Secretary General’s Monthly Press Conference

  • 24 Jan. 2011
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  • Last updated: 31 Jan. 2011 09:33

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

First of all, may I wish you all a Happy New Year! I think the last time I saw so many if you was at the Lisbon summit, where we set out NATO’s agenda for the next decade.

Building on that Summit, I am determined to keep the momentum and turn the Lisbon agenda into action before we meet at the next summit, in 2012, in the United States.

I have three key priorities for this year: firstly, paving the way for a sustainable transition in Afghanistan; secondly, moving ahead with NATO Reform; and thirdly engaging more effectively with Alliance partners.

First on Afghanistan: This spring will see a new stage of our engagement in Afghanistan, with the announcement of the first provinces where Afghan security forces are ready to take the lead. In 2010, we got the strategy and the resources right. Now we have to build on those gains and get transition to Afghan security lead right. Last year, we made hard-fought changes on the ground. Now we need to ensure those changes are durable.

Our training mission has made significant progress. There are now over 266,000 trained soldiers and police – the biggest growth in the history of Afghan security forces. And this is not just about quantity, but also quality: we have tripled the number of army leadership schools, and we have launched an intensive literacy campaign. It’s just the start of a long ambitious process. But we have already seen the results: recently Afghan soldiers made up over sixty percent of the forces involved in our toughest operations in Kandahar.

Most critically, this means continuing our work on training and educating the Afghan Security Forces. This is a key priority. More than ever, this is our ticket to a successful transition process.

Let me stress that I do not expect 2011 to be easy. We will continue to drive deep into insurgent territory. And we expect continued violence as the enemy fights back. But I am certain: the future will be determined not by the insurgents, but by the people of Afghanistan.

The decisions on transition will be taken by the Afghan government, in consultation with NATO-led coalition forces. These consultations are well underway and as anticipated in Lisbon, we can expect decisions on where and when this process will begin this spring.

Moving to my second point, NATO Reform. I will push ahead with the implementation of the decisions taken at Lisbon regarding the agencies, the military command structure and the package of the most critical capabilities.

These reforms will improve our defence capabilities and ensure that NATO is making the most efficient use of resources.

At the Lisbon Summit, we agreed to reduce the number of agencies to 3. In March, I will present options for the new agency structure, for ministers to approve. Our aim is that implementation of the agency reform can be completed within the next two years.

At the Lisbon Summit, we also agreed on the framework for a new NATO command structure. A command structure that will be leaner, more efficient and more affordable. We are now working out the details including the geographical locations of the commands, which Defence Ministers will approve no later than June this year.

En ce qui concerne la défense antimissile, nous allons élaborer les arrangements nécessaires relatifs à la consultation, au commandement et au contrôle pour un futur système OTAN de défense antimissile territoriale. Les Ministres de la Défense se pencheront sur cette question à leur prochaine réunion.

En outre, dans quelques jours, l’Allemagne sera l’hôte d’une démonstration organisée à l’occasion de la réalisation de la capacité opérationnelle initiale du système OTAN de défense contre les missiles de théâtre. Cette étape constitue un progrès important puisque ce système permettra de protéger nos soldats contre une attaque de missiles. Elle ouvre aussi la voie au système de défense antimissile que nous avons adopté à Lisbonne et qui étendra la protection à la population et au territoire de nos pays.

À Lisbonne, la Russie a accepté notre invitation pour une coopération pratique dans le domaine de la défense antimissile. Cette décision revêt un caractère historique. Pour la première fois, les pays de l’OTAN et la Russie vont coopérer pour défendre l’Europe. L’Alliance envisage ainsi deux systèmes indépendants mais coordonnés.

À l’heure où je vous parle, le parlement russe débat de la ratification du nouveau traité START, que le Sénat américain a ratifié le mois dernier.

La ratification du nouveau traité START par la Russie serait réellement la bienvenue, puisqu’elle favoriserait la transparence et la confiance, et qu’elle contribuerait à faire progresser la maîtrise des armements et le désarmement.

Now on the third point, Partnerships. This year will be an important year for partnerships. As decided at the Lisbon Summit, NATO intends to further deepen and expand its partnerships with countries and organisations with whom we share common security concerns and can cooperate for the benefit of international security.

We will work to consolidate the relations we have, by putting more emphasis on political and security consultations relevant for our missions and our partners; by focusing cooperation on support for democratic and defence reforms, capacity building and the operations we undertake. We are not alone in facing emerging security challenges, such as terrorism, proliferation, cyber, energy or piracy -- and neither can we deal with them effectively on our own. So we will seek to develop a dialogue with countries such as China, India and other key actors around the world.

