From the event


9 Oct 2008

Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers,
Budapest, Hungary

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon, or rather, good evening ladies and gentlemen. I should, of course, start this press conference by thanking the Hungarian authorities, but also the Hungarian people for their great hospitality for the preparation of this meeting and for the days we are enjoying in Budapest.

I apologize to the people of Budapest for the traffic jams NATO Ministers and I myself are creating. I hope it's not too bad, but we feel welcome and we thank them all for their great hospitality.

Today's discussions we just closed have been entirely devoted to operations. As you know, and as James Appathurai has told you, first among NATO Ministers only, and then with our partners in ISAF, in the presence of Afghan Defence Minister General Wardak and Kai Eide, the High Representative of the United Nations in Kabul.

As you already know, but let me repeat it, allies agreed today that NATO would make use, and this concerns piracy, of our Standing Naval Maritime Group, off the coast of Somalia, in I guess about two weeks to do two things. First of all, on a request of the United Nations—Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote me a letter last week on this—ensure that ships contracted by the World Food Programme have the escort they need to deliver essential food shipments to Somalia. You know millions of Somalians risk starvation if that does not happen.

And secondly, more generally, patrol the waters around Somalia, to help stop, or rather, first of all, to prevent acts of piracy.

Now let me underline that these roles will be carried out in full complementarity with other parties, including, of course, first and foremost, in full complementarity with the European Union, which has already made, as you know, welcome moves to set up its own mission. That's in the framework of preparation, and in general you know that when I talk about NATO and the European Union and the relationship there's only one word which is applicable and that is complementarity.

In other words, this will be done in close consultation, but since we have ships in the region it can be done at relatively short notice.

The bottom line here is the following. There will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia hopefully deterring piracy and escorting food shipments, and I think that's good news for the people of Somalia and, as it should be, bad news for the pirates.

Afghanistan, to switch to our most important operation, was on the agenda in both the NATO and the larger ISAF meetings, and while no decisions were expected, or are to be expected, this is after all an informal meeting, there were some clear shared views around the table on a number of issues.

First, that this has been, up till now, a challenging year for Afghan and international forces. Extremist attacks are up; so is cross-border support for the insurgent in Afghanistan. But I will not tell you tonight, and I'll distance myself as much as I can, from the gloom and doom scenarios we have been hearing in recent weeks. There is no reason whatsoever for gloom and doom.

I'm cautiously optimistic, because despite the fact that the challenges we are facing are considerable, I'm cautiously optimistic because I see progress. I see ISAF continue to grow, by another 5,000 soldiers since the summit in Bucharest. I see voter registration for the elections next year beginning in Afghanistan. I see a poppy cultivation which is down 20 percent this year, with over half of Afghanistan now poppy free. You'll say that's not enough, I agree. That's by far not enough, but the trend is in the right direction.  

I see an Afghan National Army which is taking more and more direction and leadership and is now set to grow to about 130,000. I see development indicators, such as health care and education as encouraging and I also see on the political scene an intensifying and growing relationship, important, between the new Pakistani government led by President Zardari and the Afghan government.

Today we discussed, of course, what more needs to be done, because there's no reason and no need for complacency here. And again, I think there were some shared views.

First of all, let's go on and let's continue to grow... to support, I should say, the growth of the Afghan National Army, something General Wardak, Minister Wardak, expressed again today. That means money, and that means more and better training teams. We will work to provide both training teams, the famous OMLTs, Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams.

Secondly, we need to support next year's presidential elections. I mentioned them already. ISAF has not yet formalized exactly what they need in terms of extra forces for the election period, but when military advice will reach us in this regard we'll discuss it in Brussels, but as with the last elections in Afghanistan, NATO will play its part to provide security, and if necessary, extra security in the election period. And as you know, we are already providing support to the voter registration process.

What we also need to do our utmost, I would quality, as ISAF, is to support the Afghans in fighting narcotics. Let me be clear, no decisions were taken here today, but Ministers had an intense discussion whether ISAF could play a role in going after the drug laboratories, the drug labs and the precursors, because you need precursors to make the drugs. And I can tell you that discussion will continue tomorrow.

It's a complex question and I cannot say that all noses were pointing already in the same direction. Because it has to do with the ISAF mandate it has, of course to do with the position first and foremost taken by the Afghan government. Now we've seen and we've heard Minister Wardak making comments to ask ISAF to do more in the fight against narcotics. Discussion will be continued tomorrow morning.

Point number three, we need to meet the remaining shortfalls. You have heard me saying this many times before, I'm afraid, in the ISAF shortfalls, in the ISAF force. Which means, not only, as I mentioned, trainers, but also helicopters and the ground forces.

I'll be frank, I'm not satisfied and I'm not happy about the way the allies are performing in this regard. But the problems we are facing, for instance on getting the right helicopters in theatre, are, I think, part of a larger challenge the whole international community is facing and that challenge we’ll take up tomorrow morning, Ministers will take up tomorrow morning, when they will discuss NATO's transformation and there the usability of our forces, the flexibility, sustainability of our forces, the NATO Response Force and its role will certainly be discussed.

