United Kingdom

19 Sept. 2008

Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
following the informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary-General, NATO): Ladies and gentlemen, let me start by thanking Secretary of State for Defence, Browne, Des Browne for having initiated and hosted a meeting of NATO defence ministers. I think the meeting was useful, the meeting was timely. It was in a perhaps slightly more confidential format than we usually have our NATO meetings, but I think it was a very good meeting.

The purpose was, of the meeting,  for one day and an evening to take a step back from the management of our ongoing operations and instead to have a frank and informal talk about the fundamentals of how NATO does its business. Questions like how do we get the best value for money from our defence budgets in a time when no one can afford to waste our taxpayers' money? Or number two: how can we get more of the equipment we have out to where we need it? And you know that's not always easy in the lines. How can we pool our resources, rely on each other a little more to multiply our effectiveness on the ground? Where can we cut, in particular with regard to NATO headquarters and NATO bureaucracy? Not easy, but very necessary.

And yes, because I know this is of interest to many of you, how do we continue to ensure that we have the right balance between expeditionary forces and our core task of collective defence? This was an informal informal; defence ministers do have their formal and informal meetings. This was what I call an informal informal meeting, and there was of course no intention to arrive at formal and binding conclusions, so don't expect them. The idea was to set the stage for more discussion at our upcoming meetings in Budapest in a few weeks' time, and Cracow in Poland in the spring, leading up to the summit in Strasbourg and Kehl next April. That of course will be a summit where we will ask decisions from our Heads of State and Government.

But despite the informality, I can give you I think what I believe some points where there was a strong convergence of views around the table. First we should move forward quickly to find the money needed to get more helicopters off the ground and flying them where we need them, and you know where we need them. However we're pushing hard on this in the coming weeks, there is a helicopter initiative and in this regard I’ll do the necessary to see if we can get to the next stage in Budapest. Point number two, we should take a hard look at streamlining by which yes I mean reducing our overall headquarters structure to free up resources we can need better and where we need them more. I'll also be coming to ministers soon with proposals in this regard.

Point number three, we have as you know a shared interest in announcing our collective capabilities in NATO, like for instance strategic airlift. I'm going to push here too to make some more progress quickly, something ministers supported. You might remember the so-called strategic airlift initiative to fly collectively not at 26, but with a few allies and partners, some allies and partners a small fleet of C-17 transport aircraft. You can do that cheaper and you can do that better if you do it collectively, if you do it together… when you do it together.

Last night over dinner I think there was a good exchange of views of the balances, I mentioned the point already between our expeditionary forces and our core task of collective defence; of course in the context of the current security environment in which we find ourselves. I think here was a clear and shared view on a number of key points. First point, an important one, that we have that balance just about right between expeditionary and our core tasks. That is an important point. That the transformation of our forces into making them more mobile and modern and more flexible has benefits for collective defence as well as for our core function the defence of alliance territory, and that it should continue, the transformation of our forces. There is no difference between the forces you need in Afghanistan and the forces you might need in a scenario, God forbid, where you have to defend the NATO territory.

We concluded, ministers concluded, that NATO has a robust, a flexible, and experienced planning capability able to respond in a timely way to any requirement. Ministers discussed and concluded that planning and training for collective defence of NATO territory is what this alliance has done for the past 60 years; there's nothing new in there, and there will be nothing new in there. Continuing to do that is what ministers concluded, we'll continue what we did. We’ll maybe step up some elements here or there, but continuation of what we have done is important.

The bottom line here is this: planning and training for collective defence is for NATO, ladies and gentlemen, business as usual. No one should be surprised or alarmed in other words when we continue to do it through for example routine contingency planning, security assessments, tabletop or other exercises or joint training. I think you should rather be surprised if we did not do these kinds of things because we've always done them.

