Updated: 09-Jun-2005 NATO Speeches


8 June 2005

Press briefing

By Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Operations, John Colston on the Meeting of the NATO Ministers of Defence

JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Operations): This is the first time since December 2003 that NATO Defence Ministers have gone through their full cycle of formal meetings. They have, of course, met since December 2003. They met in Istanbul in the margins of the Summit. They had major informal meetings in Poiana Brasov in Romania last October and again in Nice, in France this February.

But this is the first time for 18 months that they've gone through the full cycle, so with your forbearance I will just describe briefly what Ministers, what you can expect in terms of the meetings which will unfold over the next two days.

The first two meetings, which will take place tomorrow morning, will be meetings of the Nuclear Planning Group and the Defence Planning Committee, and these are two meetings which take place with the attendance of all the Allied Ministers except France. These are meetings within the integrated military structure.

The Nuclear Planning Group will provide an opportunity for Ministers, particularly the ministers of the United States and the United Kingdom, to brief on policy developments in relation to nuclear issues, the status of Allied nuclear forces, and a range of issues from cooperation with Russia to reflections on the NPT conference.

The Defence Planning Committee is the opportunity for Ministers to focus formally on the most recent review of nations' defence plans and budgets. And this current review cycle is showing that whilst there has been some welcome, some refreshing progress in developing capabilities and adapting military structures to the needs of today's and tomorrow's operations, there is still a need to seek to accelerate progress, to put even more political weight behind the process of transformation.

And the Secretary General will be encouraging his Ministerial Colleagues to continue to focus closely on what needs to be done to ensure that military forces can be deployed at distance, sometimes over long periods, to meet our operational requirements.

We then move into the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers session, which will take the bulk of Thursday's discussions and that is all 26 Allies. And that will involve a working session, taking most of the morning, and an extended working lunch.

And there are two principal items on the agenda for those discussions. The first is the Alliance's military transformation; the second is our current operations and missions. But the Secretary General will also take the opportunity, in addition to those two main agenda items about which I will say more in a moment, to brief his colleagues on the progress of his NATO Headquarters reform initiative.

On transformation, Ministers will be taking stock of the initiatives which were launched in Prague in 2002 and in Istanbul last year in terms of ensuring that NATO Allies have the forces that they need to meet their operational commitments.

We'll be taking stock of progress on the Prague Capabilities Commitments, where again, good progress is being made, but the Secretary General will press for more. The NATO Response Force; the new military command structure; and the Secretary General will probably encourage his colleagues to think about areas which still require a little further attention, such as our approach to the funding operations; a more multinational support... approach to logistic support for operations; further improvements in intelligence sharing; greater predictability in making forces available for operations; ensuring that we have a coherent approach to the threats of terrorism and the threats of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; looking at how NATO, when it is engaged in operations, can best interact with the civilian agencies which are working alongside it for stabilization and reconstruction efforts; and continuing to build closer relationships with the European Union.

As far as operations are concerned, I'm expecting that we will focus initially on Afghanistan. We will review progress on completing Stage 2 expansion, expansion to the western provinces, and I would expect Ministers to underline support for... underline NATO's support for the autumn elections, the National Assembly elections, and the provincial elections.

I would also expect them to discuss prospects for Stage 3 of ISAF's expansion into the south, and what that means for the relationship between ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom, and indeed, how NATO can best support the political process in Afghanistan throughout this year and in the post-election period.

On Kosovo the emphasis will be on the continued need for a capable force presence by NATO in Kosovo, particularly important given the comprehensive review and the potential opening of status talks by the end of the year.

With respect to Iraq ministers will no doubt review the progress which is being made with both in and out of country training of Iraqi personnel in support of the Iraqi government, and the progress with the establishment of the Training, Education and Doctrine Centre at Al Rustimaya.

I would expect ministers to welcome the decisions which have now been taken in relation to logistical support for Darfur. I will not steal James's thunder, because I know he wants to talk in more detail about that later. And I would expect them also to reflect briefly on the progress of operations related to terrorism, including Operation Active Endeavour.

Following the meeting of Allied Ministers, there will then be a series of meetings, three meetings with partners. The first meeting will be with the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergey Ivanov. That is designed to focus on defence cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism. We will welcome in particular the adoption of a new NATO-Russia document, a political-military guidance on interoperability between Russian and NATO forces, which is designed to set the scope for a still closer working together of NATO and Russian forces.

We'll also welcome prospects for the Russian contribution to Operation Active Endeavour, our maritime surveillance operation in the Mediterranean. And we will review, I'm sure, NATO-Russian ministers will want to review the current security situation in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. I'm sure that also there will be issues in relation to the security situation in Southeast Asia, and I'm sure ministers will be discussing in particular Uzbekistan.

There will then be a meeting with the Ukrainian Defence Minister, Minister Gritsenko, which is the first formal meeting which he will have had with his NATO counterparts since the Orange Revolution. That will discuss defence and security sector reform, and in particular how allies and Ukraine develop their cooperation in defence and security sector reform in the new context of an intensified dialogue.

We will, I'm sure, also discuss the possibility of increased Ukrainian involvement in NATO-led operations.

The final meeting will be the meeting of the Defence Ministers of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. That's the partner nations, together with the Allies. That will take place on Friday morning. There are two main themes for our discussion. Firstly, to look at the implications of NATO's transformation for partner nations in terms of training and capabilities and education; and secondly, cooperation between Allies and partner nations in operations and in the fight against terrorism.

And the meeting will also mark the formal adoption of the planning documents in relation to the planning and review process, the defence planning system within the partnership.

So there's a rich range of meetings which are going to take place over the next 48 hours. The focus will be operations, and the focus will be transformation, which will give all of the Ministers present plenty to discuss.

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