Updated: 21-Oct-2003 NATO Speeches


9 Oct. 2003

Questions and answers

with NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the press conference following the working session
for Allied and Invitee Defence Ministers

Q: Good morning. I'm Tom Squitieri with USA Today. Nice to see you again today, sir. My question today is a variation of the one I asked you yesterday.

Lord Robertson: Always keen to get variations. It's very boring if they're the same, you know.

Q: I had the opportunity to look at what the Russians put out last week regarding the use of nuclear weapons in a first pre-emptive strike and it was lot more clearer than we left it yesterday.

My question today, sir, is how can NATO ask the Russians not to have such a policy of pre-emptive strikes with nuclear weapons when the United States, a member of NATO, has such a policy?

Lord Robertson: Minister Sergey Ivanov addressed that in the meeting I had with him this morning and I fully expect him to expand on it in the meetings that we have with him this afternoon when he said that that is not correct, that NATO... that Russia does not have and does not seek to have a pre-emptive strategy in relation to its nuclear weapons. So, we'll be discussing that in some detail later on today, but I think there must have been some crossed signals here. And I'd rather hear directly from Minister Ivanov rather than from second-hand reports or even from extremely wise, talented, and usually well-informed journalists.

Q: Sorry, sir, but my question was, you know, how can NATO ask Russia or any nation not to have that kind of policy when the United States has that policy?

Lord Robertson: Well, we have to... it remains to be seen what the Russians are saying at the present moment. We're not involved in a debate here. We discuss common ground. It's known in Russia as obshei panimanya(?) and we seek to expand that common ground as much as we possibly can. And this afternoon, we will be doing so.

Q: Bret Baier with Fox News Channel. Mr. Secretary General, yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld pointed out that 12 of the 19 NATO member countries and six of the seven invited nations already have soldiers in Iraq. Considering what NATO is undertaking now, do you believe or foresee that there is any additional role for NATO as an alliance in Iraq or is there too much on the plate?

Lord Robertson: Well, NATO is already helping in Iraq. As Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday, NATO is giving critical support through SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe to Poland, which has the lead role in one of the divisions in Iraq. It is supported by another NATO ally, Spain, which will take over the lead in that role next year.

So, NATO is already engaged. It may well be that if Turkey is going to deploy troops in Iraq, that it could access exactly the same support from NATO as it does at the moment. But so far, we have not had a request yet for NATO to be formally involved itself.

And speaking as the Secretary General of an organisation that has just moved, not only out of area, but out of continent into Afghanistan or six to seven weeks ago, I want to get that absolutely right, make sure that we've got all the troops in place to do it because it's somewhere we cannot possibly fail before we start looking at other elements.

But I have no doubt that if other countries want support from NATO in order to help in Iraq, then they can apply for it, and there will be no objection to it.

Q: Understanding that, do you foresee that the expanded role in Afghanistan possibly is a trial run for some sort of expanded role in Iraq?

Lord Robertson: No. It's not seen as a trial run for anything. It's to do with the particular circumstances of Afghanistan at the present moment and that is, building upon the success of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul and moving out to the provinces in order to share the stability that we've been able to bring to Kabul.

So, you know, we don't see the different theatres that we're involved in as being sort of test beds for anything else. Each one has to be handled in its own way and what we look for is success.

If I could just say, you know, in case nobody asks me the question about Bosnia, that we did talk this morning about the possibility of a hand-over at some stage within the next 12 to 18 months there to another force, a different force, perhaps run by the European Union. We have not yet reached the ten-year anniversary of the massacre of Srebrenica. And at that time, when people said when NATO got involved in Bosnia, it's mission impossible, you're in here for a generation, you'll probably never get out. And yet, last weekend, it was announced that the Bosnians have decided to have a single ministry of defence and a single defence minister: one of the biggest and most fundamental changes in post-war Bosnia that we've seen.

So, you know, NATO can make a difference. In some cases, a huge, mind-blowing difference. So, we take that example of success and add it to the determination we have to succeed and to win in Afghanistan as well.

Q: Rolf Raymond(?), Channel Radio. Mr. Robertson, I just wanted to ask a question about Bosnia. Did I understand you right, that there's still no agreement that this transition of responsibility goes to the EU and can you tell us why not?

