From the event


10 Oct 2008

Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers,
Budapest, Hungary

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General):  Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let me summarize today's discussions for you.  We continued, as you will have heard already, the discussion on the role ISAF can play with regard to counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.

And you also heard at least James Appathurai say that ministers agreed today that based on the request which came to us from the Afghan government, of course consistent with the existing and appropriate resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and under the oplan which we have in Afghanistan, ISAF can... but it will do it in concert with the Afghans, act against facilities or facilitators supporting the insurgency.  And if that happens, it happens subject to the authorization of specific nations.  That is what ministers agreed this morning after a second round of discussions on the issue. 

The second important element, this morning, was a discussion which was started in London a few weeks ago, as some of you might remember, in Lancaster House, on transformation.  What Afghanistan makes clear among other things is the importance that the Alliance is able to deploy and sustain a larger part of our forces for any kind of operation.  We simply have to do better here.  And we simply have to do better means that this was a discussion.  More will follow. 

The result?  Until now, Allies have aimed to have 40% 4-0 of their land forces deployable.  And today, ministers endorsed a decision to raise that benchmark to 50% and to look as well at raising the percentage that can sustain themselves in the field as well. 

It doesn't look much 40-50 % but it amounts to something substantial if you are a defence minister and if you have to make your forces deployable.  Ministers also agree, as we saw already yesterday night, when the 12 nations participating in the so-called strategic airlift capability, in layman's term the C-17 initiative because it concerns C-17 aircraft, gathered here to mark that this initiative has gotten off the ground.  And I repeat what I said yesterday at the brief ceremony, I think these kinds of options and choices, when nations... and in this case NATO nations and NATO partner nations get together and see how together they can fill gaps in our enabling capabilities is an important element for the future of the Alliance.

I must, at the same time, admit that we have made less progress with regard to another element I consider very important.  And that's helicopters, also very important for our missions.  I'm disappointed there to say it in frank terms.  There are thousands of helicopters in the NATO fleet.  And Allies should definitely not have this kind of trouble getting a few hundred to theatre to support our operations.  I've heard some encouraging indications of new contributions.  But on the whole, I think much more should be done.  And I also want more political will to field... field helicopters.  And I think I gave you already an example last evening in the sphere of medical evacuation, where this is extremely important.  But it goes for the general situation as well.

Why is this so difficult?  There are technical reasons.  There are financial reasons. A technical reason is that for instance in a theatre like Afghanistan, the climatic conditions are such that you cannot just transport any helicopter to Afghanistan and at that height and in those summer temperatures fly any helicopter.  So it is technically complicated.  It is financially complicated.  But the bottom-line is that we need political will.  And I'll try to forge and go on in forging that political will. 

By the way, if I mention transport capability or helicopters in the NATO context, this is of course as important for the European Union, for the United Nations, because after all nations fly those same aircraft and helicopters in a NATO mission like Afghanistan, in a European Union mission like for instance in Chad, or in a UN mission in Lebanon.  In other words, this is an interest not specific to NATO but to more international organizations.

Let me now turn to what we discussed in the framework of the NATO-Georgia Commission, our last meeting.  You know that the NATO-Georgia Commission was established following the events in August.  It met first in Tblissi, in Georgia, a few weeks ago, at ambassadorial level.  This was the first ever meeting at the political level, where we focussed of course on the main work of the NATO-Georgia Commission.  And that is exchanging views on the political situation in Georgia. 

You know that the deadline for all parties to meet the requirements of the Medvedev-Saakashvili agreement is today. And it is encouraging that Russia seems to be withdrawing its forces back to the pre-conflict lines.  I think, as we speak, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is in Georgia. He'll, without any doubt, report his findings to the General Affaires Council of the European Union on Monday in Brussels.  And we'll certainly then hear more from him. 

You do know that the NATO Allies support... strongly support the initiatives taken by the European Union and by the French Presidency of the European Union. 

What did we do in the NATO-Georgia Commission, apart from exchanging views on the political situation where by the way the Georgian Defence Minister of course heard firm support once again for Georgia's territorial integrity?  We discussed NATO's stepped up support for Georgia's defence reform. 

To avoid misunderstandings, NATO will not be supplying any weapons to Georgia.  But we can and do provide guidance and expert advice to Georgia as it sets its own priorities.  We have also provided specific support to help Georgia recover from the conflict, including through civil emergency planning and helping to build a better air picture.  And we looked at what more might be done in this regard as well.

Let me also tell you what we did not do.  This was not the first assessment of Georgia's readiness to join the Membership Action Plan.  You know that first assessment will be taken by foreign ministers of NATO.  And they'll do that in December in Brussels.  So I think a pragmatic meeting, a good meeting between NATO and Georgia. 

