Updated: 14-May-2002 NATO Speeches

18 Dec. 2001

Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson,
following the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council
in Defence Ministers Sessions

Secretary General : Good afternoon. NATO's 19 Defence Ministers met today in the shadow of 11 September. But the enemies of peace and freedom are in retreat because of our collective determination to defeat them.

In Afghanistan, the Balkans and in our own countries, terrorism is being confronted and beaten. NATO is playing a key role in this endeavour : contributing immediately by providing forces such as the AWACS aircraft now operating in the United States, and in smashing Al-Qaida cells in Bosnia and Kosovo; and contributing all the time as the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security, defence and military cooperation.

We recognised that the fight is far from over, and we reiterated our resolve for zero tolerance for terrorism.

This is a changed world, with a premium on political and military agility. NATO Defence Ministers understand this and are responding accordingly.

Our agenda concentrated on the Alliance's continued military adaptation. This is work in progress. But it has taken important steps forward.

  • In reviewing our defence plans, we agreed to increase the proportion of forces that can be deployed and sustained in operations far beyond Alliance territory.
  • We renewed our commitment to meet the Alliance's Force Goals so as to give NATO the necessary means to face new challenges.
  • We agreed that our concepts, our policies, our structures and, most importantly, our defence capabilities must be adapted to the new security environment.
  • We endorsed the NATO Foreign Ministers' agreement 12 days ago to create new mechanisms to allow us to work with Russia " at 20 " on a range of issues where our interests converge.
  • On the Balkans, we reviewed our missions with an eye toward possibilities for rationalisation of our forces in the coming year through a regional approach that would guarantee greater efficiencies while maintaining our effectiveness.
  • We continued our consultations on missile defence.
  • We reviewed the state of play on the European Security and Defence Initiative.
  • And last, but certainly not least, we examined the progress made in implementing the Washington Summit's Defence Capabilities Initiative and agreed to push harder toward reaching our objectives especially on the key capabilities gaps as we head towards the Summit meeting that will take place in Prague next November.

As you can see, we have a very full agenda.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has an impressive record. We are at the moment running three major - and successful - peace support operations in the Balkans; we are pursuing an ambitious enlargement agenda; we are engaged in the development of a broader, deeper relationship with Russia; and under Article 5, making a significant contribution to the international campaign against terrorism.

Success comes with a price tag. If we want safety for our people, we need additional resources for defence and security, and we need the right balance within our defence programmes. The simple message from NATO Defence Ministers is this - you can't get defence on the cheap.

This was a businesslike meeting of NATO Ministers determined to push forward with NATO's modernisation. NATO is the most effective and successful alliance in history. Today's decisions and discussions will help ensure that NATO can continue to play its vital role in safeguarding the safety of our citizens and the values of our societies.

Thank you.

Question (Reuters) : The US Defence Secretary warned today that what happened in the United States in September could happen anywhere in Europe at any time in the future in what he called “the tumultuous future decade”. How will you face asymmetrical threats, like threats to computers and satellites, and from missiles. Do you plan a joint programme to do that kind of thing.

Secretary General : What Secretary Rumsfeld has said in warning us that the events of 11 September could as easily happen in other capitals is a lesson that has been taken well on board. And of course we have already declared that an attack on New York and Washington was an attack on every one of the other 18 NATO countries. What are we doing about it? Well, there are a number of areas where we have to address the new capabilities that will be required. Greater intelligence collection and sharing is going to be required if we are going to avoid these things happening again. A whole series of political, legal and economic measures need to be taken to make sure that terrorist networks do not get to that level of capability where they can make that threat. We need to invest more in chemical and biological warfare capabilities for our armed forces, but also for our civilian populations. These are some of the areas where NATO will be focussing in the coming months, and these are the areas where people will expect us to make an investment and to make reinforcements so that people can feel as safe now as they did on 10 September.

Question (El Pais) : Lord Robertson, do you share the US concerns about security ramifications for future NATO operations if the European Union goes ahead with the Gallileo Satellite project.

Secretary General : Well, what the European Union does is not a matter for me. The individual nations discuss with themselves bilaterally as well as with the European Union, but that is a matter for the European Union to answer for in relation to those countries, and not for me.

Question : Secretary-General did anybody mention today from the Ministers the possibility for force reduction in the Balkans.