Lord Robertson: Because this is an informal meeting of defence ministers which doesn't make such decisions, this is a matter that will have to be discussed with the European Union which has got the ambition to take over this force. It has to be discussed with the central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it would be quite improper for anybody to make decisions without fundamentally consulting them.
But I think a direction was adopted here by defence ministers that indicates that we're now looking very carefully at how that transition might take place.

Q: (inaudible) also with the German Public Radio. Mr. Secretary General, obviously, the question of pre-emptive strikes has been quite a bit the issue, at least yesterday at the beginning during the seminar. So what has been done or will be done to avoid that non-U.S. NATO troops might get involved in pre-emptive strikes?

Lord Robertson: Well, there's nothing new about pre-emption, nothing new. NATO acted pre-emptively in Kosovo in 1999. Nineteen NATO countries decided that they would act pre-emptively to stop the slaughter that Milosevic was the architect of in Kosovo, to stop the torture, to stop the ethnic cleansing that was going on there. We didn't wait until the end of that process before action was taken. We took it, inevitably pre-emptively. And pre-emption is obviously something that is part of the elements of deterrence.

So, each situation is looked at on its own merits by NATO. And we would obviously look at any future situation that arose, and depending on the circumstances, would take decisions about it.

Q: A little follow-up if I may. Then why is it in your opinion that so many NATO members are obviously again concerned, even worrying about the spread of the pre-emptive strategy?

Lord Robertson: Well, I don't know why people should be worried because NATO only acts unanimously. NATO doesn't take any decisions unless they are taken with unanimity in the Council. So, there is no question about anybody being bounced into pre-emptive action if they don't want to do it.

But 19 nations in NATO, in March of 1999, took the decision to act in Kosovo and that decision was right. It was proper and it has been well vindicated by what has happened thereafter.

Q: Peter Spiegel with the Financial Times. There seems to be some residual bad feeling on the Americans' part on this proposal back in April by some of the EU-NATO members to set up a parallel structure, command structure. And I think in talking to them, this may become an issue on this hand-over to the EU in the Balkans. Can I ask whether that was discussed at all at the meeting and your view on the proposal to set up a parallel EU organisation?

Lord Robertson: Well, I think it's important to say that if there is a hand-over, it will take place inside the Berlin Plus arrangements that have been negotiated between NATO and the European Union. So, in a way that will underline the importance of Berlin Plus at this stage.

I haven't noticed any connection being made between the concerns that some of the allies have, not just the United States, some allies have about the decision that was taken on the 29th of April in relation to a separate planning capability at Tervuren in Belgium. But that matter is now being more widely discussed, different formulas appear to be being exchanged between the countries concerned and I know in the various bilateral meetings that have taken place on the margins of this particular informal meeting that some progress is being made to allay the concerns that previously existed.

As the Secretary General of NATO I have got a proprietorial feeling about Berlin Plus. It took four years to negotiate this, and I'm not entirely sure why we call it Berlin Plus, but it's better than Berlin Minus I suppose.

But it is a complicated set of arrangements that is the grand bargain between NATO and the United States of America, especially, and the European Union in order to allow the European Union to do things that it and its member countries could not do in the military and security fields.

So I want to protect that. And anything that might undermine that, or not produce real capabilities that would make sense of it, doesn't reach my favour as well, but all of that is being looked at at the moment. The situation is very much in flux, and I hope that the concerns can be properly dealt with.

Q: Yeah, thank you very, Jonathan Marcus, BBC. Two points, Lord Robertson on Afghanistan. In one, how concerned are you about the wider security situation outside the capital? I mean, there's clearly a great danger that NATO will be putting relatively small groups of soldiers into isolated positions and a whole range of force protection issues and other problems might ensue. So what's your assessment of the security problems outside Kabul?

And secondly, countries have already made a number of commitments towards the existing force in Afghanistan, which I understand have not been honoured. It's, I think one thing that NATO countries have not been able to come up with is a small number of helicopters for the NATO force there.

How sure are you that the commitments that countries may make towards putting forward an expanded force, whilst great on paper, are actually going to materialize in practice?

Lord Robertson: Well, in relation to your first question, Afghanistan is still a dangerous place. That's in many ways why we're there, in order to reduce that danger. We've done that before in the Balkans and I believe we will be successful again in the future. But the events of the last few days have underlined the fact that we're not going into benign circumstances and that re-emphasises very clearly how important it is that we get the right number of the right kind of forces in place there. It re-emphasises the message that we have put over and the NATO Council is not going to make decisions unless they're backed up by proper force contingents that will produce the stability that we stand for.

