by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO Transformation Seminar
Today’s seminar is an important and timely discussion on the security needs of the future. I would like to thank all those who have made it possible, especially our Allied Command Transformation Commander, General Paloméros. And let me also thank our host, and French service men and women, for their contribution to our collective security. From Central Africa to Eastern Europe, French forces are helping make our world safer - whether under the banner of NATO, the European Union, or of France.
We see today that our world has become more unpredictable. Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine is the greatest challenge to Europe’s security in a generation. And I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in Eastern Ukraine. And we face an arc of crises, from the Sahel to Central Asia.
As Allies, our commitment to collective security is unshakeable. Our strength lies in our solidarity, and our readiness. But as the threats to our security increase, we must increase our readiness and our solidarity. We must make sure that all members of the Alliance reinvest in security. And we must reinforce the vital bond between Europe and North America.
It’s true that readiness has a cost. But the cost of insecurity is much higher. So this is the time to stop the deep cuts in our defense budgets and start reversing the trend. France has kept defense spending close to our agreed target of 2% of economic output. France has also shown a great commitment to invest in the capabilities we need, both in NATO and the European Union. And France has demonstrated the political will to use them when needed. This is a valuable example of European Allies choosing to invest the right resources in the right capabilities. And I encourage all European Allies to play their full part. Because we need to ensure a fairer share of costs and responsibilities in our Alliance. This will ensure that we reinforce the link between Europe and North America - and between NATO and the European Union. By working together, we can all be stronger. And we can all be safer.
Reuters: Do you believe the 1997 NATO Russia Cooperation agreement is still valid? If not, should NATO now open permanent bases in EE? Given that you spoke of a serious escalation? Would NATO intervene if Russian forces were to occupy Eastern Ukraine?
SG: On the latter, if Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, it would be a historic mistake. It would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia and it would further isolate Russia internationally. So I continue to urge Russia to pull back its troops, fulfill its international commitments and engage in a constructive dialogue with the Ukrainian government. As regards the NATO Russia Founding act from 1997, we are right now reviewing the whole of our relationship with Russia, including the founding documents such as the Founding Act from 1997 and the Rome Declaration from 2002. And foreign ministers will take decisions in that respect when they meet in June and those decisions will be impacted by the evolving situation in Ukraine and the Russian behavior.
Transatlantic magazine: What contingency plans does NATO have with the EU in the event that the situation continues to deteriorate in the Ukraine?
SG: We have made very clear that further Russian intervention in Ukraine will have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia. We have taken some steps already. As regards NATO, we have suspended all practical cooperation with Russia while we have kept open the channel for diplomatic and political dialogue. Of course, NATO is not the only responder. Our decisions should be seen in the context of the broader international response to Russia’s illegal actions, including responses from the US and the EU. Further steps will of course very much depend on possible further Russian action, and it would be premature to make any announcements in that regard. Let me reiterate that further Russian intervention would be a historic mistake and would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia.
Defense Procurement International: Does readiness merely have to do with defense budget cuts in some Alliance countries, or does it have to do with training and interoperability as well?
SG: it’s the whole range of issues you just mentioned. It’s about an update of defense plans, Further development of defense plans, and enhancements of exercises, and it’s also about appropriate deployments. No decision have been made yet. We’ve asked our military authorities to look at how we could possibly further strengthen collective defense. And obviously, such steps come at a cost. And that’s what I stressed today. We can’t continue to decrease defense budgets if we are to ensure a credible collective defense. We must reverse the trend, in particular European allies must increase defense investments. This is an issue that will need to be addressed in the run up to and at the Summit in September. I would expect us at the Summit to reaffirm the American commitment to European security, and in exchange, expect the Europeans to commit to a fair sharing of costs and responsibilities within our alliance.
Les Echos: Are you ready to take further steps to have a closer cooperation with Ukraine? I mean would it be very close to a solidarity agreement with Ukraine, or will it be business as usual within the NATO Ukraine Commission?
SG: I would expect our cooperation with Ukraine to continue within the existing framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. But it will not be business as usual. Already when NATO foreign ministers met on 1 April, they decided to enhance our cooperation with Ukraine. We have together with the Ukrainians identified areas where we could strengthen our cooperation when it comes to defense reforms, help to develop military capacity, improvement of the ability of Ukrainian armed forces to work and operate together with the armed forces of NATO countries. We have adopted a list of such initiatives and we have now started together with the Ukrainians to implement that programme. And within the NATO-Ukraine Commission, that programme may be further developed. It’s very much dependent on further developments.
BBC : On this issue of NATO readiness, your predecessor Lord Robertson said overnight that if Scotland voted to split from the UK, it would be cataclysmic? Do you see it that way?
SG: As a matter of principle, I won’t comment on the Scottish situation.
Defense News: What would you like to see France do with its contracts to deliver two helicopter carriers to Russia. Is it a good thing that the ship will be delivered later this year?
SG: At the end of the day, it is a national decision. I’m not going to interfere with such national decisions. And I am confident that France will make the necessary decisions, taking into account all the concerns that have been expressed.
Defense News. And that extends to other military equipment? Armoured vehicles, all kinds of military systems which could be used in any other operations.
SG: But let me stress that such regulations or possible regulations are not NATO business, they are dealt with in the European Union, and in other fora. These are national decisions and as I stated, I’m confident that the French government as well as governments in other NATO Allied nations will take their decisions taking into account the overall security situation and taking into account the solidarity principles within our alliance.
Bloomberg News: What preparations or contingencies is NATO taking as far as military presence in Eastern Europe?
SG: We never comment on our defense plans. But I can assure you that we do have all plans in place to ensure effective defense and protection of our Allies. On the other hand, it’s obvious that the evolving security situation in Ukraine and along the borders of Ukraine make it necessary to review our defense plans, and also look into hw we could possibly further strengthen collective defense. That’s’ why we’ve asked our military authorities to look into that, and we’re now in the process of considering such initiatives. So it would be premature to make any statements on that as of today.