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Backgrounder from Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Senior Defense Officials/Senior NATO Official
December 01, 2003
Senior Defense Official:  I thought it might be useful to just kind of go through what the rundown of our meetings were and some of the things that we looked at.


     The first meeting I think, you may already know, was with the Secretary General and there was I think a pretty good discussion about where we are in Afghanistan, usability of forces, how we should move forward on that which is of course one of the goals not only in terms of this meeting but how we're preparing for the Istanbul Summit.   We talked about some of the restructuring of the command structure.


     That was followed by the Nuclear Planning Group meeting where we're of course discussing kind of deterrence in the 21st Century.  Proliferation, issues of concern, North Korea, Iran.   I think the Secretary made a specific note on Iran and the Bushehr reactor, which has been of some concern, and said that if you look at that, and the argument the Iranians make that they need nuclear power, they need nuclear power about as much as they need sand.  So that will give you a little feel for that.


     The next meeting was the Defense Planning Committee meeting.  Again, we went into more issues on how we move to a capabilities-based process, how we move to more deployable, usable forces, and how can countries convert and reinvest some of the spending that they have right now on non-usable forces and to beefing up their capabilities.


     Of course there was discussion on the NATO Response Force since that was stood up in October.  Very important to reform our decisionmaking process too so that that response capability can be used more effectively.  That means streamlining the defense decisionmaking process.  So they talked about ideas on that.


     We also looked at some of the reductions in headquarters staff and how that's being done and meeting targets that were set at prior meetings to again make the force structure leaner and more efficient.


     There was discussion in the NAC/D after that, the first session, on various operations -- Afghanistan, what needs to be done next with regard to ISAF.  I think there's a lot of interest in where we go in the future.  Some discussion of Iraq, and also a discussion of the Balkans where we stand, Bosnia, and with the KFOR in Kosovo.


     So that's a quick rundown of where we've been so far.  Anything that I've missed in terms of our discussion? 


     Second Defense Official:  No.


     Q:  On the Nuclear Planning Group, what does it mean to be rethinking deterrence given the changing threat environment?


     Senior Defense Official:  Essentially I think, as you've heard the Secretary talk about 21st Century threats and Cold War threats, and I think our shifting focus has been from what was essentially looking at a Soviet threat to looking at proliferation and WMD proliferators -- North Korea, Iran -- which is one of the reasons why he focused on that.  So just as we're adjusting our thinking in terms of threats that we face in terms of terrorism that are different than what we faced during the Cold War, our deterrence discussion is very similar.  We have a different situation with Iran and North Korea.


     Q:  Can I follow that up?  Is there any implications for the changing the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe as a result of --


     Senior Defense Official:  I think what the Secretary said yesterday is probably the best way to put it.  We're looking at our posture, our arrangements across the board, and there than that I can't really comment on that particular --


     Q:  When you mentioned looking at headquarters numbers, is this referring to Europe?  And any figures now final on this?


     Senior Defense Official:  No.  I don't think there's anything final.  There were some goals on how to reduce the command structure.  But also we're setting up the Allied Command Transformation.  You've got new requirements there.  So how do you streamline the process, make it more efficient, but also stand up a new command?


     Second Defense Official :  If I could, NATO decided last June to reduce its headquarters from 20 commands down to 11 commands, so now they are implementing that decision and they're trying to make sure that the civil and military billets that fill up each of those commands match the actual requirements.


     Q:  Any figures?


     Second Defense Official :  Well, you had 20 headquarters.  Nearly half of them have been cut.


     Q:  (Inaudible.)


     Senior Defense Official:  I just ran through the meetings, general themes of discussion for all the meetings.


     Q:  Okay.


     Q:  Can we follow up on Bushehr for a minute, since that's fairly far along.  The Secretary said they need nuclear power like they need sand.


     Can you tell us specifically what he's concerned about that hasn't been way out there before on Bushehr?  It's pretty far along.  The Russians have given us some indication that they are willing to cooperate in terms of the spent fuel. Where did the Secretary want that to go?  What exactly is his continuing concern about that specific facility versus the other facilities in Iran which are thought to be more secretive and potentially more dangerous?


