Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels 2 April 2014: “NATO is truly a hub of global security”

By Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis, NATO Watch

The Secretary General opened his press conference at the end of the second day of the Ministerial with the statement that the series of meetings had included over 50 countries, a quarter of the international community, and demonstrates that “NATO is truly a hub of global security”. So what were the key issues discussed between the hub and the spokes?
The Georgia-NATO Commission
The day started with a bilateral meeting between Maia Panjikidze, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georgia, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, together with assorted advisors on both sides. Foreign Minister Panjikidze then attended the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting (09.00-10.30), which apart from a few opening remarks from the Secretary General, was conducted behind closed doors. According to a subsequent news release, NATO Foreign Ministers reiterated their continued support for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration, without giving any indication as to whethera Membership Action Plan (MAP) might be on the table at the summit in Wales in September. In a later Q&A session with the media - see below - the Secretary General also side-stepped this question.
The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative
The meeting (10.30-12.30) between NATO Foreign Ministers and their counterparts from the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates)was also conducted behind closed doors, after a few perfunctory opening remarks by the Secretary General. "Today, we will discuss how we can continue to deepen our partnership. And how NATO can work more closely with all Gulf countries. To build a truly strategic relationship between the Euro-Atlantic and the Gulf regions", he said. The meeting took place on the 10th anniversary of the official launch of this initiative at the NATO Summit in Istanbul in June 2004. In a subsequent news release, little further of substance was divulged, and the Secretary General was simply quoted as saying:
As we look to the Wales Summit this September, we will work on ways to deepen our political dialogue and practical cooperation. And we will discuss how we can tailor our cooperation so that it fits our Gulf partners’ specific security needs.
According to NATO, the ICI countries have become during the last 10 years of their partnership with the alliance, “efficient security providers and have contributed to international efforts in protecting stability and security, including the NATO ISAF operation in Afghanistan and Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011". The ICI offers a diversified menu of practical cooperation activities from which the member countries can choose, including "tailored advice on defence transformation, defence budgeting and civil-military relations; military-to-military cooperation including through selected military exercises; civil emergency planning and joint public diplomacy activities".
The meeting (12.30-14.00) of the North Atlantic Council with non-NATO ISAF Contributing Nations was also conducted behind closed doors. In his opening remarks, the Secretary General described the forthcomingpresidential and provincial council elections that will take place on 5 April as "another pivotal moment for Afghanistan". "It is now crucial that these elections are credible, inclusive and transparent", he added.  Discussion apparently focused on continued support through the ISAF mission and plans for a new train, advise and assist mission beginning next year. Referring to the ongoing delay in agreeing the legal arrangements for that new mission, Rasmussen said "We stand by our commitments to Afghanistan. But the longer it takes for the agreements to be signed, the less we may be able to do. It is not our desired outcome. But if there is no agreement, there will be no mission".
There also appears to be some confusion as to the likely impact of the Crimea crisis on Russia-NATO cooperation in Afghanistan. According to an unnamed "senior alliance official" cited by Reuters, NATO's decision the previous day to suspend cooperation with Russia will affect their cooperation in countering the flow of Afghan opium and keeping Afghan military helicopters flying. In contrast, Rasmussen had said during his press conference on Tuesday that he expected such cooperation to continue. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi, also in Brussels for talks with NATO, said the Kabul government had urged Russia and NATO to "decouple" their dispute over Ukraine from their cooperation over Afghanistan, according to the Reuters report.
Q&A Session with Secretary General
There follows an edited Q&A session.
Q1. Georgian Public Broadcaster First Channel: US President Barack Obama said that neither Ukraine nor Georgia are currently on the path of NATO membership. What chance has Georgia, as a key aspirant country, of getting a Membership Action Plan in September?
A1. Secretary General: Georgia has really demonstrated a strong commitment to our Alliance. We appreciate that. We welcome that. But, still, of course, there is work to do. As regards your specific question, Membership Action Plan, it is much too early to say anything about how we will address the open-door policy at our summit in Wales.
Q2. Another reporter from Georgian media: Will NATO offer four aspirant countries some new cooperation plan, some entire cooperation plan at the Wales Summit?
A2. Secretary General: Each individual aspirant country will be judged upon its own merits, not as a group, and I do expect that we will make progress when it comes to assessing each of the four aspirant countries as part of our Partner Initiatives discussions at the Summit in Wales.
Q3. Mustapha Sarwar, Radio Free Afghanistan of Radio Free Europe: You have said that Afghan Security Forces are capable of maintaining a security of the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan. But at the same time, as you are aware, the Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks in the country. How damaging and serious a threat can this be to the credibility and transparency of the April 5 vote?
A3. Secretary General: The Taliban and other enemies of Afghanistan will do all they can to disturb the electoral process. The assessment of our commanders in Afghanistan is that, overall, the level of violence is low. Secondly, we have seen the Afghan security forces deal with these security challenges in a very professional manner. And finally, I also note with great satisfaction that Afghan voters are registering in a quite high number and thus resisting these intimidation attempts from the Taliban side.
Q4. Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA: Do you think that today's meeting with the ICI countries will lead to more enhanced practical cooperation and also to more cooperation in the field of NSG, between the West and Gulf countries to reduce dependency on Russia?
A4. Secretary General: We agreed today that we will look into ways to enhance our cooperation - both practical cooperation and political consultations on security matters of common interest. And of course energy security is one of the issues of common interest.
Q5. Amanda Weston, Reuters: General Breedlove made a comment earlier today saying Russia has the necessary forces at the Ukrainian border to make an incursion within three to five days. And so I was wondering what your reaction is to that? And also where NATO plans to go from here with that in mind?
A5. Secretary General: I really share the concerns expressed by SACEUR. We know that these Russian military armed forces are at very high readiness. If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, I wouldn't hesitate to call it an historic mistake. That would lead to further isolation of Russia. Now, we're not discussing military options. We do believe that the right way forward is to find a political and diplomatic solution.
Q6. Teri Schultz, NPR and CBS: What's NATO’s assessment of what Russia’s objectives might be? Have you heard back from the Russians directly?
A6. Secretary General: I haven't received any direct Russian reaction. We have seen public statements from the Russian side that would indicate Russian pressure on Ukraine to change its constitution. And we have also seen public Russian statements that I interpret as Russia wanting to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence, covering the former Soviet space.
Q7. Bertina (?), First German Television: Your top general described the situation at the border very drastic, very dangerous. Do you think this is a form to de-escalate, to be diplomatic? What do you think about the quotes of Commander Breedlove? Is it a diplomatic way?
A7. Secretary General: I think General Breedlove just describes realities on the ground. By unveiling what is the truth about the Russian military build-up, we emphasize further the need for the Russians to pull back their troops. I hope they have heard that message.