Monthly press briefing
by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Thank you all for coming. I’d like to open with just a few words, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
With the summer break behind us, NATO is now starting the sprint to the Summit in Lisbon in November. The Summit is only 9 weeks away, and there is an enormous amount to get done. I’d like to highlight three areas in particular where we will have make to progress between now and then.
First: We will have to come to agreement on a new Strategic Concept.
I am just about to complete my draft of the Strategic Concept. I will send it to nations, this month, and there will be on October 14th, what we call a “Jumbo” meeting of all the NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers, here in this building, to give their views on the Strategic Concept.
I expect the discussions around the Strategic Concept to revolve around three main axes:
- First: how do we best defend the 900 million citizens of NATO countries against modern threats: for example, cyber defence or missile defence
- Second: which lessons do we need to learn from Afghanistan and other operations – for example, should NATO develop a permanent capability to train local forces?
- Third: how widely should NATO’s partnerships reach? And how do we ensure they remain effective and practical, not just talk shops?
I also expect the Strategic Concept to mandate, in one form or another, a process of continual reform. The financial crisis has shone a harsh light on the way we spend taxpayers’ money, and we must ensure they get the most security for the money they invest in it, even after this particular crisis is behind us – for example, through more common funding, more multinational cooperation and joint procurement.
We should also ensure that as countries make cuts – and they will – they do so in a way that is coherent within the Alliance, so we don’t cut too much in one area and leave unnecessary duplication in other areas. And in general, we should cut fat, while at the same time build up muscle..
Second priority: Afghanistan.
There have been a few articles recently proposing a different approach in Afghanistan. In essence, they all suggest something like this:
- The Taliban can never be defeated in Southern Afghanistan, so we should stop trying
- Al Qaeda has left Afghanistan, and will never come back, so there is no threat from them anymore either
- Therefore, we should basically cede the South of Afghanistan to the Taliban, move our troops to the North, and then just hunt and kill Al Qaeda if they come back.
I believe it is important to address these proposals early, and clearly. Because they are based on ironous thinking, and lead to the wrong conclusions.
First: the supporters of these ideas fundamentally misunderstand what we are doing in Afghanistan. Of course, it will be impossible to defeat every last Taliban fighter. That’s not the idea. But we can keep them under pressure, prevent them from achieving their political goals, and train Afghan forces to do the same. That’s exactly what we’re doing. .
Second: they assume the Taliban would be satisfied with the South – and that the other communities in Afghanistan would be satisfied with that as well. The Taliban have national ambitions – they have made that clear time and again. And the other communities know it. If you want civil war in Afghanistan again, this would be a good way to get it.
Third: they suggest Al Qaeda is gone for good from Afghanistan. This is nothing more than hope. Al Qaeda are barely present in Afghanistan because we have made it impossible for them to be there. They are just across the border. The Taliban has never renounced their ties to Al Qaeda. If we were to let up the pressure, they would be back. Any other suggestions is just wishful thinking.
And that’s exactly the point. Our strategy is not quick and it isn’t easy. But it is sound. For our security we need Afghanistan to be able to take care of its own security, to be inhospitable to terrorism. That means building it up until it can stand, first with our support, then alone. So that one day we can bring our forces back.
And it is working. Because we’re there, the Taliban are under pressure throughout Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda has no safe haven. Afghan forces are steadily getting more and more capable, and we will only transition to Afghan lead when they are ready. Which means that the insurgency in Afghanistan can bomb and terrorise and murder. But they cannot take power. They cannot win.
Quite a lot has happened over the summer. One important development is that now, we have a clear idea of the timelines for transition.
At the Kabul conference in late July, the whole international community agreed that transition to Afghan lead will begin next year, with an aim to complete it throughout the country by 2014.
We also have a clear idea of the process: the political and military conditions required to transition a district or province have been laid out. We know what they are. And we will follow them.
In Lisbon, we will have a Summit meeting with all 47 ISAF nations, as well as President Karzai and other leaders.