     Senior Defense Official:  I think it's just Bushehr is an example of how thin and implausible the rationale is that Iran is doing this for a nuclear power that doesn't have energy.  So I would say it's not a question of are we only concerned about Bushehr.  The question is the Iranians say they need nuclear power and I think we're saying look at the plausibility of this excuse.   It's not very plausible, so what is the intention?  It's in that context.


     Q:  When the Secretary said that, did his counterparts nod sagely in agreement with him, or did anybody challenge him on that?


     Senior Defense Official:  As opposed to nodding non-sagely?  (Laughter.)  I wouldn't want to characterize other people's reactions, other Ministers.


     Q:  Was there any reaction?


     Senior Defense Official:  The meeting moves around the room and everyone makes the comments they wish to make, so --


     Q:  But nobody challenged him.


     Senior Defense Official:  Right.


     Q:  In the meeting between the Secretary General and the Secretary, was the specific issue brought up that the Secretary discussed a little bit with us yesterday, and that was the idea that in the long run NATO may take over all of the operations in Afghanistan?


     Senior Defense Official:  I don't know if you want to go into that a little bit.


     Senior NATO Official:  Sorry to be late.  I know I missed Mira's opening and I apologize for that, but I thought maybe what I could do usefully, I just came from the lunch with the Secretary, had lunch with the other 25 Defense Ministers and this issue came up.  And it did come up in the meeting with Robertson as well.  Maybe I'll just fill in the three issues that came up at lunch.


     One was on Afghanistan.  I think that -- We heard from Robertson and General Jones and General Kuyat, I think the remaining military requirements to fill out the Afghan mission in Kabul are going to be met within the next, if not today, the next day or two.  I think people are reasonably confident of that.


     Secondly, a lot of interest in the lunch discussion in having, making sure that NATO now pushes out beyond Kabul and creates a great number of what we call Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  So NATO will be moving out to expand the mission.  Lord Robertson noted that Secretary General Kofi Annan of the U.N. had called him over the weekend to say please do this.  This has been a constant refrain from the United Nations Secretary General for the better part of a year now, that NATO should move out.  We know it has the support of President Karzai.


     A number of Ministers also said that NATO now needs to link up, if you will, with Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.  You remember, those of you at the briefing yesterday, the Secretary talked about this.  He essentially made the same comments today in his intervention on that issue so I think that went very very well.  There's a great sense that NATO now needs to take on a greater role.


     Iraq came up in the lunch discussion as well.  Robertson noted that 18 of the 26 allies have troops on the ground.  The Polish Minister and the Spanish Deputy Minister thanked the NATO Ambassadors for the support that NATO has given to Poland collectively.  And a couple of Ministers said they thought that NATO should now consider, and Robertson said this as well in the course of 2004 a greater collective role.  I think Secretary Rumsfeld's words this morning are that we would look forward to whatever NATO wanted to decide in terms of a greater role.


     Senior Defense Official:  If I can just interject one point along those lines, I think that one of the things that's really remarkable is, and I think the Secretary referred to it yesterday, the Alliance has made a big step in moving out of its traditional area.  Just the kinds of discussions that have been held in this meeting and in Colorado and just over the last six to nine months is dramatically different, I think, than where we were a year or two ago.  So I would just emphasize that point.


     Senior NATO Official:  I very much agree.


     The last point at lunch, we heard a report from two generals -- General Jones, General Kujat, on all the military transformation and that would just pick up with what Secretary Rumsfeld said in his press conference yesterday. Just in the last year we've created, today we created this new Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Battalion which you've been briefed about.


     The NRF is up and running, the NATO Response Force.  Admiral Giambastiani was here today.  He's our new Alliance commander.  The transformation in Norfolk.  I know a lot of people feel there's been greater change in the military side of the Alliance in the last two years than there has been in the last ten.  So I think we're all proud of that.  Certainly Secretary Rumsfeld was pushing all these issues this morning.


     Q:  Can I ask, back on Afghanistan, do you have any feel for more specifically what Secretary Rumsfeld has in mind as NATO's future role in Afghanistan?  Would it be NATO, the entire operation a NATO operation with U.S. forces being absorbed into that?  Then NATO would be essentially in charge of the operations going out to find remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda?  Is that what we're talking about?  And what kind of timetable?


