SACEUR media engagement at NATO Defense Ministerials
SACEUR: First of all, just an opening statement and we will go from there.
I appreciate you coming today. And I will give you a little bit of the
discussions that might take place in the Defense Ministerials.
As you are aware, NATO is adapting its command
structure to meet today’s evolving challenges. Our military
proposals are centered on supporting all Allies, all the time, all three
core Alliance tasks in a 21st century context. That's what it’s structured to
The Alliance is confronted with threats and
challenges from multiple directions. NATO is charged to be READY and RESPONSIVE
. . . And to protect our members, we need to modernize and to respond quickly
to short notice requirements to reinforce our Allies – across land, sea, cyber
and air domains.
I expect the Defense Ministers will agree to
improve the pool of national high-readiness forces that can be made available
to NATO at short notice... before or during a crisis.
We will also discuss the Resolute Support Mission
in Afghanistan where NATO Defence Ministers will share views on our continued
commitment to Afghanistan’s lasting security.
What I am seeing are Allies and partners stepping
up their commitments to Afghanistan – with both forces and funding. I welcome
the announcements regarding support from UAE and Qatar and look forward to
developing the details of that support.
NATO is adding approximately 3,000 more troops to
I do want to highlight the work of the Afghan
Forces. The Afghan forces are performing with professionalism and
courage, across the country. They continue to deny the insurgents their
strategic goals and to develop their combat capabilities, notably their Special
Operations Forces and the Air Force; and they are creating the conditions for a
NATO exercises as well, such as Trident Juncture
2018, are an important element of the Alliance’s readiness and continued
adaptation to new security challenges. Exercises ensure our troops are able to
respond to threats from any direction and demonstrate that the Alliance stands
ready to defend all Allies and is committed to protecting our shared values.
We must remain committed to this Alliance—the
greatest Alliance in history. We must be united in our collective resolve
as we look to the present and future challenges and how we will meet
them. And we must be dedicated to preserving a Europe that is whole,
free, and at peace.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q1. Bob Burns with AP. Quick question about
today's development in Afghanistan - the ceasefire that was announced. I
am wondering what you make of it and how much significance you put behind
it. What does it suggest to you?
SACEUR. Well, I welcome it first of
all. We obviously will honor Ghani's request as well. Of course, NATO
does not provide combat troops, we are not a part of that. We are Train
Advise and Assist but we'll do our part to help that move along. I think,
you know, this is a path toward stability and resolution in
Afghanistan. So I welcome it and encouraged to see it occur and we will
see how this goes.
Q2. You do
provide air power of course.
SACEUR. But we don't, I'm speaking from
SACUER's position, we provide Advisors - Train, Advise and Assist, so from that
perspective, we are not a part of any combat action there but we provide, you
know Advice and Assistance to the Afghan forces that will actually have to take
Ghani's orders and put the ceasefire into place.
Q3. Where you aware that he was going to do this?
Shortly before it I knew that there
was some discussion about potentially doing something having to do with
reconciliation or something but it was very short and it as Ghani's
development. It was the President's decision.
Q4. Do you think this is an isolated, sort
of, ceasefire or is this going to (inaudible) on?
SACEUR. I do not want to speculate on that. I
mean we do not know so that first time we done this. Right? And we will
see how it goes.
Q5. On a separate note, you have obviously
met with your NATO counterparts quite a bit over the past few weeks, passed
view days. What's been their reaction to the tariffs? Have they
brought it up? Are they angry? Because publically they've been
quite unhappy with it.
No, and I prefer not to get into
that. It’s really a policy level decision, etc. The only think I
would say is let’s talk broader than that. There are differences here,
tariffs may be one driving at a political level. We continue to
have a very good defense relationship, mil to mil relationship, and you know,
this Alliance has had diversions of opinion over the years. It’s actually
one of the strengths of the alliance is that we can have a difference of
opinion. We will work our way through that. And I am confident we
will work our way through this period as well.
Q6. Quick question on troop numbers.
You mentioned 3,000 that were part of, sort of tied to the South Asia Strategy
- that's going through SHAPE right now. As far as the discussions
this week, is there going to be any consideration potentially given to
additional numbers, above that 3,000?
SACEUR. Well what we will do, I expect, and I
will, certainly in my portion, encourage more contributions as
countries can do it. It will be helpful to the commander to execute his
tasks. The response of the nations has been very good, we still have some
shortfalls and I would like to see us completely fill out his request.
Q7. What were the short falls last time?
Its broad but we still have a need
for advisors in terms of Advice to Afghan Forces and Police. And some of
the schools that the Afghans run where we would like. Those are the priorities,
really, to fill.
Q8. You spoke about creating the condition
for political resolution. Do you have any, are you optimistic
about the chances that the Taliban could enter negotiations and
talks. Is it something that is wishful thinking or is it really
SACEUR. I don't think it is wishful
thinking. I think the Taliban is under pressure now. They have not
reached their objectives last fighting season nor have they made progress in
the stated goals this fighting season thus far. They are under greater
pressure and you see some splintering of their leadership and their cohesion.
