Enhanced capabilities and bigger defence budget required

By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch
Opening remarks by Secretary General Rasmussen at his monthly press conference on 19 May 2014
Over the past few weeks I have visited many of our Allies in Central and Eastern Europe which are marking significant anniversaries of their accession to NATO. Russia's aggression against Ukraine has posed a challenge to a fundamental principle: the right of sovereign states to choose their own path. On 25 May Ukraine will hold presidential elections, an important opportunity to find a peaceful way forward for a united Ukraine. The new security situation in Europe is less predictable and more dangerous and this has implications for NATO, so forward land, sea and air deployments have been reinforced.
Right now, around 6,000 troops from across NATO are taking part in exercise Steadfast Javelin in Estonia. This is a significant exercise, aiming to test our ability to repel an attack against an Ally. It includes infantry, fighter jets and also a cyber security team. In early June, NATO defence ministers will meet in Brussels to pave the way for our Wales Summit in September. We will discuss further steps to reinforce our collective defence.
And we are considering how we can build on our Connected Forces Initiative to make our exercises more frequent and more demanding. To maintain credible defence and deterrence, we need credible capabilities which will cost money. We are seeing encouraging efforts to start reversing the trend in declining defence budgets, and we see greater multinational cooperation.
There follows an edited vesion of the Q & A session:
Q1. Peter Spiegel, The Financial Times: We've heard President Putin again today declare that he wants forces that have been arrayed along the Ukrainian border to return to base. NATO and the US have previously provided satellite imagery and other intelligence to show this hasn't happened. Do you have any evidence today that this has happened yet? And should we still believe Vladimir Putin when he makes these declarations? The Ukrainians have repeatedly requested military assistance in the form of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry. Do you have a view as to whether it's advisable for NATO members to provide that assistance?
A1. Secretary General: We haven't seen any evidence at all that the Russians have started withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian borders. I strongly regret that because a withdrawal of Russian troops would be a first important contribution to de-escalating the crisis. It is for individual Allies to decide whether they will deliver military equipment to any country. I don't think nations need recommendations from my side in that respect.
Q2. Wall Street Journal: I was wondering if there's any sort of consideration being given to the shipping of ground (inaudible)… permanent basing for temporary deployment aside from exercises. Is there any movement or thought in that direction?
A2. Secretary General: These are indeed questions that are under consideration for the time being. I think the NATO summit in Wales should adopt a readiness action plan to take account of the dramatically changed security situation in Europe, including updating of existing defence plans, development of new defence plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployment.
Q3. NPR/CBS: Have you reached out to the Russians at all? Have you tried to make any contact with Russian officials? And what do you think, at this point, the prospects are for any kind of resumption of cooperation within the NRC? There are some, including the Deputy Secretary General, who said maybe lessons should be drawn from having gone back to business as usual after Georgia a little bit too soon.
A3. Secretary General: We have taken a two-track decision. On the one hand, we have suspended all practical cooperation with Russia. On the other hand, we have also decided to keep open the channel for political and diplomatic dialogue within the NATO-Russia Council. We had a meeting in the NATO-Russia Council on the 5th of March, after the crisis started. And we have suggested another meeting next week. But so far we haven't heard from the Russians. So we are open to a political dialogue.
Q4. Georgian Public Broadcaster: Two days ago I read in the Romanian press your interview which states that you have no doubt that Russia will increase pressure on Moldova as well as possibly on Georgia. The signing of this association agreement is coming. This topic is crucial for us. Can you specify for us what do you mean? The Georgian Defence Minister has asked NATO to install air defences and other military systems in Georgia. You said in Bratislava that it would be a matter of negotiation with individual countries. But still, what is your position about it?
A4. Secretary General: We have seen Russia put a lot of pressure on countries in their near neighbourhood as they are approaching the EU for progress on the association agreement. I expect that we will see the same as Moldova and Georgia are going to finalize these agreements with the EU. NATO works with Georgia within the NATO-Georgia Commission on practical, military-to-military cooperation. When it comes to more concrete delivery or establishment of military capabilities, it is for individual Allies to make those decisions and engage with Georgia.