We will also give priority to further developing our valuable cooperation with partner organisations, not least of course the United Nations and the European Union.

No doubt that 2011 will be a challenging year. But I believe challenges make us stronger. And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): And before you do, please don't forget to introduce yourself and your organization. Over there.

Q: ITAR-TASS News Agency, Denis Dubrovin. Secretary General, in a few days it will be a meeting between NATO and Russian Heads of General State... general headquarters, so my question is, do you expect to discuss the anti-missile defence systems? Is there any prospect of some concrete partnership in this area?

And second question, I didn't understand, Russia is a partner of NATO in development of the theatre anti-missile defence system. Is Russia participating in this demonstration in Germany, I think?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, we have a regular dialogue with Russia on missile defence. So I would expect missile defence to be an issue, an item on our agenda in all meetings we have between NATO and Russia. It's a gradual process. You will recall that we decided at our Summit in Lisbon to initiate what we call a joint analysis as to how we can implement practical cooperation on territorial missile defence.

And we are about to start that analysis. Furthermore, we decided to start practical cooperation on theatre missile defence. We had such practical cooperation until early 2008, and in Lisbon we decided to resume practical cooperation, including joint exercises.

And we will ensure a high degree of transparency in that process with Russia.

Oana Lungescu: Reuters.

Q: David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Secretary General, I wanted to ask about Uzbekistan. There's been considerable controversy about the visit to Brussels of the leader of Uzbekistan. Could you clarify who extended the invitation? Did NATO invite him here, and could you explain why it is so important for NATO to have a dialogue with Uzbekistan, despite the controversy over human rights?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I'll have a meeting with the Uzbek president later this afternoon. It's a meeting decided on request of the president of Uzbekistan. I find it quite natural to have this meeting. Uzbekistan is one of our partner countries and within our partnerships we have a continuous dialogue with our partners, including a dialogue on democracy and human rights and that will also be one of the topics for discussion this afternoon.

Furthermore, and in addition to the fact that Uzbekistan is a NATO partner, we also share interests as regards the development in Afghanistan. As you know, Uzbekistan is a neighbouring country, and we cooperate with the Central Asian countries as regards our operation in Afghanistan, and among other elements in that cooperation we agreed on a transit facility through Uzbekistan back in 2009.

So these are the reasons why I'm going to have a meeting with the Uzbek president this afternoon.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. In Lisbon you voiced concern about the impact of defence cuts, especially in Europe, on both Alliance operations and transatlantic solidarity and burden sharing. Has anything happened since Lisbon to change your view, and what impact will the cuts in European defence budgets have on operations in Afghanistan?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, the development since Lisbon has not changed my position. On the contrary, I think it's of utmost importance to stress the need for what I would call a coordinated adaptation of defence budgets.

As a politician I fully realize that defence budgets must adapt as other government budgets adapt to a period of economic austerity. But it is up utmost importance that we follow the course I set at the Summit in Lisbon, that we cut fat, while at the same time, build muscle.

And the approach is to invest in the most critical capabilities, to reform our structures and our systems with a view to making our armed forces more deployable, while at the same time reducing costly overheads and investments in stationary, non-deployable facilities.

So my position is exactly the same. And of course, this will be a topic in my consultations and discussions with allied nations during 2011.

Q: Ben Nimmo from DPA. Secretary General, on Afghanistan you've repeated that transition should be beginning in the spring, but given the tensions we've been seeing in Afghanistan between the Parliament and the President and the difficulty of even getting the Parliament to open. How convinced are you that the Afghan political elite can actually guarantee the kind of political stability that would be needed for transition to have any effect? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, let me stress the importance of a timely opening of the Afghan Parliament. I think it's four months ago millions of Afghan voters cast their vote and they deserve a strong political leadership in their country, so I think the time is ripe for an opening of the Afghan Parliament. That's my first remark.

Secondly, I have confidence in the Afghan authorities. I would expect them to live up to the necessary conditions for transition. The transition process is part of the vision President Karzai himself outlined last year, and the road map we agreed on at the Lisbon Summit, to start transition at the beginning of 2011, and hopefully see completely by the end of 2014, is in accordance with the vision outlined by President Karzai.

I have discussed this issue with the President on several occasions and I feel confident that the Afghan government and the Afghan authorities in general will step up to the plate and ensure that the transition can take place in a successful manner.