They now know, as well, that we have a plan that is in place in support
of President Ghani's and the Afghans plan. And they know that we are
in it for a longer term. That we're here until we reach the security
conditions - that's the difference. And I think that's all helpful in
putting pressure on the Taliban and convincing them that there is not
a military solution to this, they need to come to the table and resolve this
Q9. If they are splintering, then what does that do
for the chances they would agree to a ceasefire?
SACEUR. Well, what I mean by that is we have
some indications that there are those that are willing to talk. In the
past the Taliban has been cohesive and one voice about this. We are
seeing indications there are those who would like to talk so that's
encouraging to me. That's why I don't think it is wishful thinking.
Q10. Won't they be split about a ceasefire,
SACEUR. There'd be differences of opinion
within the Taliban perhaps but I don't think that's unexpected but I think
we can, there's potential here.
Q11. That's happened before right?
Years past they've some of them (inaudible / crosstalk)
SACEUR. A few. I've dealt with this for
quite a number of years. Personally I sense a different set of conditions today
and perhaps more potential for this.
Q12. Sir, when you were talking earlier about
NATO readiness and the command structure. Can you talk about, it may be
familiar to the folks here, but to the extent that that's motivated by Russia's
actions in the last several years. How much of that is in response, or in
anticipation of Russian actions?
SACEUR. What I will tell you upfront is this,
and it’s the point that I really want to make about it first and that is
that the NATO Command Structure that we proposed - that adaptation - is based
on all the challenges that Euro-Atlantic faces. It’s not simply focused
on Russia. It’s focused on giving us a NATO Command Structure that is
relevant in the environment today and what we expect in the
future. The changes in things like information and cyber.
The changes in technology. So that's broader - that's 360. Now there's
definitely a portion of that has to be Russia that's set on establishing
themselves as a global power again, who are pressing on the international norms
that's kept the peace for the past 70 years. Whose violated those norms,
in fact in Ukraine, in the annexation of Crimea so we can't, you know, we
obviously have that as a part of that but it’s not the majority of that reason
or the reasons that we've established the NATO Command Structure the way we
did. Final thing on that is, is that most of what you see us build into
this when you finally lay this out and we get approval for it, you will see
there are things, much of it is responsive to violent extremism, transnational
threats as well as Russia and challenges that they present to us. And so
it’s actually structured that way.
Q13. General, quick question going back to
Afghanistan. You talked about these elements that are sort of amenable to
discussion towards peace talks. Do those elements include actions of the
Haqqani network? Because Kabul doesn't really seem to differentiate
between those two groups. And it seems the ceasefire also applies to the
SACEUR. I am not going to get into that level
of detail with you. I am just not prepared to do that to be frank with
Q14. Sir, President Ghani recently said that
if US were to pull out then (inaudible) would collapse in 6
months. He also said it might take generations to secure Afghanistan. When
people hear that back home, I know you cannot give me a timeline, but are we
getting any closer to exit? What is your feeling about that?
SACEUR. So I don't, who did you say made
that comment? (Cross talk: President Ghani)
SACEUR. I don't know. I have not heard
him say that before. In terms of, this is not a short fight,
it is probably a longer one. But think back about where we have
been. I take us back to where we've been, you know, we've built, and the
Afghans who have built it, are now fighting, an Army and Police force.
And they have done that during a fight with our help, with us fighting
first and now us just advising. We had a goal we thought would
probably take us to about 2014 to do that. That's about the time we did
it. You don't execute a fight like this and build a security
apparatus simultaneous quickly. They have to develop the leadership, the
schools to promote that, all the things that support it. So it is going
to take some time yet. But I think it is absolutely essential
that we do so. Because we also need to remember why we are there - and
that's so we don't have an Afghanistan that once again is unstable and a safe
haven for violent extremists who then plan and execute attacks on our countries
from there. And it is worth our efforts here to see it through. I
am confident we can see this through.
Q15. If I could if no one has one, if I could
just go back - you talk about Russia as a rising power and I realize you’re
saying the structure is not related strictly to that but I think for folks
who are not versed in defense necessary, foreign policy, just average person
going about their business they might think about Russia as the Cold War enemy
from decade and decades ago. I know this has been building for some time
but how would you explain to folks, you know, just regular people that Russia
has returned to become a threat to be watched?
SACEUR. Okay, so first of all.
Look at their actions in Georgia, presence in a sovereign country today
with their forces without invitation, there actions in the Donbass today, their
annexation of Crimea. I mean those are all violations of
Q16. How did they return to that level of
Well they set out with a focus of
rebuilding their military capability. And, you know, in an autocracy with
one person making decisions about an economy, they can chose to do that and
they have stayed on track. So the second thing is then look at how they
spent their defense dollars and, you know, they have been modernizing their
force. There is no question about that. Back in 2010, last time we did a
revision of the NATO Command Structure, we brought the numbers down but we did
so thinking that Russia was actually a partner. We did so at a time when
we thought and we were certain that we were stronger in every domain, fighting
domain. We believed we had the best technology and we did. And we
thought that any conflict would be slow to develop. None of those things
are true today. Those assumptions have changed. Russia, in
particular, has developed, they are challenging us in some of those
domains and will by 2024 - 2025 if we don't continue to invest. And
that's the importance of the invest within NATO and the US. So that we
continue to outpace that and maintain our strength by domain and by