I expect the Summit to endorse that way forward. To launch the process of transition, which would begin kicking in during the first half of 2011. And I also hope we can agree on a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, to endure beyond the end of our combat mission. I think it is very important that Afghans, but also all the countries of the region, understand that NATO’s support for Afghanistan is for the long run.
Let me take this opportunity to wish the Afghan people well for the Parliamentary elections on Saturday. The people who have run for office have demonstrated great courage, especially the 400 women candidates. The people who vote on Saturday will do the same, and in voting, they will defy the terror and intimidation of the Taliban. They have NATO’s support, and my best wishes.
The third area in which I hope and expect us to move the yardsticks is in relations with Russia.
Next week, in New York, there will be a Ministerial meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, with the 28 NATO Foreign Ministers and Russia.
I hope we can use this meeting to put some new energy into our practical cooperation – when it comes to stepping up our cooperation to help build stability in Afghanistan, and fight drugs coming from Afghanistan; when it comes to fighting terrorism and piracy and proliferation; and when it comes to missile defence.
We need an effective missile defence. I hope that that can be agreed at the Summit in Lisbon. And I believe that, at the Summit, we must restate a clear offer to Russia to cooperate with us, with their capabilities, on missile defence. Let me take this opportunity to draw your attention to the speech I will give in Rome on Friday, which will focus on NATO-Russia relations.
Un dernier point. Je considère comme vraiment encourageant le fait que le Conseil de l’UE se réunisse demain pour voir comment améliorer les relations avec l’OTAN. Je suis fermement convaincu que le moment est venu pour nos deux organisations de passer à un degré nouveau de coopération, sur le terrain et au niveau politique, et je remercie les dirigeants de l’UE d’avoir inscrit cette question également à leur agenda.
J’ai fait récemment quelques suggestions concernant ce que l’UE et l’OTAN pourraient faire l’une et l’autre pour atteindre ce degré nouveau de coopération. J’espère que les dirigeants de l’UE prendront ces suggestions en considération, et j’encourage les pays de l'OTAN à faire de même. La voie doit être à double sens. Et j’espère que nous aurons pu progresser d’ici à novembre, date à laquelle l’OTAN et l’UE se réuniront toutes les deux au sommet, à Lisbonne.
Those were my opening remarks. And now I would be happy to take questions.
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): First question to Ben.
Q: Ben Nimmo from DPA down in the front here. Secretary General, two questions if I might. On Afghanistan, first of all, with the elections on Saturday, how confident are you both that the security will be maintained during these elections and that political transparency will be maintained, given the trouble we saw last year with the presidential election?
And then separate question, on the EU, what concrete improvements would you like to see in relationships between the EU and NATO? Where do you see the potential for better coordination on the ground? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First about the elections in Afghanistan. I discussed this issue yesterday with General Petraeus and he assured me that ISAF has done everything possible to assist the Afghan Security Forces in ensuring the best possible security situation.
Last year I think the presidential elections took place from a security point of view in a very successful manner, and I would expect the same to be the case as regards this year's parliamentary election. So I feel confident that the security situation will allow the elections to take place in a fair and free manner.
As far as transparency is concerned, I think all responsible authorities have learned lessons from last year's presidential elections, so I would expect the process to be more transparent, more reliable than the presidential elections. And your second... the EU, yes.
I have presented some proposals as to how the EU and NATO could improve relations, and have suggested that the European Union moves to accommodate some concerns raised by NATO allies that are not members of the European Union, in particular Turkey.
And in concrete terms I have suggested that the European Union conclude an arrangement between Turkey and the European Union Defence Agency. I've also suggested that the European Union concludes the annual security agreement with Turkey. And finally I have suggested that the European Union involves non-EU contributors in decision-making when it comes to EU operations like the one in Bosnia. It would be equivalent to how we do it in NATO. We have 19 ISAF partners outside NATO and we include them in decision making. I think the European Union should do the same when it comes to EU operations, like the one in Bosnia. By the way, Turkey is the second largest contributor to the EU operation in Bosnia.
So I have suggested these concrete steps. And then of course, in exchange, all NATO allies should recognize that all EU members participate in such EU-NATO cooperation.
