From the event


11 Jun 2007

Background briefing
on the upcoming meeting of Defence Ministers

by John Colston, Assistant Secretary General
for Defence Planning and Policy

MODERATOR: Dear colleagues thank you for coming. I hope that this will not (inaudible).

Our Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Policy, John Colston, is going to brief you on the upcoming Ministerial. So John you have the floor. It's on the record.

JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Policy): On the record. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon; good to see you all here. Just by way of introduction I'm going to take you through the sequence of meetings and the key issues that I expect to see addressed at each of those meetings and then open up the discussion for your questions. You'll recall that this is the sequence of meetings which takes place once a year, usually in June, and it is the formal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. This means that there will be a communiqué. This means that in certain areas there will be decisions which are taken.

The sequence of meetings will start on Thursday morning this week with a meeting of the 26 Allies which will address issues of defence transformation; looking at the decisions which were taken in Prague, Istanbul and Riga; looking at how the comprehensive political guidance that was published in Riga is being implemented. There will be a number of particular issues on which Ministers will want to concentrate. On missile defence we're hoping that they will take a specific decision that the future work on a possible future NATO missile defence system will take into account the implications of the U.S. proposals to base interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic.

I'm also expecting that they will want to review progress in the NATO Response Force. How are we doing in ensuring that we maintain the capability of this key NATO asset? They will want to look at the further reform and review of the NATO military command structure. And they'll want to look at a range of initiatives designed to support our capacity for deployed operations, including the interest of a large number of nations in acquiring C17 aircraft.

We will then have a working lunch with the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, Minister Grytsenko, and that will be an opportunity to focus on the progress which is being made in the areas of defence and security sector reform in Ukraine. Minister Grytsenko will brief his colleagues and the Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council will brief Ministers on progress which is being made in security sector reform more generally.

There will then be the first meeting between the Allied Defence Ministers and the new Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Minister Serdyukov. I'm expecting that to be a rich debate. Amongst the subjects likely to be discussed are missile defence, the adapted CFE Treaty, and those will no doubt give rise to some lively debate. There will also be an opportunity to focus on the many positive aspects of NATO-Russia co-operation. The recent ratification of the Status of Forces Agreement, the program of co-operation in relation to logistics, transport, support for Afghanistan; the program of co-operation in relations to counter-narcotics training focused on Afghanistan, the second Russian contribution this year to Operation Active Endeavour, as well as a broad range of military and defence activities.

We will then have a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. That's the Allies and all 23 of our Partnership for Peace partners. This is going to be the first meeting where representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia attend. So it will be an important meeting from that respect. We'll have an opportunity to discuss the ways in which Allies and Partners work together in operations and the contribution of Partners to current NATO operations is very significant indeed and therefore of great importance to NATO Allies. It will also be an opportunity to discuss those operations in which many Partner nations are engaged; Afghanistan, and perhaps particularly in relation to Kosovo, because in addition to the NATO Allies, in addition to Russia, all of the neighbouring countries will be present.

On the evening of Thursday the 14th of June, the Allied Ministers, the 26 Ministers, will have a working dinner at which they will discuss Afghanistan and Kosovo. On Afghanistan I expect them to be focusing on the need to ensure that the NATO-ISAF Force has the right capabilities and the flexibility to use them to meet our mission. I expect them to talk about the need for continued support to the Afghan national security forces - the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police - to talk about how we can best support the Afghan government in their counter-narcotics efforts and to look at the need for improved co-ordination, better communications in relation to the Afghanistan mission. They'll also talk about Kosovo and not least how to ensure that we continue properly to bring security and stability to Kosovo over what is likely to be a sensitive and challenging period.

On Friday morning the 25 Allies who form the Nuclear Planning Group will come together for a short meeting when they will receive briefings from the United States and the United Kingdom on their new respective nuclear weapons programs. They will have the opportunity to reflect on training exercises, consultations in the nuclear policy area, and perhaps to reflect also on the developing nature of deterrents in the 21st century.

The same 25 Ministers will then go on to hold their meeting of the Defence Planning Committee, which is the opportunity for the 25 Allies who participate in NATO's force planning process to review the progress which has been made against the comprehensive political guidance and against the ministerial guidance which was agreed last year in terms of the continuing transformation and development of their forces.

And finally, on Friday morning the last meeting will be a meeting of the North Atlantic Council with those nations who are contributing forces to NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and with Minister Wardak, the Afghan Minister of Defence, and that will be an opportunity to consider in rather more detail how best NATO, NATO's partners and the Afghan authorities can work together to achieve our common aims in support of the Afghan government.

