by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the NATO Defence Ministers meeting on 21 February 2013
Today, we have taken some important steps forward. To keep NATO prepared to deal with the threats of the future – while adapting to the economic realities of the present.
We are making this Alliance more effective in the way we train and exercise together. More efficient in the way we plan and use our resources. And more energetic in the way we use our NATO Response Force.
Over the last decade, in Afghanistan, Kosovo and other operations, our servicemen and women have learned to work together more closely than ever before.
The challenge we will face over the coming decade is to preserve and pass on those skills, as our biggest operation comes closer to completion.
We will answer that challenge with what we call the Connected Forces Initiative: expanding our education and training, and enhancing our exercises.
Today we took an important step forward in that initiative. We agreed on its goals, and asked our military experts to come up with concrete proposals on how to put them into practice.
Our vision is this: more ambitious exercises, with a broader range of scenarios, more often.
The initiative will include a comprehensive training plan out to 2020, to make sure that our exercises are coherent, comprehensive, and cover the full range of Alliance missions.
It will include, in 2015, a major live exercise – that is, one involving significant numbers of deployed forces, not just command and staff units.
At the same time, it is clear that we cannot afford to duplicate our efforts. We already have a highly-capable force which rotates yearly, and which brings troops from across the Alliance together. It is the NATO Response Force.
So today, we also agreed that the NATO Response Force will be at the core of our Connected Forces Initiative.
And we will build on its exercises – for example, by including the battalion which the United States government has pledged to rotate through Europe for precisely this purpose. And by building in more contributions from other Allies and partners.
This will make the Response Force a cooperation school, as well as a quick-reaction tool. An immediate resource, but also an investment in the future.
Today, we also agreed we should do more with common funding – the amount of national budgets that we spend together here at NATO –to support the Alliance’s priorities. For example, on supporting training and exercises, enhancing the NATO Response Force and on Joint Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
Over the coming months, we will make those improvements – so that every dollar and every euro we spend is well spent.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Agence Europe.
Q: Good evening, Secretary General. Jan Kordys from Agence Europe. I have two questions. First, you mentioned the common funding mechanism. Could you be more precise what changes that would be made? And specifically you mentioned the strengthening of joint exercises. Could you tell us how they would be funded? From where? And just a second question. It relates to the NATO planning... NATO defence planning process. Is there any changes to this process? Thank you.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: On common funding, we have decided to enhance the use of common funding within some specific areas focussing on how we can improve deployability, the mobility of our forces; how we can facilitate interoperability. That is the ability of our forces to operate and work together. And that can be through joining and exercises education.
And as I mentioned we will also enhance the use of common funding when it comes to joint intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. So it's... it's first and foremost about enhancing the use of common funding within certain areas that we would like to promote in the coming years.
On top of that, we've also agreed to improve the management of the resources so that we make sure that common funding is transparent and money is spent in an efficient manner.
As regards to exercises, let me stress that as a point of departure, exercises will still be a national responsibility and financed by member states. But we can facilitate NATO exercises by using common funding to finance parts of it.
On the NATO defence planning process, we have agreed to... if I have to make it very short... we have agreed to make the whole process more transparent, more synchronised with national defence planning, in general, more efficient and responsive to what might be the future requirements when it comes to military capabilities.
Oana Lungescu: We'll go to Reuters in the first row.
Q: Adrian Croft from Reuters. Secretary General. I want to ask you a general question of defence spending. Do you think there's a limit to how much greater efficiency you can achieve from defence spending through SMART Defence? And are we approaching that point?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, definitely. Multi-international cooperation and SMART Defence are an important part of the response to economic austerity. No doubt that we can save money if we join efforts, if we pool and share resources, if we go for multinational... more multinational cooperation. But obviously, there's also a limit as to how much we can achieve that way. And this is a reason why more multinational cooperation doesn't solve all our problems and is not a response to all our challenges.
We also need a sufficient level of defence investment. And that's my major concern that if cuts continue it will damage severely our ability to meet and address the future security challenges.
Oana Lungescu: AP, here in the second row please.
Q: Don Melvin, Associated Press. Senior NATO officials are telling us that NATO is strongly considering a proposal to continue funding an Afghan security force of 352,000 troops through 2018 as a way of convincing Afghanistan that its allies are not going to abandon them.
When there was agreement to fund a force of two hundred and thirty thousand, I think the estimate of that was $4.1 billion a year, the cost. How much it would cost to fund the larger force? And in this era of declining budgets that you've already referenced several times today, are you confident that you can find the money? Is this even within the realm of possibility?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, first of all, let me stress that no final decisions have been made. But I can confirm that it's one of the ideas that is being considered. I feel confident that we will be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size.
Right from the outset, we have set the goal to reach the level of 352,000 Afghan Security Forces, soldiers and police. And the international community has pledged to help financing that; because a security force of that size goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan Government.
And I stress this, because this is not a responsibility for NATO only. This is actually a responsibility for the whole of the international community. And that has been confirmed at international conferences. So it is a responsibility for the whole of the international community.
I think it's easy to make the case that it's better to finance Afghan Security Forces than to deploy international troops. From a political point of view, it's better to give the defence of Afghanistan an Afghan face. And from an economic point of view, it is actually less expensive to finance Afghan Security Forces than to deploy foreign troops.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. I'm afraid that's all we have time for. Of course, we will discuss Afghanistan tomorrow. Thank you.