Oana Lungescu: We have taken a lot of questions from the centre, so we'll go to the left there, and...

Q: Yes, (inaudible...), Beta News Agency. First on Afghanistan. Twenty-nine (inaudible) sent to the NATO and the Kabul government report in November on the situation on civil casualties in Afghanistan. They said that last year was the deadliest year in the casualty of civilians and they asked the protection from air strikes, and on the other side they asked to protect also of grave risk of widespread abuses by national security forces. Do you think that situation is better now, and what NATO can do and already does in between?

And maybe just on Kosovo, you can confirm that French troops will withdraw from the north of Kosovo and the American troops would go on the north? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, on Afghanistan let me stress that the issue of civilian casualties is a matter of strong concern to us. And we have done a lot to minimize the number of civilian casualties. And actually, we have succeeded in reducing our, so to speak, share of civilian casualties.

According to statistics from the United Nations, more than 70 percent of civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents, are caused by the enemies of Afghanistan, because they don't care about civilian casualties. We do, and we have issued directives with the aim to diminish the number of civilian casualties.

Unfortunately, during 2010 we saw an increase in violence in general. And unfortunately it also led to an increase in the overall number of civilian casualties.

We shouldn't be surprised that we see more violence in Afghanistan taking into consideration that we have sent in more soldiers. More soldiers gives more fighting. We are now attacking the Taliban heartland and they fight back of course. And this is a reason why we have seen reports of more fighting. But it is actually a part of our strategy to clear areas in Afghanistan to provide the basis for the Afghan government to deliver basic services to the Afghan people.

We are in Afghanistan to protect the civilian population, so we strongly regret civilian casualties. We will continue to do all we can to diminish the number of civilian casualties.

Q: (Inaudible...).

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Oh, sorry, on Kosovo, yes, we will in a gradual process reduce our military presence in Kosovo from what is called Gate 3 to Gate 2. I would expect Gate 2, the Gate 2 level to be (inaudible) around the 1st of March. Gate 2 level represents around 5,000 soldiers compared to Gate 3 level of about 10,000. And as a part of this adaptation we will also see a reduction in the number of French troops, as well as a reduction in the number of troops from other countries.

Oana Lungescu: Une question pour l'AFP.

Q: M. Secrétaire-général, vous avez dit tout à l'heure, le retrait... pardon... le début de la période de transition en Afghanistan, c'est au printemps, "spring". Le printemps se termine le 21 juin. Donc, c'est long encore.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: (Laughter).

Q: Et parfois d'ailleurs, vous avez déjà répondu, le printemps ça peut même être le mois de juillet. Bon, est-ce qu'il y a une raison, un secret militaire qui fait que pour prendre par surprise les Talibans, on ne veut surtout pas dire à l'opinion publique qui attend avec impatience cette transition où et quand exactement elle va commencer? Est-ce que cela signifie que "on the ground", sur le terrain, les difficultés persistent?

Deuxième question courte, celle-là, sur la Russie et la défense anti-missile. Selon le Wall Street Journal, il y a quelques mois. M. Medvedev au sommet de Lisbonne aurait exposé clairement la conception russe dite sectorielle.

Selon l'OTAN et certains milieux, en réalité, personne n'aurait dit "Non" au président russe puisqu'il n'aurait, paraît-il, pas vraiment soulevé la question. Là encore, on fait du secret sur quelque chose qui est publique puisque vous avez confirmé l'autre jour, sur votre blog, qu'il y avait bien une différence de conception. Est-ce que vous pouvez, là, devant nous, confirmer effectivement que ces discussions risquent d'être assez difficiles et longues si Moscou d'un côté insiste sur sa vision sectorielle et vous sur la complémentarité?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Tout d'abord, en ce qui concerne l'Afghanistan. C'est une définition du printemps. Premièrement, nous n'avons pas fixé une date pour le début du processus de la transition. Mais printemps, c'est printemps. Et j'envisage une décision printemps, les mois de février et mars. Ça dépend sur, comme vous avez indiqué, c'est un processus qui dépend sur les conditions au terrain. Mais nous avons fait des évaluations déjà et sur cette base nous sommes prêts à faire, à prendre une décision. J'envisage en mois de mars le plus tard. C'est mon évaluation aujourd’hui. Et je pense que le mois de mars, c'est toujours au cadre du printemps comme défini en Europe au moins.

