Updated: 03-Dec-2003 NATO Speeches


1 Dec. 2003

Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
following NAC Defence Ministers

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

2003 was a watershed year for NATO.

In the Spring of this year, our critics said we were about to go out of business over Iraq. Instead, we went out of area to Afghanistan.

Today, NATO is delivering real security, from Kosovo to Kabul.

We have proved that the transformation agreed at last November’s Summit in Prague was the real thing: fundamental and lasting change for the better.

In little more than a year, we have stood up the NATO Response Force, Allied Command Transformation and, today, a brand new multinational Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Battalion. Our Prague capabilities Commitments are beginning to deliver, with initiatives such as the Norwegian-led multinational sealift agreement signed earlier today.

So Defence Ministers were able to take stock of a very different NATO.

They did so with their seven invitee colleagues around the table. They did so in a headquarters where the radical internal reforms mandated at Prague have been successfully completed.

They were able to consider successes such as SFOR in Bosnia, where we can now consider bringing NATO’s mission to an end.

But NATO meetings are also opportunities to tackle the most difficult issues head-on.

There were robust – and private – discussions on Iraq and European Defence.

Most importantly for NATO, Defence Ministers were united on the need to stay the course in Afghanistan as we have in the Balkans. We have decided in principle to deploy the International Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul. This will help NATO succeed in Afghanistan as it has in every other previous mission.

Afghanistan poses completely different challenges from NATO’s Cold War heritage in Europe.

Each and every Defence Minister here today therefore recognises that European and Canadian forces must be made more usable and more deployable for modern missions. Some countries have some of what is needed. Most still lag even further behind.

That matters for those nations and for the European Union as much as for NATO itself. Because the bottom line is that to be credible you need capabilities.

This is not just a question of extra resources. Ministers accepted that political will is needed to commit larger numbers of soldiers to the multinational operations – whether they are led by NATO or other organisations – and these are multilateral, multinational operations which will break terrorism, build stability and bring peace.

When I became Secretary General of NATO four years ago, our agenda today would have been unthinkable.

As I prepare to leave, NATO warships are patrolling the Mediterranean against terrorists. NATO troops are preparing to move outside Kabul in Afghanistan. NATO planners are helping a Polish-led division in Iraq.

Cooperation against terrorism is bearing fruit in a new multinational force. A programme of radical military transformation is well under way.

In 1999, when I came in the doors of these headquarters, I said that my three priorities were: priority no. 1: capabilities, priority no. 2 : capabilities and priority no. 3: capabilities. Today’s agenda and today’s discussions show that I was perhaps not quite ambitious enough.

NATO is the defence and security organisation of choice for today’s most demanding challenges. It is more active and more engaged than ever before. That means that transformation is truly delivering.

Questions and answers

Q: Angus Roxborough of BBC. Secretary General, I wonder if you agree with France and Germany, and it seems Britain, as seen in Naples last week, that the European Union requires a mutual defence arrangement in addition to the guarantees provided by NATO?

Lord Robertson: Well, the discussions in Naples are not yet concluded, nor are they fully published, so I can only go by the accounts that we have received from ministers who are involved, who have made it absolutely clear, I think, one by one as they've come in the headquarters today, and also collectively around the table, that nothing is going to happen in the European Union that will challenge NATO's primacy as the security foundation for the transatlantic region.

So undoubtedly the European Union in framing its new constitution will want to add some element of solidarity between its members. That seems to me to be perfectly natural. But none of that is expected to or wanted to challenge what NATO has done so successfully for its members for the last 54 years.

Q: Sir, Will Dunham, with Reuters. What is your view of whether NATO eventually should take over the entirety of the mission in Afghanistan, absorbing the roughly 11,500 U.S.-led coalition forces under a NATO banner? Eventually?

Lord Robertson: Well, the issue of a single command in Afghanistan has been talked about today in principle. We've not yet got to the detail of discussion how it might be carried out, but certainly those countries who have troops in ISAF and in Operation Enduring Freedom, look forward to a point when there is coherence in the command structure as NATO takes over progressively up to five of the provincial reconstruction teams. Then we need to have a clean chain of command and Secretary Rumsfeld made it clear both publicly yesterday and in private that he foresees the possibility of unifying the command structure in a yet undefined way for Afghanistan and that has been broadly welcomed and more work will be done on it.

Q: Thank you. Judy Dunthy(?) from London Times. And Lord Robertson, I know you haven't seen the conclusions or what has been or not agreed at Naples. Nevertheless, do you...


Q: Nevertheless, do you think that the European Union does need an operation and planning cell in the Cortenberg.

Lord Robertson: Well, as you say, there is at the moment still a mystery about documents and whether they have been agreed or disagreed. And as far as I am reliably told there is no firm conclusion yet on the phraseology. Whatever you've been told that is what I've been told.

