European countries should invest more in their defense capacities to be able to defend principles of democracy around the globe, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said in Vilnius.
In an interview to BNS, the head of the Alliance urged the international community to take action against the Syrian regime, suspected of having used a chemical weapon.
Rasmussen also said there were no grounds for fears over the large military exercise to be held close to Lithuania's borders by Russia and Belarus later in September. He emphasized the importance of NATO war games in the Baltic states and Poland.
The NATO secretary general refrained from comments on the Lithuania-Estonia clash over the rotation of NATO air-policing mission – Lithuania has ruled out the idea of moving the mission from Lithuania to the Estonian base in Amari. In Rasmussen's words, the agreement should be reached by the Baltic states.
- James G. Stavridis, former supreme allied commander in Europe, has recently called on NATO to take strikes against Syria. Do you think NATO could be engaged in any military campaign?
- No, I don't see any further role for NATO. NATO already plays its part. NATO is a forum for consultation among Allies, and we have deployed Patriot missiles to Turkey to ensure effective defensive protection of Turkey, of the Turkish population and the Turkish territory but I do not foresee any further role.
- NATO Allies do not seem to have a common position on military response. Isn't there a lack of unity among member-states over the response to what happened in Syria?
- I think it is a common view that a chemical weapons attack cannot go unanswered. There may be different approaches to whether individual countries would participate but I think it's a general view that a chemical weapons attack cannot go unanswered.
And that's also my firm belief, the use of chemical weapons is something very special. Chemical weapons can be used in a limited way but they can also easily be turned into a weapon of mass destruction. This is reason why we have international conventions that clearly ban the use of chemical weapons. And I think the international community has a responsibility to uphold and enforce such ban against chemical weapons and this is reason why we need a firm international response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. And there is no doubt, to my mind, that the Syrian regime is responsible for that chemical weapons attack.
- In your opinion, would it be appropriate for NATO Allies to take a military strike without UN Security Council approval? Many say it would breach international law.
- If individual nations were to respond militarily, it would be in defense of international conventions that clearly ban the use of chemical weapons. It is prohibited, according to international conventions, to use chemical weapons. So if a regime uses chemical weapons in contradiction in what is international conventions, I think the international community has a responsibility to react to prevent such attacks from happening again.
- G-20 also focuses on Syria these days. Do you think there is still a chance for an agreement between the West and Russia within the Security Council?
- It seems to be difficult, and I strongly regret that division within the international community. I think it's high time to overcome this division because it sends a very dangerous signal to dictators all over the world that they can use chemical weapons and maybe other weapons of mass destruction without any reaction from the international community.
- You have repeatedly highlighted the lack of EU defense capabilities. Do you think it will reduce the EU's role on the international stage?
- I am very much concerned about declining defense budgets. Let me say right from the outset that, as a politician, I understand very well the economic challenges. It's very difficult for governments when they have to cut budgets across the board, including welfare programs, education programs, health programs and other programs, it's very difficult to suggest that the minister of defense should be exempt from that exercise. I understand very well what is the political reality, but having said that I am very much concerned about declining defense budgets.
If this trend continues, Europe will not be able to participate in international crisis management in the future. And that vacuum will be filled by emerging powers because they invest more and more in defense. So if we are to protect the values and principles upon which we have built our societies – freedom, democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights – then we also have to invest sufficiently in security. That's why I urge in particular European Allies to invest more in modernizing our military capabilities so that they can address the security threats of the 21st century.
- There have been warnings that the strong EU defense policy could duplicate NATO. Is there such
- It is of utmost importance to ensure close coordination between NATO and the European Union. Twenty-two countries are members of both organizations, and we have only one set of taxpayers, only one set of military capabilities, so it would, of course, be waste of resources, if NATO and European Union pursue the same programs at the same time.
We have to ensure that we coordinate closely so that we really use our resources efficiently. On a daily basis, we try to coordinate, and the European Defense Agency coordinates closely with the NATO command of transformation, which is located in Norfolk, the United States. These two institutions are the main drivers when it comes to coordination of capability development.
- Some Lithuanian officials said they were concerned about Russian and Belarusian military exercises Zapad that will include 12,000 servicemen in September. Do you see a reason to be worried?
- No, I don't think Zapad 2013 constitutes any threat to NATO or NATO Allies. We will also conduct an exercise called Steadfast Jazz. It's quite natural that militaries do exercise. What is important is that we are transparent, that we tell our counterparts what it is about, what is the purpose, what is size and scope.
We have provided the Russians with information, we have also got some information about their exercise. I don't think exercises, as such, are the problem. The challenge is to provide full transparency so that we avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings.
- Do you see that transparency now? It seems that NATO has not received information for the final planning conference.
- Well, we could hope for more transparency but some transparency has been provided, and that is at least progress compared to the past. Recently we had a good meeting in the NATO-Russia Council, and the Russians have provided us with some information.
- What is the importance of Steadfast Jazz drills in Poland and the Baltics?
- First of all, let me stress that there is nothing unusual in having the Steadfast Jazz exercise. Actually, over the last seven years we have conducted I think 17 similar exercises, maybe not of the same scope but in principle similar exercises hosted by 14 different countries. So it's part of an exercise program.
But you are right, it is something special because it's the first time that we see such an exercise here and I really appreciate that Poland and the Baltic states are co-hosting this exercise. I find many things in this. First of all, of course, it is important to have NATO visibility all over NATO territory. But, first and foremost, the purpose of this exercise is to improve our ability to work and operate together. And that's actually also part of what I will call the future NATO. As we draw down our operations in Afghanistan, we will step up exercises, training, education in order to maintain and further develop our ability to work and operate together, and I see the exercise Steadfast Jazz in that light as well.
- Lithuania disagree with Estonian proposal to rotate NATO air police mission in the future. What do you think about it - is there a need for change?
- First, I think the air-policing of the three Baltic states is an excellent example of what I would call smart defense. Because thanks to the solidarity within our Alliance, Allies that have aircrafts provide air-policing on rotational basis so it's not necessary for the three Baltic states to invest in building a very expensive air force. So it's an example that we can help each other in a way that makes more efficient use of resources, and I am very pleased that we have decided to prolong that air-policing mission and also pleased to see that all rotations has been filled for next many many many years. So there is a strong Alliance solidarity.
Having said that, the more detailed arrangement is for the three Baltic states to agree upon so where bases should be and how - that's for the Baltic states to decide.
- What should the NATO contribution be in Afghanistan after 2014 to prevent a civil war in the country? When there will more clarity on the new mission?
- We are planning the training mission after 2014, we are making steady progress. As far as concrete numbers are concerned, we can't provide such information until we know whether the Afghans will actually invite us. And until we know whether there will be the necessary legal arrangements – in technical terms it's called a status of forces agreement – we need to know that. And we have started negotiations with the Afghans, they have not been concluded yet, and as long as we don't know whether we will get an invitation or have the legal arrangements in place, of course, we can't provide figures.
But we are making progress in the planning, we know in broad terms what to do, how to do it, so I can't tell you exactly when exact figures will be presented. But it's not a big deal right now, there is still more than one year till a new training mission will be established as of Jan. 1 2015.