Updated: 05-May-2000 NATO Speeches

Following the
Change of
3 May 2000

Press Conference

with Secretary General, Lord Robertson
and SACEUR, General Ralston, US Air Force

COL FREYTAG: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to SHAPE and welcome to the press conference on the occasion of Allied Command Europe's Change of Command. We have NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson with us who will have an opening statement for you followed by General Ralston, our new SACEUR. Please, Secretary General.

SEC GEN: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. For me there has been a sense of sadness today at the departure of a great soldier, General Wes Clark, who has been a pillar of strength to NATO during its most dramatic and indeed its most testing times. During the period that we've worked together he's become a trusted advisor and indeed a close friend and he'll be very much missed.

At the same time, though General Clark is going to be a hard act to follow, I'm very pleased today to welcome such an able successor who I know will prove equally effective as NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe and I'm looking forward to developing with General Ralston the same kind of close relationship that I enjoyed with his predecessor. General Ralston comes here with a wealth of experience which well suits him to join a long list of distinguished holders of this post, the first of which was none other than General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He's got extensive combat experience himself, having flown 147 missions over Vietnam and more recently he served with great distinction as the Deputy Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff at a time of tremendous challenge and change for the American armed forces.

General Ralston comes here at a time when NATO has achieved so much but is also facing many other tough challenges and I have been able to promise him that's he's not going to be bored in his new job. In the Balkans, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and especially in Kosovo, we have to build on NATO's success by staying focused and determined and by continuing to devote the resources that are needed. We started on a path to ensure that this troubled corner of Europe enters the 21st Century with new hopes for peace and prosperity and becoming a part of mainstream Europe where it belongs and we are going to see that job through. The NATO itself is also changing and the Supreme Allied Commander is at the very heart of that process of change. We've got to adapt to new threats and we've got to move with the times. Just let me give you a few examples. Learning and applying the lessons of Kosovo will be one key priority. NATO's defence capabilities initiative aims to ensure that we meet new challenges with the right equipment and structure and not those that were designed for the old Cold War world.

Another priority is to develop a stronger European defence role in order to ensure a more healthy, well-balanced, transatlantic link for the long term and we must also continue with the building of a stronger relationship with Russia and Ukraine and with the expanding number of nations in the Partnership for Peace programme. It's going to be a very heavy agenda which needs imagination and hard work to make it a success but it also shows that NATO is an active dynamic organisation determined to continue as the world's most successful military alliance and in General Ralston, I know, that we have an extremely capable officer who's every bit up to the challenges that lie ahead for all of us.

GEN RALSTON: Thank you Mr. Secretary General and let me tell all of you first of all how very honoured I am and how very pleased I am to be here today in Mons. Secretary General, as I mentioned before, I'm very much looking forward to working with you and working with the great staff here at SHAPE Headquarters and with the Military Committee and with the North Atlantic Alliance as we meet the challenges ahead. I don't want to go into great detail today. I want to spend a little time on the job, travelling around, visiting with our various commands and our men and women in uniform and then at a later date I would look forward to having a more substantive conference with you. Thank you.

COL FREYTAG: Thank you, Secretary General. Thank you, SACEUR. Ladies and Gentlemen, your questions please.

Q: Gen Ralston, do you believe that being an Air Force officer brings a different perspective to the job here at SHAPE, particularly in light of the Kosovo conflict?

GEN RALSTON: All I can do is give you my personal opinion. I don't believe that it does. I have spent my last four years as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff not doing Air Force business or not doing airman's business but trying to work with all the services across the spectrum and I would certainly think I would do the same in the job as SACEUR. I've got to work not only with all the services but with 19 nations and their militaries so I'm looking at the job in a broader context of how do I keep 19 militaries in step and, quite frankly, it's more than 19 because if you look at the Partnership nations that we have today in Kosovo and Bosnia and even the non-Partnership nations that we have trying to provide military leadership to bring them together as a collective team.

Q: Gen Ralston is the second air force General as SACEUR at SHAPE and also in the future there will be a change of strategy in NATO to use more air force capacities?

SEC GEN: No, I don't think it follows at all and I think General Ralston has dealt with that issue that his major responsibility before coming here was as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff bringing together the incredible wealth of experience that comes from all of the four American services and that will be an invaluable experience, I would have thought, to bring here with so many nations and so many individual services.

I think it's a great moment, if one is being frank for an air force guy to come here after air power has proven itself so much in this huge test that took place last year, but I don't see that the tactics of NATO, both on the military or the political side will change. We've got somebody here with a wealth of military experience, but also somebody experienced in the very highest command in the Pentagon and these are going to be invaluable qualities to bring to the challenges that NATO is going to face.

Q: Secretary General, you mentioned the importance of the broadening relations, stronger relations with Russia. What's next steps do you expect after your visit to Russia, I mean, do you expect re-installing NATO representation in Moscow and to create some kind of military representation in Moscow?

SEC GEN: Well, I hope that we can deepen the military cooperation that is at the very heart of our relationship with Russia. Since my visit to President-elect Putin earlier this year, we've seen our Permanent Joint Council meetings expand in length and in content and intensity and I think that is very good evidence of the way in which both sides see the developing relationship.

We've also seen the Military Committees, the Permanent Joint Council Military Representatives Committee developing more on its side as well and, of course, Russian troops serve with KFOR alongside KFOR and alongside SFOR in bringing peace to the Balkans. So I'm hoping that we will see step by step major improvements in the way in which we bring together the strengths and resources that we have and clearly developing reciprocal military relationships is one of the objectives that we should have for making sure that the relationship deepens in an effective way.