     Senior Defense Official:  My sense is that he'll probably talk more about these kinds of issues this afternoon so I'd rather not put words in his mouth.  I think there was an open discussion about the way these things could move forward.  I think this afternoon you'll have an opportunity to maybe ask him these kinds of specific questions.


     Q:  -- talked about ISAF and we'd take over one PRT in Kabul, and move to all PRTs and maybe add PRTs, and sort of a whole menu of things he might consider.


     Senior NATO Official:  Right.  I'm referring to maybe the next step after that.


     Q:  There's five steps?


     Senior NATO Official:  Sure.  (Laughter.)  There you go.


     Q:  When you say you're optimistic that in the next few days NATO will get what it needs in Afghanistan, and please argue with me if I'm wrong in this judgment, but it does seem that there's a little bit of a disconnect with what we're hearing from the NATO Secretary General and what we're hearing from you in terms of him having what he needs in Afghanistan.  He's used some rather strong language to suggest that NATO's credibility is on the line unless he's given what is needed.


     Have there been pledges of new helicopters?  Have there been pledges of specific things on the ground that NATO will get shortly that will help it with its mission there?


     Senior NATO Official:  I think it's fair to say that we are completely with Robertson in trying to push for these capabilities to be added today or tomorrow.  So not only is there no room between us, this is a twin operation where Robertson and Secretary Rumsfeld are working together on this and we both believe it's important.  You have to achieve this before you can do anything else in Afghanistan.


     A number of countries today said they would be contributing additional troops to Afghanistan which was very good to hear.  And suffice it to say that Robertson and General Jones have now identified the countries that they think have excess capacity in helicopters to provide them. There are very serious talks going on with those governments to produce that result.


     I think on the basis of what I've heard, I think we will meet that requirement in the next couple of days.


     Q:  The difficulty that they've had in raising the resources, troops for even the Kabul mission, doesn't that suggest that it's going to be much more difficult to get NATO to take a kind of full role in Afghanistan?


     Senior NATO Official:  I think this has been overblown a little bit.  We identified the military requirements for the Kabul mission.  We met very quickly about 85 percent of them. We've got 5,700 soldiers there under a NATO umbrella; an additional 11,500 under the coalition umbrella.  There are a lot of Western troops in Afghanistan, a lot of equipment.


     We had two particular needs that had to be met to fill out the remaining 15 percent.  We've now done most of that.  We're just down to the last few items.


     So I think most of the discussion this morning, particularly at lunch was ongoing beyond that debate.  NATO has decided we're pushing out from Kabul.  We'll establish these Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  That's where the focus is.  Larry went through the five-step process that Secretary Rumsfeld talked about yesterday.  That's where we're heading and that's where most of the discussion and debate is today.


     Q:  Can we double check the numbers here?  5,700 NATO and 11,500 U.S.?


     Senior NATO Official:  5,700 NATO and I think it's 11,500 U.S. Coalition.


     Senior Defense Official:  I think another point is, your question implied that somehow the requirements for Kabul would be the same as they would be for a PRT in some other part of the country.  You’re going to have different needs for different PRTs or different capabilities that you're looking for in different areas.


     Q:  Which countries pledged more troops for Afghanistan?


     Senior NATO Official:  You know, we have a rule in these briefings.  We don't announce what other countries do.  I'm sure in good time they will do that.  Some of them have to report to parliaments after they make pledges.  So I wouldn't want to do that to them.


     But I think I remember counting three countries have pledged additional troops.


     Q:  Is that for ISAF or for the coalition force?


     Senior Defense Official:  That's for ISAF.


     Q:  Could I press you just a little further on Iraq?  Can you just describe how the Administration sees developments in Iraq?  (Inaudible.) collapsing?


     Senior NATO Official:  I'd take you back through the history of this.


     Q:  (Inaudible.) by what you've heard so far, (Inaudible.)?


     Senior NATO Official:  Paul Wolfowitz came here, he and Brzezinski and others, a year ago tomorrow and he put six ideas on the table for a greater NATO role in Iraq.  That was before the Iraq war began.  That was December 2002.  So the Administration for the better part of a year has been asking NATO to assist the international community in Iraq.  It was the U.S. which proposed collective support to the Polish-Spanish Division way back in April and May.  Excuse me, May and June.  So the U.S. was in the forefront of that.  And both Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell have said here in Europe over the last two weeks, we would look forward to NATO consideration of a greater role.


