From the event


9 Oct 2008

Press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

Informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers,
Budapest, Hungary

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Ministers began their discussion today on the issue of piracy, in particular off the Somali coast. Piracy is a serious problem for shipping in that area. It is also an immediate threat to the lives of the people in Somalia. Substantially more than 40 percent of the population depends on the food aid being delivered by ship by the World Food Programme, and the World Food Programme requires escorts for their transport ships. Otherwise, they are not able to deliver aid.

Right now a Canadian ship is providing escort for these, but that is not an indefinite commitment. I believe it's to near the 20th of October.

Both the World Food Programme and Secretary General... UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have asked NATO for help to address these problems. Today Ministers agreed that NATO should play a role.

NATO will have its Standing Naval Maritime Group, which is composed of seven ships, in the region within two weeks. Nations agreed that NATO would make use of that presence, not necessarily all of the seven ships, but some of those ships, to do two things. One, to ensure that the World Food Programme ships have the escort they need to deliver their essential food supplies, and more generally, to patrol the waters around Somalia, to help stop acts of piracy.

Let me be clear. These roles will be carried out in full complementarity with other parties, including, of course, the European Union, which has already taken very welcome moves to set up its own mission. There is no competition here and plenty of work to go around.

There are still important details to work out, but the bottom line is this, there will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia deterring piracy and escorting food shipments. That is good news for the Somalis and it is good news for international shipping.

That was the issue of piracy. They then turned to Afghanistan and Kosovo. Now let me stress, the second meeting on Afghanistan, with all of the ISAF partners, with Defence Minister Wardak, with Kai Eide, the head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan is beginning right now, so this was in essence the first part of a two-part discussion.

A number of issues were addressed. Yes, the Supreme Allied Commander presented to the allies his thoughts on what roles allies might play... NATO ISAF might play in expanding its role in the fight against narcotics inside Afghanistan. There was a very open exchange of views, but of course that discussion now has to be had again in the wider forum and may well continue into tomorrow.

So no decisions taken in that regard.

There were also discussions on the need to meet the existing shortfalls in the ISAF, what we call, Statement of Requirements. What the military needs to do the job that the allies have asked them to do.

Two areas in particular, one is embedded trainers, training teams, what we call Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams. We are short, as NATO, of about 20 teams that we should be providing to the Afghan battalions in terms of support. The allies support the decision taken by the Joint Control and Monitoring Board, the decision taken to grow the Afghan National Army to around 130,000 troops, but that will increase the burden on us to provide trainers for them.

So there was a healthy exchange of views. Some allies spoke about providing more. Though this was not a pledging conference I think we will see an increase in the number of training teams provided to the Afghans.

There was discussion of helicopters, and the need to do better in providing helicopters in the field. And there was discussion of election support. In other words, support for next year's presidential election. That support has already begun in that the voter registration process began, I believe, on the 6th of this month and NATO has already... ISAF has already begun providing support to that process. We are looking forward to the electoral process itself.

Let me be clear, the military commanders have not yet formalized a request for further forces. I know that this issue has been in the press. When it is formalized it will be discussed, of course, at the political level. I think there should be no doubt that when that decision is taken it will be, in one form or another, a positive one. ISAF provided extra troops for the last electoral process. I have little doubt that in whatever format it is more support will be provided and the appropriate support will be provided as well for the next year's presidential elections.

Finally, on Kosovo, a number of allies welcomed the continuing, if fragile, stability in Kosovo and remained committed... or reiterated their commitment to this mission. You might remember in the past the expression has been used "in together, out together." We are very firmly on the in together track now and no one is talking about out.

That is all that has happened until now. As you know, the ISAF meeting is taking place as we speak, so I'm happy to take any questions that you have quickly.

Thank you.

Q: Paul Ames from Associated Press. James, about Somalia, could you just be a little bit more specific on which ships are going down there, from which countries are they from, what type of ships are there? When exactly will they be getting there? And how is this going to be coordinated with the European Union? Is there going to be some sort of joint coordination cell? How are you going to make sure that there is no duplication?

APPATHURAI: To answer all of those questions very briefly, under the general rubric the details still need to be worked out, this was a discussion that took place two hours ago.

First, there is a clear commitment that NATO and the European Union should work in complementarity. We have good staff-to-staff exchanges, full visibility at the staff level and at the political level of what each organization is either doing and the European Union has already set up a coordination cell, as you know, coordination capability. And second, at the staff level.  So while I don't know yet what mechanisms will be used, I can assure you that there will be full complementarity. The spirit between the two organizations on this issue is very open and very... it is mutually supportive.

There are other parties in the area. For example, there is a coalition-led task force, anti-terror task force. There is also, I understand, a Russian ship, if I've seen in the press correctly, heading to that area.