And finally, we discussed, I mentioned it already, the importance of stronger political and military cooperation with Pakistan. ISAF countries strongly support the new civilian government because we see President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, the Pakistani government, taking very serious effort, very serious efforts, indeed, in fighting those extremists who want to destabilize Pakistan and they happen to be exactly the same people as the people who are trying to destabilize Afghanistan.

And that notion is strong and that means that also we in NATO have to beef up our political dialogue with Pakistan.

In sum, ladies and gentlemen, the 41 ISAF nations, Minister Wardak and Kai Eide, who briefed us on his activities, all share the same view. Kai Eide, by the way, as the High Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, he is the first and foremost coordinator of the international community in Afghanistan, and we must accept and want to be coordinated. An important notion, I think.

But I think the 41 nations share the same view. Seven years after the fall of the Taleban the challenges remain real, but the progress is just as real. And our commitment to carry this mission through to success, where we find an Afghanistan at peace with itself, and with the world, remains undiminished.

Let me finish by saying that in the NATO-only meetings, or the meeting between the 26 NATO Allied Ministers, we also discussed Kosovo. Ministers welcomed the fact that the people of Kosovo have remained calm despite a rapidly changing political environment. And we all hope and trust and have confidence that that calm will continue.

KFOR, no doubt about that, will continue to play its role, throughout Kosovo, and KFOR will work with the other international actors in Kosovo to help keep the peace.

As I said already, tomorrow the focus will be on transformation. Not an easy subject either, and that then finally will be followed, but I'll brief you on that tomorrow, with the first ministerial meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission.

That is what I have to tell you and I'm ready for our questions and your comments. Please.

Q: I'm (inaudible) from the Hungarian National News Agency, the MTI. I have three short questions. First of all, has any of the NATO member states announced or offered any new contribution to the Afghanistan mission?

The second question is, in connection with the Afghan government, do you agree with the Afghan will to start discussion with the Taleban?

And the third question is in connection with the transportation. Many Eastern European countries, new NATO member states have offered old Soviet helicopters for the Afghanistan mission. Do you think it's a good idea to use old Soviet helicopters for a NATO mission? Thanks.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That is certainly a good idea. Of course, on the condition, and that is one of the elements of a helicopter initiative taken by the United Kingdom and France, on the condition of course that they'll be modernized. You cannot just fly Mi-17, Mi-24 helicopters into Afghanistan where you know the weather conditions for helicopters are rather complicated.

But I think it's a good idea and I'm happy with the offers we have.

I heard a number of nations around the table announcing that they would beef up their national contingents, so in that regard it was a positive meeting. We have to do better, by the way. We're not there, and I'll not leave as a completely happy NATO Secretary General.

On reconciliation, this is a matter for the Afghan government. I hear many people, from time-to-time too many people, speaking about reconciliation. Of course it is important that a political process will come about but let us leave that political process and let me leave it to the principal actors.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Next question is... There, you want to do it? (Inaudible...). 

Q: I am Martinez de Rituerto with El País. It is in relation with the fighting against the drugs, and you are saying that tomorrow the discussions will continue. Is there any expectation of getting any kind of agreement tomorrow to be formalized later on, or will we continuing the discussions in order to mature the situation, to take more discussions in the future?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I think... I'm paid for... by the allies, I'm paid for getting the allies to a certain form of a conclusion at a certain stage, and as you may know, I told the Ministers this afternoon, only telling me, Secretary General, take it back with you to Brussels will not solve the problem. And I admit this is a complex and complicated question we are discussing. What to do about laboratories and what to do about precursors. That is not easy.

So I hope that tomorrow morning Ministers will be able to come to some form of a conclusion. They are the Ministers, they are the political leaders, they are also my political masters, so I'll do my utmost to come to any form of a conclusion tomorrow and if not you'll see me tomorrow standing behind this rostrum less happy than I should be. But I'll do my best.

But it's a bit too early to say... an evening and a  morning is a long time in politics, so let's see what we can achieve.


Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary General, I'd like to come back to...


Q: Oui. come back to this question, because as you said, there are very important differences between allies on the question of taking this role of counter narcotics. But you are the NATO SecGen, so I'd like to know what is your opinion? Do you think NATO can take this role without any change of the Oplan and without any change of the mandate of NATO?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I say again, I'm optimistic. My personal opinion doesn't matter too much. I'm the one who is supposed to forge consensus and I have learned in the almost five years I'm now in this job that that consensus is usually not stimulated by a Secretary General in his role in forging consensus coming out too strongly in favour of the one or the other opinion. So I hope you will forgive me that I'll not voice my opinion publicly here and now.

I do think that tomorrow, as I told... I answered your Spanish colleague, that we can come to some form of a conclusion. And I'll try to find a possibility to do that without having to go through the long and tedious process of changing the Oplan, but let me give  you one other element. It is, of course, important, and that's why it's complex, that you phrase this also in the framework of the ISAF mandate as is given to NATO by the United Nations Security Council.