Secretary General : The issue of our normal 6-monthly review of our forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo came up today. It did so in the context of the plans for regionalisation in the area. The possibility of rationalising force levels in the different theatres in the Balkans is very high in Ministers’ priority levels given the burdens of peace support operations that are under way at the present moment. Ministers are very conscious of the fact that there are three separate mandates for our forces in the area and that they must be separated out, but also conscious that there might be better and more efficient ways of using the forces in the region more effectively in the future. That may well lead, as part of that 6-monthly report, to different ways of doing our business, and perhaps more levels of troops being required in order to maintain the mandates where we have got an obligation. But Secretary Rumsfeld made it clear that the American position remains the same, and it is the same as for the other 18 countries. That is, we decided to go in together, we will decide how we stay together, and we will only leave together.

Question (Alex Nicholl, FT) : Did Ministers express either support or concern for possible American intentions to wage a war beyond Afghanistan.

Secretary General : That was not a subject of discussion today. Ministers hold to the same view as they have held from the beginning, that the Article 5 commitment is one that says that we will help the United States of America in dealing with those who perpetrated the atrocities of the 11th of September. The Al-Qu’eda network is one of the networks quite clearly involved in that, and if evidence that Al-Qu’eda is operating in, or being supported by, other countries then obviously members of the Alliance would want to look at that evidence and then decide what needed to be done about it.

Question (...TV) : Secretary-General, you talked about reviewing the force structures for forces to be deployed beyond the Alliance’s normal borders. Did the Defence Ministers show some lines for this, or is it a major strategic review for NATO.

Secretary General : It has always been a major strategic objective of NATO to have the capability of going beyond the precise area of NATO, and Ministers are conscious that they have to fulfil the obligations that go along with that in terms of strategic air lift of … ferry capabilities as well as the logistic lines that would be required to sustain troops well away from their own home bases. Countries like Canada and the United States operating in the European theatre have long had to have that capability. Most other countries in the Alliance want to have it, and the alliance as a whole is committed, under the defence capabilities initiative of two years ago, to acquiring it. We are still not doing well enough under the defence capabilities initiative. There are still some major deficiencies and some major shortfalls which Ministers reviewed today, and reaffirmed their determination to go ahead with them and fill them.

Question (Macedonia Daily) : Secretary-General, this regional approach for the Balkans. Could we say that this is a kind of long-term exit strategy for NATO, and secondly, where is the place of the NATO mission in Macedonia in this context.

Secretary General : Well, there is a long-term exit strategy, because we expect peace to return and stability to return, partly as a result of the effort and the energies that have been put into our Balkan peace support operations, so there is no indefinite plan for us to stay in the region with combat troops, nor would we want to do so. It is not a short term exit plan, but on a six-monthly basis we look at all of our troop deployments, and the different mandates that apply in the region, and clearly in Bosnia-Herzegovina where we have seen troop levels reduced from 65,000 troops in 1995 to around 17,800 troops today, then we are moving more and more towards the position where the civil authorities can, and would be expected, to take more ownership of their own country and events in their own country. So we look constantly at ways in which our forces can be configured so that they can be redeployed to other areas. In Kosovo, the NATO presence made certain the peaceful elections held on 17 November, and in the normal 6-monthly review we look at them as well. The mandate in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has just been increased by another three months, and Task Force Fox will continue therefore with its job of work in its very distinct mandate there, which is to support and to back up the international monitors who are helping with the peace process in that country. So we look at all times to ensure that the troops are the relevant troops, that they are numerically there in the right strength, but the troop levels are determined by mission, and not by some numerical target.

Question (CBS) : Lord Robertson, on this idea of expanding NATO, or making NATO capable beyond its territory, do you envision a day where NATO troops would be used to hunt down individual terrorists or terrorist cells on continents other than Europe?

Secretary General : I try not to answer hypothetical questions or scenarios. We deal here with capabilities that would be required among our existing threat assessments, the existing challenges we have. But at the same time I believe that the lesson of 11 September is that we do not just plan for the threats and the challenges that we expect, but we have also got to be ready with a very broad toolbox to deal with some of the threats that cannot yet be predicted. So the range of the toolbox is required. What the missions will eventually be, will be decided by NATO on a case by case basis.

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