Q5. Nawab Khan (ph) from the Kuwait News Agency: The situation in Libya has been deteriorating in the last few days. So is NATO going to offer any kind of cooperation to the Libyan authorities to restore calm and security? There are going to be elections in Syria next month. So do you think these elections will contribute to solving the crisis or make it more complicated?
A5. Secretary General: Last year we received a request from the Libyan authorities for NATO assistance to help develop their security sector. We responded positively. Unfortunately, we have had some difficulties in engaging with the Libyan authorities, also because of instability and lack of security. But once the Libyan authorities are ready to engage with us in a way that also ensures a safe environment for our assistance, we are ready to assist Libya to develop their security sector. Provided that elections in Syria are free, fair, transparent, and produce an outcome that is considered a true reflection of the will of the Syrian people, I think they could contribute to a political solution.
Q6. Udor Rawicky (ph) from Real (ph) Northwest News Agency: Don't you think that the ongoing security operation in the eastern Ukraine can disturb the whole presidential elections? And don't you call the Ukraine government to show restraint?
A6. Secretary General: Of course the lack of stability in the east is a matter of concern. And obviously there is a clear relationship that instability in the eastern regions will make it difficult to conduct elections in that part of the country in an orderly manner. And that's exactly why we urge the armed pro-Russian separatist groups to stop their illegal activities and allow presidential elections to go forward in an orderly manner. I also think Russia could play a much more constructive role, living up to their Geneva commitments, and stop their support for these armed groups.
Q7. Anna Sweetska (ph), (inaudible): You have mentioned that you have visited some central and eastern European countries recently. We can see a divergence of views on the level of the Russian threat within NATO and the EU. How they see the threat? And do you think this makes united and decisive action by NATO more difficult?
A7. Secretary General: So far, you have seen a clear demonstration of unity within our Alliance when it comes to a number of immediate steps we have taken to reinforce collective defences. We move in a unified manner. Concerns expressed by eastern European Allies are definitely not exaggerated and must be taken seriously.
Q8. Nicolas Gros-Verhyde, Bruxelles2 and Ouest-France: Will you go to the Beach of Normandy on 6 June for the anniversary of the Second War? And do you have some intention of meeting Vladimir Putin? Do you think your future after the General Secretary for NATO is at European Union?
A8. Secretary General: No, it's not foreseen that I will go to participate in the Normandy commemoration which, in my opinion, is not NATO business. I haven't started reflections or planning my future for the very reason that I'm very much focused on my tasks at hand, the NATO Summit in September and of course the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
Q9. Adrian Croft, Reuters: NATO officials have been involved in a number of talks with the Ukrainians about energy safety and security. Could you tell us what role you envisage for NATO in helping Ukraine with energy security? Spiegel reported yesterday that you said that NATO military planners said it would be difficult to defend the Baltics by conventional means. Are you reconsidering your 1997 commitment not to place nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states?
A9. Secretary General: We have sent a small team of civilian experts to assist the Ukrainians in improving security of their civilian nuclear plants. On the Baltic states, rest assured that we have all plans in place to ensure effective defence and protection of all Allies against any threat, and we have all the means to do it. We have to adapt accordingly to review our defence plans, enhance our exercises, and also consider appropriate deployment. I do not foresee any NATO request to change the content of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
Q10. Ito, Japanese Daily (inaudible): The German Chancellor Ms. Merkel said something negative to increase defence budget because this problem cannot be solved by military. It's a little bit contradictory to your appeal. What do you think about it?
A10. Secretary General: I don't think we have a disagreement because I agree that there is no military solution to the crisis in Ukraine. We are all for a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine. When I speak about the need for increased defence investments, I'm more speaking about the broader, long-term, strategic perspectives. My point is that the trend of reducing defence budgets must be reversed. European Allies must invest more in defence.
Q11. Juen Navata (ph), Global News Japanese News Agency: Recently there is a strong tension concerning the South China Sea among Vietnam, Philippines, China. What do you see in this situation?
A11. Secretary General: The situation in East Asia is a matter of concern. And we urge all nations in the region to seek peaceful solutions to disputes, and live up to their international commitments. I think China has a particular responsibility as a major power, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.