Q: General Ralston, (Radio Slovenia) I would like to ask you two questions. First of all, when do you expect the European Union to be actually able to assume military peacekeeping tasks in an autonomous way as they pledged to do and second question, when do you expect the European Union to have an air force which is as strong as the current American one?

GEN RALSTON: Well, first of all I would like to say that I think those questions are appropriate for the European Union to answer and not for me. I do believe that one of the things I want to focus on and pay a lot of attention to is the relationship between NATO and SHAPE HQs and the European Union and as we work through that relationship and how we do that I think it's very important that we do it. First of all, I'm very supportive, personally, of what the European Union is trying to do. The fact that the European nations could carry a greater share of what needs to be done - I applaud that. From a SACEUR point of view, I just want to make sure that we do it in such a way that doesn't detract from the Alliance and so I'm looking forward to working on those issues.

Q: General Ralston, Javier Solana, Lord Robertson's predecessor, recently spoke about some apprehensions about national missile defence in the United States and how this could lead to a possible decoupling of the security within the Alliance, do you see it as a possible priority for you to try to overcome the apprehensions that seem to be felt by a lot of the European allies toward national missile defence?

GEN RALSTON: Let me say that first of all I am serving here as an officer of the Alliance and not as a US officer and I think the US will certainly need to articulate their position, whatever it happens to be. As you know the President has not yet made a decision on what that would be. I do believe that there will be an opportunity to make sure that the Alliance's concerns are expressed to Washington and that there is a good dialogue on the subject. I think that's already underway and I would expect that that would continue.

Q: (Czech Press Agency) To what extent are you aware of the state of armed forces of the three new members and the transformation of their armed forces and to what extent do you think that their military performance is going to influence the future decisions on enlargement of the NATO?

GEN RALSTON: In my previous position as Vice Chairman, I've had the opportunity to travel to the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary more than once and to visit with their militaries and make inputs to all of them in terms of what we thought was the proper way ahead. I have been warmly received in all three countries. I've had a very good working relationship with the militaries of all three countries and I think all three countries know what needs to be done. I think they have a plan and I think they're working towards that and I certainly want to make it one of my goals is to make sure that all of the members and the aspirants in fact are net contributors to the Alliance and I think that process is well under way.

Q: (For the Secretary General)
How do you see the further measures for the stablization in Kosovo and do you see any immediate threat for Montenegro - the democratic Government - by the Government in Belgrade? Can you confirm the information that Croatia will be received as a candidate for PfP and may be a member of NATO?

SEC GEN: On Kosovo, we will continue with the mission which is to create a safe and secure environment for civic institutions to be created. We will hope that more civilian police are recruited and I spoke to Javier Solana yesterday on the phone - he is at New York at the UN just now and is hopeful that more civilian police can be recruited which will take a lot of the pressure off the KFOR troops that will be continued. The establishment of prosecutors and of justices is also a key part of ensuring that we go forward with the process of civic institution building and I'm delighted that Mrs. Draskovic representing the Serb community in Kosovo is now part of the interim administration and that is a very significant step forward there.

In relation to Montenegro, we have no evidence that at the moment Milosovic is creating any more mischief that he has been up to now but our demand remains exactly the same and that is he should take off those provocative sanctions that he is applying against the democratically elected government of Montenegro and he should do it now. President Djukanovic has a right to run his part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia according to the mandate given by the people of Montenegro and that is a message that he is receiving from the wider international community and I hope that he listens to it.

The Prime Minister of Croatia, Dr. Racan will be coming to NATO next week and we'll be attending a meeting of the Permanent Council and Ambassadors. After that meeting has taken place then the North Atlantic Council will make a decision as to whether or not Croatia is to become a member of the Partnership for Peace.

Q: As an officer coming from the other side of the Atlantic, from your point of view, do you think that in Kosovo itself and the region around Kosovo something specific should be done more for further improving the situation in Kosovo and the region around?

GEN RALSTON: Well, I would like to defer the question other than to tell you that the day after tomorrow I leave to spend two days on the ground in Kosovo. I'll be visiting with each of the brigade sectors there as well as with the KFOR leadership and I want to go and take another look. It's been a few months since I was in Kosovo. I want to check on the progress and see what the challenges are and make up my mind from that point.

Q: (Stars & Stripes) What do you see as your three biggest challenges now in the job of SACEUR?

GEN RALSTON: I'll start off my getting through this Press Conference! There are a lot of things that we need to work on that the Alliance is working on and I look forward to working with the Secretary General. I think our relationship military to military with Russia and Ukraine, as has been mentioned, is a very important one and I think perhaps I can bring some expertise to that. I had the privilege years ago in a previous command of leading the first exercise from the United States to Russia.

We took a group of troops and helicopters and airplanes and went off and that started a very productive relationship. The following year I had the Russian military at Alaskan command and we did that for a number of years so I had been working on that in the past and I look forward to doing that in the future. I think the ultimate relationship between NATO/SHAPE HQs, the EU and how that all develops is certainly a very important task that we need to look at and I think we need to keep our eye on the ball certainly for our on-going operations that we have the in Balkans to make sure that we continue to make progress there.

COL FREYTAG: Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes our Press Conference today. Thank you for coming and thank you Secretary General and SACEUR for attending this.

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