So about eight meetings. I think it's eight. You may have counted as you've gone through. So a busy two days work and a lot of critical issues to be addressed. With that by way of background let me open the floor for your questions.

Q: Paul Ames from the Associated Press. I have two questions.

Firstly, NATO has long wanted the EU to take a role in police training in Afghanistan. Now that the EU is going to do that, how confident are you that NATO is going to be able to provide the force protection for them given the reservations which Turkey has raised on this issue?

And secondly, have you had anytime so far to look at… evaluate President Putin's suggestion of a radar base in Azerbaijan? Is this something you expect to be discussed at the meeting and in what way do you see that discussion going?

COLSTON: Okay thank you very much. In relation to police training in Afghanistan, as you say this is not a primary responsibility for NATO, but it's an area in which NATO has a very close interest because there is reasonably well-founded perception that the development of the Afghanistan National Police has not been making the kind of progress that either the Afghan government nor the International community would wish. The ambition is to have around 82,000 police officers within the Afghan National Police. At present there are only about 40,000. So we very much welcome the decisions taken within the European Union to establish an ESDP mission and we want to see that succeed.

We hope that it's possible to define ways of supporting the ESDP mission in Afghanistan which meets the interests and concerns of all of the Allies. We are cooperating in Afghanistan with a wide range of United Nations and other agencies and I can see no reason in principle why we should not be able to work satisfactorily with the ESDP police mission as well. We are following this through very carefully. We're aware of certain national sensitivities. The Secretary General will be in Turkey tomorrow and this may be one of the issues which is addressed there. But given the importance of the task, given the importance which all the NATO Allies place on the development of the police in Afghanistan, I am confident that we will find a way forward.

In relation to President Putin's proposal about the placement… the possible placement of a missile defence radar in Azerbaijan, it is genuinely too early to offer you any kind of definitive answer to that. We would have to look, and I saw we - of course I need to remember, you need remember, that the missile defence system which is being discussed here is a United States national program in which we have a close interest, but it is a United States program. It's too early for me to offer a technical evaluation about whether a radar in Azerbaijan might be able to undertake or contribute to the infrastructure of a missile defence system based in Europe.

What I would say however is that it is very welcome that President Putin and the Russian Federation seem to be moving on from the rhetoric of confrontation to the rhetoric of co-operation. As you will be aware, the United States put a whole range of detailed proposals the Russian authorities back in April this year over areas in which the United States and Russia might co-operate on missile defence. So it's pleasing to see that Russia is beginning to come to identify some ideas of its own on how such co-operation might take place. And it's pleasing to see as well that our Russian colleagues are moving together with us into examining some of the scope for co-operation on theatre missile defence under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council(theatre missile defence the shorter range systems).

Q: (Inaudible)…

MODERATOR: Can you identify yourself please?

Q: (Inaudible)… Talking about Ukraine, you mention only (inaudible)… of Defence (inaudible), but you do not say nothing about NATO-Ukraine Commission. (Inaudible)...

COLSTON: No, no. The working lunch is a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. It's just that we get the chance to eat as we are holding our meeting. With eight meetings in one and a half days, it's necessary to combine some of these. In just the same way that the working dinner which the Allied Ministers have in the evening will be a formal meeting of the North Atlantic Council even though it is held at a table where they can eat as they talk. This is formal meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission which will be taking place.

Q: Do you see any moving in Russian rhetoric on Kosovo from confrontation towards co-operation? And what is NATO going to prepare for the situation when we might end up to have Kosovar independence without the resolution of Security Council? President Bush yesterday said in Tirana that time is coming sooner rather than later to say enough is enough and Kosovo is independent. So the Americans are not excluding that in case of the Russian veto there will be an independence of Kosovo without resolution. Is NATO prepared for this scenario?

COLSTON: Thank you very much. Let me say first of all that NATO Allies are hopeful that we can reach a Security Council resolution which can take into account President Ahtisaari's proposals on status and offer us a stable and secure way forward; a way forward for Kosovo, but a way forward also for Kosovo's neighbours in the Balkans including Serbia. I think you will see from Ministers two linked messages. One, a message for the Kosovars encouraging all nations to support a Security Council resolution on the basis of President Ahtisaari's proposals. And one for Belgrade reiterating the fact that NATO Allies do see and do support Serbia's progressive integration with European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. We want our friends and colleagues in Serbia to be part of the broader family of European nations, not to be an exception from it.

