among other fora they are involved within the Quartet.

JAMES APPATHURAI: There’s two questions in front.

Q: Geo Television, Pakistan. Peace Jirga has finished and a lot of expectation that some of Taliban factions will show up but instead we had in a statement last night from Taliban representative that they will resist and they will continue the fight. It means fight will continue and you will concentrate more on training and increasing the troops?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yeah, well, I think in the real world the Taliban will not be motivated to engage in a reconciliation process unless they realize that they have no chance whatsoever to win this battle militarily, and they won’t. We will prevail and we have to continue our military operations because the stronger the Afghan government the better the chance that reconciliation and reintegration will be a success.

Q: Yes, two questions, just to tie in with your answer to the previous question. You seem to be equating NATO member state and a state that’s not within the alliance. And in this case obviously the ship of the NATO member state was unarmed, carrying humanitarian aid, while the attackers were heavily armed and inflicted considerable casualties on the crew of the NATO member state. To me it’s a little surprising that the secretary general of NATO would not come out more strongly in favour of the NATO member state.

So that’s one question, and the other is today there’s a report that the government, US government audit has actually found out that the $25 billion effort to build the Afghan military and police forces is not going well at all; it’s going a lot less well than planned. This is from the Financial Times from Washington. Could you comment on that?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes. Firstly, on the Mediterranean event, I think I issued a very strong statement condemning the acts that led to the loss of life, calling for a credible and impartial investigation of what happened, and the fact that the NATO Council met and discussed it also reflects that a NATO ally called for such a meeting and that’s what NATO is about.

We have a consultation mechanism. If one of our allies feels that a security issue justifies a discussion and consultation in the NATO Council then we’ll have such a meeting and such consultation and dialogue. And that was actually what happened. I do believe that we really took it seriously despite the fact that NATO as an organization is not involved and engaged in the Middle East or in the Middle East peace process. Nevertheless, we had this meeting and I think it’s a testament to the fact that we take this situation very seriously.

Concerning the assessment of the quality and capacity of the Afghan Security Forces, let me remind you of the pure facts. The fact is that the Afghan Security Forces exist, the fact is that they are out there, the fact is that they fight and actually they fight quite efficiently.

Then of course, we can always discuss which parameters we should use to actually assess the capacity. There is a new measurement system in place to better assess operational capability, but honestly speaking I think that’s more in the theoretical world. The real world is that we see Afghan police, we see Afghan soldiers actually conduct operations in Afghanistan and we are gradually expanding the capacity, quantitatively as well as qualitatively, of the Afghan Security Forces.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Anyone else? I think that’s it. Thank you Secretary. Thank you very much.