Q: No no, that's not what I'm getting at. Do you, from your position (inaudible)... NATO, do you think the European Union should have and does need, given the present Berlin Plus, does need an independent (inaudible)... What do you think?

Lord Robertson: I'm not at the moment going to make a sort or prognosis on the basis of speculation coming out of one or other Italian city at the present stage in time.

What I want to make sure is that we have no unnecessary duplication of what is already available to the European Union through Berlin Plus. And the two words, unnecessary duplication appear in the Saint Malo declaration of November 1998, when I was British defence secretary and that was the British-German Summit at that time. Unnecessary duplication is the key.

I am told by all of those concerned, both individual and collectively, that nothing is going to be done that will undermine NATO, or will suggest unnecessary duplication at this time. Duplication of competition between organizations is not good and unnecessary duplication would be a wrong priority for the European Union when the European countries need to do so much in terms of getting the right capabilities for the future.

That is what ministers have been talking about at great length here today and that is what capabilities will be required, what reshaping is going to be required, and that is the priority; not an argument over a handful of operational planners when a thousand operational planners are available in SHAPE, without condition, and without reservation to the European Union.

Q: Robert (inaudible)... The Netherlanders. Lord Robertson, you have to beg for troops and helicopters for ISAF for the current operation. Don't you feel that will put the brake on the future ambitions of NATO?

Lord Robertson: Well, I'm glad to tell you today that my please and my exhortations in relation to what we still need for ISAF in Kabul has been listened to. I have got an offer already of six additional helicopters, and other countries are today considering the appeal.

Three countries have offered extra support to Kabul international airport. Two countries are offering extra human intelligence, and other countries are considering that, supplementing their capabilities there.

And it's only half past four in the afternoon in a two day meeting of defence ministers. I call that great progress. And well on the way to plugging the shortfalls and I will be keeping up the pressure for the rest of the time. But that is what has taken place already today in response to the appeals that have been made. So I'm optimistic that not only will we be able to plug the existing shortfalls, but that we should be able to make available the resources that will allow ISAF to go outside of the capital of Afghanistan.

Q: (inaudible)... because the fact that it takes you so much time, doesn't that put, in your perspective, a break on future ambitions of NATO?

Lord Robertson: No, it doesn't. Everything takes time. You know, the idea that nations are going to queue up at the door and say would you like helicopters, would you like intelligence teams, is a fantasy.

Even if we had been organizing World War III under the old structure, countries would still have had to be cajoled into parting with valuable national assets. So it was worth the effort.

But sometimes you have to put the effort on at the last minute in order to produce the goods and, you know, I may be leaving in a few weeks time. You might think that I wouldn't be trying to make enemies or agitating people, but that's not the way I work it. I believe that there is a mission that needs to be completed, and I'm prepared to be as rude and as difficult and as tough and as much of a nuisance as I possibly can in order to make sure that we have the right capabilities to do that mission.

Today I had the chance of a platform. I used it, and that's the response we've had at half past four this afternoon.

Q: Nick Fiorenza, Defence News, Armed Forces Journal. Today during the CBRN ceremony, General Kujat hinted that the NRF would be used soon. Is he talking about as a reserve for SFOR / KFOR, or is NATO thinking about something more ambitious for the NRF's first mission?

Lord Robertson: I think in a difficult and dangerous world we've got to be able and willing to use what assets we have as quickly as possible. I think what General Kujat was reflecting is the fact that this is not something that his here for sure. You know, today was not a shop window with goods that are not for sale.

We're creating something designed to be used and available to be used. Even at this early stage it can be used. And when you saw the violence in Istanbul only a couple of weeks ago and you begin to realize that we need to keep the tools and the toolbox very sharp indeed if we're going to be able to respond quickly to the kind of events that we might come up against.

So the hint was there, that we can and we will, if necessary, use it, but he wasn't implying at this stage any particular scenario.

Q: Laurent Zecchini, Le Monde . Lord Robertson, in the future, most probably Europeans will have and will want to conduct military operation outside Berlin Plus. For this kind of scenario does it make sense for them to have a planification cell outside NATO? I mean, is there a military justification for that?

Lord Robertson: Well, the Berlin Plus arrangements provide for the European Union doing its own operations, using the national operational planning assets of originally three countries, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, but additional countries as they build their own individual capabilities.

So, there already is an operational planning group that is available to the European Union through the national headquarters for any mission that is likely to take place outside of Berlin Plus.

There is an international military staff and a European military staff and a European military committee in the European Union institutions involved and strategic planning and force planning. And they can connect with the operational planning components in national capitals. And that is perfectly compatible with; indeed is absolutely within the letter and the spirit of Berlin Plus.

Q: Lord Robertson, we gather that a couple of nations have suggested the idea that NATO could have a larger collective role in Iraq today. Do you support that idea, and what sort of time... if so, what sort of time scale would you see unfolding there?