As to speculation about what would happen if a Security Council resolution was not reached, let me first of all say there is as yet no Russian veto. We've all heard the words which have come from some Russian leaders, but there is no Russian veto as yet and we're continuing to work and will continue to work over the coming days and weeks to see if we can reach a negotiated settlement.

Secondly, there is no plan B. We are not preparing for failure in this respect. But thirdly, of course we are monitoring the position on the ground very closely and everyone in Kosovo needs to be aware of NATO's determination to maintain security in Kosovo and that we will not tolerate threats from whatever quarter to such security. We are therefore determined to maintain our mission; to maintain it effectively; and to ensure that the security of Kosovo is maintained for the benefit of all its inhabitants until such time as we hope we can transition to a new status under a new resolution in providing the international military presence in Kosovo.

Q: So do you thick that President Bush was speculating when he said that the time will come to say enough is enough and to make Kosovo independent if we see that we cannot achieve common position. I'm quoting him.

COLSTON: Certainly it will be up to each individual ally to decide how it wishes to proceed if the process fails. My message is that the process hasn't failed and we're continuing to work hard to try to ensure that it doesn't fail.

Q: (Inaudible)… Lithuania Radio and Television.

When you say that you are showing strong interest on the missile defence, the U.S., Polish and Czech, and that NATO will take into account U.S. proposal, could you be more clear about that? Does it mean that NATO is planning in some future when it happens to make these installations… take these installations under the NATO umbrella, not leaving on the bilateral level?

COLSTON: Thank you for that. If I can just take one step back; at Prague NATO heads of state and government commissioned a technical feasibility study and a set of related policy reviews to examine the possibility of NATO acquiring and developing its own continental missile defence system. Took no decisions on whether it would do that, but it commissioned the various work which might prepare a future decision.

In Riga that feasibility study was presented. It ran to some 10,000 pages and there was an accompanying assessment of the policy implications of a possible future NATO missile defence system. Since Riga we have had of course the formal confirmation of the United States opening negotiations with the Polish authorities and with the Czech authorities about the possible location of elements of the U.S. missile system n Europe

Now what I expect to see later this week is an agreement by the Allies that we're going to look at the implications of the United States proposals for the future of development of the NATO system. It's quite possible that the United States capability could be one complimentary element of our approach to missile defence in the future. This is not bringing the U.S. system under NATO control, but it is recognizing that the United States' system would be likely to provide a very substantial degree of coverage of the European continent and therefore it does make sense for us to examine the United States system alongside possible potential future NATO elements. But let me say no decision taken now and no decision expected in the near future on whether or not NATO would want to proceed with its own missile defence system. That is a decision for the future.

Q: Nick Fiorenza, Jane's.

One question on the state of play on a couple of things you mentioned. For the C-17 are you still talking about three aircraft being leased?

The logistics and transport… you mentioned for Afghanistan an agreement on logistics and transport with Russians. I don't know if that's the same as SOFO(?) or if it's related.

And then what is the state of play for the command structure? I know there's been talk of a PE, a personnel establishment review, but maybe you can explain where we are on that.

And then finally, there was a BBC report this morning of the use, or at least having found a shaped-charge IED, in Afghanistan. I think in Helmand Province. I mean is that the first such shaped-charge IED that was found in Afghanistan and is that going to be discussed at the meeting?

COLSTON: Thank you very much. On your last question I'm afraid I'm aware of the report… I don't have an answer to it. It is something that's being examined at the moment by our military authorities.

On the other three issues, the C17's, yes we're still looking at three. Most recently we've had a strong expression of interest from Finland alongside Sweden to become the second partner nation to join the 15 Allied nations who are examining the scope for the purchase and operation of the C17's. We still haven't worked out all the details on how we're going to do this and we would like to conclude that work this week, but it continues for the time being.

On Russian support in relation to Afghanistan; yes it is related to the Status of Forces Agreement in that the conclusion of the Status of Forces Agreement should make it much easier for Russia and NATO nations to work together in such areas. What we're doing, not only in preparation for this week's meetings, but also for… in preparation for the events in St. Petersburg and Moscow which will mark the 10th anniversary of the Founding Act and the 5th anniversary of the NATO-Russia Council, is to look at a range of ideas which we're developing jointly with the Russian Ministry of Defence on how Russia might be able to assist in elements of logistic support for the ISAF mission. Not in theatre, but ensuring that supplies and goods can reach Afghanistan more efficiently. So there's a number of detailed proposals which are being looked at there.