Q: Sir, two questions. Catherine Field from the New Zealand Herald. New Zealand has troops serving in Afghanistan as part of ISAF and there are calls now for them to leave and to come home. What kind of argument could you put forward to convince them they should stay, and indeed, possibly expand their role as part of the trainers for the transition?
And also, what is the importance of the role of countries like New Zealand and now Tonga, other small partnership countries in Afghanistan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all let me express strong appreciation of New Zealand's contribution to our operation in Afghanistan. And the contributions from all ISAF partners are highly appreciated, from an operational point of view because we need all troops. Actually we have decided to increase the number of international troops. That's part of our strategy, to prepare the ground for a gradual transition to Afghan lead responsibility.
From a political point of view it's also important that the international community stay committed, that we keep this as a broad international Alliance effort.
And to the people of New Zealand my clear message is the same as to people in all troop-contributing countries. We are first and foremost in Afghanistan for our own security. We are in Afghanistan to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. If we were to leave Afghanistan prematurely then the Taliban would return, al-Qaeda would return, terrorists could easily spread from Afghanistan through Central Asia and further. Not to speak about the risk of destabilizing the neighbouring Pakistan, a nuclear power. And that would be a danger. For the whole international community.
So I urge all allies and partners to stay committed, and also I urge them to fully resource our training mission, because training and education of Afghan soldiers and Afghan police is necessary in order to provide conditions for a gradual transfer of responsibility to the Afghans themselves. And that's our ultimate goal, to let the Afghans become masters in their own house again.
Q: Interfax Russie. Monsieur le Secrétaire général... You have spoken about the meeting in New York between Russia and NATO. Are you going to discuss the role of Russia in Afghanistan? And what document, the analysis on threats?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The proceedings within the NATO-Russia Council is going on. We have finished a first phase of our work and we are going to continue during the autumn in view of finalizing a document by the end of the year. We have progressed a lot.
Q: Pascal Mallet, Agence France-Presse. You are speaking about the strengthening of the EU-NATO relationships. Is this going through better relations between Turkey and the European Union and Cyprus and NATO? Or is there something more in this rapprochement? Could we have a greater ambition or is it limited to the Turkish Cypriot problem, which is to be settled? The EU strengthening, is it only Turkey?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, it's not only a question of Turkey and discussions about Cyprus. Everybody is aware of the problem about the origin of the problem. And the discussions about the Cyprus. This is why I wanted to vocalized today on the rapprochement between the European Union and Turkey.
I think that we should find a solution for this relation to work. For instance, Norway is a NATO ally, but is not a member of the EU and they have special arrangements with the defence agency, the European Defence Agency. So I don't understand why such arrangements could not exist with Turkey.
As a conclusion, I have proposed pragmatic solution without raising the controversy about Cyprus and the accession of Turkey to the EU. I think we should focus on pragmatic solutions. I have consulted several EU leaders and members of the EU and I also consulted the Turkish leadership and I hope that it will be possible to progress before the NATO Summit in Lisbon.
Q: Augustin Palokaj, from Koha Ditore Kosovo. I have two questions related to Kosovo. One is, there were some incidents in the north of Kosovo in recent days. Having in mind the situation, do you think that it's wise to continue with the plans to reduce NATO presence in Kosovo, because we heard from many countries that they are willing to withdraw fully from Kosovo?
And the second question is, on the Military Technical Agreement between NATO and the then-Yugoslavia, signed some 11 years ago in Kumanova, Serbia is asking for changes in that agreement and for abolishment of the ground safety zone. What is the position of NATO on that?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on Kosovo, despite the unfortunate incidents recently in the north, I think the overall security situation in Kosovo has improved and this is the reason why the KFOR countries are currently considering scaling down the international military presence.
But I have to stress that no decision has been taken yet. Actually, we had a meeting among KFOR countries this morning, but we concluded that it is premature to take any decision. We will await a thorough military assessment of the security situation and then revert to the issue and make our decision based on that military assessment.