So it is complex, but I'm confident that we can find a way. One of the important conditions that I can tell you, one of the important conditions mentioned by almost all Ministers, whatever position they took, is that there is a clear signal, and I think we have that clear signal, from the Afghan government, that this is what they want. Because first and foremost, this is an Afghan responsibility. They should do that. Their problem is that they lack the capacity to do it. And our problem is, in NATO, that our guys are killed, they are killed, by the weapons bought by the Taleban, financed by drug money.

And I think that is a very strong and important notion. Our guys and soldiers get killed by this horrible narcotics problem.

So again that is all I can say about this now. I'll do my utmost tonight and tomorrow morning to forge a consensus.

APPATHURAI: Two there, and then there.

Q: (Inaudible...) from Hungary News Radio Channel, Info Radio. Two short questions. The first is that... you said that you are generally satisfied with the member state offers, but specifically the Hungarian offers. What's your opinion about the Hungarian offers.

The second is, what's your opinion about the Hungarian state defence budget? Does Hungary spend enough money for defence? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On your first question I'll not go and comment on the individual nations because they have announced reinforcements here today, but I'm not going to mention the one and the other, because I think that is the responsibility of the Ministers concerned, but take my word for it, that there were... there were increases announced.

As far as the Hungarian defence budget is concerned, let me start by answering you that if I look at Finance Ministers, who in Hungary, like in another other nation, will be important in the whole debate about increasing defence budgets, I could imagine that as we speak Finance Ministers have a few other problems on their minds, given the international  financial environment.

Having said that, I do think... I did think and I do think that defence budgets should increase in NATO and that we see a trend which is not to my liking and I discussed, of course, this morning, with your Prime Minister, and with your Defence Minister, who is our host, also the Hungarian defence budget, where I hope that there might be a slight turn for the better.

But my message to Hungary, as well as to the large majority of all the allies is, so mark my words, I'm not singling out Hungary here and now. There is a need for further increases in defence budgets because transformation doesn't come on the cheap. And a mission in Afghanistan does not come on the cheap.

But I say again, that you should interpret my words as such that they are also directed against Hungary, but not specifically or exclusively for Hungary, because the large majority of the allies isn't doing what they should do.


Q: Thank you. Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune. Secretary General, I've got just one question.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Judy, could you use the microphone, please...

Q: Yeah, I've just got one question.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yes, but nevertheless, I want to hear it.


Q: Well, thank you. How many more troops are needed?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Oh-ho-ho. That's a good question, but I'm going to disappoint you because there are other people who are listening in on what my answer would be to such a question, but let me tell you that we could do with more troops on the ground and that we specifically could do with what the military call enablers. And if I say enablers you know what I mean. That's helicopters, that is fixed-wing aircraft to transport.

Let me mention one element which I think gives my appeal to the allies extra strength. We are in need of improving the medevac time in Afghanistan, and medevac, I didn't know the word before I came to NATO I must admit, but medevac stands for medical evacuation.

We owe it to our soldiers, who are wounded on the battlefield, that they can be medevaced, medically evacuated at the minimum time and that underlines my plea, I think, Judy, for the need to have the forces nations promised. I think this is a good example.

But forgive me that I'm not going to mention to you details because other people are certainly listening in. I don't blame them for listening in, but I don't want to give them a field day.

APPATHURAI: Okay, we have time for two more. One there, one there, that'll be it.

Q: (Inaudible...)?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, Judy, I'm sorry, not even roughly.


Q: ARD, German Television. Do you think that there is a link between the U.S. request for more commitment in the drug fight and the fact that U.S. Secret Services says that the Afghan government is about to break down? Is there a link? What do you think?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That's a question I cannot answer because I'm not aware of U.S. Secret Service statements and if I was aware I wouldn't tell you because they're secret services. So I can't answer that question.

APPATHURAI: The last question is there.

Q: Yes, Katrine (inaudible) from the German Press Agency. Back to this drug problem in Afghanistan. The Afghan Minister of Defence today made an official request for help to combat this problem. Did he say concretely what he wanted and what is this? What concrete steps does he expect or would like to have from NATO?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, what Minister Wardak indicated, and that's what I also have read in the wires I saw during the meeting, is that the Afghan government needs more assistance from ISAF in this scourge called drug laboratories and people bringing in the precursors.

Now what form that exactly is going to take I come back to what I answered your colleague Zecchini a moment ago, we'll have to continue that discussion, because I don't deny this is a complex issue. I'm not going to make it nicer than it is. It's a complex issue. But what has happened, and that is an important element for a number of allies, is that the Afghan government has clearly come out in asking for this. Not only privately, but if I read Minister Wardak's stories, what he said publicly, also publicly. And that is an element I think which will certainly weigh in in the continuation of the discussion tomorrow morning.

APPATHURAI: That's all you have time for.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you so much.