the Netherlands

24 Oct. 2007

Questions and answers

at the joint press conference by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
and the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands,
Eimert van Middelkoop

Eimert van Middelkoop (Minister of Defence of the Netherlands) : As I said, we are proud to host this meeting. We receive our allies, our non-NATO partners, the Afghan Minister Wardak and representatives of the United Nations, of the European Union and the World Bank.

I'm also very proud to host this meeting under the chairmanship of my fellow countryman and former colleague of Parliament, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Thank you Jaap. The floor is yours again.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (NATO Secretary General): Thank you very much. 

Q: Mark John of Reuters. A question for both of you: I know you don't like talking in place of nations about their own commitments, but could you quantify a little bit more precisely what kind of offers came up today in terms of, you know, whether we're talking about tens more troops or hundreds? And another question, on Turkey, could you characterize how Turkey and possibly incursions into Northern Iraq were handled in the discussions today?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me start with Turkey. Minister Gonul informed his colleagues about the situation. As the Turkish ambassador is doing on a regular basis in the North Atlantic Council in permanent session in Brussels.

Colleagues appreciated that and it goes without saying, and I could say that in the meeting on behalf of all the Ministers, that the Allies expressed full solidarity with Turkey in the face of these horrible terrorist attacks against Turkish soldiers and civilians.

So the message is, I already gave over the past days after these horrible killings and terrorist acts, were repeated in the meeting on the basis of a briefing by Minister Vecdi Gonul. On the first part of your question, no, I'm not going to detail on who said what. I think that's up to individual nations to say that and to make that public if they want. For me it's important that the... what we call the global force generation conference, which should take place in November, will see these offers materialize. But I can tell you that the offers are in the framework of training and in other areas as well, but I will not be more specific because it's up to the nations concerned.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Thank you. Next question over there, I believe.

Q: Bulgarian Military Television. (Inaudible)... Mr. Secretary General, do all countries, members of NATO, participate with minimum eight percent of their infantries into missions? Because there's a problem in Bulgaria.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yeah, I understand your question. One of the elements which is important, which was discussed as well, by the way, by some Ministers, is indeed how can we increase, what we call in our jargon, but you know what I mean since you're from military television you said, the usability of our forces. And the benchmark we have, the ambition we have, but not all nations are yet ready to fulfil that ambition, is that eight percent of the forces are sustainable, of which 40 percent deployable.

Forty percent deployable, eight percent sustainable, and when you see the pressure on the armed forces of all the nations, because the NATO Allies do not only, of course, participate in Afghanistan and Kosovo—do not forget KFOR is 16,000 strong—there are other peacekeeping operations in the framework of the United Nations, in the framework of the European Union.

Think about Lebanon. Think about Chad. There is a need, given the total pool of our forces, which should not become a puddle, if you know what I mean, that we increase the usability and the deployability of our forces, because if you do that you have a greater pond, a greater pool. I should use the same words for, let's say providing forces for the different peacekeeping advisory response operations. But I agree that there's some work to be done in raising those usability targets.

APPATHURAI: The next one was there, and then we'll go back there.

Q: Martinez de Rituerto with El País, Spain. A question for both of you. Dealing with rotations and burden-sharing you've been quoted, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, before entering you spoke with Dutch press saying that you were thinking of this idea of rotating forces or something like that. Have you exposed this idea to the colleagues and what has been the response? And for the Minister, what was the answer of your colleagues when you had spoke about this thing of burden-sharing and risk-sharing and being equal everybody in dealing with the Taliban threat? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: (Inaudible)... Eimert?

VAN MIDDELKOOP: Let me answer you very briefly, the first part of my standard answer on that kind of question is that all NATO countries are active in Afghanistan and that still is a miracle. And it's... as I must say the way we feel as all Alliance Members our responsibility.

Of course, in some provinces there's a little more work to do than in other provinces, and burden-sharing, as a general principle, of course, is very important and, especially in this country, is a heartfelt need.