And that applies to the existing force requirements for ISAF, because this morning I yet again delivered my lectures about delivering on commitments. I was variously described yesterday as a schoolmaster or a school principal or as the school bully. But it was also acknowledged by one minister that constant repetition of what everybody knows to be true actually succeeds, and this morning a number of ministers made offers... or made offers to consider providing for the gaps in the existing statement of requirements.

So I leave Colorado Springs much more optimistic than I was before about us filling the gaps that we already have and also convinced that no decision is going to be taken by NATO unless we know in advance precisely where the forces will come from that will be called upon to expand the role outside of Kabul.

Q: Bruce Findlay at the Denver Post. What complications does it present for NATO in the future if many countries individually began using a pre-emptive approach to the new emerging threats?

Lord Robertson: Well, I re-emphasise the point I've made that NATO acts unanimously. So it would take a collective decision by 19 to act pre-emptively or after the event. But we've always had that range of possibilities before us. It's absolutely nothing new. It's part of the deterrence package that is required in order to produce stability. You cannot tell an enemy in advance that you will only act if they have attacked you.

So it was always there, right from the beginning of NATO in the whole of post-Second World War period. And as I say, NATO, unanimously, all 19 countries decided to act pre-emptively in Kosovo in 1999 and nobody thought that that was sort of earth-shattering or it was an earthquake in strategic terms. It was good common-sense. It produced the result and now everybody knows that it had to be done.

So I don't think that there is a problem here if individual nations themselves have a policy. If NATO acts it acts unanimously.

Q: Laurent (inaudible) from Le Monde. I have a question about Chechnya, Lord Robertson. I noticed that a few days ago Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said he was worried by the lack of independent candidate during the Chechnya presidential election and also by the lack of free press. Are you also worried about this and did you share your worries with Mr. Ivanov?

Lord Robertson: Well Mr. de Hoop Scheffer is not yet the Secretary General of NATO. He has been appointed to take over next year. So newspapers who use the headlines saying NATO says something need to be more careful in the future that the man is in charge before you quote him.

However, that minor lapse apart, he was speaking in his capacity as chairman in office of the OSCE when he made that comment about the elections. In relation to NATO's policy on Chechnya, it has not changed. We have repeatedly told the Russians that we believe that they have the right to deal with terrorist threats on their own territory and that that is well recognized in terms of national sovereignty among NATO nations as well. But that our strong advice to them is that there must be a strong political and open political process to accompany any military process that they have. And that they should act appropriately and proportionately in the way that they tackle those terrorists.

But we've known in the past that Chechen terrorists have acted like terrorists acting against the capitals of NATO countries as well and we've condemned those terrorists for what they've done.

Q: Paul Ames from the Associated Press. Secretary General, did defence minister Ivanov explain to your satisfaction the statement... or the document from his ministry last week which spoke about NATO as an offensive and anti-Russian organization? And secondly, could I just make sure that I understood correctly what you said earlier about Bosnia, that it'll be at least another 12 months before the EU takes over that mission.

Lord Robertson: Well, I didn't see any report where the Russians actually said that NATO was an offensive and anti-Russian organization. There were reports that said that if NATO developed in a certain way, militarily, and developed in a certain way geographically Russia would have to face up to that fact. But in any event whatever the reports say, Minister Sergey Ivanov came along today with a very bulky English translation of the whole document and we expect him this afternoon to highlight what is in that document.

But he himself, this morning, personally said that these reports are not accurate. They don't regard NATO as being an offensive organization. They regard NATO as being a partner to Russia at the present time. And one of the things that we were discussing today was the reciprocity and having military liaison missions in NATO and in Moscow.

So it doesn't seem to me to be very accurate for anybody in Russia to be saying that NATO was aggressive or offensive or anti-Russian, when we're actually down to that level of detail in terms of military-to-military co-operation.

But you know, we're going to have some substantial time today to discuss these matters, and I think Minister Ivanov is having a press conference later on in the afternoon so you can check my version against his version and then you can write a third version.

Surely not.

Bosnia, well, as I say, there was a general discussion this morning about the prospects for conditions being right for some transition, but as I say, we don't take decisions at these meetings. These decisions, if we're ready for decisions, can be taken at the formal meetings of defence and foreign ministers in the first week of December.

But a general direction appeared to have been looked at this morning that seemed to find favour 'round the table, but as I say, a lot of water has to go under the bridge before we make final decisions in this regard.

Lord Robertson: Thank you.

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