Lastly on the command structure. We have had in hand for some time now a review of the NATO military command structure to see whether it meets fully today's requirements and there are two related issues which we have to look at there. Some of you will recall my talking to you about the implications of the comprehensive political guidance in the 2006 ministerial guidance on the range and nature of missions that NATO wishes to be able to undertake. Those developments, which are essentially about an ability to undertake a larger number of smaller missions have implications for our command structure. So we have been looking over the past few months at how best to rationalize the command structure. We can see that there is a need for less reliance on static headquarters and we need more reliance on deployable elements of headquarters which can go and command operations in the field.

Alongside that, we know that the present structure of the military command structure is imposing unwelcome penalties on nations in terms of identifying and paying for the military officers which man that structure. So we want a structure which is more efficient and a structure which is more affordable. The first phase of the review process is almost complete, but we've got some tough questions for Allied Ministers in relation to which headquarters are going to go where and how we can best achieve that degree of rationalization. Once those key decisions are taken, we'll move into phase two which is working out the detailed manning of the new structure. That's where we are at the moment; almost at the end of the first phase of the review.

Q: (Inaudible)… Belgrade.

First question about Kosovo. If we understand well, NATO will remain in Kosovo even if we won't have a resolution and some country recognize unilaterally Kosovo. Is it correct interpretation? And if it is, on which base NATO will remain in Kosovo and what will be purpose of NATO being in Kosovo?

And second question; having in mind what you said about Serbia, does it mean that in NATO there is thinking, existing thinking, that Serbia can get very soon Membership Action Plan?

Thank you.

COLSTON: Thank you very much. On the first question, yes of course NATO is going to stay in Kosovo. We will stay in Kosovo on the basis of the existing Security Council resolutions and we're absolutely committed to that and we're not going to work… we're not going to walk away from the investment which NATO has made in Kosovo and in Kosovo's stability over the last eight years. So in the absence of a new Security Council resolution, the existing Security Council resolution continues to apply and so our determination will remain unchanged.

Secondly in relation to Serbia, I hope Serbia makes rapid progress towards meeting its aspirations to move closer towards the European Union and to NATO. As I said, this will be the first occasion on which the new Serbian Minister of Defence will be visiting NATO headquarters. I know the Secretary General hopes to have a brief meeting with him. I'm already planning to have a meeting with him myself and to carry forward the very substantial program of co-operation at the defence and military level which we have been developing with Belgrade over the past months and years.

Achievement of Membership Action Plan status is a demanding and challenging step, usually proceeded by a period within the so-called Intensified Dialogue on membership issues and it depends on Serbia wanting to take such a step and it depends on the Allies being willing to support it. So I can't speculate on when that would happen, but I can say I see very strong evidence of Allied support for Serbia's continued closer co-operation and movement towards NATO.

Q: Returning to Mr. Putin's proposal on the missiles. Could the radar in Azerbaijan and say the interceptors in Turkey or other NATO country, can be an alternative to the radar in Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland?

COLSTON: As I said earlier, it's too early to give you a detailed answer to that question. We have an expression in Britain "It's not rocket science." The trouble with missile defence is it is rocket science. So it is sometimes beyond my personal competence. I know from talking to colleagues that the first impression that is that a radar in Azerbaijan might actually be too close to the presumed sources of threat to be as efficient as a radar positioned slightly further away. But as I say, I don't want to say more than that at the moment because I would only mislead. We have not done the detailed analysis that is necessary.

Q: (Inaudible)… same question. Would a new U.S. radar site… U.S. military base in Bulgaria be (inaudible)… away?

COLSTON: I have no idea. This is the first time I've heard a suggestion of that kind.

Q: Mark John from Reuters.

Just on the agreement on missile defence you're hoping to get this week. Does that agreement… are you hoping that the agreement will include a consensus on how much a bolt-on system would cost NATO if it went ahead or is it too early for that yet?

COLSTON: No, it's far too early to say that. But what the agreement would do… it would enable the experts to go away and start examining the options and therefore working out the costs. All I can say at the moment is that the cost of a complimentary system would be a small fraction of the cost of a full and independent missile system for NATO.