     So I think this will develop over time.  There's no U.S. blueprint on the table.  There's no U.S. proposal that was put down today.  I think both Secretaries have been indicating that as this situation develops over time in 2004, we head towards Istanbul, let's talk about this.


     Now today at lunch two of the Ministers said, and again I won't identify them because we don't do that around here, two of the Ministers said why don't we have NATO take over one of the existing divisions?  That was not our Minister who said that.  Not Secretary Rumsfeld.  Other Ministers said that, European Ministers. So I think there's a lot of conversations that need to be had, but I don't want to mislead you.  We did not come here, Secretary Rumsfeld did not come here to put a proposal on the table.


     Q:  You said someone suggested taking over either the multinational or the British division, did you say?


     Senior NATO Official:  The multinational division.


     Moderator:  I think the [Senior NATO Official] has time for maybe one more or maybe zero more.


     Senior NATO Official:  I've got to get out of here.


     Moderator:  And we don't have a heck of a lot more time with [Senior Defense Official},either, unfortunately.  But the Secretary is doing a press conference later today.


     Q:  You said the Ministers were European?  The two Ministers mentioned were European?


     Senior NATO Official:  Yes.


     Q:  You didn't answer the second question.


     Senior NATO Official:  I've actually got to go before Secretary Rumsfeld ends the next meeting, so I've got to leave.


     Q:  Thank you very much.


     Q:  Thanks for coming.


     Q:  What is your understanding on this European defense issue of what the British, French and Germans, the understanding they reached last week on this issue of a separate planning cell, on this issue of writing something of mutual defense clause and (Inaudible.) constitution?  Could you --


     Senior Defense Official:  I believe the Secretary said yesterday that his understanding was that no decision had been made, and that our view has been that what is friendly to NATO and non-competitive to NATO is what we'd support, and we support Berlin-Plus and we worked very hard on that for quite a number of years to make that arrangement.


     Q:  This idea that's been reported (Inaudible.) cell, is that a concern to the Administration if the Europeans went forward with that as it's been described?


     Senior Defense Official:  I don't know that it's been described in any definitive way.  I know there have been some reports.  I don't think any decision was made so I don't want to speculate.


     Moderator:  We may have time for one more.  We have to go catch up with the [Senior NATO Official].


     Q:  The [Senior NATO Official] said about three countries, he didn't name them, pledged more troops for ISAF.  Can you give us any sort of a ballpark of how many troops we're talking about here?


     Senior Defense Official:  I don't know if some of that came up in his lunch because I remember two, so I don't want to use a number because I don't know what the third one is --


     Q:  Hundreds, thousands, dozens?


     Senior Defense Official:  I don't want to go into that, thanks.


     Q:  Can I just pick up on the Enduring Freedom.  I just want to understand it.  Is the idea that if ISAF takes over the other PRTs after (Inaudible.) committed to, will Operation Enduring Freedom be sort of integrated into ISAF?  Is that the long-term plan?


     Senior Defense Official:  I would say it's not necessarily a plan.  It's a possibility.  And I think that's maybe one of the things you'd want to pursue with the Secretary this evening.


     Second Defense Official:  The issue is more that you have a notion, so we have a growing number of NATO troops that will be in Afghanistan, and we have OEF.  At some point it's plausible to think that down the road how will they relate to one another?  They relate to one another now, but that may change based on the relative sizes of each. 


     Remember, OEF is a Central Command element.  If you have a growing number of NATO troops there you have a unity of command question that's at least worth considering.  It's not been considered yet but that's sort of the obvious thing you'd think about down the road.  But [the Senior Defense Official] is right. There are no plans, it's just hey, let's think about this down the road.  It could be something we'd want to consider.  So it would be premature to describe it as well formed thoughts behind it.


     I think we do have to get going.  We'll be out with the Secretary some time later this afternoon, probably.  You know how NATO is.  It's so spontaneous, you never know.  (Laughter.)


     Q:  Thank you.

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