Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the formal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 10 Jun. 2010
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  • Last updated: 10 Jun. 2010 20:22

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

I will give you a quick run-down of the discussions we’ve just had, and look forward to the meetings to come. Then I’d be happy to take your questions.

We began this morning with a discussion on resources. The financial crisis has put enormous pressure on defence budgets in all NATO countries. Many have already made cuts – some very deep. And there is more to come.

Managing the effects of the financial crisis, this will be one of the defining issues of the next few years for all our Governments – and, from a personal point of view, of my tenure as Secretary General.

I was encouraged by the discussion today. Because there was a shared sense around the table on three very important points:

  • First: we must cut fat and not muscle. While seeking savings, we must nevertheless preserve our ability to deter attacks against us and to carry out essential operations. We cannot cut so far to meet immediate demands, that we sacrifice our security; that would be the ultimate false economy.
  • Second: salami slicing is the wrong approach. Just cutting a certain percentage from everything would end up hollowing everything out. We must prioritise on what we really need – in a nutshell, on what we can actually deploy, where and when we need it.
  • Third: we need to approach this as an Alliance. If we have a coherent approach, we can retain the essential capabilities we need, avoid pointless duplication, and buy together what we couldn’t afford individually. The NATO Defence Planning Process is designed to help produce exactly that kind of coherent approach, and we will be using it.

Of course, NATO itself needs to do things as efficiently as possible. We’ve already found 1.5 billion Euros in savings, over the next four years, from our military budget. I will present Ministers today with some proposals to make our Command Structure more effective – and lighter. And we will cut the number of committees in this building by three quarters, to less than one hundred. Which means fewer meetings, and more efficiency.

The bottom line – and now we are really talking about the bottom line – is this: there will be less money for defence for quite some time. That’s the way it is. But we can use this crisis as motivation to make the right changes, to focus on the right things, and to do as much as possible together. And I think we are off to a good start.

This morning, we have also had a meeting of all 37 contributors to the KFOR operation.

Again, it was a very positive discussion. Ministers agreed that, while there are occasional security incidents in Kosovo, the general trend continues to be in the right direction. Towards more security and more stability, and stronger local institutions.

The first stage in Kosovo’s transition to a smaller, more mobile force has gone well. We have not yet decided to take the next step in that transition process, but I’m confident it will happen soon, when our military assess that the conditions are right.

I was also pleased to hear a commitment around the table to ensure that KFOR remains resourced and robust, throughout the transition, so that it can continue to carry out its mission effectively.

In a few minutes, we will have the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission since the new Ukrainian Government was elected.

There has been a lot of speculation about how NATO would react when the new Government announced that Ukraine would stop working towards membership in the Alliance.

Our answer is simple. We respect Ukraine’s choice. Ukraine wants to focus on partnership and cooperation, not membership. That’s fine with us, and that is what we will do, including at today’s meeting.

Two more important meetings later today. First, we will have a discussion on missile defence.

On missile defence, three things are already clear and agreed among Allies.

  • First, that there is a growing missile threat to Europe.
  • Second, that the system we are currently building to protect our troops could, from a technical point of view, be expanded to protect our populations and cities as well.
  • Third, that the extra cost to include protection of the 900 million citizens of NATO countries is less than 200 million Euros. Over ten years. Spread amongst the 28 NATO Allies.

The next question is whether we actually should take that extra step. My view on this is no secret, but it is up to the nations to decide, in November at the Summit. We will exchange views today on exactly that.

And then, during the Working Dinner tonight, we will discuss my proposals as to how we can rationalize and streamline NATO military headquarters and NATO agencies. I will report on that tomorrow.

That is what I have. I’m happy to take your questions.