Q: (Inaudible) from the Spanish Agency EFE about the command structure restructuring. Does this affect the six headquarters - the two maritime, the two air and two land ones? And you say that they have to prepare for smaller flexible headquarters for the missions of the future - would this mean the closure of some of these headquarters? There's one in Spain, (inaudible), near Madrid. Is this the kind of question they're going to put to the Ministers and do you expect a solution at this meeting, a decision?

COLSTON: Thank you very much. I'm not going to go into detail on what the proposals are because they are still being discussed and negotiated between the Allies at present. What I would do is repeat what I said more previously. We are looking at structure which is better able to support the kinds of deployed operations which we have today in Afghanistan or in Kosovo or wherever it may be. The Secretary General is hoping that we would reach decisions this week, but these are tough and sensitive issues and it may take some time to resolve the outstanding difficulties.

Q: I have two questions. First, what is the atmosphere in NATO about President's Sarkozy's proposal on delaying the resolution for Kosovo? And secondly, what do you expect from the meetings with the Macedonian Defence Minister (inaudible).

Thank you.

COLSTON: Thank you very much.

On the first issue, as I've said in relation to Kosovo, we do I think now need to wait for the process of negotiation between the principal actors in the international community to move forward to see whether we can define a sensible way ahead to serve as the basis for a Security Council resolution taking account of President Ahtisaari's proposals. So I don't want to comment individually on the position which any one country, including any ally, may have taken.

Secondly, in relation to the presence of your Defence Minister at the meeting, let me say it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Defence Ministers from Tirana, Zagreb and from Skopje took the opportunity to remind Allies of the strength of their interest in joining the Alliance and I'm sure that they will be listened to very attentively.

Q: National News Agency of Ukraine. Do the Ministers expect during the meeting to hear… I mean during the Ukraine-NATO Commission, to  hear from the Ukraine Minister some kind of evaluation of current situation in Ukraine? And is NATO going to adjust its position concerning the reforms in the security sector in view of this necessity to strengthen to civilian democratic control over the sector?

COLSTON: Well thank you very much. I mean clearly there will be a lot of interest around the table from Allies in the development of the political situation in Ukraine. But I do expect the primary focus, as I indicated, to be on the process of defence and security sector reform. What has been I think significant about the nature of NATO's relationship with Ukraine and with the authorities in Kiev is that the extent, the breadth and the depth of our co-operation has not been adversely affected by the political changes, the political uncertainties, which have challenged Ukraine in many other ways over the last couple of years. And our co-operation is as deep and as thorough as it has ever been and indeed we have been extending into areas such as co-operation with other elements of the security services with the Ministry of the Interior, with the Ministry of Civil Emergencies, with the SBU, et cetera, et cetera, and we're committed to carrying that forward.

MODERATOR: Last question Marc. Another one.

Q: Thank you. Okay, thank you.

On Afghanistan, the Sec-Gen said earlier this week that he wanted concrete action from the Allies in how to reduce civilian casualties. Are you expecting or was he expecting to come away from this meeting with concrete commitments on that?

COLSTON: Thank you very much. I think there are four elements to this. Firstly, to ensure that indeed our rules of engagement provide for a proportionate use of force which minimizes the risk of collateral damage of civilian casualties. Secondly, that we take this forward in a co-ordinated way so the Afghan National security forces, ISAF, and Enduring Freedom are operating in a coherent and co-ordinated fashion to minimize the risks of any misunderstandings. Thirdly, if incidents do happen that we're able to investigate them properly in close co-operation with the Afghan authorities And fourthly that when incidents tragically do happen, that we are able to address the consequences of such action through our humanitarian relief efforts.

So I think the Secretary General will want a good discussion on how best we can move forward on that, but I think all the Ministers will also remind themselves of the fundamental fact that when civilian casualties do occur, they are tragic consequence and a tragic mistake and have always to be contrasted with the tactics of the Taliban and the other opposing militant forces who are deliberately using civilian casualties as a way of seeking to achieve their ends.

Q: (Inaudible)… regarding the ministerial meeting. What's the message from the (inaudible)… because you said (inaudible)… surprised if the Ministers…

COLSTON: This is of course a meeting of all 26 Allies and all 23 Partners and this will not be a meeting for specific decisions in relation to the three countries who are members of the Membership Action Plan, but I would expect to hear from Defence Ministers, from Allied Defence Ministers, their continuing support for the three countries in their aspirations to join NATO and also a message to all three countries that they need to continue with the process of defence reform, of strengthening democratic institutions and of committing themselves to strengthening the rule of law and the processes of judicial and police reform in each of the countries.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

COLSTON: Thank you.