So my conclusion of last night and today is that Secretary Browne's initiative was a very good one indeed. We had open discussions, confidential discussions, no decisions, about the most important challenges, and we have mapped out I think a way ahead through the next ministerials in Budapest and Cracow, as I mentioned them, to the summit in Strasbourg and Kehl. It goes without saying that the fact that Secretary Browne took this initiative is because we think that in some areas we can and we should do much better than we do. That we should be more effective; that we should be more efficient; that we should have better and more useable forces; that the sustainability of our forces should increase; that we should think properly about how we finance our operations; how we get the necessary enablers. I mentioned helicopters, I can mention fixed wing aircraft as well. In other words how we can be more efficient; how we can more effective in huge operations like in Afghanistan, but certainly also elsewhere, and that as I said is an exercise which is very much to the benefit of NATO's core function: the defence of alliance territory.

That is what I have to say, ladies and gentlemen. James Appathurai will moderate the rest of this session.

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): Start right here, row one.

ROB WATSON (Reporter): Secretary-General, Rob Watson from the BBC. You've obviously talked extremely carefully about this idea of the balance between expeditionary forces and NATO's core function. I mean am I right in thinking that you don't want us to be going away writing headlines: NATO steps up… defence of homeland for fear of upsetting the Russians. I mean you've talked about it very carefully.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I want you to go away with the impression that is I think the only correct impression that NATO has always been prepared for all eventualities and is prepared for all eventualities, but that I don't see new eventualities if you see what I mean. We didn't discuss this carefully by the way; we had a discussion about this, but I remember Secretary Browne saying well, this is our normal business. It is our normal business. That's what NATO's all about, about planning, and that's what we did and that's what we do. I'm not trying to keep… your mind at rest because your mind is at rest. It should be at least.

APPATHURAI: Right there, and then we'll go there.

UNIDENTIFIED: Richard (Inaudible), the Guardian. Afghanistan is a big test for NATO, everyone agrees with that and you have said that too. Is it failing it, and secondly was there any new commitments made the last two days for allies to provide more equipment or troops to Afghanistan?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: This meeting certainly was not about force generation. If you ask me can we do with more forces? My answer's yes; you know that. I'll never tell you that I'm entirely happy and satisfied about what nations have provided, so we can always do with more forces as you know, although you have seen a fundamental increase; many nations stepping up their national contributions over the past months and the past year. NATO is certainly not failing and will not fail. We discussed of course Afghanistan, and certainly also as I said at the Royal United Services Institute yesterday the need for a regional approach, the need to beef up our political dialogue with Pakistan, given the problems on and around the border, the counter-narcotics problem, NATO's definitely not failing. I travel to Afghanistan and so does Secretary Browne, several times a year.  You can see progress. I don't deny the challenges are huge, that is quite true, but I think… I can say with confidence we're doing fine despite the fact that the challenges are huge.

APPATHURAI: These two here (inaudible).

MITCH POTTER (Reporter): Mitch Potter with the Toronto Star of Canada. Can I ask for your response, your thoughts on the Canadian government's announcement it will be ending its combat mission in Afghanistan in Kandahar at the end of the current mandate?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I'm of course hesitating here because what the NATO secretary-general should never do is enter a debate which is part of an election campaign, and this is part of your election campaign in Canada. So I'm not going to enter that campaign because I think I should be as neutral as I can be as a secretary-general which is 100 percent neutral. So I'll not comment on that. What I will repeat is what I said yesterday at the RUSI here in London that nobody should be surprised if I as a NATO secretary-general will go on calling on all the allies to do as much as they can in Afghanistan, but that the decision of a Canadian government and a Canadian Parliament is a 100 percent sovereign decision in which I will not enter.

REPORTER: My name is Gamel Shahim from Kuwait TV. I would like to ask about the future of NATO (inaudible) because we hear the Georgian people feel the West didn't do enough for Georgia and didn't support them enough, and also NATO faces a lot of problems in Afghanistan, a lot of countries would like to withdraw its force. Do you think we will see the end of the NATO soon? And what kind of plan do you have in the future to visit the Russian government if the aggression in the country? Thanks.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That's more a statement than a question, but nevertheless I'll react to your statement. I think you would go home extremely surprised if I would answer your question: do you see the end of NATO soon, I said yes, indeed, I do see the end of NATO soon. So that is not my answer. Of course not, of course not. NATO is as alive and kicking as it has ever been. NATO has huge challenges; NATO has many operations; NATO has even under my mandate as Secretary-General enlarged substantially, and it's most probably going to enlarge again next year at the summit in Strasbourg and Kehl because Croatia and Albania are on the brink of entering NATO; it depends on the ratification process in parliaments. So NATO is alive and kicking; there should not be a shimmer of a doubt… about that.

