Doorstep statement by the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at the start of the NATO Defense Ministers meeting on 21 February 2013.
Good morning. It is now almost two years since we began the transition to Afghan security responsibility. And in less than two years from now, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be completed, and we will launch a new mission, to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. So tomorrow, we will meet with the 50 countries which contribute to ISAF to take stock of progress, and look at some of the challenges ahead. Compared with two years ago, the Afghan forces are bigger and better. They are taking the lead for security in areas where 87% of the population lives. Later this year, they will start taking the security lead right across the country, and ISAF’s main effort will shift from combat to support. ISAF is our biggest mission. And over the years, it has driven the modernization of our own forces. They have adapted to every challenge. And they have learned to work together more closely, and effectively, than ever before. Now we must ensure that we maintain those gains and that we build on them. So that the next generation of NATO troops is as good at working together as the current generation has become. That is why we launched the Connected Forces Initiative last year, which we adopted at the Chicago Summit. Today, I expect ministers to take it forward, by discussing concrete goals and targets for more ambitious training and exercises. And I expect to see a new emphasis and energy to our rapid-reaction corps, the NATO Response Force. We will also discuss how to take forward and increase our co-operation on capability development, particularly through Smart Defense. In this time of austerity, it is essential that nations get the most value for tax-payers’ money. Working together is the best way of ensuring this. So that NATO remains the gold standard of security and remains ready to deal with any challenge the future may bring. Finally, tomorrow we will welcome the new Defense Minister of Ukraine, to the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Ukraine is a significant partner and a valuable contributor to our operations. We will discuss the way ahead in our partnership. And we will take forward our political dialogue, which is based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. And with that, I am ready to take a couple of questions.
Question: Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal (WSJ): “So automatic spending cuts for the defense budget in the United States are supposed to take affect on March 1st. And I wanted to ask you if there is any concern about the affect those cuts are going to have on NATO’s capabilities and operations?”
Secretary General: “Obviously I’m not going to comment on domestic and internal politics and in the United States, but from an overall perspective it is of course a matter of concern that we have seen and that we continue to see declining defense budgets all over the Alliance. I do realize that governments are faced with economic challenges and I also realize the security sector, that defense can’t be exempted from the efforts to get the fiscal house in order. But having said that, it is a matter of concern to see the declining defense budgets. It’s my assessment that if defense cuts continue it will have a negative impact on our ability to provide effective defense and protection of our populations. So my appeal to governments is firstly hold the line, stop the cuts. Secondly make more efficient use of the resources you do have through more multinational cooperation and thirdly once the economies recover, start to increase defense investments again.”
Question: Dieter Ebeling, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA): “Secretary General, are you disappointed or perhaps concerned that your own declared intention to have the Concept of Operation being adopted at this meeting for the next Afghanistan mission will not materialize? And what are the implications of that delay? And do you think that this mission can be fulfilled with, for example, a few thousand US troops instead of tens of thousands of US troops?”
Secretary General: “First of all we stick to our timeline, so the ISAF combat mission will be completed by the end of 2014 and the new NATO-led training mission will be established from the first of January 2015. We have still some time to go. We are in the process of planning and I would expect final decisions on the size and scope of the future NATO-led training mission to be taken within the coming months.