We saw these unfortunate incidents. However, I also have to say that they were not initiated by political tensions, but as far as I'm informed, because of specific outcome of a sports match. Well, that happens. And of course, we have to take all factors into consideration. But I have to stress, no decision has been taken yet, but I think the direction is clear.
The security situation in Kosovo is gradually improving and provides the basis for a gradual reduction in the international military presence in the country.
Concerning the Military Technical Agreement, no decision has been taken. We are currently examining the Serb request. And a final decision will be made on the basis of a broad and thorough military and political assessment. In that respect I would express my appreciation of the pragmatic Serb attitude with regards to the UN resolution on Kosovo recently. That's a very important and very positive step forward.
But in conclusion, we have not made any decision yet as regards this Military Technical Agreement.
JAMES APPATHURAI: There's two questions there.
Q: Khalid Hameed Farooqi, Geo Television News, Pakistan. Last 24 hours two major drone attacks and drone attacks have been intensified. Of course it's nothing to do with NATO, as you said, but it has been... these all drone attacks in order to reduce pressure on NATO troops inside Afghanistan. So the 18 people have been killed so far in the last 24 hours and 12 of them the authorities claim were Haqqani network militant. Are in any way these attacks inside Pakistan helping NATO forces inside Afghanistan? Are you feeling any effect of militant activities as reducing inside Afghanistan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress once again that we operate within the mandate provided by the United Nations so we operate within Afghan borders. So I have no comments whatsoever on the alleged drone strikes.
But in general I can assure you that it has, of course, an impact on our operations in Afghanistan whether terrorists and extremists in the border region are... or the threat from terrorists and extremists in the border region are addressed or not. And this is also the reason why we have encouraged the Pakistani military and the Pakistan government to step up their fight against terrorists in the border region. I had an opportunity to discuss this with Pakistani leaders some weeks ago when I visited Pakistan.
So in general, yes, the cross border activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan have, of course, have an impact on our operations in Afghanistan.
Q: (Inaudible), Portuguese Television. Secretary General, I would like to come back to the Strategic Concept of the Alliance. We are nine weeks away and some countries, especially Portugal, expressed some concern after Mrs. Albright's presentation, that the new Strategic Concept was not looking enough at the importance of the south part of the Alliance. I'd like to know if in the report that you will send to the member states this month this side will be contemplated.
And on this... on a follow-up, will the Portuguese NATO base remain as it is or will be completely out of the scheme of NATO in this restructuration (sic). Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on the specific question concerning reforms of our military command structure. No decisions have been made yet as regards geography. We even haven't concluded on reforms of the structures yet. A working group is right now finalizing our report, which will be sent to the NATO Council and later it will be discussed among Defence Ministers when they meet here in Brussels on the 14th of October.
And on the basis of that discussion among Defence Ministers, I hope the NATO Summit in Lisbon will make decisions on the overall command structure, with a few to making the command structure leaner and more effective.
I don't now whether we will be in a position to make decisions on geography at the Lisbon Summit. It may be at a later stage. That will very much depend on deliberations from now until November.
Your more general question about the Strategic Concept, I can tell you that the Strategic Concept will take into account views and considerations raised by all allies. There will be no specific regional or geographic focus. It will be a general Strategic Concept which will cover the interests of all allies.
Q: (Inaudible...) for Ukrainian News Agency. I have a question on Ukraine. Secretary General, have you seen some decrease in cooperation between NATO and Ukraine after this well-known Ukrainian law where Ukraine refused from NATO aspirations and how do you see the future of this cooperation between NATO and Ukraine? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, actually, the cooperation between NATO and Ukraine continues as before. Of course, we have taken note of the political statements from the Ukrainian side, but these statements also include that Ukraine will continue to cooperate with NATO within the existing framework. And the existing framework is the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
And work continues, and we have already had political level consultations between NATO and Ukraine. So my expectation would be that we will continue cooperation between NATO and Ukraine within the existing frameworks.
JAMES APPATHURAI: I'm afraid that's all we have time for, Secretary General.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you.