Lord Robertson: Well, I don't have personal views... well, not at least for the next five weeks. And I know that there are some nations who want to look very carefully at the experience of Portugal and... at Poland and how it has been supported by NATO in running its multinational division in Iraq. And of course, the Spanish, who have shared the lead with Poland, they're also interested in learning those lessons and sharing them with other allies.

It's possible in the new year that something will be tabled in relation to Iraq. It might arise out of that particular discussion or a more general discussion, but nothing today was raised in specific terms that we were going down that route.

The decision in principle has already been taken here, that NATO will offer assets and capabilities to support individual members of NATO if they want to be involved in the post-conflict situation in Iraq. And that hasn't changed, and the dynamic next year may well be different.

Q: Mia Doornaert, De Standaard Brussels. Lord Robertson, I would like to come back on your carefully worded answer to the colleague of Le Monde where you're saying that if European countries go beyond using national headquarters for planning operations and create a collective planning headquarter outside NATO, that then they go beyond the letter and spirit of Berlin Plus?

Lord Robertson: The letter and spirit of Berlin Plus says that the operational planning will be done for autonomous EU operations through those national capitals. So we have to see if there is any proposal to go beyond that.

Until we know any details of that it's difficult for me to make any judgement about it. There already is a military capability inside the European Union. It has been used in Bunia in the Congo. It has been used within Berlin Plus to take over the NATO mission in Macedonia, and it may well be used in a follow-on force, follow-on presence in Bosnia, taking over from SFOR at the end of next year.

But beyond that, I wouldn't like to go just now.

Q: Alain Franco, Radio Suisse Romande et RTL. Lord Robertson, while you're about to leave NATO, do you think that NATO has failed in the Balkan in chasing criminals of war? And did you raise this topic today?

Lord Robertson: The international community has not succeeded yet in catching two of the major indictees. I don't see that a failure for NATO because eventually they will be caught and they will be transferred to The Hague. But the obligation lies upon everybody involved, not just NATO forces, who operate within the Dayton agreement, and are only expected to arrest those individuals and other indictees if they meet them in the course of their duties.

Now we have expanded that responsibility and we have apprehended quite a sizeable number, the majority of those who have so far been indicted, but the international community as a whole must remain vigilant because the Balkans will not be safe and secure and the progress will not be fully sustainable until the two principal indictees, Karadzic and Mladic face a trial in The Hague.

Q: Lord Robertson, I'm Sweeny Delgar(?) from TV 2 Denmark. You said yourself that as British defence minister in Saint Malo you warned against... agreed that there shouldn't be unnecessary duplication. You won(?) against that today. That still leaves necessary duplication. Could you give us a clue to where you see the dividing line between European Union military and NATO military? Would it be something like the European Union in the future taking care of European territory, or is there a more... a more abstract way of describing what you would see as the normal and... the normal sort of... or reasonable sort of dividing line between the two organizations?

Lord Robertson: Well you're never going to get some clear dividing line that says that the European Union will handle crises below a certain number of people or a certain size of country, and the rest will go to NATO.

But I think it will be perfectly easy to recognize a situation when the situation comes along. As it has, indeed, up to now.

The European Union has defined its military ambitions in terms of the Petersburg tasks and they are down as civil emergency, civilian evacuation and crisis management. And peacekeeping. And that in a way has been a very useful definition which largely indicates where the European Union countries' capabilities are.

Beyond that, the grand bargain is Berlin Plus because for the Americans it is the bargain that they don't have to get engaged in every brush fire in the European backyard, but the huge bargain for the European Union is that they get access to all of the capabilities in NATO and a lot of other irreplaceable assets from America that would be delivered to them through NATO.

And you know, we are a long way away in Europe from having those capabilities, the big planes, the precision-guided weapons, the air-to-air refuelling tankers that will be required for any major operation to work.

So no unnecessary duplication is just a common-sense application of what can be done through NATO and what can't be done through the European Union countries themselves operating.

And I see it being organized in a pragmatic way.

Q: Lord Robertson, Ian Black from The Guardian . I noticed when you were talking before you used the phrase robust and private discussions on Iraq and European defence. Taking your confidence from what you've been told by the ministers presence that nothing will be done to undermine NATO, I just wondered what was so robust about the exchanges that you had on that particular topic, and Iraq too, if you're minded to talk about it.

Lord Robertson: What was robust was the way in which ministers clearly indicated that they were going to do nothing that would undermine NATO and NATO's pre-eminence, and that is a robust viewpoint that I've heard, and no doubt you've heard as well. But discussions have taken place in the margins because not everybody knows what is going on in the intergovernmental conference and the discussions that took place in Naples. A number of countries in NATO are not members of the European Union.

So it's not entirely visible to them, just as it's not entirely visible to you precisely what that particular discussion is. But everybody has made it absolutely clear that they are not going to do anything that would undermine NATO. And I can't imagine anything being agreed by Prime Minister Blair in London that would undermine the integrity and the strength and the pre-eminence of NATO as a security organization of first choice.

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