But speaking about rotation, it was in the principle, the notion of burden-sharing. I'm supporting it, but I think as far as the principle itself is concerned I can give the floor to the Secretary General.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Being Secretary General of NATO is a demanding job, as you know. Hopefully at least. But it is not, let's say within the reign of the possible for a Secretary General to tell nations now you're going to do this, you're going to do that. It's an Alliance of 26 sovereign states and sovereign nations.

What I've said and what I have repeated, by the way, in my introductory words this afternoon, and that is, I think, echoing what Minister van Middelkoop said a moment ago, is that Afghanistan is an example, not exclusively, but is an important example where the Allies should show financial, military and political solidarity.

Now the political solidarity, as Minister van Middelkoop said, not only 26 NATO Allies, but also 11 Partners, 37 in total, and military and financial solidarity area also of great importance. If you ask me are you going to present, or have you presented a plan in this regard, no, I haven't, but the Allies know very well my opinion on the need for military and financial solidarity in this regard, so there can be no misunderstanding about my message.

APPATHURAI: Paul, at the back.

Q: Paul Ames from the Associated Press. Secretary General, coming back to Turkey, you mentioned the NATO solidarity with the Turks. Last week you also used the word “restraint”. I didn't hear you use that today. Is that still part of the message which you're sending to the Turks.

And to Minister van Middelkoop, there have been a number of reports today of countries coming forward with commitments to send troops to Uruzgan. Have you heard it enough to make you want to recommend an extension of the mandate of the Dutch mission there?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me answer that I'm always trying, at least, to be consistent, so let me be consistent today as well, and so my answer to your question is affirmative. If I say “restraint” I add at the same time, as I did in my pervious statements, that I'm the first one to fully understand the tension, to fully understand what the Turkish people is experiencing at this very moment where almost every week your military and civilian people are killed. So I'm the first one to recognize this immense pressure. I'm the first one to recognize how difficult it is when other people say “I call for moderation and restraint”.

Nevertheless, I do it and we do it, understanding and knowing fully well that in any of the nations you represent or any Minister represents, the fact that civilians and military are killed by terrorists almost every day is a reason for great tensions in society.

And if I look at the Turkish government as it has acted up till now, I think the Turkish government is showing restraint, remarkable restraint under present circumstances.

VAN MIDDELKOOP: As far as the question to me is concerned, I'm not free, like the Secretary General already said, to quote from the meeting, from my colleagues. In second place, this is not a force generation conference. We are exchanging views. In the third place, this is also not the place where this cabinet is negotiating with other countries.

On the other hand, I have my bilateral meetings, of course. I did listen this afternoon to my colleagues and well, I have some confidence that there will be some progress for the cabinet decision we have to make somewhere in the near future, but still, all the options as far as this government is concerned are still open, but here is a Minister standing with good humour.

APPATHURAI: The last question is there.

Q: Thank you very much. Avad von Flastern(?), Dutch Reform Daily. The word burden-sharing has been mentioned and we have been hearing from you about that for the need for a new system of burden-sharing on several occasions already. And every time we see you we hope that you can announce a major breakthrough on that, but it has not happened yet. Could you tell us what are the obstacles, what are the road blocks on the path to a decision?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, you're a bit too negative if you conclude that nothing has happened, because we have only last year agreed to a new key on the issue of common funding, what is commonly funded by the Allies. We have extended what we call the eligibility criteria for common funding, so we can common fund more than we did.

Let's not fool ourselves. Common funding is not the panacea, because common funding also comes from a budget. But we have widened the eligibility criteria. In other words, we are making progress.

I do think, but that is, as we speak, my personal opinion, but I have voiced that personal opinion privately in the Council and publicly as well, that we should have a good look at the way NATO is financing these operations.

But you know I think, Mr. von Flastern, as well as I do, given your and my experience, that when you start discussing money in an Alliance of 26 nations, I think there will be another picture on the wall of my successor as NATO Secretary General before one could say we have now devised a completely new system still on the basis of full solidarity. But I do think that we should have that discussion and... “frapper toujours” is my motto in this regard.