Q:  Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency, DPA.  Secretary General, on the command structure and the agencies, a comment I've heard from diplomats in this building is that everybody agrees that there have to be cuts.  And everybody agrees that some other country should be the country making them.  So how do you intend to deal with that problem in the next few months coming up to the Lisbon Summit? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO Secretary General): Honestly speaking, I think the situation you just described is a well-known situation when you plan to reform and modernize an organization.  So I'm not scared by that.  I consider it a challenge, an interesting challenge.  The positive news is that there is a widespread agreement that we need to modernize and rationalize.  I mean, all member States in NATO are faced with economic challenges.  All governments are faced with budgetary constraints.  All governments are forced to make more efficient use of resources.  So they would expect the Alliance to follow suit.  So this is a very strong point of departure.  Then, of course, we will have a lot of discussions about the details in all that when Ministers of Defence met last time in Istanbul at the beginning of February, they gave me a very strong mandate to present comprehensive and far-reaching reform proposals.  And I think they will agree, once they have seen the proposals tonight that I live up fully to my mandate.  They will be comprehensive.  They will be far-reaching.

James Appathurai (NATO Spokesman):  To...

Q:  Sonomut from Turkey .  I know that last week, you have presented to the ambassadors, informally, a kind of a-plan and b-plan on how you can merge and how you can reform the command structure.  And you want to keep ACT and ACO, SHAPE and Norfolk.  Do you think that, first, we can merge them?  Why do we need also an ACT and ACO on the one hand?  And what is the size of operation at the end of this reform NATO would be able to endorse?  Too small, too big, one on article 5, two on article...  What is the size exactly?  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  Firstly, I can assure you that all possibilities have been considered.  But at the end of the day, I think... all member States want an independent Allied Command Transformation.  Because we attach so strong importance to modernization and transformation for an alliance.  So in order to put a maximum of focus on that, I think we need an independent transformation command. That's at least my point of departure.  But, of course, everything can be discussed.

Secondly, as far as the level of ambition is concerned, our point of departure will be the current level of ambition.  As you know, to be able to manage... to make your operations and six smaller ones.  And we have no intention to change our level of ambition.

James Appathurai:  (Inaudible)

Q:  Augustin Palokaj from Koha Ditore.  Situation in Kosovo, you said that it is stable.  But there was an incident in the bridge dividing Mitrovica City, the river.  And there was intervention by at least EULEX and Kosovar Police and maybe from KFOR to prevent the ethnic... interethnic clashes.  So having in this mind, do you think that NATO can proceed this year with the second phase of transition, which means downsizing?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  No timetable has been decided.  I have to stress that.  Occasionally, we see regrettable incidents like the one we saw a couple of weeks ago.  But having said that, I think the general trend is clear... the general trend is an improvement of the security situation which will allow a gradual reduction in our military presence.  But I also have to stress that a move to what we call a "Gate-2" will be based on a thorough military and political analysis.  And I can assure you that we will not take any step that will have a negative impact on the security situation in Kosovo.

Appathurai:  Next question.

Q:  Enrico from ABC from Madrid.  Yesterday, in the Security Council there were approved sanctions against Iran.  Do you say that concerning the missile defence the threat is growing?  But one of the members of the Alliance, Turkey, voted against the sanctions, against Iran, how we should interpret this Turkish position in the light of the construction of the defence... missile defence for Europe?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  I think we should separate the two questions.  As regard missile defence, it is a fact and based on public information from Iran herself that Iran has at her disposal missile technology with a range which make it possible for them to hit targets in Europe if they so wish.  And this is a reason why I say, this threat... the potential threat is real.  And against a real threat, we need a real and credible defence.  So I consider a missile defence a protection of our populations within the framework of Article 5 in the NATO Treaty.  That's my position.  But now our member States will discuss that in the run-up to the Lisbon Summit.

The other question is the nuclear question.  NATO as an organization is not engaged in that.  We appreciate that the international community has put a maximum of pressure on Iran with the aim to stop Iran's aspirations to acquire a nuclear capacity that eventually might constitute a threat to our member states within NATO. 

James Appathurai:  Yes Slobo

Q:  (Slobodan Lekic, AP) Yes, General McChrystal said today that the operation in Kandahar, the planned operation will take longer because of opposition by the local population.  Some analysts are already describing this as another reversal coming on top of you know indifferent results of the operation in Marjah.  And the near doubling of NATO casualties in the past five months.  Do you see that as a reversal?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  No, we are actually making progress.  We see a lot of reports from Afghanistan.  We also see reports about very hard fighting.  But that's no surprise to me.  I mean we have stepped up our military endeavours.  We are sending more troops to Afghanistan.  We are expanding our operations. 