About your statement on Georgia because again, it was a statement, I just came back from Georgia. We visited Georgia last Monday and Tuesday with all the 26 ambassadors on the North Atlantic Council. We inaugurated the NATO-Georgia Commission which is a structure which will oversee what I call the post-Bucharest path on Georgia's Euro Atlantic integration aspirations or NATO aspirations, and we have an intensive partnership and intensive dialogue and intensive high level political engagement with Georgia, so that is what we have and that is what we do. The crisis we have seen in August, you have seen the statements made by NATO foreign ministers; you have seen my statements I presume, and that is of course a very serious affair. But that has not to do with NATO helping or NATO not helping Georgia. NATO is in full solidarity as we showed by our visit with the Georgian people and with the Georgian government. I say at the same time as I said yesterday in this wonderful city a political solution for the crisis and out of the crisis will have to be found, and that means that all parties will have to make concessions. You cannot solve this militarily, that two parts of Georgian territory; Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have been recognized by Russia and by Nicaragua and Hamas I think, and that Russian forces are there, but the NATO-Georgia relationship will further develop.

JIM NEUGER (Reporter): Yeah, Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. On the question of defence budgets I wondered whether you have any concerns that the current world financial crisis might put a further squeeze on budgets to make it even more difficult for countries to meet the two percent target and deliver on the capabilities they're promising? And also just in your introductory remarks you did say on collective defence that NATO may step up some elements here or there. Could you give us a sneak preview of what those elements might be?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On the first part of your question: I have a permanent worry about defence budgets. I have a permanent worry. I'm permanently worried, I should say about the level of defence budgets; I had it already before the financial crisis, and I still have it. And of course we discussed in a meeting like this, informal meeting like this that it is very important that nations step up their defence budget; increase their defence budgets, and it'd be good because if you look at our informal target of the two percent GDP, informal target, there are very few allies who reach that target. Now I know that it's not possible between today and tomorrow or next week to come to the two percent GDP, but there was a lively discussion on defence budgets. Defence ministers… Secretary Browne knows better than I are always in competition in a government with others, but what we should continue to realize is that what British and other soldiers are doing in Afghanistan has a direct relationship with you or my security here in Europe, and that defence budgets should not be let's say the odd budget out, if I may use that expression. I've made a strong plea and many other ministers have to become more serious on defence spending, absolutely.

On the other part of your question you'll forgive me if I do not go into detail on what NATO plans and what NATO doesn't plan; we do the necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible), German Television. Mr. Secretary-General, can you just give us an idea--

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Can you have the microphone a bit closer, please? Because it's a bit of--

UNIDENTIFIED: Yeah. Can you give us an idea how the return of the French will influence the future of NATO into the military structures? And can you give us an idea which countries should do more in the field of budget… defence budget?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yeah, the return of the French, that is if they are not member of NATO. La France reprenant toute sa place au sein de l'OTAN.

TRANSLATOR: France will take its full place in the alliance.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, my short answer will be extremely positive; if you ask me what effect this would have on NATO: extremely positive. And France would of course have its share in the different structures, but do not forget that France, Minister Morin was of course there as well, that France is very actively participating in NATO, in the political domain, but also very much in the military domain if you take the NATO Response Force. If you take Afghanistan, if you take Kosovo, France is everywhere, and a very active participant. But having said that, I do think it would be extremely positive for NATO to see France retaking its complete position in NATO again.

APPATHURAI: Two questions (inaudible), right there.