Finally, let me congratulate on behalf of NATO but also on my own behalf because I know him already for a long time, President Ahtisaari, on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  President Ahtisaari has a very long distinguished career helping to solve crises, one can say around the world.  First time I met Martti Ahtisaari was in Namibia where I was an election observer and he was leading the process towards the elections.  I can mention Aceh.  I can mention other areas as well.  He is the definition of the respected elder statesman.  And I think no one could be more deserving of this award than Martti Ahtisaari.  Let me stop here.  And see if you have any questions or comments to make.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman):  The first one is just right here.

Q:  Martin de Retorto  El Pais, so are you happy today in relation with what you were promising us last night talking about the anti-drugs issue.  But apparently, if everybody can do whatever... its country can do whatever it pleases what... why do we need this agreement in which everybody has agreed to do whatever it pleases?  Why this thing couldn't be done before?  And what this agreement, so-called agreement means and what is going to change?  Thank you.

SCHEFFER:  Your question is complicated.  The answer I think is easy.  What is important of what the Allies decided this morning?  Let me add an element this will, of course, be done...  this will, of course, be done along the lines you know of NATO, that is avoiding civilian casualties I should add that as an important element.  What is important about the fact that the Allies agreed is that they agreed.  That all twenty-six have agreed that this will be done.  I, again, underline the last line I read to you:  "Subject to the authorization of specific nations." 

And the situation we had when we came to Budapest yesterday was a different one than...  There was, by the way, when we came to Budapest, no request by the Afghan government.  So a number of elements have changed which made us discuss this.  And I'm very happy as you already indicated that the Allies, all twenty-six, could agree on what I just read to you.  Because if they had not agreed to what I just read to you, these activities could have not happened under the provisos I have given you, in the lines I read to you.

APPATHURAI:  Next question is there and then there.  Please there.

Q:  Secretary-General, don't you think that in recent years, NATO and its members became too heavy on expeditionary missions, and now the Alliance should revisit much conventional plans... much more conventional plans of its own defence in view of what happened in Georgia.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  I don't share that analysis for two reasons.  First of all, if we discuss transformation, and if we discuss where we are doing well and where we are doing less well in the sphere of the modernisation of our forces, having the forces available, usability of forces, deployability of forces, enablers, helicopters, C-17 aircraft, that's... there is no basic difference between what we need in the Alliance for our expeditionary operations and missions and what we need in transformation and modernization for our core function, our classic task.  That is the same.  So never construct any form of contradiction between ... between the two. 

And on the more fundamental issue, since 1949, NATO has been ready for all eventualities and NATO is ready for all eventualities and nobody should doubt that.  And that is all I have to say about this.  And that is all there is to say about this.  But please accept that as far as the capabilities are concerned there is no difference between an aircraft or a helicopter we need or deployable forces we need for whatever responsibility or task this Alliance has.


DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  I beg your pardon.


DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  NATO will always do, the political authorities and the military authorities, NATO will always do what is necessary to do.  But we usually do not use a trumpet to play that around.  But you can rest assured that the situation is the same as it was since 1949 that NATO is prepared for all eventualities.

APPATHURAI:  Next question, Paul.

Q:  Secretary General, Paul Ames from the Associated Press.  I have two questions.  First regarding the narcotics issue in Afghanistan, the wording you are using about... that you will be targeting facilitators who are supporting the insurgency, does that mean that those drugs producers who are not directly supporting the insurgency, but may be doing terrible damage to the stability and the economy of Afghanistan need not fear any action from NATO?  And secondly, on another issue, you've been quite heavily criticized by the Russian government in the past few days over the agreement you reached with the United Nations.  They're accusing you of concluding a secretive and illegitimate agreement.  How do you respond to that criticism?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Let me take the second one first.  I'm very surprised.... Indeed, very surprised because this was done and prepared...  And as you know, it is an agreement between the Secretariats of NATO and the United Nations signed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and myself in New York.  Let me tell you that... why am I so surprised because... because our Russian partners were extensively briefed by us more specifically for the details by Martin Erdmann... Ambassador Martin Erdmann who is in charge.  So it can definitely not have come as a surprise to them because they were kept informed.

In Moscow, they were kept informed; in Brussels, they were kept informed.  So I'm indeed very, very much surprised by this Russian reaction.  I would say that cooperation between the United Nations and NATO, given the fact that NATO more and more basically in all operations and missions but one operates either under direct Security Council mandate or with the blessing of the Security Council.  The only operation which does not have that element is Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean which is an Article 5 operation after 9/11.  There the Russians, until recently participated.  So I'm very surprised. 