Be assured everybody is aware of the need to avoid duplication, to ensure complementarity and that will take place. We will provide more details on the ships and who will do what when that has been decided and when the nations themselves wish to, of course, make that public.


Q: Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune. Can I have two short questions? Thank you. And one, was there any comment among... discussions... or anything in the discussions about the New York Times report today about the... not what you'd call the decomposition, disintegration, but Karzai's inability, and indeed, unwillingness, to deal with corruption?

And the second issue, is this discussion about certain levels of the Taleban, is there any kind of a discussion taking place inside NATO today about, or yesterday, about opening up some kind of communication with certain elements of the Taleban, given what the British commander, and even Secretary Gates himself said recently? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. There was no discussion this morning or in the first meeting, excuse me, on opening up NATO relations or talks of any kind to the Taleban. I don't think NATO sees it as its role to engage in talks with the Taleban.

I have heard and seen the same public comments that you have seen from many parties saying that...(BREAK IN AUDIO, 12 SECONDS)...of the counternarcotics effort and where the least progress is being made. As I've said so many times, so I don't want to bore... I apologize to those of you who've heard it before, but the Taleban in these areas is like any mafia, protecting the crop, taking its percentage, using it to fund the insurgency. That is very clear. And this is why this discussion is about more than simply counternarcotics. It is also about the extent to which the narcotics problem is feeding the Taleban, and their threat to Afghanistan and to our soldiers.

We'll come back there and then I'll have to run.

Q: (Inaudible...) from the Hungarian National News Agency, MTI. I'm wondering whether there was any kind of discussion on the new strategy in Afghanistan because we just got the news that Washington announced that they started to think about nullification of all the strategy in Afghanistan.

APPATHURAI: I have seen press reports about America's... that the United States is looking at its overall approach. There was no discussion of any change to the overall strategy in Afghanistan on the part of NATO.

Q: James, particularly on that, you spoke about additional (inaudible...)...

APPATHURAI: I think we have now 41, is that right? Forty-one. We'll check it, but it's around 40. Let's say around 40.  Laurent?

Q: (Inaudible...) formal NAC decision (inaudible...)? Or are you (inaudible)?

APPATHURAI: Let's come back to it tomorrow at the press conference. The SecGen's press conference. I'm not trying to dodge you.

Q: Did NATO Defence Ministers speak about the context of Afghan government with the Talebans?


Q: It was in the newspapers the last days and has it been discussion?


Q: Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Sorry. Okay, two, and then I'm really going to have to go. One there, and then one there. Go ahead, and then we'll go over there.

Q: Is there consternation within NATO that the global financial crisis will reduce the willingness of member states to commit more resources to Afghanistan?

APPATHURAI: Well, NATO's not in the business of being "consterned." I know that's not a word, but no. There is no concern about the willingness of allies to contribute to this mission, even in the context of what is very real pressure on national budgets.

However, tomorrow's discussion on transformation as we call it, I think will be very much in the context of the financial situation in which allies find themselves and the whole world finds itself. In other words, we need to get better value for our defence dollars, defence euros and that means not retreating into protection of national industries, but instead going for what is real value for money and that is shared, collaborative projects, joint integrated capabilities. That is the way in which to save money for taxpayers, and by the way, get the best value in terms of effectiveness.

So that will be the context in which its taking place, but I don't think, and I have never heard, of concern that the operations themselves will be in any way undermined by the current situation.

Last question is there.

Q: Andrew Lavanok(?) from Ukrainian News Agency UNIAN. And that's why could you tell some words concerning maybe Ukrainian contribution to the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Maybe is there some perspective of development of its participation in this. And that's why maybe you just have informed us on the topics which Defence Ministers would discuss... maybe are discussing right now, but what topic concerning maybe Ukrainian and Georgian inspiration to get MAP in December this year be discussed during this informal meeting? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: In terms of an increased Ukrainian contribution, that has not obviously been discussed and I don't think, frankly, it would be discussed without the presence of the Ukrainian Defence Minister. That would be the only appropriate way to do it, but that would be more in the format of a NATO-Ukraine Commission than I think this larger meeting in which we find ourselves.

Tomorrow there will be a NATO-Georgia Commission. The purpose of tomorrow's NATO-Georgia Commission is not to discuss the readiness of Georgia to join the Membership Action Plan. A first assessment of that will be made, as you know, in December, as well as for Ukraine, of course. The... no, sorry, just for Georgia. No, and Ukraine. First assessment, it's for Ukraine and Georgia.

But tomorrow it will focus very much on practical steps to help support their defence reform, address the issues relating to the aftermath of the conflict, but not, I expect, any kind of assessment of their readiness.

Colleagues, thank you. Sorry, again, for the delay. The Secretary General will be here, I hope, on time.