En ce qui concerne la défense anti-missile et la Russie, j'ai été très clair pendant ma visite à Moscou l'année dernière. À mon avis, un système de coopération sur la défense anti-missile devrait... aura lieu sur une base où nous avons deux systèmes séparés, mais coordonnés. Et j'ai fait... j'ai conclu clairement pendant ma visite à Moscou que c'est notre point de départ. Et en fait, je pense que cette approche est aussi en ligne avec une position traditionnelle de la Russie. Mais nous allons discuter ces sujets. Nous avons décidé d'initier une analyse conjointe pendant les mois à l'avenir. Et les ministres de la Défense vont faire une évaluation du progrès à la réunion en mois de juin cette année.

Oana Lungescu: We only have time for a few more questions, a couple more questions, so the people who had their hands up the longest, ZDF.

Q: Yes, (inaudible...), Secretary General, just can you give us some more information about the exercise in Germany concerning missile defence, who's taking part, what is the aim of a showing future capacities and capabilities or just the status quo, so can you give us some more details?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No, I'm not in a position to give you more details here right away. Maybe afterwards we can provide you with a more detailed technical briefing.

Oana Lungescu: Latvian Radio.

Q: Secretary General, Ina Strazdina, Radio Latvia. I've got question on the Mistral. Tomorrow Russia and France will sign final contract on selling the Mistral and that has been a question of deep concern of several NATO member states for long time, and still is. And how concerned are you that that particular deal will not rise further security issues, especially concerning Georgia? Thank you very much.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on the Mistral issue. As I have said before, we consider it a bilateral arrangement between France and Russia. We take it for granted that this trade arrangement will take place in full accordance with all international rules and regulations. And we also take it for granted that Russia will not in any way use this military equipment against any NATO ally, or any neighbour.

Excuse me, about Georgia?

Q: About particular because Georgia was one of the countries mentioned who would have problems with that.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yeah, I have not discussed this issue with the Georgians.

Q: Julian Hale, Defense News. Could you give a bit more... a bit of information about the cooperation that you have planned with the EU this year? What new areas you've got planned. I understand cyber defence is one and if it is, then who would do what on cyber defence, and if there are any others.

And also, I didn't fully understand, could you just clarify for missile defence what you're going to be presenting to Defence Ministers in March. I didn't understand that when you mentioned it before.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on missile defence. What we're going to discuss at the NATO meeting in March—it's a NATO Defence Ministers' meeting—we will discuss command and control and consultation mechanisms as regards our missile defence system. How could we imagine these mechanisms to be implemented within a NATO-based missile defence system.

So that's the item on the agenda for Defence Ministers meeting in March. Let me street that also in that respect we will ensure full transparency vis-à-vis Russia, so the Russians will be informed about our considerations in that respect.

Oana Lungescu: One last question to the Spanish press.

Q: Martinez de Rituerto with El País. Good afternoon. Coming back to President Karimov's visit to NATO, you have explained the reasons, but at the same time the public opinion that will be listening, reading about your reasons will be thinking that you are saying hello and receiving here to a president that has been qualified precisely this moment, this morning by the Human Rights Watch, as one of the worst human rights offenders in the world.

So you are receiving one of the worst human rights offenders in the world at the same time that you are asking to the public opinion to support the fight of NATO in Afghanistan to support democracy. So there is no contradiction between these two? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Let me stress that it is a very important part of our partnership programs to have a dialogue with our partners on human rights, democratic principles and broader reforms of societies. And this is the reason why these issues will also be subject to discussion in the meeting this afternoon with the Uzbek president.

But let me repeat there are two reasons why I have accepted the request for a meeting.

Firstly, that Uzbekistan is a partner and like other partners we are, of course, prepared to meet, to continue this dialogue. And secondly, and the second reason is that actually we share interests in seeing progress in Afghanistan. And to that end we have a transit facility through Uzbekistan which plays an important role for our operation in Afghanistan and honestly speaking, I keep in mind the interest of our soldiers in Afghanistan. We owe it to them that we do our utmost to ensure that we can provide necessary equipment for their daily operations in Afghanistan. So I think, based on experience, that it is will be possible for me to strike the right balance, to discuss human rights and democracy and at the same time, practical cooperation on transit facilities and other elements in practical cooperation that can be to the benefit of our operations in Afghanistan.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much, Secretary General. That concludes the formal part of this meeting, so I would ask you all to turn off cameras and recording equipment. But obviously the Secretary General will be staying here so you will have an opportunity to speak to him on a more informal basis.

Thank you.