So it should be no surprise to anybody that expanded operations, more military activity will also result, unfortunately of course, in more fighting and eventually casualties and fatalities.  This is a fact of life.  So I foresee a very tough time in the coming weeks and months because we are now targeting what I would call Taliban heartland in Helmand and Kandahar.  But that's exactly our goal.

And we see clear progress.  But we will, at the same time, also, see more fighting, a lot of reports of incidents in Afghanistan.  But we will continue, based on the strategy we have outlined, strengthened military effort hand in hand with a strengthened civilian reconstruction and development and improved governance.

James Appathurai: Right at the back...

Q:  Mister Secretary, Teri Schultz for National Public Radio.  I realize you're still at the beginning of talks.  But what can you tell us about the search for trainers.  You met with Secretary Gates already.  How are you planning to press the Allies to come up with these pledges they've already made: 450 as we understand it, thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  We'll discuss that in our meeting tomorrow.  And I will put a lot of pressure on Allies and Partners and tell them that the question, the problem is quite simple.  All of you want to provide the conditions for a gradual transition to Afghan leads so that our troops eventually, when conditions permit, can turn to another role and eventually also withdraw.  But if you are to fulfill that goal, you also have to invest in transition. 

And our training mission is an investment in transition.  Because we need to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police if we are to make sure that the Afghans can actually take responsibility themselves.  So I have been in contact with a number of Allies, governments.  Military authorities have worked hard with Allies.  And we will continue...  And I feel pretty sure that we will get our training mission fully resourced so that we can accomplish our training mission.

Having said that, I also have to add that so far we have seen great success in our training mission.  Actually, the build-up of the Afghan Security Forces is now ahead of schedule.  So we have managed to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police at a higher speed than we had expected.

James Appathurai:  Question there and then it comes here.

Q:  (Inaudible) from Turkish Anatolian Agency.  My question is that NATO is fighting against piracy offshore Somalia.  And simply there is science that some sort of piracy is also taking place in Mediterranean.  Isn't NATO considering another piracy mission in Mediterranean?  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  We have no plans to expand our counter-piracy operation.  We are engaged already. But we have no plans to expand that operation.  We will continue.  We will stay committed.  But we have no plans to expand it. 

James Appathurai:  Question right here.

Q:  Secretary General, James Kanter, Herald Tribune, New York Times.  You talked about 1.5 billion in savings.  I don't know if you've outlined this before, but even if you have, could you outline again where the savings will be made.  And also, you talked about the independent, transformational command.  Again, perhaps, you've outlined that before. 

But perhaps, you could go into greater detail about this command unit that you envisage would lead the cost-cutting.  What... what... member States for instance have a say in where the costs should be cut?  How would that be different from other cost-cutting mechanisms that you've envisaged?  Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  Well, the savings will be made across the board, better contracts, more efficient use of resources here and there.  So it's really a huge number of instruments we use among them, also postponements of some investments, fulfill the consideration before they are initiated.. 

As far the command structure is concerned, as you know, all decisions have to be made by consensus.  So it goes without saying that nations will have the final word on all this.  So, today, we will have an exchange of views.  No decisions will be made today.  By the end of the discussion, I would expect ministers to give a mandate to a continuation of this work in the first round with a view to a new meeting among defence ministers and foreign ministers on the 14th of October.  And that will be a stepping stone to the Lisbon Summit.  So all allies will be involved in this process from now until the summit in November.  So, of course, they will have a say, when it comes to the necessary cost.

James Appathurai:  The last question is there...

Q:  Thank you, Broadcasting Company Rustavi Georgia.  Tomorrow, a NATO-Georgia Commission is planned.  And what can you tell what general questions of discussion tomorrow with Defence Minister of Georgia. Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  I look very much forward to the meeting with the Georgian Minister of Defence.  We will discuss progress in the cooperation between Georgia and NATO.  No doubt that NATO ministers will stress that they demand a full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

NATO ministers will also express their appreciation of the very significant Georgian contribution to our mission in Afghanistan.  And I think they will welcome the successful local elections that we recently held in Georgia and look forward to further progress in reforms of the Georgian society.

James Appathurai:  That's all the time we have for the Secretary General.