KIM SENGUPTA (Reporter): Kim Sengupta from the Independent Secretary General. You seem very… well almost upbeat about Afghanistan, and some might say sanguine, this is not the message that staffers get in Afghanistan or indeed here. We have just had a series of briefings with visiting Americans; Mr. Gates sidewards and downwards who certainly don't appear to be as sanguine as you are about Afghanistan. And one thing Americans have been stating is the need for more forces on the ground; they are prepared to put down the 14,000 on the ground, and I'm just wondering if there's any chance of NATO putting any more troops on the ground. And the second point, General, is the helicopter… initiative you talked about. I think Mr. Browne started one in London in the summer. It is part of that going on or is it a separate initiative, and can you please give us some figures of how many you may be able to provide for the Afghan Force?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I cannot give you specific figures, but the fact that we discussed the helicopter initiative, to start there, but Secretary Browne will have to say his own things about this. This was indeed a co-initiative from Secretary Browne. We're not doing well enough; that's crystal clear. We're not doing well enough. If you look at the number of helicopters NATO has in its inventory and if you look at us struggling to get helicopters into Afghanistan, then we are not doing well. I'm not beating around the bush here; we're not doing well. You know that Afghanistan is a special terrain as far as the conditions are concerned; the temperature, the height and so on and so forth, so you need to adapt your helicopters if they can carry any serious payloads. So that's of course a costly process, but we are not doing well enough.

What we have concluded, cannot say decided, at our meeting that I will prepare for our meeting in Budapest a report, that I’ll convene a group of people to get this initiative becoming serious because it has… it is a good initiative, but it has not come off the ground sufficiently, and as you know the enablers as we call them, including helicopters are always in short supply, and everybody who has gone to Afghanistan knows how incredibly important helicopters are in that country. So that's point number one.

Point number two on your forces, of course I do hope that allies are going to put more forces on the ground because we cannot only look at our American allies. Your nation by the way is doing quite well also as you know given the numbers you have on the ground. Of course. I mean my job is to gain as much solidarity in the alliance as possible, and that does mean that I'll go on nagging allies to get more forces on the ground.

On your qualification, upbeat, I am confident that we are making progress. I think I said despite the fact that the challenges are huge, and that to answer those challenges in a more effective way than we have done up to now, we need to do a lot as NATO, but let's not forget, and we call that in our horrible jargon the comprehensive approach that the answer in Afghanistan is not a military one. We are not waging a war there which we will win militarily. The answer in Afghanistan is nation building; it's reconstruction; it's development; it's fighting narcotics. It's also an Afghan government which takes more responsibility in the drive against corruption, in the rule of law, in the respect for human rights.

It is also, as I said, it's coming to a serious not only military but political dialogue with Pakistan. In other words NATO is an extremely important, extremely important organization because it is supposed to provide the climate and the stability and the security in which that other process can take place. So NATO is a very important player I say, but it's by far not the only player, and other players like other international organizations are also of key importance. And I think quite honestly that is also where we can do better in having a real comprehensive approach, but that needs the region as well.

APPATHURAI: Last question, there.

JAMES BLITZ (Reporter): James Blitz, Financial Times. A couple of questions if I may: after the visit of the NAC to Georgia this week, has NATO taken firm decisions on the kind of assistance that it will give to the Georgians? I think you had a technical report on that at the end of last week, and I don't know whether you have now taken decisions on the assistance you can give. And the second question is on the Afghan National Army; Secretary Gates was saying yesterday that he wanted to raise this as an issue with NATO allies and others because of the significant costs. Was any progress made on that, and what are your views on the challenges that that will face, that that poses?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On your first question: my answer's no, not yet, that we have not yet taken decisions, but as you know that we are in the process of… there was a NATO team out, we are in a process of identifying how and where we can help Georgia. So it's still slightly early to say, or to answer that question with a yes or more on the affirmative, but we're going to do it. I mean there cannot be a shimmer of a doubt about it. We'll do it, but we're not yet in the phase of decision-making.

On the other part of your question; yes indeed, this was discussed. That's the Afghan National Army numbers, the total numbers, the Afghan National Army will achieve at a certain stage will go up. That means as you say that we have to step up our activities as far as training and equipping is concerned. You know the Americans in this regard have done by far the biggest investments in their special training command in Afghanistan. It does not mean that the other allies are off the hook because increasing the numbers of the ANA will also mean definitely, because it's not only a matter of training and equipping, it is also a matter of sustaining them. That's… they are looking and we are looking at other allies to contribute, not only in training but also financially, definitely. But again here, like with the help of Georgia, we are in the early stages. But you'll see certainly this discussion develop in the coming weeks and months.