And I do not understand why this... why this sudden criticism.  And if you read the substance of the declaration, you see that one of the key sentences, of course, is that this will be done in complete agreement, I'm quoting not literally now "with the United Nations Charter". 

And you might know that the Washington Treaty has many references to the UN Charter.  So I'm surprised, very surprised by this criticism.  And I'm happy and glad that we signed this declaration because it will facilitate for instance, staff-to-staff talks with the United Nations. 

On the first part of your question, I said what I said.  And everyone...  Look what is the heart and the core of this discussion, of course, is that our soldiers from time to time are killed as I think I said yesterday by the profits and the consequences of this whole discussion on counter-narcotics.  So it has a direct relationship with what ISAF is doing and what ISAF was doing.  And everybody involved in that area should be very careful.  That would be my advice. 

APPATHURAI:  The next question was there.

Q:  Mister Secretary General, Kani Gershom , German Television, now that NATO has a new job to fight against drugs in the South especially, will NATO need more soldiers in the Afghanistan mission?  And the second question is:  there are some defence ministers who said that it's time now that the Russians are fulfilling the peace plan to let the Russian-NATO Council take place again maybe... at the next meeting of the defence ministers in Krakớw.  What do you think?  Would this be an opportunity to do this?

APPATHURAI:  On the last part of your question.  We... we're not at that state yet.  That... that requires of course a discussion on the situation "no business as usual" as you remember it from the August 19th I think it was meeting of NATO foreign ministers.  So it seems premature now to conclude that there will be a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Krakớw, as it might be premature to conclude the opposite. 

That requires a discussion and that will to a large extent of course depend on...  And that's why I mentioned Bernard Kouchner, I mentioned the General Affairs Council, I mentioned the EU brokered peace initiative; to what at a certain stage the conclusions will be in that regard.  I heard Bernard Kouchner made some positive remarks from Tbilissi but also saying that we are not there yet. 

That situation, of course, will be to a large extent influential... that situation will influence, I should say, what potential decisions are going to be made in NATO.  But we're definitely not in a situation that we go back to business as usual.  Krakớw is still some months away.  So there is time.  And of course, I hope that things will turn for the better.  On the first part of your question, when I say... and when you hear me repeatedly say that NATO needs to do what Allies promised in Afghanistan, that has no direct relationship with the decision made this morning.

APPATHURAI:  Time for two questions.  There and there

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) for Hungarian News Radio Channel Info-Radio.  Mister General Secretary, what was Germany's and France's opinion about the... about the NATO efforts on Georgia joining the NATO as soon as possible?  And when can Georgia get Membership Action Plan?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Do you expect an answer to those questions?  I don't think so.  Listen, on positions taken by individual allies, I never speak in public of course, because we had a restricted meeting.  But let me repeat, this meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission was not, I repeat, not about a Membership Action Plan.  That is  not according to the Bucharest decision in the remit of defence ministers.  That is in the remit of foreign ministers.  And they'll discuss that in December.  And you know the language.  They'll make a first assessment in December.  So this was not discussed.  So for that reason, I cannot... I cannot answer your question.

APPATHURAI:  Last question is here.

Q:  Secretary General, Chris Dickson from European Diplomacy Defence in Brussels.  A couple of quick questions.  Firstly, you mentioned "deployability targets" up from 40 to 50 and sustainability I think was 8 %.


Q:  Do you know what it's gone up to?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  We have no...  Sorry, you have more questions, I think...  Let me... let me.

Q:  On MAP, I understand that resolving border disputes is a precondition to joining NATO.  Is it a precondition to joining the MAP?  And my last one is a follow-up on my colleague Paul Ames’ question.  I'd like to ask.  I don't quite understand.  For an individual action, will the ISAF forces have to demonstrate a link between the facility or facilitators they are attacking and financial support for the insurgency, for any given action?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  For an individual action, they need... which was the last part of my exposé, they need the authorization of specific nations.  On the second part of your question, the middle part, that is again on MAP.  I cannot possibly answer.  There is a Bucharest decision.  There is a first assessment in December.  And in the meantime you'll not hear me speculate under what conditions, or for what reasons, or under what political circumstances.  Foreign ministers will make a first assessment in December, that's it.  And I think that's crystal clear, by the way.  They make a first assessment in December.  And I will not prejudge and cannot prejudge even if I wished to the result of that meeting.  On the deployability, sorry, sustainability targets no specific percentage, if I remember correctly...

APPATHURAI:  They have not agreed... They have not agreed.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  They have not agreed on a specific percentage, but they agreed at least on the ambition to bring that figure up. And I think that figure should be brought up.  But the agreement was on the deployability target. Thank you so much.